Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Happy 30th Living Single: Still True Blue and Tight Like Glue

There were a plethora of norms that the pandemic of 2020 immediately stripped out of our lives like daily work commutes and regular trips to our barbers and beauticians. And then there were new norms that crept into our routine out of necessity and the need for connection like DoorDash deliveries and living room dance parties courtesy of rapper-DJ D-Nice's Club Quarantine on Instagram. But then there were those daily habits that sustained us and remained with us long after we removed our masks and ventured from our homes to re-socialize with family and friends. For me, that habit was "meeting up" with Khadijah, Regine, Maxine, Synclaire, Overton, and Kyle, for a few laughs every morning while I drank my coffee and checked work e-mail: a routine that I gleefully continue til this day.

August 22nd marked the 30th anniversary of the hip, urban, sitcom created by writer/producer Yvette Lee Bowser that followed the fictional lives of six black 20-something Brooklynites played by Queen Latifah (Khadijah James), Kim Fields (Regine Hunter), Erika Alexander (Maxine Shaw), Kim Coles (Synclaire James), John Henton (Overton Wakefield Jones), and T.C. Carson (Kyle Barker), as they navigated the high and lows of life, love, and careers.

When the sitcom debuted in '93, I was a bright-eyed, twenty-year-old heading into my junior year at historic Howard University as a print journalism major. With the leading character, Khadijah James, portraying a Howard alum, and the creator and editor of the fictitious Flava Magazine, you'd think the show would have resonated with me more during that time than it does now. However, despite seeing every episode during its original television run, the appreciation I held for the series then does not compare to the admiration I hold for it now. Much like hindsight being 20/20, it is in my adulthood that I have discovered how far ahead of its time the series was in portraying us as young attorneys, stock brokers, business owners, and boutique buyers, all while tackling issues that would not come to the forefront of national debates until decades later. 

There was the episode on hair discrimination long before the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture, was enacted in California in 2019. There was the episode on same-sex marriage before the 2015 Supreme Court Law made such unions legal in all 50 states. And there was the episode on black mental health and the importance of therapy long before social media posts and podcasts began to remind us daily of its relevant necessity in our community. But it was also a plethora of other ground-breaking topics the show would take on such as reverse female-to-male sexual harassment; family planning via artificial insemination; and the fears often associated with mammaplasty (also known as breast augmentation/surgery) that would quickly set the show apart from its contemporaries' storylines. And let's not forget those subtle gems like casting Queen Latifah and Kim Field's real-life mothers as their characters' mothers or the delightful laundry list of cameos from entertainers and athletes that spanned generations from Flip Wilson to Jim Brown to Eartha Kitt to TLC to Montell Jordan to Heavy D to Grant Hill to Alonzo Mourning to Cheryl Miller to Shemar Moore to Terrance Howard to Nia Long to Arsenio Hall...just to name a few! 

And then there was the Afro-centrism that was always on full display courtesy of natural hairstyles, artwork, artifacts, and fashion, despite character Regine displaying an ever-evolving wig collection that would've made rapper Lil' Kim envious during that time. And just as noteworthy, would be such episodes as seasons five's "Forgive Us Our Trespasses" that would be the first since the 1970's "Good Times" that toyed with the discussion and depiction of "Black Jesus," in a role masterfully played by The Best Man's Harold Perrineau as the Savior himself. But of all of the first-to-do-it moments Living Single could plant its flag on, most notably would be the one that gave its audience the opportunity to participate in story writing by allowing viewers to decide how the episode should end.

When new brownstone tenant, Hamilton, played by another Best Man alum, Morris Chestnut, guest starred in season one's two-part episode "Love Thy Neighbor," viewers were asked to call a toll-free number and vote for Khadijah, Regine, or Maxine to be selected as his paramour (spoiler alert: the highest number of votes were for Khadijah). Yet it remains my favorite episode due in part to character Khadijah breaking television's third wall and stating to the viewing audience, "you did this to me..." at the conclusion of the episode and after to what turned out to be a less than enjoyable date with Hamilton. Today, the episode continues to run, without the call-in option of course, which makes Latifah's response the best inside joke ever for us day-one fans who know exactly what she's talking about but which probably still leaves newer viewers of the series perplexed. 

