By Tayllor Johnson
Photography by Ademola Davis
There is not going to be a 30-day yoga challenge at the end of this. No juice cleanses. No listicle of best places to buy sage or Groupon deals for spa treatments. No meditation social media accounts to follow. The rising heart rate, the shaking hands, the tears just waiting–no begging to be released, the clenched fist, and the gritting teeth are going to sit in these pages, just as they are; because they have been hidden in too many of us for too long.
I do not remember when it started; when I realized that I was angry. It was only recently that I have found anger bubble up and make herself known in my everyday life. One night after a long day at work, I came home, kicked off my shoes, and leaned on my bed checking my messages and peeking at my Instagram explore page, like I usually do. And what was once nothing but puppies, nature posts, and some celeb gossip became a flood of a real fights caught on camera or a reality TV smack down carefully captured at the first hit. Since when was my explore page so violent? I asked myself. And without thinking I clicked on the 60 second fight: “Moniece Slaughter vs. Princess” and the spiral into projected anger began. Video after video–there was something about these brawls that I identified with. There was a part of me that wanted to release and snap too, but at who and for what? These Instagram algorithms were telling an alarming story of where my anger was going and how much I had.
The list of things to be angry about as a Black woman living in America could go on and on and on… This is not new news. Our bodies, identities, wallets, and culture are constantly under attack by legislation, White Supremacists, Homophobes, Transphobes, Colonizers, and sometimes the people closest to us. We spend as much of our time, as Black woman, fighting for space as we do trying to enjoying it. Then we spend energy in that same space looking to heal from a country founded on our blood and bones and hungry for more. Add patriarchy coming for our womynhood or our vaginas and ovaries... we start to search for a space to recharge if nothing else. For some of us, it is not as simple as just being “home” or getting coffee with a friend. If you are like me, 3 jobs and working on a Master’s degree, space and time become a complicated relationship and finding a place to exhale within it all can feel like an impossible task. Yes, the fatigue is 4-dimensional, from all angles and sides. Some of us choose to take that fatigue and fight. Then we are met with erasure within our successes, as if we never started that movement, offered that thought, or contributed to America and its history in any way. Yes, we are angry, and frustrated and hurt and determined and another word that has yet to be discovered.
What puzzled me most about my anger was that I hadn’t gotten a chance to know it until now, at 24 living in one of the least patient cities in the world. It became important to me that I know what my anger looked like and sounded like before it revealed itself outside of my control and I too became a 60-second video. My mentor warned me years before: “If you do not access your anger and release it, you will hurt someone.” And if any city was going to unlock my anger, it was going to be NYC. Anger and frustration are not strangers here. In Los Angeles, my hometown, I can only assume their anger and angst are locked in their cars with them, so I never got the chance to engage with millions of souls in a rush. Living in New York, you either witness rage or you are tempted into it. There was a moment when my partner got into an altercation with a woman on a packed train and something in me snapped, as she continued to yell obscenities at him. I found myself shouting back: “YOU ARE IRRELEVANT! WE ALL WANT TO GO HOME. SHUT THE F*CK UP!” I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth and the words that kept wanting to spew out. Yes, if there was any time to become friends with my anger and articulate her on my own terms, it is here and now.
My anger is historical, political, personal, and spiritual. My anger is quiet but fierce; she comes from trauma; she is fueled by patriarchy and White supremacy; she is fed by the fear that America will succeed in killing me, my family, and my people. My anger is human. But when you are Black, it is more often than not a caricature to feed an idea. It becomes entertainment for the masses or propaganda to feed the fear that Black is unpredictable, uncivilized, and wild so we should shoot first, make excuses later. A Black person moves and the world flinches like we are walking land mines. Black women have not been given the opportunity to articulate their existence in their own words either. We are told we are “too much”; that we need to calm down and then, right before our eyes, our Womanhood is being commodified and monetized in mass media under drama, violence, ghetto, ratchet, urban, or worst.
There is an inflation of content in mass media focused on WOC on WOC violence. America, we know, is fascinated with violence like a child exploring a new toy. Except in America’s case, this toy is centuries old. However, when it comes to women, violence becomes an assumed default, which makes it easy to turn it into comedy and entertainment without engaging with the repercussions of violence itself. We call it Reality TV, we call it a high school fight, middle school fight, and occasionally we call it an untimely death. It was once my passion to vilify reality shows as the problem, but nothing is ever that simple. Reality TV meets a need and supplies a demand. If that demand is exploitation of women of color, it is a choice companies, artists, and CEO’s alike are making to meet it. The question of who’s to blame is not as urgent to me as the question of why the reality TV phenomenon exists in the first place. In exploring my anger, I had to separate what was being dictated and projected onto me as “angry Black woman” from what my anger meant.
It was epiphany upon epiphany and I couldn’t stop talking about it. I didn’t realize how few Black women speak their anger out loud. The confusion on my friend’s faces when I brought it up: “So what do y’all feel about anger as Black woman?” Slowly ideas where being thrown over wine glasses; experiences and questions about how to live with our anger, express it, and explore its roots. If only our #BlackGirlJoy could have as much healing space as our #BlackGirlAnger. Maybe then our language around anger can be truly ours. We will no longer be playing tug of war with our existence in isolation. We will begin to write and speak our own narratives. We will get to claim our anger and our joy for ourselves and maybe it won’t seem so scary anymore.
It is tiring to continue to counter the blows (metaphorical and physical) of the same stereotypes. We are multifaceted and complex beings. Sometimes we aren’t happy. Sometimes we don’t want to smile. Sometimes we don’t get along with each other. Sometimes we too need support and need to be held accountable by our peers and community. I found that in articulating my experience as a Black woman by using the language of the oppressor, I am unconsciously entertaining him in trying to prove him wrong. Not anymore. My existence doesn’t fit in a “they said so I’m responding” model. It is now an “I said” model. Period. End of discussion. With Trump ripping the façade from the “American Dream” and the global consequences of that realization some of us are waking up and reclaiming our time. We are reclaiming our time and our representation of our experiences on TV, movies, sports, politics, and in forms of resistance. The inspiration is contagious. In the same breath, I wonder what it would look like to have these conversations go viral, without the input of the oppressor.
My anger, as she exists today, is still a mystery in many ways. As I said in the beginning, I do not have any answers on how to engage and express uncomfortable feelings while our humanity is at stake. All I have is a willingness to start a conversation. Community is my alternative to engaging with oppressive alternative facts regarding my existence. As I get to know myself and let my identity stretch, it will continue to change and require my attention and care. However, that is no longer an experience between just me, my phone, and the oppressive systems that feed those outlets. Now it can be me and the other Black women who choose to speak their truth, however she reveals herself, unapologetically.
