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Guest columists

HARTSEL CLIFTON SHIRLEY

HartStrings – Before The Rainbow

“Before The Rainbow”

 Guest Writer: Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley         

 

     Drag queens, female impersonators, transgenders.  We’re very familiar with the terms, even if we don’t personally know someone who is.

     Throughout American history, these individuals have been taboo, underappreciated–and rejected. In Black America, these persons were “worse than freaks, were abnormal, and the dregs of society.”

     Therefore, imagine how very difficult—actually onerous more times than not–it was for those individuals to fully be their true, authentic selves in the 20th century.  

     The early 1900s would give us Gladys Bentley, a Black lesbian, who made a name for herself because of her piano playing, singing–and penchant for dressing as a man. Gladys was a favorite of actors including Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant, and Cesar Romero.  However, the repressive and oppressive McCarthy era, which lasted from the late 1940s through the 1950s, would force her to wear dresses and marry a man.

     The 1960s brought forth Sir Lady Java, who was very popular in Los Angeles and a favorite of celebrities such as Redd Foxx, Lena Horne, Mae West, and Richard Pryor.

     In the 20th and (so far) the 21st century, we tend to only acknowledge the names of mainstream performers, such as Boy George or Divine.  And, we know of Little Richard, Sylvester, and RuPaul.

    But the door was opened much earlier by a man named William Dorsey Swann – an ex-slave!   Can you envision the difficulties and obstacles Swann surely must have faced and endured while pursuing his true, authentic self—in the 19th century?

( William Dorsey Swann (right) was an American gay liberation activist.  Born into slavery in Maryland around 1858, he was the first person in America to lead a queer resistance group and the first known individual to self-identify as “queen of drag.” Image courtesy of Mr. Channing Gerard Joseph.) 

     Born into slavery around 1858 in Hancock, Maryland, Swann was freed by Union soldiers after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.   During the 1880s and 90s, Swann–a gay liberation activist who was the first known person to self-identify as “queen of drag”—organized a series of balls in D.C.   Most of the attendees of Swann’s soirees were formerly enslaved men who were gathering to dance in their satin and silk dresses.  Due to the secrecy of these events, invitations often were quietly made at places like the YWCA.

     Numerous times, Swann was arrested in police raids–including in the very first documented case of arrests for female impersonation in America, on April 12, 1888.  And in 1896, he was falsely convicted and sentenced to 10 months in jail for “keeping a disorderly house” (running a house of prostitution).

     After his sentencing, Swann requested a pardon from President Grover Cleveland—but was denied.  However, “The Queen” was the first American on record who pursued legal and political action to defend the LGBTQ community’s right to assemble. 

     And this occurred nearly a century before Stonewall.

     So, what’s the moral of this story?  Well, it goes something like this:

     We were there first, we’re present now, and will always be…

Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley is an author, writer, singer/songwriter, and bishop from Waterloo, Iowa. He received his master’s degree in business from the International Business Management Institute based in Berlin, Germany.

Currently residing in Atlanta, Mr. Shirley is a bishop of National and International Social Action, part of New Direction Overcomers’ International Fellowship (based in Richmond, Virginia).  

A multi-faceted talent, Hartsel is a writer, author, and singer/songwriter.  A bronze prize winner of the International Society of Poets, he has penned editorials for the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier. His best-selling novel is entitled Three Words, Four Letters, published by Ishai Books.  Additionally, Hartsel has charted at #1 several times on the ReverbNation pop music charts. 

Inspired by Langston Hughes, Bishop Shirley states, “I write what moves me.  There is nothing I can’t write. I just have to care about it so I can write truthfully.”

According to Hartsel, his current book, The Night Eddie Sallis Died, is based on factual information he uncovered in 2002 about a 1966 jail cell “suicide” in Waterloo, Iowa (his place of birth).  This revealing and riveting book pulls back the curtain on racism and police brutality. The author emphasizes, “These truths make Iowa a state not to be taken lightly–nor forget.”

Hartsel’s upcoming works include Three Words and Four Letters–the second and third installments of his first novel–along with his third music project, Rebel with A Cause.

Bishop Shirley can be emailed at hartselshirley@gmail.com

Old School New Kid 13 – MARK MY WORDS, YOU NEVER KNOW, NEVER GIVE UP

“MARK MY WORDS, YOU NEVER KNOW, NEVER GIVE UP”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham          

    

     Besides the COVID-19 pandemic (which, paradoxically, has given our planet a chance to breathe), there is another pandemic that is front and center at this time, though it has been around far longer: systemic racism. Indeed, George Floyd’s murder has sparked a revolution around the world. However, it strikes far closer to home for me, because it took place in my hometown, in the neighborhood where I grew up.

     Baby Boomer that I am, I can remember my own experiences with racism as a young Black gay man:

     I remember riding my bike through certain neighborhoods in town and being called the N-word.

     I remember being passed over for certain positions in the workplace because of my Blackness.

     I remember the civil unrest on Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis in 1967.

     I remember experiencing racism and ignorance at my alma mater in the ’70s.

     I remember times when I used to go to clubs as an adult, being carded and asked for several forms of ID while white gay men just walked on in without being stopped.

     I remember what it was like to spend a night in jail for something I never did because a white woman I’d never met accused me of aggravated robbery. Later, I found out from my father that she had actually given the kiosk money I had allegedly robbed her of to her boyfriend, and chose to lie about it; who knows what would have happened had I not had a lawyer, friends who could vouch for my whereabouts, and a father who wouldn’t take any crap off the police officer who tried to get him to get me to confess.

     Today, I know what’s it like to have to tell my son, now a young Black male, to watch his back and stay off the police radar.

     When these events unfolded over the past weeks, I found something fascinating. When I wrote the first draft of my Mark My Words trilogy over two decades ago, the very issues included in it–racism, police brutality, sexism, homophobia–are now the current events on people’s minds. My character of Allen Beckley Christopher may have become a multimillionaire, but he and his family weren’t free of the aforementioned issues in our country, internalized or externalized. Yet, when I wrote it, I had hope.

Never Give Up, book cover, a black Judge in his black robes, sitting in the court

     In You Never Know, I spoke of these issues less. However, the practice of redlining was a part of the history of Minneapolis, and as such it is included in my historical fiction. As an author, I’m inspired by the words of Toni Morrison: “If there is a story you want to read, and it hasn’t been written, then you must be the one to write it.” Yes, the books I want to read include success, making a difference, and hope. I have a voice, and my voice is in the pen. That being said, I want to take a moment to give thanks to the Black press (such as Insight News and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder) for reporting the successes, strengths, and the inspiring people/events in the community as well as the challenges.

     Never Give Up, as my upcoming historical novel in my series, takes place in 2012. In light of current events, I see this novel now, with the way I wrote the police investigation of my main character Judge Earl James Berry’s shooting, as something that could have been, or might have been, had things been different. Amid the storm of this particular pandemic, I still have hope. There is no quick, easy fix to 401 years of institutionalized racism, but there’s hope for substantive change, and I’ve witnessed it in the young people who are leading this revolution for justice.

     My works-in-progress include two male/male romance novels (yes, romance is my favorite recreational reading). Because it is still underrepresented in the genre, I’ve made it a point to add my voice to Black Love, specifically between two Black men. My brothas and sistahs, if you have a story inside you that’s aching to be written, don’t wait. Allow nothing to stop you. Do it. Publish it yourself. You’d be amazed at the support that is out there waiting for you. And you can pay it forward by your support of other Black authors/authors of color.

     Recently, I tuned in to a Virtual Town Hall meeting on Facebook. The topic was, “Race in Minneapolis,” and what we can do to create substantive change in our culture of “business as usual” when it comes to dismantling racism. One of the words of wisdom was for us as African-Americans to tell our stories. If we don’t, who will?

     At the end of the day, it’s all about the love. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a “Drum Major for Justice,” and he loved this country too much to let it alone. 

     Believe in dreams and never give up. There is hope.     

The Book: Mark my words.

© 2020 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 20

Pardon Me

Guest Writer: R. L. Norman      

 As I sit here, I swear I can feel the walls closing in on me. I don’t know how much more I can take of this “quarantine thing.”  But they say, “It’s for my own good.”  I’m not so sure about that:  I’d rather be with my family and friends during this time.  I miss them.

While I’m in such a contemplative frame of mind, let me tell you a story that I’m sure is quite applicable to this quarantine thing we’re having to live through.

I live in Washington, DC, have a good job and a nice home. Life was great except for one thing:  I was lonely and alone.  Even though I did have my share of the company of men, I didn’t have that special man to call my own.

One night, I was out at a club with friends, and this guy named Tyrone just walked up to me and introduced himself. I was a little taken aback by his boldness; however, his allure and charisma won me over. I will admit he was a charmer, and I fell in love with him quickly.

After about a year of dating, we moved in together. Tyrone worked in law enforcement and was very well known.  Meanwhile, I worked for a health insurance company as a customer service representative.

We had a very fulfilling, loving life together. During the week, we’d have a quick breakfast together, kiss each other goodbye before we left for work, and text each other periodically during the day. Every night we would kiss each other hello after a hard day’s work. I cooked dinner for my man every Sunday through Thursday. On the weekends, we ate out or ordered in.

So. in the beginning, our relationship was great! Tyrone wined and dined me, treating me like a king–and sometimes a queen! ( LOL.)  We went on trips together and threw numerous parties for our family and friends.  We even went on what we called “date night.”  Life was wonderful!

But they say that when you first meet someone, they send their representative to gain your trust, confidence, and love for them.

And then after you feel happy and comfortable, the real person shows up.

Well, that’s what happened to me!  The real Tyrone showed up.

One day, I had to work late. I’d intended to call Tyrone to let him know. But my being on the phone all day did not give me a chance to do so. So, I texted him instead. 

I got no response.

When I finally arrived home, I was met at the door by Tyrone—who was incensed!  Immediately, he demanded to know where I was.

I tried to explain to him what happened; however, Tyrone accused me of cheating on him. During all the back and forth yelling, he suddenly struck me across my face.

I was shocked as I stared at him in disbelief!   As Tyrone walked away, he informed me that he had to know where I was–at all times.

After Tyrone calmed down, he pleaded with me to accept his apology. He swore he would never do it again.  

He was “just…upset.”

     So, I believed him.  We got back to our wonderful life.

Then shortly after that, Tyrone accused me of flirting with someone while we were on one of our date nights. I pleaded with him to calm down, that I was NOT flirting.

But before I knew it, he grabbed my fingers and twisted them!  Tyrone broke one and fractured another.

 I was stupefied!  Speechless. 

 And once more, he apologized.  Tyrone swore he would never do it again.

And I forgave him!  I believed he was sincere. 

I also believed it was my fault that he did those things!

And,  I believed I could change him.

As time went on, Tyrone became more and more controlling!  I found myself checking in with him before I did anything. I found myself blaming myself for all the abuse. And after a while, he deliberately—and with calculation–kept me away from my family and friends, as I made excuse after excuse for my obvious injuries. 

As I slowly became more and more isolated, family and friends worked hard to find out what was going on. They tried their level best to get me out of this toxic and dysfunctional relationship.

However, I was too in love and being controlled.

I just knew I could change Tyrone!  Besides, it WAS all my fault.

I was always nervous around him because I never knew what kind of mood he’d be in–whether he was going to be in a good mood, bad mood, or just plain crazy! 

 But, remember: I loved him.

And then the coronavirus hit the world!  And we had to practice social distancing.

The best part of my day was when Tyrone went to work. I worked from home. The slamming of the door every morning was a blessing. Every time he left, the tension in the air would suddenly disappear and I would exhale. The days were wonderful!

But the worst part of the day was the sound of his key in the front door when he came home!   Instantly, the tension would appear once again.

And I went back into my private hell.

Time and time again, I wanted to leave him–but never did. As mental and physical abuse became worse and worse, this private hell went on for some time.

But today, my now ex-boyfriend and I are still practicing social distancing.

But there’s one big difference.

We are not just six feet apart. He is six feet under.

He struck me one time too many–and now I am in quarantine!  In jail.

You see, while I was preparing his dinner, Tyrone attacked–yelling at and grabbing me!

We tussled for a moment. And when I spun around, the knife in my hand found its way into his chest!

I’m not sure if I did it while defending myself.  Or, maybe I did it because I’d truly had enough of his abuse.

Either way…I am here. Quarantined.

