Meet The Authors of The Little Black Book of Success
Nearly 40 percent of black women report that they don’t have other black women who can serve as role models, and there have been no books that specifically focus on black women and leadership—until now. Black women in today’s workforce face unique challenges as they seek to advance their careers. Performing as well as their colleagues is not enough to win leadership positions; they also need a special brand of strength and confidence to rise above the double burden of racism and sexism and tap into their true leadership potential. But where can they turn for advice?
With THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF SUCCESS: Laws of Leadership for Black Women (A One World Hardcover; March 2, 2010)—an engaging and invaluable resource guide for black women at any stage of their professional lives—Elaine Meryl Brown, Marsha Haygood, and Rhonda Joy McLean have pooled almost 100 years of collective wisdom and leadership experience to create the guide they wished they had along their own remarkable career paths.
What these dynamic, successful black female executives show is that the building blocks for success are often right below the surface. As they point out, “although they’re able to get jobs, many of today’s young black women don’t realize they have the potential to move themselves forward. Many black women hold leadership roles in their communities, schools, and churches, but aren’t aware that they can transfer skills from those leadership positions to the workplace. Research indicates that their talents often remain invisible both to the women who possess them and their business managers. But leadership can be taught.”
Left to Right: Rhonda Joy McLean, Gary A. Johnson (Publisher, BMIA.com), Marsha Haygood, Elaine Meryl Brown at radio station WHUR in Washington, DC.
With THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF SUCCESS, you will learn how to:
• Use your duality to build strength—turn the lessons learned from the double burden of racism and sexism to your advantage
• Distinguish between “church values” and “business values”—adapt your spiritual values to business ethics without selling your soul
• Consider yourself a VIP—cultivate high self-esteem and self-leadership to maximize your potential
• Stay Positive—use your well-honed tools of affirmation to change the way you think and to develop a leader’s mental attitude
• Control and learn from your emotions—don’t let others get in the way of what you want
• Communicate like a leader—develop critical superb verbal and written communication skills
• Use the “N” word: Networking—and be sure to network outside your comfort zone
• Reach back and bring others along—when given the chance, offer a helping hand
Some leaders are born, but most leaders are made—and THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF SUCCESS will help black women at all professional levels realize their leadership potential, whether their goal is a promotion or a seat at the table in the C-suite. Let’s talk soon about THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK.
About the Authors
Elaine Meryl Brown, Rhonda Joy McLean, Marsha Haygood
Elaine Meryl Brown, former VP, Special Markets and Cinemax Group at HBO, is an Emmy® Award-winning writer and producer who has won numerous awards in the broadcast industry. In 2007, Brown was chosen as one of The Network Journal’s “25 Influential Black Women in Business.” A favorite of Black Enterprise, she was featured in the magazine and at their Women of Power Summit. A Wheaton College Alumni Trustee and member of the Coalition of 100 Black Women (Bergen/Passaic Chapter), Brown is also the author of two novels published by One World. She lives in New Jersey.
Marsha Haygood is a powerful motivational speaker and a dynamic career and personal coach. She is the founder of StepWise Associates, LLC, a career and personal development consultancy that represents the culmination of her 25+ years experience in human resources. She was the EVP of Human Resources and Administration at New Line Cinema and at Orion Pictures, among other companies. Haygood has won numerous awards including the YMCA Black Achievement Award and the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources Trailblazer Award. In 2005, Haygood was chosen as one of The Network Journal’s “25 Influential Black Women in Business.” She and her husband live in New York and Florida.
Rhonda Joy McLean is Deputy General Counsel of Time Inc. and former Assistant Regional Director of the Northeast Region of the Federal Trade Commission. A graduate of Yale Law School, she served as chair of its alumni association, which has more than 10,000 members, and was recently elected to its fund board of directors. In 2007, McLean was chosen as one of The Network Journal’s “25 Influential Black Women in Business.” Born in Chicago, IL and reared in Smithfield, NC, McLean is a classically trained pianist and mezzo-soprano. She performs sacred music with chorales throughout the New York metropolitan area, where she resides.
Visit the book’s official web site at and social networking sites below:
5 Things Young African American Women Can Do To Cope with Breast Cancer
Learning that you have breast cancer can be one of the most shocking and life altering moments of your entire life. The initial diagnosis can bring on feelings of not only worry, but life’s fragility. The idea of time being precious no longer seems like something that you just say in passing when talking to friends. Your time really does become precious and your sense of purpose kicks into over drive. Breast cancer is affecting more young African American women each year and the ages continue to get younger and younger. But the diagnosis, the treatment, and the recovery do not have to be a grim experience. Yes, it’s extremely hard and will probably be the hardest thing you will ever have to go through in your life. Questions may arise such as: how did this happen to me? Why me? And what am I going to do now? I had all of these same questions after all, I was only 31 years old, African American, and in good health. These are all common concerns among women who have been diagnosed with this disease, but more important than the initial shock and the treatment and even surgery is the mental state of the woman after she learns that she has the disease. For every woman who has just learned that she has breast cancer and for every woman who knows another who has been diagnosed there are five rules that we must all follow in order to ensure that our lives and the lives of our loved ones will be fulfilled while we take this journey.
1) Focus on getting better. Spend very little time thinking about the disease itself, rather, spend time thinking about your life after you get better. I had a nurse to admit to me that people get sicker when they spend too much time in the hospital worrying about their illness.
2) Avoid morbid, pessimistic people. Even people that you love and who love you can become a drain on your spirit when they spend too much time treating you like your diagnosis is an automatic death sentence. Many people recover from cancer and go on to lead happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
3) Change your diet. Don’t accept any of the soda, sweets, and other junk foods offered to you at your cancer treatment center or anywhere else. A low/no dairy, low/no sugar, no alcohol, and junk free diet helps your body to fight against the tumor while you are going through conventional treatments. Drink plenty of water, eat extra servings of fresh vegetables, and add extra fiber to your diet to cleanse your body.
4) Keep doing what you. The initial diagnosis will be a serious blow and the chemotherapy treatments and surgery will knock you off your feet for a while, but keep your eyes on the prize. Staying focused on your family life (esp. your children) helps you to maintain a positive and healthy mental state. A positive and healthy mental state also helps your body to fight against the cancer and to recuperate from the toxicity of chemotherapy. The entire time that I have been going through treatments, I have been a single mother, a sociology student, a freelance writer and author, and a small business owner. I never missed a beat (except the days when I was ill from the chemo) because I chose to continue living and thriving.
5) Pray, meditate, chant, or whatever it is that you do. Your mind needs to be cleansed when going through a battle with breast cancer. Your spirit should always be nurtured so that you may receive divine guidance. Spend little time sobbing in prayer and more time focused on what you want your outcome to be. Love yourself, visualize your body healing, and trust that things will work out as they should.
As a breast cancer patient and self proclaimed ‘survivor’ of the disease, I know all too well what a woman goes through after she gets that call from the doctor’s office. Some women choose to immediately join support groups and notify their family members. There are other women who decide that the best way to deal with the disease and the forthcoming recovery, is to cope in solitude and in silence. I was one of those women. As a breast cancer patient enduring the most toxic of chemotherapy treatments in conjunction with a few naturopathic treatments, I have learned that my immediate state of mind and well being contribute greatly to the way that my body has responded to the treatments and how well I am doing physically while on the road to recovery. Throughout this transition I came up with five ways to cope with the disease so that may have the best outcome while on the road to recovery.
About The Author
Zekita Tucker is freelance writer and the author of ‘YourStory Book One.’ Her articles have been published by many national and international publications and she has been featured by ABC World News and the Roland S. Martin radio show. To learn more please visit www.zeniampublications.com.
Here are some helpful links to learn more about breast cancer and breast cancer prevention.
What Scottie Wants
I consider myself somewhat of an elitist; I’m not entertained by the same sorts of things that hold the masses captive. I gave up television for nearly a decade, didn’t own one at all, and I was very content entertaining and educating myself with the real world. I found the programming offensive, even back then, and that was LONG before reality television and the degrading shows that overwhelm the airwaves today. Even since transitioning back into the world of the boob tube, I limit my television watching to a few tried and true shows that don’t insult my intelligence, gender, or race. I pretty much stick to TNT, USA, The Food Network, and HGTV and very rarely stray. Recently, my cable network changed the station number of HGTV and I wasn’t sure of the new channel number so I just set out to surf around until I found it. What a tragic mistake that was.
I stumbled upon a show called, “What Chili Wants” on VH1 and something, some ineffable force, led me to leave the TV on that channel and watch the entire show. I was horrified on so many different levels that I was left speechless, staring at the screen in disbelief, looking around at my darkened, empty room, to find solace where there was none and expressing shame and disgust with myself for watching what was the equivalent of a cultural car crash. For those who don’t know and who have never seen the show (and I’m going to hope that constitutes a great number of readers) the premise is finding a mate for one of the members of the girl group TLC, Chili. Apparently, as she ages, she feels the pressures of that damned biological clock (and honey, let me tell you that clock is REAL) and she’s looking for a partner with whom she can settle down and raise a family. That part, I have no issue with. I’m there with her, I feel her pain; I am her. Anything and everything beyond that, turned my stomach.
Evidently, the producers at VH1 felt that Chili needed the assistance of a . . . a . . . a young lady, I refuse to use the word professional, to help her in finding a match. This young lady, whose name I don’t know and don’t care to know, was directed to find suitable men to set Chili up with on a series of blind dates to see if she found someone who matched her list of criteria for a potential mate. Now, I don’t know everything on this list but I could ascertain that he was to be Christian, older (relatively speaking), ready to commit to a relationship, attractive, and successful. I’m sure there were other things on the list but the show didn’t allude to them. In the particular episode I watched, Chili and this young lady had some tension because Chili wouldn’t lower her standards to date any one of the dozen or so men she was selected to date. Suffice it to say, this particular matchmaker wasn’t qualified to fill an order at a drive through window, let alone counsel anyone as to what makes a good partner and what qualities or characteristics should be compromised or not in seeking that soul mate. Suggesting that she lower her standards and setting her up with individuals who didn’t even meet her minimum criteria has to be, unequivocally, the WORST advice anyone could give in the process of finding a potential partner. The message in all of this absurdity was, having a man, any man, is better than being alone and as long as he’s attractive and employed, shut your mouth and be happy.
