To Be Young, Black, and Inspired

To Be Young, Black, and Inspired

A WAY WITH WORDS: Wanda Thomas Littles mixes poetry and prose to tell a young man’s coming-of-age story in the Jim Crow South.

Wanda Thomas Littles loves words. She uses them to both entertain and uplift her readers. In her new novella Preacha!, she mixes poetry and prose to create the story of a community that rises above the ignorance of hatred to become people of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Wanda, who is also a contributing writer for UrbanFaith, has authored several books of poetry, including That I Might Be Free and Come Sunday Morning. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband. We spoke to her about Preacha! and what she hopes people will experience when they read it.
 

URBAN FAITH: The title of your novel is Preacha! What is the story about, and what led you to write it? 

WANDA LITTLES: This is essentially a story of how a young boy’s strong faith in God takes mistreatment and abuse and turns it around. It’s set in a small Alabama town during the peak of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, a time when the black community was challenged both by the racism from whites on the outside, and racism within the community — with black people of darker and lighter complexions showing prejudice against one another. When I sat down to write Preacha! I had no pre-conceived notion to make a statement about any cause, condition, or issue. I wrote from God’s Spirit within me and these ideas took me back to a time that, as I reflect now, were probably some of the best, most life-impacting times of my life.

Naturally as a Christian, I felt compelled to show that we need to recognize Christ in our midst and do what He says do when we are faced with problems and trouble, because His is the only way that can bring lasting peace. As the title character says, “Love always wins,” and Jesus is love.

Preacha! is a work of fiction, but were there real-life experiences in your journey that shaped the story?

Despite the fact that one of the characters has my first name, the only real-life experiences that shaped the story are just those that came from me as an observer of life in my small town and being privileged to know my family history. But as far as anything outside the normal historical issues of being black in the South, there is nothing autobiographical there.

Who is your target audience?

I start with Southern blacks of a certain age, but I believe the story will appeal to a great spectrum of people regardless of age, race, or any other thing. I wrote it for everyone. Everyone who wants to know what life was like for African Americans in in the South in 1965.

In today’s society, there’s a values crisis when it comes to faith, marriage, and family. Were you attempting to address any of those challenges?

I did not set out to preach or teach, but I do think I show that despite the injustice of the times in which we lived, we were essentially a people of faith who taught our children the importance of God, family, and others. Our parents showed love by being right there with us in our homes and communities. They set firm boundaries and gave us standards to live by, and there were certain things in that structure that you did and did not do. Unlike today where anything goes, the values and respect we were taught then kept us grounded. I was not trying to address those issues, but when all was done the book spoke loudly to those very things.

When readers are finished with your book, how do you want them to feel?

I want them to feel exhilarated. I want them to feel uplifted and to know that God cares — that He knows and loves them.

I want readers to take from this story the things that will help to make their lives better as they pursue the best possible life. I want them to share it with those who need encouragement. And I suppose my ultimate goal for the book is to show what reconciliation and forgiveness looks like between those who are experiencing broken relationships.

Who are some of your literary influences?

Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, and Helen Steiner Rice are writers I like on my poetic side. When in comes to prose, I enjoy Nikki Grimes, Karen Hesse, and Amos Oz.

What’s next for you? 

Currently I’m ghostwriting a memoir called A Desperate Faith for a missionary from Uganda who lived through the Amin and Obote regimes, and I’m praying that it will be as well received as Preacha! has been.

For more information about Preacha! and Wanda’s other books, visit her website, www.wandalittles.com.
 

I Am Not My Hair—Am I?

I Am Not My Hair—Am I?

WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HAIR?: Olympian Gabby Douglas was the first African American to win a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics category, but some people were more interested in her hairstyle. (Photo: Bob Daemmrich/Newscom)

What do Oprah Winfrey and Gabby Douglas have in common besides being hardworking African American females, and history-making ones to boot? Well, as you’ve probably heard by now, both came under fire last week because of issues with — wait for it — their hair.