And I hope that after they find out the circumstances of my situation, I get a pardon. I hope to go free and get back to my marvelous life before him.

The preceding is a story, a piece of fiction.  However, that is real life for many people today. Years ago, I was living my own private hell with an abusive boyfriend.  Back then, I wished someone had helped me escape. 

So, if you know someone whom you suspect is in an abusive relationship, please try to help them. During this time of the pandemic, being trapped in your home with your abuser is a living hell.  Without a doubt.

When there was no pandemic, I lived with my abuser—which was pure torture.  Then, I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening. I loved him and gave him every excuse for everything he did to me. And I gave my family and friends every excuse for my behavior, as well as the marks and bruises on my body.

Some people are truly crying out for help like I was. If you suspect someone is being abused, please do everything you can to help them escape their particular private hell.

You don’t want them to end up being quarantined, being trapped like the guy in my story.

Inside, my heart cries invisible tears that no one can see.


If you or someone you know is experiencing IPV/A, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project Hotline (1-800-832-1901).  

NATHANIEL OCTAVIUS-NERDO


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer, and author of the popular series of novels entitled, Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The fifth installment “Honey, Hush: Don’t Ask And I Won’t Tell” was a sizzling sequel to the series.  Now his sixth book, “Honey, I Can’t Stand The Rain, drops in April 2020.  As well, R. L. has created  Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived, wrote and performs that showcases the main character of his series.  And catch his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else”which returns soon to Itunes All of these endeavors are part of Mr. Norman’s production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram @rlnorman1. 

Old School New Kid 12

“Second Home”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham          

      Indeed, COVID-19 has brought about drastic changes in our lives. My state has a shelter-in-place order at this time, and all that goes with it. People overall have been good about compliance here; I must admit it’s weird driving on freeways with hardly any traffic, but I will take it for what it’s worth.

     I remember the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That has included being creative about staying connected, whether it’s via Zoom meetings or gathering for virtual church services online. I’m sure people are calling each other more to check in, especially with loved ones who are older. Except for the essential errands and a walk, besides prayer and meditation, I get to do more reading and writing, as well as binge-watch my favorite classic TV shows and movies.

     This season has brought good news for me as an author. Earlier this month, I had the honor of being a guest on one of the local radio stations here, where I was interviewed about the impact COVID-19 has had on the LGBT community as well as my literary body of work. Also, my Christopher Family Novel series is now on the shelves of four library systems here in Minnesota. Yaassss!

     For a person whose second home growing up was the library, having my work represented on those shelves is a mark of success for me as an author/novelist. Before the Information Age was deemed as such, there was the public library. Getting my first library card was a license to a whole wide world of books, newspapers, magazines (keep in mind that I was a child of the 1950s and early 1960s).

Never Give Up, book cover, a black Judge in his black robes, sitting in the court

     When I grew older, I would read biographies and autobiographies, but the fiction section tapped into my vivid imagination, particularly novelists who wrote series. To this day, I can visualize myself as a child, all arms and legs, walking home from a trip to the library with books up to my chin. I would then sit in my “reading chair” at home, my pile next to me, and proceed to read every book, each embarking upon a different adventure.

     Indeed, I could stay in a library for hours, and it is still one of the places conducive to my best writing and inspiration. During my childhood and young adulthood, the main library here also had another treat: a planetarium. Field trips to the planetarium shows were part of my school days.  But as an adult, it was a great way to get away for an hour and chill. And then I’d go over to the library and check out books.

     Today, technology is an integral part of our public and school libraries, what with the Internet, computer labs, and the like. Still, there is nothing like having a book in your hands to read; for an author, holding your work in your hands or having a signed copy from your favorite authors.

     Given the restrictions, my interactions with the libraries in my area are currently limited to curbside pickup of my materials—amazing how much we take for granted, given that there was a time in history when it was dangerous for African-Americans to know how to read and write. Seeing these buildings, however, serves as a reminder of another lesson I’ve learned over time—being a good writer means being a good reader.

     Stay safe and well. Believe in dreams and never give up.

© 2020 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 19

Jump!

Guest Writer: R. L. Norman  

    

     I was frozen with shock. I couldn’t move. My mind was racing with so many thoughts.

     “I can’t believe he did that. I can’t believe we did that. Right here in the alley between two buildings. Anyone could have walked upon us.”

     At twelve years old, I thought about “it,” but didn’t know how, when or where it would ever happen…

     But I guess all questions were answered…all except one: What do we do now?

     We took a leap of faith. There is a first time for everything.

     And this was my first time.

     And I was scared! But let’s think about it: every first time is scary.

     I remember my first day at high school. I was so nervous! I must have tried on every new piece of clothing my parents bought me–to see which one was the coolest.

     I remember that first day I walked into school. I tried to be one of the “cool kids” and walked through the “groovy” door to the school. It was the only door that the popular kids walked through.

     I took a leap of faith!

     I held my head high as I sauntered in as if I belonged. And it worked! I was one of the cool kids.

     If only for a moment.

     And in no time flat, I heard someone behind me making a joke about my overalls, and shoes with white socks.

     Can we say “country?”

     I found out that in the year 1975, that was NOT a cool look in New Jersey!

     I felt terrible; however, I continued with confidence and fear at the same time.

     However, taking a leap of faith paid off! I was that funny dressed cool kid.

     Now, fast-forward to my first day of college. It was the first time I was away from home, moving from New Jersey to Alabama. I was alone, nervous and afraid.

     I tried my best to make new friends, meet my professors and adapt to living away from home.

     I took another leap of faith while I made a fool of myself. I introduced myself to everyone–whether they wanted to meet me or not.

     Unfortunately, though, I was obnoxious and didn’t realize it! The truth was that I was scared of life at that time. I was a fool, but it paid off. I ended up knowing lots of people.

     I remember my first date in college. I took yet another leap of faith. It was with this girl with whom I was sooooo smitten! I ended up being her secret valentine, mailing her little gifts every day for a week.

     Then, I asked her for a date on Valentine’s Day.

     Before the date, I sent her eleven red roses. And, up until the day, I had bouts of nervousness–hoping she’d like me.

     The day of our rendezvous–with the twelfth red rose in hand–I rocked back and forth.

     Waiting for her approach.

     As I saw my date walking towards me, I waved. Of course, she didn’t know who I was! Remember: I was a secret.

     She walked up to me and I handed her that rose, introducing myself.

     She smiled politely. And then, she told me she had to cancel our date! She claimed she wasn’t feeling well.

     It felt like a kick to the gut! I was crushed. She walked away, joining her friends–who were giggling and laughing at me.

     I suppose that my brown polyester suit, wide brown striped tie, and black shoes with white socks simply was not a good look! Though after my popularity grew, suddenly, she wanted to date me.

     But her leap of faith failed!

     In life, however, there are always going to be many leaps of faith. Many times, we are going to have to take a chance and try something new.

     I remember the first job I had after college. I worked for a construction company. My job was at the bottom of the barrel. I did manual labor.

     I took a leap of faith and got fired the first day. I held up the building construction by spilling mixed cement, miscalculating measurements, and taking too long to stack bricks.

     At the time, I didn’t think my leap of faith paid off. But in the long run, I became a prominent architect in New York City.

     You see, you have to take a chance in life and take many leaps. Especially when you are trying new things.

     And those times when you are nervous about the unknown.

     At twelve years old, my friend Robert took a leap of faith. We were standing in the alley between two buildings. The street lights had just come on, which meant we both had to rush home. I was supposed to be there already, and I knew I was going to be in trouble.

     As we stood there, I was waiting to hear the sound of my mother’s voice as she would stand on the front porch yelling my name, along with the other parents whose children did not make it home once the street lights came on.

     I told Robert that I had to go! Of course, he also had to go because of those street lights.

     We stood there in silence, staring at each other.

     And before I knew it, he took a leap of faith.

     He grabbed me, squeezed me tight…and kissed me! Tongue and all.

     I stood there, frozen with shock, as I watched him jet away.

     After a few minutes, I regained my composure and sprinted home, confusion running through my head.

     “My first kiss by a boy! My first kiss from anyone. So, where do we go from here?”

     Well, we went from the alleyway to an undercover gay love affair! The leap of faith paid off.

     In life, there will always be a first time for something. And during this coronavirus pandemic madness, this may be the perfect first time to take a leap of faith.

     It’s the perfect time to learn new things. They are many possibilities.

     Maybe you can look into enhancing your present career. Or explore a new career.

     What about starting a business? Taking up a new hobby?

     Or, just do something that you’ve always wanted to do.

     I did a few things. I taught myself how to knit and crochet a blanket. I taught myself how to play the flute again, which I haven’t done since college.

     I learned how to self-publish my books. And I learned how to invest in the stock market. From my balcony, I’ve even started taking pictures of people ambling by during this crisis for a book titled “World of Madness During the Pandemic.”

     All of these things were my leaps of faith that will enhance my life after this crisis is over. And some of them might even put some more money in my pocket if I do it right.

     So, during this crisis, take a leap of faith into something new and enhance your life! Let’s come out of this crisis hopefully richer.

     So, jump!

     And these are the times when you never know the outcome; but, you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to give it your all to succeed. You should reach for the stars and do your best. And if you fall short, at least you did your best and should be proud of yourself.

     In other words, don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith! If there’s something new you want to do, then do it.

     Create a plan…and jump! Leap into the unknown. You may be surprised at the outcome. The final result may be your hope, wish and dream that becomes a reality.

  


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer, and author of the popular series of novels entitled, Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The fifth installment “Honey, Hush: Don’t Ask And I Won’t Tell” was a sizzling sequel to the series.  Now his sixth book, “Honey, I Can’t Stand The Rain, drops in April 2020.  As well, R. L. has created  Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived, wrote and performs that showcases the main character of his series.  And catch his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else”which returns soon to Itunes All of these endeavors are part of Mr. Norman’s production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram @rlnorman1. 

Old School New Kid 11

“Never Give Up!”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham      

     Summer will be here before I know it, and with it the release of Never Give Up: A Christopher Family Novel. True, it is a historical fiction/whodunit, as I have mentioned in my previous columns. However, the story does have elements of romance, which include the LGBT members of the Berry family.

     Like Allan Beckley Christopher and Elijah Edwards, Judge Earl James Berry’s life is seen through the lenses of his family. The following excerpt features his youngest child and only son, Carter Woodson Berry. As you know, I embrace Black love, and the romantic in me brings together Carter and the Boy Next Door:

 

     After five daughters, I can only imagine that Daddy was in nirvana on a snowy January 25, 1959, when Dr. Bradford said, “It’s a boy.” Mama has a strong sense of the value and importance of African American history, which may be the reason she named me after Carter G. Woodson. I’m sure that Daddy agreed with her choice. Now that he had a son, he probably would have agreed to almost any name she came up with.

     There is something to be said for having five big sisters. If I wanted to keep something secret, I learned early on not to confide in my sisters much. I love them, but while I was growing up, they considered it their sworn duty to stay in my business. The same went for my cousins, Ellen and Elizabeth, since they spent a lot of time after school at our house until Ellen turned fourteen. Douglass Edwards and Julian Edwards were closer to my age, but we went to different elementary schools, so we’d hang out at the park sometimes or whenever our parents got together.

     I was only a toddler when Uncle Eldon was killed, but things changed for our family when that happened. Daddy became an assistant district attorney with a mission of putting the criminals away and getting justice for their victims. When I was older, he told me about how Uncle Eldon’s murderer got off, and part of me hoped the dude would suffer the way my uncle did. “You keep putting the bad guys away, Daddy. For Uncle Eldon,” was my reply. I could imagine him saying that to himself after each conviction that was upheld. Learning that the perp suffered the torture of death by cancer in 1978, a few months after LaVera and Derrick’s wedding, was a vindication of a sort and it gave our family closure, even though it didn’t bring Uncle Eldon back.

     Daddy’s appointment to the bench in January of 1973 was the culmination of a dream for him, and I was quite proud of him; I told my teachers and classmates all about it. When we moved next door to the Edwardses in July, I thought my dream would come true when Julian Edwards came over to help out. I was a grade behind him, so I guess I was “under the radar” as far as he was concerned.