I recently ended a relationship, one in which I admittedly compromised my standards, and I ended up paying the price for it in the end. I’m still in the healing process and I am doing my level best to redefine what I want and need in my next relationship. Over the years, my personal list has changed, well, it’s evolved more than changed. I’ve refined what I want and I’m more determined now than ever to be stricter, more selective, more discerning in my partners and for good reason. If I have a certain set of criterion that is essential for me in forming a relationship, then if I compromise in those essentials, I will set myself up for failure. Most men, and quite a few women as well, get offended when I say that I will not compromise on my standards. They immediately interpret that to mean that I will not compromise in the relationship which is something totally different and untrue. There’s even a large collective of men who feel insulted when the things on my list of requirements don’t encompass qualities or characteristics that they possess. Apparently, I’m a bitch if I don’t lower my standards to date any and every man who thinks I’m attractive.
I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I can assure you that I’m a great partner in a relationship. Now great is relative because what I bring to the table, not everyone wants or cares about. Most people don’t have high standards for a partner. I suspect the majority of people want superficial things in a partner, like a certain level income, car, or a certain height, weight, skin tone, or some other meaningless trait that has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the person they to whom they are going to commit. Another contingent of people want characteristics so general, so non-specific, that almost anyone can fit their criteria. Simply saying, “I want someone who is intelligent and nice,” can cover a multitude of sins when trying to find someone who will be a great partner. Intelligence is relative and nice is subjective and neither of those things can reveal how a person is going to treat you in a partnership.
So, in my effort to be extremely specific as to what I require in a mate, I’m going to set out my criteria exactly for what Scottie wants. I don’t want what any other woman wants. I don’t want what most men bring to the table. I’m not interested in editing, modifying, or changing my list to appease anyone else’s ego.
• I require a man who is emotionally mature and introspective. That means he has to be able to express his feelings, show emotion when appropriate, communicate his position without projecting, blaming, or deflecting guilt, rage, or passive aggressiveness. I expect him to have done a great deal of work on himself, his issues, and to be able to articulate his challenges, to know the areas he still has to work on and be willing to grow and learn.
• I need chemistry. I’ve attempted to date men in the past who are, for all intents and purposed, very nice and suitable partners, but there is no attraction or chemistry. I can’t do that anymore. I need that spark; I need that electricity, that intangible connection that allows us to get each other’s joke, to communicate non-verbally from across a room, to just enjoy each other’s company without having to say a word. There is no rhyme or reason as to why I have innate chemistry with some men and not with others; I simply know that I am unwilling to form a relationship with someone unless that element is present. So much of forming a healthy, happy relationship is contingent upon being happy and without that chemistry the relationship is superficial. I need to be as physically attracted to my mate as I am spiritually, socially, intellectually, mentally, and culturally and we have to have an attraction to one another that goes beyond mere affection. If I am going to wake up next to someone every day for the rest of my life, I want to experience joy when I do, not regret, ambivalence or dread.
• It is essential for me to have a partner who doesn’t affiliate himself with any major religion. Religion is man-made and created to keep people oppressed and uninformed. I can’t form a relationship with someone who thinks that God is male, that people were created from dirt, or that the only people who are going to be favored by God are those who believe exactly as he does. I am spiritual; I believe in something infinitely wiser and more ordered than anything the human mind can comprehend. I’m not so arrogant to assume that anyone has the right answers as to how to define God, but I know it’s not a male being, I know it’s not random and arbitrary; I know I cannot form a relationship with anyone who has those beliefs. Are there others who can form relationship across religious beliefs? Sure. I’m not one of them. I need a partner who has questioned, researched, evaluated, and studied all the world’s religions and found truth in all of them and, ultimately, the frailties of all of them as well. To partner with someone who doesn’t share my beliefs would be tantamount to saying that what I know to be true isn’t true. If I believe that God is indescribable, scientific, all-encompassing, to partner with someone who believes at all the earth’s animals could fit on one Ark would setting that relationship up for failure.
• Similar interests and aptitude are essential for my partner. I don’t require that he like the exact same things as I do but he can’t like things that I find offensive. It would be great to find a man who likes the same music and movies and who loves to write as much as I do but that’s not possible or even reasonable to expect from someone. I would like, however, someone who respects that hip-hop (the vast and overwhelming majority of it) is misogynist, offensive, and degrading. I will not date a man who thinks that the N word is funny, appropriate, or no big deal. I will not ever, never, ever in my life date anyone whose political beliefs are right leaning. I would like a man who is as equally right brained as he is left brained. I desire a partner who can read my stories, articles, and essays and contribute thoughtful, insightful commentary without trying to debate or berate my every word. There are too many social ills that need to be fought in the world, I have no desire to fight with my man about the things I’m trying to educate and enlighten people about. I desire a partner who has varied interest he can teach me about but that are not in conflict with my beliefs.
• Sharing similar ethics, values, morals, and governing principles are essentials for my next mate. I need someone in my life who is equally as committed to telling the truth, monogamy, doing what’s right even when it’s not easy, with respect for their family, who carries themselves with dignity, and who treats me with reverence at all times. I learned the hard way that compromising on someone who doesn’t see the value in honesty, integrity, and upstanding character will ultimately make me unhappy in the relationship.
• There was a time when I would have said that my partner had to be African-centered. I’m willing to amend that and say that my partner has to respect that I see myself as a citizen of the world, that my spiritual and cultural homeland is Africa, and that I do not adhere to the vast majority of Eurocentric norms held as the standard. I have come to see that most people who identify as African-centered, Black Nationalist, or any other pro-Black movement have only replaced one set of oppressive beliefs for another. I desire a partner who can respect my identity as a Black woman, my hair as a political statement, my gender as an oppressed class, and my desire to stand up for the downtrodden people of the planet.
• I would prefer that my man be a man of color, what color exactly doesn’t really matter to me. I will remain open to that man being white as long as he meets all my other criteria as well. I will not date a white man simply because I find the pool of Black men lacking. He has to be held to the same standard as I would hold to my brothas and even higher because he has to have rid himself of his false sense of superiority that white men born in this country inherit and he must be willing to eradicate the fallacy of white supremacy alongside me. Is it likely that I will find a white man like that? Not very but I am not ruling out the possibility of finding love across the color lines. I don’t want to die old and alone. I’d like companionship and love and if that man is not a man of color, as long as he genuinely loves and respects me, I’m willing to do the work necessary to make it work.
• If there is one thing that I’ve held fast to on my list, that hasn’t changed in the past few years, that has offended and outraged more people than any other thing on my list, is the fact that I require my partner to be openly bisexual. I require a man who has redefined his sexuality, who is comfortable with his sexuality, who is open to loving and being loved by another man. I require a man who is sex-positive, meaning he has to be accepting of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered community. I will not date a man who is down low, meaning he’s bisexual but not willing to admit it to those whom are interested. It is essential for me to find a partner who has redefined masculinity and manhood in his life, who appreciates and respects that being receptive does not mean being weak, that male and female are compliments, not opponents. Most Black women want a heterosexual man, they think that bisexual men have AIDS, or they want a man who is macho and unemotional. Good for them. I want a man who can cry when he has to and not feel that’s a determinant of his manhood. I want a man who doesn’t have to tell gay jokes and bash gay men in front of his friends in order to validate his manhood. I’ve been told time and time again that I won’t be able to find a bisexual man who is willing to be monogamous but I am willing to compromise on that depending on the person and the dynamics we share. I’ve long since given up my need to be with another woman but if I find a partner who is all that I seek and he’s interested in maintaining relationships with other men, I will certainly entertain the conversation, see what sort of compromise we can come to that doesn’t hurt my feelings or leave him feeling unsatisfied. Too much of my identity and my mission is wrapped up in liberating our people from our sexual dysfunctions and I don’t want a man who believes that men can only get or receive pleasure in certain ways in order for them to be a real man. If he is not as open-minded and progressive as I am about issues of sex, we will not be a good match.
What Scottie wants is compatibility. What Scottie needs is love, respect, and commitment to forming a healthy, long-term, emotionally mature relationship. I want someone who fits my criteria because I’ve worked long and hard on myself, because I’m unique and I don’t have cookie cutter needs, because I deserve a partner who fits me like a glove and I won’t compromise my standards for love or money.
Scottie Lowe is an author, activist, and she is also the creator of www.AfroerotiK.com.
Patrice London: Empowered to Birth Naturally
After experiencing an awful hospital birth, Patrice London went on to have more blissful births that took place in a birth center and then her very own home. Read about her experiences in her new book, “Empowered to Birth Naturally: One Woman’s Journey to Homebirth.”
Passage from Empowered to Birth Naturally
“In our society, when starting new adventures people tend to pay close attention to detail. When considering buying a house, going to college, getting married, and even buying a television, people conduct extensive research. This same care and attention to detail is all but forgotten when it comes to the life-changing process of giving birth. This area is all too often left to the “experts.” This shouldn’t be the case. If more people would research the current medical model of care and the midwifery model of care, the results could be revolutionary. More women just might begin to trust that their bodies can, in fact, do what they were created to do ? and do it well.”
To learn more about Patrice and buy her book visit her official web site at www.patricelondon.com.
The wife of an incarcerated man shares her thoughts and an excerpt from her book, “Secrets of an Inmate’s Wife.”
“The voices of the other bus riders faded as exhausted and irritated children fell asleep as well as most of the women. I took out a notebook and pad and began to write a letter to Eric. “Dear Eric, I am on my way to see you and so much is going on in my head and heart. So many emotions I feel like I am about to explode. I look around me and I don’t belong here. Why did you destroy us? What we had was so perfect. I . . “ I ripped up the letter into tiny pieces. I could not go on. It was turning into the hate and bitterness I did not want him to know I was feeling. I closed my eyes and slept the rest of the long ride upstate to Comstock Correctional Facility because I didn’t want to think about anything else. Everything I thought about now seemed complicated and sad because this situation made everything complicated and sad.
