Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Beads and Buttons: Grandmotherly Memories

Had she lived to this day, Enid Veronica Daniels née Sam would have seen her 99th year completed. My grandmother was born on September 25th, 1918. She was born under the British rule of what is now the former colony of Guyana, in South America. She once told me that she worked in rice paddy fields there, and left her formal education to help her family at an age comparable to 8th graders. She did not see Obama as president for eight years, and Grace spared her the indignity of many other events since.

Enid bore nine children to adulthood, and adopted four of her eldest grandchildren, sponsoring them to live with her in the United States and continue their education. She was twice as old when she had my mother, one of her later babies, than when my mother had me. I believe she was in the middle of her own siblings, of whom I only ever met two, but heard tales of most of them all of my life. There is a lot of mystery (to me, yet) surrounding some other facts of her origin, like the tale of distant Chinese ancestry, her maiden name allegedly Anglicized over time.

Enid named her children very proper names. English, Roman, Christian, French names. Some middle names had Latinate or Germanic undertones, to be sure. Perhaps all of them had two middle names.

She worked all of her life, until she started forgetting the pot on the stove every day, and as she recounted to me more than once, accidentally left straight pins in the clothing she was mending for her charged. The parents got scared that the children would get injured, and as much as they loved her as their nanny, they parted with tears for the last time, her grey hair the only steely aspect of her disposition stubbornly intact. That was that.

She was amazing, nonetheless, in all of her ambitions, making countless sugar cakes on order for formal functions, guava jelly and pastes to the eternal distaste of several uncles and cousins tasked with helping her in the kitchen in their formal years. There is a picture of my grandmother in a crisp white nurse's uniform, testament to the tale of how she got her GED in New York City at age 65, and started going to nursing school before leaving that to care for the adopted grandchildren. She made a great many strides before Alzheimer's took over.

My grandmother's entrepreneurial spirit was borne of poverty and practical innovation of the resources she could command, on three continents, in four countries, spanning six decades. She funded several children's school fees and supplies, study-abroads, special projects, and fabric for uniforms she probably sewed, or at least darned, herself. All of this occurred before I was born, however.

The Enid I knew was decidedly more reserved and sternly adherent to her home devotionals and congregational services. I accompanied her on many Bible studies and bus outings to Boston and Washington D.C.. The old hymnals still ring in my head, and many of the lyrics as well are committed to memory. If she had her way, I would have always worn skirts and dresses and had my head covered and my hands gloved in her holy presence. She had a sharp tongue for rebuke, and a heavy hand for the occasional spanking. Had she lived to this day in full health and mental faculties, me, my mother AND sister would have some serious explaining to do about what we were all doing with our lives, for sure. It was not her style to smile for most pictures, and I was often scolded to "stop skinning my teeth", even when I knew she could cackle most vibrantly when put upon with a funny memory.

I first learned that onion, lime and cauliflower made delicious if peculiar pickles because of Enid. We would take trips to Woolworth and scour the craft section for zippers, beads, buttons and paper patterns. I credit her with my modern preoccupation with the minutiae of design, as I was often responsible for helping her rip out the incorrect bead-work in one of her coasters or table settings. I regret never learning to knit or crochet from her, or paid closer attention to the magical moment of her plait bread rising in doughy deliciousness.

For a while as a preteen, my grandparents held myself and my sister close while my mother worked on her undergraduate degree. I was very unhappy about being left in their care, and developed a distance from my grandmother in particular, favoring my grandfather's more taciturn benevolence (there were Werther's to be had, and long nights watching PBS when she fell asleep). She often seemed ill-tempered, and bossy. My grandmother's snores kept the dragons at bay, though. You could always find a treasure of quarters fastidiously wrapped in toilet paper when she sent me to fetch something form one of her many purses.

