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Writing, learn-ing, jewelry, deconstructing t-shirts and reality - it's what I do. I live to be inspired, and to inspire.

Friday, December 2, 2011

If I Had One Question: Chris COMRADE Goodman

“Can’t do the same thing then expect to make a difference” ~Chris COMRADE Goodman

I’m not sure how I ended up there, but one day I found myself attending a forum on my then-campus, Morgan State, discussing the “school to prison pipeline”. The discussion highlighted (if I remember correctly) the inadequacies of the education system, the chronic state of underfunding in inner city schools and the low achievement, high dropout rates that correspond with high rates of youth imprisonment in certain communities. Organizing this event was a passionate young activist who I had seen leading protests on campus. That in itself was impressive.

Yet Chris COMRADE Goodman had so much more up his sleeve. This young activist is not only out on the streets speaking out against social injustices, he’s got a lot to say in the booth as well. An extremely talented hip hop artist, COMRADE has combined his lyrical skills and social awareness to create a movement that’s far bigger than hip hop. He has produced some fantastic music videos, using the internet as his medium for making his work known. His videos, which tell great stories, can be viewed on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/officialcomrademuzic. Chris has recently released his first professional album, Raw Re Cord which is available for free on his website http://www.comrademuzic.com.

I had the opportunity to ask this inspiring man one question: What impact do you hope to have through what you do? This was his answer...

Megaphones & Microphones

I remember when I was 15, it had to be about seven of us at the School System Headquarters on North Ave; I was a young organizer for the Baltimore Algebra Project preparing for my first major protest. All of the meetings and civil disobedience trainings helped me feel confident about the situation I was getting into but the emotions were pretty overwhelming sitting in the office of Baltimore City School’s CEO. The secretary asked us if we had a meeting scheduled we told him No, but we were here to meet with the CEO and we were not leaving until we met with her. Within seconds, it seems like, the police stormed in and had us in handcuffs. Six high school students and the Director of the program were heading to the basement of the School System Headquarters which is ironically a Police Headquarters as well. Looking back on the Sit-In, it revealed a glimpse of the power youth hold to really make a bold statement for social justice.

As we were being processed, police officers were insulting us saying we were stupid and were throwing our lives away, not knowing that we were well prepared and spent months organizing the Sit-in. Within 20 minutes we were released and no charges were filed against us because the Police Dept. and CEO Dr. Copeland did not expect high school students to organize a Sit-IN with hundreds of students outside of the School System Headquarters with news cameras on the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. That following morning we had a formal meeting with CEO Dr. Copeland.

These experiences are the roots of COMRADEmuzic. My writings are inspired by my political frustration. As the writings turned to rhymes at 16 years old, my bold statements took the form of songs. The growth of the “muzic” movement entails the struggles, emotions and happiness of the global, multifaceted, experiences of Comrades and Comrets.

COMRADEmuzic is a global soundtrack, it’s a movement. Before Comrades go out and march, you can listen to a song and get into that warrior mood. You can hear a song that inspires creativity and a new way of viewing things. There’s no real box, just pure expression of natural emotions and social movement. So at the end of it all I want my music and my life to inspire, empower and activate Comrades and Comrets throughout the world around the understanding that we have the power to love, heal and create new realities.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Finding Wings ~ Spoken Word Poetry

From the moment I learned to write I’ve been a writer. When the alphabet was first injected into my mind the letters crossed the blood-brain barrier and infiltrated my circulation turning me into one of those hopeless (or relentlessly hopeful) creatures who compulsively put words in order attempting to create meaning.

But I was only half-formed, a literary Quasimodo. I found my other half in a world I have always looked upon with awe. Spoken Word Poetry. I always loved watching spoken word poets stand on stage and speak their words with passion. It was one of the things I missed about Baltimore… oh that city has poets! I’ve been writing poetry for most of my life but I doubted I could be up there on stage spilling my soul like an ocean washing over a thirsty audience.

I had been dabbling with the idea of trying out spoken word. I even recorded a piece here. But I did not yet think I could get up on stage. One random Sunday evening I wandered into a coffee shop desperately searching for my niche in a strange new city (and also hoping to find a little something to eat). What I found was an accepting, endearing group of people, a sandwich, and a stage. And then my life started changing… again. For someone with anxiety issues (a.k.a. “nerves”) I took to that stage like a baby eagle takes to flying when it realizes it’s been flung out of the nest and the ground is a loooong way down. Yea, like that.