It was six o’clock in the morning when the bus driver announced that we would be at the prison in ten minutes. When my eyes adjusted to the morning I looked out of the bus window and there were high mountains everywhere. Just miles and miles of nothing but mountains and it was really an awesome sight. It was beautiful and peaceful and had I not been on a bus going to a correctional facility I would have really been able to enjoy this scenery. But because of the situation, all it made me realize is that my man was truly very far away from the Harlem we both knew and from the apartment we had in Queens where I thought that so many of my dreams would have been fulfilled. As we pulled into the prison parking lot, I gathered up my leather book bag that held my identification, toiletries and the latest book that I was reading.
I got off the bus with the children and all the mothers that were left alone to carry the load after their men went to prison. I thought to myself, so this is what happens when men go to prison and leave women alone. The women lug tired and frustrated children up to the prisons early in the morning and they take their own sex starved lonely bodies up, too. To suffer for a situation they had no control over. A situation they did not help create. Women, always paying a debt they didn’t owe. I stopped and looked up as soon as I got off the bus. Comstock Correctional Facility was an extremely large building. It was ugly too, like all prisons. What could be pretty about gray-cemented walls and barbed wired fences? The wires and the high walls were simply there to keep men in and keep families out.”
Excerpt from “Secrets of an Inmate’s Wife”
African-American male incarceration is constantly on the rise. This creates a rise in the number of women who must become both mother and father to children and many will live in poverty because they cannot take care of their children without financial support from the father. But there is no fighting for child support when the father is incarcerated. There are also many women who will choose to stand by their incarcerated husbands, boyfriends and children’s fathers. That decision will cause them to embark on a journey that will change their lives forever. They will enter a world they never knew existed, the world of the incarcerated and the women who love them. They will visit the prisons and meet other women who also visit the prisons and they will be misunderstood and ridiculed by loved ones who do not understand why they would choose to wait. Not too many people understand why these women can’t let go. But can love be turned on then off like a running faucet? Can it be played like an instrument and then put back into its case? Or can love be balled up like a piece of paper and then thrown away? No! Love cannot be turned off, closed up or simply discarded because some times it is just too difficult to do so.
For women like me, it was too difficult to let go. Often we think that if we stand by our men then, perhaps, they will see that their lives is worth so much more than to be inside a prison where there is no power and no control over ones own life. Prison is volunteer slavery. The auction block is the courtroom where countless of men are shackled and handcuffed, sent to a hole called prison and told when to eat, sleep and use the bathroom. While incarcerated a man cannot earn a living, he cannot support his family, often he can’t even gain any real skills and this simply should not be. So many people suffer when men go to prison. But nobody thinks about the family that he leaves behind. They don’t see that we are victims, too. In my book I share all that I went through as a result of my husband’s incarceration and my decision to remain in a relationship with him in spite of it. The way that I hid what I was doing from others, all of the secrets I kept as a wife of an incarcerated man and the secrets of other women who have shared their thoughts with me on that long ride up to the prison is in this book. Late at night when we ride the prison buses, it is then that we can let go to each other, to share with the only people who truly understand since they are doing the same thing. “Secrets of an Inmate’s Wife” is about this experience and so much more.
You can read Gary Johnson’s interview with Jaki McCalvin. This interview was conducted in October 2004.
What Happens When Brothers Go To Prison and Leave Sisters Alone?
In 2004 we started a section on the site that dealt with black men in jail. As a result we started getting “jail mail” and letters from women who were married to men in prison. As I read the mail and other material about the incarceration of black men, I never once thought about the women who are affected and left behind. Some of these women are mothers who are thrust into the role of being a father to their children. With one tap of the gavel, some of these women have gone from housewife to sole financial provider. Others have been pushed into poverty because of a lack of financial support.
These women are known as “prisoner wives and girlfriends.” Many of these prisoner wives/girlfriends have decided to “stand by their man” and endure a life of ridicule from some of their friends and family members. They keep their love alive with conjugal visits in trailers on the prison grounds, letters, phone calls and even smuggling drugs for their man. Many women fight with themselves about whether or not they made the right decision to support their man.
Why would a woman marry a man that’s not coming out anytime soon? Wanting to learn more about this phenomenon, I turned to Jaki McCalvin. Jaki is a prisoner wife. She’s also the author of the book, “What Happens When Brothers Go To Prison and Leave Sisters Alone?” The book is a true story about Jaki’s life as a prisoner girlfriend to prisoner wife. Readers follow Jaki from the courtroom as Jaki’s boyfriend is sentenced to 12 years in jail, to her first ride on the bus to the prison, to her marriage in a prison chapel.
I spoke to many prisoner wives and girlfriends before posting this article and decided to start off this series featuring Jaki McCalvin’s story. Jaki’s story, although, personal and unique to her situation, was also representative of several of the women that I spoke with. Like many women before her, Jaki could not turn her love off like a faucet. There is so much that takes place in the lives of women who choose to stand by African-American men after they become incarcerated.
To her credit, Jaki was willing to tell her story in the form of an interview. We had several conversations before and after this interview and I give her all the credit in the world because I believe that by sharing her story, she is doing the work of others.
For me, this was a different kind of story. According to Jaki, this is not limited to being a black woman. “Many women will be able to relate to many of the issues that I faced,” says McCalvin. To learn more about what happens to women when their man goes to jail read our feature interview with Jaki McCalvin.
The Jaki McCalvin Interview
BMIA: Jaki, let’s get right to it. What happened when you’re in love with your then boyfriend, Eric, a man who goes to prison and leaves you alone?
J. McCalvin: I learned a lot. I became a part of a world I never knew existed, the world of the inmates and the women who stand by them.
BMIA: What does the reality of your man going to prison do to your psyche?
J. McCalvin: It is similar to what a person feels like when a relationship ends. I went through shock and disbelief, deep sadness and confusion because I didn’t know what I should do. I asked myself over and over where do I go from here?
BMIA: What is Eric serving time for?
J. McCalvin: Criminal activity related to drug addiction. My husband became addicted to drugs, like so many men. And drugs changed him. It destroyed everything that we had built, like it does in any relationship where one person or both people are involved in drugs.
BMIA: Tell me about your background. (Age, part of the country you were born, level of education, etc.)
J. McCalvin: Well, I was born and raised in Harlem, NYC. I grew up in the projects. I’ve had training in many things from acting, freelance writing and currently I’m working on a degree in African-American studies. Right out of high school I went straight into an advertising company while attending college at night. From there I worked at a theatre-licensing agency associated with CBS, I also worked at Fleet Bank as an Administrative Assistant to the Department Head. I’ve always had great jobs where I learned a lot. When I was in High School I was in a special program for four years for gifted young writers after one of my English Teachers read a poem that I wrote. We had to write a simple poem about a dog. Most students wrote about their dog, or that they liked dogs. I wrote a poem called, “Nobody’s Dog.” It was about a lonely abandoned dog, frightened and hungry, waiting for scraps. I don’t recall all the words but it was deep and I guess the teacher thought so, too.
BMIA: Would you say that you have or had low self-esteem?
J. McCalvin: I never thought I did. Maybe I could have since I let so many people have a front row seat in my life. It may not be low self-esteem but the way I was brought up. I was a middle child to two sisters, one who always has so much drama going on in her life and my oldest sister had Lupus since she was three. She died a few years ago, I loved her so much. But I took care of her a lot during childhood and so I think I just got used to taking care of people and putting my own needs on the back burner.
BMIA: Generally speaking, would you say that women who wait for and support men in prison suffer from low self-esteem?
J. McCalvin: The women I meet and see don’t look like they suffer low self-esteem. They just love and stand by their man. If a woman’s husband can’t find a job and she supports him, is she suddenly suffering low self-esteem? Maybe she just loves her man through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. But let me add this. I did an interview about this issue for a television program recently and when this question was asked, the sister with me answered it this way, “The low self-esteem comes from having to hide it, that’s what tears you up. Because you are put down so much by others.” I think her answer was very accurate.
BMIA: How did you meet Eric?
J. McCalvin: I met Eric at a club. He was a real good dancer and that made him very popular in our neighborhood, so I knew who he was, had seen him around and had admired him for his popularity long before I actually met him.
BMIA: Do you feel that Eric was honest with you before he went to prison?
J. McCalvin: He didn’t tell me he had some things on his record from childhood and other dust ups with the law as a teenager.
BMIA: Do you believe him now?
J. McCalvin: I believe that he has finally grown into the man God wants him to be. Talk is cheap. I see what changes he has made. Even in prison, in a situation so violent, he rehabilitated himself. He held a position as a coordinator for several years for the Alternative to Violence Program in prison. A position that was never held by an inmate in that prison before. He has character letters from Prison Pastors and outside people he worked with in the program. I have a lot of respect for him because he has been through a lot and not only is he enduring it but he is educating himself and maturing in ways that free black men don’t even do. I have learned a lot from him. Sometimes it takes a whole lot for a man to become the man God wants him to be. I believe in what I see and I believe in change, in what God can do in any of us.
BMIA: Did you ever hear that “inner voice” in your head that warned you that “something wasn’t right’ in the relationship? If so, did you ignore it or act on it?
J. McCalvin: If I did not think I could change a man I wouldn’t be a woman. But I’ll also say this, my father did not teach me about men. He did not tell me what to look for. I looked for love and found it. Also, when you grow up in Harlem or in any ghetto, the men you meet have the same characteristics. They all have a tendency to be violent. I ignored any warning signs because I believed like many women, that if I loved him enough he could be the man I needed him to be. But I have learned that what really changes a man is a man that is ready for change.
BMIA: What’s it like to be sitting in a courtroom and watching your man get sentenced to serving time in jail?
J. McCalvin: It was devastating, my heart felt ripped out. I knew my life was going to change drastically because he wouldn’t be coming home for a long time.
BMIA: Do you see yourself as an advocate for prison wives and girlfriends?
J. McCalvin: I have so much to say about this issue and the things I have experienced and the things I see when I visit the prisons. I have so much fire in side of me concerning this topic and what I want to tell black men and the women that visit the prisons regularly. I want to hug sisters who wait and tell them that I understand and to do what is right for you. I want to tell them to forget what the world thinks. But I also want to tell brothers that a change has to come. So I guess I am.
BMIA: What is a prisoner’s wife?
J. McCalvin: A prison’s wife is a strong woman, a caring woman. She is a woman who loves, perhaps, deeper than she should. A prisoner’s wife is someone who loves unconditionally and knows that love can’t be turned on then off like a light switch, not real love. She is a woman that has to constantly deal with negative criticism from her family and friends and society because of her decision to wait.
