I was planning a trip to the beach. Fortunately, Atlanta affords me the leisure of choosing between various Georgia Islands, or a few hours drive to Florida, South Carolina or the coast of Alabama. I decided to do a quick turn around trip to one of the Golden Isles off the coast of Georgia. Distracted, I began to flip through Facebook and came across an article about Igbo Landing or Ebo landing.
“The Igbo Landing occurred when Igbo slaves who had taken control of their ship marched into the water and drowned at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia.
After surviving the rigours of the Middle Passage, the 75 Igbo slaves who were bought for labour on the plantations of John Couper and Thomas Spalding for 100 dollars each.
The slaves were chained and put aboard a small ship to be transported to their destinations. During this voyage, they took control of the ship and grounded it, drowning their captors in the process.”
(from the site pulse.ng)
I looked up St. Simons Island and discovered it was a mere 4.5 hours away and I could choose lodging on the island or in nearby Brunswick, Ga. There are so many stories to be told. So many lands to be visited and honored or memorialized, and as a writer I believe there are always new words to discover. New smells and newly uncovered ways to describe emotions. So I booked my lodging, fueled up the Buick, and hit the road.
Sex education for me and many young black girls in the 1980s consisted of shallow, scary, guilt-laden directives on what to and (especially) not to do. From the women in my family I learned, 1. Keep your skirt down and your panties up. 2. Good girls don’t… (do anything related to sex with men, definitely not with women, and especially not with yourself). 3. All men want is sex. The only thing my father ever said regarding sex was, “Ain’t no abortions in this house”. From school I learned that if I insisted on being a wild, unruly, teenager and having sex, absolutely use condoms because unprotected sex causes pregnancy and nasty diseases that itch, burn, stink and cause sores. Finally, from the church I learned that my body is solely for my husband’s pleasure when making babies and premarital sex will certainly send me straight to hell.
To say old school sex education was less than comprehensive is an understatement. Additionally, girls’ education was drastically different from, and often in direct opposition to, boys’. While girls were taught to guard and value virginity at all costs, boys were often encouraged prove their prowess by having sex with multiple girls and women before, during and after marriage. Girls were given chastisements for chastity. Boys were given condoms and told, “Just don’t bring home no babies”.
In addition to being inaccurate and contradictory, these lessons lacked information on anatomy (female and male), autonomy, consent, sexual assault (particularly by acquaintances and family), the reproductive process, and pleasure. How do you talk about sex and not talk about pleasure?
Not only was the teaching incomplete, it was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually dangerous, proving detrimental to girls’ development into holistically sound women. Hence, the staggering number of sexual assault survivors who have come forward during the rise of #MeToo is not surprising given society’s, especially women’s, poor sex education. Sadder still is that as bad as the sex education of the 1980’s was, for previous generations it was worse. Basically, our parents didn’t teach us better because they didn’t know any better.
But better knowledge is widely available now. And those who know better must do better and teach others so they can do better as well. We must uproot the culture of sexual guilt, shame, oppression, repression, silence, toxic masculinity and rape that has grown from the seeds of miseducation and flourished under sexist and patriarchal reign and rain. Simultaneously, we must sow new seeds of equality, respect, honesty, trust and communication to cultivate a new society free from sexual violence.
In teaching we must continue learning, to avoid inadvertently imparting obsolete and therefore erroneous information to those trying to learn. Education, like sexuality, is fluid: it can change over time. We must be prepared to adapt. And now that we know what we must do, let’s begin. The bell is ringing. School is back in session.
All along I have been doing work that interrupted the silencing of black women in his-story. This his-story includes the actual absence of her presence or her presence represented in vilified images or characteristics. Effortlessly, even through the pen strokes of black people, black women characterizations are resembling or in actuality that of the socially oppressive jezebel, tragic mulatto or big mama. Until going in to studies for Africana Women’s Studies, I didn’t have the language of what I was doing nor did I have the connections of other women that have doing this work for years.
My last novel, The Town Dance, I was inserting the silent voice of people who were victims to same gender sexual assault. The novel was my support for a dear friend who had been sexually assaulted by her girlfriend and dismissed the encounter with an uncomfortable laugh. I’ll never forget her looking at me, forcing a smile then saying, “she’s strong”. This was over 15 years ago. When I finally decided to write the novel, my internet search on the topic led me to pornographic sites or inconclusive court hearings. The writing process was therapy for me. Even though I have a community of gay friends, both men and women, I was terrified to be plagued with being considered “gay” if I wrote the book. Actual terror would travel my body as I imagined people staring at me questioning if I was a gay women. I had to confront my homophobia and fears, have confronting, vulnerable conversations with friends and then heal. Afterwards, I wrote the book.
A project that has been in my head for years comes from visits to Montgomery, Alabama and one of their historic sites from the civil rights movement. This relatively flat land, small city was once a huge mobilizing force for progressive efforts of black people. The communities that once flourished are now abandoned and its buildings dilapidated. But the stories live on.
The stories of the brave men that faced, often times, violent resistance in their fight against Jim Crow. As always, I wondered what the women were doing. The beautiful black and white photos that display their wrinkle-free dresses and unstained white or pastel colored gloves gave them a physical presence. But the texts were absent of their words, their actions. So I began research and found women that I felt needed to be given voice. After years of imagining their world, visiting Montgomery and sitting in my car in the neighborhood I wanted to focus on, the book is slated be released October of 2019. My first take at historical fiction. I love this book and so excited to share it with the world in the upcoming months.
These teens that live in my house know all I have been talking about is how I wanted to finish my three 20-page papers for grad school and how I wanted my semester in teaching to be OVER! When both had come, I asked that they let me sit/lay around and not do anything. Not cook, not wash… I didn’t even want to think. Just give me 24 hours to re-center my breath. They agreed.