Things got progressively downhill after my family deposited me on campus in Southampton, and she was never the same after that farewell trip. She died three years after my grandfather, and thus I lost them both on the cusp of my young adulthood. I hold on dearly to the memories I have of Enid. There are videos somewhere from a long ago family function, and several boxes of pictures over the years. Occasionally my mother would reveal a craft piece that she had saved, or I'd come across an old postcard wedged in a book with her distinctive proper handwriting. She was the matriarch of the Daniels family for over 50 years, and she lives on in so many grand and great-grandchildren. I am honored to have known her as long as I did. Love you, Ma.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Juneteenth, #blackjoy, and Sowing Freedom Forward

I love a garden.  A green space of my own is one of my top-ten life goals. I come from a country that still retains a predominant percentage of its pristine rainforests, and can boast a long line of relatives that were (and are) stewards of the land. It is one of my greatest joys and marvels that they chose to retain this heritage in spite of generational trauma resounding from prior forced servitude on those very same lands, in North and South America. In this vein, I understand some of the legacies of slavery in the United States.

Imagine the value of urban green spaces for folks that have evolved beyond the legacy of slavery and sharecropping; migrating from predominantly rural agricultural communities to larger metropolises; sacrificing fresh air, affordable and generous living quarters. Urban green spaces, farms and gardens are a vital and intrinsic part of the mental, physical, and, dare I say, spiritual fortitude of the people that provide and/or seek them out. There is also an often overlooked economic affect as well. This becomes an interesting hurdle when one considers city zoning rules that designate what spaces can be used in what ways in every community. An endeavor to reclaim an abandoned lot previously collecting garbage thoughtlessly chucked by passersby and unscrupulous businesses can become a battle for real estate suddenly deemed valuable. Modern civilization often manifests itself in an unfortunate divorce from the free simplicity of enjoying land, air, food and water. How did we come to this?

It is no coincidence that gardeners often have other social justice projects under their belts. Black Joy in action.

"Black Joy" is a radical concept these days. Social media attests to this, and the apparent retaliation and rhetoric surrounding it proves that it is potent in its application and documentation. I have documented in this blog my initial forays into establishing a green sanctuary of my own, as a way to reconnect with the sacred, magical earth, as well as to channel creativity: from working the soil to photographing and cataloging its mysteries, to sharing its tasty and therapeutic rewards. It is an ever-unfolding practice, much like meditation that may involve complicated handstands, or simpler breathing techniques.

A much-needed break to re-hydrate and enjoy fruit and vegetable salads.

Some things are not meant to be rushed, but gently and mindfully coaxed towards their highest potential. And whatever bug bites or dusty jeans I've acquired in this process, I've always left that green space happier, more fulfilled, and restored for whatever came next once my feet touched concrete.

Touching the soil is as important as handling the delicate shoots being transplanted. 

The height of irony came after the first Juneteenth, which began in Texas in 1865, with the mass exodus from the resistant Confederate states. They carried within them a powerful knowledge of the land, even though they were enslaved to it. That paired with the newfound courage and will to organize brought forth the most earnest efforts to thrive in pre-Civil Rights Era United States. The real victory here in those early post-Civil War struggles that rolled into the next decade of the Reconstruction Era was a revolutionary concept of individual autonomy and dignity for Blackfolk, intrinsically tied to their occupation and thriving on and from the land they stood upon.

The backlash against progression was swift and vicious in the South, and followed in a more insidiously institutionalized way as folks migrated North to urban centers, looking for jobs, homes, and peace of mind. City rules and political circumvention put many of them in public housing, in neighborhoods zoned away from parks, farms, and quality groceries (apparently). The influx of fast food advertising, convenience, liquor, and pawn stores in certain 'hoods instead of others helped to put a negative spin on the intrinsic value of the bodies inhabiting these areas. The joie de vivre was stripped and devalued, in place of fast, cheap, and a limited food spectrum (white, yellow, and brown- gee, what foods are these colors?). In a way, the rush to forget the (punishing) agrarian roots of the South allowed for a grand departure from its more wholesome culinary legacies, and an itchy wool to cover the collective's eyes.