I had been falling. I had not been adjusting to my new life very smoothly. Something had to break my fall stat, and that something turned out to be Kick Butt Coffee’s poetry open mic (no this is not an ad, although Andrea really is the goddess of java). They were the little nudge in my bird brain that reminded me “Hey! You have wings.”

Each time I pour my soul out on stage I am renewed. Each time I perform I rethink my life. Yes, this is what I am made for… poetry. Lost in Thought, Hot Tamale, and Ernie B (the event’s hosts) have no idea what they have unleashed upon the world – and neither do I. All I know is that my world is better for it and I will ride these winds as far as they take me.

Now I know it’s true… every time a mic opens a poet gets her wings.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Trapped in Time

October came and left before I could look up from the loads of research papers I’ve been reading. The pile I have gone through for my grad classes is truly epic, and the pile I have yet to go through is even bigger (sigh). But anyway, that’s not the point. The point is: Time, if you’re not paying attention, slips away quietly and quickly.

I’ve heard the concept that time is man-made, an illusion, something we need to transcend. So if time does not really exist, then what is it that slips by, occasionally causing us to panic that we’re quickly running out of it. Is it life that we’re afraid is flowing through our fingers like sand. Is it that we’re never really early or late, but we are where we need to be at the moment we need to be there? If time does not exist, what am I racing against, always at its heels yelling “Wait! I haven’t accomplished anything yet! Stop going so fast!”?

I’ve recently started wearing a good old fashioned wristwatch. Nothing fancy. Just something I can use because I don’t trust my phone after it decided to randomly switch to some other time zone making me late for everything I did that evening. And this weekend clocks in most of the U.S. get turned back 1 hour. All of a sudden 2 a.m. becomes 1 a.m. Why? Because it made some kind of sense to somebody (not me) and that’s just the way it’s done around here. All time really does is keep us in sync with each other so our interactions with one another can be forged around a common psychological construct.

So what is it that we feel is slipping away and why does it matter? We’re so caught up in this idea of time that we feel TIME = LIFE. We let time control our lives instead of letting our lives control our time. There has to be some sort of balance where we are just living our lives and not rushing to catch up with time. Time is useful, but should it really be ruling us the way it does? Is it not just a tool to help us meet each other, cross paths, synchronize? Yet when we’re not on a timetable, when we don’t have something that needs to get done within a certain time frame, we get bored, don’t know what to do with ourselves, with our time. You know, that way we feel by the second or third day of vacation.

Perhaps that’s an indication that this “time” nonsense has gone too far. We’re so dependent on it that, in those precious, precious moments when time doesn’t matter, we cease to matter. Time has become the master and our lives the willing servant. We’ve been trapped in timetables for so long that when there is no master to crack a whip behind us, we have forgotten that we can run free. Life can be lived without confines of deadlines, and as long as we decide to live every moment, every now, truly and with all we have to offer, we won’t stagnate. We don’t need deadlines to keep ourselves alive.

Here’s a thought: perhaps if we stop chasing it, time will stop running away from us.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Growing Up

I was looking through some of my teen poetry. I started writing poetry at about age 11 and I have over a hundred poems I wrote as a teenager. Looking through them I see snippets of the me I have become in development. Every now and again I would see a line that, though I know I wrote it, would surprise me that I was thinking that way even then. What surprised me even more is that so many things have not changed. If teen Kelene were to see me now would I still recognize me? Would I be happy about how I've turned out? Would I be okay with how drastically I've changed on what used to be the major values in my life? I'm in a country I never particularly cared for, I'm not in medical school, I didn't get married forever... would I be disappointed?

There was one particular poem that makes me think, yes, though things didn't turn out according to plan, I am still exactly where I need to be. I held on to myself and haven't strayed from the fundamental hopes I had for my life. I'd like to think my poetry has grown as I have, but this poem is still poignant, speaking defiantly to the world in my seventeen year old voice.

GROW UP? (age 17)

You, world, say I should grow up to be

a useful member of society

who conforms to unspoken rules of normalcy;

who stifles her individuality;

whose fake smile replaces genuine laughter;

who marries, gets a job, and lives happily ever after;

who settles for dull despair in place of genuine pain;

who ignores a real problem and tries for a quick fix gain;

who loves only for better and runs from the worse;

who thinks life is for pleasure and that pain is a curse;

whose deep desire is independence from all;

who wants to have pride and not have the fall.