An Angry Conversation in Pictures
HUGE THANK YOU to the following people for taking the time and energy to be on this journey with me:
Ademola Davis See Bio
Jaba Dey a Bengali women living and working in NYC, and is taking the experience of being a brown immigrant in America one day at time
Q Hailey a creative spirit dedicated to justice and freedom that is both physical and spiritual
Ademola Davis (Ade) is a poet, writer, performer, singer/songwriter, photographer, videographer, and artistic force creating and educating in NYC. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Ade's passion for the artistic form and investing in its boundaries and possibilities goes above and beyond the traditional and expected. Instagram: @theprincepoet FB: @PrincePoet
"As a poet, my poetry is in my writing, singing, acting, whatever I can put myself into, my poetry is in. As a Creator, I'm still a poet"
When I sat down with one student on the first Saturday, I was not sure what I was to learn or if the workshops would continue with numbers like these. But there is an inspiring moment in one grain of sand if you consider the millions of things it is made of and how far it has come. One student became two then two became five and all were already full vessels of creativity, dreams, and ideas… not all devoted to poetry. I had my work cut out for me. However, the moment that took my breath away did not happen when the students were offering their own writing prompts; not when they were taking to line breaks with the same urgency as the Dunkin Donuts I brought for them; not when they inspired me to write a love poem to Dunkin Donuts confessing how much I can’t stand their hot chocolate; not even when they decided they wanted to perform the group piece I helped them create at the eighth-grade graduation on their own. It was during our morning practices that I was reminded of one of the many benefits to performing your story in real time.
“We need to practice more.”
“I think she’s going too fast, she should slow down”
“Yeah she’s going too fast. You need to slow down! You're getting too distracted. Can we go again? More energy!”
“Can we add Danny to the piece? He missed one day but he’s been to every class. He should be a part of it too.”
“I don’t need paper. Let’s all have it memorized!”
It was as if I wasn’t even there! My mouth hung open as they bickered and workshopped their own group piece. My presence was nothing more than, “Do you all feel that you’re ready?” and then they would be off again performing and talking it through. Poetry performance offers a rare opportunity for young people not only to see themselves on the written page but also to claim their voices in the open air. What’s more is that when poetry is being performed, rarely is it in a vacuum, alone. When poetry meets community–be it at the Nuyorican Poets Café on a Friday night or a lively group of five students on a Saturday morning–your words are in the care of an audience. Individuals feel supported to take risks, to trust, and to speak their mind. These five students were not all fans of poetry nor performance. Some of these students could barely be heard when they first introduced their name, but when it came to performing at the graduation, I was looking at young people who wanted the stage, who wanted to do their best, who wanted to work together, and who after having a successful performance, wanted to do it again.
This. This is why I want to do this for the rest of my life. To see those students take off and claim their work and their identity in an art form they had no prior experience in. To see them owning their words, taught me just how much I have gained myself, as a poet. From the moment that I was put in a spoken word class until now, my story has always had a home on the page and a separate vacation home within the hearts of artists and audiences who are open to hearing me. These five students now had an example, a tangible experience, that couldn’t be taken away from them: an entire auditorium open and ready to hear and accept their voices. It was amazing to see them after they got off stage, invigorated ready to “go on tour”. The arts, it’s contagious. Performance means power and poetry means freedom. When you let them loose in a room, anything can happen.
1. Sisterhood is a Community Organization
2. Sisterhood is fluid
3. Sisterhood is unity AND individuality
4. Healing is mandatory
5. More safe spaces, more safe spaces!
Stay tuned for it!
DAMN. was a portal into the world of a Black man, his certainty, uncertainty, fear, reflections, and determination. His album brings a humanity to the celebrity. In a country that praises and worships the lives, the wallets, and the scandal of celebrities and stars, I forget that these people are people. Their art is a result of their humanity. These influencers do not exist solely for their audience. That is why Beyoncé’s Lemonade struck me to my core. She ceased to be a brand, a face, a single—she was a complete process. DAMN. is Kendrick Lamar’s human process. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is a labor of love for Kendrick Lamar. After listening to tracks like “FEEL.” and “GOD.” it sounded like he wrote these songs/poems because he needed to; and like many artists, the act of sharing is just as healing as creating it.
The shock value of my success put bolts in me
All this money, is God playin’ a joke on me?
Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?
Take it from me and leave me worse than I was before?
As a 24-year-old who wants to start her own business, write a book, and step into my own calling of using poetry and performance as an empowerment tool for voiceless communities, the song “FEAR.” moved me. I can’t be the only one who is afraid of success, and just as afraid of failure. Kendrick Lamar reminded me that no matter the checks, followers, or rewards we all have or will be at that crossroads. I have asked myself similar questions on my own journey. Any milestone that pushes me closer to reach my potential is met with resistance; a timid voice whispers and questions: Is this possible? Or is it all just another universal test only to start from the beginning again in a few years? The higher I go, the farther I have to fall. How Kendrick must feel! From his first mixtape in 2004, Youngest Head Nigga in Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year) to being called the greatest rapper of all time. I could almost taste the anxiety, the questions, the fatigue in DAMN. I could only imagine, the money is coming in, the workload is increasing, advice is flooding in from everywhere, and the world is looking to him, fans leaning on him to continue to climb, to create! I too would go to my pen and paper like I always do, purging the secret questions, revelations, resentments, declaration, writing desperately toward that inner silence.
Lamar created a human experience in DAMN. He reminded me as a poet and activist that the foggy moments, the silences in between our revelations, success, and failures are just as beautiful, just as valid and telling and universal. After listening to the whole album, I wanted to give Kendrick a huge hug and say thank you, from one Los Angeles native to another. The job of an artist is to dig and dig deep within; to find the piece that pushes us even deeper and to share that work in order to connect to the depth in someone else. And we need that right about now. When I watched the news of the Manchester bombing, picture after picture being released of deceased young people, when I read about the impending threat to my healthcare rights as a woman, when I get a notification about another toxic tweet or another tragedy so far away I can barely fathom; when I consider the rise in violence against Black bodies, Muslim bodies, Trans Bodies, Our Bodies; when I walk down the street and have to maneuver my body so that I am not touched or followed or worst, I can’t help but think damn. It is a state of being, that damn. It’s that sigh when you’re a woman and you get home safe after a fun night, it’s that tension in the muscles when the police keep cruising past you. Kendrick’s DAMN. is not only a confirmation of what that damn can do to the spirit, it is a powerful reminder that we are not alone in feeling it and that is possible to use that damn and repurpose it, as much of the country and the world has done throughout history at the beginning of every revolution.