When a space gets reclaimed from its dirty dumping ground identity, an angel gets its wings...or a neighbor gets her zucchinis.

The Blk Projek is a nonprofit organization started by Bronx resident Tanya Fields in 2009 as an act of resistance to food injustice in her South Bronx neighborhood. When she started her organization with Mommy and Me outreach to provide healthy food choices for the mothers and children of the neighborhood, the feedback shone light on the need for more education and economic development. Food deserts in urban neighborhoods has since become a new front in the attack on economic and mental poverty, as the adage "feed the brain" has dramatic implications for those that are literally starved of nourishment. The Libertad Urban Farm is a natural extension of this effort, as justice and freedom fighting comes in many forms, both radical and seemingly mundane. She encourages better choices by making them more visible, with a healthy sprinkling of the aforementioned "Joy". What people may not recognize is the vital task of normalizing a health-food trend that naysayers of the food desert concept scoff at, while they attribute troubling community health statistics to bad cultural choices in the face of an abundance of access to green groceries. Once again, representation is everything. on every level of society.

Libertad Urban Farm, at 972 Simpson Street in The Bronx.

Ms. Fields negotiated her way through city ordinances and public misconceptions with grassroots elbow grease to create and maintain a safe and healthy space, snatching this parcel back from the development list. I was honored to be invited to share some of the load to rebuild and reorganize Libertad Urban Farm on Simpson Street near Southern Boulevard in the Bronx on June 9th. It was a sunny day, and the large mound of soil greeted me at the entrance, daring anyone to approach it with a meaningful shovel. All around us, apartment buildings played sentinel to our toil, with the occasional curious onlooker from a balcony or fortified window grating. Some people walking by on the sidewalk stopped to chat with our carpenter in Spanish, or Tanya, herself, if they recognized her. They see what she is doing, and for the most part, it seems to bring visible joy and relief to their faces.

Ms. Fields herself came and went while I worked in the garden, as she was busy working on some grant applications with a pressing deadline, but she was very much involved with the entire process. The property was vandalized recently, by those who littered and stole supplies, setting back previous gains. The re-education and re-prioritizing of a community continues. A shed was bought, and funds from the NYC Parks Department supplied much needed tools, organic manure and wood to construct raised beds. This will not be a one-off effort to beautify and prepare, but an ongoing labor of love during the fertile season to bring nutrient-dense edibles to the community, as well as a space to recharge the spirit of a proud people.

I can't wait to go back and show you the "after" picture of this raised bed- cucumbers and squash runners everywhere!

Read up on some of Ms. Fields' earlier efforts with Libertad here.
Find out about upcoming events here.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

WITS17: Midwestern Mastery

I took the Milwaukee public transit bus to and from the airport on both ends of my trip. It was a little tricky because I over-packed a bit and also had my heavy laptop case to maneuver with, but it cost me a total of $8.25. I wondered how many attendees for the Women In Travel conference knew that there was a public bus-stop directly across from the Hilton where many of us stayed and attended the summit. After a whirlwind five days of tours and networking it felt really strange, in an isolating but also introspective way, to be standing there Sunday morning, by myself for a good 20 minutes or so.

Inviting magic: curate space in your life for receptivity. Wherever you go, there you are .

Post-Yoga Enlightenment
There was a woman that arrived at the bus stop after me. We squinted at each other in the mid-morning sun and took turns silently looking in the direction the bus was coming from. She struck up a conversation with a compliment on my hat and appearance, asking me if I was visiting or going to school. I know that I look younger than my years to a lot of people, and to others, I have heard the compliments for my alleged fashion sense. Nonetheless, it was funny to admit that I was traveling alone and several years beyond my Master's Degree. Our chat was so engaging that I never got her name, but I could not help but to tell her that she reminded me of my mother, in skin tone and appearance, and her humbly conversational manner of speaking.