Of course the series, which is as beloved now as it was then, was not without its hiccups: though Synclaire (Kim Coles) and building handyman Overton (John Henton) would be the series' beloved series' couple, it was Fields and Henton who were a real life couple "on the low" during season one, which fizzled before season two; and later Fields and Carson, who played investment banker Kyle Barker, would leave the show before the series' end, and be replaced by actor Mel Jackson to try and fill the void. In a later interview, Fields would suggest that due to stress around her divorce, she departed the show early to focus on her mental health. However, Carson would return for the final two episodes of the series, in which it would be revealed that his character--thanks to Maxine being artificially inseminated at the clinic where he donated his sperm--would become a father and the two would finally become an official couple after four seasons of an on again/off again comically, tumultuous love affair.
But hiccups aside, the series would make its own mark in television history, while being rumored to spark the creation of one of television's more celebrated white sitcoms, "Friends" (if you know, you know ;-), and would serve as a springboard for further propelling the show's actors into careers on the big screen, on Broadway, on comedy stages, and even behind the camera. And on a personal note, it would also further the career of my very own cousin, Charles Penland, who landed the leading role in season one/episode two's "I'll Take Your Man," as the beau in the center of a love triangle with Regine and Maxine, giving me and my family our very own personal connection to the beloved sitcom forever.

Ultimately, Living Single would be that first mirror many of us Gen X'ers, in particular black women, would have held up to us in an authentic, comical, and fashionably stunning way while we navigated our own friendships, careers, and relationships. In fact, creator Bowser stated in a recent interview reflecting on the show's impact "I wanted to create a series that centered on and celebrated women," she said. "When you create something that is intended to be a love letter, and you pour love into it over time, what I've found is that you continue to get love back over an extended and unexpected period of time." Which is why it's safe to say that even 30 years later, Living Single continues to be one of our great American love stories for the ways it entertained and educated us, and remained unapologetic in how it centered and celebrated blackness--and looked damn fly all while doing so. There's no denying that in a 90s kind of world, we were blessed to have our girls--and guys--and the creation that would make Living Single the black national treasure that it was and continues to be today. 

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Friday, July 7, 2023

And in This Corner...Social Media vs Silence

There's an unanswerable question my friends and I often entertain ourselves with whenever someone initiates a beef, clapback, or inappropriate reveal on social media: how did these people show up in real life before the convenience of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like. Were they the kids who started fights in the cafeteria? The teens who got on the phone and called everyone in their phonebooks from A to Z to spread gossip? Or were they the drama queens and kings who exaggerated the simplest of situations for attention? The answer is probably all of the above, because much like is said about any vice: they don't make you who you are, they simply expose who you are. 

And the recent Keke Palmer vs her baby daddy nee' Darius Jackson debacle is providing no time like the present to talk about it. At this point, for anyone who follows the child actress turned multi-hyphenate media darling, you've been given a delightful front row seat to her glow up personally, professionally, and--most recently--physically, thanks to what Keke has declared as her "mom bod" credited to the birth of new son, Leodis Jackson. Simply put, Keke has been glowing inside and out--and her energy has been infectious and requested from her invitation to host Saturday Night Live (where she officially revealed her pregnancy) to her recent interview with Vice President Kamala Harris. In between these milestone moments, we got glimpses of her coupledom journey with beau Darius as well as their funny co-parenting adventures. We'd come to expect the funny Tik Tok videos and Instagram posts, and looked forward to what humorous yet insightful musings about life our "favorite lil' cousin" would drop. 

