by Qubilah Huddleston
We contemplate suicide, too.
The news of her death hit me like a ton of bricks. At first, I didn’t know what to say or feel. All I could do was think about the thoughts running through her head when she made the final decision to end her life.
Karyn Washington, founder and creator of For Brown Girls – an online community space dedicated to dark skin girls and committed to the promotion of self-love — died recently at the young age of 22 from an apparent suicide. Her death is both shocking and devastating to those who knew her personally and those who knew her because of her presence in the black blogosphere. What makes Washington’s death so shocking is that many viewed her as a positive, cheery, and most importantly strong black woman. In a society that continuously values European standards of beauty, For Brown Girls represents the voices of black and brown girls with darker skin complexions who are told everyday by family members, friends, and the media that they aren’t pretty. If they are pretty, they are “pretty for a dark skin girl.” Through FBG, Washington helped thousands of girls and women overcome their insecurities and find value in their God-given beauty.
Washington’s death reminds me of a conversation I had with my mother a few months ago. “You know what I dislike most about black families?” I asked her. “It’s the fact that we don’t really deal with our issues. Someone is always telling us to pray about it. Telling us that God will take care of it. But you know what, sometimes prayer and God aren’t enough! We have real issues that we are suffering from, and we need to do more than pray and talk to God about them.”
Because of Karyn, I stand behind these words. I don’t doubt that someone told her to pray, read her Bible and go to church. While these things may help (temporarily), they don’t address the issues that sit deep within our spirits. We need ways to talk about what we’ve been through. We need to figure out how to talk to the people who have hurt us the most; the people whose actions may be the primary source of our pain and sorrow. But most importantly, we need ways to change the way our community views the inability to effectively cope. Being unable to mentally and emotionally deal with all the things we’ve experienced isn’t a sign of weakness. It doesn’t make us any less strong than we already are. Instead, it makes us simply human.
When I was 11 years old, I lost my father to suicide. Twelve years later, I am not so sure that I have comprehended nor coped with his untimely death. It does not help that the conversation around mental health issues in the black community is often avoided or dismissed. Right after my dad took his own life, I remember being teased. I remember other black kids teasing me by saying, “that’s why your dad killed himself,” or “your dad was crazy”. Thinking about these comments hurts not only because they were damaging, but because they revealed the lack of understanding mental health issues within the black community.
Black girls are constantly told that they have to be strong. Not for themselves, but for those around them. Unfortunately, many of these black girls grow up into black women who sacrifice their mental health in order to be the backbone and rock of their families. There are black women who carry the emotional burdens of their families, but neglect their own. This can be extremely difficult and lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. This can lead to a suicide realized.
The reactions to Karyn’s apparent suicide have been on both sides of the spectrum. While many of her supporters have expressed empathy and devastation over the loss, there are those who find her death an act of selfishness and can’t seem to understand why a young woman — who appeared to be strong — would take her own life. The reality surrounding Washington’s unexpected suicide is this – black girls and women are suffering. No matter how strong we appear to be. No matter how many obstacles we overcome. We have struggles too. We cry real tears. We feel real depression.
Now that I’ve begun to process my dad’s suicide a little more, I don’t see his decision as necessarily selfish. While I may find myself angry and confused as to why he did what he did, I understand him. I understand the pain and darkness he must have felt in his last hours. I miss him, but if he was truly unhappy and saw no light at the end of his tunnel, how could I possibly ask him to keep living a life unfulfilled?
Karyn Washington’s death scares me. It scares me because I know so many black girls and women like her. I’m one of them. I have friends who are just like her. Trying to be that strong black woman our community expects us to be. Seeing our inability to solve our problems through prayer, Bible verses, and our pastor as a sign of weakness, not strength.
We, the black community, have to do a better job of talking about our problems. We have to change the stigma surrounding mental stress, anxiety, and depression. Even more, we black women have to continue to support each other. We have to let each other know that it’s okay to feel what we feel. It’s okay to want other ways to deal with our mental health besides prayer and bible study.
It’s okay to be human.
*this post was originally posted by Qubilah Huddleston at theeblackcorner.wordpress.com
We live in a capitalist society, for most of us, it is all we have ever known. As a result, the saying, money makes the world go round becomes terrifyingly accurate as we leave childhood behind and enter into adulthood. It’s no secret that most of us twenty somethings have graduated into one of the worst economies the country has ever seen, and I have frequent conversations with other creatives about how difficult it is to see others, by others I mean those who have chosen more traditional paths of occupation, transition into adulthood, by having kids, buying houses and cars, as we live paycheck to paycheck trying to get our next film made or buying brushes for a painting we hope we can sell, you get the gist. I swear this won’t be another “woe is me” millenial article. However, I just read an article on Salon.com called Too Poor For Pop Culture (see below for the link), which I think everyone should read. It follows a man, a young adjunct professor, with three degrees, and his friends, all poor, some who have struggled with addiction, or the prison industrial complex, on a regular night of card playing. Its not so much what happens during the course of the night that gets you, its the backstories of these people that is truly eye opening.