Well world I refuse to grow up in this way

and have my individuality stripped away,

and live a life full of false pretence,

and lose touch of truth and innocence.

If to laugh is childish and to cry immature,

to unshackle my emotions against some sacred law,

then keep growing up for those who do not know who they are

and hide behind a mask to conceal any scar.

As for me, I am free and open to what life has to offer

and I am willing to learn from the pains I may suffer.

I will not ransom who I am for who I’m supposed to be.

I may not “grow up” but I will mature and become the greatest me.

(Photo of teen Kelene circa 10 years ago by some random Carnival reveler courtesy Jeanette Awai one of my oldest closest friends from secondary (high) school)
Correction: Jeanette tells me I'm 20 in this pic. Working on finding a teen pic...

Hmmmm: I still have that top and the bead necklace (which I made myself) is the same one in my profile pic.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New Life, Same Old Me

Sitting on my bed early Sunday morning surrounded by piles of papers, I look up for a moment and breathe. September has been a crazy month.

A new city, a new life, a new routine (if winging it can be called a routine), a new me… same old me. There’s always challenges in newness. You have to adapt to and learn all these elements that have now become part of your life.

The most difficult thing for me about moving so far away from where I spent the last few years was letting go. Letting go of friends, my ex, my former life, has been challenging (understatement). Yet the letting go can be most tangibly explained in the difficulty I had packing, choosing what to keep and what to get rid of. It was an excruciating task. Not necessarily because I had fancy or expensive things – I don’t – but because attached to many items are memories or hopes.

Like my tennis racquet. My Mom bought it for me one Christmas, an extravagant gift considering we had little money to waste on such expensive non-necessities. But she got it for me because I loved tennis and had Wimbledon dreams. My reaction? Well like any insane teenager I cried and fussed because it wasn’t the right shape. It didn’t have the shock-resistant handle I wanted. To this day I’m ashamed of my reaction and the racquet reminds me to always be grateful – especially to my loving and generous Mom.

I also held on to the racquet for so long after I stopped playing tennis because I hope to get back into the sport. Memories and hopes… The racquet went into the donation box. It couldn’t fit in any of my boxes or bags. Hopefully someone else will give it a better welcome than I did.

What I’ve learnt though is that the memories and hopes aren’t left behind with the “things.” The memories and hopes, not the “things” make up part of who I am. The lessons learned stay with me. If I really needed a “thing” to constantly remind me of the lesson, then it really wasn’t learned was it?

Now I’m in new situations with all my old memories and hopes. It’s been rough. It’s a challenge that I’m growing to meet, and I am grateful every step of the way (especially for my Mom!).

Photo by Kelene Blake: my piles of paper.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Revolutions ~ My First Spoken Word

I'm trying my hand at spoken word. I want to make a video for this, but in the meantime I recorded it and share the link with you here. A poem inspired by the times we live in and by the keeping of good company:

Revolutions by JadeTygress


By Kelene Blake

Revolution cycles around the circles of oppression.

The comfortable sit and watch the discomfort of the discontent

Not realizing they are also among the disenfranchised,

Shackled by the fear of losing their fragile hold

Of the glass houses they have built to protect themselves from

The reality that lives a stone’s throw away

In poverty dwelling in the hovels of realization

That their lives do not factor into the big picture

Drawn by the minority controlling the economy

Automatons of the corporate machinery

Who have traded their humanity for spending power.

Power pulls the strings controlling a marionette society

Who puts shoulders to steel to push a stalled economy

Over the edge of a calamity because they refuse to see

That despair cannot be healed by retail therapy

And prescriptions for drugs are not permissions for life

Or lives lost in cries muffled in smoke

Billowing from burning oil fields

And the desperate gaze of starving babies too weak to cry

Haunts the conditioned mind’s wandering eye

And says this picture is wrong

This mirror is broken

But if they are not us then it’s we against them

And what’s ours is not theirs but what’s theirs could be ours

Because we must maintain this masquerade

At all costs.

But what is the cost of a life?

What is the cost of our lifestyle?

What is the price of gas as we fill up our tanks

With the blood of the thousands

The liquid gold that flows through the veins of an economy

Built on the backs of slaves

Carried on the backs of the struggling working class

Whose weary feet massage the backs of the elite 1 per cent

One life lost, per cent pumped into the tank of oppression

One humanity diminished by each bullet fired

One world shattered by illusions of separation

We come full circle, all… over… again,

Revolution upon revolution without evolution

Of thinking as we fail to realize that

One humanity, one human race

Is destroying itself over wealth that does not exist

Save for in the minds of those we seek to destroy.