What Kendall and Kendrick have in common is a complex existence made plain. A world of action, resistance, intersectionality, and violence are too heartbreaking, inspiring, tiring, historical, and urgent to be solved by one White face and a Pepsi. My heart dropped watching the commercial portray a protest of many diverse faces joined together for “peace,” only to see the focus put on Kendall Jenner confidently walking through the crowd to give a police officer a Pepsi as the crowd celebrates. I was not sure what they are celebrating. Immediately I was reminded of the images of protesters in Ferguson with milk tears running down their faces and bandanas around their mouths. I was reminded of the gas masks and pepper spray, dogs and water hoses. My mind was brought back to the historic footage of my home city, Los Angeles, being burned alive in 1965 and the clip that I will never get to un-see: A Black protester passed out on a Los Angeles curb, beaten, with soiled pants, still being frisked by a police officer, surrounded. This attempt at a commercial hurt. The art of protesting was now a marketing tool, when for so many, including me, it is part of a necessary strategy to fight for our lives and our rights. The many times I put my safety on the line to speak up; the many times I was too afraid to. I do not get a check for showing up for my people and the people I support. My drive, my protest, is mandatory to thrive in this country and thanks to the infinite table with infinite seats in social media, Pepsi and Kendall Jenner got to take a seat. They both get the chance to learn about responsibility and we, The People, get the chance to hold them accountable. The conversation is not limited to anyone and neither is the critique. Social media can make very complicated matters easy to digest and Pepsi was fooled. Fighting injustice is nowhere near two minutes long. It’s more like a 400-year battle, give and take a few hundred years depending on how you identify. I am grateful for Black Twitter and social media for consistently offering the opportunity to keep companies, public figures, and Presidents in check.
Kendrick Lamar is no exception to critical commentary either, no matter how beloved. His single, “Humble” ignited a tidal wave of debate regarding his misogyny, internalized racism, and sexism embedded in his lyrics, specifically:
I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks
I was not sure what to expect when my friend pulled up the music video for me to see. The Kendrick Lamar in “Humble” was indeed a different Kendrick. He was still from L.A., a force of nature rhythmically and lyrically. But… there was something that changed; a switch was turned on. His face even looked different. What I saw in “Humble” was a battle between two different parts of one man. On the one hand, I saw a young Black man who definitely sounded similar to almost every other rapper, flaunting money, sex, and exclaiming “I’m the best!” Then I heard a chorus that called for humility, for a sit-down, a bowed head, and a shut mouth. I saw a question within the imagery: Who could Kendrick be? Would he be allowed to be a humble Black man? Would he be allowed as a Black man to celebrate and flaunt his success? Who can Kendrick Lamar be? I saw a juxtaposition of Black and White in what Kendrick Lamar was wearing in the video. I saw a Black man at the last supper with in a zip-up jacket with other Black men having a good time. Is that even allowed? I saw Kendrick Lamar in clergy attire. I saw an illustrated battle of images–of types of manhood. Did I like the line: “Get the fuck off my dick, that ain’t right” when I know how toxic hip-hop has been and is toward the LGBTQ community? No. Did I appreciate the amount of times bitch was said in the song? No. Did I like that he expressed wanting to see women without Photoshop and stretchmarks? Yes, as a person who has never tried contouring and has many, many, many stretch marks, I found it refreshing because the song seemed more like an inner battle than a commentary or press release for or against a cause. We all had a seat at the table of “Humble”, to see it, to offer a perspective, but we are mere observers of a narrative that seemed to me, quite personal, and I am more inclined to observe Kendrick Lamar’s evolution—as messy as it may be as he navigates his career—than I am to be called a “boujee” bitch with no hair and a fat ass with no value, as I am referred to and represented as throughout the Industry, which rarely leads to debates like the one “Humble” ignited.
I think it is easy and comfortable to offer critique to public figures and celebrities who are developing their consciousness for the world to see and through their artwork. Beyoncé is one of the prime examples when she co-opted the word “Feminist” for her Beyoncé Tour. Some were outraged and expressed that she was not a true feminist because of one reason or another. All I could think was: Am I even a true feminist when compared to the expectation of the “woke”? I did go to an all-women’s college and took gender studies and feminist theory. Was it enough? My evolution as a feminist, activist, and woman has been a process where I can control the audience. Celebrities and world-renown artist do not have that luxury. When Kendrick Lamar is expressing two sides of his identity and career or Beyoncé considers the women’s movement, I am less compelled to assess their artwork outside of what it is, art. My poems do not always speak to a movement cause; sometimes my poems are a prayer, a riverbed, a plea, or an apology to the unspoken and private. I am more interested in those voices hiding under rocks with their misogyny, their sexism, their racism, their homophobia, their transphobia, their -isms. They seem to get passes too often because we are comfortable. Those are the folks I want to especially invite to the table. Companies like Pepsi, and privileged folks Kendall Jenner do not have to think twice about the reality they are playing. Sexist and toxic figures like Bill O’Reilly and President Trump are also invited. Those are the people I’d like to open a chair for, ask them to take a seat because the world is watching….
The cyber community, like any other community, will not always agree, and I have learned with hashtag after hashtag, that is going to continue to be the case. There are going to be people who will never listen to Kendrick Lamar again and the #BoycottPepsi hashtag is already trending and taking on a life of its own. The conversations will continue to evolve like technology and humans have done. Social media represents the social consciousness in all its messiness, comedic genius, compassion, and power. In those spaces, easy definitions among the millions of perspectives are hard to find but it does not matter what time I sign off or sign in, I can always find love, justice, hope, and understanding in some corner of the cyber-sphere. We, as The People, still choose to show up to the table, not only to fight, resist, laugh, cry, feel, but also to connect. And we will continue to show up, I will show up, because it’s my responsibility and privilege to connect to a global community that is never silenced.
Sound. The silence in this film defined the pivotal, not unlike how silence works in our own lives. It was uncomfortable. I wanted, craved, silently squirmed in my partner’s arms waiting for dialogue in certain moments–but nothing came. Silence. It immediately made me reflect on how silence and sound accentuated life lessons and relationships. In seventh grade, when being ran from because I had two mothers and my friends were going to catch the “gay”, I just watched them and said nothing. Their laughs faded, their footsteps became mute. That is when I realized that friendship and trust were things I still had to grow towards, and I didn’t know how. When I was called a nigger in the third grade after school by a White boy, I said nothing. I just looked at him and realized race was not something that could burn off like the Los Angeles fog. I was a Black girl, and according to this boy, a nigger. Having a secret on my tongue and letting it twirl around in my mouth while my mother waits. These moments defined curves, ebbs, and flow in my growth. Moonlight’s freedom with sound and the deliberate elimination of sound reminded me how important those lessons, epiphanies, trials were. I was not a Black man appreciating a Black man story. I was a Black woman witnessing a human story, as told through the journey of one Black man.