     He was, without a doubt, one gorgeous man, and he still is. Unlike his older brothers, he looked something like the singer Jackie Wilson in his prime. I couldn’t help but notice him peeking out of his bedroom window as we were moving furniture into our house—Mama wanted everything in its proper place, what with Sylvia’s wedding taking place at the end of the month. Sure, our families know each other, but Julian’s parents had moved when I was in elementary school. Once we were both back at Bryant Jr. High, I was operating under the disadvantage of being a grade behind him and moving in different circles, all because he was seven months older than me. At the age of 14, though, I found myself looking at him in a very different way. I couldn’t help but hear the way my sisters talked about this boy or that boy once they hit their teens. Now I understood what they meant. Mine happened to conveniently live next door.

     I was struggling with a heavy mirror, attempting to get it out to the edge of the van so Daddy could help me with it, when I heard someone behind me say, “Need some help with that?”

     I looked up from my task and—wow!—there he was. I took a moment to wipe some sweat from my brow; no way was I going to turn down that kind of help. “Sure. Thanks.” He climbed up into the van to grab one end of the mirror, while I checked him out as nonchalantly as I could. “Julian?”

     “Yeah. I’m your new neighbor.”

     “You went to Bryant.”

     “Right again. I start at Central this fall.”

     “I wish I was. I have to wait another year,” I said wistfully.

     “Trust me, it’ll pass before you know it.” We edged our way down the ramp, managing the mirror as best we could. “You know, my brothers know your sisters.”

     “Yeah, come to think of it. I remember Linda talked about your brother Mel a lot. What’s he up to?”

     “Just working a summer gig, then it’s back to Northwestern.”

     “Linda’s at Marquette. Careful, the steps are coming up.”

     “Thanks.” He backed slowly up the steps, and I appreciated the way we fell into sync. “So, what’s it like to have five big sisters these days?”

     “OK, I guess—if they weren’t always in my business.”

     “Still, Carter, you do have some fine sisters.”

Never Give Up, book cover, a black Judge in his black robes, sitting in the court

     “That’s just it, they know it. But they’re cool. I feel sorry for the dudes who come around to date them. When Sylvia was living at home, Daddy would take her dates into the den and close the door. I don’t know what he said, but they always came out of there looking like he’d held them at gunpoint. And he was the picture of cool and calm. Same with Deshawna and Linda.”

     “Dad was pretty strict with my brothers, too. John told me it took an act of Congress to get Dad to let him use the car for the homecoming dance. Of course, that was before John bought his own car.” We chuckled as we reached the next set of steps. “But Ma…if they brought home a girl she didn’t like, she’d give them The Look and it was all over but the shouting. So, which way do I go?”

     “Uh….to the left and straight back.”
We set the mirror down in the dining room and went back outside to get more furniture. As we went up the ramp, I heard a familiar voice calling, “Carter! You’d better be careful with my bed!”

     “Relax, LaVera. Stop acting like it’s a Brink’s delivery,” I said sarcastically. As we carried out a box spring mattress, my sister came outside. As far as looks go, she could give Beyonce some competition, but her attitude left something to be desired. “LaVera, you remember Julian Edwards? Julian, LaVera.”

     She regarded this introduction from her regal pose for a moment and said, “Oh, right, you’re Mel’s little brother. Hi.”

     “Hi, LaVera. Where does this go?”

     “Upstairs, second door on the right,” was her lofty reply, giving the attitude that only corroborated my character assessment.

     As the afternoon wore on, we managed to get everything off the truck while putting up with LaVera’s and Chauntice’s orders. Mama and Daddy gave Julian compliments about his helpfulness, but I saw him as my dreamboat. The way he could be awkward and graceful at the same time, tall and gangly yet built, with buns to die for. The smile, had he known it then, that had me ready to melt while Mama prepared a meal to replenish our strength after our hard work.

     After that day, we were nearly inseparable. We were at each other’s houses so much that our parents took it for granted. I watched him grow taller until he hit 6’4” and filled out to desirable proportions. I had stopped at 5’8”, built like a gymnast with a touch of bodybuilder. I hoped and hoped Julian would make a move or something, yet I didn’t want to scare him off. It just seemed like forever; it wasn’t until later that I learned Julian felt the same way as I did. He was just shy about approaching me, like that Pointer Sisters song that came out in the ‘80s. Even with that knowledge, it was still a waiting game. Man, how I wished that the Berry charm Daddy and Grandpa Berry bragged about would work for me when it came to Julian Edwards, preferably sooner than later.

     One evening during spring break of my junior year at Central High, Julian invited me over to his house. Ordinarily, it would be no big deal, because we spent so much time at each other’s houses. This time, I sensed something different when I followed him up to his room; the house was so quiet. I started to ask him where his parents were, until I remembered that they went to a fundraiser with mine. Still…

     “Where’s Mrs. Banks?” I asked.

     “Oh, she has the night off,” he said with what looked like a nervous yet secretive smile.

     We sat in his room as usual, talking about school or family stuff and listening to Donna Summer albums. I’d been around Julian long enough to tell when he was building up to something, and this had all the earmarks of it. On a hunch, I gave him my most encouraging look. Please, Berry charm, go to work. Please, please, please……

     “You know, Carter…I like you. I like it when we spend time together.” He moved closer to me.

     “I know.”

     “I mean, I really like you. The way our classmates do when they’re going together.”
At last. “I know that, too, since I feel the same way about you.”

     “Maybe we’ve been dating and didn’t know it. Well…I want to make it official.” He took my hand. “Will you be my boyfriend?”

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

© 2020 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 10

“Blue Lights in the Basement”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham      

     For those of us brothas of a certain age, “Blue Lights in the Basement” was the title of an album by Roberta Flack. When I think of that phrase, I think of a place and mood that took place despite the challenges. Hence, I consider this installment more as a meditation of a time gone by, but still in my heart.

     Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the primary meeting place for LGBT brothas was at the clubs, where the activity was centered around alcohol. Being under 21, this was problematic for me unless I was shielded by going in with an older group. Given these circumstances, a more viable alternative was a house party, which was normally held on a Friday or Saturday night. Depending on the venue and the purpose, house parties were also known as “quarter parties” or “rent parties.”

     Word of mouth by people “in the know” was key if you wanted to find house parties. The Twin Cities did have them, but not to the same level as those in such urban areas as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, D.C., etc. Because the clubs closed at 1:00 a.m., the parties would begin just before the clubs closed, the buses stopped running, and the downtown streets rolled up for the night.

     My college classmates called me a fashionista, which was partially true since I spent a good share of time deciding which bell bottoms would go with what platform shoes and butterfly-collar shirt. I made sure my Afro was picked out to perfection, applying copious amounts of Afro-Sheen spray. Now, getting funky after an hour or two on the dance floor is one thing, but upon my first arrival at the party, it was essential to wear the right cologne (and not the cheap stuff!)

     The mark of a good host was ensuring that people were comfortable and enjoying themselves, which included having sufficient food and drink—presentation, of course, is everything. A pivotal element in the mix was a good DJ; that made all the difference to me. Remember the line dances on Soul Train? That could easily have been me on that show amongst “the children,” given the amount of time I spent jamming on a dance floor.  

Never Give Up, book cover, a black Judge in his black robes, sitting in the court
     Speaking of which, back then the mark of a great DJ was knowing when to bring the music up and when to bring it down. Ah, the ballads, the slow jams! There are those of you out there who know what I’m talking about—Barry White, the Isley Brothers, the Delfonics, Teddy Pendergrass, the Dells, the Stylistics. These were the opportunities for “up close and personal” time with your man; if you were single, it was another way to get better acquainted with that “phyne” brotha you had your eye on when you arrived to party. And if the vibes were right, you’d be going home with him and putting your Vaseline to good use.

     Another advantage of a house party was a more controlled environment. LGBT rights were in the early stages, and clubs still ran the risk of being randomly raided; house parties provided a safe space to meet and be ourselves. Young brothas like me could socialize and leave with our hearing intact. The environment was more relaxed for taking the steps into our identity as Black gay men, in a community that was only beginning to become visible.

     I deeply appreciate the progress made for LGBT brothas, such as marriage and raising children with the man you love–and living in authenticity. At the same time, it’s important to remember our history and that part of who we are–as well as to recognize the meeting ground between the generations. Each has a place in our lives, and I embrace both.

     I look back on “Blue Lights in the Basement” with a smile. Believe in dreams and never give up.

© 2020 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 18

Man In The Mirror

Guest Writer: R. L. Norman  

      

     I’m so jazzed and proud that author, performer, and podcast host Mr.  R. L. Norman has returned to WYATTEVANS.COM!  So Y’all, get ready for more of R. L.’s topical, scintillating and thought-provoking prose!   And his new novel, “Honey, I Can’t Stand the Rain: The Story of Survival,” drops in April. 

     Ready?  Aight…let’s do it to it!

      “Can I buy you a drink?” the guy sitting next to me asked.  

 I looked at him and just smiled.  As I heard my friend giggling behind me, I wasn’t sure what to say. 

The man was older than I, maybe about 45.  He might have been even older, though But I would guess he was at least 20 years older than my 26 years of age. 

“This old man is trying to pick me up?” I said in my head. “But maybe he has money and can buy me drinks all night, I chuckled. 

“What am I saying? I am NOT that kind of person.” I reminded myself. 

politely declined his offer, and my friend Tony and I walked away.  

“That dirty old man trying to pick you up” Tony teased as he laughed. 

“Whatever!   Please, I don’t want no dirty old man.” I replied to him and giggled also. 

It was a Saturday night and we were at the usual night club. It was the place to go during those days. 

It was a big building, with several dance floors, depending on what type of music you were into. 

There was an oldschool room that played what we called at the time Old People’s Music.” There were various rooms:  jazzcountryhip hop and even a line/hand dancing.  

On the second floor was a biroom that had a large bar. It was where most people hung out if they wanted a break from what ever particular room they were hanging in.  

Tony and I went from room to room to check out the different crowds. We stayed in the hip hop room for most of the night since it had mostly people our age. 

After a while, we went back to the large room with the bar to get some drinks. We walked up to the bar and ordered. 

asked the bartender for a rum and coke and a Corona for Tony. 

When the bartender walked away to get the drinksI looked around the room. I spotted the gentlemen from earlier, sitting in the same seat at the bar.  

He smiled and nodded.  I responded in the same manner.  

The bartender returned with the drinks and I proceeded to pay for them. 

“No charge.” the bartender said. “The drinks are on him.”  He motioned to the other end of the bar to the old man who’d tried to buy me a drink earlier.  

I took the drinks and nodded toward him. He smiled and came over.  

Honey I can't stand the rain

“Oh my gosh.” I thought. “This old man is really going to try to pick me up.” 

“Hey, my name is Greg,” he said as he extended his hand for me to shake.  Next, he casually sat down next to me. 

I turned around and motioned for Tony to come get his drink. 

Tony this is Greg. Greg this is Tony. He bought us drinks.” 

Tony politely said thank you, smiled and excused himself.  

I really did not want him to leave me alone with this guy I don’t know why guys my age are constantly being hit on by dirty old men.  

Greg proceeded to tell me that he was not trying to pick me up. He just wanted to say hi to the cutest man in the bar. 

He said that he was 49, an engineerand single. He was just out to meet people, is all. He explained that people his age couldn’t find anyone their own age. 

“I don’t know where the single men my age hang out,” Greg continued.   So, I have to resort to hanging out at bars, which is not really my thing.  

As Greg spoke, I could detect the loneliness in his eyes.  As he talked more and more, he came across as very sincere.  

I thought to myself that when I am his age, I don’t want anyone to call me a dirty old man But that’s the way I perceived Greg to be.  

But after talking to him, I realized that that was not the case at all He was just an average, downtoearth guy trying to be happy.  

That was about 27 years ago. And here I sit in the same bar at the age of 53, hoping and wishing that no one is calling me a dirty old man.

I am single, very successful, have my own home, car and lots of friends.   

But unfortunately, I am lonely.  

I cannot find men my own age to date, either. As I sit here sipping my drink, my mind took me back to that night in the bar when I met Greg.  

I saw two men at the bar ordering drinks and one of them was really cute. My type of guy! Except he was young Maybe early 30’s. 

motioned for the bartender and told him that I would pay for whatever they were drinking. 

This is déjà vu The same scenario happened to me. Except there was one difference– supposedly, I was the dirty old man this time. 

Now here I am, walking a mile in Greg’s shoes. 

Over the years I had come to realize what Greg was going through with being single at his age. It was frustrating for him because he was a good man.  And, it seemed like no one wanted a good man. 