The world turns in revolution

As our axis of evil shifts to the next target

To the next ideal that needs to be replaced

With something more convenient

As we fight conformity in the name of the same

As we defend nationality against, women and children

Fathers and sons, brothers and sisters playing with guns

Running around playing capture the flag

To use them as decorative shrouds

On the coffins in which we bury our guilt

Six feet under the propaganda of hate

Targeting that which does not comply with the current agenda

The land the coltan the diamonds the oil

The ideals we sell for access to the soil

So our one earth revolves and the soil soaks with blood

While the revolution continues to cycle

Through history’s familiar rhythms of injustice.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Losing Focus

Two “careers” I’ve managed to stick with for more than a year are “writer” and “student” (which often follow the words “poor” and “starving” I’ve observed). The thing that trips up most people who know my writing is I’m not studying a writing subject. My studies are related to sports science and nutritional science, which, I admit is a bit random for a non-athlete writer. But I love learning how the body works and how to stay healthy naturally. I sometimes think of school as my hobby because I’m just here to learn more about things I find interesting. That’s something I really believe in: pursuing interests, not just careers.

As we grow up, if we’re lucky we’re told we can do anything. In the same breath we’re told we can’t do everything. At some point we’re expected to focus on one career and stick with it. All other interests are then downgraded to “hobbies” that eventually get thrown by the wayside.

My question is why? Why must we choose? Why must we pigeonhole ourselves? Who says we have to only do one thing at a time? Why can’t the doctor also be an MC, the computer scientist also be a poet? Why can’t the MBA student also be a human rights activist or the math teacher also be a film maker? These “hobbies” are important because they challenge you to think differently, act differently, see a different aspect of yourself. The danger of being too “focused” is you can become an automaton. You may start to define yourself by that one thing you do. Your life and thoughts become routine and what you do becomes who you are. Then you find yourself disillusioned with life and wondering who stole your mojo.

By pursuing several interests you keep yourself sharp and refreshed. You switch thinking and exercise different muscles, so to speak. Yes pursuing other interests takes time, but so does watching t.v. and playing videogames, which many people spend a lot of their life doing. We think we need these sort of mind-numbing activities to help us unwind and relax, but changing pace, actively pursuing something you enjoy is even more renewing than vegetating in front of a screen.

Our minds are marvels of nature, capable of learning so much and our creative potential is infinite. We let all that potential fall by the wayside when we limit ourselves. So let’s stop pigeonholing ourselves and others. Let your creativity flow. Play with those dormant interests and hobbies again. How about we throw some more irons in the fire and watch the sparks fly.

(Photo by Kelene Blake. Another interest: "picture taking")

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Imperfection and Struggle

Sometimes I forget that I don’t know a damn thing. I forget that I need to be grateful for the bad things that have happened in life just as much as the good things. I forget that the good times add the sweetness but the tough times make the strength. I forget that without heartache I wouldn’t have learned how to love myself, without hunger I wouldn’t know how to make best use of what I have, without struggle there would be no growth.

If we’re not growing we’re dying. If we’re not changing we’re not living. We are more than our circumstances and environment. When we know we can hold on to ourselves when the world is going to hell in a hand basket, the ride is not as scary. When we know it is in us to face any challenge life throws at us and not be defeated then we are ready to really live.

The biggest challenge we have to face in life is ourselves. We have to face our imperfections, our mistakes, our vulnerabilities, our vices. This world is not covered in bubble wrap, and every one of us may be dented, may be damaged, may be bruised and scarred, but we are not defective and we are not broken. It may feel that way sometimes, like life has broken us, like we have been shattered, but it is what we do with the broken pieces that matter.

We are strong, but there is no way to know our strength until it is tested. When we do find ourselves in the grinder we need to just keep pushing, keep going, keep living. We may want to lay down and die, but we don’t, we can’t. Life will go on, and we will go on with it, and if we hunker down through the tough times, if we keep hold of ourselves, if we love ourselves (and others who care about us) enough to not self-destruct, we will find that we’ve made it through.