It is no secret that within black culture hair is a pretty big deal — especially for women. Whether it’s one’s hairstyle or method of hair care, there is no shortage of opinions regarding the subject. Black women of all shades undoubtedly can say that at one point in their lives the status of their tresses has been a hot topic of conversation — and frustration.

Last week, when Oprah released a tease for the September issue of her O Magazine, where she graced the cover donning an all-new natural ’do, the chatter began immediately. In the article, O contributor Ruven Afanador said, “For the first time ever, Oprah’s appearing on the cover of O without blow-drying or straightening her hair.” Afanador writes that Winfrey enjoys wearing her hair naturally, because it makes her feel unencumbered.

But not everyone agreed that Oprah’s hair was legitimately “natural.” A controversy emerged in social media about what actually constitutes “natural,” because for some the remnant of any past chemical treatment means it’s not truly natural. Oprah needs to stop lying to herself, the detractors declared.

Soon after that, reports started circulating about criticisms of U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’s hair, that some black women didn’t like the ponytail or how she uses a gel to grease it back.

But why all the hubbub? What is it about black women’s hair that is deemed so worthy of scrutiny by other black women? It’s been said that a woman’s hair is her glory (1 Cor. 11:15), and if that is the case then why is the personal choice of her having a natural hairdo versus a relaxer so controversial?

Evan Miles, a writer for Journey Magazine, sought to unearth the societal implications associated with black hair and the roots to African American history and culture in his provocatively titled article, “Is a Black Woman’s Hair Her Glory or Gloom?”

Miles believes that for centuries, African Americans have been stripped of their heritage and forced to comply with a European cultural worldview that encouraged a new standard of beauty. According to him, “This meant taking the very essence of their being and denouncing it.” This is why Miles believes, perhaps more than ever, why black women are so adamant about regaining ownership of their hair and their own personal identities. According to him, black women’s various hairstyles “exude confidence” and self-beauty. He believes that it’s not only what is on the outside that matters, but also what lies deep within.

GOLDEN GIRL: Douglas waves to fans at the London Games following her gold-medal victory. “What’s wrong with my hair?” she said after hearing the criticism. “It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter.” (Photo: Brian Peterson/Newscom)

So if beauty is only skin deep, and what is inside your head is of more importance than what is on top, why is someone like Gabby Douglas included in this debate? After the social media storm debating Douglas’ choice in hairstyle surfaced last week, the 16-year-old gymnast remarked that she was confused by the commotion. “I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” she said. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and  people are focused on my hair?’ ”

And Gabby, of course, is right. Why is it so easy for us to lose focus when it comes to black hair?

Reading the many stories in the press this past week got me to thinking again about this complicated subject that is a black woman’s hair. In my quest for understanding, I began reflecting on my own personal journey with hair — the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and the path to self-discovery and self-esteem.

In my 26 years of life, my identity with relation to my hair has seen many twists and curls. Like many black women, I once sustained my silky strands by way of a relaxer. Four years ago, however, I decided to forgo that method to go “natural.” My hairstyles over the course of my lifetime have been a diverse extension of who I am and a direct correlation of my personality. Being natural for me has been less about a healthy head of hair or making a statement, and more about learning to redefine my own personal standard of beauty.

Granted it takes longer for me to achieve my desired look each morning, because of all the deep conditioning and blow-drying that I do, but I wouldn’t trade that diversity for the world. I love my hair and appreciate the fact that I can be different while being a reflection of God’s diverse creation. I’ve got an eccentric personality, and like my shoe or handbag collection my hairstyle is an extension of who I am as a person.

I feel like India.Arie said it best in her song “I Am Not My Hair,” when she sang:

I am not my hair/ I am not this skin/ I am not your expectations/ I am not my hair 
I am not this skin/ I am a soul that lives within.” Our hair, India reminds us, does not define us. It does not make us a better person or friend, and it does not determine who we are at the end of the day.