What we didn't expect--and definitely not so soon--was the possible ending of their relationship thanks to a public display of disrespect. And deciding who disrespected who--and first--is what continues to be debated across entertainment blogs from The Shade Room to the Jasmine Brand and is even being reposted by such celebrities as comedian and commentator D.L. Hughley. Some would say Keke's revealing dress she wore to the recent Usher concert on a girl's trip to Las Vegas, where the R&B crooner serenaded her much to her delight, was the culprit. Others would say it was Darius' unexpected Twitter post highlighting and questioning her attire choices in light of her new title as "mother" and measured against "standards, morals, and traditions." And soon Keke would drop her own Tik Tok dancing and lip syncing the lyrics "if you 'gon act up, we gon' link up" in as a subliminal but very clear message to Darius. And without hesitation, and much less respect, almost everyone would offer an opinion or an insult to the quickly growing "injury." Yet, the only true victim I could identify in any of this after 48 hours of discourse was the Sanctity of Silence that continues to get grossly disregarded in this age of social media madness. Or more simply stated, keeping your business, your business. 

To be fair, I can't chastise a man or woman when the actions of a loved one elicits emotions, be it insecurity, jealousy, or even sadness, that creates a level of discomfort or pain one may not have known they were capable of harboring. I also can't chastise a man or woman for choosing to celebrate him or herself how he or she so chooses even if others question when, where, or how that should be done.  But what I can and will chastise is how many people use social media to navigate and process those feelings or use it as a distraction to properly confront those feelings. And in the end all that remains is an incitement of trauma and an elevation of drama for airing grievances to a million--or even 10--followers who don't truly know--or care--about you or your loved one. Yes, feelings are real, valid, and deserve to be acknowledged. But to quote Uncle George in the cult classic "ATL," you gotta know the difference between what's real and what you feel because they're often not the same and, more importantly, don't need to be shared with strangers.

Yes, there is a lot that couples are called to navigate, and the ups and downs in relationships are inevitable. And often times we are none the wiser of what goes on even in the unions of some of our closest friends and family nor are they privy to what goes on in ours. We rise, we fall, and we pray to rise again. Yet, the one thing that has often stood in the pathway of reconciliation when there is a breakdown in the relationship is the sting of public humiliation; a sting that can turn into a sore that can turn into a bruise that may never heal. And what took less than 200 Twitter characters to destroy may take a lifetime to repair IF you're lucky.
However, Keke and Darius is not the first couple nor will they be the last, unfortunately, whose woes will play out for all to see AND weigh in on. But I pray for the day when folks will begin to value each other enough to share their concerns, their pains, and their fears with their loved ones, one on one, and in a space where healthy communication, understanding, and growth can occur. The opinions of many can't help a situation, but it can certainly hurt it, and there's nothing the public can ever offer except biased judgment on subjective narratives that create nothing but even more confusion, doubt, and drama. As is often jokingly said on social media, "We want out of the group chat." In all seriousness, it's time for folks to put the high school antics behind and do the inner work that graduates them to a place of maturity both for themselves, their partners, and--in Keke and Darius' case--their child. 

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Thursday, March 9, 2023

The Complex Relationship Between Goals, Dreams, & Fantasies

Recently I was in conversation with a family member about their co-worker's small business idea, with whom he was working with to try and create--or inspire--a plan of action. Me being me, I had a ton of questions: What was the coworker ultimately trying to accomplish? When did the he want to reach his goal? Would it be a side business or replace his current job? How was he planning to define success in regards to the goal? By the end of the conversation, my family member stated although he had raised similar questions, his coworker never provided any real in-depth or insightful answers. What they mostly spent time doing was just talking about the idea. Finally, I asked my family member, "Is this what your coworker really wants to do or just what he thinks he wants to do?" The reply: "At this point, who knows."

Oddly, I had these same ruminations recently when I fell down the rabbit hole of the new BET series, "The Impact Atlanta." The unscripted reality series offers a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of Atlanta's top influencers and--although I doubt I'm its target audience--was surprisingly enjoyable for me to follow the cast of Generation Z hustlers--Jayda Cheaves, Ari Fletcher, Lakeyah, Dess Dior, and Arrogant Tae--as they navigated trials and tribulations around family, mental health, business management and, not surprisingly, social media gossip and feuds. Fan favorite--and one of my own--was Tae, née Dionte Gray, a Chicago native celebrity hairstylist and wig guru, whose mastery with all things hair have landed him such high profile clients as Nicki Minaj, Teyana Taylor, and Lala Anthony. 

