Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

The 12 Minutes (That Feel Like Days) of Dreaded Christmas Communication: A Holiday Internal Monologue

SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned

SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned (Photo credit: pouwerkerk)

“Hey. Just calling to wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope you’re doing well, even though I’m sure you are. Call me back when you get a chance.”

I played the message back a few times, trying to get the lay of the land. “I hope you’re doing well, even though I’m sure you are.”  There was something about his tone. “If he’s so sure, why is he suddenly asking on this 358th day of the year during which I haven’t spoken to him on any of the other ones? Christmas miracles, I tell you.  “And better yet, what makes him so sure?”

Staring at the the miniature cassette icon that sits poised in the upper left-hand corner of my phone, I  carefully contemplate my next move.

“I could call back now and just get it over with.” The clanking of holiday china, play-by-play of the game, and unreasonably loud  familial political debates would mean that I’d probably have to keep the conversation short.

“I could call back later, but I don’t know what time I’ll be leaving here, and if later happens to be tomorrow, then that’s just dragging this out unnecessarily.”

“I’ll text him. That’s why God made text messages! Thank God for text messages!”

“Ehhh…but then if he called me and I text him back, that’s not right. That’s lopsided. It would have to be a text with a promise to call back later, and then this still gets drawn out…” I  always knew my belief in reciprocity would come back to bite me one day.

“I mean, technically, he already accomplished the purpose of the call. He wished me a Merry Christmas. That can stand on its own. Do I even have to call him back? He shouldn’t give a gift expecting that it be returned, right?  That’s not proper Christmas etiquette.”

“Boom. That’s my out right there. I win. Merry Christmas to me.”

But wait,  didn’t he ask me to call him back ?” I play back the message again. “Yup, he asked me.”

The cassette in the upper left-hand corner of my phone is taunting me now. It knows I can’t get rid of it. It’s saying, “Haha, I know you thought you ran things, but I run this! I am your cell phone, chick. Where would you be without me? I keep you connected…to everyone, whether you want to be or not.”

 

I tell it to shut up. I tell it that cassette tapes went out with Animaniacs and TGIF and that I don’t even know why it’s still being used as a voicemail symbol. I tell it that I can get rid of it, if I want to, all I have to do is delete the message.

But I can’t delete the message…

“It’s Christmas, right? What would Jesus do?”

So, of course, I decide that Jesus would call him back and wish him a Merry Christmas.

Conversation…conversation…conversation. “Say what?”

An epiphany.

“Now I remember why we only speak once a year.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Merry Christmas.”

 

 

 

Advertisements
Standard
The Mute World (Politics & Society)

“I’m Gon’ Need You To Say Something, Bey Bey” : When Celebrity Used To Mean Something

Beyonce

Beyonce (Photo credit: Ana Kelston)

I can already feel the Beyhive swarming, but I had to do it.

Over the past week, the world has been going crazy over the surprise release of Beyonce’s new self-titled album. So far, the album has been praised for its vulnerability, feminist manifestos, and the boss-like way that it was dropped without the aid of typical modes of artist promotion like radio, singles, interviews, etc.

Let me first say that I too admired and respected Bey’s strategy and business savvy in choosing to release the album on her own terms and in her own way. It was genius and I have no idea how she did it (in secret, no less) while being in the midst of a world tour. It is a great testament to the level that she has reached in her career. She needs no external promotion because we (myself included now, with this blog post) are her promotion. She did something that independent artists have been doing for years and she is fortunate enough to have a loyal enough base around her that it worked out to the umpteenth power.

But to me, the fact that she has reached a level in her career where she can literally say, “jump” and hundreds of millions of people worldwide will say, “how high King Bey, and where would you like me to land?” is not a testament to some other-worldly awesomeness or musical/performance superiority. Instead, it has me wondering, what else can she do with this level of influence?

Now I know you’re thinking, “what do you mean what else?! She’s married to a fellow #BOSS, has a beautiful little girl, loyal friends, a wildly successful world tour, and a fit figure. What else do you want the woman to do?” Well, I want her to be ABOUT something.