When I look in the mirror, I see Greg:  that lonely old man who couldn’t find companionship 

And I am not alone. You see, most of my single friends do the same thing that I do. We are home alone on a Saturday night wondering where everyone our age is. We are in the house watching TV, sipping wine and wondering why we are single 

But what can we do?  Hang out at the gay bars looking for love?  Place ads on dating sites?  Or, do we hang out at the places where the most men are—such as Home Depot and Lowes 

But there is no answer to that question. We just have to do what we do. Live the best way we can to be happy. 

And after all these years, I have kept in touch with Greg. We talk all the time. But we have never been more than just very good friends.    

I was even in his wedding. 

You see, Greg found the man of his dreams He crossed paths with him while alone, at the mall, just minding his business on the way to see a movie.  

They met while they were both on line at the cinema.  After they started talking, they ended up sitting together in the movie.  And years later, they are sitting together on the front pouch of their home enjoying life. 

Isn’t life full of surprises? Greg was a lonely old man sitting at a gay bar buying drinks for young men because he thought that was all he could do.  

But now, he’s happy and loving life. 

And I decided that I was going to do what he does.  I’m going to live my life to the fullest and just wait for love to find me.  

And they say if you don’t look for love, love will find you. 

And suddenly, one dayit happened! 

One winter, there was a snowstorm that particularly shut down the city.  Nearly everything was closed, except for the local 7-11 

So, I decided to walk to the storewhich was about five blocks away to get some supplies. 

On my way back, it happened I met HIM. The man with whom I’m now sitting on the front porch.  

The man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.  

You see… lifis full of surprises!  Here I was a lonely older man, thinking that I would never find love.  And out of the blue… there he was Walking down the street in the middle of that same snowstorm. 

Sofor all you older gentlemen like myself never give up on love!  Never give up on your hopes and dreams. Not just lovebut in everything you hope, wish and dream for.  

In other words, don’t be surprised if right around the corner is the man of your dreams  

Because it happened to me.  

And, it can happen to you, too. 

Just keep the faith. 

NATHANIEL OCTAVIUS-NERDO


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer, and author of the popular series of novels entitled, Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The fifth installment “Honey, Hush: Don’t Ask And I Won’t Tell” was a sizzling sequel to the series.  Now his sixth book, “Honey, I Can’t Stand The Rain, drops in April 2020.  As well, R. L. has created  Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived, wrote and performs that showcases the main character of his series.  And catch his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else”which returns soon to Itunes All of these endeavors are part of Mr. Norman’s production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram @rlnorman1. 

Old School New Kid 9

“A Writer’s Work Is Never Done”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham   

     One thing this Old School New Kid has learned is that my writing is ever-evolving. Honing one’s craft and writing style is an ongoing process, especially when writing is one’s passion. I remember my days as a child when my stories were largely about animals.

     In junior high school (Yes, that’s what it was called before the term “middle school” was coined.), I received my first commendation in a state contest for a short story about the misadventures of a bookworm who visited my school—a real worm with a hearty appetite for books.

     And in college and as a young adult, my stories took on more of a satirical nature, with occasional ventures into poetry. Today, as an African American gay man of a certain age, whole new avenues have opened for me.

     Toni Morrison said, “If there is a story you wish to read, and it hasn’t been written, then you must be the one to write it.” Having read about African American LGBT characters in fiction, urban fiction, and erotica over the years, I knew that I wished to read about such characters in the genre of romance; and by extension, write about them. In a subgenre where only 17% of the published authors are male, and far less are African American, I was highly motivated to step up to the plate and add my voice.

     There is truth in the adage that “being a good writer goes hand in hand with being a good reader.” Being the voracious reader that I am, I obtained a better sense of what I wished to write in male/male romance through reading other novels. I love the works of romance authors Brenda Jackson, Niobia Bryant, Rochelle Alers, and Cheryl Barton for the way they represent their male/female, African American main characters, which was in line with my own vision–now, I needed to translate that into male couples. In reading novels from the subgenre of male/male romance, I noticed that when the story had an African American main character, he was in a relationship with a white man the majority of the time.

     So, it begged the question: where are the couples who look like me? If I was asking this question, I was sure there were others out there asking the same thing. Hence, for me, it was time to see Black male couples represented in such novels, treated with the respect they are due.

     In contrast to the dominant Black alpha male/submissive white twink dynamic, I visualized two evenly matched Black men falling in love. Also, my series takes place in a family where being LGBT is simply another fact of life; when you have your family behind you, that’s a major portion of the battle won. And yes, such couples deserve the happily-ever-after their white counterparts receive.

Never Give Up, book cover, a black Judge in his black robes, sitting in the court

     Of course, in a romance novel, there are the steamy scenes of passion. When I’m writing those scenes, I must have Barry White playing in the background. I have to say, a brotha who’s man enough to embrace his vulnerability and take what he dishes out is smokin’ hot– and this element shows up in my love scenes. The brothas have it going on! Authors LaQuette, Christa Tomlinson, Terrance Dean, and Wyatt O’Brian Evans have done this, and their work is amazing.

     It’s nice to read about 20-something couples in love; it’s been even better to read about couples in their 30s, 40s, and on up; the late Mike Warren’s Always and Forever is a classic example.

     In my first romance novel, The Right to Be, expect to see a male couple in their senior years as part of the Christopher family in addition to the younger ones. In the second, To Thine Own Self, the couple is 30-plus. No, they’re not out yet; they are the next in the Christopher Family Novel series after Never Give Up, my historical whodunit novel scheduled for release this year.

     No, a writer’s work is never done, not so long as unlimited creativity and imagination prevails. Even as I speak, more ideas are taking shape and in the works for me as a romance novelist. Fortunately, since my characters come from this large, extended family, I’ve found it far easier to multitask. To my brothas and sistahs: if writing is your passion, let us continue to support one another and lift our voices.

     If you write romance, I’d love to know about your work; my to-be-read pile is low, and I’d love to pile it up with lots of happily-ever-afters.
Believe in dreams and never give up.

© 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 8

Never Give Up” Preview

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham   

A Wyattevans.com exclusive! A tantalizing excerpt from “Never Give Up,” the much anticipated and soon-to-be released tome by Mr. W. D. Foster-Graham! 

Through the lens of Judge Berry’s wife, Juanita Langston Berry, here is a preview of one of the pivotal events of my upcoming novel, “Never Give Up.

On the evening of August 19, 1960, Earl and I, Eldon and Elaine, and Donna and Eli were gathered at Eldon and Elaine’s new house at 4054 Clinton Avenue, enjoying a barbecue. It was a warm but comfortable summer evening. Eldon, like most men, considered himself a master at the art of all things that could be barbecued on a grill. Our children were playing in the back yard after they ate, while we sat back in the lawn chairs and talked. We had already discussed the movie we went to the previous evening, Butterfield 8, and now we were on to politics.

“So, what do you think Kennedy’s chances are at the presidency?” Eldon asked Earl.

“Well, I know we’re going to vote for him,” was Earl’s hearty reply.

“If we are, I hope this baby waits until after the inauguration to get here.” Elaine rubbed her softly rounded stomach, partially concealed by her sleeveless maternity top. “I want to see what Jackie’s going to wear to the inaugural ball after she has her baby.”

I took a sip of root beer. “You know, she’s going to set some fashion trends around the country.”

“Anyway, I hope Kennedy makes some changes for civil rights,” Eldon said, getting up to go inside the house. He came out after a minute and said, “Elaine, I’m going to get some more beer. Do you want anything?”

“Bring some Coca-Cola. We want to make some ice cream floats for the kids.”

“Got it.” Eldon gave Elaine a kiss, flashing a smile as he walked to the driveway where their 1958 DeSoto hardtop was parked. “I’ll be back.”

Donna, Elaine, and I continued to talk about Jackie Kennedy as a fashion trendsetter. Earl and Eli discussed the finer points of owning a Cadillac, in particular, the 1957 Cadillac we bought from Woody at the beginning of summer. When Earl first saw Perry Mason driving that model on the TV show, he had to have one like it. There were times when it was wise to concede to one’s husband—I benefitted from the deal with a 1958 Buick station wagon as an anniversary present.

We must have talked for a good twenty minutes or so, enough to notice it was nearing sunset. Carter had fallen asleep in my lap, so Elaine and I went into the house to find someplace comfortable and safe to put him down. Donna soon joined us with her youngest son Julian, who had also pooped out.

“I wonder where Eldon is?” Elaine asked. “At this rate, the kids will all be asleep by the time he gets back.”

“It shouldn’t be too long,” Donna answered as she put Julian down. “The stores are going to be closing soon.”

As time went by, however, we grew more concerned. Just going to get beer and soda shouldn’t have taken Eldon so long. We talked on, but the atmosphere started to cloud over with unease. “Why don’t I go down to the store and see what’s holding him up?” Earl offered.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Elaine said. “Sometimes he gets to talking with people in the neighborhood that come in the store.”

We rounded up the kids and brought them inside as twilight made its appearance. Earl grabbed his keys and prepared to leave when we heard a knock at the front door. I saw the puzzled look on Elaine’s face upon seeing the two men standing on the steps. “Yes?”

They identified themselves as police detectives and asked her, “Are you, Mrs. Eldon Berry?”

“Yes, I’m Mrs. Berry. What’s this about?”

“Mrs. Berry, we’re here to give you some news,” one of them said solemnly.

We didn’t like the way he said ‘news,’ and the apprehension grew worse. “What kind of news?” Earl asked.

Mrs. Berry, a man was shot and killed about an hour ago.”

Elaine grew tense. “What does that have to do with me?”

He was identified by his driver’s license as Eldon Berry. We’re sorry for your loss.”

To her credit, Elaine didn’t faint or scream—she was more stunned—but we could see how hard the news hit her. She clutched the door frame for support. I heard the tears in her voice when she said, “Where is he?”

He’s been taken to the morgue, Mrs. Berry. But we need to ask you some questions.”

Can’t that wait until she’s gone to identify him?” Earl adopted his take-charge stance. “You’ve just told her that her husband’s dead.”

We’re sorry, but we need to do this while things are fresh in her mind.”

Earl’s expression was strained, but his voice was strong and controlled. “I’m Earl James Berry. I’m his brother, and I’m also an attorney. We’re going to the morgue. You can ask all the questions you want in the morning.”

I grabbed Elaine’s purse and handed it to her, still in disbelief over the grim report the police had given us. “You go ahead with Earl,” I told her. “We’ll stay here with the kids until you get back.”

Never Give Up, book cover, a black Judge in his black robes, sitting in the court

When they returned, I saw the pain and raw grief in their faces over the reality of Eldon’s lifeless body lying in the city morgue. Elaine’s tears came gradually after she sat down, with Eli and Donna doing whatever they could to comfort her. My husband held me in his arms. I could feel his body shaking with unreleased sobs, sobs on the inside. It seemed like untold moments passed before he could compose himself, saying to me, “Honey, could you stay here with Elaine? There’s something I have to do.”

Of course,” I agreed, knowing where he was going and how difficult it would be for him to deliver that horrible news. No matter what people think, there’s never an easy way to tell parents that their child is dead, even a grown child. I noticed the older children standing around with confused looks on their faces. Oh, the news. How are we going to tell them?

Eldon’s funeral was an ordeal we got through only by the grace of God. The senselessness of his death was lost on no one. People had so many good things to say about him as they expressed their sympathy to the family. Mother Berry had her head on Father Berry’s shoulder during the packed service, the life force seemingly drained out of her. Earl’s face had a grim expression on it, one that swore revenge on the perpetrator of this crime even as they lowered his brother’s body into the ground. Eli and Donna, as well as the rest of the Edwards family, also attended the funeral and stood by us during that difficult time. I was grateful Earl had a friend like Eli, another rock he could depend on.

As soon as the trial date was set, the Berry family was there, with the Edwards family and my parents providing solid moral support. When the defendant was brought in, Earl’s body tensed up and his jaws grew tight. My eyes narrowed as I took a good look at the vile, monstrous beast that had callously taken the life of my brother-in-law. In that instant, I wished that Minnesota had the death penalty, but I had to settle for the thought of him rotting in a prison cell for the rest of his miserable life.

At the age of thirty-seven, Eldon had been struck down in the prime of his life. He had had so much to look forward to. With a wonderful wife like Elaine, the family he’d always wanted, plus an excellent career working side by side with his father, why did this have to happen to him?

