It was the night of our wedding rehearsal. The DJ was spinning great tunes, and friends/family from around the globe had joined us to celebrate our wedding the next day.
The news broke: Whitney Houston had been found dead in her hotel room.
My photographer had to step out of the room to collect himself. I was completely stunned. The DJ, herself in shock, agreed to play a tribute to Whitney during our wedding the next day. She did so — and we toasted her memory during our wedding dinner to the song “Exhale“. It was the perfect selection:
Sometimes you’ll laugh
Sometimes you’ll cry
Life never tells us
The when’s or why’s
When you’ve got friends to wish you well
You’ll find a point when
You will exhale
You may have noticed I write a fair amount of tributes to artists that pass away such as Prince and George Michael. This is because (cliche as it may seem), music is truly the soundtrack of my life. I often have a song lyric for any given situation. As with most people, music will rocket me back to a place, a time, or a person.
With Whitney, she takes me back…
…To summer camp as a teen in Toronto, where our project was to do a group lip sync performance to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody“.
…To watching the 1988 Olympics and remembering how her voice in “One Moment in Time” would give me simultaneous chills and pride.
…To the New York City club scene in the ’90’s with the remix of “It’s Not Right, But It’s OK“. That song is still a timeless anthem that will bring down the house at a club, party, drag show, or just about anywhere else to this day.
And of course, to my wedding day.
How she met her end was tragic; in my opinion, no artist to this day could match her vocal range. Her legal troubles, drug use and troubled marriage highlighted the dark side of fame.
But in the end, she left the world, and me in particular, with a great soundtrack to life’s memories.
Sleep in Power, Rest In Peace Whitney Houston. We’ll always love you.
A version of my piece appears in Blavity, check it out!
In a time where a day seemingly cannot go by without some sort of political calamity, how can one get through this?
Those who see and feel injustice are having a tough time.
I’ll put it out there – I’m exhausted. Having seen the good, bad and the ugly in the criminal justice system, I have now elevated my work on social justice issues to a wider scope. I feel it is incumbent upon me as an African American female attorney to lend my voice, as well as my knowledge, for the betterment of all people everywhere. In doing so, you take on the pain of the struggle. If you do not internalize it in some way, then you may need to check your pulse to see if you are still alive.
To make sure that you continue to have the ability to fight the good fight, self-care is critical. Some may think “is that some silly reason folks use to blow off work and go to yoga”
Maybe for some folks, yes; for social warriors, no.
In order to center yourself, you have to take a break. Why? Because your effectiveness diminishes as fatigue sets in. Stress literally kills.
Here are some ideas:
Skipping meals, or eating fast food regularly is not a good idea. I like McDonald’s fries as much as the next person, but as we saw in SuperSize Me, a regular diet of this is not sustainable. Additionally, it will wreak havoc on your energy levels and your mood. The topics we are dealing with regularly are painful as it is – the wrong nutrition will make an already short fuse even shorter. Make a conscious effort to eat regularly, and eat real food.
I’m the first person to say I don’t get a runner’s high. I mostly get the runner’s ouch. But put me in a spin class with a solid playlist (shout out to Allison, Johanna and Reed at SoulCycle), and for 45 minutes I am in another world. I leave sweaty, less stressed, and ready to take on the day. Find what works for you – if you’re in Florida like me, a long walk on the beach is a straight up spiritual experience. If not, basic calisthenics at home, an internet based workout (there’s tons of videos on YouTube, as well as more specialized options), or hitting your local gym will go a long way in allowing you to de-stress, clear your head, and release some of the anger that accumulates. Don’t let budget be a hindrance – close your door, and dance like mad to 3 of your favorite songs in a row. That short break may be enough to release some toxicity.
Find your village
You need to have positive people around you in your personal life. Each of us needs to have that crew who you can laugh with, be totally silly, and just let your locs down. These are folks who lift you up, infusing you with renewed energy. If those folks aren’t around you, you may need to take a serious look at your circle and make some changes for your sanity.
Take a day at the very least each week , or the entire weekend if you can, and totally detox. My friend is a strong proponent of #UnpluggedSundays, where she signs off social media Saturday night, and does not get back on until Monday. Look, whatever craziness that is coming from the White House will be there tomorrow. Just take a day, and focus on friends and family. Focus on you. Binge watch Real Housewives – anything that does not require deep thought.