The other day, I went to watch a screening of an amazing documentary called The Trials of Muhammad Ali. The documentary focused heavily on Ali’s decision to refuse to serve in the Vietnam War. In making such a decision, he was stripped of his heavy weight title, lost millions of dollars, was not allowed to box, and faced five years in prison in a case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States and made a statement about religious and political freedom. And as I sat there and watched it, I could not help but to think, ” What happened to celebrities (particularly African American ones) who used to stand for something?”

Granted, Ali was not known for his modesty (he was proud and confident in a time when it wasn’t okay for black people to be that way). Still, what happened to people who did more than sing and rap about how much they’ve accomplished and how great they are, but who actually spoke up and defended causes? This is exactly what Harry Belafonte was trying to say with his comments about Jay-Z last year. In response, proving that they entirely missed the point, the Carters contended that they do a lot for charity and support many causes financially. Except no one was questioning their ability to open their wallets. We were questioning their ability to stand, to speak, and to actually say something (worthwhile, that is).

And yes, Kudos to them for following in Solange’s footsteps and showing up to the Trayvon Martin rally, but that’s not enough. If Beyonce can sell tens of thousands of records in a matter of hours or days with no advance notice, imagine what would happen if she mobilized for a  cause beyond her own record sales? Or even if she smacked her husband upside the head for not wanting to make “snap judgments” about the situation at Barney’s instead of calling a spade a spade (as he’s done in the past with Cristal, before his money level changed exponentially anyway.)

As for the debate about her feminism or lack thereof, Beyonce is not a feminist. That opinion has nothing to do with black versus white versions of feminism or opinions about modern sexuality. Aside from all the lyrical contradictions in her music (because we all contradict ourselves) in my opinion, Beyonce cannot be a feminist because feminism is a political term that requires action and engagement (not simply the quoting of feminist scholars). Yes, she is a wife, mother, and businesswoman who inspires even me with the notion that I can “have it all,” but again, that’s not enough.

Do I want her to run for political office? No. Do I want her to sing a song about freedom from political oppression? If she wants to, although I’m not sure what amount of concrete good it will do. I want her to use the King Bey worship that she elicits from so many for the benefit of the greater good. How? I don’t know, but I’d like to see an effort. George Clooney does it. John Legend does it. Alicia Keys does it. Bey can too.  I want her to pick a cause, educate herself about it,  get people to pay attention to it, and to act on it. And to all the people who are screaming through their computers at me that she does, if I don’t know about it, that’s proof that she hasn’t promoted that cause nearly as well as she’s promoted her surprise album.

Yes, this stirs up the age old question of what, if any, responsibility celebrities owe to society. Obviously, my answer is that they owe everything to society. Yes, they are role models. Beyonce didn’t drop her album without promotion. WE are her promotion. We are the ones who allow her to live the powerful and extravagant life that she lives. So, if we’re going to follow her, then she, and every other celebrity, has a responsibility to actually lead us somewhere.

Standard
Mutations (Reflections on Life)

So, a woman approaches the patient who shares a room with me, identifies herself as a volunteer who wants to identify issues she can help with. The patient then states her name and extends her hand to shake the woman’s.

The woman immediately looks panicked and retreats her hand. I shoot her the ultimate judgment stare and she re-extends her hand to shake the patient’s. “I’ll wash it afterwards,” I hear her mutter underneath her breath.

Really? I am so sick and tired of people not wanting to be tainted by the grime of whatever they claim to be interested in or committed to. I understand not wanting to be or get sick, but how in the world can you insult the very same people you claim to want to help? This is not Grey’s Anatomy. This is real life.

As a law student, I have to say that the same logic applies for wanting to work as a public interest lawyer: you can’t say you want to work with poor people, then dog their situations, intellect, neighborhoods, or anything. Or patronize them.

You want to defend someone from that hood you won’t dare walk into? Oh okay. You introduce yourself as a volunteer at a hospital and won’t shake a person’s hand. Great.

That kind of hypocrisy does not help people.