BMIA: Do you have the opportunity for conjugal visits? How does that work in terms of the atmosphere or environment? (Guards outside the door)? How long is a typical conjugal visit?
J. McCalvin: It’s where you get to spend two days and nights with your man alone inside a trailer just like the ones you can purchase to own. Outside the trailers are small play areas for children, picnic benches and grills for barbequing. Inside the trailers are completely furnished. You go in Saturday morning and leave Monday morning. Or you can schedule a Thursday morning until Saturday morning visit. Either way, the visit is just two days and nights. You supply all the food you want to cook and eat for the whole trailer because once you are there, unless something happens, you don’t leave. The guards are not outside the door. They are in high towers above. There is a phone inside the trailers and when it rings, the inmate must answer it. That is how they take attendance. Sometimes the inmate has to stick his head out the door and wave to the guard in the tower. That’s another way they check the attendance. Other than that, you are alone with your man. Some inmates have their mothers and fathers and other families visit and the family members seem to have so much fun cooking and just being with this person that they miss so much.
BMIA: What is it about being a prisoner’s wife that the general public does not see or understand?
J. McCalvin: The general public seems to think that prisoner’s wives are uneducated or crazy or suffer low self-esteem. They think that we think it is ok, what our men have done. But we do not condone criminal activity. If anything, we are trying to help these men realize that they need education, they need to read more, and they need to change their ways of thinking. That is what we do and those of the wives that don’t need to start doing this. Society needs to also see that the wives and children of prisoners are victims, too.
BMIA: Talk to me about “prison games.” How is “the game” played?
J. McCalvin: The prison games I refer to in my book is the ones where inmates meet and get involved in relationships with women that they consider unattractive but they do so in order to get the women to come visit (a visit is better than no visit). They get these women to buy them food, put money in their accounts and buy them expensive sneakers. You see a lot of brothers get these gullible white women to do this for them. Then eventually these women marry these guys who they think love them, but these brothers are just looking to get “some” on a conjugal visit and they don’t care what color it is. I don’t like how they play with the hearts and heads of women like this. Some brothers get released and they don’t even bother to let the woman know because it was just a game, a prison game.
I’ve seen brothers play two different women, stringing them both along. One comes up on a Sunday and the other comes up on Saturday. They never meet and never have any idea the other is coming. One is his wife who he usually has conjugal visits with and the other is the girl that he is promising to marry one day. More than anything I hate how they waste these women’s time – women who could be getting involved in relationships that are real and lasting. You see it all the time and everybody’s laughing behind her back because you know what that’s all about.
BMIA: How do you reconcile or deal with the lies?
J. McCalvin: You tell me one person who says they have never lied to their mate in order to keep certain negative information about them a secret and I’ll tell you that person is not being for real.
BMIA: How does prison affect the children, friends and family?
J. McCalvin: Children have no fathers and they resent their fathers for that. My husband has a daughter from a previous relationship and she was honest to admit to him that while growing up, she hated that he wasn’t around. Other family members and friends must learn how to go on without that person. It’s as if they died because everybody isn’t going to visit the prisons. My husband’s mother has never been to see him, never. So she hasn’t seen her son in more than ten years.
BMIA: How do you explain “Daddy’s absence” to the children?
J. McCalvin: I give that responsibility to daddy. He needs to tell them because it’s not my crime, it’s his.
BMIA: What do you say to yourself and do to get you through the day-to-day existence of living with your man in prison?
J. McCalvin: I’d like to think that my life concerns more than just him and the situation he’s in. It’s when you don’t understand that, that it becomes a real problem. When you visit so much your own needs are lacking and your kids are not taken care of because you are always up there. That’s a problem. There was a time when I put too much into this, but not anymore.
BMIA: Do you have any particular feelings toward the criminal justice system as it pertains to black men in America?
J. McCalvin: The criminal justice system is unfair to black men, who get more time for the same crimes white men commit. White men can afford the best lawyers and buy themselves out of prison, black men can’t. That’s another reason why there are more black men in prison than whites. But also, prison takes away power and control. It is a form of slavery that, unfortunately, black men are volunteering for in record numbers. The overseer is the judge, the slave masters are the correction officers. This is the real deal. When my husband stood before the white judge in his shackles, I mean handcuffs. I thought to myself, damn, this white man has so much power.
Prison is also a business. In most states where there are prisons, the warden lives in the area, the cook, the correction officers, the man that distributes the food and other supplies from his own business that he started when he realized there was a need because of the prisons, they all live there and they all profit off of the large number of inmates in their all white town where the inmates are usually mostly black.
BMIA: Why do you wait? I don’t mean to be rude or make you seem as if you’re crazy, but I would really like to get some sense of the logic that drives a spouse’s behavior in this situation.
J. McCalvin: Allow me one chance to flip a question. Would you stand by your girl or wife if she got cancer or became paralyzed or made a mistake that landed her in prison?
BMIA: If she were sick I would stand by her. The prison thing is not as clear. It depends on what she was in for.
J. McCalvin: Could you just drop that deep beautiful love just like that?
J. McCalvin: God calls special people to do special things. It took a special kind of woman to be Christopher Reeve’s wife. Tell me why I should walk away, because he made a mistake? I don’t know anybody who hasn’t made mistakes. I just know a lot of people who never got caught. (Laughs) The bond I have with my man is probably stronger than what a lot of people have who are out here. I also got friends who have never found real love during the entire time my husband has been incarcerated. Some are married and divorced; some have gone from men to men. One of my best friends decided she’d rather be gay now because of this. I got another good friend who have been with so many men looking for love in all the wrong places that I’ve lost count. Most of them have one or more kids by different men they are no longer with. I don’t want that.
BMIA: Jaki, if a woman commits to waiting for her boyfriend, and he’s serving 20 years, what does that “waiting” encompass? What happens if you meet another man? Is there an “unwritten rule” about the “do’s and don’ts” of how one should behave when your man/woman is in prison?
J. McCalvin: It’s no different than any relationship you are in. If you choose to wait, then wait. Don’t disrespect a brother just because he’s in prison. Be true to him or just walk away. Trailers take away some of the sexual frustrations. Most of the women are not looking for other men so they don’t meet them. When they do they simply tell the man that they are in a relationship, because they are. If they decide they want to get with the brother then they tell the inmate that they can’t wait, that they’ve found somebody else. There is no unwritten rule. I don’t think anyone should be disrespected regardless of where they are. Anything other than this would be the flip side of a prison game.
BMIA: Talk about the network of women you’ve met whose men are serving time in prison?
J. McCalvin: I’ve befriended a traffic officer, a woman who works in a prison in the offices. I’ve met nurses, administrative Assistants for large and prestigious firms. I’ve met legal assistants. I’ve met hard working, respectable, educated women. We are just women who simply love who we love. You can’t fit us into one category therefore people should never stereotype us.
BMIA: As the years go by it is easier or more difficult to visit your man in prison?
J. McCalvin: What makes it easier is that I continue to grow and understand more and more about who I am and my purpose, I have learned that his incarceration does not control my life or who I am. I don’t get personally affected the way I used to. I only go on conjugal visits and then I go home and continue with the things I am doing in my life. I’m not living in the state where he is anymore so I can’t be there like I used to. I am a woman and a mother to a child that needs my nurturing first and foremost.
BMIA: Let’s talk about your faith. Do you believe in God?
J. McCalvin: God is everything to me. He is first. With God I can do all things and all things are possible in Him. It is the bible that made me respect marriage even if I didn’t think my husband did at the time. It is God that teaches me that I don’t need to conform to the world’s thinking. That just like Moses and Noah was laughed at, or the disciple named Peter who went around the world trying to teach others about Jesus Christ was laughed at, I am laughed at, but it didn’t stop these great men or the others from doing what they thought was right. Neither will it stop me. God has taught me that Eric had to go through this “fire” in order to be brought out refined.
BMIA: Talk about how your faith plays a role in your life.
J. McCalvin: Faith keeps me going when I get discouraged. Faith told me to write this book and that it is important. Because of faith I believe in the end result, the result that I can’t see right now because it is so far away. Faith tells me that my man will be home one day and that I will be a great and respectable writer one day.
BMIA: I’ve heard about women who marry men who are serving time in prison. Some of these men will NEVER see the light of day, and yet there are women who want to marry them. You married Eric while he was in prison. Was that his idea or yours?
J. McCalvin: Both. If I was going to wait then at least let us be able to be intimate sometimes because it helps. Those weekends are like short vacations from all this. Sometimes its just about the moment, the here and now. Sometimes life is too unpredictable and short to spend too much time worrying about anything else.
BMIA: What was it about your relationship with Eric that made you want to marry him?
J. McCalvin: Eric and I are best friends. When he was home we were always together. When he was hanging out with his friends I would be right there. We were buddies. People envied that about us. Drugs changed him. It wasn’t me or anything I did, it wasn’t our love, it was drugs. Drugs don’t love nobody.
BMIA: In other cases, women marry men who are serving life sentences and destined to die in jail? Does the same logic that you just shared apply?
J. McCalvin: It could. There is no real logic to love, you love who you love. And because of love you take what you have and because it is real to you, you do what is important to you.
BMIA: What do you want people to “get” or learn as a result of reading your book?
J. McCalvin: I want people to try and understand the women who wait. I want them to see the love that can take place between inmates and their wives. I want them to see that this started off no different than their own relationships. Through my husband’s incarceration as well as all the other things that I share that happened to me in my book, like my sister’s death, my battle with a chronic illness and all I learned, I want people to see that they can be strong through anything.
BMIA: What drives you to succeed and be the best?
J. McCalvin: I have a right to succeed. I’ve been through so much. I deserve success. I fight to maintain my health everyday. I have to deal with people that think I’m crazy or feel like I’m living a double life sometimes. I often tell myself, you deserve to be happy and satisfied because you fight so much.
BMIA: Do you feel any sense of responsibility for Eric’s circumstances?
J. McCalvin: Why would I ever feel responsible for what a man does? I did not give birth to him, if anything, his mother should feel some responsibility. And, too, he should feel responsible for the circumstances he put his wife and child in, not the other way around.
BMIA: How would you assess your role and level of responsibility for the things that have happened in your life?
