I, like many young black girls was raised by a single mother and a multitude of other women that were very influential in my upbringing. My mom is an amazing woman. Everyone thinks their mom is, but mine is truly remarkable, and I didn’t realize this until I got older. Because of who she is, there were always people willing to help her with my brother and I. Not that she was famous or extraordinarily wealthy, but because she is the perfect blend of sweet and sour. She is the classiest most beautiful woman in the world to me, but she will also read you for filth if you cross her or someone she loves. Still as an adult I love watching my mom get dressed, because style is so effortless for her. I would watch her come in tired and sweaty from working her blue collar job at Delta, and then transform into this immaculate well dressed woman that looks like she has a rich husband and a colonial in Buckhead. I learned the power of deception that comes from being well dressed from my mommy. Now that I have sang the praises of my mom, let me tell you about one of the other less fabulous but highly influential women in my life.
There is a woman named Cookie. No that is not her real name, but that is what I have called her since the day I was able to speak. She helped my mother raise my brother and I. The irony that her name is Cookie and people call my brother Biscuit, and me Muffin in completely unrelated ways is how I know that God has a sense of humor. Cookie is very ummm… let’s say eccentric. We grew up doing a shit ton of yard work. Not cute yard work, but like real landscaping. Until I was about 7 or 8 I thought this is what all kids do in their spare time. Her very many idiosyncrasies majorly rubbed off on me and are quite possibly why I am such a weirdo to this day. Cookie made me into who I am in the strangest way possible. Example: when we would come in from school she would ask us how many I’s are in Mississippi or would make us say the alphabet backwards. Things like this kept me on my toes at all times because I dare not get an answer wrong.
Cookie has a daughter named Sonya. Sonya played a huge role in my life as well. My brother is the sweetest person in the entire world and people have always been drawn to him because of that. Hence, I was ignored a great deal as a kid. Sonya, however took to me and I took to her. Even still, I spent a lot of time alone and developed a huge imagination and this is where I began to write. I would go to Sonya’s house and on her laptop (laptops were not common in the 90’s at all) I would write lots of short stories. I looked forward to the days I got to hang out with my cool aunt Sonya, because we were always doing something fun and new and she indulged me in my make believe conversations about characters I had made up in my head. I know that sounds weird but roll with it, I swear I have a point here. One day when Sonya was in grad school for some reason she took me to class with her. I was maybe 6. I listened intently to what was being discussed and being the precocious weirdly confident kid that I was I raised my hand to ask a question. Imagine this tiny little brown girl impeccably dressed because I am my mother’s child asking a question in a graduate level class. I haven’t a clue what that question was, but everyone was so impressed by the way I asked it that they formed around me and started to ask me questions. There was a man with an accent (don’t ask me what kind. This was years ago and I’m old now). I said to him “I don’t wan to offend you but I know that you are a foreigner of some kind and I have a question about what you asked.” It was on this day that I learned I have a real voice and I love to talk to people.
When I was about 8 or 9 it was someone’s bright idea to sign me up for the Jr. Atlanta Falcons cheerleading squad. We would perform at all the home games and do random community service things. For some reason we were always performing at Shepard Spinal Recovery center. How shitty it must have been for those people to be forced to watch a bunch of privileged kids doing dances to hits from the 80’s. At the end of our trash ass performance in this small room there was a Q and A session. Why you ask? I have no idea. Let me get to my Lunchable and go home to do my yard work I thought. Well one day I didn’t get up to answer a question that was posed to the group. When I got to Cookie’s house afterward she chewed me out. “Whenever someone asks for someone to speak, you should always be the first to go up. You have a voice. Use it.” It was on this day that I developed a fear of NOT public speaking.
Fast forward to last night’s panel on diversity in fashion media. They opened the floor for Q&A, and for some reason put the microphone smack dab in the middle of the aisle. I imagine this was to discourage too many people from going up at once. Remembering my training from good old Cookie’s boot camp I went up and confidently asked: what is our responsibility as black media to hold mainstream media accountable for the appropriation of black culture? Is that something we should still be concerned about given that hip hop culture has now become a part of pop culture, or should we celebrate that it is being accepted mainstream? To my surprise the audience applauded me for posing this question. People came up to me afterwards to thank me for asking it. I am very weird and although I love being social and talking to people, I get awkward very easily when complimented.
I said all of this to say that nothing in life happens by mistake. We are created to be who we are. Every person that touches our lives is forming us in some way be it big or small. If my father had never left my mother I would never have gone to Cookie’s house. If I had not been a funny looking, marginalized but very fashionable kid, Sonya may have never taken to me and exposed me to the things that lead me to pursuing my passion in life. Sometimes the situations that seem the most bleak are the ones leading right to the plan God has for our lives. Don’t fight against your struggles. Lean in to the curve and brace yourself for what you are being prepared for. It’s coming. Trust me.