Although tears did flow, I was not sad at the conclusion of the film, in the same way a poem might remind one of heartbreak and beauty simultaneously. Chiron’s story is a window into a childhood reality all too common to families of color, and families surviving in poverty. However, what Barry Jenkins, director and screenwriter, was able to portray was the hope, the light, and the truth that guide us, as people, as we grow and navigate these trials. Chiron found his truth and his safety in the ocean, just like me. It’s at the shore, with my feet being kissed by the waves; the sound of them crashing; knowing they will always crash forever, whether I am at the shore’s edge or not, whether I am afraid or not; wherever I am the ocean has always been my truth. The main character always had the ocean to bring him back to his truth. What’s more, is that we never get an answer for what his truth is, be it his sexuality, his aspirations… Again, “Moonlight” was asking me to reflect on where my truth has revealed itself throughout my life. My truth has shown up at Prospect Park, Central Park, on the Portland Coast, Venice Beach, in the first tulip of the season in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; my truth has always shown up and brought me back, no matter how far I strayed. The tears appeared and fell down my cheeks on the way home out of gratitude because, much like Chiron’s experience in “Moonlight”, I get to grow in silence and in sound and in truth. Chiron was able to find his truth and it gave me hope that I can too, even when I forget it. As a young Black woman in her 20’s who’s watching the country lose its truth and suffers in silence, I needed a reminder that truth always wins, however it reveals itself, be it through the ocean turning over on itself to inspire a boy to become his own man, or a poet putting pen to paper, or “Moonlight” being recognized for the poem and epiphany that it is. Truth always wins and so did “Moonlight”.
Yet, behind liking every funny meme mocking the election, the late-night show sketches, and tweets, I considered this a serious issue. I was scared that this toxic punchline would become the bottom line. I was not willing to stamp an LOL on his campaign just yet. It wasn’t his appearance, lack of experience, or disregard for women, disabled folks, queer folks, refugees, the original borders to Mexico, Black folks, Brown folks and immigrants that unsettled me. It was the fact that thousands upon thousands of others agreed with him. One rotten tree is a rotten tree, but a forest infested against humanity is an environmental issue.
I thought my scariest day was the day after the election. After watching SpongeBob Squarepants to keep my mind off of the results frenzy and tossing and turning all night, I still wasn’t prepared. When I asked my roommate that morning what the result was, she responded by silently pouring her tea and letting the tears fall down her face. I followed suit. I felt betrayed, yet not extremely caught by surprise. This is the America that I heard whispers about for as long as I identified as an activist. The true face of America revealed himself, I was told. It was a matter of time.
But this was supposed to be my home, my Black brothers’ home, both of my moms’ home too. Where are we going to go, while rich, straight White men retaliate against America’s true face? I couldn’t bring myself to call back home considering that one week ago I sat with both of my moms and little brother voting. My little brother called to ask me who I was voting for the night before the election. I told him. He responded in the softest and most angelic voice, “Okay. I was just asking. Some people are voting for Trump but he’s not nice.” It occurred to me that morning that I didn’t have a hiding spot big enough to keep the people I love safe. So, I cried. That is when the spiritual, mental, and sometimes physical paralysis started.
I thought that I would bounce back relatively quickly. The birds in Brooklyn still sang about something. The people on the subway didn’t look anymore spaced out than usual. Maybe Trump’s lack of experience will make him the loudest, orange-colored, clueless dog with no teeth to be let into the White House. He will fumble through policy after policy and by the end of his term be as confused as he looked when shadowing Barack Obama, a couple days after being inaugurated. I was quickly reminded of the cunning nature of White Supremacy. The House of Representatives. The Senate. Both supporting the rhetoric and proposed policies of Donald Trump. I was reminded about the Electoral College, which places the bulk of the future in the hands of the unknown.
I started to blame the media for distracting me for almost a year with presidential debates that became yelling matches and gossip passing for news. Then I remembered, when did I ever depend on mass media to educate me fully on my country, or any country for that matter? When I was in the United Kingdom, studying abroad, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine was escalating. I was in a pub with friends watching the news as footage of the border was playing and the soldiers stood nose-to-nose with automatic weapons. I was terrified listening to the updates, the tensions rising, the sanctions and embargoes flying across borders. I began to wonder how I would react to this situation if I was at home in the U.S. My guess is that I would not react at all. The severity of this situation could easily be buried under almost anything else that would be considered news. My education in America is a constant re-education. This was yet another example where I need to look backwards and sift through my “lessons” to find the truth. Electoral College. Popular Vote. Laws that negate both of these opportunities for Black and Brown folks. I knew it was time to act; to prepare; to heal. But I still was not ready.
On January 20, 2017, I still was stunted. Protests happened all over the country, pictures and comments with pink p****y hats. Women of all shades, children, and men joined together. I was at home thinking about the many times I lost my voice in protest, feet aching, nudged in the breast by White men, yelled at, and watched. I was tired. And I did not do half of what my sisters did. If I am tired now, I can’t imagine what they are. We have fought for our existence for as long as we have been Black women. We are activist from the womb; born from the generation of activists before us and before that.
Yes, I was tired. There were no hats made or CNN coverage celebrating the battles we fought so far as Black women. After all the fighting, studying, learning, planning, courageous conversations, Donald Trump was still inaugurated, and we were still unsafe. I did not know where to go to next. White Supremacy now has one more face to operate from and it was the President’s. I asked my friend, an activist out of Oakland, in town on business, what to do now. Do I need to invest in a bunker? A gun? A one-way ticket? I do not remember her exact answer, but I do remember her asking while holding her Black son on her hip that I sit next her and read through Trump’s plan for the first 100 days of his presidency. I was horrified and I think that was her point. Not to scare me but to wake me up. I can’t fight and resist with my eyes closed. I have to acknowledge unacceptable behavior and its existence before I can prepare to push back.
