Guest Writers Week | A New Kind of Journey

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By Jamé Jackson

I remember waking up the day after graduation feeling nauseous, a type of nausea that usually accompanies me on job interviews, exam days, or even the first time my boyfriend took me out on a date. It was a feeling I wasn’t really excited for, but I thought to myself, “Self, you just graduated college. You’re probably still worked up over that intense feeling. Don’t fret though, here’s to the rest of your life!”

Instead of being like many of my friends who found themselves popping bottles and partying into the wee hours of the morning to celebrate the biggest day thus far of our young lives, I found myself pacing the floors of my house wondering what was my next step. Contrary to the vision I had had for myself even four years prior, I wasn’t graduating with honors, with a deluxe new apartment in the sky, or even with a job based on salary and benefits. I remembered sitting in my room, tears flowing from my face as I sat and realized that I, truly, didn’t have the answers to the questions of my life.

“Well Jamé, what do you want to do, you know, as a career?” The unbearable question I felt tugged at my heartstrings. I felt I died a little inside every time the question was asked. It felt like I couldn’t just breathe for a second as a student. It felt like being a musician, being a writer, being a worker in a restaurant chain weren’t worthy of any proper acknowledgement. The worst thing, however, is that I didn’t have an answer to that question. I still don’t. And that haunts me everyday.

In my only 22 years of young living on this Earth, I’ve had to learn and prioritize what is important to me and what I could only hope to procure out of life. Through trial and error, I have learned that my own personal truth is the only thing in which I have to answer to. I had to learn, as I continue to everyday, that my own personal journey is unique in that it is MY OWN. Despite the love and affection I may receive from others who try to push me into their light, I can only create my own for myself. The thing I have learned is that I can only be the best me possible, regardless of who she looks like to anyone else.

Life is a strange thing. We’re taught from a young age what milestones we have to hit by a certain age. We’re taught to have our lives together by the beginning of college, intern, work and produce amazing grades during college, and then enter into the workforce right after college knowing exactly what we will do the rest of our lives. For an out-of-the-box thinker such as myself, I learned I was doing myself more harm than good trying to keep up with the Jones’.

I couldn’t, and still cannot, conceptualize me doing one thing for the rest of my life. I have always loved being multifaceted, but where are the people encouraging young people to pursue ALL of their dreams? Who is to say I have to only have a 9-5 job? I can’t also have a 5-9, or a weekend-only, or a contractual type of job? Why is society so warped around this perception of happiness that we don’t discuss the real issues of life? While I can’t count how many times I’ve been bombarded with the “So, what are you doing now that you’re out of school?” questions, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been asked am I happy, am I learning a new craft, or am I exploring aspects of me that I never could in school. Where I used to give others power over my life and actions, I’ve learned to take it back and happily bask in my personal journey. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

While my situation may not be the most ideal, I have learned that things will come in due time if I just patiently wait and open myself to the experience. I won’t lie, I do still have doubts at times and find myself being a hardass for not being where I want to be. However, I’ve learned that I am content in where I am and I am doing just fine. I’ve learned that the process of the journey is to teach you something, and that you should never be apologetic of who you are simply because you’re not living up to other’s expectations of you. At the end of the day, when the lights are out, and the city is silent, and all are in their beds, the only thing you will have are your thoughts that will loudly remind you if you are happy or not. Honestly, as long as my bills are paid, I am learning to care less about what others push on me, and more on what energies I pull to myself. It’s a journey. Enjoy it.

Jamé Jackson is a recent graduate of Howard University, where she graduated Cum Laude with a double major in English and Classics. A writer and classical pianist, Jamé loves traveling the D.C. area, performing in music halls and poetry ciphers. She has performed at Studio Theatre, Signature Theatre, the Kennedy Center as well as Broadway. In the near future, she plans to travel overseas to continue humanitarian work in Haiti.

Guest Writers Week | It’s Time to Change the Narrative

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By Cristina Cross

It was around 2 p.m. on a Sunday St. Patrick’s afternoon when life took on a sobering reality. I looked down at a stick and saw two bright red lines staring back at me. As I sat on my porcelain throne, thoughts throbbed through my head. Did I see this correctly? What did two lines mean again? No. NO. Can’t be. That’s impossible…

I was 26, an academic honor student in the middle of college transfer decisions, finishing up midterms and living the comeback-kid dream.

