Banter on Tulips and a Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z and John Coltrane, Outkast and Othello.


A Beautiful Journey (For Dr. Maya Angelou)

“I toss my head up to the silver sky/ 
And, then I sigh -- look at all the blessings in my life.”
 – Teena Marie, “Irons in the Fire” (now  playing)

Today, Wednesday, May 28, 2014 started off as a rather unremarkable day.

That all changed when mid-morning when I learned that Dr. Maya Angelou had made her transition. I had to pause. We, after all, have lost our wise elder. Our fearless poet. Our grandmother. Great-Auntie. Grandmama.

I started to cry as if someone I knew had passed.

I didn’t know Dr. Angelou personally.

But I had occasion to meet her once.

She was the speaker at my freshman class opening convocation in August, 1997. She spoke and sang about her journey. “I’m on my journeyyy now” her rich contralto rang out from the rafters of the Duke Chapel.

I’m sure she also spoke wise words about our mission and our responsibilities as beneficiaries of the knowledge that would be bestowed upon us by one of the nation’s great universities. But truth be told, I don’t remember much else about her speech.

You see, it wasn’t what she said from the podium, but what she did that day that made an indelible impact upon my life.

After her speech was over, a handful of us stuck around to try to get a glimpse of the legendary poet and civil rights activist.

We lined the outside walkway of the chapel. Nearby, I remember a graduate divinity student joked: “If I could just touch the hem of her garment, I’ll be made whole.”

I chuckled.

But, then she appeared. And, immediately, I knew what he meant.

She walked lightly, smiling, jovial, as if she knew each of us. She greeted the line of people warmly.

But as she approached me, she stopped briefly, looked at me as if she knew me and said one word: “Beauty,” stretching the last y out as if out for a leisurely walk and she stopped at a stand for lemonade.

I didn’t know this lady, keep in mind. But sometimes God puts people in your path at just the right time and just for the right purpose. This was one of those times.

You see, as a new student in a strange state on a strange campus, I was in unfamiliar territory. The confidence I had in high school was being forced to battle with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. 

And then, there was that color thing. As a lanky deep brown-skinned girl, to that point, I had never thought I was truly beautiful.

But at that moment, when Dr. Angelou said it I returned her smile. Something about the way she said, the fact that she, Maya Angelou, said it, made it as good as gospel.

It was a simple word. But, indicative of a larger point.

As the Bible says, your words can bring death or life.

Dr. Angelou was and is beloved, because she always chose the latter.

Rest peacefully, Dr. Angelou.

You lived a life of beauty. And, you’re on your journey now.


The Evidence of Things Hoped For

1:30 a.m.

Wednesday, November 7

After falling asleep watching the state by state returns come in, I awoke, blurry-eyed, to the sound of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

"We are awaiting the President's acceptanace speech."

Still in that haze between alseep and awake, I thought for a second, "I must be dreaming."

But then the camera panned to the TV screen and the crowds of people waving flags, jumping up and down, or otherwise elated and I thought, "What?!"



I immediately straightened up and situated myself on the couch to observe the scene.

The news ticker at the bottom of the screen read: "Barack Hussein Obama elected 44th President of United States."

Some days, I wonder about America.

How you can be a Harvard-trained lawyer, a Senator, a Christian, a family man, a purposeful individual who cares about things like ending wars, bringing our aggressors to justice and making sure everyone -- even the dreaded 47% -- has health insurance, and still be called things like "lazy," "Muslim," and "un-American."

How do you navigate and maintain your sense of self, and more than that -- press on to the highest office in the land -- in a country where a pompous megalomaniac in need of a toupee openly questions your academic credentials, or where the son of your political opponent feels it appropriate to threaten physical violence against you for calling his dad out on the truth?

To be honest, before I saw the words scroll across that news ticker early this morning, I didn't think this sort of America would have re-elected again the man that so many four years ago put their hopes in. I doubted that he would be judged by a fair rubric.

I am ever so happy to be wrong.