Yes, it took me a couple months. I cried, I talked, I resented people, places and things, I was still. I was forced to be present through this spiritually and physically for if I tried to force it, I would add nothing to the cause. Today, Trump is still keeping his promise to wage war on America’s citizens masking it as genius, machismo, and loyalty to his country, just like yesterday. It has not been a month, and he has declared war on my body, my family, and people that I love. But what he and his administration do not know is that in his eagerness to destroy and conquer, he ignited an urgency that will bring people together to do the work. What he is not prepared for are the meetings that are not happening on the streets; the messages that are not being written on posters and picket signs and Facebook, but whispered in living rooms and kitchens and basements all over the country. I am going to a part of the solution and resolution to fight and deconstruct an America that has disappointed me for 23 years. I am still tired but not tired enough. By any means necessary … I am ready.
relieving, isn’t it?
like the holy ghost
submission and surrender
snow and rain
stitch pillows with wind as you begin your decent
snip snap snip
you take the limbs of your sisters in your collapse
to remind yourself that the womb and coffin are made from one in the same
you give a subtle smile
a thank you
as you finally get to let go
crack hiss crick
for carving out your root chakra for their carriages and caravans
craving to see thmeselves through you–
a fascination with consumption masked as a worthwhile relationship
the midnight gives you all she has
so that you can rest a little longer
before sighing from beneath your bark creases
allowing the fog settle
- Tayllor Johnson
Giant Sequoia ‘Tunnel Tree’ in California Is Toppled by Storm via NY Times
My friend and I hesitantly slid to our seats, brushing shins and knocking knees with our work bags, two $15 cups of wine, and a $10 box of Sour Patch Kids to share. We shuffled into our place during the opening number. I didn’t mind that my bag was half spilling into my friend’s lap and her bag leaning to do the same on my side; I didn’t mind that my wine was dangerously close to tipping over from between my thighs; I didn’t mind the passive-aggressive looks from the White gentleman next to me, upset that he had witness me settling into myself to enjoy the show. I didn’t mind it at all because by then the essence of the South already took over the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The brown bodies took up space like so many grandmothers, aunties, and sisters under less glamorous Broadway circumstances had done… It was then that I felt it; as if I was sitting at the feet of my great-great grandmother’s rocking chair as she began to tell the tale; surrounded by other young sisters, leaning anxiously on our knees waiting for the lessons, the parable, the wisdom from the past to come out and inspire us as we go into our future. In the seemingly mundane activities happening on the stage: the washing of clothes in a basin, picking up the plank of wood to complete the porch, sewing and stitching of the children’s clothes, it seemed to emit a familiar rhythm and connection. Every dip of clothing into the wash bucket was a physical hymn, every placing of wood to build the foundation of home was accompanied percussion or a verse dedicated to the scattered pieces of another life on another land, a foggy dream and nightmare from what they had to call home now: The South. I’ve seen this type of historical memory on my Southern grandmother’s face in the way she threw down in the kitchen, designed my church dresses when I was 10 with nothing but an exacto knife, fabric, and a retired sewing machine; and when she started her own beautician business right on Route 64 in Little Rock, Arkansas less than five minutes from her own home. I can only imagine my grandmother’s South or her mother’s South was not unlike what was setting the tone for The Color Purple on Broadway that night. My South was a commercial interruption to the traffic, palm trees, and beach boardwalks I was accustomed to in Los Angeles California, where I grew up. Going to my great-aunt’s funeral reminded me how the urban life that many Black people fled to was a far cry away from the Southern life. I was thrown back into the harmony of plates gaining weight, gold teeth, “amen,” “yes lawd,” and a type of unspoken synthesis of Black culture that felt less like a gun to your temple and more like a blanket for patients in shock. I was immediately at ease amongst the wasps crawling all over the screened-in porch on my grandmother’s family land; my ears adjusted to the Southern drawl as words dripped into each other on their way out; my legs all of a sudden didn’t mind the weeds and peeled snake skin frying in the afternoon sun. I knew this place, this pace, this life, it was almost as if I inherited it from my late Aunt Bernie through the stories she used to tell me about taking care of crop and family, while being hunted by the White man—and even her own men—while straightening my hair in her kitchen and cooking chitlins. Strangely enough, the stage, the presence, the cadence, felt like a childhood home.
I do not remember when I was first introduced to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I do not remember when it became so familiar to me. I do remember the light purple VHS box tucked safely in my mom’s massive movie collection. I would have to assume it was a Saturday, both of my moms had to be out running errands, inspiring my much-needed distraction from my chores. I must’ve been bored and picked out The Color Purple to watch to pass the time until I would hear my mothers’ engine and would run for the broom. Maybe my regular choices from my Disney collection weren’t doing it for me that day; maybe it was the faded nature of the purple VHS case that intrigued me; it had to be old; it had to be watched a few times, maybe rested on top of a TV for a while and took in some Los Angeles sun it was so faded. Who was this Black shadow on the front? What was she reading? Maybe something in my 11-year-old mind knew there was a reason my mom hadn’t suggested this movie to me yet, giving me more reason to watch while she was away. Now was my chance! I’ll watch it and put it back, my mom will never know. That Saturday, in my brothers’ room where they had the only VHS player that wasn’t in the living room or my mother’s room, I time–traveled. To the South, a Black woman’s heart, a natural world, a turbulent past, and a type of dialect at the end that I didn’t understand. I did not comprehend the movie in its entirety the first time but the film resonated enough with me to join the rest of the Black female population who knew the movie by heart, who claimed the story as part of her family tradition, and greeted the book in a high school English literature class like an old friend. The Color Purple never left me, not even when I was being bullied in middle school for having two moms and not being Black enough; not even when I went to college and my first roommate was from West Africa, my first introduction to that part of the world and that part of my past, not even when I dedicated my undergrad career to activism, social justice, community engagement, and created safe spaces for women of color to bond, not even when I continued that work in Edinburgh, Scotland under a different context, not even when I boarded the plane and moved to New York. The Color Purple sat in the passenger seat and offered a comfort that didn’t need explanation. As soon as I was reminded of her existence, I felt it; a connection to a narrative bigger than me; a beauty I could witness triumph against all odds. When my beauty was being undermined, hunted, and exploited, The Color Purple was and is a sigh of relief.
Watching that same story unfold on stage, a storyline that I watched many times and read in multiple predominantly White classrooms, where the disrespect of Black women’s bodies was just a short answer question or at one point even a joke, which I was the butt of, I realized how auspicious this moment was. Now, at 23-years old, I carried in my memory the film, the Broadway show, all inspired from a book that was born over a decade before I was even a thought. To think I felt connected to this piece written in an America I didn’t experience. I only witnessed the crumbs of the 1980s washing away into the new millennia. Post-civil rights, the War on Drugs (or as I like to call it, the war with drugs), the beginning of many Black firsts in politics, sports, and literature, Reagonomics. I missed it. I had no choice but to imagine the America Alice Walker lived in and came out of that inspired her to reach back into a Black past and bring such a universal and timeless coming–of–age story to the page and juxtapose it to my America.
