False Dichotomy

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False Dichotomy

Social media has exposed me to an array of false dichotomies.

Namely, the one which positions formally educated women and street educated women at opposite ends.

Society continuously attempts to expel us of the ability to exist as both, and this dichotomy is one that some black women often unknowingly perpetuate. It positions you as a supreme, magical being if your hobbies include things such as enjoying novels and trap music. Due to dangerous stereotypes, these things are presented as being so vastly different that openly embracing both can often become abrasive. By indulging in this particular perpetuation of “differences,” we contribute to nasty stereotypes that we mistakenly take for social norms. We begin to partake in hazardous behavior that consists of distancing ourselves from stereotypical “formally educated” girls while also distancing ourselves from stereotypical “ghetto” girls. We tend to take the "best" parts from both worlds in order to create this supreme black woman full of "black girl magic."

In doing this, we begin to limit the definition of "black girl magic." It becomes an archetype rather than an expression that celebrates different women with different lifestyles.  Natural haired, "namaste" sayin', trap music listenin', book readin' black women cannot be the only face of "black girl magic." We cannot continue to market ourselves if it is only done to distance ourselves.

Often I feel trapped. I was privileged enough to receive a formal education, and I do identify as a womanist, but I do enjoy trap music, and Southern dialect is second nature for me. We often blindly express that certain rap music solely exists in these “poor, uneducated” spheres. (I have another article about rap elitism in the stacks somewhere.) If you pair that belief with the fact that Southern dialect is often the most negatively evaluated regional dialect, then you could easily see how such a false dichotomy could exist. Growing up, I believed that it was necessary for me to pick one side, but now I know better. Unfortunately, I still struggle with issues of authenticity.


I understand the importance of marketing yourself as multifaceted, but I don't necessarily agree with the "Get yourself a girl who loves to read AND listens to Future" packaging. It conveys a very "Pick me!" sort of message while hinting that black girls who do both should be celebrated instead of identifying it as something that could very well be a norm.

Stop making unicorns out of paradoxes deeply rooted in the creation of stereotypes.

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Radric Davis and A Question of My Blackness

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Radric Davis and A Question of My Blackness

On March 26, 2017, I had the honor of watching my favorite rapper grace the stage at my alma mater. I never thought that I would be able to see such a visual representation of how I’ve felt my entire life. In many ways, his presence on my predominantly white campus represented the complexity of my blackness, how I’ve always struggled with my perceived “twoness,” and how my authenticity ranks questionably on a scale blemished by society’s flaws.

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why can't i see rainbows?

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why can't i see rainbows?

Sometimes I can physically feel it.

I feel it in my shoulders, my throat, and my head.

Sometimes I can feel it in my chest.

My mind is a rain cloud.

And I have been taken hostage by a dreary life.

 

There is no off button.

It comes and goes as it likes.

Sometimes it stays for an hour, sometimes for weeks at a time.

No.

No.

It is always there, but my inaction has tricked me into believing that I have crafted a life of normalcy.

My normalcy is tainted.

My normalcy is everyone else’s worst moments.

 

Sometimes I can only see gray, black, and white.

I only see hair, eyes, and ears.

Only body parts but not the human that they shape.

Only things but not art.

 

There is no off button.

My brain is always telling me that the people who love are tired

Tired of me

Tired of my problems

There are things that I want to say and tears that I want to cry

But my brain tells me that there are people that I will lose

 

Sometimes I can only see gray, black, and white.

And happiness doesn’t seem deserved.

Living in a constant state of tension and discomfort.

 

Why can’t I see rainbows?

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Fragments.

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Fragments.

I have frequently questioned my worth.
I have tried to measure it through friendships, men, money, and clothes.
I have had it measured through grades, opportunities, and speculation.
I have questioned my worth so many times that I have sometimes even questioned my own life.
Because sometimes feelings of unworthiness must flirt with death before everything begins to make sense again—or for the first time at all. 