The Impact's premiere season storyline for Tae primarily focused on his desire to open his first brick-and-mortar hair salon, which he wanted to be the first of a chain. The audience was allowed to go along when he and his assistants/friends looked at a vacant space, which they all quickly rejected due to size and safety. More interestingly, however, was hearing Tae share his hair salon dream with friends and family, which was met with everyone being both encouraging yet somewhat exhausted as if they'd heard this narrative from him before and repeatedly--because they had!
In fact, many of his friends seemed more confident in the idea than he may have realized he did at times based on their exasperated responses of "You just need to do it already!" which was often countered by an equally exasperated Tae stating, "I know. I just need to find the right spot." However, with a booming business and entertainment industry that has put Atlanta prominently and popularly on the map the past three decades, I'm sure Tae's friends, family, and now the viewing audience were all thinking the same thing: "There is no way you haven't found a single, suitable spot yet." And then it hit me: this was most likely not Tae's dream or even goal, but perhaps a mere fantasy that was much more enjoyable in theory than it would ever be in reality. But here's the gag: there's nothing wrong with that. The challenge is in being able to recognize the difference so you can either set yourself on a course of action or simply set yourself free.

One of the best quotes I have ever heard, which I use and rely on until this day is, "The difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline." Others have simplified it by saying, "A goal without a plan is just a wish." Said even plainer, don't just talk about it; be about it. In whatever form, I can not express how valuable those words have been in my life in helping me accomplish much of what I have; words that I now find myself sharing with my nieces and nephews as they set off into their own adult lives. In other words, if you're going to reach any goal, you need to set a time you want that goal to be accomplished--a month, a year, five years from now--and begin to work backwards in charting a course for how to get there including what sacrifices may need to be made, what it will cost (literally and figuratively), who you may need to engage to help you, what classes you may need to take to better understand how to get there and, just as important, how you will celebrate your win when you do.

Furthermore, you have to be able to define what success looks like for yourself and by yourself, and not how it looks to others. If your goal is to get a law degree for your own "bucket list-self satisfaction," that alone can be success, and not necessarily starting your own law practice as others might suggest. Perhaps you're a chef who enjoys serving a small roster of catering clients. However, it's sure not to be long before someone will proclaim, "You need to open your own restaurant" when you know the running a large business is not your joy or even your strength. That's because the dreams others have for you are often nothing more than fantasies for yourself. 

Everything that sounds good is not necessarily good for you, and everything doesn't need to come to fruition or be taken to the next level. Sometimes fantasies are needed just to give your mind a joyful reprieve from reality, the same way watching your favorite movie does. Yet, frustrations are sure to arise if you haven't done enough honest soul searching to figure out what category your thoughts belong, for nothing will put you more in turmoil--and a wasted spiral of time--than chasing a dream your soul already knows should remain a fantasy. However, once you decide what your thoughts truly are, you can boldly and confidently set off to put your plan into motion or simply take comfort in being exactly where you are, despite what the world may say.

At the end of the Impact's first season, I was convinced even if Tae finally opens his salon, it will be successful but that is most likely not where his joy will be. The joy Tae exhibited each episode doing the hair of clients and friends out of the comfort of his home or theirs, told me everything I needed to know: he had already found his true joy. It was in the connection he made with clients-turned-friends and in creating head-turning-looks for music videos, magazine shoots, and red carpets. Anything more he obtained would simply be for show and, of course, more money but not necessarily more joy. So as we approach midyear when many of us stop to reassess our new year resolutions, let's be honest about what we say we want. Let's truly assess the difference between dreams and fantasies and whether either truly belongs to you or are being projected onto you by others. But, if you find the dream simply won't let you go and continues to call out to you without ceasing, get to setting that deadline and crafting a plan of action that will help you reach it. Timelines will shift, hiccups will emerge but, as author Norman Vincent Peale stated, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

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Friday, January 6, 2023

The Power of "No" in the New Year

It's that time again. You know the vibes: when the start of a new year finds us saying "yes" to darn near any and everything from book clubs to basket weaving courses to lion taming classes. We start (or restart) gym memberships, declare healthier eating habits, commit to increase our spirtual growth, and vow to connect more with family and friends. And there's no debate that many of these are noble, well-intentioned ideas that may encourage growth and benefit our lives. Yet if past behavior is any indicator of future behavior, somewhere around the end of the first quarter, we discover we've added too much to our plates and hit our burnout wall on our paths to becoming our best selves. 

