Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion

Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion


Video Courtesy of Black Excellence Excellist


So another Black History Month is here, and for artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types that hail from the Black community, it’s an opportunity that comes with a burden.

February is a time when your workplace, school, or church might be more open to forms of artistic expression that highlights the achievements of Black people, particularly for those of you who live and/or work in a predominantly White community. And while it’s obviously a great opportunity to highlight the best of our tradition as a community, it also means that from an exposure standpoint, it’s an opening to get your songs, poems, plays, or paintings seen and heard by people who might be able to support you financially.

But the burden is the challenge of successfully executing your art without being swallowed whole by the bitterness of the struggle. I mean, let’s just be honest: struggle might be the catalyst that serves to incubate powerful works of art, but it’s terrible as a sales technique. No one can alienate their audience through their art and simultaneously persuade them to become financial supporters.

The truth is, we’ve come a long way as African Americans. No longer are we restricted to the kinds of gigs and roles that kept us docile and subservient in the minds of the majority. In recent years, there has been a greater level of visibility to the everyday struggle that Black Americans endure, and it’s also helped place a premium on authentic Black art that helps to articulate that struggle.

Still, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into a false dichotomy, where we feel like either we must keep it fully 100 at all times with our art, or we’re selling out for the money.

But there’s a middle ground.

Discerning the Difference

Ten years ago, I was in a hip-hop duo traveling to a Christian camp to do a concert for a bunch of youth from the inner city. When I arrived onto the campus, I headed to the most logical place for music performance—the chapel.

As I walked into the chapel, I walked up to the sound booth, and told the guy that I was with the hip-hop group that was supposed to perform. He gave me this blank stare, so I thought, “Hey, it’s loud in here, so maybe he can’t hear me that well. I tried again, a bit louder.

“I’m with the Iccsters… y’know, the hip-hop group.”

Again, he gives me this confused stare. And then he says, “This is Christian camp.”

Right then and there, I almost lost it. I could tell that he didn’t really mean to say anything offensive to me, but it was like all the years of being stereotyped as a young Black man, overlooked and misunderstood as a rap artist, all the times hip-hop had been blamed for all of society’s problems—by other Christians, no less!—almost overwhelmed me. I wanted to set him straight and tell him that there are Christians who perform hip-hop, and his assumption was shortsighted, racist, and insulting.

But I had somewhere to go, so I swallowed that rage, walked out of the room, called my contact, and located my actual destination (a different building with a smaller setup).

Often, when I’m invited to share hip-hop as a form of worship music and find myself in spaces that remind me of that day, I’m tempted to go back to that moment, tap into that rage, and give the audience a piece of my pain.

The wisdom and maturity of age helped me learn how to posture myself, not as someone with an axe to grind, but as someone with something of value to share. And when I share my pain, I do it with an eye toward giving others an opportunity to join me in my struggle, instead of guilting them for not already being onboard.

Sometimes God calls us to stand up and fight; other times, He simply gives as an opportunity to share who we are and how we got here. As an artist, my prayer is for us to flip the script and learn to discern the difference.

Can you love authentically if you were raised to be toxic?

Can you love authentically if you were raised to be toxic?

Video Courtesy of The Beat by Allen Parr


It’s not easy to be hated by the person who is supposed to love you most, and unfortunately, being toxic has become normalized in our culture.

Many see misdirected aggravation, gaslighting, physical abuse, and more as “love tactics.” When a child only knows pain as a source of love, then they too love in that way and any other form of healthy love seems abnormal.

However, the question is, can a person ever love authentically if they were raised to be toxic?

The assumption is no. When someone is exposed to consistent, toxic stress, they are vulnerable to mental and physical illness that can sometimes develop into a genetic trait, according to Hey Sigmund; therefore this behavior is biologically passed on through generations.

However, despite the science behind the effects of toxic love, there is always hope for a better life.

Fighting for Love

“I just felt like I wasn’t loved by my mom, says Monique, a woman in her 40s who was often told she wasn’t good enough. “I felt growing up in my mom’s house I wasn’t allowed to be me, an individual.”