And when we can come up for air and begin healing, we pick up the shattered pieces of our hearts. The strength that we’ve gained, grown, earned during our hardships we use as the glue to bind the broken pieces together. In the end we will be a mosaic, a beautiful picture of these defining moments. The faceted surface of our hearts will shine like the piece of coal that has gone through the intense pressure necessary to become a diamond. The refining fire that burned us will be transferred to the center of our being, fueling our determination to face the world anew, because we are that much stronger.

True beauty is built on imperfection. True strength is built on struggle. True growth is built on being able to overcome.

(Photo by Kelene Blake: portion of a mosaic made of hundreds of tiny pieces of broken glass in the British Museum)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Flight Over London

By Kelene Blake

Crimson sunset
breaks the horizon
pale blue sky above
separated by a darkening band
of peach
from the fields of clouds
rollicking below me
and under that...
far far beneath the clouds
points of light
to match the sunset
blink up at me
a hundred thousand sunsets
from homes and hearts
settling in
for the cool summer night.

(Photo by Kelene Blake: Tower Bridge, London)

Friday, July 15, 2011

If I Had One Question for Anthony Anaxagorou

Poetry is a hymn sung into the ruins of a man. ~ Anthony Anaxagorou, A Sad Dance

Creative living means allowing yourself to be inspired because inspiration can change your life. One of the highlights of my summer occurred when I was blown away by the poem If I Told You by artist Anthony Anaxagorou (Listen to the poem. Go ahead, do it now. I’ll wait). I have not been the same since.

Anthony is a writer, poet and spoken word artist based out of London. At age 28 he has already published several books, has been sharing his work through radio, television (including BBC), and has even toured alongside hip hop artist Akala. Anthony not only inspires, he educates. He has done workshops with the Poetry Society as well as the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company and Royal Shakespeare Company. He constantly encourages us through his poetry (and on twitter) to read beyond the typical “curriculum” and educate ourselves.

If I had one question for Anthony it’s this: What impact do you hope to have through what you do?

This was his answer:

I think that with any communicative role regardless of sector or vocation, one will always hold in prized esteem the great possibility of influence that such a position can create. If I may be so bold as to say that I write poetry for the unhindered reason that inwrought within my emotional expression is a singular anguish so profound, so ineffable that without the aid of the poetic medium I would undoubtedly self-destruct. As with most artful endeavours the work spawns from an internal dialogue, ideas ricochet off the walls of the soul's creative canyons and the artist in turn looks for ways to articulate and express his/her unfounded sentiments.

I try to write with no pretence. I write for others but I believe others also to be myself. There is no experience that is solely exclusive to one man or woman; we all undergo similar happenings throughout the course of life and I find it true to say that the artist is one who is responsible for holding firm the frightened hand of the human race. Through my work I not only hope to deliver a feeling of solace but to uplift and edify my readers with those gentle nuances that suggest we all have a right to know as well as a right to feel and recognize our emotions. I celebrate love and loss through what some deem as being dark and morbid tenets, but I am yet to find the person who can present the loss of love, or the burial of a loved one, or the rage against political injustice with a jubilant oversight. Does a fire not burn when at its peak?

Poetry also has the propensity to alienate its global readers, catering rather notoriously for a select few who regard the art form as more of an elitist club writing only to meet the standards and approvals of other fellow poets. As much as this is true there is also another side to poetry that given half the chance will prove that it has always been dormant in the undercurrent of human existence – the unframed imputes that without effort gives us the will and courage to make our daring steps into the wild future.

Many perceive the art of poetry as being an antiquated verse form that presents itself in vague and unfamiliar wording patterns, nonsensical ideas or rhyming couplets that bear the cheesy hallmarks of GCSE English lessons. I used to sit with members of that notion until I found a world waiting to be discovered far away from rigid curriculum models. Through my years of private study I now delight in the sharing of poetry’s greatest gift – its ability to rekindle the human spirit at any given time or age. My message as a poet has grown ever more palpable. At the age of 28 I remind myself that we never suffer alone and it’s that which has been the driving maxim behind much of my work - be it page poetry or the spoken word. I hope to show people that working class kids, who teachers deemed as hyperactive and disruptive can too make their mark in the world of high art, whilst not losing sight of what it means to be a sentient being.