J. McCalvin: I accept total responsibility for whether I lay back and feel sorry for myself or get up and keep going. Life is unpredictable and things happen, things that we can’t control. What I control and accept total responsibility for is my reaction to those things.
BMIA: Who motivates and inspires you?
J. McCalvin: God inspires me. My daughter inspires me. Writing inspires me. It is my purpose. When a new poem or another verse to an old one or words to a chapter of a book I am writing begins to flow through me like rivers of running water and I can barely write as fast as this stuff is coming though me, I feel like I can fly. Oh Man! I feel so complete.
BMIA: Has Eric’s serving time in prison changed your outlook on life? If so, how?
J. McCalvin: When I was young and I thought about marriage and being with a man, of course, I never imagined in my wildest dreams I’d be in this situation. When I was younger I fantasized a lot. I must admit that he took away a lot of those fantasies and brought me down to the bare reality of things.
BMIA: What’s the biggest challenge facing women who have men in prison?
J. McCalvin: Learning that they are not responsible. The biggest challenge for black women who have men in prison and black women everywhere is to understand that we can’t do everything. They must begin to understand that we must stop nurturing grown men and begin to nurture ourselves more. We must stop having sons with men that are not responsible. We must try hard to get good fathers for our sons so that this cycle of men becoming incarcerated because they had no positive male role models will end.
BMIA: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing black men in America?
J. McCalvin: Accepting responsibility for the situations they have put sisters in. That when a sister takes her three children by three different men to the welfare office it isn’t only her we need to judge or look down on, clearly there are three irresponsible men out there who are not doing their job. There are too many black children without fathers. Where are the fathers? In jail? Wherever they are, that is the biggest challenge for black men in America. Keeping them out of jail, becoming responsible, creating positive role models for their children and spending time with their children. Slavery has come back in a different form. Prison makes men powerless. To the educated and uneducated, rap singers, NBA stars, stop making babies and walking away. Stop leaving sisters alone. I wish I didn’t have to write “What Happens When Brothers Go To Prison And Leave Sisters Alone.” I wish this issue were not as common as it is today.
BMIA: Thank you Jaki!
J. McCalvin: Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
Jaki McCalvin grew up in Harlem, NY and currently lives in North Carolina.
You can order Jaki’s book, “What Happens When Brothers Go To Prison and Leave Sisters Alone?” at Amazon.com or by sending a check/money payable to Jaki McCalvin at Sister Publishing, PO Box 539, Kannapolis, NC 28082. Click here to visit her web site.
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Filling The Void by Scottie Lowe
Open Letter to the Authentic Black Woman
To Whom It May Concern:
Recently, I found myself thinking of your true worth. In my pre-coconscious mind thoughts of the authentic black women began to ruminate. For so long you have been devalued, persecuted, and disrespected. A Goddess in your own right, you have used your divinity to shield yourself from the brunt of these injuries. The black woman speaks of family and orchestrates its symphony with adroitness. Your epicene attributes allow you to assume the role of both mother and father, even though it is not in your original job description. Inside of your womb we find the genesis of mankind and the safest place on earth. The authentic black woman has endured much long suffering and has done so with a smile. Embedded in man’s collective unconscious is your record of faithful service. Your aesthetic qualities have been overlooked in favor of emaciated fair skinned women, by a society that would not know beauty if it stared them in the eyes. Authentic black women are never tawdry of cantankerous, as they are a joy to be around and respectful of themselves and others. A jewel with an iridescent bling that could light up the universe, you shine so that others may be encouraged.
You were present with Mary as she endured the pain of seeing her son Jesus crucified. You were a house maiden in Cleopatra’s court and a faithful wife to Moses. You have endured the indignity of being a slave, and suffered countless sexual assaults at the hands of your former Masters. You were forced sit at the back of the bus and when you could endure it no longer, you refused to get up. You supported Martin and Malcolm as they led the Civil Rights Movement, and after all of this, you are still doing your part.
You are an intellect, who has an avaricious appetite for knowledge. You are a faithful companion and a champion of the black man. You are my other half. I know that I do not tell you this enough, but I love you. Even though I can be misogynistic at times, I see you as my equal. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. If ever there is a time when you need me, just let me know. I hope this letter reaches you, as I know that you have addresses in many different countries. Hope to hear from you soon.
The Authentic Black Man
Drop The Baggage
By Samone M. Smith-Brown, M.S.
Baggage can come in all styles, designs and shapes. From the cheapest we can find, to the most expensive-Gucci, Louis Vuitton and the like. But the one thing that all of these receptacles have in common is that they all serve the same purpose-they carry around our baggage, our luggage. I say this in a metaphoric style to help you to realize that no baggage is better or any different than any other. The way we acquire our baggage or the person or persons from whom we receive our baggage doesn’t makes any one person’s different, more expensive or better, it is all the same. Louis Vuitton to Jordache, to no name brand, we all are doing the same thing. We should recognize that even if we live in Beverly Hills or in a remote part of the country, the things we lug to other relationships, no matter how pretty, rich or attractive the person carrying it is, the contents of their bags needed to be UNPACKED.
When we unpack, we need to do so after each “excursion”- meaning, each relationship. You can look at it in this context – You wouldn’t carry the same luggage to Alaska that you would carry to the Bahamas or Jamaica. Two different climates- just as each relationship is also that- two different places, two different people, two different circumstances, so treat them as such. One situation or signs of a situation that you may have experienced with someone else is not necessarily the same type that you will encounter with another. For example, you were dating “Bobby” (Alaska) for a long time. You felt he was or could possibly be “the one”. But as time went on, Bobby began not to answer his cell phone, would stay out later at times and some of his habits changed. After some of that good old-fashioned detective work we all have done, you find out Bobby was unfaithful and you decide to leave. The luggage you carried from that relationship was that from now on, when a man doesn’t answer his cell phone, he is usually cheating. This is what you carry with you to your next excursion or relationship with “Nate” (Jamaica) including all of the hurt and pain you never “unpacked” before you left Bobby (Alaska).
One day you decide to call Nate and he just so happens not to answer your call. This triggers your heart and mind to relive the hurt you felt when you found that Bobby was not who he claimed to be. So, instead of using the clothes or baggage you have for your new relationship, you now decide to unpack from your old relationship and you let Nate have it all. None of which was given to Bobby who deserved it. Your knowledge of and situations that you have with your new relationship becomes null and void for your heart needs to be protected. Any good excuse that Nate may have that may very well be the truth, you will not hear. Your hurt and heart are speaking too loudly for anything or anyone else to get in. Your heart is the most important part of your being at this time and in order to protect your heart, you LOSE YOUR MIND. We needed to unpack, we need to unpack. I am not saying that we need to be blind to situations and not to be alert, for no one will love you and protect your heart better than you. It is okay to love someone but you should love yourself more. BUT, when we carry too much luggage and don’t unpack when it is warranted, we tend to be on such a high level of defense that we neglect to see the situation for what it is. Feel how heavy your suitcase was and how heavy it gets from relationship to relationship? TAKE THE “CLOTHES OUT GIRLS.”
All men are not dogs, but the ones that are, I hate to say it, had a hand in getting that way from women (and mothers) who allow men to do as they wish for they are not the one’s on the other side who are feeling the pain of heartache. But soon, trust me, karma is a bitch and what goes around comes around. For women, you will be on the other side of the street one day and for mothers who are raising their sons as if they can do no wrong, don’t have a daughter, for the materials that you are sowing with your sons, remember, SOMEONE ELSE is sowing the same seeds with their sons and you should pray that your daughter doesn’t find herself tilling his crops, for she will experience a bad harvest.
But men can’t be the only ones blamed for baggage we may carry for some of the old dirt we have given and sown as women can cause us to feel leery of trusting another. Our dirt yields our insecurities, which in turn also puts us on high alert and causes us to bring baggage, create baggage and carry baggage to and from our relationships. Everything didn’t necessarily have to be done to you, remember that. Our actions cause reactions…. we can’t always give blame; we sometimes have to accept it as well. Being a “dirt dog” is not just a man’s game, we can be “dirt dogs” and downright “dirt bitches” when we want to. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game;” is a cute and catchy saying but behind closed doors, we catch more than just the saying.
Everything in a relationship is reversible. It isn’t always just being fed to us, we feed things back as well. Another example, Ladies: Your man was good to you, never cheated, but you got good with your game, cheated, played him, never got caught. This relationship eventually ends and you are now single and ready to mingle. Sooner or later you get into a relationship where you are the one with your “nose opened” and every excuse your man or mate gives you rings a familiar bell in your head of the times when you used the same excuses to do your dirt. EVEN IF your mate is being truthful with you, your heart is on the line. Your head signals your thoughts, your thoughts signal your heart and your heart signals the need for protection. You accuse, argue and even check out the stories given to you. Even if their stories come up truthful every time, you are still going through the fire drill of “ I remember what I used to do and I will not be played-OH NO HE WONT”. The not knowing if he or she is telling the truth is what is killing you inside for you know that when the shoe was on the other foot, you actually had them on wrong because you used to lie. But do you know what you are doing- you are folding up another shirt to pack away in your suitcase to carry with the baggage you are creating. A mind may be a terrible thing to waste but it is also a terrible thing to play with and when you play with other people’s mind indirectly or even without their knowledge, it plays with yours as well. Everything has a cause and affect. If you cause it, it will affect you, maybe not sooner but definitely later.
Part One – Relationship Advice
From the time we were small girls, gaining and maintaining relationships has been a constant battle. It started out as just play fights and pigtail pulling in the schoolyard to full-blown arguments and battles. Relationships are essential in maintaining a strong lifeline to society as well as for supplying us with personal fulfillment. The small thing that many of us seem to neglect to think about is that, no matter what type of relationship we find ourselves in, they all start out the same way. We have fondness for someone and then it progresses from there. But, the trap that many of us seem to have fallen in and the most important step that we neglect is that we FORGET that all relationships start out with friendship. Simple admiration for another person, a piqued interest that makes us want to know more. But in the quest to get to know another we fail to get to know ourselves. What we fail to realize is that in order to find and maintain a healthy relationship we first have to learn how to become a good friend to ourselves before we can become anything to anyone else. If we treat ourselves with the love, respect, admiration and care that we are trying desperately to give to another, it would then be very hard to accept anything less than the best for ourselves in any type of relationship; personal, work related, intimate or otherwise. Treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you.