And then I found myself pregnant and in love.

I had the course of the next five years of my life mapped out and in progress. The plan was to transfer into a four-year university, do amazing work as a student and intern, network and graduate. Afterwards, it was grad school, travel or a career depending on the outcomes… starting a family was not a part of that plan. At least, not yet, and while I had my plans, life had other ideas.

Naturally, the experience weighed heavily on me. I sought advice from trusted friends and family and one conversation stood out in my mind. As I expressed my dilemma and my latest stance on it, I recall a confidante saying, Bbut you’ll be on welfare for the rest of your life! You’ll be one of those moms living in the struggle. And that’ll be your life.” At that moment, it became clear to me all of the social implications attached to disenfranchised mothers and welfare for that matter.

Then it hit me. Why is the topic of having a child amongst my millennial peers met with such disdain? Upon contemplating motherhood as an option, why is the “Your life is gonna be ruined!” spiel the immediate and at times the only response? Granted, it wasn’t necessarily a planned pregnancy that I was experiencing and yes, I was unmarried. However, I’m no longer a teenager dealing with the issue, but rather am mature and responsible enough to grow into the role.

So what’s going on?

Do our peers, schools and workplaces punish women for what our bodies are biologically designed for? If so, at what costs? Studies have proven that there is a wage gap for women with children under the age of 35. Somehow there’s an implicit message that devalues women and mothers systematically.

I too always thought that if I were ever in this situation, I would not have the child. It seemed like a no-brainer. I was never one to woo over other people’s babies nor did I have the fantasy of being married with a family by a certain age. None of my friends had children yet and I understood that motherhood was not a prerequisite for womanhood. However, once I was faced with the decision it was much more complex than that. For once in a long time, I was genuinely conflicted.

Equipped with this knowledge, I had a choice to make. After days of deliberating and planning, I pursued motherhood and the responsibilities that came with it. Of course there were many other factors that led to that decision, like the fact that I have a supportive man and family. We were in this together, which is something I understand not everyone has.

So here’s my journey… It’s been quite some time since I looked down at that test in shock. My son is now a year and a half old and I am finally in my senior year of college. My man and I have such a strong bond and my son is growing up in a home filled with love and laughter.

My life hardly looks like what it was pre-baby days. So how am I doing it? Simple.

One. Step. At. A. Time.

Juggling college and family responsibility is definitely not easy; however it becomes more manageable by the day. Though, my son came at a time when I least expected it, he is charismatic, bright, handsome and a plethora of other great adjectives. He exceeds my expectations far more than any child I could have asked for.

Yes, it would have been ideal for us to have met once I graduated, got married and had a secure job with benefits, but that’s not how it works. Plans go sideways. Surprises reroute the path of our visions. And we must adapt. My son’s existence shows me how much more I can grow, pushing me to build and discover the best parts of myself, allowing me to expand upon them.

Along the way, I continue to learn lessons and try to better myself through it all. Sure, life has changed, but I still enjoy my youth and many times do so with my child in tow. I look forward to living out this new chapter one adventure at a time.

Major changes like these challenge us to take a deep look into ourselves. I’m not in any way condemning the decision not to undertake motherhood or opting for an abortion. Those are some very personal decisions to make. The best choice looks different for everyone. I am saying however, that having a child does not have to be a death sentence for our goals and dreams. It is still possible to achieve them and live them out. I’m simply calling out the pattern of judgment and premature condemning and assumption of a life unfulfilled by our peers. Yes, life will change dramatically, but adjustments, a shift in perspective and support go a long way.

My story is not unique. There are many other positive ones out there, but they go untold or are overshadowed by the stigma of unplanned pregnancy. A supportive, patient ear can make a tough topic and decision much easier to digest. Regardless of the outcome, events like these are a growing process and can be equally empowering. Let’s not rob each other of that. I hope you’ll consider changing the narrative with me.