Rant From My Hospital Bed

Aside
Mutations (Reflections on Life)

1L, 1W: Reflections on Completing My First Year of Law School

Law School Textbooks

Law School Textbooks (Photo credit: Jesse Michael Nix)

Being the pensive, sometimes overly-sensitive, semi-nerd, stereotypical artist-type that I am, at the end of my freshman year in college, I wrote a reflection on the lessons I’d learned that year. I intended to record my personal growth that year, and then they became amazing reminders of my overall personal growth so I continued all the way through graduation.They started out as Facebook notes, (remember those?) and then last year I decided to move the reflection to my blog. Given the whirlwind personal, academic, mental, and emotional year this transition from undergrad to law school has been, I could not let the tradition die. So, complete with quotes from cases that stood out to me (not in the correct citation format, of course, because I won’t be studying the Bluebook until much later this weekend to prepare for the Writing Competition), here are the lessons I’ve learned this year:

1. “Liberty must include the freedom not to conform.” Justice Brennan, Michael H. v. Gerald D. The most important lesson I learned this year was how to maintain myself in the midst of a lot of things that were “not me.” Like any other profession or activity, there is a legal “culture” that I was understandably oblivious to before I came to law school. There are traditions, expectations, priorities, rules, and values that I had to figure out a way (and am still figuring out a way) to make comport with my own.

I had to remember my voice, my perspective, and the importance of others like it, that don’t always get the chance to be heard. Those voices are the reason I came to law school. So, I had to figure out how to keep those voices in the midst of many other different voices. I had to combine my creative writing style with the required legal writing style. I had to keep my passion while displaying my pragmatism.

Even outside of the classroom, I had to figure out how to maintain a balance between doing the things that make me me and doing the things that I was required to get done. I decided that I want “attorney” to be what I do and not necessarily who I am, so I really had to ask myself what I was chasing and why I was chasing it. As much as I thought I had mastered the art of work/life balance–undergrad is work hard, play hard, right?–this year showed me otherwise. I had never had to do anything that required my attention, in some shape or form, seven days a week (especially first semester). It was physically and mentally exhausting at times, and I literally had to learn to remember myself. I had to eat when I was hungry, sleep when I was sleepy, and watch Scandal and Friends reruns when I was finished.

Interestingly, while I hadn’t had the work or life experience of some of my peers, throughout the year I felt like every experience I had ever had prepared me for law school. I might not have been a paralegal, but my creative writing helped me with my legal writing. The time I’d spent on stages singing and/or performing poems made oral arguments and getting called on at random a lot less stressful. Most importantly, the people I had behind me, the memories I had, and the tough lessons I’ve learned about myself and the world before I got to this point all gave me the confidence and the motivation that I needed to keep going. So, ironically, I found that by remembering myself I was able to push myself forward.

2. “The timorous may stay at home.” -Judge Cardozo, Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co. aka “The Flopper” Case. In addition to remembering myself, it was also difficult to put myself out there to meet people and make new friends. I’m someone who has to warm up to people before I can really become friends with them. I’m also not someone who enjoys hanging out in large groups, which can make making new friends difficult. Still, I honestly think that staying true to who I am  helped me make the friends that I was meant to make, and I do think that I made quite a few good friends this year. Even better than that, I made friends with people I never really would’ve expected to make friends with before this year. My horizons were definitely broadened. I made friends with people I almost never agree with. I found that the people who share my values and interests weren’t always the people who I expected them to be. I found that the people who appreciated me and looked out for me weren’t always the people I expected them to be, and those revelations were some of the greatest moments I’ve had this year. I also really appreciate those people for respecting our differences and for embracing me for who I am.

3. “Conquest gives title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny, whatever the private and speculative opinions of individuals may be…” Justice Marshall, Johnson v. M’Intosh (FYI this quote/case made the cut because it’s the case that appalled me the most this year.) I take this quote, from possibly the most politically incorrect case I read all year to say: when you succeed, nothing else matters. More importantly, success is however you define it. I have learned this lesson before, and I learned it again this year. There is a lot of noise in the world. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to tune it all out and keep charging forward. No one and nothing can have power over you if you don’t allow it. I have always said that there is no such thing as competition because what God has for me is for me. Competition means you’re looking around when you should be looking forward (or depending on your beliefs, looking UP.) There is only hard work and the blessing of opportunity. Being secure in yourself and in that fact makes everything else irrelevant.