I hope that I am able to endow readers and listeners with the same assurance and lift that once found me during life’s more demanding and tenuous hours. The only thing that matters to me is that when one person falls they can be sure that the strength of another will be there to help lift and stable them again, up until their own feet are able to sustain the weight of their entire load. Art is not new. Rather it’s an invisible touch that implies no matter how dark the depths can get a cathartic light will eventually grow to spread out of you, regardless of who you are. To quote British poet Patience Agbabi, ‘Some of my greatest wounds have healed into poems.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Metamorphosis

I started this blog a little over a year ago (The Bittersweet Scent of Art, my first post) as a means of emotional survival through self-expression. I was the dying rose, desperately releasing what good was left in me out into the world before it all turned to bitterness and rot. In response to what I thought was my slow emotional death I figured I’d live as much as possible, as creatively as possible, before I lost it.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” Anonymous

The funny thing about deciding to live when you think you’re pretty much finished is that you start taking risks, and the truth – about yourself and the world – no longer frightens you. You begin to grow, see new things and see the same things in new ways. You learn that fear doesn’t have to paralyze you, but rather it is often an indicator of imminent growth.

Somewhere in the course of a year life transformed from a drudging commitment to a thrilling, sometimes frightening, adventure. Expression, art and creativity can lead to healing and growth. Self-expression = Self-discovery. With self-discovery comes the discovery of a world which is simultaneously around you and within you. You discover a world filled with beauty when you find your own beauty; each one of us a point of light that can illuminate the darkness if we let ourselves… if we just, despite everything, choose to genuinely live.

(Photo by Kelene Blake)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Get Your Read On: Little Brother

I’ve been devouring books like a starved woman this summer, in between all my many other adventures. Certainly summer 2011 is one for the books in so many ways (I know. I'm corny. Don't judge me).

So, the most recent one I’ve read, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow stands out. It’s not so much science fiction as science possibility. Set in San Francisco in what seems like a very near future, the story follows a 17 year old techie genius named Marcus Yallow whose life takes a sudden sharp turn from being a normal teenager (if there is such a thing) to being a revolutionary activist fighting against a government that has turned against its own people.

Doctorow is brilliant in his ability to draw the reader into the world of Little Brother. The book is entertaining yet socio-politically charged, touching gracefully on tricky topics such as terrorism and racism. Doctorow manages this in an echo of the style of George Orwell whose classics include Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four. In fact Little Brother is a clear tribute, sort of like an “are we there yet?” analysis of Nineteen Eighty Four; a book published back in 1948 which looks into a futuristic (at that time 1984 seemed like a distant future) dystopian world in which society lives under oppressive scrutiny and control by a leader named “Big Brother.” Privacy and freedom of expression is nonexistent in this society which is constantly reminded that “Big Brother is watching you.” If you haven’t read this classic kick yourself in the ass and go read it now.

In this modern twist, Doctorow looks at modern-day security privacy infringement by the government through the eyes of opinionated, intelligent and rash teenager Marcus. When his hometown starts to resemble the insane dystopia in the name of security on the heels of a terrorist attack, Marcus uses his tech savvy to fight back against the terror inflicted by his own leaders. As the tag-line on the book cover elegantly puts it: “Big Brother is watching you. Who is watching back?”

So that's two books for you to pick up: Nineteen Eighty Four and Little Brother. Go ahead. Read them. You'll thank me afterwards.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Dead Still Dream

by Kelene Blake

The dead still dream

As they turn in their graves

Whenever we fail to grasp

The freedom for which they died

The dead still dream

Because we are still slaves

To corporate agendas

Corruption and crime

The dead still dream

Of the roads that they paved

With their blood, their tears,

Hopes, courage, ideas

The dead still dream

And the living still crave

And the chains are still stifling

Our hearts and our minds

The dead still dream

Of the love that they gave

To a future that stands indifferent

To a struggle which is not yet over

The dead still dream

And they dream of us

Walking with courage

Into the future

(Photo by Kelene Blake)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Don’t Judge My Flow

I’m trying to squeeze several lives into one lifetime. That’s how it would seem if I explained all my interests, hopes, dreams and goals. An advisor correctly observed, “Kelene, you need to be challenged.” Many people don’t understand it, and some people judge it as a negative. It’s not negative, it’s just my flow.

Everyone has a different pace of life at which they are comfortable – a different flow. Some people, like me, seek challenges. We like to collect experiences and see new places. We like to learn new things and achieve mastery of what we learn. There are those of us who like to take it easy, who like to find balance, achieve an equilibrium. Some of us prefer to not have our feathers ruffled, and cannot understand the manic quest for success and the need to have more, do more, see more. Rather some of us want less, preferring to keep it simple.

