Archive for June, 2008

Still Holdin’ On

Friday, June 27th, 2008

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Some years back while co-writing with CeCe Winans her autobiography On A Positive Note I got to spend lots of time with CeCe and her musical family and learned a lot about the cruel business of making and selling music in America. I learned how much more cruel the business can be to black women performers. Because I’m a scholar I couldn’t be content with just writing about Winan’s journey as a singer, as though she emerged ex nihilo without influence from other women singers. I had to learn as much as I could about the history of the industry, the history of blacks in the business, and in particular the rise and fall of black women gospel singers. A whole shelf of books in my study is filled with the biographies of the many women in the gospel and pop musical industry whom I stayed up reading about while working with Winans on her book: from Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday on one end, to Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Caesar, and Tramaine Hawkins on the other end.

I close out this Friday with a video clip of my all time favorite gospel singer from back in the day, Dorothy Love Coates and her Gospel Harmonettes singing “I’m Holding On To My Faith.” 

Young sisters. Take note. This is what you call Sanctified, Fire-Baptized, Holy Ghost-filled, Old School singing. Back when you could still make out every word the singer was saying.

Feel the goosebumps rise as you listen to Ms. Love Coates’ powerful singing and the Harmonettes backing her up with a grace of their own. This is old style gospel singing back when all a singer had to rely on was her voice and her conviction. Watching this video makes me wanna shout and throw my make-believe Sunday hat across the sanctuary. Ms. Love Coates is not just singing, the woman is preaching and telling a story of what it takes to hold on to all that’s dear and precious to you in the midst of persecution and temptation.

Here’s paying tribute to all those who know what it means to work, sing your heart out, and hold on to your faith, all under nearly impossible circumstances.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

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Yeah, it’s the big day. Think I’ll take a break from blogging by sitting on my screen porch, reading a novel, listening to some music, and sipping a tall glass of ice cold lemonade between naps.

It is enough today simply to be grateful. Grateful to God to be alive and to be at peace finally with myself. Grateful for family and friends. Grateful for a church family that lets me stand in the pulpit and ramble until I figure out something to say. Grateful for finding meaning in life and for talents that lend help in turning the world right side up.

Grateful that I woke up this morning ”clothed in my right mind” and with a reasonable portion of health and strength. Despite the many indiginities that come with aging, I am grateful to be able to say with Celie, “Dear God, I’m here.” 

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Psssst. Come closer. To those of you who remembered that today is my birthday and have been writing all week asking for gift suggestions so that you can express your gratitude for what this blog has meant to you. Here a few places where I shop online and would appreciate mightily a gift certificate: Amazon.com; Oyinhandmade natural hair products; Qhemet natural hair products; and my favorite kitchen store, Sur La Table. Gift certificates can be sent to my email address: sowithin@bellsouth.net.  If a gift certificate to your favorite blogger is not in your budget, then as those in the old church would say, “I ask those of you who know the words of prayer to pray my strength in the Lord. “

You Are Not Big-Boned, Girlfriend

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

My husband brought home a big fat slice of chocolate cake on Sunday which one of our members had made and handed to him after church service because she knows how much her pastor, my husband, loves chocolate cake. (Don’t ask why she didn’t send a slice for me.) I could barely think of anything else the rest of the day for thinking about that piece of cake. I sat at the dinner table with family eating spinach, rice and peas, brown stew fish, and the other delectable West Indian dishes peeping back at the chocolate cake  sitting there wrapped on my kitchen counter. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a slice of that cake.

Did I mention that I don’t even like chocolate cake? But I do love ice cream (which there was a gallon of in the freezer). And, trust me, BlueBelle ice cream makes chocolate cake taste so much better.

Never mind that I’d just spoken two days earlier at the 25th Anniversary of the National Black Women’s Health Imperative. Never mind that I stayed over on Saturday to walk and sweat my way with 300 other black women through the closing 5k Walking for Wellness event and felt pretty good about finishing in a little over 35 minutes.

I wanted that slice of cake. I needed that slice of cake. I earned that slice of cake. Along with a bowl of ice cream.

But I need to lose 30 pounds. Minimum. It doesn’t help that all the women in my family are, as they say, “big-boned.” There was my mother, Big Mama and my aunts Mae, Kate, Anne and others. But how can I be sure they were big-boned women? After all, the women in my family fried everything they cooked, used heapings of Velveeta in their macaroni and cheese, and never set a table without four starches to pass around. So, maybe the women in my family aren’t big-boned. Maybe the women in my family are “girthy” because of the food we eat.

Okay, so I’m not big-boned afterall. Like the women of my family, I am, um, overweight.

America as a whole has a weight problem. But black women have an even bigger weight problem.

Something is wrong when upwards of 70% of African American women, says researchers, are overweight and over half of overweight black women fall within the obese range. African American women suffer from obesity at an alarmingly disproportionate rate when compared to women of other races. Come on now. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, breathing problems, arthritis, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea (breathing problems while sleeping), osteoarthritis, and some cancers. It’s no secret that black women’s lives are at risk and that we have had the worst health on nearly every health index when compared to other groups of women. The soaring death rate among us alone from preventable health afflictions ought to shame us. Racism and sexism take their toll. But some things are not about racism and sexism.

overweightWhat’s our problem? Word on the street is that African-American women are more inclined to be overweight because our men (if you’re heterosexual, that is. cough. cough.) like women who carry around some (como se dice?) “junk in the trunk.” The Commodores referred to curvy, full-figured women as “brick houses” back in my day. But let’s be honest. We’re not talking about those 10 or 20 extra pounds of booty, breasts, hips, and thighs that make cars in black neighborhoods slam into each other when you walk by. We’re talking about those 50 pounds and more that has you slathering on corn starch and talcum powder in private places to keep from rubbing yourself raw in the summer heat.

