CENTER FOR YOUTH ENGAGEMENT MY SISTA’S KEEPHER
For booking, email or call: MySistasKeepHer@gmail.com
4850 West Fondulac
Milwaukee, WI 53216
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CENTER FOR YOUTH ENGAGEMENT MY SISTA’S KEEPHER
For booking, email or call: MySistasKeepHer@gmail.com
4850 West Fondulac
Milwaukee, WI 53216
I learned one of the hardest lessons that I may ever learn in 2010. That was that if you snoop, you will find. I swore at that time that I would never snoop again but this time, in 2017, it felt different. Recently I grabbed my computer, propped my feet up in the bed and decided to look for articles from long ago about a boxer named Miguel, who happened to be my father. I typed his name into the search bar expecting some old article about his career or nothing at all. Instead, what I saw in the results of my search sent me into a bizarre state of uncertainty.
Some people know the history of an all too common baby being conceived and birthed with no presence of a father. In my case, not only was he not there to welcome me into the world, he was not there for any moments at all. No lessons about boys, no birthdays, congratulations for my accomplishments or pats on the back. The only memory I have comes from an impromptu flight that I took to get me to his doorstep in 2001 or so. I would not have even known where that doorstep was had I not paid some super sleuth to find him. I was 24 or so and interested in seeing the eyes of the man that my mom deemed “my father” for the first time. Although it was terrifying and awkward, I was so glad that I did it
As I type this, there is a single tear casually strolling down my right cheek. It is eventually joined by a slow trickle on the left side. Those drops started at the end of a phone call I made to Garza Memorial Funeral Home. See, the search of his name brought forth an announcement from that funeral home that he’d died in June 2011. That was within a year of my marriage dying. 2010 and 2011 were two of the most difficult years of my life. It was then that I learned not to snoop. They were the years I found myself digging deeper into faith, friends and family as I tried to piece myself back together after a twelve-year marriage collapsed. Little did I know that it was a year of loss for us both, my father and I. I can only imagine that while I was balled up in my chair at home instead of going to family functions that maybe, just maybe, he was balled up in the bed in pain. Or maybe there was no pain. Maybe as I slowly found peace within he passed calmly in his sleep. The announcement online stated that if anyone had information on his next of kin to please contact the funeral home. He had 2 next of kin, myself and a son who was older than me that lived in Cuba. I didn’t plan to contact the funeral home since 5 years had passed since the announcement was written but my husband and my dear sister both said I absolutely should, so I did.
Nene, the kind lady who answered the phone stated that they didn’t have much info on him. “What is his date of birth” she asked me. I tried to explain, without sounding like a stalker, that we were estranged. “I believe it’s February, not sure though, nor am I sure of the date if it is February” was my reply. I knew it once, when I was still wishing that we could at least remain in contact. That was after my three-day visit with him in 2000. It was after he committed to a blood test. It was after he failed to open the door the second trip that I planned, with his permission, to obtain the blood test in Texas. I knew his birthday during a short window of time when I wrote letters to him, sent him Christmas cards and such. It was before he stopped responding to my occasional calls or letters. I guess eventually his birthdate was obsolete, much as he was to my life.
That brings me back to me and this awkward space I’m in. Shedding more tears, which have now soaked my face, for a man who caused me so many years of tears seems as strange as it did when I wrote him that heartfelt letter at 21 years old. The ink hadn’t dried on the letter when I was reminded that he made the choice to be absent. In that moment I decided that my sadness was uncalled for. I quickly turned back into feelings of anger for the next several years. And then I met him. He was old but had a memory like an elephant. His home was modest but was border lining bare. He hadn’t spoken English in 20 years and he was intrigued by the sight of an India Arie CD we held in hand. He’d never seen a CD. He’d checked out of socializing and seemed oblivious to modern technology. The songs he played on his record player were ancient and he was just fine with that. We drank Miller High Lifes and went to an area Mexican restaurant. It as a short trip, and while he asked me to stay longer, I had to get back to work. Trust me I wanted to stay and connect more. I wanted to hear more stories. I wanted to continue to stare at him, like a portrait, to look for resemblances. I wanted to dine with him a few more times to see more movements and habits that we shared. Since work didn’t allow me to, I said my goodbyes and parted ways.
To this day I often times go between a myriad of thoughts and emotions when it comes to him. I have said before that it scares me to know that there is a high probability that he may die and I wouldn’t know. One of my worst fears seems to have come true. I guess even in the absence of a parent you have this internal feeling of connectedness towards them. It seems involuntarily and downright silly sometimes but had it felt like nothing, that would mean that I was back to my place of numbness. So today I celebrate you Miguel because without you there would be no me. I am grateful for life and this bit of unexpected news stands as a reminder that you must live every day intentionally. You remind me that Love is choice and when you chose not to Love those that Love you the most you may find yourself “buried in a remote location with no headstone”. That is what Nene shared with me about him. She said if I wanted to bury him somewhere different or cremate him they could do that. It saddened me to think of how lonely he must have been and it showed in his home, teetering between modest and bare. RIP old man, RIP.