It’s just how we’re wired and it’s important to be true to ourselves. If you like balance and quiet, you will not be happy climbing the corporate ladder or keeping up with frantic schedules. If you like to keep it moving you will not be happy seeking a quiet, uncomplicated, meditative life. Furthermore, we all find it hard to understand people who have a faster or slower flow than ours.

Those with a faster flow consider the person who doesn’t have big ambitions, who seems to be going nowhere in life, to be lazy. In fast flowing impatience they want to shake them up, tell them that life is going by and they’re going to miss the ride. They call them deadbeats, unmotivated. Those with the slower flow say that the person who is running around seeking more and more and more are superficial, trying to fill their emptiness with worldly things. They say they have no balance, or put worth in empty career achievement and success.

Rather than judge each other’s flows, let’s appreciate each other’s differences. The fast flowing individual can learn how to unwind, relax, have fun from a slow flowing friend. The slow flowing person can learn to set goals and get things done with motivation from their fast flowing friend. Balance cannot be found in one, or the other. Balance is to be found in both. Balance is when we love and accept ourselves and, to the same extent, love and accept others. Balance is when we can both meet the challenge of this fast-paced world, and step out of the traffic and take it easy when we need to.

This sort of acceptance is also a good way to approach how you work with others. We all know the person who is too easygoing and we all know the workaholic. Rather than force them to work at your pace, work with their strengths. Don’t undermine their flow, because the greatest genius comes out of one’s flow. The slow flow person may be great at planning the company retreat or social activities. The fast flow person can handle the logistics of the annual company dinner. The fast flow person is ideal for that time-sensitive project. The slow flow person can be brilliant working on the long-term project that will strengthen your company’s future.

Know your flow, its strengths and weaknesses. Understand that your way is not the only way. Understand that someone who works differently from you is not fundamentally flawed or living empty lives. They are just full of a different type of energy. We benefit from the fast-paced achievers and the slow-paced seekers equally in this world. Rather than judge, respect and appreciate. There’s a place in this world for all of us.

What's your flow?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Friends in Low Places

I recently graduated from Morgan State University where I’ve encountered many talented peers. I hear their music, I’ve read their writings, I’ve seen them clock long hours completing projects, I’ve seen them win races, I’ve seen them climb scaffolding to get the perfect photo, I’ve seen them hone their craft time and time again on and off campus, I’ve seen them combine their hearts, talents, uniqueness and beauty into what they do and what they dream of doing. And what I want to see is all of us succeed.

When we slam against a barrier to career success… or a career, we’re told, “It’s who you know.” Apparently the world runs on nepotism and favors. To get your foot in the door you need to know someone on the inside to unlock it for you. So what does this mean for those who don’t know people on the inside? Are we doomed to struggle until we’ve clawed our way up to success, bloodied and bruised from being kicked about then ignored by those at the top? And when we do get our feet in the door, do we have to put up with rankism and prove ourselves to those who decide to make it tough for us under the guise of preparing us for the “real world” ?

Hell-to-the-NO. Time for a new M.O. Our apathetic generation is finally rallying to stand up for themselves. It was the youth who came out in Arab nations to demand democracy. It is the youth who are gathering all across Europe to demand employment and a better future. (Read more here)

I’m ready for a revolution of mindset. If it’s about who we know, then I know many, many talented people, all of them hungry, like me, for success. Facebook, Twitter, we have hundreds of “friends” and “followers”. That is the power of our generation – a legion of friends, one click away.

What would happen if each of us committed to supporting and promoting each other? Someone needs a photographer: “Hey I know a couple of great photographers!” One friend wrote a screenplay, another is starting up a film production company, and yet another produces music… “Let me introduce you all!” Someone you know is starting up a website and needs help with content. You know someone who’s helped edit your essays – “I know just the person who can help you with that.” Christmas is coming and you want to give original gifts this year: “Oh my friend makes jewelry! Gotta hit her up.” Moved into a new place and the walls are bare: “I know this great artist!” …You get the picture.

Let’s stop passively being “friends” and “followers” and actively start looking out for each other. Let’s push each other up that ladder. In the words of science journalist Robert Krulwich to the Berkeley Journalism School graduating class of 2011:

“Instead, think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepreneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it… And maybe, for your generation, the Trojan Horse is what you’ve got, your talent, backed by a legion of friends. Not friends in high places. This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength.”