It seems that the system has closed its doors, or perhaps the door was never opened in the first place. If you need any further proof that the system is fucked, I direct you to that article. It’s also telling how far removed they are from pop culture, I won’t ruin it for you, but in a world where people are struggling to survive, the everyday catchphrases society has grown to love/hate are meaningless. I’m a young woman who grew up with a very large safety net. Albeit I do complain, I know I can go off and chase my dreams (as I am currently doing) because I have family to fall back on. I am lucky and I am grateful. And after reading this article I, like many in my generation are reminded that often times an education and good intentions can not save you. As my man Capital Steez would say,
This is America. Not a miracle.
What will happen when the masses get tired of eating cake? I don’t know if we will ever see the day. After all this is the U.S. of A., and we have a penchant for sweets.
With love and light,
” And I quote: we came like them niggas in boats
Still think it’s a joke? Your third eye vision is broke
We lifted from smoke and floatin’, that’s how I got my aura open
Check the horoscopes, though – you could say I’m horror scopin’
You catch me floatin’ on a four leaf clover
That’s the pot of gold, so we sonnin’ ‘em like Maury Povich
We gon’ need paternity tests, I guess
‘Cause them vets ain’t learnin’ it’s step-by step
It’s Beast Coast, we the murderous set
We rain and fired, and I don’t mean the burners and teks
You gotta love it… all 47 of us
You ain’t got a number then I guess we gotta get you covered
I’m connectin’ to my brethren with the Westside Connection
‘cause he say he got the best in
We got the birds like 2-4-7, so I’mma hit you back in a second
‘Cause we already lifted ” – Capital Steez
Where do I begin? This past weekend a friend of mine, posted a status on the book of faces, about Capital Steez’s suicide last year. I heard about it through the web, but I knew nothing about Pro Era, and hadn’t really listened to their music. But for some reason, I decided to take a venture. To say I am surprised, inspired, and lifted is an understatement. I have never heard an artist make music about astral projection,s auras, chakras, and the third eye. If you don’t know what these terms mean, I suggest you google, and gain some self awareness. It’s a beautiful thing. The Pro Era crew, which includes the now deceased Capital Steez ( Jamal Dewar), are teens, young men, born in the early to mid 90s, rapping about concepts that go above the heads of most adults. In a society, and music industry that is saturated with sex, materialism, and more sex, they are not a breath of fresh air, they are a long awaited gasp of oxygen, after you’ve been submerged underwater for a decade. I am not simply tooting their horns. These young men are beyond talented, and enlightened beings, far ahead of their time. I read an article about them, that stated that they used to meditate in Prospect Park, as a group! I fell in love after that, and have been downloading and listening to their music ever since.
I became an even bigger fan after I watched the video for Capital Steez’s song 135. Capital Steez – 135 The song is a mix of an ode, lamentation, and flattery to a girl Capital Steez has been pursuing for quite some time. When you watch the video you see a hint of happiness, sadness, wisdom, love, and hopefulness in the eyes of Steez. I felt him. I don’t know how to explain it. I felt his spirit. And I cried. The only artist I ever cried over was Amy Winehouse, she helped me get through many a break up. But with this kid, it was something about his steelo that spoke to me. Ironically, it’s a name he was also referred to. I won’t go into detail about why he killed himself, the meaning of 47, and his beliefs. But I will say we lost a talented young man, whose intelligence and self awareness might have been too much for him to handle. I don’t know. One can only speculate. He was a great one, I hear it when I listen to his music, I see it when I watch his interviews. His eyes were not only beautiful but very telling, and intense. Just watch some of his videos.
When I first heard of Joey Badass and Pro Era a couple years ago, I dismissed them with the quickness, as another Hip Hop group, addicted to materialism, spouting bitch this and hoe that. Mind you, I had never listened to their music. I was just having a very internal war with Hip Hop at the time, and its degradation and blatant colorism towards women. I did myself a great disservice by judging a book by its cover, and not giving these young man a chance on my Itunes playlist. If I hadn’t been so quick to dismiss, I might have been able to catch Steez live, maybe even shake his hand. I truly hope he found whatever it was he was looking for. And a part of me thinks that he did. #93tillinfinity #resteasycapsteezy #longlivesteelo #beastcoast #proera
With love and infinite light,
Believe in your fucking self.