Last but not least, I learned important lessons about gratitude and appreciation this year. I don’t think I ever realized the importance of a support system as much as I do after this year. So, thank you to everyone who has had my back. This applies to old friends and new ones. From my old friends, I appreciate every text message, every phone call, every Skype session, every Facebook message, every hug, and every prayer. Thank you for letting me cry when I needed to cry and for listening to me complain.Thank you for reminding me of who I was when I needed it. Thank you for pushing me forward and always being available when I needed you. To my new friends: figuring out what a friend is and how to make one in law school has been interesting, so I truly appreciate you guys. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me and thank you for allowing me to get to know you. Thank for listening to me preach and for indulging me when I got on my soapbox. Thank you for helping me through the trenches. Congratulations to us.1 down, 2 to go!

I’m looking forward to the rest of the journey…

 

 

 

 

Standard
Mutations (Reflections on Life)

Not All That: In Defense of Anti-Exceptionalism

good grades 2Someone once told me that I would have a much easier time in life if I simply accepted the fact that I’m exceptional. He wanted me to accept the fact that I am “more” (as in more intelligent, capable, talented), than some and possibly many, because he thought it would help me be less offended and morally outraged when others express or imply that they are “more,” not necessarily “more” than me, but “more” than anyone.

I hate most superlatives, labels (“Ivy League”), rankings (yes, U.S. News and World Report), prejudgments, and assumptions. All forms of classism and elitism usually annoy me. I’m a big believer in not judging a book by its cover and never assuming that you know what the book is about, even if you’ve read it. I’ve made it a point in life never to underestimate people because I hate being underestimated.

You never know what a person is capable of and you should never be surprised when they show you more than you expected. The man on the street and the businessman on Wall Street are all the same to me. If you gave them both a complex math problem, I wouldn’t be shocked if the man on the street finished first. And if he didn’t, if he had no idea how to approach the problem, I wouldn’t think that that made him any less intelligent than the person who did.

This particular person finds my “anti-exceptionalist” views amusing because for most of my life, I have usually been listed alongside some superlative and I now attend an “Ivy League” school that is ranked in U.S. News and World Report. However, it’s because of the weight that society (a society in which I’ll have to live and work) puts on labels like these, not the weight that I put on them, that I choose to be affiliated with them at all. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t make me any less of the person I am. Just because those labels might apply to me doesn’t mean I subscribe to them. Actually, I refuse to subscribe to them.

None of the attributes I possess and none of the things I have accomplished make me exceptional. They might make me the grateful recipient of an opportunity that hasn’t been afforded to some other people, but they do not make me different from, or more importantly, superior to those people. And the day I start to act or believe that they do is the day that I need to pack it all in and take the first thing smoking back to Brooklyn.

I’m not ashamed of what I’m doing or have done. I’m not saying that I’m not intelligent, or capable, or talented, but I am saying that that intelligence, or capability, or talent is not a rare breed of something that only I (or a select few) possess. I believe that all people are stars, but that many people haven’t been granted the opportunity to find their light. Some, unfortunately, never will be. I know that everything I’ve done has been because I stand on the shoulders of people who have made it possible.

I also know that I haven’t done anything magical. I’ve only done what I was supposed to do. I don’t deserve a cookie for that and I don’t think most people do either. I can acknowledge and even celebrate my achievements without comparing them to the achievements of others or without putting the achievements of others down.

If you’ve ever read this blog, you know that I’m in a period of transition. I finally bought a school sweatshirt a few weeks ago. The first time I wore it I found myself having a weird psychosocial/physical reaction (don’t ask me what that is, I just made it up) to the set of letters across my chest. I felt that it wasn’t me.

And it’s not the school, it’s what I sometimes worry that others may feel that it represents. It’s what I sometimes feel it may represent: status, privilege, entitlement, exceptionalism. They’re things that make other people proud but that repulse me. And it’s not that everyone (or even most people) have specifically put off that vibe, but it’s the belief and expectation of some that that’s what those letters mean.

I understand that most of the time when people claim exceptionalism it is a defense mechanism used to downplay the threat they feel from others who they fear might share and thus contradict their “exceptional-ness.” Although they may not see it that way, when politicians talk about “American exceptionalism” it is usually in the context of putting down the views, accomplishments, or nationalistic pride of some other nation. Yet greatness recognizes and appreciates greatness in others.

And today I had a moment. As much as I hate to acknowledge or admit when I’m upset–particularly to people outside of a very core group of friends of mine–I understand the value of sometimes letting myself feel whatever it is I’m feeling.