Many times as women, when we find or think we have found that “special man,” we tend to jump on him without thinking through all that needs to be looked at and considered when progressing to a serious relationship. We begin to blindly rationalize within ourselves and feel that “we know what we are doing” even when the obvious is staring us in the face. Many times our rationalization comes from outside factors that we internalize- ‘we are getting up in age so we had better get a move on; everybody else has a man, so why not me; we feel lonely or we are just plain unhappy with ourselves and we see a man as the answer to our own completion.
Many times when we find an interesting man, we tend to look, hope and pray for any sign of the attributes we are looking for and if he exhibits a modicum of having the “right stuff” we begin to “see” that he has all of the qualities we were looking for, when in actuality, he doesn’t. We just want him to have the qualities so badly that we take that small display and begin to “see” that he has what we want and if we have to settle for just some of the qualities not being there, it is okay, we can help him to develop the others. How come we don’t ever realize that we can’t ever change a man and that the onset of trying to do so is a sign from the beginning? We shouldn’t have to try to develop and see things in him that are just not there. We turn our “want” for a relationship into a “need” for one when in all actuality what we needed to do was to “need” ourselves a little more. While we are cultivating our man like he is farmland in Montana, we have yet to realize that we should have unpacked our heavy baggage we lugged into this relationship and that we should have finished tilling our own land before we try to grab up a piece of land that may have been left “unsold” and untitled for a myriad of reasons.
I know some of you reading this right now are feeling as if I am a woman bashing women. This is not the case for I am writing this out of love. We can all learn from one another. We all have something important to give and say, so lets stop eyeing each other, not listening to one another, not respecting one another and others relationships and lets try to live happily and healthy.
“We are all Sisters in the struggle to remain above ground in a world of cement shoes. Relationships are hard. We need to learn to become harder.”
Samone M. Smith-Brown holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Capella University and a Bachelors degree from Rutgers University. Currently she is a special education teacher as well as counselor specializing in relationship, self-esteem and psychological problems in men, women, children and adolescents in both group and individual settings.
Hungry For More
By Robyn McGee
Author and Speaker Robyn M. McGee Tackles Weighty Issues in her book Hungry For More
Foreword by Joycelyn Elders, M.D, former U.S. Surgeon General
November 2005—If you are an African-American woman, chances are you are considered to be fat. Statistics show 70% of black women are classified as overweight or obese. Is this a result of the classifier or the classified? In reality, it is both. Due to their genetic makeup, very few adult, African-American women are able to wear a size 2, the image that the movies, music videos and magazines serves up as the body type of the “perfect woman.” Though outwardly stylish and confident, inwardly, many African American women feel as if their self-image is under attack by the constant barrage of messages subliminally reminding them they are not beautiful because they don’t have the “correct” body dimensions. Buying into this impossible standard can be both mentally and emotionally draining-and dangerous. Robyn McGee author and speaker knows first hand how damaging low self-esteem combined with trying to live up to someone else’s idea of beauty can be.
“My sister Cathy always loved a good party. The last time I saw her, she was hosting a friend’s wedding” McGee reveals. “With her head thrown back in laughter, Cathy held a champagne glass in hand and was surrounded endless bottles of wine and enough food to feed ten armies.”
Cathy was always self-conscious about her full bosom, wide hips and thick legs, yet Cathy was a beautiful and accomplished black woman. She was married with four children and she owned her own business. Despite living what many consider the American dream Cathy was forever dissatisfied with her looks. Her lifelong obsession with her weight compelled her to indulge in the wrong foods, at the wrong times all for the wrong reasons. Eventually, Cathy gained the one hundred pounds over her ideal weight that qualified her for gastric bypass surgery. Her desperate quest to be thin proved to be deadly. She died from an infection four days after her operation. Cathy never made it back home.
“As I look back, I realize that Cathy’s struggle was not with her weight, but with feelings of inadequacy,” declares McGee. “If she’d understood that her perceptions were obscured by the societal norms and popular culture, she would have appreciated the dimensions that God gave black women and celebrated what she was rather than chasing something she wasn’t.”
Today more and more African American men and women are seeking weight loss surgery as a quick fix to a lifelong problem. It is estimated that 150,000 people had gastric bypass operations, in 2004 about 15% of those patients were African Americans. Frustrated after a lifetime of dieting disappointments, sick and tired of the teasing, the insults, and in poor health, many folks rush headlong into this major surgery without considering all the ramifications. In fact in October 2005, NBC news reported that 1 in 200 people died within a year after having weight loss surgery. This number is much higher than was previously reported.
In Hungry for More: A Keeping-it-Real Guide for Black Women on Weight and Body Image, author and speaker, Robyn McGee offers a holistic approach to weight and health by addressing their social and cultural implications. With foreword and praise by former U.S. Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, M.D., Hungry for More is a straight-talking, informative book that encourages readers to take control of their lives and utilize practical ways they can combat obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. McGee believes that without self-love and self-acceptance no diet or operation can be successful long-term.
“Unless you change what’s in your heart and mind, no amount of surgery will make you feel whole. Without psychological change to go with your physical change, you could risk gaining all of the weight back and still be miserable,” McGee said. Although she is not a medical doctor, in Hungry for More, McGee suggests trying less drastic ways to lose weight permanently before calling the weight loss surgeon. Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, seeing a therapist for possible depression, consulting a nutrition expert along with a commitment to regular exercise, could offer the results overweight people desire without the pain and risk of weight loss surgery, according to McGee.
Keeping her sister’s memory at the forefront, McGee’s timely tome is nonjudgmental, sympathetic and upfront in conveying to readers the importance of honoring themselves by making healthy lifestyle choices, being patient and diligent, seeking help when necessary and remembering that they are much more than a dress size or the numbers on a scale.
Hungry for More: A Keeping-it-Real Guide for Black Women on Weight and Body Image is due to be released in December 2005 by Seal Press, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc.
About the Author
Robyn McGee is a longtime activist and women’s rights advocate. She is currently Director of Women’s Resources at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and she frequently lectures on women’s issues and popular culture. Her work has been published in Seventeen, The Black World Today, and Fireweed Feminist Journal. She lives in Southern California, with her daughter. For more information, visit www.robynwrites.com.
The following is an excerpt from the book Life Lessons for My Sisters: How to Make Wise Choices and Live a Life You Love! by Natasha Munson, published by Hyperion; May 2005; $11.95US/$15.95CAN; 1-4013-0805-8. Copyright © 2005 Natasha Munson
WHO OR WHAT IS GOD?
God is a spiritual being that exists within you, within others, and within the world. God is the force that created you and everything in this world. God created the world as a place for man and nature to coincide.
God is not a wrathful, vengeful being. He is not a being for you to be afraid of. God created everything in nature to work with and complement everything else. Sunsets, mountains, and the earth itself are things of beauty. A being that created all these wonderful things is not something to fear. You can have awe for the works of God. But to be fearful of God limits our relationship with Him. God is a loving being you should love.
In the same way that all things in nature complement one another, humans are also here to complement one another. That means that life is about learning and about giving. All you have to do in this life is learn about yourself and give what you know. Life is really not difficult if you look at it in the simplistic terms God has given us.
You learn in this life through your experiences. Those experiences shape your life, your character, your values, your beliefs, your goals, your love, and your reality. While you are going through your life lessons, there will be a goal you want to fulfill. This goal is your reason for being, because, while you are here to learn, you are also here to fulfill a purpose. Fulfilling that purpose is like completing an agreement with God. He gave you a desire and you have to achieve it.
When you fulfill that dream, your spiritual purpose, you are giving the most beautiful thing to the world. You are giving yourself as a completely fulfilled person. This is the reason you are here: to learn, to give, to fulfill your purpose.
Your purpose is what you most desire. Any ambition, any goal is acceptable. Whether it’s to start a day care center or become an entertainment lawyer. The outcome is still the same — you are in a position to help others.
To always remember your purpose, you have to remember that God is within you. Since God is the creator, this means that you are, in a way, the co-creator of your life. You can create the life you want by simply believing you must and can achieve it. Whatever you focus on and work toward, you will achieve.
Fulfilling your purpose is a spiritual act. Spirituality is about looking within and looking at the world. The world is beautiful. You will see it if you take the time to truly look at the world. It’s easy to see just the negative things and the bitter people and think of the world as ugly. But the world becomes ugly because people don’t realize that they are the co-creators of their lives. No one has to remain miserable or unhappy, it’s all a choice.
Really look at the world, the trees, the oceans, the mountains. All of it is beautiful and designed for a specific purpose. Everything automatically works well together. Your responsibility is to fulfill your purpose so that, in some way, you contribute to how the world works too.
One person can make a difference, and that is what you are here to do. If you touch the life of one person, you are creating a domino effect. That person will touch the life of another person, and so on. So always know that you fulfilling your purpose is necessary to the world.
God is within you and therefore you have the power to create the life you want. When you create the life you want, your inner fulfillment and happiness will be passed on to others as an inspiration.
Reprinted from the book Life Lessons for My Sisters: How to Make Wise Choices and Live a Life You Love! by Natasha Munson. Copyright © 2005 Natasha Munson. Published by Hyperion; May 2005; $11.95US/$15.95CAN; 1-4013-0805-8. Author Natasha Munson is a motivational speaker with a focus on empowering the community one spirit at a time. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information, please visit www.sisterlessons.com.
Inside Of Me: Scratching The Surface With Shellie R. Warren
Look folks, I make no bones about the fact that “I’m in the tank” for Shellie R. Warren. What I mean by that is that when it comes to writers, I think Shellie is a fresh new voice in America. I featured Shellie Warren’s writing on this web site about three years ago. She wrote about relationship issues and I thought her work was refreshingly honest.
As I look at Shellie today, she has grown and matured in her writing. Shellie is unabashed about sharing her experiences and life lessons about sexual promiscuity, sexual abuse, low self-esteem and depression. In her new book, Shellie tells the stories of women whose voices are missing, not because they don’t want to speak, but because they don’t get heard. Like many other people in her life, I told Shellie that she needed to write a book. A few months ago, I was asked by Shellie’s publisher to write a testimonial for her book, “Inside of Me: Lessons of Lust, Love and Redemption.” I read the then “galley” of the forthcoming book and was so moved by what I had read I just picked up a pen and wrote the now famous line: “Shellie R. Warren is to writing, what Mary J. Blige is to song.”
