August 21, 2017: A Day for Fun

Typically, I don’t get into the way that Americans tend to commercialize every damn thing, like the August 21, 2017, #solareclipse. However, I spent most of the day with children who witnessed the solar eclipse for the very first time. The excitement in their eyes and voices was naturally playful.

The fact that they could witness the solar eclipse freely, as a random, natural, and perhaps we could say a #scientific event, yet as something that we too (as human beings) can claim to be a part of – universally – minus any talk of any gods or visions or end times, was very meaningful to me.

It was just plain, old, simple, childish, fun!

And today, fun, is something that we all can use for our own personal good.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D. 

There is No Such Thing as Emotional Abuse, Right?

Once, I knew a man who threw me out of his house when I said to him that there is such a thing known as emotional abuse.

In response to my assertion he turned and yelled at me, “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EMOTIONAL ABUSE.” And then, from out of what seemed like nowhere, in a fit of rage, in an effort to reject the truth of what I had said, he told me to pack my things and leave.

The next day, he texted me and told me that he was sorry and that he loved me.

And it was in that experience that I learned, first-hand, that emotional abuse really does exist. And so did he.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

What Your Questions Have to Say About You

Every now and then I am asked, by men, if other men are intimidated by me (usually because of my educational background).

That question always let’s me know what a man thinks of himself and his intelligence (and the intelligence of other men for that matter).

It is a question that has more to say about the one asking it (and his self-esteem) than it does about me.

If a man is afraid or ambivalent about being with me because of my education then he probably does not feel comfortable (or worthy) with any woman who has more education than he for any reason.

If you are intimidated with a woman who is smarter than you, then stay with what you know. Don’t try to be with women that you have no intentions of trying to understand and respect. If you are uncomfortable around smart, educated women, well, er, then those women are not the ones for you. Stay in your lane. Be with the ones with whom you feel most comfortable. Choose partners that you feel equal to in intellect, abilities and experiences. 

Funny how sometimes the questions we ask reveal what we really believe about ourselves, and others. And, what we believe about ourselves, deep-down, is what will inform our most lasting and significant choices in life.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

The Womanist Way of Loving the Self

Womanist as defined by Alice Walker:

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, 1983: Harcourt, Brace & Howe.

Womanist

1. From womanish. (Opp. Of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “You acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown-up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge.  Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non sexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally, universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?”  :”Well, you know colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.”  Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.

3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon.  Loves the Spirit.  Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle.  Loves the Folk.  Loves herself.  Regardless.

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Several years ago, I resigned from a tenure-track job at my alma mater, Clark Atlanta University. It was a very difficult but important decision and I wasn’t sure how I would make it, especially financially. Needless to say, I survived, and in hindsight I truly believe that I made the right decision, for me.

Being true to yourself is never an easy task. Today, I am very grateful for the ones who were there for me and who cheered me on when I made the hard decisions. Their open mindedness, positivity, and sometimes their overwhelming support brightened my days and gave me hope. On the other hand, it was my critics and even my “haters” who lit a fire under me; and thus, they were the ones who have enabled me to know what it is to live my life, my way.

The truth is: I could not have made it to where I am today, be the woman I am today, without both groups of people in my life. Those who loved me and supported me taught me how to have compassion and patience with myself; and, those who questioned, criticized, and some who eventually left or abandoned me (including one wanna-be pimp) taught me how to love myself regardless of what others might think, say or do. Because of them, all of them, I am learning what it means to love myself the womanist way: regardless.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Rebuilding Black Communities, With Love

Recently, I was listening to an audio-taped interview with Ollie Gates, who is the owner of Gates Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. Mr. Gates is now 80+ years old, and he is the son of George and Arzelia Gates. Because of the efforts of George Gates, Gates Barbecue was officially established in 1946 in Kansas City, Missouri, and Ollie Gates is now an icon with a reputation that is much, much bigger than barbecue.

