My boyfriend wishes I wouldn't say this, but "BLACK FOLKS DON' COME UP!!!!!!".
It's a little folk joke I say whenever I'm in the midst of seeing African Americans having experiences that belie the stereotypes and one-note profiles of 'colored folks' that I find often permeate the media and sometimes our mindsets (as a society at large). My loud and light declaration has shown up on occasion, like when I visited my friend and radio personality De De McGuire in Dallas and she showed me around what my one-room- apartment eyes saw as a mini-mansion with pool in the backyard. Not that I haven't seen my people have lovely homes before, but in that moment, I wanted to point out - in my arguably off-color colloquialism - just how proud of her I am. It's sort of an echo of what EBONY and JET do for its readers. Clearly, in 2006, there should be 'people of color' representing all tiers of success and that should be represented in all media. But without EBONY and JET, you might not see it demonstrated and celebrated on as grand a scale as it is. So, when the spirit moves me, I do my part and AFFIRM my interpretation of HOW FAR WE'VE COME, albeit through a filter that may read CHICKEN GEORGE or SOPHIA (from "The Color Purple").
And for the record, speaking of SOPHIA, I haven't "all my life... had to fight"!. I don't necessarily come from the "humble beginnings" of 'the Brewster projects' (a la my Diana) or from a backdrop of dirt roads and out houses, a backstory that sets the tone for legends and the like, who've become the flossiest versions of "The American Dream". Still, I unapologetically relate and respond (quite loudly, some have experienced...) when I come into contact with sightings of my people doing cool and progressive things. So you'll know, I am an Air Force brat, born in Japan. My family - with my father at the helm - traveled all over the world. Those exposures in our early years are with us even today. Still, global consciousness notwithstanding, we are regular folks who grew up with basic southern Christian lessons and knowing the limitations that society can sometimes put on people of color, if only inside of what we watch for entertainment, where we pray, and with whom we fraternize. And somehow, since Dad retired in his and my mom's hometown of Savannah, Georgia after we traveled the globe, I have an identification with many of these so-called simple, traditional folks who raised me and from whom I come. One of my beau's arguments around it is that hearing "BLACK FOLKS DON'T COME UP" from me "reduces" many of my "LIFE OF RILEY" philosophies and experiences to race and - to his estimation - I'm not that person. To him, "THE LIFE OF RILEY" transcends race and any social limitations. And he's 100% right. Mostly, I am a product of who I am being NOW and the results are showing up towards my BEST LIFE with those CHOICES. And though I am NOT just the humble story and life that it took to get here, it is still inside of me and played it's part to get me here too. I feel I am as TRADITIONAL as I am CUTTING EDGE. And depending on the day and the trigger, my connection to both can show up (sometimes at the same time).
With that, last night I was screaming "BLACK FOLKS DON' COME UP!!!!!!" from the 16th floor penthouse of an event that was hosted by my 'Black' friends Carl and Sharon Nelson, a pair of siblings I've known for twelve or so years. They invited a group of our friends (of color) and me to join them at the home of Tom & Kamala Buckner, who run Lotus Music & Dance (www.lotusarts.com). And for all of the places I've been through my childhood years and -- throughout the U-S and Europe -- in my adult years, I dwarfed into "PATRICK IN WONDERLAND" as we enjoyed the setting that is a 4,000 square-foot, bi-level apartment with a 1,400 square-foot upper level that boasts a wrap-around terrace, giving the most delicious, panoramic views of Manhattan. That experience alone let me know I wasn't in Savannah anymore (like Dorothy's Kansas/Oz revelation in "The Wizard of Oz" or perhaps the "Emerald City Sequence" in "The Wiz"). By the way, this beautiful home is on the market for $4.8 million. (Anybody want to go in on it with me? Then, we can flip it! SMILE!).
But the night's program, which was run by my friend Carl, who is a special events coordinator of only the most FABULOUS events. I remember a going-away party he threw for me in Atlanta when I moved here to the New York area ten years ago. He rented out only the hottest new club, "Tongue & Groove", in the posh Buckhead area of Atlanta and made sure all the accoutrements and people were in the house. I laugh at this memory because I felt so much love from not only my family and friends, but the - at least - three hundred other people he invited who I DID NOT KNOW. But per Carl's instruction, ALL OF THEM - the athletes, entertainers, socialites, and a drag queen or two - spoke to the camera, letting me know how much they (and Atlanta) were going to miss me. And when I viewed the tape in New Jersey a couple of weeks later, I wondered "WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?". But that's my CARL and the lengths to which he will go to make a party really special.
And boy, did Carl (pictured, in white & orange shirt at Lotus in 2004) take us on a ride last night. The reception's purpose was to celebrate the debut of "Gandhi's Outstanding Leadership" by Alan Nazareth. Though the author was not there, they designed a program that honored Gandhi and what he represented and represents around non-violence, peace, and forgiveness. With my super-ecumenical spirit in tow, I knew the night was going to take us to and through many religions and beliefs. I surrendered to that as there is something to be said for us all coming together inside of our differences. We started with "A Prayer to the Lord of Ganesha", a Tibetan Buddhist prayer to an Elephant-headed god. (Lawd! The saints at my church are rolling over! SMILE!).
Then, two beautiful Muslim students from "Lotus Music and Dance" performed a classical dance from South India called Bharathanatyam. (The simpleton in me was bopping my head and tapping my feet to the rhythm of the music as it could so be sampled in a hip hop song. And we've seen that done ,haven't we TIMBALAND? "Okay, You can take me out of the hood. But you can't take the hood out of me". What am I talking about? I'm not from the hood. But you know what I'm saying... SMILE!).
From there, we were blessed with seven minutes (and counting, THANK YOU CARL!) of wisdom and enlightenment from three Lamas (not to be confused with the "Llamas" that used to frequent "Neverland" before Michael stopped paying the bills, but I digress...and only mention that because Carl pointed out that some of our people he invited actually thought menagerie would be present, which is why we love OUR PEOPLE.). These LAMAs, three sweet and cute men, are former Parliamentary members of the Tibetan government, currently in exile over in India. One said "Peace is not simple. It has to be nurtured, cared for, and cultivated." Another noted "Freedom has to be two-fold: inside and outside. We have to protect it from being compromised.". And my favorite of their talking points: "Art is a form of spirituality". And from there, actress Leslie Lewis Sword performed a stellar excerpt from her one-woman show which is based on Immaculee Ilibagiza's "Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust". This book tells how Ilibagiza's world was ripped apart in 1994 as Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide. Her family was brutally murdered during the killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans. Lewis Sword is the daughter of the late, great billionaire Reginald Lewis. Last year, she befriended Ilibagiza, after reading the book. She wanted to travel with her to Rwanda and have Ilibagiza walk her through the experience. Since that time, Lewis Sword says she is forever changed - so much so - she and her husband have adopted two Rwandan children. Lewis Sword calls Ilibagiza "our generation's Anne Frank" and - given her brief performance last night - Lewis Sword may be on her way to becoming "our generation's Cicely Tyson".
Can I say it? "BLACK FOLKS DON' COME UP!!!!".