Let's face it: In Western civilization, we are conditioned, encouraged, and even celebrated for what we can do and how much we can juggle. Be it on the job or even in our homes, terms like "superwoman" and "superman," "hustler," "go-getter," and the "strong black man/woman" trope become both our identities and the albatrosses around our necks we can't seem to free ourselves from. Feelings of not enough or not doing enough abound. And it's not long before our mental, emotional, and physical health are at stake. So, here's a radical idea for us all in 2023: just say "no." No to the parties and brunches we aren't excited to attend; no to staying in group chats and social circles that drain us more than they uplift us; no to chairing one more event or group; no to adding more hours to our work day (especially when not even asked to!); no to being the first to volunteer to bake the cupcakes for your child's class; no to coaching one more little league sport; no to any and everything that we discover we're doing more of for others than for what serves our highest purpose and brings us joy. Sorry, Nike, we're no longer "just doing it."

Ironically, saying "yes" isn't often a struggle folks wrestle with. Instead, it's the fear of the backlash one may receive to saying "no." The fear that a "no" or a "decline" will be interpreted as something more than all it really is: a vote for oneself. But if the many (and often humorous) TikTok stories and Instagram posts about saying "no" in exchange for self care; about the elation of canceled events; and even about women leaning more into their soft-feminine-get-somebody-else-to-do-it self are any indication of the fatigue many are feeling as the world demands more of our time and energy, setting boundaries is the one thing we all should be saying "yes" to in 2023. According to a 2021 article in Psychology Today, saying "no" can even increase your self-esteem and build confidence because, let's face it, doing so can be both scary and uncomfortable. But the more you do it; the more you exercise that muscle of prioritizing you, the easier it becomes to advocate for yourself and, at the same time, make room for those things you really want to say "yes" to: those things that bring you authentic joy and that only need to be defined by you. As a wise person once said, if you want more time, freedom, and energy, start saying "no."

And parents, that means you too! Take a break from those parental demands, lock those bathroom doors, and indulge in your candlelight, wine sipping bubble baths for an hour. Or hit up those ax throwing breweries and cut up with the crew for a few. But, again, only if you want to ;-). After all, we can't be our best for anyone else until we're our best to ourselves first. In the unfortunate wake of premature health-related deaths and the increase of suicides, it is imperative that we prioritize and protect our mental health, learn the power of eliminating that which does not fulfill us, and intentionally lean into those things that do. As author Paulo Coelho stated, "When you say 'yes' to others, make sure you are not saying 'no' to yourself." Remember, self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you (cr: Katie Reed). So, practice those "no's," good people. Eliminate the excess, and instead say "yes" to only those things that will replenish and restore you in the new year. 

Happy New Year, Everyone! 

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Monday, August 8, 2022

The Art of the Apology

On a recent business trip, I was able to reconnect with one of my favorite colleagues and “wax poetic” on what seemed like everything except the business we were actually there for. Outside of family, she is probably the only person I can talk and laugh with for hours on end, and not notice time has passed thus making her an honorary “younger sister.” Because genuine spirits are often hard to find, I take time to enjoy those that are sent my way. So on the last night of the conference, we took in a final dinner and filled the evening with conversation that soon turned to the colorful topic of our relationships—be it with family, friends and, not surprisingly, loves. As expected, tales and laughter ensued along with a few “Girl bye's!” added for emphasis and several “Say what now's?” thrown in for good measure. That’s when she upped the story-time-ante with an anecdote about “the one who got away.” 