To suit her mother’s perfect image of a family, Monique, was to participate in certain activities without any consideration of her talents or desires. While at the same time, her brother was given free reign to participate in activities of his choice throughout their childhood.

And to make matters worse, Monique’s father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would often abuse her. She recalls him touching her to satisfy his physical desires and severely beating her when she reported it to her incredulous mother.

Fortunately, Monique found refuge in her grandmother’s home, where she found the kind of love her mother envied. Monique remembers her mother punishing and verbally abusing her as a result of the love she received from her grandmother.

Like many girls, Monique found herself looking for love in empty relationships during her teen years that lead to a forced, terminated pregnancy and physical and emotional abuse similar to the treatment she received from her own father.

Eventually, Monique met a gentle and caring man named Laz. However, Laz’s compassion and gentleness were unfamiliar to her, which ultimately lead to Monique returning to one of her previous, toxic relationships.

She went on to marry a former flame named Xavier and stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years.

Towards the end of my [3rd] pregnancy, I found out he was cheating and when I confronted him, he hit me,” says Monique who recalls her toxic relationship that mirrored her childhood. “He asked, ‘Who are you to question me?’…It felt like because of the way I grew up, if I wasn’t getting hit, then it wasn’t love,”

After her divorce, Monique fought against her toxic past. She made the decision to rise above her father’s mental illness, her mother’s jealousy and apathy, and their collective effort to make her their emotional punching bag for their marriage troubles.

Although the struggle did not end after her marriage when it came to love, her children, and health, she remains hopeful enough to fight for the love she deserves. She charges her will to carry on to God, because without Him, she would have taken the final blow to end her suffering.

Turning Off the Gaslight

Bella was born to a Catholic family that rejected her mother for having a baby with a man that she later learned was married. The rejection caused her mother to make multiple attempts to prove her worth to the family by making Bella seem exceptional, but in private her mother was spiteful and unloving as the list of accomplishments grew.

“[My mother] did everything for me to prove herself, but not for the love of me,” Bella explains. “She worked hard to put me through private school and extracurricular activities, but at home I was repeatedly told I was nothing; sometimes she even called me a waste of a human being. To this day, she has never told me she loves me.”

Whenever something would go wrong in Bella’s life, she would automatically blame herself as a result of her relationship with her mother. Even when her husband and father of their two children committed adultery, she took the blame.

As time went on, Bella lost the love of her life, her job, and believed that she would never be loved which drove her into a suicidal state .

Until one day, Bella decided that she had enough and began to fight for her life, beauty, and self-love through therapy. “Once I figured out that I wasn’t this awful, unlovable monster that I was made to believe as a reality by someone who was unloved, it turned my world upside down in a great way,” Bella says. “It never would have happened without me doing the work in therapy.”

As a result of her treatment, Bella was led to a love that she has been enveloped in for the last four years. Even though the pain of rejection transcended through two generations, love won in the end.

“In the middle of all of this, I met a man who just rained love on me,” Bella joyfully exclaims.

Is there hope after a toxic upbringing?

“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of [your abuser], which I also hate” (Revelations 2:6, NIV).

In the beginning of this article, the question was, can a person love authentically if they were raised to be toxic? The answer is yes, but you must fight for it.

It is easy to nurse the scars of someone that you love, because love is to be unconditional, right? But what good is unconditional love when a person’s pain has replaced the spirit that you desperately want to love?

That is spiritual warfare and it is best to back away and allow God to handle it if they are unwilling to get help. It is important to recognize the signs of someone who has been abused and trying to regain power, which can include verbally sharing memories of their toxic loved ones.

Fortunately, Bella and Monique worked past those painful memories found a way to defeat them so that the tradition of toxicity ended with them and a reign of love could begin.

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

Video Courtesy of AJ+


“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing.”