And on a day like today, I am ever so happy to be a citizen ... a voting citizen... a voting citizen who stood in line for hours to exercise that right ... in the United States of America.

God bless the President. And God bless us all.


Be the Change You Want to See

Some folks talk about it.
Some folks bees about it.

Lots of times, "we as a people" talk about what we could be doing, but I ran across a young lady who is actually putting her elbows to the grindstone and investing in the next generation. Her name is Kelley Tompkins Calvin. She's a May 2010 graduate of Michigan Law and a resident of Washington, D.C. (when she isn't flying from coast-to-coast doing outreach for Teach for America.) Her non-profit is called Michelle in Training (MiT). A few days ago, we chatted about the program's First Lady-inspired name, the team of dynamic young women who run the show, and the group's theme song. Pull up a chair and have a listen.

So why the name, Michelle in Training? How'd you come up with it?
I named Michelle in Training after the First Lady, who we consider our Patron Saint. There have always been black women who personify elegance, grace, confidence, intelligence and style (Marion Anderson, Mae Jemison and Eleanor Holmes Norton come to mind) but none that have had the national and global reach that Mrs. O has accomplished. For the first time, black girls from all walks of life can attempt to dress, act, and behave like a lady without being called all of the names that we were called when we were girls (Oreo, anyone?). I wanted to name our organization after a woman that all of the girls would immediately identify with and would immediately understand what we were trying to teach them, and why.

So what's the super, duper, secret backstory on this group? Tell us about your inspiration.
Well I don't know how quirky this is... I have always been surrounded by MiT-like women and thought that every other girl was too. Then I taught in South Louisiana with Teach For America and understood for the first time that not every girl learns soft skills at home and that without those skills, you can be as smart as you want to be and not get ahead. After moving to DC it became more and more clear to me that we needed a program that could provide the missing pieces of our girls' education that would give them the soft skills that they need in addition to the academic skills if they ever want to take on the world and win.

What niche of mentoring is your group serving that other groups don't currently address? Like, what makes Michelle in Training unique say from Big Brothers, Big Sisters?)
MiT is a three-year program for each class of girls. We'll start with them as sophomores and take them through three years of training on everything from etiquette and style to health and wellness and even study skills and leadership. It will also be a selective group. 50 girls will be nominated by principals, counselors, teachers and community leaders and we will accept 25 of them. Lastly, this is a big commitment on the part of the girls. We [provide] the time, dedication and resources but they have to commit to three years of hard work and dedication. It is not easy to break the cycle of poverty, change habits, and reject peer pressure and we are asking to get as much of a commitment from them as we will be giving.

Okay. So I mostly blog about music and life. I find out that you can tell a lot about people by what music they listen to. So, here's the question I'm most interested in. If MIT had two theme songs, what would they be? And please, no "Eye of the Tiger." Lol. 
"Ebony Eyes," by Stevie Wonder, because every black woman is beautiful and can change the world and should remember that. Also "Diamonds," by Robin Thicke. Girls need to learn when they are young that easy lives to do not yield high rewards but that hard work and hard times make us who we want to be.

What is the age range of girls you want to serve? Where will they be from?
The girls will start as sophomores and stay with the program through their senior year. We are starting with one class in one high school in Washington D.C. but my dream is that this program would reach every girl who needs it in every school in the country, and the world.

Is there an application process? Recommendations required?
Yes! We will be asking for recommendations for school and community leaders and the girls (and parents, because this will take a commitment from them as well) will have to fill out an application to be accepted.

What is your goal in terms of the numbers of children you want to serve?

Twenty five girls the first year and then 25 girls in each class (or more or less depending on how we find we need to adjust to be most successful). For mentors, what professions do they span? Will they be across the country or largely based in DC Metro? Local mentors will be from the same city as the girls (so, for the first year, Washington D.C.) so that they can meet with them regularly, take them to events and so the girls can visit them in their classroom. However, we as the MiT board will also be building an advisory board of the smartest and most inspirational black women we can find around the country so that we, too, can continue to learn and grow in this process.

How will you fund this effort? What will funds go toward?
We are starting with a crowdfunding campaign that is going on right now on StartSomeGood. #25days25girls is raising money to publish our first curriculum,  to provide food, resources, and transportation costs to the girls, and to create a website.

What are the professions of people on your board?
I am a lawyer by training, but I work for Teach For America as what I like to call an explorer. I travel around the country working to launch new regions.
  • Ashaki is an attorney and former beauty queen, she is our brandHER chair and will be teaching the girls etiquette and personal branding.
  • Maci is a marketing strategist for The Root and founded Mwari Magazine. As our leadHER chair, Maci will be teaching leadership and community service.
  • Kiah is the founder of District DIY and is one of the hardest working girls I know. She is our showHER chair and will be leading the girls as they travel the city exploring all of the arts, entertainment and culture that is often missed even when it's right next door.
  • L'Rai is an engineer and a stylist, or rather, I should say a stylist and an engineer! She is our swagHER chair and will be teaching personal style and social media savvy.
Where is Michelle in Training based?
The home of the First Lady of course! Washington, D.C.

Sounds like a great initiative. Anything else you want to add?
We are always looking for feedback, suggestions and volunteers. If you would like to get involved with MiT, or have any great ideas, contact me at katcalvin@michelleintraining.com!

To learn more about Michelle in Training, visit their website at michelleintraining.com

Brava, Kelley. Thanks for sharing.
-M. Elle


RIP Travyon Martin

A Life in 7 Lines

Spring evening. Teenage conversation. Smiles. The sunshine state. Chattering. Anything and nothing. Walking. No rush. Where going. Giggles. Moseying along. Air cooler. Little raindrops. Head fresh from barber. Cold. Hoodie pulled. Walks. Slow. Because. No, You Hang up First. No, You. Car approaches. Still chill. Nonchalant. Hear it behind. Can’t let girl see. Inside, shook. Walking, still. Faster. Talking. Breathing. Faster. Walking. Walking. Walking. Shesaysrun. Moving. Suddenly. Speed of light. Think he’s lost. Then. Appears. Anger. Questions. SMACK. Pavement. Screaming. Can’t believe. HELP. Can’t breathe. HELP! SOMEBODY?! End.

Copyright, Rhythmandwords, 2012


On Spring Weather and Daydreams...

It's March in the District. Only it feels like May.

This means that whenever I loose myself from the rusty chains of Mista Charlie's plantation to walk somewhere for lunch, upon return, indubitably, I realize that my focus has quit me ... Walked off the job ... Staged a sit-in from the golden-asphalt-paved boulevard, where everyone's an heiress and stunting is a habit (get like me).

A older lady I know once uttered this phrase: "I was born to be rich. I just missed my calling."

Concurring. Elle, Mahogany.

Today "Creole Lady, Marmalade" is playing on a loop in my head for absolutely no reason. Thus, in my mind, I have ichi kichi yaya dondad my way to the French Riveria, clutching the May issue of Vogue in my hand. I am not in a miserably cold office under the glare of a boss I like to call Queenie. Nay. I am, rather, donning some smashing Michael Kors shades and a white sundress and the only gaze I'm getting is from the sun. The soundtrack to Mahogany plays in the background. Bliss is this.

Spring days when I'm stuck in the office make me think of people who have escaped the masses of the working-stiff proletariat. People like Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg. Trying to think beyond their ridiculous bank accounts, I remember that these people first self-actualized by chasing a daydream. The facebook we know was once somebody's crazy, hair-brained idea. Possibly inspired by a nice Spring day. I imagine a friend asking Mark, "What is this book of face, you say?" Now, people ask Mark if he wants car service to the bank.

If we can take anything besides lost productivity from our springtime daydreams, it is that the season represents a time when the world again opens up to us. Life becomes full of possibilities. And sometimes, one's uncanny ability to lose post-lunchtime focus becomes a question. Spring possibilities have sprung like tiny, yellow crocuses. So, what are we going to do about it? :)