Leave the Bottle Alone
It may be tempting to self medicate by having that extra drink, or turning to legal (or illegal) drugs to escape. At the end of the day, the world’s problems will still be there when you wake up. And now, you’re awake, mad, and have a hangover. Enough said. Also, dependency/addiction has a tendency to creep up on you. Recreational use can turn to habitual use in the blink of an eye. I’m not trying to pull a Nancy Reagan (more of a Grandmaster Flash), but please don’t start down a path that will only cause pain.
Find what brings you peace (and don’t underestimate the power of the playlist)
Since Charlottesville, I’ve changed my screensaver at work to alpacas. Why? Because looking them calms me down. I can minimize my screen, look at the cuteness, and then re-engage. Music is a huge help too. Lately I’ve been rocking Damien Marley. His social commentary, coupled with great reggae beats and a sharp lyrical style keeps me focused when the day is long. Public Enemy, while accurate, makes me angry. As my friend Ken reminded me today, James Brown is a good bet. You get inspired, proud, and motivated.
Many have heard the James Baldwin quote
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
But the next line is even more important:
“…So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”
Being part of the resistance is tough, but don’t let it destroy you. Make a conscious effort to release your stress — you are needed!
The news broke late Christmas Day — George Michael passed away peacefully at home.
In a year where I’ve been reeling from the death of my childhood soundtrack with the passing of Prince, yet another musician who musically narrated my life has left this world.
I remember goofy dancing to “Wake Me Up” in my childhood bedroom in NY.
I remember my high school English project where the teacher told us to research a poem and present it to the class. I submitted “Careless Whispers“. Granted, I didn’t get the adult content until much later — but I did okay on the assignment, which is what mattered at the time.
I jammed on my Walkman while commuting on the New York City subway to “Monkey” and “Too Funky”.
In between it all, who could forget the classic Saturday Night Live sketch where Dana Carvey spoofed George Michael’s posterior? See it here.
And years later, when I was planning my wedding, I knew I needed a song to reflect the long, unconventional, winding path to love I had found.
Like a warrior that fights
And wins the battle
I know the taste of victory
Though I went through some nights
Consumed by shadows
I was crippled emotionally
Somehow I made it through theheartache
Yes I did. I escaped.
I found my way out of the darkness
I kept my faith (I know you did), kept my faith
When the river was deep I didn’t falter;
When the mountain was high I still believed;
When the valley was low, it didn’t stop me;
I knew you were waiting for me
I walked down the aisle to marry the love of my life to the duet performed by Aretha Franklin and George Michael “Knew You Were Waiting“.
No one person’s time on Earth is unlimited. I hope George Michael left knowing the love and positivity that he gave his fans.
Check out Rolling Stone’s list of 20 essential George Michael songs here.
The question was posed as a result of all of the negativity we are seeing of late in the news. How do we as warriors for change refuel?
It caused me to pause, reflecting as to how and where I regain my strength.
It is in these instances: one, when I am listening to music. That could be in my car, in a spinning class, or on the dance floor (happening less and less these days).
Two, when I am on top of a mountain about to snowboard down.
And three, when I’m with my husband.
Music has always been my freedom. For as long as I can remember, music has the ability to transport me away from any problems or concerns I am dealing with. In my younger days (early 20’s) I would find escape with my friends in the nightclubs of New York and Miami. As I got older — with the days getting longer, and the job became more hectic, I found solace less on the dance floor, and more on a spinning bike. I discovered spinning classes around the early 2000’s; that same music and emotion present in a nightclub would take me away from my problems for 45 minutes on a stationary bike. For that time frame, I am focused on the task at hand; beat the bike! Of late, I have been going to SoulCycle down the block from my home. That has been such a blessing and helped me through some tough trials. Other times, taking a drive in my car with the music blasting helps me clear my head. Whether it be dance music, R&B, old hip hop, or even country (thanks to my husband’s influence), I can shift my energy to a better place in a couple songs.
Another great activity that brings me peace is snowboarding. Mind you, I am not the best at it; a good run is when I didn’t fall at all, but there is nothing like standing on the top of the mountain. You are literally on top of the world. The only thing you hear is the whistling of the wind and the sound of your own heartbeat. Then, you jump. As I coast down the slope surrounded by God’s natural beauty, I am utterly at peace.
Until I fall.