This morning, as I prepared for work, I saw 2 articles that absolutely motivated me to reinvest in myself. They introduce you to two young entrepreneurs who had the vision & dedication to reach beyond the norm. I was transported back to a time when I was much younger. That is when I decided I wanted to be a child psychologist. Unfortunately I let the chatter that lives inside of me convince me that it would take too many years of college. Within a split second I allowed MYSELF to talk MYSELF out of the idea of becoming one.
I challenge us all to look in the mirror today and ask ourselves “What’s standing in between me and my greatness”. All too often we would answer this question with our circumstances. A daunting laundry list of what we don’t have and what we’ve been through would run on and on until we’re fresh out of inspiration. We become distracted ad unmotivated and eventually we convince ourselves that we CAN’T! The following articles are reminders that WE CAN! As we head off to work or school today, let’s remember to spend some time investing in US, our future & our divine purpose. What is your mission statement? What are your goals? What are you doing to develop those things into fruition? Be prepared! Be inspired! Be inspiring!
Today at a Women’s Facility we spoke about childhood moments that broke our self esteem.
I shared a poem that ends with “I wish every little girl felt free to be, free to chose, free to give & most of all free to forgive life’s raindrops, knowing that it is OK to cry sometimes.” After the poem we asked the ladies in the room to share with us times when they cried private tears. I am certain that even the most confident woman has felt embarrassed, picked on or out of place at some point in their life so I knew we’d all have varying stories but I knew we could all relate. I know I am not alone when it comes to burrowing my face in my pillow, just a wall separating my mom and I. Throughout my teen years, without her knowledge, I wailed on the inside. So many nights I let silent tears stream down my face and saturate my pillow with sadness. In this circle today I was interested in hearing how and why other women experienced this. We momentarily became kids again as we reminisced on those moments. Some had shaking voices as the emotion came back like it was yesterday. Some spoke with apparent anger while others showed confusion for why they were ‘picked on’.
The topics were widespread. Being teased for ‘talking white’ when you live in the hood but go to school in the suburbs. Feeling out of place around family because you live in the suburbs but your cousins live in the hood and followed different rules and spoke what seemed like a foreign language. One woman spoke on her height, or lack of height, making her a common topic of conversation. One spoke of being verbally attacked for being left handed in a time where this was unaccepted. There’s an endless of list of ‘too’. Being too skinny, too dark, too quiet, too this and that. We start hearing it at such a young age that it begins to make us apologetic and uncomfortable in our own skin.
What’s surprising is every woman in this intimate circle of adults had been through some dramatic traumas such as rape, domestic violence, abandonment and are currently incarcerated. It was not those things that we spoke of though. It was simple words, words that we were taught may break our bones but never kill, that were slung at us as kids. We carried them around like a bag of boulders. These words that whether intentional or not, isolated us, taunted us and belittled us. They brought us doubt, created fears and put us on the road of a lifetime of trying to change ourselves to fit into a box. So many of us weren’t taught to be different or to embrace the us that God made.
So today I say, KICK OVER THAT BOX!! God made you in his image. He made millions of species. He created hues that make a beautiful rainbow seem simple. He made you to stand out. So embrace it.
Today, I stepped out of my facilitator role and wrote these words:
I remember when they said your lips were so big. When they called you Medusa because of your long cornrows. When you were called Diana Ross by fellow 6, 7, 8 and 9 year olds because your hair was thick, big & fluffy. Dear Self, I am so glad that you came to Love those big lips. Glad that people stop you daily to comment on your lipstick on those luscious lips. Glad that you grew confident enough to rock dreadlocks for 11 years. I am glad that you proudly embrace being told you look, not like Diana Ross but, like her younger self, her daughter Tracee Ellis Ross. They were right all those years, you just weren’t ready to walk in it then.”
Today I embrace my big poofy hair, my overbite that makes my top lip bigger than my bottom, my crooked smile, my enunciation, my deep voice…I’ve grown into these things that were a source of ridicule just wonderfully! I HOPE THAT TODAY YOU HAVE TOO! IF NOT, DECLARE IT TODAY!!
