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Why Simone Manuel’s Olympic Win Is So Important To Me

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#Mood. Simone Manuel after her gold medal win in Rio

Last night, 20 year old Simone Manuel became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. She smashed a world record for the 100 meter freestyle, tying with Canadian athlete Penny Oleksiak. Out of all the decorated athletes of color who won during the games, this win touched me the most. I cried.

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In May, I began learning to swim for the first time. After running my first marathon, I wanted to try for something bigger, better, and more challenging — the triathlon. But I had no idea how to swim and held a deep rooted fear of drowning. It’s no secret that Black folks shy away from the water. A 2010 study by USA Swimming found that between 60-70% of Black and Hispanic children can’t swim. Scary. Studies show that this lack of knowledge is due to parents not knowing how to swim. My personal belief is that adversity in swimming is post traumatic syndrome of Black folks being shipped and sometimes dumped overboard. And that fear is still stuck in our DNA.

I enrolled my own daughter in swim lessons, so that we could struggle and learn together. Because water would not be something that we would fear anymore. I also joined a triathlon team so that I could face my fears head-on. My coaches, both Black, are an inspiration to me, as well as my teammates, a powerful group of athletic women of color. I needed to be surrounded by women who looked like me to really know that swimming was possible for a woman like me.

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The All Women’s Tri Team

On my first open water swim with my triathlon team, I had a panic attack and clung to my coach as we swam in the Long Island Sound. A few days ago, I learned several dives in the deep end of the pool at our YMCA. And I’ve never felt more confident.

I pray that Black men and women become inspired by Ms. Manuel’s win. I hope that they are encouraged to pursue swimming and jump over that debilitating fear of the water. I’m doing it, and I’m going to conquer my goals.

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Not My Business: After Alton and Philando

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Leisha Evans, mother and activist, in Baton Rouge

It’s not that I don’t give a damn, or that I’ve had nothing to say following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. If you’ve seen my Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, I’ve stated how I’ve felt as best I could without falling into the pit of narcissistic grief that I’ve seen all over the interwebs. Self aggrandizement is just not my style.

The past week has been traumatizing, frightening, and exhausting. I cried as a mother, and friend, both scared for the livelihoods of so many brothers that I love, and for my own livelihood, which seems to be at stake with every breath I take. But as a woman of action, I didn’t want my acknowledgement to be reduced to a series of hashtags, retweets and emojis. Too many times educated professional Black folks get lost in rhetoric, talking ad nauseum about the injustice of it all while lounging in luxury in their gentrified apartments before happy hour, adding little to the conversation except posting or liking stylish, yet superficial social media posts. I can’t be that. I have a responsibility as a Black woman, a mother, a woman of intellect, to take real action so that these horrifying incidents don’t become just another day in the life of.

Gathering with other Black mothers, and people interested in protecting and growing our communities, I gained so much knowledge on what I can do to give self care and contribute to healing my community. Here are several actionable points we can all do:

Allow yourself to grieve and practice self care.
www.thefader.com/2016/07/06/randi-gloss-black-self-care

Let non-people of color know that you are not responsible for making them feel comfortable around you
http://jamilalyiscott.com/2016/07/07/why-i-wont-allow-white-comfort-to-be-more-important-than-my-black-pain/

And also let them know that you are not responsible for teaching them about racism. They can learn that on their own
http://www.salon.com/2016/07/08/how_to_be_a_white_ally_fighting_racism_is_your_responsibility_start_now/

Put your money back into the community. Buy from businesses owned by people of color. The WhereU App lists these business that are near you. And Solange just posted a list of Black-owned banks on her website
http://saintheron.com/news/there-are-over-21-black-owned-banks-in-the-u-s/

Gather people from your community to grieve, get to know one another, and discuss proactive ways of developing stronger law enforcement and community relations. Anybody can do this. So many times young people and professionals get so ‘busy’ that they spend no time meeting their neighbors or finding out what is developing in their own neighborhoods. But they damn sure know what’s poppin’ on Instagram, or who went to the hottest concert last night, or can share their latest foreign retreat. Please, people. Call your local town hall, and keep calling until they sit down with you. Meet with the police and bring actionable points to the meeting, including fears coming from both sides and how we can all better manage them.

Ask your local government for accountability. Newark, NJ has recently developed a Civilian Review Board, a sort of Yelp for police, giving a rundown of issues between residents and the police. Constant notation and accountability is a key to transparency and progress.

On an ending note, a friend of mine posted this poem, and I think it’s apt for all of us who ‘made it’ and somehow believe that is enough.