Who said that? That is a false statement. Blacks suffer from mental illness just like their white counterparts. In fact, when you think of everyday stressors, systematic-racism such as police brutality, education and health care gaps, and sexism that impacts black women, blacks are more likely to be at risk for developing a mental condition.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a perfect time to shed light on what many deem a nonexistent problem. Schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder, bulimia, ADHD, OCD and social anxiety are examples of mental illnesses that people battle daily. In the black community, many choose not to acknowledge mental illness as a sickness. Diseases such as diabetes and cancer are accepted as normal and natural, but what so many fail to realize is that blacks are no different than any other race when it comes to these illnesses. We are not exempt from mental illness.

While some experience mental illness only once in their life (depending on the illness, environment, life stressors, and genetics), others battle mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of us think that we do not have a problem and truly believe that everyone else is the issue. Unfortunately, these myths and illusions force us to suffer in silence and not seek treatment. Mental illness affects “everyday functional” people and it is not limited to the homeless man talking to himself. It impacts a person’s emotions, perception, and behaviors.

As a person with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, the comments said to me have been heartbreaking and mind-blowing because it prevented me from seeking help. I thought that I was making it up in my head even though I didn’t feel well for years. Finally diagnosed at 25, my doctor stated that the illness started around the age of 13. Can you imagine having cancer without being diagnosed for over 10 years? You would die. Well, I can tell you that I was dying on the inside and it led to multiple suicide attempts. My illness can get so debilitating. At one point, it stopped me from doing basic things such as going to work, talking, eating and showering.

Here are some of the myths that we must stop saying!

Myth #1: Only white people commit suicide.

Fact: According to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate of black children in between the ages of 5 and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2013  and the rate among white children committing suicide declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys. While whites still have highest suicide rates in the country, suicide rates among black youth have significantly grown over the past decade. Unfortunately, black youth are killing themselves more frequently than their elders. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24 and a leading cause of death among school-aged children younger than 12 years in the United States.

Myth #2: Medication doesn’t work and/or they make you feel worse.

Fact: Medication is necessary for some individuals in their mental recovery. While they are NOT cures for mental illness, they are vital for treating the symptoms. Some may need medication for the rest of their lives (depending on the illness) and others only need it for a specific time. Nonetheless, medication is not a sign of weakness and it does not mean the person is crazy. It is no different from taking medication for high blood pressure or insulin for diabetes. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick too, if you don’t take care of it. And no, this is not to say that everyone with a mental illness will need medication, but it is an invaluable help to many.

Myth #3: Black people don’t go to therapy.

Fact: Though there has been a deep-rooted stigma about seeking therapy, Blacks are increasingly seeking therapy for mental illness. Therapy is great whether you have a mental illness or not. Therapy helps you to work on yourself, dissect problems, face fears and overcome obstacles such as breakups, loss of a loved one, financial challenges, self-image issues, abuse, etc. As mentioned previously, blacks deal with oppression daily and therapy can help us work through it. Those who are still hesitant to try therapy can look into other ways of getting help. The support of a life coach has also been shown to be beneficial for many.

Myth #4: You can pray it away.

Fact: As a Christian, I have seen God perform miracles in my life. But when you say to a person “just pray,” you are assuming that they are not praying and dismissing how they feel, challenging the sincerity of their faith, and most likely preventing them from getting treatment. You would not say “just pray” to a person who broke a leg. You would tell them to go to the doctor for an x-ray and cast. We must treat mental illness the same. God also gives us resources to use on earth and sometimes that may be therapy and medication when a person is battling a mental illness.

Damian Waters is a marriage and family therapist in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he serves predominantly African American clients. On the issue of the stigma surrounding blacks seeking therapy, he says, “There’s some shame and embarrassment. You’ll tell someone that you went to the doctor, but you won’t tell that you went to the counselor or psychiatrist. Also, there is the idea that their faith should carry them through, though often their problems are larger than that.”

As a way to honor those with mental illness, please think before you speak, and encourage those who need help to seek treatment. Mental illness is just as serious as any other disease and those affected by it should not be judged or outcast. Mental illness is a flaw in brain chemistry, not a character flaw, or a white people problem.