We connected on many levels as it pertained to upbringing and family dynamics. And as I explained to her why I was in her city and what it meant for me to get to Milwaukee and participate in the conference, something crystallized in my mind. She said to me at one point, "I've always wanted to go to Australia, but I don't even know how that would happen now."  I shared with her how I had the same desire at ten years old, and through many fortunate events and leaps of faith, I did in fact get there at age 20, and lived and traveled there for three months. I had an epiphany: I can cater my thoughts in this blog, my voice and advocacy efforts towards creating an inviting and safe space for those that may feel stuck where they are, and that travel is out of reach for them, whether due to perceived distance, or cost, or unfamiliarity with modes of transportation.

Most of my time in Milwaukee was focused on the mantra of having space for divine feminine qualities as writers and travelers. The Women In Travel Summit (WITS) is now my annual thing that I do. I am in my third consecutive year, and was grateful to be included as a volunteer at the conference this year. It has always recharged me and helped me to refocus on my writing and goals as a socially-conscious journeywoman. The added bonus this year was witnessing the increased participation and leadership of women of color, as critiquing panelists, dynamic host committee members, and autonomous thought leaders of the travel industry.

I have met many gracious and sincere people on this first extended trip to the Midwest. That means a lot to me, as a woman who grew up in a large northern metropolis. We sometimes feel, in New York, that we have everything, and never need to leave, because we are so often the destination for others, whether permanently or passing through. But what I learned during this trip was that there are many things still to be shared and gained from leaving familiar borders. And, most endearingly, even a landlocked state like Wisconsin reveals artistic mystery and a deep water-focused perspective that allows for a unique consciousness on science development, environmental conservation, and other values that I can identify with as a New York State resident. I can enjoy Milwaukee's distinct heritage and location while sharing and supporting similar goals for the bigger picture.
The first of many river walks

Finding unique traits and offerings to share with others.

One of the most poignant statements that still rattles around my head came from a panel discussion dealing with "purpose-driven travel", described as reaching beyond voluntourism and ecotravelling. To make tourism a force for good, build local capacity; visit urban areas and support local businesses at your destination. You don't necessarily need to hear a different language or get on a plane to experience another culture.

I knew that something special about Milwaukee was the nonprofit sustainable agriculture initiative founded by former NBA player Will Allen, Growing Power. I had read about this organization in regular emails for years, never dreaming that it would be so easy to go and visit. Because I have a personal as well as public interest in learning from and advocating for more green spaces for under-served communities and functional access to healthy food, I knew that I had to speak up about my interest in getting to this site. I mentioned my desire to Visit Milwaukee's Executive Assistant and Communications Manager Margaret Casey, and she arranged a tour and drove me out there herself. Amazing! This visit was the highlight of my trip. All in all, I have met some true masters of many crafts here in Milwaukee: farming and gardening, hospitality, visual arts, cheese and beer!

Milwaukee Art Museum, as seen from the S/V Denis Sullivan
Milwaukee's windy "big sky-ness" completely engulfed me, rising up from between the boxlike edifices with their glimmering reflective windows, further enhancing the atmosphere. Even on the overcast days, I basked in the openness of the city, which gave me untold permission to lift my head upwards and appreciate the architecture, the animated denim hanging from lampposts, the colorful street art. and many riverviews. I did not feel claustrophobic here.

Looking beyond your destination desires.

WITS17 Purpose-Driven Travel Panel Presentation
When you have a heart and a will turned towards giving back and lessening the impact of one's footprint wherever you land, this concept will naturally come up. Know that there are other ways to engage with the place you seek to be. If you are at all concerned about sustainable communities within the beautiful and intriguing places you visit for a short while, consider that you can (and should) look beyond your tourist interests and think critically about the effect it has on the communities that you travel to. Yes, travel has a political impact as much as it has environmental and social ones that affect the destination as much as if not more than you, the visitor. Keep abreast of local news and happenings, for your safety and as a quick etiquette check. I listened to the stories from the residents about food deserts giving rise to the historic revitalization of urban farming, and of socially conscious muralists creating controversial works that spark necessary dialogue about the origins and future of incarceration of their  fellow citizens. These stories will stay with me as much as the pictures will.