The well from which I get my strength is my beloved husband. I have talked about him in prior posts, but I always feel it bears repeating. I married him a little late in life, so it enabled me to really pick the right partner. There is nothing better after a long day or a long week to cuddle up next to him and talk, or even sit in silence. During that time I release all the stress from the day and just enjoy being in the company of the one I love. I have grown to cherish these moments more and more as life, as well as my chosen profession, throws me more challenges.
It is always critical to find what brings you peace or else your tank will run empty. Bad things happen when you get to that point.
So what brings you peace? Sound off in the comments!
I was laying in bed at home with a migraine when the news alert from CNN flashed across my phone. I blinked several times, figuring my bleary pain addled eyes were playing tricks on me. Then the alerts came from other outlets. I stopped breathing for a moment. I went on Facebook, and saw my reaction mirrored in the posts of my college friends.
Three things struck me — 1) he died on the 4th anniversary of my mother’s passing, 2) he is the same age as my husband, and 3) a part of the backdrop of my life has suddenly disappeared.
No one can ever take his place. It was not about being a mega fan; it was the soundtrack that you took for granted, and always believed it would be there.
As a child of the 80s, Prince represented the soundtrack of my life; from listening to Little Red Corvette in my bedroom in New York, to jamming to the song Housequake on my Walkman commuting to and from NYU. Seeing him in concert with the raw athleticism that he displayed; then looking at the refined gentleman he became in the songs/videos for Musicology and Black Sweat. When the song Black Sweat came out, I had just met my husband, and giggled over the implications.
He was the consummate show man performer, the likes of which we will never see again. It was like seeing Michael Jackson, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix live — there was an air of strength, raw energy and sex appeal. As he evolved in his career, he went from raucous and raunchy to refined and sensual.
Prince was what an artist is supposed to be — daring, edgy, creative, talented beyond measure. I remember seeing him in concert at Radio City Music Hall in 1993. His energy was ridiculous. He ran at top speed from one side of the stage to the other, playing the guitar, then the piano. He sang, he wrote, he danced, and he performed. He was a style and fashion icon, driving the music and fashion for multiple decades. Prince wore tight pants, heels, and makeup, challenging our definitions of masculinity (especially as an African American man). Judging by some of the stunning women he was linked to, there were no issues in that department!
I was watching the MTV marathon honoring his body of work last night, and noticed how he empowered women in his work. He had female saxaphonists, and of course, famed Sheila E. as a percussionist. Prince introduced the mainstream to ballerina Misty Copeland, who later became the first African American principal ballerina for the American Ballet Theatre, when she performed with him in 2010. He extolled the beauty of women, and respected them while being unapolegetically sexual. ESPN did an interesting piece on Prince’s mentorship of women.
Prince quietly supported various causes, including aiding young African Americans explore careers in technology, and performing at the Rally 4 Peace in Baltimore to quell the anger over Freddie Gray’s death, with proceeds going to local youth. His act probably prevented widespread rioting as seen in Ferguson.
On a legal front, Prince battled Warner Brothers for creative control and profits. He was one of the first artists to take on the music industry in order to get out of the multi album contract that he had with Warner Brothers. He stopped using his name, and he became a symbol. He may have hurt his brand slightly, but it was so enigmatic, it worked. Prince performed with the word Slave on his on his cheek in protest of how he was treated by Warner Brothers. From a legal perspective, it was brilliant. It became a cautionary tale to other artists to be careful of the deal you negotiate — the deck is stacked against you in favor of the industry. Finally, Prince reclaimed his name in 2000.
But above all, the lyrics spoke for themselves. I look at Sign O the Times, released in 1987, and think, what has changed?
In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same
At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun
Is being in a gang called ‘The Disciples’
High on crack and totin’ a machine gun
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside
You turn on the telly and every other story is tellin’ you somebody died
A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it
And yet we’re sending people to the moon
In September, my cousin tried reefer for the very first time
Now he’s doing horse – it’s June, unh
The lyrics of New Power Generation from 1990 made me ready to start a revolution — and like all well written poetry, is still applicable today.
We are the new power generation, we want to change the world.
The only thing that’s in our way is you.
Your old fashioned music, your old ideas,
We’re sick and tired of you telling us what to do.
I leave you with my favorite video — a more recent, mature and very sexy Prince, giving props to dark complexioned women like myself. See it here.
Your Purple Reign will last for an eternity — Rest in Power, Reign in Peace Prince