I think that Shellie Warren is the “next big thing” and I finally got our schedules coordinated so that we could spend some quality time and talk. So on a quiet Sunday afternoon, Shellie and I talked about her life and this very revealing new book. Here is the Shellie Warren interview.
The Shellie R. Warren Interview
BMIA.com: Shellie. What’s going on girl? Tell us a little bit about your background. What was your earliest or most vivid recollection of being or feeling different?
Shellie R. Warren: Well, if I wanted to be really dramatic, I guess I would say since I can remember; but in all actuality, I knew I didn’t really fit in once I entered high school. In elementary, I went to a multi-racial school that was filled with different cultures, religious beliefs and financial statuses. Once I entered the ninth grade, differences didn’t seem quite as praised. I always dressed “Cosby-kid-ish” because my mother was a New Yorker and was never the biggest Nashville fan; she wanted her children to be individuals. By then I had (and still do have) really full lips and an overbite. I had acne and “Oprah hair” in the sense that it seemed to grow wider than longer. I just wasn’t a good fit on the physical sense and because I was really outgoing, it made things even more confusing. I was a like a really popular underdog. No guys wanted to date me, but liked hanging out with me. No girls saw me as a threat, but often wanted me as a sidekick. It was really weird. But I figured “second best” was my destiny and so that is how I acted until…just a few years ago.
BMIA.com: Shellie you are unabashed about sharing your experiences and life lessons about sexual promiscuity, sexual abuse, low self-esteem and depression. Are you surprised at the success of your at the advanced “buzz” about your new book “Inside of Me: Lessons of Lust, Love and Redemption?”
SRW: I am not surprised that a book like this is so well-received because we are living in a time when people want real solutions to real problems and we are beginning to acknowledge that when it comes to the way many of us deal with our sexuality, there are real, serious problems there. Now, what I am a little taken aback with is the fact that I am the one God would choose to take on such an endeavor. I am having a hard time learning how to respond to statements like, “Your book has changed my life” or the immense need that complete strangers are having to come up to me and share some of their deep, dark secrets. I have been so used to seeing my dirty, closet issues as “negatives” that to see how it is positively affecting people’s lives at a pretty steady pace (as far as reaching various places)…yes, that is taking some getting used to.
BMIA.com: Why do you think your writing is so well received?
SRW: At the risk of sounding super-spiritual, I know that it is a gift from God and so that fact keeps me pretty humble and I think it is the humility to share my mess that draws people. I have had many people say that reading my writing is like having a conversation with me and to be honest, I don’t know how to be any other way. When it comes to the professional side, at times, it has gotten me in trouble because I am not very “AP” style. But when it comes to creative writing, it really stands out because I think the candidness and “sister-girl” like tone, makes people feel like they are listening more than reading. If that makes sense.
BMIA.com: Did you have a difficult time getting a book deal?
SRW: I had one of the easiest times ever getting a deal. I wasn’t actually shopping my autobiography. Relevant (my publisher) found me and asked me if they could feature me in their magazine. A few weeks later, they asked me to do a piece on abortion and then they offered me the opportunity to write a book on my life. Ironically, that was something my literary agent (I am currently shopping a collection of devotionals as well) told me I would need to hold off on for quite some time until I gained some credibility, but my editorial director was like, “Girl, you have a story that needs to get out now. We’ll publish it.” A got a contract a few weeks following the conversation.
BMIA.com: How difficult was it for you to write this book?
SRW: It was darn near impossible to get started on it once the contract was signed. I was in a lot of fear and at first, I wasn’t really sure why. Since I had been writing, especially full-time, I had always submitted personal narratives about discoveries I had made as it related to relationships, myself, God, sex, whatever. But when you are sitting down and writing down a series of events surrounding the same issue, that can be mentally suffocating and emotional claustrophobic. To top it off, those closest to me were not tap dancing at the idea at all. My mother could not understand why I wanted to write such a revealing memoir and my boyfriend, while he could understand it, because he is such a private person, he didn’t like it. I often tell people it was my “Garden in Gethsemane” moment. All of us have times when we have to go it completely alone when it comes to our purposes in life. I think God uses it as a “gut test” to see if we are really as ready for the next phase life as we claim we are. That, on top of the fact that I had to revisit so many memories—at times, it was too much to bear. The reality is, I was given my contract last summer, but I didn’t start the book until after Thanksgiving and I turned it in on MLK Day of this year. Yes, what could have taken six months took more like six weeks. I don’t recommend that to anyone on a manuscript deadline, but everyone’s path is different and I think what that time showed me was that writing was not the challenge for me–preparing myself for the responsibility that comes with the words was…and still is.
BMIA.com: Having already read your book, I can say that it is a very “matter-of-fact collection of your experiences. Can you talk about how your mother, stepfather and boyfriend have reacted to the book?
SRW: At first my mother said she was telling people, “Why couldn’t she write a cookbook?” and we did go through a series of “Why do you have to do this kind of book? Why does this have to be your first introduction to the world as an author?”, but after reading it (which she just did in it’s entirety last month), she said that while she wished I had been on a road less traveled as any mother would, she as proud of me as both my mother and as a woman that I would be so bold as to be willing to use my past to help others. She says it has made her more open to dealing with her past and she is at peace that it is indeed a part of my purpose in life—to help others through writing in this way. My boyfriend and I had somewhat of a tense time in the months leading up to the galley release. I think more than anything because I am so candid, direct and an extrovert, he wasn’t sure what to expect. I made sure he received a galley along with the other reviewers; he finished it in a day and told me that he always considered me to be a good writer, but that he gained so much more respect for my talent through the avenue of the book. He said it was like watching a movie. I think because it is written in an emotionally revealing tone rather than a physical one, he is more at ease. I know it hurts both my mom and my boyfriend that my past consisted of so much sexual abuse and misuse, but they both have seen so much growth as a direct result and I think that gives them both the strength and desire to stand beside me—come what may. My stepfather? I haven’t spoken to him in years, but ironically, I saw his current wife a couple of weeks back, and she said, “I am just proud of you for writing a book.” I’ll take that.
BMIA.com: What do you want black women to learn as a result from reading your book?
SRW: That if you are caught up in the cycle, you are not anywhere that another sister has not been before; however, that is not an excuse for you to stay there. The main purpose of the book is not just so women will have someone who they can relate to—it’s not a “misery loves company” ministry. Actually, what I hope it will accomplish is an avenue to show women that although unfortunately a lot of the things in the book are not uncommon, they are still immensely unhealthy and that we as women are receivers when it comes to sex. When a man gets off of us, it is only his physical state that leaves—some part of him on an emotional level always stays with us. Shoot, that’s why so many of us are “off” now. We have way too many different personalities roaming around in our being. The book is to bring flags to things that are wrong in a relationship and to open women up to being accountable to some of the mistakes made and to prevent them from creating them with other men.
BMIA.com: What do you want black men to learn as a result of reading your book?
SRW: I want my men to realize that you play a significant role in the relational fate of virtually every woman you involve yourself with on a sexual level. With us, it’s never just sex. It was never meant to be just sex. But more than that, I want men to know that they shouldn’t fall for the hype that they are the only ones running game. Because women are emotional creatures, a lot of times, based on our emotional stability in a relationship, we can cause ourselves to create and believe whatever we want about ourselves. If we want to convince you that we are a virgin, we can. If we want to convince you that we are pregnant, we can. If we want to convince you that we don’t mind sharing you with others, we can. If we can to convince you that we don’t mind you being in a non-committed relationship with us, we can. And if we want to convince you that we are fine with things like that, we can. We’re not. I don’t care who the woman is, if she is willing to compromise her womanhood to appease your manhood, there are some real problems there and you will not get off as easy as you think. But another good point for men to realize is that sex; abortion, abuse and relationships affect them just as significantly—just perhaps differently. A wise male friend of mine once said that men feel the same things women do; women just react on an emotional level more than men tend to. I would be inclined to agree.
BMIA.com: What has been your most significant life lesson to date?
SRW: That when you have written something as powerful as “Inside of Me”, no matter how much praise or even criticism you may get, that is not the time to get caught up in people because it can send you right back to where you were before the book was written. I have told people in a few interviews that I have had more men approach me (including a couple of characters in the book) since “Inside of Me” has been released and some didn’t even know I have a book out. I think men are naturally drawn to confidence, which is something that I was lacking before. But I try to stay mindful on daily basis that anytime you do something for the betterment of others, you have to be more prayerful, more centered, more grounded than ever because you have set yourself up for a whole ‘nother level of challenges. In your mess, you were only hurting a few. In your helping, you are benefiting the masses. Not everyone finds that to be admirable. Society makes a lot of money off of dysfunction and seeing people fall from grace.
BMIA.com: What’s the best thing about being Shellie R. Warren?
SRW: That she has the power to be miraculously tenacious and resilient. She loves hard, she works hard, she believes hard and through that, she knows that she can accomplish much. Not much intimidates her, which I guess is the benefit from being a once underdog. There is always a little “bite” in those kinds of people. Umm, I think I am speaking in third-person because it is easier to brag about yourself that way (smile).
BMIA.com: What’s the worst thing about Shellie R. Warren?
SRW: That I can be so consumed with the negative what-ifs in life that I often miss the positive what-is. Abuse, even if you are a survivor of it, can make one so paranoid, so pessimistic, so cynical that you miss out on being able to see so many of the blessings God has for you, including his protection from all of the negativity.
BMIA.com: How has being sexually misused at a young age affected your relationships with men as an adult?
SRW: Well, actually it was the abuse at a young age that helped me in even coin-phrasing something like “sexual misuse”. The role of parents is to nurture their children so that they can become healthy adults. When an adult in anyway defines a child based on their sexuality more than anything else, things become imbalanced. Plainly put: If my own father saw me as sexy, why would I set higher standards for men that I date? And that’s just what happened. Because I already did not like myself, whenever a man I was attracted to was sexually attracted to me, I figured his love, affection and devotion would follow as long as I “gave him some”. That old saying: first comes love, then comes…everything else? They ain’t never lied. The cart before the horse will trip you up every time.