As a black woman, I have been taught that I am undesirable.
I've attempted to make up for that by mirroring white culture.
As a black woman, I have been retaught that I am beautiful.
I’ve spent my days distinguishing between appreciation, fascination, and fetishism.
As a black woman, I have been told that I cannot be a feminist.
I cry when my yell for equity is disregarded by men and women telling me that I am the cause of the destruction of the black community. 
As a black woman, I have been told that I am jealous of white and white-passing Latinx women in relationships with black men.
I feel defeated as I am tuned out by someone who accompanies their preference with degradation. 

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ROAR

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ROAR

I loved you in ways that I’m sure you’ll never be loved again.

 

Back then you were easier to love.

Did you grow out of your mask, or did I re-adjust my glasses?

Maybe you succumbed to your changing environment.

There was happiness in our union that you decided to seek elsewhere.

Was I not good enough?

 

Your indecisiveness complicated us.

Did you want to stay, or did you want to go?

You’re not dumb.

You know that it is impossible to exist in two different places at once.

But still you tried.

 

I battled quietly.

I remained peaceful.

I was hurt and confused and delicate and sorrowful

There was emptiness deep inside of my belly that I could feel ache whenever I opened my mouth to speak.

You did this to me.

I remained peaceful.

I battled quietly.

 

Then I spoke a little louder.

I carefully used my words to bandage the wound that was our love.

Each time you responded with anger.

I met you with patience.

You still shut me out.

 

I tried to meet your resistance with love.

I tried to tell you that what we were doing was no longer love.

I tried to tell you that your confusion was no excuse for hurting someone you claimed to love.

 

If you didn’t want to be with me, then why didn’t you stop telling me that you loved me?

Why didn’t you stop bringing up memories of our sweet past?

I told you to make up your mind but instead you lost it.

 

Rinse and repeat.

Rinse and repeat.

Rinse and repeat.

 

We danced this tango until my feet grew tired.

Then came the explosion.

You helped build this anger, so why were you confused when I finally roared?

You were such a great architect of pain.

 

Tell me.

How does one build destruction?


This post is part of Write Your Ass Off April, a Twenties Unscripted 10-Day Writing Challenge. I’m inspired by these prompts, the masterpiece entitled “LEMONADE,” and a collection of men that have wanted to lay me down but not pick me up. I hope you enjoy the journey.

 

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my name is bernice.

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my name is bernice.

My dad's mother passed away in 2000, and my mom's mother had her homecoming in the summer of 1997. I was born in 1993, and most days, I wish I had more time with them both. 

I guess I never really noticed that their deaths accounted for a pretty significant void in my life until now. Whenever I'm home from school, I get to see my nieces and nephews interact with my parents, and I love that. I am so grateful that they are able to have their grandparents in their lives because grandparents are love's archetype. At the same time, it's something that I always wished that I was able to have. 

But even though they aren't physically here, I feel their presence. I feel their blood running through my veins, their strength when I want to give up, and their love keeping me warm on cold, rainy days. If the world and all of its cruelty made them too tough, I can feel them reminding me to stay soft. I never really got to know either one of them, but each day that I learn more about myself is another day that I become closer to them. 

Sometimes it isn't enough, though. Sometimes I wish I knew what their laughs sounded like. I wish I knew more of their lives in Jamaica. I wish I had more than a couple photos of them. I often feel myself drowning in this ocean of missed opportunities. 

But I always manage to stay afloat.

My name is Bernice.

That is the middle name that I used to hide, but as I grow older, I develop more appreciation for it. There's comfort and strength in sharing that name with one of my grandmothers. 

Without her, there is no me. But in a very similar way, without me, there is no her. The way that she shaped my mother played a role in the way that my mother shaped me.

And here I am. The product of generations filled with pain and struggle but hope so strong that it is the very thing that runs blood through my veins. 

 

 

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a story of an abusive ex

"If you leave me, I'll kill myself."

 

Those weren't words that any teenager should have been exposed to. But those were words that you heard constantly from about age 14 to age 18 and 19. 

Such a delicate mind and innocent heart. It was so easy to disguise verbal abuse as love, especially when love was something that you always sought. Because you grew up never completely getting along with your peers and you felt a bit distant when it came to your family. All you had was your music, writing, and a boy that promised to love you when he really didn't know how to love. 