With conference sessions officially over, time to kill, and plenty of food and drinks to devour, I was able to indulge in her account of their journey which, thanks to technology, was largely archived in Facebook messages. She highlighted how they began; the miscommunication that had gotten them off track; her belief that she’d been wronged; and concluded with the update that she’d seen him in recent years, but the reception was less than friendly. Being inquisitive by both nature (and degree 😉), I dug a bit deeper in trying to connect the dots—or rather—how the dots got disconnected. So, she handed me her phone and told me to have it. 

I began to scroll, reading messages that weaved throughout their college years leading to adulthood punctuated by family deaths, the birth of children, and concluding in the last few years with their final run-in at an event of a mutual friend. I returned her phone to her and “lovingly” stated, “Girl, you were a whole -------!” Luckily thanks to our no-holds-barred style of communication, she seemingly took no offense but, instead, burst into laughter before genuinely asking, “You think so?” I stated, “Absolutely. You were NOT the victim in this story; HE was!” I’ll spare the details that brought me to my conclusion but, by the end of dinner, she shared genuine remorse regarding their detachment, which led us to the topic of if there was anything she should or needed to do. I simply stated, “Reach out and apologize for your part in the demise of the relationship. If nothing else, you’ll set yourself free and maybe him too.”

 And so, at that dinner table, with the evening sun beautifully setting on the verandah of the restaurant (and with a bit of “liquid courage” along with me rooting her on) she did…and he immediately responded—addressing her by the playful nickname he’d given her back in their college days—thanked her for her kind words and apology and, just like that, a friendship was renewed. And with both being single, it could not be denied that the possibility of more now existed in their space. At the end of the night, she stated that moment was the highlight of her entire trip (even wondering if that was the Divine reason she even came to the conference) and thanked me for helping her reconnect with a person she truly missed having in her life. I was happy to have helped a friend in such a meaningful way. However, I know I would not have been able to offer such advice if I had not begun to put this action more into practice in my own life. 

Let’s face it: apologies can be difficult. However, being human is also difficult, and so mistakes and missteps will occur whether perpetrated by us or occurring to us. Unfortunately, as perpetrator--whether intentional or not--we often times hold on to the belief that offering an apology highlights our flaws and makes us appear weak. At other times, we believe the apology lets the other person off the hook for their part in the transgression. And as a result, we'll often choose to wait for the infraction to be brought to our attention, at which time we may gaslight the other person by playing "clueless," thus diminishing or dismissing their pain; or we simply convince ourselves that because the issue wasn’t immediately raised--if at all--it obviously wasn’t "that bad."

However, what I’ve learned is that the true art of the apology is acting on that small, still voice that tells you to give the apology before it has to be asked for. It has been the most empowering and liberating behavior I’ve learned to embrace in recent years; that is, to grant that gift to a person without them having to seek it. Because truth is, most of us are in tune with our inner voice that tugs on our conscience and heart when we’ve done something or someone wrong; the growth is in acting on that inner voice without needing to be told you should. 

Fortunately, in putting this into practice, the Universe returned the example to me recently in the form of a coworker (surprisingly, an older, white gentleman) who apologized for not speaking to me in the break room weeks earlier. I barely remembered but also was totally unbothered by the incident in the hustle and bustle of work life (and in getting coffee), but I appreciated his humility and humanity. It was an opportunity for me to delightfully be on the receiving end of experiencing that which I’m practicing to more freely give. And it was a reminder that nothing is ever lost by giving an apology, even if the recipient genuinely states it isn't necessary. For what it most certainly does is give others an example of how to extend peace and grace to those who need it and, in turn, increase one's own.

Ironically, on the departure day of my business trip back home, I woke up with a tiny tug of regret in my own heart for addressing my friend’s past relationship actions in such a “colorful way” during dinner despite her laugher. As I waited for my Uber, I sent her a farewell text message along with an apology for my offensive language toward her. She responded that no apology was needed and that she in fact appreciated when folks kept it “all the way real” with her but thanked me for doing so anyway. It was a reminder that we not only should practice what we preach on these journeys to being our best selves, but that when we’ve reached a milestone in our growth, we have a responsibility to preach what we’ve practiced as well in hopes that it will inspire others to do the same. 

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