We mailed out our Christmas cards and boxes to family in other states, put up our house decorations and caught up on television shows I had missed out on. We shared the cooking for the holidays and my youngest even baked desserts all by herself! Their grades are posted online so now parents don’t have to wait until the paper report comes out. I asked about them twice, and both times my oldest pulled out her chrome book and demonstrated that the website was down.
Today I asked about the site and it worked…
If you are a parent you already now what this face means!!! “WHY WOULD YOU WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO TELL ME WHAT I SHOULD BE EXPECTING WITH THESE GRADES?!” I am thankful that they let me relax when they saw I had fallen asleep on the couch or read a book of fiction that I had been missing. (for 4 months my life consisted of non-fiction books and essays!) But somewhere along the line, there was space and time to prep me! So now I am sitting at my desk trying to write a list of things that teenagers with grade point averages of 2.5 and 2.3 can do in my house! NOT TOO MUCH!
I now have three phones and an immaculately spotless home! I also have a list of their short term goals. After my lecture on education and questioning if they studied and gave 100%, I’m not saying we won’t be here again – but I am saying they will tell me ahead of time. (if there is a next time)
parents – (n) The hardest working person in the universe.
We can see beyond horizons and be as blind as bats.
We can hear as keen as owls and be as deaf as a day gone.
We can be energetically defeated.
parenting – (v) The hardest job in the universe.
I dare to say our most imminent goal is to ensure our children can live successful independent lives. And to make sure that goal stays in the forefront of our mind, we will do what we must. That includes perfect vision in a forest and closing our eyes in the light. As long as the goal is protected.
That is how I try to reach the parents of my students. Some of them have a spry and transparent engagement with the social and educational growth of their child. But the majority are only proactive towards their counsel to teachers on their personal goal and avoid any reactionary response on classroom feedback that does not comply with the said goal.
As a parent, I have had uncomfortable conversations in regards to the behavior of my three. And some have been the embarrassing repeated behaviors of “overly social”, “running in the hall” or “incomplete assignments. I had to grow into a position with my parenting to concede that, the same behavior I correct them with at home, is the same tone they exhibit with other adults. So when I get phone calls and reports that my youngest, who only stops talking when she is sleep, is “overly social” in class, I believe it. I’m not sure what it is that shapes in parents heads that their child’s calamity somehow stops the second they enter the school building. If your child is flipping furniture at home, there is a 90.9% chance you child will come into the classroom and do the same.
I love to read. Period. I didn’t get to do a lot of that this past year. I was a rookie English Literature teacher, I was preparing graduate school packages and doing more drafts on my latest novel. This summer it was all about reading, drafting (writing) and getting out of the city (beaches).
My favorite 3 that I read this summer:
Alice Walker -Anyone who knows me knows that I love prose and I love folklore. The prose in this book is magical! I found her POV writing to be confusing at times but it served its purpose for the storytelling. But the prose writing made me fall back in LOVE (again) with the magic of words.
Jamaica Kincaid – I can always count on her to teach me more technique on first person fiction writing. She is a genius with sentence temperature! Your typical story has structure for plot movement. She can twist plot in every sentence to keep you hanging on! But the genius part is, she’s writing just as we think. Constant growth/contradiction. Magic of words!
Mary Monroe – This was my second Mary Monroe book that I’ve read. The first one I read years ago and I suppose with life piled on top I forgot about her. NO MORE! This was my favorite book of the summer! I haven’t fallen in love and cared about characters as much as I did in this book in a long time! Magic of words!
My mentor/guide advised that I “find” time to read more. (We’ll see, with my upcoming schedule of teaching and school.) I told her about the books I read and why I chose these three as my top. Her reply was something to the tune of, ‘Because those books asked you something of yourself. They found you. Just as your readers will find your books, so take your time with your writing.‘
**NOTE: These are not new releases. Alice and Jamaica are two of my favorites and Mary Monroe’s book was published in 1995 (I believe). Other books I read this summer were:
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Liliane by Ntozake Shange
Diablerie by Walter Mosley
There are several things I love about teaching but most notably I enjoy the time off during holidays and summer. (while still receiving a check 🙂 This is especially rewarding to me who spent years as an executive manager in retail and worked every holiday and most weekends.
Now I know you must be thinking, ‘my goodness Nikki, the school year just started didn’t it and you’re already thinking about time off?’ YES! You would be correct in with that assumption! And I think I have just the thing to help me get through the first half of the school year and my first semester in grad school.
A few months back, one of my friends exercised “staying in the moment” by writing daily things on what she most loved about herself. She did this for 60 days and surprisingly enough, she said the first twenty were very laborious. Laborious because she was having a difficult time discovering what she loved, or even liked on some days. The statements had to be instinctively linked about her and not some indirect love for something or someone else. She said this helped with her daily self care even if it was only 5-10 minutes a day. With my schedule becoming 12 hour days Tue-Thur due to school immediately after work, I thought this “I Love…” regiment would be ideal to ensure I think about me.
For the next 90 days, I am going to write in this little journal different things I Love about me. This is extremely horrifying to me because it involves commitment and I can be so anal (for lack of a better word) when it comes to committing to something and what loyalty means to me. But I am at a stop in my life where I am both an educator and a student, literally, and I am content. How do I insist that I remain present under both titles? By involving myself daily, by communicating with myself daily. Hopefully this 90 day venture will prove to assist with that!
Join me if you may! Also, after this 90 days, it will be Thanksgiving and time for a week break from both work and school 😉 Clever, huh?