The moment reminded me that I don’t ever want to drink the Kool-Aid. I don’t ever want to think of myself as better than another person for any reason whatsoever. I don’t ever want to devalue or underestimate another person’s worth because I know what that feels like and that’s not what I’m about.

I want to be able to grow and progress mentally, socially, professionally, and emotionally without growing full of myself in the process, and I pray for the continued strength and guidance to do so.

Standard
Mutations (Reflections on Life)
English: Looking northeast across Boerum Place...

Looking northeast across Boerum Place and Schermerhorne Street at MTA New York City Transit Authority HQ on a cloudy afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3: 36.

In days it would be 29 short of a year.

24 degrees short of a circle.

But this was time. Not the soft, grainy, contemplative kind of time that meanders through an overturned hourglass or even that stiff New York time that’s stingy with its minutes and snaps at you like a rude customer. It was more like that crowded Saturday salon time that acts like the wait is just the price you have to pay to be beautiful. 3:36 was my Access-a-Ride pick-up time.

Access-a-Ride is a little blue and white van operated by a branch of New York City Transit Authority that transports the elderly and disabled to appointments around the city for the same price that it would cost a regular patron of public transportation to hop the bus or subway. Customers call in to schedule a ride to their appointments and destinations. In the process, we answer a survey of questions: pick-up address, destination address, appointment or pick-up time, cross streets, traveling with a companion, traveling with equipment, phone number, alternate phone number, etc.

I had never been to this location before, so I made sure to tell the operator that the entrance was on a different street. Too bad those instructions didn’t make much of a difference when I realized I had been dropped off at the wrong spot.

“3:36 p.m. is your return time,” the operator had said. “Please be outside at your scheduled pick-up time and allow the driver 30 minutes for delay.”

Although I will admit that it has improved a great deal since I started riding it as a preteen about 11 years ago, Access-a-Ride has never been known for its reliability. After being chronically late to many appointments due to late pick ups and trips across the city to drop off other passengers who sometimes lived in the opposite direction, I learned to tell them that I had to be at my destination at least a half an hour before I actually needed to be there. Some summers that meant I got to my jobs or internships extra early, but at least I wasn’t extra late.

In my teens, I hated it. I hated the assumption that disabled people had no lives and nowhere to be and should just be grateful to have some form of transportation. Even more than having to wait outside for it–did I mention outside?– I came to hate not ever being able to be spontaneous. I hated having to schedule my life around possible pick up times.

Doctors’ appointments don’t always end at 12:54. Sometimes there would be an impromptu event after school that I wished I could stick around for. I didn’t always know how long I was going to want to stay at someone’s house when I visited them, but if I was taking Access-a-Ride I had to come up with some sort of estimate. Most of the time I ended up being there either way past the time I wanted to leave or long before I wanted to do so, when I found myself having fun.

I went to high school in the City and I was often left standing outside waiting for my ride long after my scheduled pick up time and after friends and teachers alike had bid me farewell for the evening.

They would always give me a look mixed with guilt and pity before they left. “We hope it comes soon,” they would say.

“Thanks. Me too.”

I hated the sinking feeling that there was nothing I could do but wait.

On this last trip, I was being a law student. I had a job interview. During the interview, I was asked why I was interested in prisoner’s rights. I know I said some variation of it, but I wanted to say this: “Because I want to root for the underdog. I want to help those that society often throws scraps and bones or neglects. I know what it is to feel trapped in one aspect of your identity battling society’s limited expectations of you, to have to prove that you are worthy of human decency and respect and that your life is just as valuable as anyone else’s is.”

“3:36?” the security guard asked after I had finished with my interview and had been waiting in the lobby of the building for my ride because I had at least 15 minutes until my actual pick-up time. “So precise.”

And they were serious about their pick up times. It was printed on the pink carbon copy receipt I had from my drop off trip in military time, 15:36.

“Please be outside at your scheduled pick up time and allow the driver 30 minutes for delay.” Did I mention they want you to be outside? The elderly and disabled. Rain or shine. Sick or fine. January or July. And this was January.

There was heavy construction going on outside on the street of the building where I had had my interview.There were orange cones everywhere and men in hard hats and trucks and loud drilling sounds, as I prepared to step outside to meet my ride.