My Sista’s KeepHer does not own any rights to this video
1. Don’t let ANYONE tell you what your destiny is
2. Rock bottom is the beginning of a new journey back to the top
3. Self reflection is critical to defining new you
4. Surround yourself with people who are smarter, wiser & further ahead than you are
5. You can not get different results from doing the same thing
Growing up without my mother, I believe I suffered from abandonment issues or low self-esteem for sure. I was nine when she died. For the majority of those nine years I lived with my ‘Granny’ while my mom lived across town with my aunt. I never really knew why? I mean, I knew she was sick. Even so, I just couldn’t understand what kind of mother would leave her children? Then one day she was gone! Just like that. I was angry for a long time. I remember one night I overheard one of my cousins say, “She wouldn’t stop partying. People don’t die from TB anymore.” That left a huge stain on my heart! Why didn’t she just quit partying? Why didn’t she fight to stay with us? Hell with me! She didn’t have to die!! That single phrase stayed with me for over 30 years and still moves me to tears to this very day. Why wasn’t I good enough? I grew up with that thought tucked away in the back of my mind until the day the love of my life walked out on me, after 13 years. That’s when ALL those thoughts came rushing back. WHY WASN’T I GOOD ENOUGH?! Why do people that I love keep leaving me? It wasn’t until I sat in a classroom filled with 20-something young girls when this pretty little Caucasian girl – who had to be about 10 years old – with long black hair, read from her “truth is” exercise. She read, “The truth is my mom died the other day…” she paused, took a deep breath and tears began to well up in her eyes as she continued, “… and the truth is I don’t understand why?!” At that precise moment I understood why MY mom had to leave. For her! For THIS little girl whose heart was broken and who may also grow up thinking SHE wasn’t good enough. I WAS her! I walked over to her, got on my knees, looked her in her eyes and said, “Your mother loved you, always remember that. Some people come into your life to leave you. But please believe you MATTER! Look at me.” She held her face up, drenched in tears and I continued, “You matter!” She smiled and we shared a long embrace. I excused myself from the classroom, headed straight to the bathroom and had myself a good old nose blowing CRY. #HEALselfHEALher
Tina Ms Jazzi Nixon
As the facilitators of My Sista’s KeepHer we understand that even the givers occasionally become empty. On Friday, there were at least 50 educators and mentors sitting in a semi-circle in the gymnasium at a local middle school. Generally, our audience is packed with students who have been waiting for years for someone to ask what they thought and felt about life. Today, there were all adults of different ethnicities, ages, and experiences. Most of them had the habit of being private. Most of them, I believe, knew the dangers involved in ‘telling your business’ to strangers. The energy in the room was calm and slightly reserved. We, the facilitators, were anxious. The truth is that our target audience is middle and high school girls. No one knew exactly what to expect when we started the workshop.
Here is what we did know. The school had a few academic and behavioral challenges in the past and was looking to eradicate those problems. They called on My Sista’s KeepHer. The administrator wanted us to motivate and encourage the staff to go that extra mile for the students and their families. We were nervous. How do we, as poets, relate to the teachers who hold various degrees? This room was not filled with the students we were familiar with. As usual, we planned every detail, but this time it was different. We had to tap into a different part of our own life experiences to do our “God work”.
One of us thought about that scared little girl who lost her mom at 9. The one no one stopped to ask how she was feeling. She came to a new city and road the city bus from the north side of a strange town to the south side just to be spit on at the bus stop by some white kid. Preparing for this particular workshop, she was so nervous an hour before we were to begin that she lay in bed trying to calm what felt like a million butterflies fluttering inside her belly. She had become that 9 year old girl all over again, uncertain, awkward and alone.
One of us thought about who she was as a kid and how it affected her behavior in school. How she went from a student labeled gifted & talented to a failing student. How she spent more time in the streets than in the classroom. How it was easier to become the bad girl rather than stay the good girl. She was forced to ask herself why this happened. She had to revisit the many demons that took her off track and tell her story from the mind of that young girl who felt alone.
The truth is once we began to do our God-work, something became apparent. Everyone in that room was meant to be there. We all had stories that we had never shared. Some felt worthless and thought they may be better off dead. Some were angry at people as well as the things that happened to them as young children. Some lost their voice years ago. We, the facilitators, and the educators were all broken and scared. We had all been scarred and in that room we shared our stories. In that room we took the first step in healing. We acknowledged, we said secrets aloud. We overcame fears of judgment & ridicule. We all became like the very students we teach, and in that hour we unlocked something. We unlocked the “secret” to being not just a better teacher, but a better human. We were honest with ourselves and I believe that honesty will transcend into the classrooms. We closed out our workshop linked arm in arm, like we do in every My Sista’s KeepHer workshop, promising that we would look beyond the desk and see each student’s story and potential.
Tina “MsJazzi” Nixon is a spoken word performer in Milwaukee. She heads a new program called My SISTA’s KeepHer, which uses both poetry and creative writing to get girls to talk about their pain, struggles and dreams. In this video Nixon talks about the program and recites her poem, “What Kept Me.”
“My Sista’s KeepHer is a program, using poetry as a tool, to inspire and encourage women and young women to love themselves and each other.” – Tina “MsJazzi” Nixon