When he did love, it seemed to be hard. So, you excused the way he constantly controlled and policed your every moment. You thought it was okay when he called you over a hundred times when you kept on hanging up because you didn't want to hear him yelling at you since you chose to wear close-fitted leggings, and he wanted you to wear loose jeans. You thought it was okay when he threatened to tell your parents that you were sexually active so that you would do what he wanted out of fear. 

There were a lot of moments when he scared you. That time you argued because he was mad about you texting a close male friend of yours. You demanded that he take you home. He wanted to drive dangerously, so you asked him to let his sister take you home. He got angrier, sped down the road, and almost purposely crashed into a tree. There were those other times that he would go through your phone while you were sleeping. He'd wake you up in a jealous rage if there were names he didn't recognize. He wouldn't let you go back to sleep until you answered all of his questions. 

He had to be in contact with you all of the time. If he couldn't get in touch with you, you were obviously doing something wrong. It was okay for him to cheat on you with a woman who faked a pregnancy for him. He said it was your fault. He thought you were cheating on him, so he had to do what he had to do. You were still the bad person, baby girl. 

Remember graduation? You begged him not to come since you were no longer dating. Guess what he did? Every morning, he would appear at your house and invite himself to the festivities your sisters had planned for you. There was no escape.

There was no escape.

There was no escape.

There was no escape. 

When you wanted to take your friend to a gay club for their 18th birthday, there was no escape. "What if a girl tries to hit on you while you're in there?" You were too young to understand that this was blanketed insecurity. You tried to go against his wishes, but he kept on calling and calling to make sure you weren't inside. There was no escape.

Only tears. 

To this day, you're still the bad person. He says that you weren't there for him enough, but you were there for him as much as you knew how. You always knew that if you didn't take care of yourself, then you couldn't take care of others.

His lack of self-love and security caused you (seemingly) inescapable pain for almost half a decade. 

You couldn't be his everything, you didn't want to be his everything, and you quickly learned that you didn't ever want to be anyone's everything either. 

 

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There is no name for my religion.

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There is no name for my religion.

There is no name for my religion. I grew up a Christian. A seventh-day adventist, to be exact. At sunset on Fridays, we respected the Sabbath. On Saturdays, we spent our time in church and worshipped the Lord. I never once questioned God, His existence, and the guidelines we were to follow in order to meet our Creator at the pearly gates. 

In tenth grade, I took a World History course. To this day, it is still one of the best courses that I have ever taken. (Probably because I'm a history nerd). In World History, I specifically remembered learning of Hinduism and the controversy surrounding its development in India. From what I can recall, the Aryans entered the Indus valley, carrying with them Hinduism and making the Dravidian culture their subordinate. Upon learning this, I immediately thought of the religion's caste system and how easy it must have been to rule an area with their religion imposed. In Hinduism, it is taught that every person is born into a specific place within this caste system-- with some positions being lesser than others-- and that they must stay in their lane with the hope of upward mobilization during their next lifetime. This is a very simplified (and Western) understanding of the religion. Nonetheless, I interpreted this as a man-made way to control groups of people while ridding them of the opportunity to mobilize upwards or compromise those in higher societal positions than them.

I immediately thought of Christianity. I thought of Christianity's bloody history. Specifically, I thought of slavery and how it was practiced for centuries by God-fearing folk. I thought of how conquered peoples were fed foreign religion so that they could remain complacent and unthreatening. Should we even begin to list how much land was stolen in "God's name?" I thought of the Ku Klux Klan, and its roots in their interpretation of Christianity. I thought of how religious Black folk tend to be and how we are constantly told to "Let go, and let God" while we experience unending bloodshed, systemic oppression, and blatant racism. 

This didn't sit well with me. I couldn't excuse inaction and injustice with religion. While not all Christians delay action, I encountered many that did. As I thought about Hinduism and Christianity, I realized that organized religion seemed problematic. It just wasn't for me. The hierarchy, the greed, the judgement. These were things that I just could not understand. These things ultimately seemed to be man-made. 