As soon as I learned that Milwaukee was a "walkable city", I was excited, being a perpetual pedestrian in New York City, and always fascinated and ready to engage any other locale that boasts even a minute capacity for public transportation (see my hi-larious account of the L.A.-to-Irvine experience via bus for WITS16!). Which brings me full-circle back to that last ride out of the city. I have always had the most interesting conversations with strangers passing on a train (or bus), and have even made years-long friendships this way. I gave that woman my card, and I truly hope that this post and many others I write would inspire her to go wherever she wants to, and encourage others to love her city and its people more.
Black Cat Alley

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Writing Gauntlet: 500 Words, 31 Days: Goals

Happy New Year, World. We survived, we thrived. And here I am committing to writing 500 words a day for the next 31 days. Woo-hoo! I suffer from too much prep and not enough step. This is a self-diagnosis, and as such, is subjective at best in its scope of analysis. Writer's Block is something that many of us have dealt with from time to time, and for an unfortunate few, it stymies their creative product for long stretches of time; months, years, even.

I am a bit stubborn, though, and since it is the first art and creative outlet that I took to at a young age, it is a combination of cathartic therapy as well as confounding instrument I am doggedly determined to hone and perfect. That and singing.

I've done a 31- Day challenge before in this blog, several years ago, so it seems fitting that at the beginning of my new 7-year cycle, at the renewal of it all, I embark upon such a necessary journey again.

My goals are: to delve deeper into topics that have been swirling around my head or capture the most poignant part of a recent discussion with a friend or acquaintance. I want to highlight personal endeavors and their progress, and be accountable to my friends, fellow writing colleagues, and even a few family members that may take an interest in this production.

I am doing this alongside daily study and research, and brand-building exercises that will hopefully culminate in the launch of my own website and domain (there, I finally said it!).

Another transition that I am going through is already about a month underway. I resigned from my position of the past three years on December 7th, and am actively looking for work. That’s not to say that I am unemployed and have nothing to do all day (obviously), oh no. I may have more free time for a while to pursue several objectives, but I am busy. I am occupied. I am positively swamped.

A vision board is definitely on the agenda, and a few life- and goal-affirming women’s retreats. I am a habitual list-maker and hope to one day publish some of the more memorable ones, but I feel that making a shift to a more visual (and audio) manifestation of what I am and will continue to accomplish this year is a personal project of mine.

Each day I will pick a topic from a question posed to me or that I have. I will try my best to stay on topic as it pertains to personal journeys, independent travel, being a Black woman in her mid-thirties, and being a bit of a curious nerd about life in general.

I am also going to push my comfort zone more in the pursuit of romance (what in the world am I getting myself into?!) and saying “yes” more often than no. I won’t find myself in a happy and healthy partnership if I don’t make myself available (mentally, financially, emotionally, etc.), right? Bring on the charming men! I’ve been on a few dates already for the year, and I must say that it is a significant challenge for me to decide who to swipe right on. The internal conversation always involves an assessment of my flight of fancy, how superficial my motivation is (hotness factor over substance as presented in a limited and somewhat contrived online profile), and whether I am just being experimental or genuine with a particular candidate. There, over 500 for the day. I feel sick, and lighter at the same time!

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Gospel of The Unbothered

It has been along and eventful four months, y'all.

Several eras have ended and trials hung. The world as we know it is on the verge of anarchy or renaissaince, depending on whom you converse with. Seven years is a mighty long time to have come around to the spot where I now find myself.

Much can be said about the meme above that a Facebook friend so lovingly fashioned from a photo my cousin so artfully took of me. Some sayings that come to mind are: "No me molesta", #worryaboutyoself, "Next".