 

Can you think of other myths surrounding Blacks and mental illness? Share them below along with your thoughts on putting the myths to rest once and for all.

The Preaching Politician

The Preaching Politician

John Lewis, center right, with fellow protesters on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, in “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a Magnolia Pictures release. © Spider Martin. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Before he was a Democratic congressman and before he was a civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis preached to the chickens on his family’s farm as a young boy.

It’s a story staffers of Lewis can repeat by heart because they’ve heard it so many times.

“They would bow their heads; they would shake their heads,” he recounts in footage from an appearance at a Houston church in the new documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.”

“They never quite said ‘Amen,’ but they tended to listen to me much better than some of my colleagues on the other side listen to me today in the Congress.”

The documentary, presented through a partnership including Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films, traces the journey of Lewis, now 80, from the fields of Alabama to the halls of Congress. The film portrays how Lewis was shaped by his faith and guided by religious leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. James Lawson, two advocates for nonviolent civil rights action.

“Faith is an integral part of Mr. Lewis’ life but also part of his activism,” said Dawn Porter, director of the documentary, who filmed the congressman for more than a year starting shortly before the 2018 election.

Though he is a politician rather than a preacher per se, Lewis considers politics to be his calling, she said.

“He started preaching to chickens and now in many ways even though he’s a layperson he preaches to us,” she said of the man with a seminary degree as well as a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy. “That is part of the reason why people find it so motivating and so comforting when he speaks.”

The 96-minute documentary, which is to be released on demand and in select theaters on Friday (July 3), includes what has become Lewis’ mantra in its title.

“My philosophy is very simple,” he says in the film, which is also expected to air on CNN in late September. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something. Do something. Get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”

The documentary’s producers have created a “Good Trouble Sunday” promotion for the movie, encouraging houses of worship to host a digital screening starting this Sunday, for which they can keep a portion of ticket sales.

Faith leaders on a mid-June conference call promoting the documentary expressed appreciation for Lewis, who was diagnosed with cancer late last year, and his long service as a role model.

The Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta, recalled seeking advice from Lewis in the 1990s, when as the NAACP’s youth director Bryant received pushback for suggesting the civil rights organization reach out to the hip-hop generation.

“He said to me: ‘Jamal, change is never politically correct,’” Bryant recalled. “‘If everybody is in agreement, it’s not that radical.”

John Lewis in “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a Magnolia Pictures release. © Ben Arnon. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

In the documentary, Lewis, a member of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, recalled his last meal in downtown Washington just before embarking on a trip as a Freedom Rider seeking equal access to accommodations for Black Southerners.

“Growing up in rural Alabama, I never had Chinese food before,” he recalled. “But someone that evening said, ‘You should eat well because this might be like the Last Supper.’”

American civil rights activist John Lewis on April 16, 1964. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko/LOC/Creative Commons

Porter said those comments showed how Lewis and other young civil rights activists did not take their work lightly as they prepared for rides on segregated buses or sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.

“You’ll see in the movie that Rev. Jim Lawson, who was coaching and guiding the students, had them rehearse,” she said of Lewis and his fellow activists. “And I do think he decided that life under a segregated system was not the life that he wanted to live.”

Archival footage — some of which the congressman says he’d never seen before — reviews landmark, as well as lesser-known, moments in Lewis’ history. He was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On his first attempt on “Bloody Sunday” to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, he was beaten by Alabama state troopers and thought he would die as he protested for voting rights.

The film’s crew followed him as he supported fellow Democrats in the recent election and traveled with a bipartisan group of politicians and faith leaders on the annual pilgrimage to Alabama with the Faith and Politics Institute.

“Congressman Lewis has conveyed to all of us over the course of his lifetime that (the) fundamental right to vote is a foundational right,” said Joan Mooney, CEO of the institute, on the recent conference call. “So more than the transactional act of voting, Congressman Lewis talks about its sacredness, and voter participation in a democracy is the active expression of the values of all human beings.”