This is what I propose: a movement of Friends in Low Places committed to promoting and helping each other succeed. I propose friends share information, give each other feedback, strategize, brainstorm, challenge each other and make each other better. I propose that Friends in Low Places make it a point to celebrate each other’s achievements, without envy or backbiting, with a genuine brotherhood and sisterhood of friendship.

Then, when we achieve a measure of success, when we reach to our higher places, we reach back, and help those coming up behind us. Wave upon wave we can help each other along, closing the gap between the haves and have nots, never forgetting the low places we have come from.

Who is with me?

(Photographer Kalil KZak Zaky)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Brown Skin of Fantasy

I just read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by author N.K. Jemisin. I have long had a love for mythology and fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit & the Lord of the Rings trilogy; C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series... I loved them! I still love them. I always wanted to write in this genre. I still do.

I once told a friend, a well read friend, that I wanted to write fantasy. He thought I meant erotica. It occurred to me from that episode that perhaps it wasn’t as obvious a genre for the likes of me to be interested in. The likes of me: a black woman. When I think of black female writers I think of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, even Zane pops into my head (who at the time was quite popular and featured heavily in my school bookstore making me think maybe that’s why my friend thought I meant that kind of fantasy).

I started to look out for something, anything African/Black in fantasy fiction. I would walk through the fantasy/science fiction aisle in Barnes & Noble and look at covers, names, anything that can draw me in, hook me, something I can identify with. So many books with beautiful covers. No people of color on the covers though. So many names. I couldn’t see anything indicating African heritage. Eventually I did see something I recognized, identified with. I saw Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. First thing I did was flip to the back to see the author’s picture – a white man. That didn’t sit too well with me. I fully expected to see a writer of African descent writing about this African folk character. Went back to the same friend and complained. My friend shrugged and effectively said you snooze you lose.

A different friend, who has loads of books in the fantasy genre, lent me Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. I liked it. Then I read the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. I enjoyed it. Later I borrow and devour the Night Angel series by Brent Weeks. Loads of fun. But there was still something missing. Most recently I start watching Game of Thrones, an HBO series based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin and I, like so many, thoroughly enjoy it. One time, I commented to my brother that, as usual, there were no black protagonists. In answer he handed me N.K. Jemisin's debut novel. And I loved it. It is a fantastic story, not because the writer is a woman of color, but because she’s a colorful storyteller. I hold that the quality of a work, not the artist, is the important thing in art. And the quality of this story is art, it’s beautiful, captivating, fun, well paced, intriguing. I loved it!

But I must admit, that little kernel in me, that little emotional need toward kinship, is leaping for joy at the fact that the writer is a black woman, young, beautiful, smart, a counseling psychologist from New York. Her skin is undoubtedly brown, like mine. The protagonist’s skin is brown, like mine. It is a little thing, but it fills me with… something. Jubilance, relief, the knowledge that even in the world of epic fantasy I have a role-model, maybe more than one.

Psychologist Albert Bandura noted that the most effective models are those that the learner most identifies with. We can’t help it. When we gaze over a vast unknown frightening territory we can’t help but look for someone who looks like us. We can’t help but rejoice when we find that, even here, we can fit in. This is why it was such a big thing among African Americans, and African diaspora worldwide to see Barack Obama become President in the U.S.A. This is why I’m happy about fantasy fiction writer N.K. Jemisin. I probably doesn’t do me any immediate good that Obama is U.S. president or Jemisin is an exceptional fantasy fiction writer. But I’m glad all the same. Really glad. And I thank them.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

About You

By Kelene Blake

You may think this poem
Is about you
Maybe it is

About how tenderly
You looked at me
About how softly
Your whispered kisses
Would brush my lips
About how your touch
Would bring me to stillness
Would make me quiet
And yielding
About how your passion
Would flare
And flow through me
Making me a goddess
At whose altar
It was your pleasure to worship

You probably think this poem
Is about you
Maybe it is

About us
Being friends
About us
Being lovers
About how awkward it was
To be both
About how impossible it was
To be neither
About the chaos of emotions
That time
And distance
Can only translate
To pain

I think you think this poem
Is about you
Maybe it is

About you
And me
And we
And what we had
And what we couldn’t have
About what we wanted
And what we sacrificed
And what we achieved
About how well we worked together
About how bad we were for each other
About what we became
About what we lost
About what we never had

I’m sure
You think
This poem
Is about you
About you
Maybe it is…
Maybe not.

(Photo by Kelene Blake: Sculpture at North Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland)