What a Free Woman Looks Like

Today I chatted with a friend about some of the most influential Black women in popular culture. We talked about the Nicki Minaj/Lil Kim battle, Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. I felt like I was undergoing a G-20 classified security clearance for a rouge feminist operation. I felt most at ease when he asked “what does a free woman look like?” and “what is her life like?”

Well I’m a woman. I also happen to be a woman in the pursuit of freedom. I started the Freedom Pages with idea to share with folks my musings on this journey towards freedom. Reading Pearl Cleage’s “I Wish I Had a Red Dress” novel was the first time I read a list of all things a Free Woman should possess. Her list impacted me so deeply. It was one of the reasons I decided to go to Haiti. So I decided to compile what we discussed along with some more ideas below.

1. A free woman has the  power to choose.

2. A free woman has the ability to make informed choices.

3. A free woman uses new tools to build her house.

4. A free woman is educated about the world around her.

5. A free woman has options and has the choice to explore them or not.

6. A free woman takes risks.

7. A free woman understands that she can only control actions of her own.

8. A free woman uses self-reflection as a platform for growth.

9. A free woman helps other women and girls become free.

10. A free woman defines and affirms her own image.

11. A free woman understands and embraces her body.

12. A free woman experiences and confronts challenges in life.

13. A free woman values relationships.

14. A free woman will read this list and begin to define what it means to be free for herself.

What do you think a free woman looks like? What does her life look like? What would you add to this list? Take away?

25 years an American, 7 months an Observer and 1 week in Haiti


Neg Marron (Iconic Symbol of Freedom for the Haitian People)

This post will reflect my 25 years as an American citizen, 7 months observing the situation from a far,  4 days in Cap-Haitien and 2 1/2 in Port-au-Prince. I was only in Haiti for a week, the 1.3 million people left homeless as a result of the January 12th earthquake will likely live there for life.

What I saw in one week taught me more than I learned in any one sitting as a undergraduate or graduate student. I spent the bulk of my time with an inspirational group of people from Sonje Ayiti working towards developing one city. They showed me the side of Haiti that most Americans never see on TV. I saw Haitians helping themselves and helping each other. I saw Haitians making great things out of meager resources. I ate with them, prayed with them and slept under same heat as them. I walked the streets of Limonade, visited the local hospital, saw what a typical Haitian classroom looks like, took showers using a bucket, swatted mosquitoes, rode over unpaved roads and smelled mounds of trash. I talked with them, learned more about their stories and of their dreams for the country. I walked through the tent city outside of the Haitian Presidential Palace. I saw statues of the  nations heroes surrounded by the very people they were fighting to secure a better future for since the 1700’s.  I saw the direct result of too many people, too little public administration and too many NGO’s in a small area.


Presidential Palace of Haiti

I saw a lot. To be honest, I’m having a hard time digesting it. I’ve visited townships in South Africa, poor communities in Guatemala and seen shantytowns in mainland China.  I’ve lived without hot water and heat in Chicago. But I have never seen the things I saw while in Haiti. The experience left a deep impression on me to not only grieve but to act.

Since my visit I’m more angry at; 1) People who are against taxes and 2) People who think Wyclef Jean was a viable option to be President of Haiti.

Taxation functions as a means to pay for public goods and services. They are meant to serve the common good. Imagine this…no trash pick-up, no one to call when the electricity goes out, no running water, no one to report landlord abuse to and no public schooling for your children. Taxes pay for all of those things in the U.S. American’s STILL mismanage and take them for granted. Live in Haiti for a week and your mind will change quickly. Today a friend pointed out how taxation and tax appropriation are two different things.  We could do better on both fronts in the States. I’m not arguing for big government, just arguing for the presence of a basic element. In Haiti, the basic infrastructure isn’t nearly non-existent. Be grateful and work for the future you want.

On Wycelf Jean. I have very simple remarks. Would you want him or another musician with the same history and experience as President of the United States? We have more infrastructure and resources. I’ll take this to a smaller scale. Who you want the same candidate to be Governor of YOUR State? Probably not. His nomination has been romanticized by Americans who have likely never lived in a tent city, never had to choose between paying for school uniforms or selling water on the streets. Do the Haitian people deserve any less than what we expect for ourselves? No. Low expectations are like a festering sore in Haiti, human beings deserve better.

United States Agency for International Development
(These Tarps were all over Port-au-Prince)

Whether you donated to a Haiti Relief Fund or not, your tax dollars are being spent abroad (or are supposed to be). We have got to do better. We know better and can do better. Yes, the Haitian people are resilient; but no one should have to be so resilient all of the time.

As an organizer I follow the concept of organizing around the injustice we hold the most anger towards. I hate to see people living without basic necessities, dignity and the opportunity to be happy. God willing, I’ll head back to Haiti in January. I have a lot of ideas for working with the women and youth of Limonade. They are pretty much organized and just need more technical and financial support. I’m interested in working with them, not over or just for them. The road to achieving those things is just as rocky as any side street in Port-au-Prince, but it is possible. Change is always possible.

Slow Down Baby You’re Going Too Fast

The past couple of weeks have gone by so quickly. Planning my trip to Haiti has consumed my thoughts and time since the idea first entered my my mind. Consumed in a good way. I had to book tickets, figure out where I was going to stay and who I was going to visit with. Fortunately the good folks over at Sonje Ayiti, the Cap-Haitien Health Network, TransAfrica Forum and Haiti 2015 have been SO helpful.

So how has this affected my personal life? Well that’s been interesting. My friends and family have been amazing. The outpouring of financial, spiritual and moral support has been invaluable. I talked their ears off, pestered them with details and shared my fears about this whole journey. They helped me raise over $1,600 and counting….

Without the support of so many people, this entire trip would not be possible.

The day I left for Miami was not so hot. My day at work was mentally intense. I was stressed out and ready to go. I even went a bit dramatic on a special someone. Luckily he confirmed that, no, he doesn’t think I’m crazy. He said that I just need to SLOW down. By the time I walked out of the office at 4:30pm…I felt a release. I felt the weight of the stress caused by my job slowly lift off of my shoulders. This trip is apart of a larger need for freedom.

While in Miami, I’m staying with two friends who are daring and hopeful beyond belief. In fact their 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington, DC inspired me to dare to DREAM. Juan Rodriguez and Felipe Matos are two of the four Trail of Dreams Walkers. I first met Felipe and Juan in 2009 during a Youth Organizing Training for Immigration Reform. The two young activists/organizers left an impression on my life and how I viewed my role in the social justice movement. Last night we talked about the broader immigrant rights movement with them and other members of Students Working for Equal Rights (SWEAR). The conversation re-energized my mind and spirit.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the day. I’ve never seen Miami this way, through the eyes of two DREAMers in the neighborhood of Little Havana. Miami is so much more than clubs and beaches. It’s helping to slow down and get my mind right for what will be one of the most significant trips in my life.

My Body, My Mind, My Womb


(Photo: Gwendolyn Magee, Lift Every Voice and Sing)

I want control over my body, the freedom to decide what happens in there, who I share it with and when I share it.

The right to choose what to do with my body has never really been totally up to me. As a child, my parents made health-based decisions for me. They decided what I would eat, when and where I would receive medical care and even what information would go into my head. That level of control was ok with me, my parents were my primary caregivers and did what they believed was best.

As a woman of color in the United States; my body, mind, hair and womb is constantly under the threat of being auctioned to the highest bidder. Regardless of where you live in this country, women’s rights are hotly debated. Whether the auctioneer is the federal government or the local Planned Parenthood; someone else is making decisions and influencing what we can do with our bodies. For many women, the culprit isn’t necessarily some outside player; oftentimes our partners and friends influence the decisions we make with our bodies.

Everyone has an agenda. The government, faith based institutions and non-profit organizations all have agendas. Those who are champions of women’s rights oftentimes pose the largest  issues for me. I recently viewed a documentary called Maafa 21. The documentary outlined what the researchers believed to be a concerted effort, by Planned Parenthood, to extinguish the Black community in the United States. While this documentary is highly controversial, it did make me think about my stance on the “choice” issue. I’ve always described myself as a pro-choice woman. I believe that women should have the choice TO HAVE and/or NOT TO HAVE a child. Unfortunately, I find the messaging around this issue deeply flawed on both sides. On the “pro-choice” side, the messaging is around our legal right to choose not to have a child. On the “pro-life” side, the messaging is around the moral dilemma and physical act of abortion.

It’s not just about our partners it’s about deciding not to consent through INACTION.

Both ends often miss what I think is the most important factor; the woman’s right to choose even before she has sex. I personally know women who refuse to purchase condoms because they believe the man should buy them. I know women who refuse to explore their own bodies because they believe only another man/woman should do so. I also know women who are waiting for marriage and know nothing about their anatomy or how to protect themselves during marriage (yes DURING marriage). Many of our girls are lost. I worked with teenage girls on the South side of St. Louis. OH the stories I heard and oh…the things they had no clue about.

Educating ourselves and our girls about sex shouldn’t JUST be about the act of sex. It should be about having healthy relationships and engaging in healthy behavior. Sexual health starts BEFORE sex. What we eat, our mental health and what life we want for ourselves affect our sexual health.  Americans focus too much on the act and not enough on the circumstances. Once women collectively deal with the circumstances and have ownership over them, our bodies and our minds we will belong to us. We will have more power and of course…more freedom.

Freedom Matters

free•dom [free-duhm] noun-

1.  the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.

2. the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without.

3. civil liberty, as opposed to subjection to an arbitrary or despotic government.

I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman living in the United States of America, I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman who identifies as a traveler, intellectual and food enthusiast; I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman who is socially radical, spiritually developing and financially burdened; I don’t feel free.

As a human being living in 2010 where low-income folks, people of color, women and queer folk are unfree; I don’t feel free.

But I want my freedom…and like some say, “Freedom isn’t Free.” Like the roots in the image above, I want to be able to grow without physical or mental barriers. I want to feel free to make choices, I want power and I want self-determination.

So how will I get my freedom? Good question…right? I’ve been thinking A LOT about my freedom and how to get more of it. Until recently I didn’t think about my freedom very much. Why would I? My thinking was: Black folks are no longer enslaved, women can vote and hey I have a couple of fancy degrees.

Makes sense at first glance. Upon further reflection I realized that I felt powerless, I was not exercising self-determination and was just plain miserable. I was finding very little joy in my paid gig and constantly finding other ways to stay engaged in “the movement.” I would go to every protest, rally, meeting that I could. I taught at a local University. Worked with local youth fighting for the DREAM ACT. I maintained relationships with my former colleagues at one of the largest non-profits focusing on grassroots organizing in the country. I found family amongst those fighting for the most basic human rights across the country. I had amazing opportunities to sit in meetings and soak up MAD knowledge with some of the most prolific leaders in the larger social justice movement. My mentors in D.C. were mentored by Dr. Dorothy Height. I’ve been blessed.

But I still didn’t feel free.

So I made a decision.

Don’t talk about BE about it.

Next month I am headed to Haiti to connect with local people and organizations engaged in the long-term re-building of Haiti. I’m a social worker/organizer educator, why not go where my skills can be used? Why not go somewhere where my ancestors were once left in bondage? Why not go somewhere where there is much resiliency but also vulnerability? WHY NOT? I will spend a week traveling to Cap-Haitien and Port-Au-Prince, Haiti meeting with local organizations working toward re-building a stronger and freer Haiti. After that, I’ll come back and plan for a 6-9 month stay. What good is freedom when others are not free?

Where did I get this idea?

Like many folks I watched the images of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti. I weeped at my desk looking at pictures of dead children. I was angry that such a thing could happen in a country already facing a number of political, economical and physical challenges. I texted YELE! I think I even texted the Red Cross. I tweeted, gchatted and facebooked until my fingers were tired and my heart was too heavy. In the process I forgot about the lack of coordination amongst NGO’s. (Non-Governmental Organizations). I forgot that the Red Cross left Hurricane Katrina survivors dry. I forgot that money can’t and has never solved all problems.

What does THIS have to do with freedom?

This journey is pretty much 50/50 for me. 50% of my decision to relocate to Haiti has to do with my own freedom. I need a work environment where I can use my skills, learn new things, develop as an organizer/educator and just do what I’m most passionate about. What am I most passionate about? Well that’s the other 50%, I am most passionate about helping others empower themselves through education and positive self-development. I can’t give the Haitian people their freedom, no one can. Only they can attain that for themselves. My journey to and through Haiti will not be glamorous, cute or easy. I will most likely set high expectations and not meet them all, but that’s OK.

I turned 25 years “old” today. I am a QUARTER of a CENTURY! This just feels right. It feels right on time. I prayed about it and received confirmation. MOST of my friends weren’t even surprised that I would cook up something crazy like this. I refuse to spend my 25th year not actually using what I’ve learned and also learning things I’ve never even fathomed. I refuse to find myself crying out of frustration because I know I can do more and should do more. Beliefs should be turned into actions. I believe in human dignity and I believe that I have a role in achieving it for us all.

I believe in Freedom…Love and Justice. In fact, I might die still seeking all three.

I’ve been avoiding the whole blog thing because of the commitment and self-exposure. I guess it was finally time. I started the Freedom Pages to express my thoughts about the world as it is and the world as it should be. The Freedom Pages will expose my views on politics, culture, food, activism, organizing and traveling. I am in the pursuit of freedom, love and justice, I welcome you to come with me as I evolve. I hope you enjoy what you read, and promise only to be as honest as possible. Hopefully I’ll even agitate you to find your own freedom.

At the end of the day…I just want to serve and be free.

Want to help me get to Haiti?

Please visit my donation page at http://nvrcomfortable.chipin.com/1st-trip-to-haiti. All donations will support flights, housing, food and supplies for this trip. No amount is too small!