My America was and is the calm before the storm and the storm itself mixed into one citizenship. Not unlike the 80’s, I too am reminded that this land, which is supposed to be my land as well, is not a home. My America has had no mercy in showing me, through Black body after Black body dropping dead at the hands of a police force sworn to protect us, that I am not safe, my family is not safe, my Blackness is not safe. My America has responded in kind to this violence against Black men with protest and action that takes to the streets by the thousands, shutting down highways in Downtown Los Angeles and bridges in New York City, yet my America has also conveniently forgotten that Black women’s bodies have bull’s eyes on them as well, in more places than one. My America makes a public spectacle of sexual violence without acknowledging those victims of violence; my America leaves us with scars to lick ourselves, claims vaginas are the property of that state they are born in. But my America is tired of excuses, as #BlackLivesMatter (created by womyn) and other national initiatives were born to protect ourselves against our own “home”. My America inspired me to create my own brand, #ImNotYourEnemy, dedicated to uplifting and healing women of color as we relate to one another, rather than exploit and appropriate our culture and history because it is not on America’s to-do list at the moment, it never was. My America bore the first Black President and President-Elect Donald Trump. My America is confused. My America has no problem using biological warfare, tear gas, and sponge bullets to protect themselves from the peaceful protesters. My America is a traumatized one, not unlike Alice Walker’s. So much has changed yet so much remains the same. Redemption, exploration, and healing are still indeed rare and dangerous concepts to those trying to oppress us, asking us to stay complacent and grateful, to wait or pray for liberation to come. And still, nothing ignites freedom faster and makes it spread like wildfire more than the arts and a lack of patience. The Color Purple refuses to ask permission to seek freedom, she refused to shut her mouth for over twenty years, before she made its way to me in Los Angeles. What are the chances that The Color Purple and I would meet again in 2016, a year of Black turmoil, friction, declaration, discovery, and fight? My only guess is that it was God—or Nature, as Celie would grow to call It.
As the first Black woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Literature, I did not let myself imagine that we would have much in common, Alice and me. Like my grandmother, she too was the daughter to sharecroppers and eight brothers and sisters. And like me, she was artist to the molecule at a young age and answered the activist calling in college, passing the mic to sharecropper’s voices, Black women’s voices, and the voices for civil rights. She too went to a liberal arts college, Sarah Lawrence, in a new city far from the home she knew. She taught poetry, studied abroad, fought for justice, and representation for her and family’s history, just like me. She wrote, explored, published, studied, and found her voice like what I am doing in the very same city she studied in; leaving my Los Angeles palm trees for snow plows in South Hadley, Massachusetts then finding myself here in New York City, the hub of so much in such little space, looking for my place to grow and blossom. Alice Walker became more than just a writer, poet, activist, feminist Black woman in my eyes; she became a kindred spirit connecting me to the other kindred spirits in The Color Purple. Celie, Nettie, and Sophia were not mere characters to be analyzed but more fable-like lessons and inspiration points to grow from, confide in, be lifted by.
It was not only that Alice Walker broke boundaries and shattered the silence of Black families and Black women in putting our ancestors to paper and our secrets to light. Her journey found its way back to my mind’s eye no matter what age or stage of my development as a Black woman, which is what led me to keep her work closer, even before my own story made it to that Wednesday night at the Broadway show. From banned to translated into over twelve different languages, I was not the only one who connected to the story and the author. This Broadway production of The Color Purplesolidified for me the reasons, after these many years, why I–and so many other Black women–kept this story in the back pocket of our souls. Cynthia Erivo, who returned to play Celie after playing her in the first international production of The Color Purple in 2013, was a revelation. Her performance reminded me how easy it can be to make yourself invisible as a Black woman in the name of safety. Keep your head down, sing a song to yourself to numb your independence, do what’s asked, and they will forget how strong you are; they won’t be intimidated anymore, and they will wrongfully assume they can control you. They, Patriarchy. They, Sexism. They, Misogyny. They, Racism. They, America. But to fight this is certain death, so tread easy. How many times have I walked down the street in New York City utilizing the same tool? I get catcalled only to warn myself that if I should respond the way I want to, I might not make it back home. So I keep my mouth shut as Celie did, look to the floor for a prayer as Celie did, and thank God I made it like Celie did. These are the reasons why men might not see a smile on my face when walking to the train. I am contemplating my safety on repeat as soon as I walk out the door, my peripherals are working double time, and your eye contact can possibly be the last thing I see. A Black male friend once told me that every day that a Black woman makes it home is a miracle. That is not a world that supports my holistic expansion and celebration. But Celie is a prime example that it was indeed possible. I found it hard to believe that the Celie washing her clothes and praying for the return of her children was the same Celie dancing on chairs in bright pants in the afterglow of her own entrepreneurship and healing. I found just as hard to believe that I was seeing a show on Broadway when not a year ago I was telling my mom how much I missed the West Coast and wanted to come back to one season all year and move as far away from my growth spurt days as possible. Figures. There I was, light years from my past selves. Maybe that is why the tears broke free so easily.
Us Black women, we evolve like seasons, we brace the cold, the hurricane, the drought, the flood, and sometimes we become the elements ourselves, and still we rise. Celie had an ancestral command over her story, shrinking in the presence of Mister, whispering her dwindling faith lightly onto the audience while stitching, stretching out to let Shug in, tightening the hinges of her heart to keep Mister out, fighting the elements to let love loose, and finally hammering her existence against the stage lights, us, and beyond her old self to reclaim her new self. The Celie in me was awakened. A Celie that is just as dynamic and in need of healing and celebration. I could not help but think of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Solange’s A Seat at the Table as in some way, consciously or unconsciously, being inspired by what Alice Walker succeeded so well in portraying 30 years before: our evolution as Black women deserves its space to be, be it begging to a God we don’t believe in or rejoicing to the Nature that never left us, be it in the throes of rage or in the hope of a healed relationship. We are here and our voices are shapeshifters to paint a world rarely seen or experienced outside of our own four walls or the quiet corners we find ourselves in, where we can take a breath for a second and just be. Yes, we still forget that we Black women matter. How many times can our mother tell us in our own home but as soon as we head into Summer, young girls’ faces are getting blown off for uttering the word “no”? How many hashtags have our bodies taken up but no news station shows up to our rallies for the dead? How many of us shrug it off as our lot in life to carry that historically traumatic weight on our shoulders because we have been able to survive that way for generations? How much room do we really have for that without breaking? After looking patriarchy in the face all day long and habitually searching for exits and weapons in public spaces; after pretending that I am not exhausted on social media, and that everything is fine, I do not have enough energy and room for me. That is the problem. That is where The Color Purple frees me. Sitting in that seat witnessing a growth so close to home, I had to ask myself what it will take for me to make peace with all facets of me and find beauty in the complexities of my being without exhausting my spirit in the process but rather setting her free?