Cristina is an optimistic-realist navigating through life’s daily mishaps and adventures. She’s almost at the finish line with her undergraduate degree in Public Policy. If she’s not studying, she’s venturing out with her little family in the sunny Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area. She’s new to the blogosphere and working on launching her blog. In the mean time, welcome her and connect with her on and Instagram @cocoa_belle and Twitter @bronze_muse

Guest Writers Week | My Saving Grace

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By Marquita Johnson

As an introvert, writing has been my saving grace. I started writing over two decades ago. My writings started out as poetry and love was my inspiration. I started writing as a teenage girl in love. At that time, I had yet to realize the bouts I was going to have with the infamous emotion of love. I would fall in love, fall out of love… I loved love, I hated love, just all of the above. Writing became my saving grace because at that time it was my only outlet to release the emotions I couldn’t speak about.

Writing poems was my therapy. Whatever thoughts were on my mind in regards to love, I would just put pen to paper and think no more about it. I had released. Purpose served. Once those emotions escaped my mind and were placed on paper, I wouldn’t read them until weeks or sometimes even months later and just be in awe. Still, I never saw my writing as anything more than just a way to release pent up emotions. It was the safest stress reliever for an introvert with a temper. I had no idea that writing would end up being my passion and that I would even consider pursuing it as a career.

Not many people were aware that I was a writer. I wasn’t good at sharing my thoughts or opinions verbally. When I wrote out my thoughts, opinions and rants, I didn’t share them with others. “I’m sensitive bout my sh**” as stated by Ms. Erykah Badu. And I was very sensitive about my work (actually, I still am). I would always think, what if they don’t get it? What if they think I am just crazy or delusional? So, for years I only shared my work with very few people. I received positive feedback from some and negative feedback from others. Still, it took me years before I started sharing my work publicly.

For years I wondered what my purpose and passion were. Needless to say, it was under my nose the entire time. No one I know has a career as a writer. Writing wasn’t considered a “job” where I grew up. I have had several unfulfilling jobs since I was 16 years old. One dead-end job after another. Regardless of the amount of money I was making on those jobs, they were still dead end jobs to me. I finally let go of all fear and doubt and decided, to hell with it, and started a blog. Over the past two decades I have kept all of the poems and articles I have written. I have a storage tub filled with papers and tablets that had never been shared until I started my blog. I am also in the process of publishing my first book.

Writing has been my life saver, my best friend, my companion, and truly my saving grace. I never thought I would have a blog. Although I am still working out some kinks and researching how to improve my blog, I enjoy blogging. I enjoy allowing complete strangers to read my thoughts and opinions and not care about any judgments. Being a poet and being a writer are more than just venting to me now. It allows me to share my story which I pray helps other women. If my writing is a saving grace for me, I pray that it’s a saving grace for others as well.

Marquita Y. Johnson grew up in the small town of Sparta, GA. She started writing poetry at the age of 14 years old. Her passion is encouraging young women who think they are alone in the trials they face in regards to love and life. Connect with her online @Marquita_56.

Guest Writers Week | The Older You Get…

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High school was chock full of daunting college applications, fleeting friendships, and hype pep rallies. For most, it was exciting, but I was always counting down the days until college happened. In high school, I cared too much about what others thought of me and I longed to go to a place where I would be accepted. My days were spent (in between studying of course) feeling badly about sitting at the lunch table alone, working tirelessly to impress a guy or following the path laid out for me to the letter. I was afraid to speak up in class for fear that I would be called a nerd, so I spent most of my time hiding so that others could be comfortable with me.

Sure, I was a star student, involved in many student groups and poised to head to a top college. But on the inside, I let what my peers thought of me or what I thought they thought of me rob me of the freedom of being unapologetically me.

That “dull your own shine” attitude followed me into my college years.

I’d miss interesting events and speakers because I was afraid I’d be the only Black person there or worse that I’d have no one to go with. I didn’t join certain student groups for fear of being ridiculed. I didn’t pursue my dream of writing because of the people who told me that it was not a substantial career. When you tell people that you are a Theatre and Latin American Studies major, their blank stares, piercing disappointment, confusion and replies of “Oh” can dim your spirit.