I came to the trial whenever I could, but Earl and his parents were there every day. The case seemed cut-and-dry to us; the defendant was robbing a store and Eldon was killed trying to stop him. What could be clearer than that? Unfortunately, the defendant got off on a technicality.

I remember sitting there in the courtroom with Earl, Elaine, Mother and Father Berry, wanting to scream obscenities at the judge for a miscarriage of justice but too stunned to say a word. I glared at the defendant and his attorney congratulating themselves, hoping that they would be driven to walk into the Amazon River and become lunch for a school of piranhas. I didn’t have to go far to see that same look in Elaine’s eyes.

To say that the verdict left a bad taste in our mouths was a gross understatement. There may have been celebration about President Kennedy’s election, but there was a pall over our family during the holidays. I could only imagine what it was like for Elaine, having a three-year-old child and pregnant with another, one who would never know his or her father except through others. Elaine’s doctor had been concerned that the stress of Eldon’s death and going through the trial could cause her to either lose the baby or go into premature labor. Her doctor, however, hadn’t reckoned with the steely resolve of the Berry family to both protect and support Elaine and Ellen. In addition, the family stood firmly on God’s promises of protection for them. We knew He never failed.

Earl had changed when it came to his work. He was tense, just “doing his job” without the passion. He often came home from work short-tempered and testy, to the point where the children were hesitant to approach him. I often had to intervene, and the tension between us could be felt. In addition to that, our sex life had taken a nosedive. The fact that Eldon’s murderer had walked was eating away at the family. Something had to be done.

On New Year’s Day of 1961, we were all in church, listening to our pastor’s sermon. Earl was unusually quiet, hardly saying a word during fellowship time. That night, after all the kids were in bed, he turned to me and said, “I’ve come to a decision.”

What kind of decision?”

About my work.”

I was puzzled. “What do you mean?”

I’ve had enough of being a defense attorney.” He must have read the question in my eyes, because he added, “No, Juanita, I’m not giving up law. But I am changing it.”

But how?”

Tomorrow, I’m having papers drawn up to have my partners buy me out.”

That still doesn’t tell me how you’re changing things when it comes to practicing law.”

Because I’m putting in for a position at the district attorney’s office. I’m going to become an assistant district attorney.”

I looked into his smoky gold eyes. Never had he been more serious than at that moment. “This change…it has something to do with Eldon, doesn’t it?”

There was steely conviction in his voice. “If I couldn’t get justice for my brother at the trial, then I can get it for others. The only way to do that is to become a prosecutor.”

Tammy Wynette put out a song years ago called “Stand by Your Man.” We spent half the night discussing the matter, but by the time we went to bed I was convinced that his decision was merited, and I stood by him. It was as though the negative energy Earl had been carrying around diffused, for he took me in his arms and made up for all those nights of we had gone without.

© 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 7

“Authenticity—To Thine Own Self Be True”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham

     “To thine own self be true.” I’m sure that somewhere, at some time, brothas have heard or read that phrase. As an Old School New Kid, it has deep meaning when dealing with not only coming out, but being out as an LGBT man of color.

     True, I knew something about me was different early on. I finally had a name for it when I hit my teens. By the time I was 18, I was tired of trying to be something I wasn’t. I had wonderful role models in my parents as African-Americans, but where were those who sat at the intersection of African-American and LGBT? I felt invisible, in my family and at school.

     When I came out in 1971 at 18, it was only the beginning of a journey to an authentic life. Stonewall had taken place the previous year, which was a start. And yet I wondered, “Where are the brothas and sistahs in the crowd?” I would go to the clubs when I was surrounded by older men to keep from getting carded. Bearing in mind that my hometown has a small Black population in comparison to other urban areas of its size, the brothas would only show up on weekends. My best bet was house parties, usually by invitation.

     After I had a couple of years of college under my belt, I discovered that many LGBT brothas were hiding in plain sight—in church. It became a game for me to see how many “family members” were there on Sunday whenever I visited different churches, from the congregation, the music ministry, the deacon board, the ushers, sometimes the pulpit. The sad part was, we were invisible. Our talents would be used and our money would be taken, and at best, we would be tolerated as long as we hid our lives and who we were, even those who were considered “flamboyant.” How many of us have uttered that phrase, “They know but we don’t discuss It”? How many brothas out there have been hurt by these attitudes? Our relationship with Black churches has often been, to put it mildly, a complex one.

     Over the years, the process of living my truth and an authentic life has evolved, from being openly gay to parents, other relatives, friends and at work. It has included correcting people who assume I have a wife instead of a husband. Commanding respect for my modern family. Being authentic and living in integrity was crucial in my relationship to the one person who’s watched my life from the beginning—my son. After all, our children take their cues from us, and as such he’s cool with having two dads. This process has involved walking in faith. I may meet a stranger and be faced with the choice: Do I come out? How important is it in this transaction? I recognize the importance of coming out when you’re ready and you have support, especially when one is a vulnerable youth. Once I did come out, I realized how much stress I had been under when it was gone. Being out is an act of strength.

     Recently, I was the keynote speaker at a Men’s Brotherhood meeting. It consists of a group of men from Black churches in the area, plus some white attendees. The majority of the group were straight Black men of a certain age, officers in their respective churches. Having attended these meetings for months now, brothas knew of me and appreciated my input as an author. Those from my church already knew I was gay and supported me, but the others in the crowd were an unknown factor. Doing this reminds me once again that coming out is an ongoing process. Having prepared my topic, for a minute I did obsess on how I would be received. Then, I remembered that God knew who I was, and He doesn’t make mistakes. Why worry what may or may not happen, when I can trust God to tell me what to say and how to say it?

     My topic was, “You Never Know What Plans God Has For You.” My talk encompassed my life and how God’s plans for me have manifested as a Black gay man. Through God, I was confident, engaging, relatable, authentic as I shared love and who I was. I was reminded that what I gave was what I received, and I was greeted with a standing ovation and congratulations at the end. Several brothas said, “We needed to hear this.” Yep, He’s not through with me yet, and I give Him the thanks and praise.

     Changes have taken place over the years, and there are Black churches who are revisiting diversity, inclusivity and a welcoming community for all God’s children, regardless of who they love. It has taken many conversations, one person at a time. LGBT youth are coming out at an earlier age and more support systems are in place, which is encouraging. There is still much work to do. I have learned on this journey that change is an inside job and that I only have power over my own thoughts, words, and deeds. However, when I changed, everything around me changed. To my LGBT brothas and sistahs: there are those who think that who we are and who we love are strikes against us, when in fact they are strengths. Let us continue to own our strengths and all of who we are, living the best authentic life we can.

     At the end of the day, it’s all about the love. Believe in dreams and never give up.

© 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 6

“Never Give Up”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

     For this Old School New Kid author, this motto has seen me through my ongoing journey. July has been a productive month for me, as well as one for fun and some me-time. On the fun side, I took a road trip to northern Minnesota, where I saw Bemidji (Paul Bunyan country), lakes and forests galore, and Grand Rapids, the birthplace of Judy Garland. Those of us men of a certain age may remember the code question we used to identify other gay men in neutral surroundings: “Are you a Friend of Dorothy?” On the productive side, my first draft of The Right to Be has been completed, To Thine Own Self is nearing first-draft completion, and the outline, beginning and ending of the next novel in my series, The Rise of Sherry Payson, is done.

     With that being said, I would like to share with you, Wyatt O’Brian Evans’ followers, a preview of my upcoming novel, Never Give Up, scheduled for release this December.

Prologue: November 6, 2012

     Prentice Delaney-Ross was on a high, cheering in campaign headquarters as news of President Obama’s re-election “rocked the house.” People were hugging, cheering and shedding tears of joy all over the office. Several times he and his husband Trevell embraced and kissed and shouted. There were many good reasons to do so that night. Not only had the president been re-elected, but Maine, Maryland, and Washington voted in favor of marriage equality. Minnesotans had voted down a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Having celebrated their third wedding anniversary barely two weeks ago, the victories were mind-blowing.

     He had no doubt his stepbrother, Jerome Franklin-Edwards, and his husband Ariel were at home with their daughters soaking up all the amazing news, even as they listened intently to the president’s acceptance speech. The same held true for the rest of his family, especially his grandfather, Earl James Berry. Grandpa had always been a huge supporter of President Obama, as well as a staunch ally for equality and a believer in justice. He had retired from the bench in 1996, but his reputation as Judge Berry and that of his lifelong friend, Elijah Edwards Sr., continued to be influential in the circles they traveled.

     “You know, when Barack grows up, he’ll look back on this time and wonder what all the fuss was about,” Prentice said some time later after they stepped out into the hallway to hear themselves upon the conclusion of the speech.

     “I imagine he will,” Trevell concurred. “Right now, he’s probably sound asleep while his grandma and grandpa are keeping up with all the commentary.” Indeed, Prentice’s mother, Linda Berry Delaney Edwards, and his stepfather, Melvin Edwards II, had doted on their newest grandson, Barack Joseph Berry Delaney-Ross, from the very beginning. Trevell’s parents were no better. Although they lived in Green Bay, Tremayne and Darcelle Ross were regular visitors to Minneapolis, showering affection on their first grandchild. A former Green Bay Packer, Tremayne Ross often had an audience and he never failed to talk about his grandson. Trevell strongly suspected his father desired to see Barack make it into the NFL when he grew up. Even at the age of two, the brainwashing had already begun.

     Prentice had witnessed this phenomenon, and he understood it well. Grandpa Berry was not above a little brainwashing himself, setting Little Barack’s sights on an appointment to the Supreme Court. It was a challenge to the couple, diplomatically holding those respective ambitions at bay so they could let their little boy be what he was, a two-year-old who was just beginning to really explore his world.

     Hand in hand, Prentice and Trevell strolled down Hennepin Avenue to the parking ramp, basking in the afterglow of victory, sharing smiles and waves to drivers and pedestrians on this brisk fall night. At one point their eyes met and Prentice felt his heart break out into a melody. Twenty-seven-year-old Trevell had the total package—the matinee idol looks of a young Idris Elba, the solid build of a quarterback and a well-spoken demeanor. Prentice himself had inherited his father’s smooth Duke Ellington looks with a strong dose of Berry genes, which would make anyone stop in their tracks to see if he was real or fantasy. At the age of twenty-eight, at this moment he felt like he was on top of the world.

     They reached the parking ramp near the Target Center, for the moment lost in their own thoughts. Prentice’s mind kept going back to his Grandpa Berry. He and Grandpa Edwards had said President Obama really needed two terms to accomplish what was necessary back in 2008, and they had gotten what they asked for. He had to hand it to them, for they never lost faith that this day would come. Jerome, in fact, said so, not only about the presidential election but all the other issues as well, at a time when none of it seemed possible. Grandpa Berry had known the history behind Jerome’s “gift,” all the way back to the time he and Grandpa Edwards were young men.

     Though he grew up on Milwaukee’s North Shore, a six-hour drive from his grandfather in Minneapolis, Prentice always felt a connection with the man. Like his late father, Prentice Delaney Sr., Grandpa Berry had both a passion for the law and the importance of family. Unlike the portrayals of so many police shows these days, he had never been so driven to the point where he totally sacrificed his family for the sake of his career. On visits to Minneapolis with his parents, Prentice was blessed to see the special side of him, the family man. As a grown man, when he and Trevell made the decision to move to the Twin Cities, he made it a point to spend lots of quality time with his grandparents. Witnessing the love, commitment and devotion they shared after sixty-four years of marriage, Prentice hoped that he, too, would have that kind of a legacy to pass on.

 

     They stepped into their Chrysler 300 sports sedan, listening to an Alicia Keys CD as they left the parking ramp and headed out into the streets of downtown Minneapolis. Cars were honking their horns and people were out celebrating, something unusual for a Tuesday night.

     “You think Sierra and Rashid are still up?” Trevell asked Prentice.

     “Sure. They wouldn’t miss this for the world. The only reasons they weren’t at campaign headquarters was because Destiny was sick and it’s a school night for Little Earl,” Prentice replied, picturing his sister and her husband watching the set and simultaneously calling everyone they knew.

      “You know we’re going to be going through this with Barack in a few years, just like they are.”

     “True. Anyway, since Barack is spending the night with Mom and Mel, let’s stop by and see Grandpa and Grandma.”

     “Aren’t they in Chicago visiting the Christophers?”

     “They were, but they wanted to make sure they were home for Election Day, so they could vote. I’m sure they’re up for the occasion.”

     “OK, but just remember that we have grocery shopping to do tomorrow and I have an early meeting.”