There is no name for my religion, but I do believe in the God of Christianity. I am spiritual. I do appreciate inspirational church services, no matter the denomination. I love gospel music. I do enjoy bible scriptures that bring my life positivity, support, and courage.  I do believe that everyone should do good unto others. 

I am not an atheist. I am not a deist. I am not agnostic. I am not a non-denominational Christian.

I am not confused.

My belief in God and spirituality takes precedence over picking a religious denomination.

 

(A lot of the people that I know may find fault with this blog post, and you are all entitled to your own opinions. Please do realize that as a 22 year-old woman, my present-day choices are based upon personal experiences and my journey. Also my decisions are based upon my understanding of history and religion. And as always: I am not speaking for all, I am speaking for some. Any comments? Drop it in the comment box or shoot me an e-mail at kibrettabigail@gmail.com)

 

 

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keep swimmin'

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keep swimmin'

Nothing is more comforting than knowing that I kissed my grandfather and told him "See you later" before I got ready to leave for my senior year at school. I didn't know that about a week or two later, I'd be receiving the phone call from my oldest sister saying that he had passed away.

I never knew how much my grandfather's death would affect me. I knew he was older, so it wasn't as if his homecoming was completely unexpected, but I never rehearsed how I would respond. I didn't know I would be as heartbroken.

Heartbroken because he was my only living grandparent and the only one that I was able to have a lasting relationship with. Heartbroken because my mother was by his side, night and day, for about eight years, and she had to now deal with such a drastic lifestyle change and the passing of her daddy. 

It was a lot to think about at the start of such a stressful senior year, and I'm not sure I knew how to deal with it. A lot of things seemed to be happening at once.

My landlord and property management company were wronging me (pest infestation, lack of hot water, etc.) and ignoring multiple requests of mine for over a month. A professor of mine forced me to drop her class (although I was completing all of her assignments) because I had to miss a class in order to take care of things with my dreadful apartment and property management company. This was way past the "Add" deadline, and I was lucky enough to be enrolled in enough credits. I have to graduate next semester. What if I wasn't?

 But anyway, I say this to say that I got through it. I have a much better apartment and a more understanding landlord now. I am enrolled in enough courses. I am learning to heal and come to terms with the passing of my grandfather. When I woke up in the morning, felt glued to my bed, and didn't want to go on, I didn't think things would get better. But they did, and they will.

My journey at Cornell has been one of the most difficult that I have experienced in my life, but I am convinced that it is all preparation and strength-building. I know in my heart that there are bigger and better things to come that I could not experience without experiencing the things that I am going through today.

Optimism isn't my expertise, but I'm trying. That's all that we can do. So to you, I say: stay strong and keep on swimmin'. Sometimes our only choice is to just tread water for a while, and that's okay.

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A letter to my soulmate,

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A letter to my soulmate,

I really think that I was breaking before you stumbled upon me.

I was trying to pull myself together

I was trying to fake happiness.

I was trying to fit into spaces that I didn’t belong in.

 

Everyday, I convinced myself that I was getting better.

Somedays, I allowed people and their lies about me to conquer my life and my happiness.

Most days, I didn’t even know if I belonged because there seemed to be so many people that wanted to push me out.

I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. I refused to be vulnerable.

So, I rolled with the punches and pretended that the things happening around me didn’t exist. If I didn’t address them, I didn’t give them validity.

But still I felt as if I was going mad.

 

That was sophomore year, and it still continues today.

But I feel stronger because I know who I am, and I know, with the utmost certainty, who loves me.

I said earlier that, “I really think that I was breaking before you stumbled upon me.”

 

Because all of you saved me.

 

Daneille, for when you force me to talk out my problems instead of brushing them away and being the youngest but so wise. 

Vanessa, for how much you care about your friends and how emotionally involved you are with the three of us.

Michelle, for how you are always our voice of reason and one of the brightest souls that I’ve ever encountered.

 

Over the past year, I’ve seen so much growth in all of us, and I don’t know if anything would ever suffice in expressing how proud I am.

 

Daneille, for how strong you have been in this journey of finding yourself and discovering the things that you really want in life. Keep swimmin’, young one.