That interview, which I did not conduct, happened behind closed doors in February of 2017, and I actually had the chance to hear it in person. Mr. Gates was asked if his early cultural expressions of his childhood affected his life choices. In response to that question, he said yes; he also said out-loud that because of his environment [which was a mid-twentieth century urban ghetto designed as a segregated space for blacks in Kansas City] he was not “supposed to be a nice guy.” According to Mr. Gates, “…because of all the ugliness [in my community], I was going to be the biggest thug in all the world.” Obviously, he didn’t become a thug. As he continued to reflect upon his upbringing, both spatially and socially, he went on to say that he had to decide what kind of life he was going to make for himself, in spite of the early economic and spatial challenges for which he had no control. Today, Ollie Gates is the owner of six different restaurant locations; his barbecue and sauce and his reputation are celebrated worldwide; and he has now sustained six decades of entrepreneurial success of reinvesting his labor and wealth into the area that was once intended to keep black people “in their place.”

How did he do it? How did he come from a urban black ghetto and manage to become a successful business man and such a celebrated entrepreneur? Well, one thing that I learned as I listened to Mr. Gates talk about his connection to the historic 18th & Vine District in Kansas City, is that he never despised the fact that he is black, phenotypically and culturally. Deep down he embraces his heritage as a black man and he embraces the history of the space from which he came to inform his knowledge of self and business. As I listened, I found his attitudes and the love that he has for black culture very empowering and enlightening. As a womanist, who is dedicated to the progress and transformation of black people and black culture, I was inspired. To hear Mr. Gates encourage the redevelopment of 18th & Vine from a place of pride, authenticity and with a genuine love of being black in a world that despises blackness at every turn, I was deeply moved.

In the course of my travels nationwide and beyond, I have heard many talk about rebuilding black communities. As an urban planning professional and writer, I have read many books and articles about the redevelopment of black communities. I have also been in many rooms where I have heard from community leaders, developers, and politicians talk about how to revitalize former ghettos and declining areas. There, we have examined redevelopment in terms of bricks and mortar, and thus we have explored many scenarios for the rebuilding of former black communities, neighborhoods and businesses. We’ve talked about about landscaping, commercial and residential designs; we’ve explored the many ways in which space can be re-imagined or redesigned, brick by brick and block by block. However, many of the dialogues that I have been a part of do not consider the redesign of space and place in social and personal terms.

What I found compelling about Mr. Gates’s reflections on the historic Kansas City 18th & Vine area, was that he is first and foremost proud of himself and he is not ashamed of where he came from. And, despite his ability to move beyond the spatial boundaries of 18th & Vine, he never abandoned it. On the contrary, he has dedicated his life to putting his community-building efforts back in the area where he was born. And although I do not know him personally, and barely at all, after hearing him talk about his community in person, I sincerely believe that he has been able to do this because he came from a family and a community that loved him. From within a once segregated and abandoned space, Mr. Gates found love for himself and he has built his business upon that love. Openly, he credits the love that he experienced from his family and his former community as the motivation for his efforts to revitalize Kansas City’s 18th & Vine community that exists today.

The concept of love has been an important topic for me. In fact, in my 2012 essay on a concept known as “loving attachment,” which is a feminist and theoretical approach to urban and regional planning, I explored the way in which planners can operate with communities and others from a place of love and attachment. Personally, I know the power of love and what it can do for the human psyche. In fact, I’ve said it before and I will say it again: a good, healthy love can make you fly. Yet, in many of today’s urban ghettos, especially black urban ghettos, there are many children and adults who do not know or respect the transformative power of love. As a certified substitute school teacher and as an urban college professor, I have found, more times than not, that children and adults who live in today’s black urban ghettos know subconsciously that they were/are abandoned by those who did/do not care or love them, including municipal officials and developers. In meeting after meeting, I hear from black urban ghetto residents who do not know or feel the love that comes from an entire community of people taking pride in themselves and in what they have, even if what they have spatially is minimal or even deficient. Over and over, they do not express the sentiment or the belief that what they have, socially, personally, and culturally, is of far greater value than the spatial attributes and boundaries that they inhabit. The ghetto spaces where they live are not as they were some fifty or sixty years ago; they are categorically different and much more commodified than they were back then. And, as a general rule, they are perceived as spaces that are loveless and unlovable.