     They passed Loring Park and the Walker Art Center before they turned off on Douglas Avenue, driving through the historic, posh Lowry Hill neighborhood. Just before they reached the Berry estate on Kenwood Parkway, they happened to see a car driving away from it at high speed. “What’s up with that?” Trevell wondered.

     “I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Prentice answered. “Wait a minute. That looks like Grandpa’s limo over there.”

     Prentice braked quickly and they bolted from their car. The road was normally quiet, but tonight it felt a little too quiet for comfort. Ears alert for unnatural sounds in the cool night air, Prentice and Trevell slowed down as they approached the still Cadillac limousine. Their eyes grew wide with fear as they stepped closer, their night vision revealing the bullet holes in the windows.

     “Nooooooooooooooo!!” Prentice yelled as Trevell frantically grabbed his cell phone to call 911…

 

© 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 5

“Fatherhood”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham

   

     June is when Pride Month is celebrated. It’s also the month when Father’s Day is observed. For far too long, there’s been a myth that the two are mutually exclusive. As a Black gay man of a certain age (or SGL) who is also a father, I wish to share my own thoughts and experiences on this particular journey of a lifetime.

     Back in the day, those of us who had boyfriends/partners resigned ourselves to the fact that we would never have children, relegated to “the gay uncle” status if we were out, “confirmed bachelor” if we weren’t. Then there were those of us who had children from an opposite-sex marriage or a girlfriend, but that came with the steep price of hiding who we were. Sadly, that legacy is still in part with us today.

     Having come out at 18, it was a trip when, during a heart-to-heart shortly after graduation from college, my father talked to me about having grandchildren and the respectful way to treat women. I understood the first message: don’t make a baby you cannot raise. I never spoke my thoughts out loud, but my mind said, “Dad, didn’t you get the memo? I’m gay. Not happening.” I hadn’t counted on the fact that my Higher Power has a sense of humor, for at the age of 45 I sat down with Dad and said, “I’m ready to be a father.”

     That moment was the start of a three-year journey to fatherhood. To Dad, it was the opening for “Son, welcome to my world.” We had many philosophical discussions and heart-to-hearts about what being a father meant. For me, this portion of the process better prepared me mentally. I also realized that many of the values I grew up with had rubbed off. One thing was certain—every step of the way, Dad had my back.

     My commitment was firm: I was going to be a father whether or not I had a husband/partner. I became part of a new category—the one of families we create, via adoption or surrogacy. Trust and believe, these are the most planned-for children on the planet. Like Dad, I wanted to start from scratch in raising my child. If I were to have only one, I wanted a boy. It was a process I certainly had to be prayed-up for, for I encountered my share of detractors, some of whom were other gay men who considered what I was doing to be impossible.

     My Higher Power, however, had other plans. Wherever I went, doors opened, and I am grateful to every person who was part of the journey. There were false starts as well. However, I went on making space and preparations for my child as though it was already a done deal. At one point, I was down on my knees praying, “Whether You give me this child or not, I will still praise You.” Two weeks later, I received a phone call at work. I was skeptical at first because of the previous false alarms, but they were serious. They had a baby boy for me—straight from the hospital!

     When they brought him to me that evening, my first words were, “Oh, my God,” and fell in love on the spot. At the age of 47, I was now a father. Dad, of course, was over the moon when I called him with the news. My church family was also a strong support system for us. Now the work started; as I have since learned, being a parent is the toughest job on the planet, and it never stops.

     Oddly enough, I experienced a certain form of sexism when my son was a baby. Since he went everywhere I went, there were people around who made comments like, “Oh, you must be babysitting.” When I revealed I was a full-time single father, I was asked, “Where’s his mother?” On occasions like that, knowing that people kept such comments to themselves when addressing a single mother, I put on my Resting Bitch Face and said, “You’re looking at her.” Unknowingly, I became a role model, for some of those very people, after watching my life, commended me for the way I raised my son. Thanks, Higher Power!

     We went through the good times, we went through the rough times, we went through the make-us-pray times. When it came to parenting skills, in addition to my own, there’s a lot of Dad in me. It was imperative for me to be a positive example for my son, hence he knew I was gay early on. One day, at the age of eight, he endearingly told me, “Daddy, I’m going to find you a husband.” A year later, my little matchmaker played a role in my meeting my husband for the first time, in church. Result: the three of us became a modern family.

     At 19, my son has grown into quite a young man. During this time, hearts, minds, and laws have evolved. He’s brought his friends home, plus a girlfriend or two in his high school years. It’s as though I blinked, and now he’s an adult, with dreams and ambitions of his own. When it comes to his family and friends, he’s loyal and protective. He owns up to his new responsibilities. The years of loving on him have reaped a son who says, “I love you” whenever he goes out, which touches my heart deeply. And I have a deeper appreciation for the plans my Higher Power has for me.

     I saw a poster in my local community center that said, “Boys shack up; men get married. Boys make babies; men raise their own and someone else’s.” Black love. And to all the Black LGBT fathers out there, raising your children with love and living your truth: I wish you peace. I wish you power. I wish you strength. I wish you joy.

     Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

© 2018 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 4

“REFLECTIONS FROM A BROTHA OF A CERTAIN AGE”

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham

     When I hear the word “Reflections,” the old school in me immediately thinks of the hit by Diana Ross and the Supremes in 1967. Of course, that was one of Motown’s go-to songs when your man has dumped you and you make a late-night visit to your kitchen, answering the call of a half-gallon or more of Ben & Jerry’s. This would be followed by another of those go-to songs like Brenda Holloway’s “Every Little Bit Hurts” and the Fifth Dimension’s “One Less Bell to Answer.” In today’s thoughts, however, reflections come from my latest visit to my alma mater as an alumnus of 45 years.

     The weekend in question was Pride weekend, which is held in May because the bulk of the LGBT community in this small town is made up of college students. A huge parade down the main street, rainbow flags all over campus and all over town, celebrations in the park and parties downtown. Such was a foreign concept to me during my freshman year as a college student in the fall of 1970. I was one of the very few openly gay Black students on campus, and the Stonewall riots had only occurred the previous year. Sure, there were other LGBT students there, but they weren’t out, and there was no “safe space” for us. The American Psychiatric Association didn’t remove homosexuality from their list of mental disorders until 1973.

     This go-around, I felt like visiting royalty. The LGBT students had lots of questions for me, and more when they realized I was an author. I represented their history, one that they wanted to know more about. For those who, like myself, stood at the intersection of Black and LGBT, I represented hope. Somewhere along the line, I became the role model I wished I had had at 18, and let me tell you, that experience is humbling.

     When I seek images of Black male couples online, I am reminded that our community is still youth-obsessed to a great degree. Sure, I looked great in my 20s, but I can’t look that way now and I refuse to step into the trap. Experience, character, and wisdom helped me step up my game when my looks started changing, plus the desire to keep learning. Every now and then I see such couples whose marriages have stood the test of time (like mine), something I feel younger brothas need to see.

     That, however, has to begin with us. There was a saying I read once—“the darker you are, the harder it is to come out.” Hopefully, that’s changed to some degree. I also remember losing count of the funerals I attended in the 1980s, at the height of AIDS paranoia; so many potential mentors struck down too soon. In 2019, I acknowledge those of later generations who are speaking up, speaking out, living their truth. This, as well as having a son of my own, inspired me to step up to the plate as an elder. Not everyone can do that; some may have been too wounded in one way or another. But for those who can, I give you your props. You never know when you may come across a young LGBT brotha who’s watching your life—it could make all the difference.

W D Newest Book Cover You Never Know Book

     Being a brotha of a certain age, I have noticed that my conversations have changed. With my contemporaries, subjects of health, nutrition, retirement, and grandchildren are more common (no, I’m not a grandfather yet). Given the life expectancy of African-American men today, I am grateful for every day I am blessed with. I have left the corporate world behind; being my own boss as an independent author is, in a word, gratifying. My creativity has grown. I may have learned about them at a later age, but those LGBT trailblazers of color that paved the way for me hold a special place in my heart. And I can still bust a move when the old-school jams come on.

     Yes, I think of times gone by, like my do-wop childhood, my Motown teenage years, coming out in college, nights under a disco ball, travel to whatever hot spots were in vogue in various cities, life in corporate America, becoming a father and husband. When I’m writing love scenes in my M/M romance novels, I turn on Barry White (now you know he was the maestro). With all that, I am yet an ever-learning, ever-evolving, work in progress, which I give thanks for.

     In conclusion, since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I leave you with this poem. I wish you an excellent day and good success:

1969 teenager living the age of Aquarius hot fun in the summertime

Life impacted by Selma Memphis Huey Newton Viet Nam

Unaware of event halfway across the country altering my life’s course

The voice of Stonewall

© 2018 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 3

You Never Know

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham

“YOU NEVER KNOW”

“You never know what hand in life you’ll be dealt.” That is a motto of the Edwards family, in the next book of my series, ‘You Never Know: A Christopher Family Novel’. Yes, there were Black folks who came from old money—we simply didn’t hear of them because they didn’t get the bulk of the attention. In recognition of such families and bowing to my Midwestern roots, this novel takes place in Minneapolis. Like its predecessor, expect to find history, humor, romance and LGBT family members in prominence here. That being said, I would like to introduce Elijah Edwards, Sr., and the Edwards branch of the Christopher family in this prologue of “You Never Know:”

Prologue: August 1, 2007

     Elijah Edwards, Jr. headed for the office with a sense of satisfaction and excitement after having heard from his cousin, Vickie. One thing that was a given about working for Christopher Electronics; the company knew how to treat its employees as well as recognize them, guaranteeing happy workers and the best results. The testimonial for his father tomorrow was but one example. When Vickie’s father, Allan Beckley Christopher, opened the regional office for the company in Minneapolis in 1971, Elijah Edwards, Sr. was his first choice to manage it, and it continued to be one of the top revenue-producing offices. Dad had since moved on to a seat on the Board of Directors, but Allan never forgot how invaluable his skills and ethics had been back in those early days.

     Eli’s Lincoln Navigator SUV cruised smoothly along Golden Valley Road, a David Sanborn CD lifting his already positive mood. Having been a regional manager for the past ten years, he was grateful to Dad for grooming him so well to assume the position of regional vice president. It had not been an easy task to fill his shoes, given the fast pace of the Information Age and technology. However, the core values and work ethic Dad had instilled in him had encouraged him to stay on the cutting edge, as headquarters expected.

     Sandra had already finalized their travel plans for their trip to Lisbon next week. With the plans for Dad’s testimonial tomorrow that had been keeping him and his staff busy, his wife’s birthday gift to him of this extended holiday was a blessing, and he hoped the Portuguese he learned would hold him in good stead. His soon-to-be fifty-five years had shown up in his salt-and-pepper hair and the laugh lines on his face, the sun deepening his mocha complexion. He was happy to hear his daughter, Veronica, and her family had arrived from London for the festivities. She had been married for eleven years and now a mother to two children, but only in the past few years had he gotten accustomed to her being Lady Moriarty, Viscountess of Rothmere. He still saw her in his mind as the little girl who could get just as down and dirty in the mud and sand as her brothers and cousins. On the other hand, his Auntie Debbi relished every opportunity to tell any new person she met that she had a grandniece who was part of English nobility. She savored the gaping mouths of skeptics after she pulled out clippings from the London Times’ society pages to confirm she was telling the truth.

     The Minneapolis Convention Center had been more than happy to handle the accommodations for Dad’s dinner. It had been gratifying to know that so many of the family would be in attendance. All the Edwardses were preparing for the festivities, not to mention the steady arrivals of Allan’s extended family at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Limousines and personal vehicles had been coordinated by his staff for pickup and delivery, which were transporting his relatives from Chicago and employees from the main office in Evanston to various hotels downtown.

     Eli’s mouth broke into a knowing smile as he pictured his mother, Donna Gray Edwards, wielding her scepter of organization over the social activities during the past few days, with Aunt Xenobia and Auntie Debbi as her stalwart ladies of the court. She would have given Gen. Colin Powell a run for his money in military precision. Auntie Debbi loved this sort of thing as well. She plunged into it with the inquiring mind that wanted to know everything. He grimaced slightly as he pictured Aunt Xenobia’s part in the process. She would grumble, bitch, moan, whine and complain while she was getting things done. Though he felt guilty for thinking it, he sometimes wondered if Uncle Jeremiah’s death was his way of escaping her. Maybe that was why his cousin Douglass never married. Fortunately, Ma had a way of keeping Aunt Xenobia in line most of the time.