Vanessa, for having so much love even though you’re going through personal issues. Don’t ever let anyone discourage you from sharing the love you have or receiving the love that you deserve.

Michelle, for beginning to realize that you should do things to satisfy yourself and not to appease others. Remember that putting yourself first is not selfish; it’s healthy.

To all of you, thank you for being my soulmates.

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we are burning.

It is 2015, and we are still burning.

Seven Negro churches burned down.

Nine Negroes massacred in their sanctuary. 

Hundreds of Negroes protesting, rioting, suffocating. 

Suffocating because we are still burning.

 

Republicans against the flying of the Confederate flag.

A Negro woman promoted to Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theater.

They say these things should be like a breath of fresh air.

They should help me breathe.

But it is 2015, and we are still burning.

 

Dontre Hamilton. Eric Garner. John Crawford lll.

Mike Brown Jr. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker.

Akai Gurley. Tamir Rice. Rumain Brisbon.

Jerame Reid. Tony Robinson. Phillip White.

Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. 

Unarmed Negro men that were murdered by the hand of institutionalized racism. 

 

"They should have just obeyed the officers!"

"They shouldn't have been hanging around like thugs!"

"Police officers kill white people, too!"

"Respect our officers. They are here to serve and protect!"

It is 2015, and we are still burning.

 

I cannot stand to burn any longer.

I cannot stand to suffocate any longer.

But the smoke is getting heavier.

It hurts.

It hurts to know that someday I will have to bring a little Negro child into an already burning world.

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it consumes me sometimes.

Last night there were nine innocent people shot and killed, and it’s all that I can think about as I work. These people weren’t in the streets when they weren’t “supposed” to be. These people were not in their family homes. They were in their safe haven—the church. It was supposed to be a normal Wednesday bible study session but instead it ended in blood and turmoil.

Nine innocent black people murdered by a young white male. They call it a hate crime.

Last week I heard about the planned removal of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, and it’s all that I can think about as I work. The hatred of Haitians by many Dominicans has been embedded into history by way of events such as the 1937 Parsley Massacre. Those who were Haitian or looked dark enough to be Haitian were slaughtered. History shows that the dictator that carried out this heinous atrocity was trained during the U.S.’s occupation of the D.R. When they left, he was put into power. Now, there are neighborhoods being patrolled as “only Haitian migrants” are being pulled out of the country.

Dark skinned citizens, black Dominicans, Haitian migrants, and Dominican Haitians are being ripped from their homes. They call it an ethnic cleansing.

For the past few years I have heard of the unjust handling and unnecessary killings of black bodies by the police in the U.S., and it’s all that I can think about as I work. These acts have been “justified” by “criminal records” and false accounts crafted by the police. They have lost the spotlight as the media has chosen to focus on our anger as a way to undermine our feelings. I get it. The looting of stores holds way more importance than the killing of innocent people. I get it. The police can do wrong. All policemen are here to serve and protect.

Countless black bodies mishandled and murdered by poorly trained policemen. They call it police brutality.

I get to sit in an air-conditioned office as I create civic engagement and social justice curriculum for the youth of this country. I, a 21-year old Black woman, have to teach the youth that their basic human rights aren’t so free and that they have to go above and beyond to create change within their little piece of the world. I have to inspire them and convince them that there is still hope even in a world full of hate crime, ethnic cleansings, and police brutality. 

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A Comprehensive Guide on Being A Completely Crazy Black Girl with Depression & Anxiety: What's Wrong with Me?

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A Comprehensive Guide on Being A Completely Crazy Black Girl with Depression & Anxiety: What's Wrong with Me?

Writing about this—all of this—frightens me. To have such a tumultuous and intimate aspect of my life published before the world creates such debilitating vulnerability. But this is a narrative that is often left untold, and I feel as though it is my responsibility to share. And if you don’t like it, that’s great. This isn’t for you. Carry on.

Let’s run this shit back, though.

Chances are that at some point, you’ve dreaded at least one day of your life. You were probably dreading the events of that day. You probably just wanted to stay under your covers as your alarm clock went off. You didn’t mind staying wrapped in your sheets and not facing the day. You didn’t want to do a damn thing. You knew that it wasn’t yours. That day did not belong to you.