Stay up all fucking night.
Work outside your fucking habits.
Know when to fucking speak up.
Don’t fucking procrastinate.
Get over your fucking self.
Keep fucking learning.
Form follows fucking function.
A computer is a Lite-Brite for bad ideas.
Find fucking inspiration everywhere.
Educate your fucking client.
Trust your fucking gut.
Ask for fucking help.
Make it fucking sustainable.
Question fucking everything.
Have a fucking concept.
Learn to take some fucking criticism.
Make me fucking care.
Use fucking spell check.
Do your fucking research.
Sketch more fucking ideas.
The problem contains the fucking solution.
Think about all the fucking possibilities.
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.” – Sophie Scholl
Growing up I was known as a troublemaker. A child who could not be tamed, the little girl with questions and a penchant for doing things my own way. As selfish and uninhibited as I was, I always had an eye for injustice. I’ve never liked it, and have kind of made it my life’s work to speak out on it through my art. It’s a lonesome road, and ignorance truly is bliss. But we all have our crosses to bear. A couple of years ago, I watched a film on Sophie Scholl on Netflix. I had never heard of this young woman, but the synopsis sounded interesting, so I gave it a try. Needless to say after viewing the film, I was not only a fan of this woman’s certain eloquence, even while facing the guillotine, and imminent death, but by her willingness to sacrifice her freedom and ultimately her life to the causes she so believed in. I won’t ruin the movie for you. To put it simply, Sophie was the shit, and I’m surprised I never learned about her anywhere in academia. On second thought…I’m not surprised by this fact. During a time when everyone in sight was overcome with Nazi fever, Sophie and her comrades, one of which included her brother, spoke out against the Nazi party, quite vehemently, through anti war leaflets. At the age of 21, she found the strength to do what many men thrice her age could not. You won’t hear about her on the news, there are no days that I know of that commemorate her great acts of selflessness. But by writing this piece, I hope Sophie ignites a little troublemaker in you, as she has done in me.
With love and infinite light,
It’s days like this, that I miss you.
A Texas Girl At Heart
Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss. – Banksy
My first introduction to graffiti came rather late in life. I was in art school in Philadelphia, barely 19, and just beginning to submerge myself in the visual art scene that the city had to offer. From the gallery openings, to first fridays, to screenings and dance performances, I was happily immersing myself in it all. While shooting a short documentary on Yis Goodwin, known in the graffiti world as NoseGo, I was invited to one of his gallery openings. During the course of the afternoon, I met kids and adults, mostly graffiti artists aka writers who had dedicated their lives to the art and culture that is graffiti, a world I knew absolutely nothing about. But that day, a remarkably sunny one for the middle of fall, I was schooled on what exactly this culture was about. And I left the show that day, not only with a couple of numbers in my pocket (LOL), but also with the belief that there is something inherently therapeutic about being able to leave your moniker for the world to see. There’s something about being remembered. Being able to live on through something you created that is healing. At least that was what was expressed to me that day.
I never got to visit 5 Pointz. But I empathized greatly with the artists who were protesting and rallying against it’s destruction. Recently, in the middle of the night, 5 Pointz was painted stark white, in preparation of its demolition, in an attempt to make way for a new high rise apartment complex. As if the city needs any more, but that’s a story for a different day. Many believe the building owners Jerry and David Wolkoff have every right to do what they want with the building they own. However, I think the end of 5 Pointz speaks to a troubling trend for artists everywhere, especially those of us living in NYC. With each passing year, NYC becomes increasingly expensive, forcing artists to move to friendlier and more financially feasible waters. It’s as if NYC is no longer an artist friendly city. Artists are the fabric of this city. We make it what it is. Why do you think everyone is following us into Brooklyn? To put it simply, we are what’s happening. The fact that this historic landmark is being demolished, in order to build more apartment complexes astounds me. Might be a smart move financially for the Wolkoffs, but for the overall culture of NYC, not so much.
With all that said, as I look at the pictures posted here of what 5 Pointz has become. I can’t help but quote Min One, from one of my favorite films Style Wars:
That’s some never forgive action!
It might be an end of an era for many. But if 5 Pointz teaches us anything, let it teach us to never be afraid. To scale the highest building, arrogantly spray our name onto it for all the world to see, and to smile proudly as we pass by it on the 7 train. Because in the end when it’s all send and done, the building will crumble, or someone might paint it white in the dead of night, erasing our name forever. But the act of doing is all that matters. They can keep the rest.
With Love and Infinite Light,