God created us in his very image, and he does not make mistakes. Instead of questioning his handiwork, we ought to embrace our unique style and diversity. So if rocking a weave or slappin’ a perm in your hair or wearing your hair natural is what makes you happy at the end of the day, then by all means love yourself and do you!

Allyson Felix Wins Long-Awaited Gold

Allyson Felix Wins Long-Awaited Gold

SPRINTING FOR GOLD: After winning silver in 2004 and 2008, U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix finally wins gold. (Photo by Troy Wayrnen/Newscom)

Another U.S. gold medal and another athlete gives glory to God for it. “I’m so thankful for God to have this opportunity,” Allyson Felix told NBC sports after yesterday’s win in the 200-meter sprint final. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for so long. Praying that His will be done, and not my own. Ready to run my HEART out,” she tweeted before the race.

This was the third 200-meter Olympic medal for Felix. In 2004 and 2008, she came in second to Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown. “The moments that motivated me most were losing on the biggest stage,” Felix said, “and just never forgetting that feeling.”

As usual, Felix’s family was in the stands for her big moment. Her father, Paul, is an ordained minister and an associate professor at The Master’s Seminary in Santa Clarita, California; her mother, Marlean, is an elementary school teacher; and, her brother, Wes, is her agent, USA Today reported. (Her father is also president of Los Angeles Bible Training School).

“Marlean had said the family, as devout Christians, would be able to handle another Olympic disappointment,” USA Today reported. Instead they celebrated. But, in a 2010 interview with the Heart of a Champion foundation, Marlean said the family is most proud of Allyson’s humility. She also said she and her husband made a decision early on in their daughter’s career to travel to all her meets to provide support.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0cPne5mw-Y&w=480&h=360]

“Her life has played out in the eight lanes of a running track for more than a decade now. There was a dirt oval in southern California when she was a freshman in high school where a part-time track coach was stunned to see her run so gracefully in clunky basketball shoes. There was the ancient surface in Mexico City where she ran so fast in the 200 as a 17-year-old that the entire sprint world took notice. There were stadiums in Finland, Japan and Germany where she won world championship gold medals; and others in Greece and China, where she took Olympic silvers. …She is an elder stateswoman at the age of 26,” Sports Illustrated reported today.

Felix got her start at Los Angeles Baptist High School and came to faith at an early age, she said in a testimony published by RunTheRaceDaily.com. “I’m currently a work in progress and like anyone else I face struggles every day. My goal is to be more Christ-like each and every day and that is not an easy task,” Felix said. “I feel so blessed that God has given me the talent of running. My running is an amazing gift from God and I want to use it to the best of my ability to glorify Him.”

PROUD TO REPRESENT HER COUNTRY: Allyson Felix celebrates her win. (Photo by Troy Wayrnen/Newscom)

Felix “has taught Sunday school and feels a special burden to work with young people,”Decision magazine reported July 26. “Once this year’s Games are over, she said, she’ll get right back into the swing of serving at her church.”

When asked if she has a life verse in an interview with About.com, she said,”Philippians 1:21 is very special to me because it helps to keep my life centered. In every situation in my life I want to be able to say, ‘For me to live is Christ … and nothing else, and to die is gain.’ It really keeps life in perspective for me and encourages me to make sure my priorities are straight.”

U.S. sprinter Carmelita Jeter, who took bronze in the 200 meters, is also a Christian, Chad Bonham reported at Beliefnet. “I wanna thank yall for being so supportive, im on the medal stand AGAIN. #Godbetheglory,” Jeter tweeted last night.

In what Sports Illustrated described as “the best night for Team USA on the track since Aug. 6, 1992,” our athletes won seven medals: three gold (Felix, Brittney Reese in the long jump and Aries Merritt in the 110-meter hurdles), two silver (Lashinda Demus in the 400-meter hurdles and Jason Richardson in the 110-meter hurdles) and two bronze (Jeter and Janay DeLoach in the long jump). Every one of them gave thanks and/or glory to God for their wins. Click the links on their names to see what they said.

What do you think?

Is there a spiritual revival taking place among U.S.A. Track & Field athletes?