John Lewis is arrested on Oct. 7, 1964, in Selma, Alabama, during a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee-organized “Freedom Day,” an attempt to get residents registered to vote. © Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The Preaching Politician

The Preaching Politician

John Lewis, center right, with fellow protesters on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, in “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a Magnolia Pictures release. © Spider Martin. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Before he was a Democratic congressman and before he was a civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis preached to the chickens on his family’s farm as a young boy.

It’s a story staffers of Lewis can repeat by heart because they’ve heard it so many times.

“They would bow their heads; they would shake their heads,” he recounts in footage from an appearance at a Houston church in the new documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.”

“They never quite said ‘Amen,’ but they tended to listen to me much better than some of my colleagues on the other side listen to me today in the Congress.”

The documentary, presented through a partnership including Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films, traces the journey of Lewis, now 80, from the fields of Alabama to the halls of Congress. The film portrays how Lewis was shaped by his faith and guided by religious leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. James Lawson, two advocates for nonviolent civil rights action.

“Faith is an integral part of Mr. Lewis’ life but also part of his activism,” said Dawn Porter, director of the documentary, who filmed the congressman for more than a year starting shortly before the 2018 election.

Though he is a politician rather than a preacher per se, Lewis considers politics to be his calling, she said.

“He started preaching to chickens and now in many ways even though he’s a layperson he preaches to us,” she said of the man with a seminary degree as well as a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy. “That is part of the reason why people find it so motivating and so comforting when he speaks.”

The 96-minute documentary, which is to be released on demand and in select theaters on Friday (July 3), includes what has become Lewis’ mantra in its title.

“My philosophy is very simple,” he says in the film, which is also expected to air on CNN in late September. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something. Do something. Get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”

The documentary’s producers have created a “Good Trouble Sunday” promotion for the movie, encouraging houses of worship to host a digital screening starting this Sunday, for which they can keep a portion of ticket sales.

Faith leaders on a mid-June conference call promoting the documentary expressed appreciation for Lewis, who was diagnosed with cancer late last year, and his long service as a role model.

The Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta, recalled seeking advice from Lewis in the 1990s, when as the NAACP’s youth director Bryant received pushback for suggesting the civil rights organization reach out to the hip-hop generation.

“He said to me: ‘Jamal, change is never politically correct,’” Bryant recalled. “‘If everybody is in agreement, it’s not that radical.”

John Lewis in “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a Magnolia Pictures release. © Ben Arnon. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

In the documentary, Lewis, a member of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, recalled his last meal in downtown Washington just before embarking on a trip as a Freedom Rider seeking equal access to accommodations for Black Southerners.

“Growing up in rural Alabama, I never had Chinese food before,” he recalled. “But someone that evening said, ‘You should eat well because this might be like the Last Supper.’”

American civil rights activist John Lewis on April 16, 1964. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko/LOC/Creative Commons

Porter said those comments showed how Lewis and other young civil rights activists did not take their work lightly as they prepared for rides on segregated buses or sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.

“You’ll see in the movie that Rev. Jim Lawson, who was coaching and guiding the students, had them rehearse,” she said of Lewis and his fellow activists. “And I do think he decided that life under a segregated system was not the life that he wanted to live.”

Archival footage — some of which the congressman says he’d never seen before — reviews landmark, as well as lesser-known, moments in Lewis’ history. He was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On his first attempt on “Bloody Sunday” to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, he was beaten by Alabama state troopers and thought he would die as he protested for voting rights.

The film’s crew followed him as he supported fellow Democrats in the recent election and traveled with a bipartisan group of politicians and faith leaders on the annual pilgrimage to Alabama with the Faith and Politics Institute.

“Congressman Lewis has conveyed to all of us over the course of his lifetime that (the) fundamental right to vote is a foundational right,” said Joan Mooney, CEO of the institute, on the recent conference call. “So more than the transactional act of voting, Congressman Lewis talks about its sacredness, and voter participation in a democracy is the active expression of the values of all human beings.”

John Lewis is arrested on Oct. 7, 1964, in Selma, Alabama, during a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee-organized “Freedom Day,” an attempt to get residents registered to vote. © Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.