As an advocate for good urban and regional planning, I am quite interested in exploring the importance of love as it pertains to community and economic development. I wonder how many black communities could be revived if the people who used to live there were to invest in the places and spaces that they used to call home. I am curious to find out if being attached to a place in a loving and familiar way has or could lead to actions that can transform the places and spaces that were meant to demean and discourage former residents. I fantasize what could happen if former residents of those places might be courageous enough to do the unthinkable with their resources and their power on behalf of the urban places that have been repeatedly abandoned.

Upon hearing Mr. Ollie Gates, I heard something, and it is something that I have known for a long time and in many different aspects of my life. That something is that at the end of the day, there is only one thing that can change things for the better. That something is love. And, when black people love themselves and their communities enough to reinvest their money and their wealth in those communities, I wholeheartedly believe that we will see a change in how those communities look, feel and operate. But, as long as we do not invest in those places from a genuine place of love for black culture, or if we only wish to exploit them for momentary satisfaction, they will continue to be loveless, and possibly hopeless places to be. Indeed, every now and then a developer with the right amount of money might come along and put up a new sign or a new face, but the development of a former ghetto area will not be sustainable without the love and embrace of a community. This type of love, that is born and nurtured in culture and community, cannot be found in bricks and mortar and it cannot be manufactured via lending institutions; the love and respect for culture is only found in the strength and expression of a people and persons, like Ollie Gates, who unabashedly value and love themselves. No person can survive the ugliness of this life without the love of self and the love of a community. And no community can be sustained without the love of those who once lived there or without the love of those who live there today.

So, when it comes to rebuilding black communities, we have to consider the power of love and culture, and we have to know that a sustained effort at revitalizing former and current black ghettos has to come from the people who are willing to embrace it as their own and as declared in the words of the great Ossie Davis, from those who know that the that the best of being black is yet to be:

Be not deceived

The struggle is far from over

The best of being black is yet to be

So said the ones who died

To set you free.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

The Significance of Saying “Thank You,” Today!

There is nothing more powerful than being able to say thank you to the people who have inspired us in life and made our world richer and deeper. To do this while they are living – to say thank you in person – is most fulfilling.

Last night I had the opportunity to meet Dianne Reeves at the American Jazz Museum in person (and I took a picture, of course, that I will print and hang on my special “wall of fame” that I create at the next place I call “home”). If you don’t know who Dianne Reeves is, then let me invite you to know her as one of the greatest black women jazz vocalist, ever! Saying thank you to her, in person, is a moment that I will truly treasure. I was so very excited!

If you’d like to know where to start with Dianne Reeves, I recommend her live CD, In the Moment. But, that is just a starting point, and, it is absolutely, positively, not her first CD. I just like it because I believe it illustrates the power of her voice, live. Dianne Reeves is one of most talented and genuine jazz vocalists that I have ever known (and I have been lucky enough to meet a few jazz vocalists, such as Abbey Lincoln, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Rachelle Ferrell). And I say that as a former radio host who spent three years producing a local radio program dedicated to black women jazz vocalists at WXOJ-LP in Northampton, Massachusetts (as well as a few good men jazz greats).

The significance of saying thank you to those who we admire and appreciate, in the moment (pun intended), is so very, very, important. Don’t wait until someone you admire or love is gone to say thank you. Take the time to do it, today; it will help you to see that your life is really not your own! Our lives have been made and re-made by many women (and a few good men) who have had the desire and the will to lovingly and creatively share themselves with us, in the moment!  And we should never underestimate the power of living and being in the moment.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.