“Don’t go out there,” the security guard had said. “I’ll look out for you.”

“No, but they’ll leave you if you’re not outside,” I explained.

Did I mention that?

“Please be outside at your scheduled pick up time and allow your driver 30 minutes for delay.” Translation: Don’t mess around and come outside at 3:37. If we don’t see you, we’re gone, but be prepared to wait 30 minutes before you complain if you don’t see us.

I listened to the security guard and avoided the chaos of the construction site. I sat down on a bench next to the door and looked out for my ride, getting up every two minutes to check. The guard did too, periodically going to check the street corners.

In an effort to avoid the confusion that resulted since I had been dropped off at the wrong location, even though “the trip slip” (as they call it) had listed the right one, I called about 15 minutes after my supposed pick up time to clarify.

“Are you the 3:36 no-show?” the operator asked, with an unsurprising air of snark.

“What do you mean no-show?” I asked. “I’ve been sitting right here at the door since before my pick up time, for about a half hour.”

“Your driver left you,” she informed me with no change in inflection.

“What do you mean he left?” I asked. “When was he here?” “I’ve been here watching and had other people watching too. I didn’t see anything come and I didn’t get a phone call saying that they couldn’t find me.”

“They have your number, but they’re not required to use it,” in her not-my-problem voice.

“Then what’s the point of having it then?”

“You just said on a recorded line that you yourself were not outside.That you had people looking out.”

“I had people looking out because they didn’t want me outside in the middle of a construction scene on crutches.”

“I’m disabled, you know?” “You do know that this a service for the elderly and disabled?!” I wanted to yell at her, but I didn’t.

“You weren’t outside.”

I called back a few minutes later to attempt to work out a way to get back home. Stranded in Manhattan and dealing with the nonchalant attitudes of the operators, I was not in a happy mood. My tone wasn’t chipper enough for the operator, and she refused to help me unless I changed it.

But I didn’t know how to sound happier. I didn’t know how to calmly explain to her how tired I was of having things like this happen in 11 years of using the service, how I hated being treated like my life didn’t matter, how pretty much everything I did in life was an effort to prove how valuable my life actually is and why I shouldn’t be cast aside and underestimated.

I didn’t know how to calmly tell her how offensive it was to be told how to feel, especially when I knew in all likelihood that I was being lied to and that the driver had probably never shown up or hadn’t shown up at the right location. I didn’t know how to calmly tell her that people like her and situations like this were why I had been trying for years to squeeze in time during summer vacations and breaks from school to get my New York driver’s license and a car with hand controls. I didn’t know how to calmly tell her that standing on a soapbox all the time is exhausting, that I shouldn’t have to and didn’t want to constantly have to fight people, that I just wanted to be a 22-year-old young woman and at that moment she wasn’t helping me accomplish that.

I didn’t know how to calmly tell her that after everything that I’ve done to be independent and treated with respect and human decency, I felt like she was setting me back years when she was supposed to be helping me. I didn’t know how to calmly tell her that I wasn’t stupid and that I didn’t appreciate being condescended towards like a destitute child who should just be grateful for a broken, used toy. I didn’t know how to calmly tell her how ridiculous I thought it was to be required to give them– not one–but two phone numbers by which to reach me, only to be told that they were not required to use them. I didn’t know how to calmly express my deep-seated disappointment and frustration that my hometown doesn’t have a completely handicap accessible subway system that would allow me to travel freely and independently with dignity.

The truth is that the great city that never sleeps has actually been sleeping on so many people for so long, and sometimes I get tired of hoping that it will wake up. Please sign and share this petition to improve the Access-A-Ride service in New York City for the elderly and disabled in NYC.

Access-A-Ride? More Like Access Denied: Travel and Frustration for the Differently Abled in NYC

Aside
The Muse (Art & Culture)

Make Way for the Good Girls: A Review of the Mixtape Nehanda: The Best Part

nehandaA few months ago, I raved about my love for R&B songstress Elle Varner’s debut album Perfectly Imperfect. Even more than Varner’s unique voice, I loved her lyricism and how much I felt the songs on her album related to me as a young woman. Well, recently, my college friend Akilah shared the link for her new mixtape, Nehanda: The Best Part on my Facebook wall, and I got that feeling all over again. The music was positive, motivational, relatable, and for lack of a better term–poppin!– all at the same time. I loved the mixtape so much that I decided to do my part to get the word out. Check out our discussion about her creative journey, the music industry, and the return of the good girls…

Q: First, introduce yourself to the people.