Imagine feeling like this every single day. Imagine not knowing why.

The possibility of me being clinically depressed was not something that crossed my mind in the beginning. It began with missed due dates, frequently missed classes, and the inability to make it out of bed to do the simplest of things such as shower and comb my hair. Some mornings I would wake up crying and not know why.

The signs aren’t always the same for everyone, but a sudden, atypical, and often incontrollable lifestyle change always seems to be a sign in itself.

I didn’t know that I should seek any help. I thought it was just something that I was just supposed to deal with until it ran its course, but eventually it seemed as though whatever I was going through would never go away. I can remember being so frustrated because I wasn’t able to attribute my seemingly incurable sadness to any one thing. Was I just making it up? It was like I was a losing battle that didn’t even exist.

I still remember the times when some of friends would come to my dorm room and just sit or lay down with me because I couldn’t leave my bed.

I wasn’t the one who found the strength to get help. It actually was a professor of mine who refused to let me make up an assignment that I missed. He explained that he would need proof from my university’s Counseling & Psychological Services department. It was the fear of failing a class, and not the fear of destroying myself mentally, that encouraged me to get help.

At this point, I still didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t want to throw around the term “depression” because sadness didn’t necessarily equate to depression. I didn’t want to devalue what other people may have really been going through. Things were cloudy, and the thought of going to therapy wasn’t too reassuring. After all, I wasn't a crazy person.

I was supposed to be a strong Black woman. We didn’t talk about our feelings; we held shit down. I didn’t know of any other Black women who felt the way that I felt. Who could possibly relate to me? Black women didn’t get depressed. The people around me didn’t get depressed.

What I failed to realize is that we are all so complex that you shouldn’t assume that you know what is (or isn’t) going on with the people around you when you don’t even know what’s going on with yourself. Mental illness exists inside of the Black community. Mental illness is not excluded from Black womanhood.

 There are galaxies inside of us. Take care of yours. 

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On & On...

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On & On...

It is the birthday of a queen, an international holiday, and a day for me to reflect on how impactful Miss Badu and her words have been throughout the most recent stage of my life.

In 1997, Badu released Baduizm—an album that has played a significant role in how I navigate life. During my time in Spain, I have made it a routine to play the Baduizm album each morning in order to get me through the day. The most important thing that I have learned through this album, her other pieces of work, and her overall art and lifestyle was to learn how to be the light of my own world and to keep moving forward.

As the daughter of two native Jamaicans that struggled during the majority of their lives in order to ensure that their children were able to start off on higher ground, these were two things that I needed to learn. It wasn't until I began maturing that I began to identify the effect that seeing my parents struggle while I grew up had on my personal life.

When money was low and tensions were high, things became complicated. The air was tense, anxiety presented itself, and discomfort was a common feeling. A lot of these exaggerated feelings of intensity and anxiety would follow me into my adulthood. There was too much of a reliance on material things and others to be the source of comfort and happiness. Material things and other people were dynamic—they were always changing, they weren't required to be static. There was no way it made sense to find happiness in things that I wasn't sure would commit to me. I had to be the owner of my happiness—the light of my own world.

I sought happiness from other people, and as a result, I was constantly unhappy. I unfairly tried to make it the job of my friends to keep me happy instead of taking on the responsibility to do it myself. My friends did all that they could, but they were their own people with their own lives. They couldn't do everything for me. It took some trial and error, including months of depression and unbearable anxiety, but eventually, I took on the job of trying to learn how to find happiness on my own and how to find the power to push forward when I couldn't even imagine how I would make it to the next day.

And that’s where I am now. I am still on this journey…with the help of Erykah and with the help of my family and with the help of my friends and significant other. Everyday I am practicing positivity and perseverance. Through her music, I am reminded that exerting and surrounding myself with positivity and kind, colorful words and images will only benefit me. In order to rid my life of negativity and tension, I have prescribed myself with her music as medicine for a fulfilling and beautiful life.  

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