What began as a pleasant Wednesday evening, became a spiritual revival. I was forced to confront my own evolution as a Black woman, check in with myself and ask how I could help me embrace my womanhood, my power, my Love, and my God. I use to be a fraction of a whisper, hiding from myself. I am not sure if there was anything to define. When telling my journey to poetry and performance I always say that before Poetry found me, I was in black and white, a dull hue. I had no idea how much shine I had to share. Having two mothers who saw my light helped. They encouraged me to apply to a summer writing program and helped me raise the money to attend, one BBQ chicken dinner at a time. One fateful Summer day, my life changed forever. I was mistakenly placed in a spoken word poetry class and I became technicolor in 3D. Suddenly, I had words coming out of me, stories, narratives. I became aware that the definition of my Blackness was dependent on me, not my friend group, not diploma, not this country; it didn’t occur to me that my hair defied gravity for a reason; that my words and my poetry were more than outlets but the fire, kindling, and smoke signals all in one. I now had a way to heal and connect. I could stand, I could fight, I could command. But more importantly, I could see. I could use my words to fill in the blanks of my world and slowly with the help of mentors, family, and friends a Tayllor was born that was not only technicolor but 4-D. I learned, as Celie did, how to claim my own flame. I learned, as Nettie did, how to be fearless and expand. I learned, as Sophia did, how to love and accept love in return. I then had a responsibility to myself and to the world to share my light. If you told me in high school that I was going to be graduating from Mount Holyoke College and immediately moving to New York City because I agreed to perform one poem and I refused to hide, I would’ve laughed in your face. I think we as women, especially us Black women, cannot afford to ignore our own evolution and celebrate where that leads us. If Alice Walker can do it, we really don’t have an excuse.
It was only when my friend tapped me asking for a piece of candy without taking her eyes off of the stage that I realized that she too had been swept into another world of her own. The music would move us so much that we would look at each other, teary-eyed, and embrace, laughing and wiping our tears away as they fell. Sisterhood is a verb in The Color Purple. Be it stage or movie screen or the book, you see Black women discovering and preserving sisterhood. What the play brings to life poignantly is the unpredictable nature of that journey. How we find our sisters, our tribe, our people, is not linear. We sometimes fight our sisters when they want to help us. Many times, we don’t know we have sisters until they reveal themselves and we realize that we are worth being supported. Danielle Brooks, who made her Broadway debut playing Sofia, immediately embodied the discomfort of that journey and wore it as clearly as her bright blue slacks Celie gave her. Her voice is the last bit of gumbo at the bottom of yo momma’s cast iron pot; the piece we forgot, mental illness. Sophia is one character that you get to see in her rawest form. From beat by police and jailed to being mute and having nothing to do but accept love is a lesson that we all need to be reminded of. There was a time in particular that I was forced to come to terms with my own fragility when it came to mental illness and abuse. My friend and sister was right there, she held me by the shoulders as I went upstairs to confront a person on my college campus who went too far. She stood outside like a guardian until the conversation was finished and carried my depleted and defeated body back to my dorm. She supported me in remembering and forgiving when I wanted to forget. When my spirit was battered and bloodied by the hands of someone I thought I could call friend, sisters came out of the woodwork with my favorite meal to my inner jail cell, cloth for my wounds and burns, and love to meet my silence. Sisterhood always wins. On Wednesday, November 8, amongst my own tears and my two White roommates’ silent sobs at the news being finalized of who will be the next President, I was bombarded with text messages from women of color from all corners of my life saying that they loved me, that they would fight for me, be there for me–that we would be there for each other through this, whatever this was. That is the definition of the color purple.
In today’s America, sisterhood is one of the things that has kept me sane. I use to believe that sisterhood didn’t exist. I was constantly hurt by my peers of color. I wasn’t Black enough, ‘hood enough, too White. So eventually I had enough and stopped looking for sisters… and much like Sofia, my sisters found me and told me that I was enough. To their credit, it couldn’t have been easy. I had to unlearn many of the images that portray Black women and “sisterhood”: centered around men, sex, sabotage, and betrayal. That is not the sisterhood I have today and that is not the sisterhood that Alice Walker creates in The Color Purple. The sisterhood I witnessed was organic, complex, resilient, and radiant. It was what I want my sisterhood to be with my sister family, no matter what happens, we will be there for each other. Even when you don’t think you need us we will remind you that you are capable of not only surviving, but thriving. Immediately I was brought back to my college days, walking into the Blanchard Café on a Friday evening and spotting one of my sisters eating or studying. It wouldn’t take an hour before I and five other women of color squeezed into the same table laughing, joking, debating. It became the beauty shop, the corner store, the place for everyone to check in, be themselves, and not have to explain their existence—a safe space. I believe that is why one way or another we are always revisiting The Color Purple. How many times have we said “All my life I had to fight!” then erupt with laughter. Not long after someone would chime in, “I loves Harpo!” Then another walking by would stop, “God knows I do!” Laughter followed by more laughter. No explanation was needed because we knew what was up, we knew what was at stake between our chuckles; we knew what it felt like to be alone and need cliff notes for our very existence. Sitting in that theatre seat, I didn’t even notice the White man next to me, or the White row of people. I got to breathe easy. No explanation needed. The Color Purplecast didn’t need to explain, my friend beside me didn’t need to explain, and for once there was room for me to be.