BMIA.com: How did you meet your boyfriend?
SRW: Ironically, his mother introduced us for the sole purpose of two creative people meeting up. None and I mean, none of us expected it to go this route. But because he is so intelligent and such a gifted artist (music), we did bond pretty quickly on a lot of levels. However, it was years before we saw each other as anything more than close acquaintances, friends and then good friends; which is the formula to a really healthy relationship. He knows me…all of me and chooses to love me anyway. I feel the same way about him. When you make the choice to love, there is something really beautiful about that because you are not feeling coerced, manipulated or sexually-addicted as it relates to your decision.
BMIA.com: What advice would you share with people who are sexually misused?
SRW: To be open enough to even consider that being a reality when it comes to where you are as it relates to you and those you are involved with. I personally think sexual misuse is anything out of God’s intention for sex, which is marriage, but the reality is, regardless of where your personal convictions lie, no one likes being committed to something or someone that is not reciprocating. If you are finding yourself sexually-involved in such a predicament—GET OUT OF IT. Nothing permanently good can ultimately come from that, no matter how gratifying the temporary pleasure may be. As someone very dear to me once said, “Shellie, you have had fine men and good sex and they about took your uterus out.” I still want the fine and the sex, but I want the “till death do us part” as well.
BMIA.com: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
SRW: Writing more books, married, touring at various colleges, having my own radio show, a column in a major publication (Essence, I am just a phone call away) and still freelancing. Just being a holistically better person so that there will be no need to write an “Inside of Me” sequel. Ever.
BMIA.com: Thank you Shellie.
SRW: Thank you Gary.
Click on the book cover below to buy Shellie’s new book: “Inside of Me: Lessons of Lust, Love and Redemption”
A former spokesperson for Miss Black USA, Inc. Shellie R. Warren is a full-time writer and speaker on “sexual misuse,” a phrase she coined to describe any sexual relationship outside of marriage. She has been published in over three-dozen publications including Honey Magazine, Upscale Magazine, CCM, Gospel Today, b-gyrl.com, DOE Network and NV Magazine. Warren, who was named Miss Woman of Color 2002, is also a spoken word artist and is featured on b-gyrl.com’s compilation, The Lyristcess Lounge. She lives in Nashville, TN.
Illuminating The Spirit With Verna Ford and Audra Bohannon
Verna Ford and Audra Bohannon have written a powerful new book called “Illuminating The Spirit.” I used to work with these phenomenal women for several years. I can tell you firsthand that Audra Bohannon and Verna Ford have been touching the spirit of people for years with their personal crusade to enrich the lives of others and ultimately change the world. I read the book and came away thinking that men could benefit from using it. Reading the book allowed me to engage my spirit and consciousness to help me manage some aspects of my personal journey.
Audra and Verna have worked as managers and business consultants for over 20 years. Many of their insights are drawn from the patterns that they see with respect to people and their work. One such pattern shapes the core question of “Illuminating The Spirit.”
The first question that popped into my mind was: “Whose idea was it to write the book in the form of a journal?” “Our publisher recommended this format for the book. Evangelia Biddy of PMG Press had been in one of our workshops during which some of the same principles were shared and discussed among participants. She was quite personally moved by the power of the concepts.”
For clarity, I wanted more information about the nuts and bolts of the book. Verna explained, ‘“When asked, “Are you doing what you want with your life?” many people—even very accomplished people—answer “No.” Consequently, they often have a difficult time giving the job their best effort. It turns out that most people know what they’d rather be doing with their time and energy. They say, “I do what I have to do to take care of my family, but what I’d love to do is….” They don’t realize that with the right plan, they could probably take care of their families and do the thing they want most to do.”’
I asked Verna and Audra to talk about the type of advice they would share with folks who don’t know exactly what would give them a sense of true satisfaction. After all, there are a lot of people who may have a sense that there is something out there that would allow them to feel more personally fulfilled and accomplished—but they don’t know how to get there. Ford and Bohannon have an answer. They explained that “Illuminating The Spirit.” is a self-guided journal to help people to zero in on those desires, put them into writing, and then develop an Energy Plan (Action Plan) to breathe life into those dreams. Verna and Audra reminded me that the book is not a departure from the work they’ve been doing for the last 20 years—it’s a distillation of it, targeted to a specific audience.
I’m very pleased that Verna Ford and Audra Bohannon took time out of their busy schedule to answer some questions about their book. Ladies, you owe it to yourself to buy this book. Fellas, you owe it to your lady and the women that you care about to share this gift. To learn more about this very special project, relax and read our interview with these new authors as they talk about “Illuminating The Spirit.”
BMIA: What are the advantages of having the book in journal form?
Ford & Bohannon: “The journal format makes the book quite approachable; quite manageable. It’s our goal to have women examine their lives, decide what they want, and then get to it! We tell our readers that the book is not complete, until it holds their thoughts—their answers to the questions; their insights captured in print on those blank pages.”
BMIA: Who were some of the people who inspired you to write this book?
Ford & Bohannon: I’m afraid that answer would be more cliché than a good writer likes to sound.
BMIA: How much of your personal life is reflected in your work?
Ford & Bohannon: We count ourselves as being quite fortunate to have spent the bulk of our careers doing work that we love. Certainly, we have not been immune to those things (fears, role conflict, procrastination) that can thwart personal achievement. In fact having dealt with those real-life dilemmas helped to keep our insights and recommendations, realistic, rather than becoming too idealistic.
The most direct reflection of us can be found in the Energy Partner concept. When we first met in 1983, our professional collaboration evolved into a close partnership almost immediately. Providing mutual support and a sincere appreciation for each other’s strengths formed the basis of our enduring friendship. Now we have expanded our own Energy Partnership into an Energy Network.
BMIA: What is an “Energy Partner” and what is an “Energy Network?”
Ford & Bohannon: We recommend that our readers find one or two other women who are ready to “get to it” and work through the chapters of the book together. Energy partners who follow our recommendations are sure to speed the progress of their goals because it’s harder to slack off once you have set a realistic goal and announced it to someone who is going to hold you accountable for the commitments you’ve made to yourself.
It’s a very important part of maintaining an illuminated spirit—to have one or two other people in your life, who in a reciprocal fashion, are pulling for you and cheering you on to greater and greater heights. Now picture having that kind of support from a whole lot of people—not always in the same measure, but reliably available to you for advice. referrals, or morale boosting support. That’s the function of an “Energy Network.”
BMIA: Your book has been described as a “woman’s personal tool for living.” What does this mean and why is it important?
Ford & Bohannon: The six “Get to it” Strategies are the centerpiece of “Illuminating the Spirit.” These are the tools that will get the reader energized and inspired to act. Each strategy addresses a tendency or pattern that, left unacknowledged or unmanaged, can thwart action. It’s taking action that fuels (or illuminates) the spirit.
BMIA: What do you want readers to learn as a result of reading your book?
Ford & Bohannon: We’d like to have them feel the joy of achievement and to know that such joy is regularly available to them. We want them to live fulfilled lives. “It’s all about choices.”
BMIA: Can men benefit from reading your book? If so, how?
Ford & Bohannon: The concepts in the book are not inherently gender-specific. We were simply trying to target an audience. We’d assumed that only women would buy such a book. Our male readers have let us know in no uncertain terms that we narrowed our focus too much, and they do not appreciate having been left out. We learned our lesson on that one.
BMIA: How would you describe your style of writing?
Ford & Bohannon: Practical philosophy.
BMIA: What’s the hardest part of being a newly published author?
Ford & Bohannon: Realizing that you are only half way there once the book is written.
BMIA: What’s the easiest part of being a newly published author?
Ford & Bohannon: The most pleasurable part is seeing people’s reaction to the book as they open it up to a random page and say, “I need this book!”
BMIA: Who are your favorite authors?
Ford & Bohannon: “My favorite author (Audra) is Zora Neale Hurston.” “I (Verna) don’t have a favorite author.”
BMIA: As new authors, what have you learned about the publishing business?
Ford & Bohannon: Lesson: It’s not for the faint of heart.
BMIA: What has been your biggest failure or lesson learned as a writer?
Ford & Bohannon: Lesson: You can’t edit enough. Edit and re-edit. Most important things can be said simply.
BMIA: Where do you go from here? In other words, what’s next for Ford and Bohannon?
Ford & Bohannon: Already we are doing workshops along with our major book signing events—100 people or more. . The six strategies and the energy partner concepts are generating quite a bit of discussion. Exploring these more deeply seems to have real value for people, therefore we are beginning to give some thought to developing the major elements of the journal into a more comprehensive book.
As far as next topics are concerned, under consideration is “Friendships—what makes them; what breaks them.”
BMIA: How do you define success?
Ford & Bohannon: Setting goals and meeting them. It has little to do with what those goals are; only that the doing of them yields satisfaction and development.
BMIA: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing black men in America? Black women?
Ford & Bohannon: Remember the title of the next project? “Friendships—what makes them; what breaks them.” The premise here is that underneath our community’s failure to organize itself to produce healthier, happier, more developed citizens is a severe lack of those personal characteristics and interpersonal norms that make for good friendships—trust, commitment, holding a shared vision. Stay tuned.
BMIA: How can readers of this article support you and your work?
Ford & Bohannon: There are several ways—First, use the book. The six “Get to it Strategies” really do work. Our illustrator and publisher created such a beautiful book that some people don’t want to write in it. But it can only serve if it is used. Some people are buying two books—one to write in and one to keep fresh, and sometimes a third one for their energy partner.
Secondly, embrace the energy partner concept. Readers will be surprised to see how much easier the going gets when you are working with someone else who is also pursuing an important vision. Not only do you receive support, but there is inherent pleasure in helping another person to realize their potential. It’s a self-reinforcing practice.
Thirdly, our publisher, PMG Press, is offering a commission to individuals who sell 24 books or more. This program is called Helping Hands. Contact Evangelia Biddy at 866 770 6654.
BMIA: Where can your book be purchased?
Ford & Bohannon: The book is priced at $24 plus applicable sales tax and shipping. We accept checks, Discover, Visa or MasterCard. You can also order the book via US Mail from PMG Press, 72 Cherry Street, Jersey City, NJ 07305. Click here to purchase the book online or call 866-770-6654.
This interview was conducted by Gary Johnson.0