     Eli had to give Vickie her props, and not only because of the news she shared with him. When she went into the business with her father, Christopher Electronics was already a Fortune 500 company. Since Allan appointed her CEO, she had taken the company into the ranks of the Fortune 100 and kept it there. She had been profiled in all the major business magazines, interviewed by Oprah, and recognized by such publications as Essence, Ebony and Black Enterprise as one of the most powerful African-American businesswomen in the nation. At fifty-three, Victoria Christopher Mitchell was still so beautiful she had younger men falling all over themselves when she entered a room. However, she always made it clear by word and deed that the only man for her was her husband Travis, and Eli respected and admired their successful marriage and family.

W D Newest Book Cover You Never Know Book

     As for her father Allan, he was already a legend in his own time, standing in the ranks with A.G. Gaston, Madame C.J. Walker, Henry Parks Jr. and John H. Johnson. His was a family success story that had inspired and helped so many people in his lifetime. Who knew that Allan Beckley Christopher, “Little Mr. Fixit,” who came from such humble beginnings in Kansas City, Missouri, would become one of only three African-American billionaires in this country?

     Eli turned onto Theodore Wirth Parkway, appreciating the scenic beauty of its trees and well-tended foliage, a pleasing alternative to the gridlocked freeways of rush hour. He had always loved the summer days when he took his family for Sunday drives around the city’s notable lake and parkway system. Darrell and Veronica looked forward to them when they were little; they always seemed to discover something new along the way. Nowadays Darrell was often busy with his family and his duties as an associate pastor, but not so busy that he didn’t take time out to touch base with his father and his grandparents.

     Even now, every once in a while Eli and his oldest son would take a drive just to “shoot the breeze,” occasionally accompanied by his youngest son Bradley. A recent college graduate, Bradley was enjoying the summer break before he started his position in the graphics department at Christopher Electronics, and Rico, his boyfriend, was a frequent guest at Sunday dinner.

     It didn’t seem so long ago when the men of the Edwards family had their first fishing trip up in northern Minnesota. As the family patriarch his grandfather, Melvin Edwards, was in charge, with Dad, Uncle Jeremiah and Auntie Debbi’s husband Uncle Woody as his assistants. Being allowed to accompany them for the weekend was exciting.

     Eli was nine at the time, and his brothers John and Mel, along with cousins Wayne and Kevin, had been included. His brother Julian and his cousin Douglass were too young to go, and Cousin Darius hadn’t even been born yet. His grandfather owned the cabin, but the family still considered it camping because they all brought sleeping bags along with their fishing gear.

     As difficult as it was to stay still, his vigilance paid off when he caught his first fish. Their most recent trip required three cabins to accommodate everyone, but the spirit of the weekend was, as always, infectious. The men returned loaded with fish and good cheer, and seeing Dad laughing and dispensing his words of wisdom always touched his heart.

     What a day it’s going to be, he thought as he turned off the CD player to catch the latest weather and traffic reports on the radio. Instead, he heard the following: “We interrupt our scheduled broadcast for a breaking news story. The Interstate 35W Bridge across the Mississippi River has collapsed…”

     Will a “gift” that Eli has help him or hurt him when he needs it most? Well, you’ll have to find out. In the meantime, here’s to your excellent day and good success.

© 2018 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.


W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Old School New Kid 2

Self-Determination

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham

     In my first column, this Old School New Kid mentioned the learning curve as an independent author. When it comes to writing, some see it as a hobby, others their passion, still others a business, and a very few regard it as all of the above. I am one of those few individuals, and I give thanks for this ongoing process.

     Back in the day, before I even considered having my work published, there was only one game in town, and it loomed large: traditional publishing. For those who choose that route, I wish you good success; over time I learned, as a Black gay author, that it simply wasn’t for me. These days, there are so many options for a writer/author to achieve publication, as well as readers who are waiting to read your stories.

     I’m my own boss, and I love it. I remember well the second principle of Kwanzaa, Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), and the call of my community to build our own businesses and support other minority-owned businesses in the fourth principle,Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics). Of course, my writing also embraces the sixth principle, Kuumba (Creativity). I applaud such men as E. Lynn Harris, Essex Hemphill, Mike Warren, and Wyatt O’Brian Evans, who refused to sit around waiting for publishers to come around. They chose instead to build their own businesses and publish their own work, to their good success. Romance novelist Brenda Jackson, ignoring the naysayers in the publishing world who claimed there was no market for romance novels featuring Black couples, proved them wrong with the incredible response she received when she self-published her first nine novels.

     Granted, it’s work. It’s not for everyone. And it doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve learned the necessity of developing a marketing plan and stepping out there. I soon found that if my father could teach himself how to program a computer and implement that system in his place of work, I could learn new skills like creating my own website, designing my own covers, etc. I also am responsible for budgeting the costs of editing, advertising, publishing the hard copies, tracking royalties, etc., contrary to the naïve notions I had years ago of just putting my book out there and waiting for the sales to come in.

     RewardsCreative control. Shorter turnaround time to publish my books. Meeting and engaging with amazing authors, poets, and readers. The joy and freedom of writing the books I want to read. Learning and developing new skills, something it’s never too late to do. In the present day, there is no one-size-fits-all for authors. It’s about doing the research to determine what is a good fit for you, and above all, to never give up.        

The Book: Mark my words.

     One of the components of a marketing plan for today is (gasp!) social media presence. The old-school part of me moans, “How did we survive without it?” It has, however, yielded some unexpected benefits—a connection with a wonderful writer’s community, and a fun writing exercise called “Very Short Stories 365,” where one creates a story/poem within the confines of a tweet, using a daily prompt word. That being said, here are some of my very short stories, seasoned with my own brand of romance:

      Demetrius’ deep brown skin burned from a molten heart when he beheld Tevin by the pool. Tevin was the personification of the take-charge, take-no-prisoners, hyper-masculine brotha. Nothing prepared Demetrius for his dreams to manifest and his world to be rocked when Tevin kissed him softly and whispered unexpectedly, “Please take me.”

———- 

     There was no mistaking the set in Shauntik’s 9-year-old shoulders as we left the community center. When he made up his mind on something, he’d stick to it. With a conspiratorial glint, he told me, “Daddy, I’m going to find you a husband.”

———-         

     Jalen has the build of The Rock. He can twerk like Beyonce. Man, how he makes me laugh when he reads his critics. I was grinning, watching him strut onstage to receive his Ph.D. Of course, I already put a ring on it.

———- 

     I heard the Isley Brothers, and read on his face what he was telling me—he needed it again. My Kwasi, Fortune 500 CEO, took my hand, placed it on the phatness of his 3-piece, suit-clad backside. Yeah Kwasi, I’ll take you to the next phase.

———- 

     When the Motown revue came to town in the ‘60s its male vocalists sending screaming sistahs into orgasm with their voices

———- 

     Did anyone notice a brotha like me heart throbbing just as bad for those phyne men? Laron  deliberately did Something about him made me keep lovin’ him ever since 

———-

     I wish you an excellent day and good success!


     W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

  His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

     Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

     You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Latoya Hankins

Hot Tea and Ice 19

Lessons in Love and Loss

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins  

   

     Greetings, veteran Hot Tea and Ice Sippers–and those new to the blend of wisdom I offer!  It has been more than a minute since my words graced this space. A lot has happened to me: some good, some bad, and some I haven’t quite figured out—and how exactly to understand the lessons I learned.

     Two events I am still processing occurred within weeks of each other during the waning weeks of 2018. The first:  after more than ninety years on this Earth, my oldest great-aunt joined her ancestors.  Her departure three weeks before Christmas took place at home, surrounded by her family.

     The second was the loss of my dog, Neo. He had been part of my world for more than fifteen years, and as to be expected, our time together was destined to end sooner than later.  The week before Christmas, Neo “returned to the source,”  cradled in my arms.

LATOYA and NEO

     I have considered myself lucky that death’s visits to my world were somewhat spaced out;  however, as you can imagine, experiencing two losses so close together shook me.  

     I credit my partner for keeping me going. Without her compassion and providing a listening ear and loving heart, I doubt I would have fared as well during the holiday season.

     Now we are in a new year and time is marching on, which requires me to reconcile my feelings. The lessons I learned about myself is that as much as loss can rock the soul, the power of the love tied to it can knit what has been ripped asunder.Those of us dealing with losing someone or something precious in the preceding months must find our way forward. We need to find a way to let go of the pain and anguish holding us back from embracing what is waiting.

     My great-aunt was a woman of her times. She was a housewife who never worked outside her home and bore nine children. She earned a cosmetology degree but never used it beyond doing her children’s and her own hair.

     Yet, she was also an entrepreneur who sold Avon for more than thirty years. From her back porch, she also sold candy and icy treats known as “frozen cups.” My aunt was a long-standing church member who it seemed everyone knew–and she knew them. Her impact in my small coastal hometown was such that when her children threw her a ninetieth birthday party, the mayor presented her with a key to the city. There would never be another LI, as she was known to her family.

     Her life taught me the way you live your life is the currency people use when they pay tribute to you in death. She instilled in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren the following:  carve their niche in the world and to never forget the value and importance of valuing yourself.  She made of point of dressing up every day with full make-up and coordinating outfits because that what she enjoyed doing, and it made her feel special. While I mourn her not being here in the physical, I celebrate the lessons she left behind.

     Neo was my longest relationship and the only male I shared a home with beyond my family. He was there for my joys and sadness and offered me the non-judgmental love only a pet can provide in many cases. He was a faithful companion and TV western watching buddy to my mother. He provided her comfort, and for that I am grateful. He taught me the value of being there for others and acceptance without judgment.

     The fact my great-aunt and pet died so close to each other toward the end of last year isn’t lost on me. Too often we hold on to things, people, and situations because they provide us comfort and impart life lessons. We don’t sense the way they shape us for the better–until they are no longer there.

     The absence leaves us stunned and not sure how to move forward. We have to learn to look inwardly and pull forth those lessons to move forward. We honor the lessons of those who have departed from us by moving–and not dwelling–in the hurt that they are no longer here.

     Grief operates on its schedule, so give yourself permission to process it until it is appropriate to move on, and when it is time to open your hands and hearts to fully to grasp what waits.

     Until next time, “Adios, au revoir and I “holla!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya  earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is an active member of the, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective,a non-profit organization organized in N.C.  The Collective’s mission is to create a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, latoyahankins.com ; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com;
Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins;
and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Old School New Kid

I’m an ‘Old School New Kid’–and I Own It.

 Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham

     Yes, that’s what my teenage Millennial son would call me in this age of social media, iPhones and Internet branding.  How did I, that 21-year-old version of myself, survive without the bells and whistles of 21st century technology?  But hey, I’m a Baby Boomer and I own it.

     I am always fascinated and intrigued when other authors share their stories; every path to becoming a novelist is different.  For me, it started early on, with countless trips to the library as soon as I could get a library card.  Vivid imagination spurred short stories about animals and their families, where I actually wrote a series of short stories about a family of mischievous seals (go figure).

     As an African American/Native American/LGBTQ man, those stories changed over the years, but my passion for writing didn’t.  How many people have written short stories based on dreams they had–better yet, remembered? I have. Still, life went lifing along, and in the timeless words of Gwen Guthrie, “Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent.”

     I am so grateful for that psych degree I received, for it was a major boost on my road to writing my first novel.  I made up psychological profiles of characters for fun, and a pastor friend of mine read them and said, “Why don’t you put them all together in a book?”  Seed planted!

     Now, the million-dollar question:  what to write about?  One never knows where inspiration comes from, and mine sprang from a need.  Being a man of color in the 1970s and 1980s, I was ever on the search for fiction novels featuring characters who looked like me and came up short.  I was dying to read novels of successful African American men as entrepreneurs in areas other than sports and entertainment.  I knew such men existed in real life, like John H. Johnson, A.G. Gaston, and H.G. Parks, Jr.  However, it wasn’t reflected in fiction.  And as for characters who were also LGBTQ.

The Book: Mark my words.

     Faced with the choice of complaining about this challenge or writing a novel on it myself, I did what my dad would do and chose the latter.  Thus, my concept for Mark My Words and the character of Allan Beckley Christopher.  Thanks, Dad, for being my No. 1 fan and my greatest critic.  Your stamp of approval on this character as representative of your generation meant everything to me.