I was curious, considering what I remembered from the book and film, how they were going to portray a love like Celie’s and Shug’s in 2016. I will admit, I was not hopeful. From my mother’s experience being queer and Black to my many queer friend’s experiences, even in 2016 they do not feel their narratives are represented. For the longest, Celie’s and Shug’s relationship was explained to me, in regards to the film, that they were good friends, very good friends. Sisters that were very close, so I continued to think just that. It wasn’t until later when I was older, while my mom and I watched the film together that she explained to me the nuance of their relationship; that they were actually in love and were lovers. She told me themes and characters like this were considered taboo when the film was released in 1985, especially since the book was unapologetic in revealing the true nature of that relationship. Having two mothers and witnessing their battle for claiming space without questions, persecution, and discrimination in today’s America put in perspective what the ‘80s had to offer in terms of acceptance for two women falling in love with one another. I was told by those who saw the first Broadway rendition of The Color Purple that Celie’s and Shug’s relationship was carefully explored on the surface, “It was very Disney” I remember a friend saying. This year’s revival was far from Disney. I applaud the director and the creative forces for having the humanity to give ample space for Celie’s and Shug’s love to evolve like any other relationship, with intimacy, conflict, valleys and peaks, without explanation. Marginalized individuals are tired of explaining themselves. We are tired of explaining why we matter, why we don’t want to buy or bury our family members at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us, and why we are tired of hiding from bull’s eyes in the name of God, in the name of shock, in the name of history.
As an ally, a Black woman, a daughter of a queer mother of color, and a human being, it wasn’t only important to me to have love present itself on love’s terms, but also to have that love represented between two women of color. Going to a women’s college provided me the auspicious opportunity to hear from my queer peers, who for some it was the first time that they could express their sexual identity without fear of prosecution, exposure, disownment, or incarceration (yes, incarceration). It was difficult for me to imagine hiding my boyfriend from my parents and pretending someone that I loved was “just a friend,” as I’ve been welcomed and encouraged to date. While others can happily announce their union casually, some are constantly reminded that their identity should be hidden in the shadows for their safety. I have had too many conversations with my queer friends of color who feel as though their love is not represented in any other spaces but their own. Either their identity is nonexistent, oversexualized, or completely forgotten until it’s convenient or just too late, as it was during the Orlando Shooting not too long ago. Representation of love in all forms matter. It warmed my heart to see little rainbow flags in the audience being waved during the last number, hands in the air, and partners loving each other without fear.
Forgiveness was a more nuanced kind of love that caught me by surprise. Maybe it is because I am a survivor of violence that I was able to casually skip over the moments of forgiveness when re-reading the book. I was not able to give too much mental space to the moment Celie and Mister talked about life and she said that they could be friends. Friends?! That was probably the passage I didn’t read as closely. I couldn’t. But there is no running when you are watching Celie’s healing process in real life and you’re five seats away from the exit into the lobby. I had to watch Celie grow from a victim to a survivor; from shock to rage to forgiveness. There was something painfully personal about the thought of sitting on a blanket with a past abuser and having a “normal” conversation. What is there to say? What could we talk about? How much does a “sorry” weigh after being abused or betrayed? Alice Walker in creating this narrative had to have thought about these questions herself and the answer to these questions were hidden in not only Celie’s healing process but also Mister’s. Yes, Mister the predator, was given the humanity to grow and heal on stage. I could not deny Celie’s or Mister’s humanity when watching their relationship unfold. Mister, played by Isaiah Jackson, embodied the friction that is healing from violence. It’s a two-way street, like many things. It’s uncomfortable to have to offer an antagonist like Mister the opportunity to suffer, to heal, and to be at peace with himself. It is a type of grace that I have to assume Alice Walker has within her own journey and relationships. Amongst all the praise and misplaced backlash during her own career, it was surprising to see the critique come from her own daughter, Rebecca Walker, who publicly speaks against her mother’s choice of artist over motherhood. Alice Walker in all her genius, craft, activism, and prestige, still is deserving the space to heal and mend her own wounds. As do the rest of us. What a challenge, to offer humanity holistically to every party affected by violence. I believe Walker was doing more than affirming Black women’s existence in The Color Purple, she was also challenging the 80s and many coming generations on what humanity, sexuality, sensuality, love, and religion can be and mean when we allow it to evolve and unfold naturally.
Accepting the world as She reveals Herself became a life lesson re-learned in watching The Color Purple. Nature has always been my Higher Power, even before I could accept it myself. My Higher Power is a Black woman. She has always been there. The way I chase rivers, waterfalls, trees, and ocean shores, in my life and my writing. It is the easiest way for me to connect to God. Before going off to college, my mothers took me to the beach so I could find the strength in the waves to move forward. Before moving to New York, I begged again to be taken to a waterfall near their new home in Portland to pray and prepare myself for the transition. And just a month ago, I asked once more to go to the same waterfall if only for ten minutes to check in. Being near nature and worshipping the beauty that happens effortlessly is the surest way to know that I am going to be okay and the world is more wondrous than any of my fears or White heterosexual man-made systems that want to convince me otherwise. Nature is my God. I know that for a fact now and Alice Walker knew the language to speak to Nature worshipers like her and me.
Please note, it does not matter what seat you have when seeing The Color Purple on Broadway, as it doesn’t matter whether you are reading the book or watching the movie on a kindle or iPad. You are going to feel it no matter where you are in the theatre. And that it is going to speak to youdirectly as a woman of color, no matter your age or place in life. I might as well have been on stage sitting amongst the chorus of town gossipers or the lovely worker men swooning over Shug. I felt my grandmother, my mother, my Aunt Bernie, I felt me. Me. I felt the weight of all the growth I had to fight for the space to gain. The timing was too perfect. I was at a loss for where my writing was going, what space my activism would be most helpful, when my career was going to start… The Color Purple was a wave crashing into my present moment. It had to be God. It had to be. The God in me, the God in the play, and the God that Alice Walker revealed through The Color Purple and discovered herself before she was 10 years-old.
By the end of the play my friend and I were in church. We had caught the holy ghost! Tears streaming down our faces, our hands reaching towards the stage, our feet stomping. The White man next to me turned to look as if I was a possessed, unnatural, crazy, and inappropriate. Despite his looks, I never felt more at home. Celie proclaimed that she is beautiful, she is here, she is lovable, and that she and everyone in her light will be oaky. Whew! How many Black women need to hear that in the morning? How many Black women need to witness the potential of their revolution, as scary as it may seem at first? We as Black women needed the representation 30 years ago and we need it today, and we will need it 30 years later and 30 years after that… We will always need the reminder of our beauty and humanity in a world that conveniently forgot our story and our mother’s story and our grandmother’s story. The Color Purple on Broadway succeeded in embodying that reminder. The color purple being my favorite color, lavender being my alter, any worries I carried about my body, my Blackness, my womanhood, my past, my future all dissipated by curtain call. No matter how afraid I was before entering that theatre about what it meant to be a writer, to be a poet, to be a sister, to be in love, to be successful, and to be a Black Woman in America, as long as I saw the color purple in everything, as long as I had Nature on my side, God on my side, sisterhood on my side, my ancestors on my side, there was nothing that could keep me from becoming who I am supposed to be.
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...