I wanted to impress. I wanted a “You go, girl!”

Instead replies went something like this…

“Why do you want to do that?”

“What are you going to do with that?”

“Why didn’t you study business?”

“You will never make it.”

Because I didn’t get the affirmation I sought, I forced myself to pursue other interests. I focused on my backup plan so much that I didn’t get anywhere near my dream.

It took conversations with my mother during my last year of college to realize that what others say or feel about your path should not matter. The infinite “Oh” that I receive when talking about my purpose is just a result of other people’s fear. It should not be mine. You would think that the revelation would have happened sooner, but you can’t rush progress.

And that has been my goal: to stop basing my life and decisions on other people’s expectations.

Every day, I ask myself the questions:
What do you want to do?
What is your purpose?

And I follow that with my whole heart.

The older you get, the less you care. Or maybe you just come into your own. No need for “Amen” and “You go, girl” to compliment your dreams (unless they are praying for you, then you need all of that you can get). You live everyday so that you can look back on it in fifty years with few regrets. You don’t need a co-signer. You don’t need to explain or give everyone a play-by-play of how it is going to happen. The older you get, the more experiences you have and the more you realize that you don’t care what people think about you. You begin to live life to please your Creator and yourself. You follow your dreams with a gusto and magic that is contagious. That magic inspires others to do the same.

Jelisa Jay Robinson is a writer and playwright from Houston, Texas. She enjoys traveling, singing 90’s pop music, belting out Enrique Iglesias songs with friends, and reading a good Junot Diaz novel. You can find her musings on being a bilingual Black American on her website Black Girl, Latin World. Feel free to follow her on twitter @jelisathewriter.

Guest Writers Week | Closer Than We Realize

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By Christopher Wallace

I graduated from the University of Maryland and thought I had made it. I figured that the world would be handed to me on a silver platter, and that the end of a journey I never thought I could finish was done. Soon after, I realized that the journey was only just beginning.

At that moment, I started going off into this really weird depression and surrounding myself with the wrong people. I never thought I was going to be able to do anything worthwhile. I could barely get a job or get any of my personal projects going. I let the sadness get the best of me, but I knew I needed to hustle in order to make my situation better. After working some connections, I was able to find work, and then I was able to use that to help fund my projects. I cannot say that I am exactly where I want to be, but I know I am closer than I was then. I gained a lot more positivity and happiness through that part of my journey.

I measure journeys by relativity–where you are, what you are around, who you surround yourself with, what things you do, etc. All of those are factors in how far along you are in the journey, and how close you are to the goal.

There are things in life that even have markers of relativity. If you are reading a book, you can look at the table of contents to see how much you have read and see how much more reading you have to do. Some video games have percentage values that track the progress you have made. In school, you know what grade or what year you are in, and you know how much work you have to do to get to the end.

Life, however, is not that simple. We all have wants and needs, goals and desires, but we have no idea how close we are to getting them. We can set plans and work diligently, but we have no way of realizing when they will come to fruition. And maybe, that’s a good thing.

Consider the possibility that we did have some system of checkpoints or markers that let us know how far along we were in our respective journeys. Could it make us lazy? Could it make us complacent? Would we take breaks? And with that, is it possible that we could lose out on the end through them?

It would provide some level of comfort maybe, but it is important that without these metrics we continue to push on and go after our goals. But there is a metric that we can use on our journey, and it is called happiness.

It’s no secret that realizing our dreams is something that can make us happy. Whatever work you do, always make sure that turns into some happiness for yourself. I try to take one little victory with everything that I do. Write a song, make a new beat, whatever. it may not be the end-all-be-all. It may not put me on a private jet. But I am better off and further along on the journey than I would be if I didn’t do any of those things. And that is what truly makes me happy.

Honestly, our goals are probably closer than we realize. That moment we may feel like giving up or quitting can be the moment we are about to break through. And no matter what, never compare yourself to others. Remember, it’s all relative. Be who YOU are. Stick to YOUR goals. And make yourself happy. The journey then handles itself.

Christopher Wallace is a budding rapper, producer, writer, and filmmaker out of Hempstead, New York. Connect with him online @csbigsby.