I'll tell you this: I said at the beginning of 2016 that it would be a #yearoftravel, and that I would not see the year end in my current field of work. Done and done.

 I am proud to say that last Wednesday was my final day at my place of employment for the past three years. I learned a lot at that job: how (and when) to ask for what I want without fear, because I know how valuable I am and what I deserve; how to make managerial procedures for those that will come after me (basically leave things better than I met them); how to be assertive in the face of micromanagement; how to deliver for clients with my head held high, with confident resolve twinkling in my eye; how to know when it is time to have difficult talks; how to be patient. Oh, Goddess, how to be patient!

I left friends there, people I intend to keep in contact with and meet again in a more relaxed and honest environment. I don't like to burn bridges, and understand the supreme value of making and maintaining connections.

Regardless of what specific events capitalutated me to the decision I made to leave, the general idea I had upon entering my last job was that it would be temporary, not a career, but a goal post of sorts. Life always has other plans for us, of course, and every now and then requires us to be honest and self-reflective about the choice we have and will make, especially as it pertains directly to our well-being, mental, physical and economic futures. Its that "adulting" thing that keeps popping up in various forms.

To recap a bit:
1- I went to my first Caribbean island (for more than a layover transfer) in January, even survived being stranded an extra two days with my sister, and learned the value, generosity, and resourcefulness of the #familybychoice Tribe. Thank you Nomadness! Thank you bestie!
2- I won tickets through application for and in support of She's Wanderful, making it for the second year in a row to the WITS (Women In Travel) 2016 conference in Irvine, California in March. I figured out how to get around in a vast and convoluted (read: Not pedestrian-friendly) set of transportation systems between Los Angeles and that city, meeting some great ladies via carpool. I made the commitment then and there to make sure that I can stay involved with this group, and will be going to the WITS 2017 conference in Milwaukee, whatever it takes.
3- Through friendship and targeted determination, I placed myself in the midst of a destination wedding (my first ever) with a group of flight attendants in Antigua, Guatemala in April. We shared lovely rooms at a villa, swatted mosquitoes, bartered with colorfully dressed women in the town square, shared meals and witnessed love amid ancient ruins. We also climbed a live volcano that last erupted in 2014. I have never felt so welcome amongst a group of virtual strangers that I still connect to months later!
4- July was a brief yet satisfying jaunt up north to Montreal, to see my cousin and her growing family, to ride the city on its superb bicycle lanes, zone out in a Scandinavian Spa, and to take in some jazz music at the annual festival. I also scored a flight voucher for a return visit, through fortuitous circumstances (getting really good at this travel game).
5- I started delving into my music and singing project that has long been ignored, being more acclimated to raising my voice in the bowels of the New York City subway, and open to connecting with people that want to collaborate, and create. I'm that much closer to having a finished piece that I composed, arranged, wrote and sang myself!
6- I let myself say yes more. I was more open to crazy possibilities, and am currently reaping the rewards of that courage and resolve. Thank you, Kenna for the influence of #YearofYesManifest, and Catrice for being a consistent guiding light in unleashing my own significance!
7- I refuse to let other people put the fear of the unknown in front of my dreams any more. This has come from well-meaning friends, relatives, even people I've just been introduced to who have their set opinions wrapped around them in a comfortable cloak of authority and experience with the familiar. They don't live my life. They have not made my sacrifices and deferrals, and they won't have to face the consequences of regret. #worryaboutyourself.

The point of all this is to say that as many things that have gone wrong this year, that I, myself and so many others would love to press a "redo" button, or black out this whole year from their personal history accounts, I have much to be thankful for and excited about.

I am reaching out into unknown territory, and finding my voice is not as rusty as I thought, my wit is still sharp and focused, my resolve, thought latent for so long, is as stubborn as ever. My imagination and creative spirit has not deserted me under fluorescent lighting. I can still run and lift weights with my back and hips the way they are, and I still got the rhythm of my ancestors (20% Dahomey, #blackamazonian, indeed!).

