There were three things I needed constantly while writing How to Fix a Broken Record: a box of tissue, chocolate and soulful music. Yes I cried and wrote and ate donuts and wrote and devoured chocolate bars and wrote while Solange, India.Arie, Erykah Badu, Eric Roberson, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, and Bill Withers provided the groove.
Last summer on a partnership trip to Rwanda with IF Gathering and Africa New Life, I found myself standing in front of a room full of brilliant, teenage young women who were attending one of Africa New Life’s boarding schools.
I shared poetry with them and told them stories about my mom and sister. One of the students asked me which country in Africa I was from. I explained to her that I, like many black people in America, didn’t know my ancestral African country of origin; that during the Atlantic slave trade no records were kept about the countries, tribes or villages from which slaves were taken. She nodded and said, “You are Rwandan.”
I smiled and felt healing in my soul at the way she welcomed me home to a continent I wanted to know so badly, for myself and for my ancestors.
They asked questions about history, self-esteem, dating, entrepreneurship and womanhood. We talked about hair, body shaming, and loving ourselves. We hugged each other and chatted until the sun went down. There wasn’t enough time for the conversations we needed to have, for sharing the commonality in our curves, curls and skin and the differences in our journeys in Rwanda and in America.
As I spent time with these young women and the women in Africa New Life’s vocational programs for sewing and cosmetology, as I met the many Rwandan women who are on staff with Africa New Life, I knew I had so much to learn from them and so much I hoped we could share. I wanted to come back to Rwanda and bring more black women from America with me.
This summer July 14-24, I am returning to Rwanda with a team of brilliant black women leaders who are poets, preachers, writers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and engineers. We are calling our trip Woman to Woman Rwanda and we will return to the boarding school to connect and share with the young women there. We will facilitate workshops on entrepreneurship, experience the Kigali Genocide memorial, and participate in a reconciliation learning exchange with women and leaders there.
Ours is the first trip of its kind with Africa New Life and we hope it is the first of many trips with Africa New Life where black women from America can connect and serve with Rwandan women.
Here's How You Can Help
1. Give to our trip! When women are educated, empowered, and encouraged our communities grow and change for the better. Each dollar you give is supporting the betterment of communities in Rwanda and the betterment of communities right here at home.
2. Pray for our trip! Pray for safe travels, communal connections and an impactful learning exchange. Pray for our team as well as the Africa New Life program participants and staff.
3. Share about our trip! Share this blog post with your community and network for other people who may want to give or support.
More updates to come as we embark on our road to Rwanda!
Lesson #2: Stay Connected to Artists Who Are Better Than You
I’ve called Atlanta home since 1998 when I moved here to attend Spelman College. One of the reasons I haven’t moved is because of the thriving arts scene here. On any given night there is spoken word, soul music, singer/songwriter open mics, art gallery openings, dance and theater performances going on here.
For 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of performing at churches, conferences, festivals, colleges, and tours, and sometimes I would leave these events with the applause and requests to sign CDs still ringing in my ears. Then I’d go to Urban Grind or Java Monkey for an open mic and hear so many other amazing poets (too many to even name here!) whose work challenged me to better my craft that I’d remember I still have a lot of room for improvement. It’s a blessing to be able to what I do full-time, but I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it wasn’t for fumbling through new pieces at my local open mic, for hearing the amazing stories and unique angles my fellow poets have to share.
Hearing other dope poets keeps me humble, keeps me writing, teaches me to give credit where credit is due. All of us as artists need a regular dose of that.
Lesson #3 - Full-Time Artist = Entreprenuer
I grew up in the 1990s, an era when having amazing talent meant a huge record deal with a big advance plus inheriting a team of people who could manage you, PR you, A&R you, produce you, write you, and style you. This trend made many of us believe that all we needed to do was have amazing talent and somehow a big record label exec would be waiting for us by the stage when we finished, ready to pay us millions of dollars just to be awesome.
By the time I graduated college, the iPod had replaced the CD player and record labels were scrambling to keep up with how fast technology was changing. I realized the dream I’d watched happen to so many artists, wasn’t going to happen for me.
The days of expecting some entity to come in and do everything for you so all you have to do is sit in your room and create are long gone. I learned that being a full-time artist meant I had to also begin to think like a businesswoman. I had to think about how I wanted to create my brand, who I am, what I feel called to do, then I could start assembling a team of people to help make my business a success.
To Do List
1. Find a place to connect with your local artist community: open mic, gallery openings, dance and music performances.
2. Connect with artists whose work challenges you in your craft.
3. Read Michael Gerber’s book Awakening the Entrepreneur. This book helped me to begin to think more like a businesswoman.
4. Ask yourself, what is a first step you can accomplish with the current resources and relationships you have. If you want to be a writer, maybe you can start a blog. If you want to be a performance poet, perform your work at an open mic or a poetry slam. If you need a mentor, look around in your community for someone who can give you great advice. If you want to work in film or television, maybe you can utilize YouTube, Vimeo and podcasting to try out some of your ideas.
Next up: Lesson #4 Set Aside Time to Create for Fun and Because You Love It
This January marked seven years I’ve been a full-time artist…without going broke. It’s been nine years if you count the first year and a half that I nearly lost everything including my car, apartment, dignity and sanity.
To have made it seven years as a full-time artist with car, shelter, dignity, and most of my sanity in tact is a blessing I hope to never take for granted. To commemorate my seven-year anniversary as a poetpreneur, I will be doing a blog series of a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here’s the first one…
In the Behind the Poetry series, I am giving a behind the scenes view of how I take poetry from page to stage while interviewing some influential people and visiting some landmark places along the way. Subscribe and tune in!