A: I am Akilah Muhammad. I’m from Houston, Texas. I’m fairly new to the music world, but I have a performance background because I went to a performing arts middle school and high school. I go by my middle name, Nehanda, as my artist name because not only do I feel that Nehanda is a unique name that no one else has as an artist, but it also has three meanings that I think all describe me well. The first meaning is “solid,” like a rock. The second meaning is “recurring revolutionary spirit,” and the third meaning is “the beautiful one has arrived.”

On her approach to her music: My goal is to be one of the tools of a paradigm shift in music. God has put me on this earth to help jump-start something new. I have an obligation to use my artistic background to show young girls that you can be a positive figure in the world, instead of what’s being promoted–the promiscuous, bad chick, bad traits of women that are being glorified.
I named the mixtape “Nehanda: The Best Part” because I’m gonna give you the best part of me. I’m gonna show you the best part in me, and I’m gonna see the best part of you. I’m striving to be the best part of music, the best part of the music industry, the best part of the black woman, etc.

That goal is evident throughout the mixtape which includes songs like “Keep Her Sacred,” a tribute to the women who respect themselves and the men who respect them in return, featuring RG and Michael X, and “Good Girls,” which says, “We good girls always stay the cleanest. Don’t like drama, we just rise above it…” In order to accomplish her goal of making music that is poppin yet positive, Nehanda–who wrote all of the songs on the mixtape–uses popular beats that the average listener would dance to at a party or hear on the radio, but changes the lyrics to those that uplift and inspire listeners rather than denigrate or disillusion them.

Q: So, it’s sort of like what Kirk Franklin did for gospel music, right? Make it rhythmically relevant and appealing but let the music serve a higher purpose at the same time?

A: Exactly. What artists have to do is look at what the problem is. The beats are what get our attention. Change the toxic part and make it positive. It’s a very easy solution to a long problem.

Q: What about the argument that artists simply give the public what they want to hear? Do you think the general public would go for keeping the beats but making the lyrics positive?

A: I think the public would go for it, but what artist would have the courage to stand? That excuse is a means to cover up the cowardice. Michael Jackson and Prince were trendsetters. Being an artist is about more than just giving the people what they want. It’s about having the strength and the foundation to give them something better. If the people are telling you what to do, then you are not an artist. Period.

Q: You are a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI). The mixtape features excerpts from the Minister Farrakhan. The NOI and Minister Farrakhan often generate strong responses and certain perceptions from people. How do you navigate that, and what role does your faith play in your mixtape and in your artistry?

A: I had to include my faith in the album because it is how I conduct my life, and it will always play a role in my message and in my delivery. At the same time, I have to tailor my message to the general public, and it is not so much about religion as it is about giving people something to uplift their minds and their consciousness.

On the people who will be reluctant to accept that, regardless: That’s where the artistry comes in. It doesn’t matter. I have to be myself regardless of all of these outside opinions.

Q: What is it going to take for good girls to make a comeback in popular culture?

A: It’s going to take a whole culture-shift to start bringing it back to the self-respect era of the 90s with the Queen Latifahs and the MC Lytes. There would have to be a campaign that shows young girls that it is good to be good–not just in music, but in fashion, TV shows. There would have to be male rappers who start to uplift women. We have to get together and unite as artists and build on that. Once you unite and build with each other, that’s when your movement becomes a movement.

Me: So basically we need U-N-I-T-Y? *Queen Latifah voice*

Nehanda: Yes!

Nehanda says that her goal for right now is just to get the mixtape out to as many people as possible. She hopes to perform in a few places and eventually record an album. Ultimately, she would like to be an independent artist so that she can control her image and message.

In all earnestness, I urge everyone to support this project. I am blessed to have lots of incredibly talented friends with lots of projects, and I don’t advertise all of them like this. I truly believe that this is great music that we all need and can benefit from.

So please download the FREE mixtape at http://nehanda.bandcamp.com/ and spread the word!

Standard