I am #unbothered and I am #seldom_settled. Bring it, 2017!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In The Heat Of The Moment: Anniversary Post

So today marks my 26th year as a diarist/chronic writer, what-have-you. I blame/credit Harriet The Spy, Judy Blume, The Baby-Sitter's Club, and even Anne Frank (may her soul rest in power). So began my journey into the world of private thoughts becoming public. I was ahead of the curve, as were many eight-year-old girls; waaaaay before Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, it was the black and white Composition Notebook and a school assignment that got me hip to the game!

Being a writer of thoughts, a learner of words and a contributor to languages is a great honor and privilege that I am grateful has never left me. I've had some serious writer's block and several moments of doubt and indecisiveness, but I feel blessed to have reached this point, really.

I am excited about where this development will take me, because so far I've been to Australia, Switzerland, Guatemala, California, The South American Jungle (and River Systems), and even survived countless Greyhound rides, lol! My #2016yearoftravel is far from over, and I will certainly continue to take you all with me, beyond this year!

So this August, I've decided, rather suddenly, to reward others for their support and commitment as my readers, my friends, and my present and future collaborators. Quizzes and gifts are in order, so stay tuned and keep reading!

I've done a few things I'd consider "big", but bigger and better is coming. Smarter and more focused is in the works. Unapologetic is already here.

Happy Anniversary to me (and to You)!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Riding the Metal Horse: When to Cede Territory... and Why Not

This is the last full workday before Summer officially starts (at 6:34 p.m.). In New York City, every seasoned traveler and resident knows that as soon as the temperature climbs past 75 degrees consistently, all the ignorance and "lawlessness" exponentially increases. This will happen on your block, in your apartment building, on the subway platforms, and very likely in the trains and buses we all have to ride to get around. That is a lot of extra pressure and exposure to potential trauma and anxiety as an often Lone Woman Traveler.

I don't do Public Service Announcements (PSAs) often on my blog. They find themselves here incidentally, and usually for good reason. My fifth blog post ever during the Summer of 2011 could be considered a PSA, on a similar topic: public harassment. Imagine the irony of deciding to dress somewhat revealingly; getting on a bus AND train for an hour and a half to participate in a celebration of summer, weirdness, creativity, pride and magic with other like-minded people one day- with no fear or trepidation of the public- then having to experience a degrading and isolating incident using the same transportation system 24 hours later, fully dressed, with witnesses that did nothing?!

Let me be clear, this post is not aimed at the people who did not speak up or intervene or my or my fellow black female passengers' behalf. The fact that no one did anything does help to illustrate the event that took place, however. The main message (or moral) of this story is the importance of being aware, resilient, and proactive in order to have the best possible agency in how we interact with our environment. None of us can control every aspect of our days, and we certainly cannot hope to always control and police others.

As much as I want to believe that law enforcement is present and willing to serve and protect all of its citizens, they are often spread thin, and their priorities do not line up with mine. Autonomy and agency are real, however, and one of the benefits of Social Media is the agency it gives everyday citizens to be responsible, be decent, be advocates for themselves as well as fellow strangers, in real time or faster than the systems in place provide.

Word-for-word, here goes...

On Sunday, June 19, 2016 approximately 3:15 p.m.: 
I don't normally cuss on my own timeline. But shit just got really real thirty minutes ago. I am on the A train heading north from Brooklyn. There is a moderate amount of people on the train, and I am sitting in the corner next to a door in a 3-seater. 

I have my headphones in and my shades on. But I can hear enough to know that there is a man with a booming voice panhandling and making his way through the semi-crowded train to the end where I am. Nbd. But when he gets to the last set of doors where I am, he stops and mumbles loudly, the decides to stand at the pole less than three feet from me, and start fondling his junk. He has a smell that is not powerful enough to make me leave, but enough to concern me about his sobriety. Not swaying or raving, mostly quiet, except for this pronounced personal hand job. 