“NOT MY BUSINESS”
They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.
What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?
They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.
What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?
Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.
What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?
And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.
The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.
– Niyi Osundare

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Kadir Nelson’s New Yorker Cover is Powerful

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I am in total love with this New Yorker cover by artist Kadir Nelson, depicting a Black father and his children enjoying a day at the beach. The image of the Black father is not so much “special” to me; my father and stepfather were very much doting, loving, and involved men in my life. And just this past weekend I was surrounded by Black fathers celebrating the success of their children moving onward and upward. We know that positive images of Black fathers exist, but the media and certain groups would have you believe otherwise. That’s why this cover is so important. It normalizes the image of a Black man participating in the livelihood of his children. Like a Black version of a Normal Rockwell piece, Nelson’s painting just brings it all together: strength, love, fun, security, happiness.

On another note, stay woke on this non-holiday. Remember, our ancestors were not free; therefor this holiday does not celebrate us. Don’t fall for the old okey-doke.

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fa thers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.

– Frederick Douglass

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Model Spotlight: Philomena Kwao

Philomena Kwao

Philomena Kwao is a stunning Ghanian model from London living in New York. The curvaceous model captivated me with her doe eyes, but I am floored by her powerfully graceful appearance on the runway and in print. Kwao has a degree in International Health Management, and is a vocal activist for body positivity in the media, as well as fighting for maternal rights. You can read more about her here and here.

When she’s not modeling or campaigning, she’s writing here. Check her out.

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Bet Awards: The Fashion

Because I wasn’t about to water down the potency of Jesse Williams’ speech on Black Lives with images of the beautiful people. But of course I was watching.

My faves? Mya, Naturi Haughton and Cookie herself, Taraji P. Henson. She was bad.

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Taraji P. Henson

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Beyonce & Kendrick

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Gabrielle Union

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Naturi Haughton

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Let’s Talk About Jesse Williams’ Explosive Speech

Freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free, they keep telling us, but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.

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Jesse Williams drops the mic.

Last night, I actually watched the BET Awards in real time. My sole purpose was to see how exactly they intended to memorialize Prince after Madonna’s catastrophe at the Billboard Music Awards. Since the tributes were sprinkled throughout, I had no choice but to stay. Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar wasted no time in getting to the Black of it by performing her song “Freedom”. I watched as Erykah, Bilal, Maxwell, Janelle Monae, and the incomparable Sheila E. did the damn thing on stage. Hs Royal Highness would be pleased.

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But the most mind-blowing moment? When actor Jesse Williams took to the podium to claim his humanitarian award. And he blessed the crowd with more than a thank you.

The gems:

what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours

Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So, I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich

If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

…Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

And the entire transcript, just in case the powers that be make it extra-hard to view the video. Just read the whole thing, and then read it again:

“Peace. Peace. Thank you Debra. Thank you, Nate Parker. Thank you, Harry and Debbie Allen, for participating in that. Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out tonight — I just want to thank them for being here and teaching me to focus on comprehension over career. They made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also, thank you to my amazing wife for changing my life.

“Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

“Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours.

“Now, [standing ovation] I got more, y’all.

“Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So, I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich.

“Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012, than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

“Now, the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back. To put someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid with brands for our bodies. There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we pay all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free, they keep telling us, but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.

“Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter but, you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And let’s get a couple of things straight here, just a little sidenote. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. All right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us. Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

This may very well be one of the most important speeches in contemporary culture. Thank you, Jesse Williams.

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The Hotness: The Perf-ect Paddle Suit

I’ve been spending alot of time in the water lately. This year has been one filled with a bunch of athletic pursuits, and after running my first marathon, and a few more races, my next threshold to cross is the triathlon. Just a tiny problem. I can’t swim. So I’ve been taking lessons, and even joined the local triathlon team to get a feel for what I’m in for with this 3-part race. My tri coach warmed me not spend more than $30 for a swimsuit, so I dutifully picked up a simple black version on sale at Modells. But this morning, this beauty caught me:

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How sexy… And supportive…And sexy! (I said it twice!)

Now, I might not wear this for daily practice, but I wouldn’t mind taking it out for a few leisurely swims. Because I wanna be the hottest athlete in the pool.

Perf-ect Paddle Suit, $118, Lululemon

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The Hotness: Christian Louboutin Lipstick

CLoubI want this lipstick for no other reason than the fact that I adore the case.

Lipstick, $90, Saks

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Bell Hooks Takes Her Lemonade With Salt

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Bell Hooks praises Beyonce’s Lemonade, but with a word of caution: the black female experience cannot be neatly tied up in an hour-long visual presentation; that there is no glamorization in rage; that in order to overcome hurt we must let go of the romanticizing of patriarchal-led relationships. Read her poignant article here.

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