Come on, girl, push away from the table.

Our eating habits are killing us. I was speechless when a month ago one friend brought a bucket of Popeye chicken and another one brought a huge Pizza Hut pizza to a Sunday evening book club pot luck dinner. Clueless and tasteless. Both women struggle with their weight and are always asking the group for prayer for their health. I know it’s part environment. To pick up good, healthy food these women would have had to drive way over on the other side of town. Yeah, but that’s no excuse. Bring a salad. Boil some eggs. Offer to stay afterwards and wash dishes.

Word: Aretha Franklin will forever be my “Queen of Soul.” But my heart breaks every time I see Aretha on tv these days. Aretha is not big-boned. Aretha is obese. So are half the women I see in church parking lots. Breathless by the time they reach the church door.

Food is comforting. But overeating is killing us. And our children. 25% of African American children are overweight. That’s absurd.

These days when people greet me with the words ”It’s good to see you,” I respond back “I’m just glad that I’m being seen and not being viewed.” (As in lying in a casket). I’d like to live to see grandchildren. Heck, I wanna be able to belly dance at 75 years old.

You and I owe it to ourselves to try to eat right and to exercise. It’s not about losing weight, it’s about getting healthy. It’s about quality of life. It’s about being able to live as long as possible and in good health. It’s about loving your body enough to take care of it, and doing your part to avoid the threat of losing your legs or eyesight to diabetes or winding up in a nursing home due to a stroke.

Stop making excuses. You are not big-boned. You need to lose weight. Pronto.

Start by committing to walking around the neighborhood in the evenings instead of watching reruns of Law and Order. For the cost of that perm you can hire a personal trainer. Instead of ordering a burger, fries, and a diet coke at the drive thru, order a salad and a diet coke instead. It’s a start.

Did I mention that much of my extra weight is here in my middle area which, of course, puts me at risk for particular set of health problems? I could point out that it’s leftover fat from having carried an 8lb. 15oz. child inside me all those months. But that child is now a teenager who’ll be going off to college soon. Sure, I could try exercise that targets the lower stomach muscles. But I’m constitutionally opposed to doing stomach crunches. I walk. I work out on the elliptical. I don’t mind pressing weights to enhance my arms and strengthen my upper body. But stomach crunches? I’d rather face a firing squad.

Getting back to that piece of chocolate cake. Along with that bowl of Blue Belle ice cream. Don’t ask.

I’m lacing up my sneakers right now. I’m off to the track for my late evening three mile walk with the sound of Aretha singing “Rock Steady” in my headphones.

Something Within Beah

Friday, June 20th, 2008

A few years back a dear friend sent me a gift in the mail. It was a dvd documentary, BEAH: A BLACK WOMAN SPEAKS. Having grown up watching Beah Richards in film and on television, I knew I was in for a treat. Looking at Richards with her strong African features I’d always wondered how she survived in a place like Hollywood where  women are valued less for their talent and more for their camera friendly European beauty. I didn’t know how much the story of Beah Richards’ life would come to mean to me. The documentary saved my life. It arrived at just the right moment. The student was ready.

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And then one day I lost it. That’s right. I laid the dvd down and couldn’t remember where I put it. You know how you lay something down and can’t recall for the life of you where you put it? For a a year, every time I thought about the dvd, I’d tear the house apart all over again looking for BEAH, but it was nowhere to be found. I grieved. I felt like the woman whom Jesus spoke of in Luke 15:8-10 who upon discovering she’s lost a coin that’s dear to her survival sweeps and searches her house from top to bottom until she finds it.

And then one day, this week in fact, it reappeared. As strangely as it disappeared, BEAH: A BLACK WOMAN SPEAKS reappeared. Just like that. Stuck there between some papers I’d rummaged through dozens of times. There must be a moral to this tale of losing and finding this dvd, I tell myself. There has to be. When I figure it out I’ll share it with you.

Right now I’m just happy to have found BEAH. If you don’t have a copy, get one. Every woman should have a copy of this documentary. It’s the story of a woman’s life, a thinking woman, a fierce woman, an unconventional woman, a woman who stared back with determination when the face across the desk looked up indifferently at her. And it’s the story of the young black woman who stumbled upon her story.

While working with Beah Richards on the film BELOVED,  LisaGay Hamilton was mesmerized by the older woman’s talent and inspired by her wisdom. Two years after completing BELOVED, Hamilton heard that Beah Richards was low sick (as they say in the south) and phoned to ask if she could visit. That one visit stretched out over a year and marked the beginning of life-saving relationship for both women and became the basis for this remarkable documentary. Over the next year (which would be the last year of Beah’s life), Richards shared with the young actress LisaGay Hamilton the insights and truths she’d gained during her celebrated, sometimes controversial career. The exclusive documentary BEAH: A BLACK WOMAN SPEAKS presents the hard-earned wisdom of this remarkable artist and activist, and explores the deep and tender relationship that developed between the two women.

BEAH: A BLACK WOMAN SPEAKS is the kind of movie you dress up for and watch along with your girlfriends. You’ll be talking into the night about the lessons of Beah Richards’ life.