He leans back against the doors across from me and stares hard in my direction, where three other black women are sitting, one black man with his sleeping son, and another man. I have been fanning myself and looking just past his probing eyes for the past ten minutes of this, even though my insides are starting to shake. 

Then he decides to sit down directly across from me. Nbd. Maybe he's done showing off and is gonna be civil. He then tries to engage the woman sitting in the 3-seater two seats down from him, his manspreading so pronounced that no one would be encouraged to sit between them. She has her headphones on, and closes her eyes, but every few seconds, she opens them again and sneaks a side eye to her right, where his eyes meet her every time he's not staring one of us down. Then he starts licking his lips really slow. 

And when the train stops, he gets up and walks over to the other two women seated next to me and swings his arms right inches from their faces. I know he's trying to engage them by asking for money. I hear no response back, so I believe they just shook their heads. 

The tension was painful. I was starting to hyperventilate quietly, which is humanly impossible when you are holding your breath. 

I could have gotten up and moved to another place, and after he finally left, the other women and I commiserated about thinking the exact same thing. We would have signaled each other to move as one unit. Even calling out to our newfound "girlfriend", so as to not leave anyone behind. My hands shake as I write this because the reality of how we were all feeling the same chill on our skin, the same adrenaline rush when he got off the train, but STAYED ON THE PLATFORM as train delays stalled us... 

The doors closed. He was saying, "... I was just kidding you're so beautiful" and I can see him. SEE HIM finishing off what he started in his pants when he was on the train. 

Now he's pressed up against the glass. Staring at us, and this damn train will not leave. I started praying that the door would not reopen for an approaching train.... 

THIS is when thoughts go through ones head about that knife someone suggested I carry. 

THIS is when I reevaluate the relevance of my outfit, the time of day (3:19pm), the relative crowd (mostly non-black, except for our "happy little corner", and realize that it didn't matter. If this 6'9" 270lb man wanted to snatch that woman by her hair, it could have happened in an instant, even as we all unfroze ourselves and tried to vacate the area. 

It was not (yesterday's) Mermaid Parade, everyone had their clothes on. 

Other MEN were sitting diagonally across and laughed at his antics until he started masturbating, then they got quiet and looked away. IT DID NOT MATTER. I should not have to fear for myself nor my fellow female passengers on the train. I should not have to breathe slowly to stop what I feel is tachycardia and miss an event I'm looking forward to because I have to process what ‪#‎dafuq‬ just happened, but here I am. 

I'm replaying thoughts of violence, what he might have done next, what I, or we would have done. A sisterhood did form then. I got one of their numbers, and we are both sharing this on social media. It just reminds me again about being vigilant, alert, considerate, and willing to take someone with me to safety, or so help me, out as I'm going down. *EndRant ‪#‎subway‬ ‪#‎assault‬ ‪#‎liftup‬ ‪#‎seldom_settled‬

Street harassment is real and should not be tolerated. Public transit harassment is real and should not be tolerated. Sometimes getting up and walking away is not the solution. Wearing more clothes is not always the remedy or prevention that saves individuals or groups of women from attacks in public.

I'm not saying we should all try to be the hero and fall on swords to vanquish on behalf of ladies in distress. But we can be a Shero (as I align myself with this gender-inclusive definition), and not leave any woman to fend for herself whilst she decides to autonomously stand her ground and claim her rightful space. Stand up, or sit down. Do not cede territory.

There is strength in numbers, there is safety when more eyes are watching, but also when more hands are willing and able, when voices are raised in a common sense of decency and support. When the mindsets are aligned, quietly, but with enough will that lends a palpable resistance to the tension when riding the Metal Horse. A Lone Woman need not always feel Alone. #facts

P.S.: This is MY space, so no, you will not see the picture that I took of the offending party here. But rest assured, the police will. #hollaback will.