     Trust and believe, Mark My Words was a novel 17 years in the making.  Between written pages, typewritten pages and what was then a state-of-the-art laptop (oh, those days of floppy disks), it was written in 5 years. The new challenge was the next umpteen years getting it published, and everything that goes with being a new author.  Fortunately, I was blessed with 1) the mantra “Never give up” and 2) a great support system.

     Today, this “old school new kid” has embraced a new learning curve in marketing and social media as a self-published author.  Believe in dreams and never give up.


     W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness.  He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.” 

  His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood.  He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.

     Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self. 

     You may visit W. D. at his online home, wfostergrahamauthor.comand on Twitter, @WDFosterGraham1.  And, email W. D. at  wfostergraham@wfostergrahamauthor.com.

 

Hot Tea and Ice 18

Loving U Is Beautiful

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins  

     Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  I send you all springtime wishes of non-allergy inducing days and seasonably warm nights.  This is the time of the year we spring forward and make plans to shed our winter woes and embrace a new season of potential.

     One thing I encourage everyone to put away with the long-sleeves, coats, and gloves is doubting yourself and all that you have to offer to the world. Full disclosure:  if comparing your worth and achievements to others and finding yourself lacking were an Olympic sport, I would’ve helped the United States snatch more medals in South Korea!  Sometimes, I’m guilty of looking around and thinking harshly about what I haven’t done and why my to-do list is increasing with each passing year.

     Then I stop and realize: in so many ways, not appreciating the gifts I have and put into play is very disrespectful and counter-productive. I need to love myself–faults and all.

     We are all unique and extraordinary in our own way. To grow and thrive is to realize and walk with that knowledge! Celebrate yourself in ways that feel natural and authentic. Be your own cheerleader.

     When others second-guess your choices, it’s natural for some of us to automatically assume they are right. Many of us have people in our lives who can help us see blind spots, and that advice is often spot-on and needed. They can and should call us on our half-stepping and not living up to the potential that lives within us.

     Then, there are some in our lives who find great glee in knocking our proverbial hustles. They see how we do things and attempt to diminish our efforts to be our best selves.  

     And we let them.

     Some of us put aside the appreciation of our wonderful selves in order to appease others. We sacrifice our shine by shrinking into someone else’s shadow.

     Don’t.  Be brave enough to love yourself when others try to make you feel otherwise, and you know that you are on the right. If that means keeping a journal and writing down everything good you have accomplished and not dwelling on the negative, then go for it!  

     If finding that sweet spot of self-adoration requires reconfiguring your circle, give them the walking room they need to exit stage left.  And if it takes seeking the time of a trained professional to help guide your path to realizing how perfect, whole and complete you are, then take that step.

     In this new season, shake off the dust of doubt and move forward to loving the splendid being that occupies the place where you sit reading these encouraging words. When you love yourself and accept your shortcomings as well as successes, you will find a phenomenal new way of thinking.

     Admittedly, embracing loving your faults and all may not be as easy as just making that decision. Too many of us have been hard-wired to doubt ourselves.

     However, I know we all can be better at cherishing ourselves–which will help others to do the same. We all have something special going for us.

     Recently, we celebrated a holiday dedicated to love. So many of us focused on getting the right thing to show how much we value and appreciate others. I challenge us to celebrate every day by loving ourselves–and the highs, lows and  in-betweens.

     Until next time, “Adios, au revoir…and I holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya  earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is an active member of the, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective,a non-profit organization organized in N.C.  The Collective’s mission is to create a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, latoyahankins.com ; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com;
Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins;
and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Hot Tea and Ice 17

Taking All the Time You Need

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins  

 

     Greetings Hot Tea and Ice Sippers, and Happy 2018!  Trusting the New Year has treated you well and the novelty of snow days hasn’t worn off.  It’s amazing how a weather occurrence that brought many of us so much joy when we attended elementary and middle school evokes so much misery now.

     One by-product of weather limiting our activities beyond our four walls is that we find ourselves having to slow down our pace. Since we are sometimes limited to only our driveways or walk-ways, we find ourselves unable to run around and do so much for other people. That’s actually a good thing, although it may not seem like that at the time.

     Too many of us feel so tied to a clock or a list of responsibilities that we must adhere to that we lose sight of the sheer pleasure of taking the time to just be. Depending on whether you are a fan of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” or Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar, sometimes you need to take a break and sit down.

     Recharging your batteries by being still or applying your energy to something that ignites you is priceless–and something we just don’t do often enough. It could be something as simple as being tranquil for five minutes when you are not on your phone, looking at a screen, or updating your social media profile. It also can be taking up a hobby or habit that is strictly for you.

     Take time to treat yourself with the time to do something that feeds you.  Taking time for myself is a New Year’s resolution that everyone should consider adding to their list. It doesn’t require a membership or expensive equipment.  Simply, it’s a matter of saying that taking care of yourself is important–and should be factored into one’s daily life.

     Now, for some full disclosure.  For so long, I was one of those people always on the go who didn’t take enough time for my needs.   Last year was filled with dancing to someone else’s melody, someone else’s tune.  I spent the first quarter of 2017 tending to my mother who was hospitalized most of March.  And, I was balancing the requirements of serving as a sorority graduate chapter president, working a full-time job and nurturing a relationship.

     The rest of the year was pretty much more of the same. When November arrived, I had burned through all my vacation and sick time and could count on one hand the time I spent away from work doing what feeds my soul.  Fortunately, December arrived, presenting the opportunity to take time for myself. 

      I dove into doing not much. I slept late, caught up on movies, and generally lolled around.  

     And it was wonderful! The freedom of it all helped me realize how important it is to take time for myself.

     Not everyone can take a month off the work grid. For some of us, it would be an hour when we send all calls to voicemail. It could be a day where you binge on your favorite foods in your favorite lounging clothes in your favorite chair.

     Maybe you can steal away, go outside, and enjoy some fresh air where the only chatter comes from the birds! The key is to find that place where you can take the time to take a break…and just be.

     Until next time, “Adios, au revoir…and I holler!” 


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya  earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is an active member of the, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective,a non-profit organization organized in N.C.  The Collective’s mission is to create a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, latoyahankins.com ; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com;
Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins;
and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

NATHANIEL OCTAVIUS-NERDO

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 17

Are You Wearing a Mask?

Guest Writer: R. L. Norman  

       We ran down the dirt road to the little store to buy candy. It was me, my little brother and my cousin. My grandfather had given us each a dollar. He made us promise not to tell my grandmother because she would have said it would spoil our dinner. 

     We ran as fast as we could because we wanted to get back in time to see my grandfather feed the hogs & chickens and milk the cows. It’s one of those things that farmers did in South Carolina in the year 1967.

      At the age of seven, I got a kick out of spending the summer with my grandparents because growing up in New Jersey, we didn’t have hogs, pigs, and cows. So, this was a whole new world for me. My parents grew up here on the farm and wanted us to live our roots so to speak.

     We entered the store and searched the candy aisle trying to decide what to buy. Eventually, my brother bought a box of Cracker Jacks. My cousin brought Now or Laters. And I purchased a box of Good and Plenty. These were popular candies during that time. And we decided to share with each other.

     As we ran out of the store, I bumped into a man that was coming in.

     “Watch where you’re going ni**er,” the irate man yelled at me.

     I stood there frozen with fear as I stared at this white man looking down at me. Not just because of the way he said it but because of what he said. I have never experienced anyone calling me a nigger to my face.

     We ran back to the farm as fast as we could, and I told my grandfather what had happened. He was not surprised at all, as he explained the mentality of south people in the south. He explained that some people do not wear a mask to hide behind.

     That’s because, in New Jersey, the prejudice people would wear a mask to hide the fact that they were bigots. They would never show their true colors like this man did.

     And that incident reminded me of Halloween. When I was a kid, we looked forward to wearing a costume and a mask. It was our way of becoming someone else for the day. We would dress up as cowboys, Indians, ballerinas, and angels. We even dressed up as Batman and Superman fighting the bad guys. We lived in out fantasy world as kids and our reward was candy. Lots and lots of candy.

     And that’s all it was: costumes, masks, and candy.

     And as time went on, people became more tolerant and understanding of different races, cultures, etc. Slowly people starting mingling together. socializing, dating and even marrying each other. Racism was slowly kept behind closed doors. There was no need for masks.

     But now it’s the year 2017 and it appears that people are slowly taking off their masks. Racism is slowly becoming the norm. People are slowly showing their prejudice right out in the open.

     In Oklahoma, a white woman police officer shot an unarmed black man who had his hands above his head. She said she feared for her life which is why she killed him. She was found not guilty of murder. But some believed she is guilty of racism. She wasn’t wearing a mask as she shot that man.

     In St. Louis, a black police officer was killed when he ran out of his house to help a fellow white officer chase carjackers. That white officer was found not guilty due to friendly fire. The white officer was not wearing his mask to hide his racism.

     At the University of Maryland, a black man was accused of spraying swastikas on garbage cans. He thought he got away with it until the cops arrested him while he was not wearing his mask of hate.

     In D.C., nooses were found hanging at an elementary school, a college campus and at the African American Museum. Racist people wanted us to go back to the days of hanging blacks. They probably were not wearing their hoods when they did it.

     In Walmart, a white cashier would not touch any money received by any person of color. Instead, she would make the customer put the money on the counter and return any change the same way; being careful not to touch their skin. She was fired because she took off her mask of bigotry.

     And in Las Vegas, a white man booked a hotel room and shot numerous people thru the window. He didn’t care what color they were. When they finally caught him, he had killed himself and was not wearing his mask of hatred.

     And on the other side of the world, people are blowing themselves up as suicide bombers just to kill others who think differently from them.

     Every day, someone is taking off their mask and showing their true colors. The color of hatred. The color of bigotry. The color of down-right stupidity.

     Are we slowly going back in time?  Back to the days of slavery when it was obvious that white people hated black people? Like it was obvious that that white man hated me for being black. Or that some people hated Jews and burned them in human ovens. Or people hated the so-called red-skinned Indians who had different beliefs.

     Today people have forgotten to wear a mask to hide their bigotry. The racist people are slowly taking off their mask and showing how divided this world is.

     It is amazing how people judge each other just by the color of their skin, religious belief or something as simple as someone choosing not to stand for something they do not believe it such as the national anthem.

     Should we hate people because their skin is darker or lighter than our own? Should we hate because someone prays to Jesus instead of Allah?  Or should we hate because someone does not stand up for something that they do not believe in? Instead deciding to kneel.

     It’s time we think about what is really important in life–unity, understanding, and tolerance of others. The world is slowly taking off their mask and showing who they truly are. What they truly believe in. Is this a good thing?

     On the one hand, we will know exactly what people are standing up for. Therefore, we would know what to expect. But on the other hand, wearing a mask might be the best way to keep the peace in this world of hated, senseless killings and downright craziness. If everyone kept their mask on, maybe there would be more peace because everyone would be hiding.

     But now it’s about to be Halloween. Will everyone put on their mask and hide? On will it be a day when we take off the mask and show the world our real selves. Because what’s the point? It appears no one is dressing up anymore. The true man is slowly being revealed.

     What do you stand for? Are you wearing a mask? Or are you going to kneel down for something you don’t believe in? Or stand up and decry bigotry and hatred?


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.” The fourth and latest installment is “Love Is Complicated.”  The sequel will be available soon.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series. R. L. also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  All of these endeavors are part of the production company he’s forming.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram:rlnorman1.

Hot Tea and Ice 16

Appreciate, Don’t Hate

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins  

     Greetings Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  I trust you are well.

     The temperatures are dropping, clothing is getting thicker, and we are getting into that holiday frame of mind. Even if you do not subscribe to a particular faith, the remainder of 2017 should offer you at least one day to spend time with loved ones, do some shopping–or smile at someone who has to work while you enjoy a day off.

     One major break in the monotony of daily life that approaches is the fourth Thursday of November. For one day, we are supposed to give thanks for all the good things we have in our lives. That is in between gorging on carbs, plotting a way to drop sums of money at retail stores, and watching television in between power naps.

     Thanksgiving means different things to different peoplehaving one day to be thankful is okay, but I would say expressing appreciation should be a year-round event.

     And what is the difference between being thankful and the appreciation of thankfulness?  Being thankful is the actual expression of gratitude, while the latter is the tendency to recognize the worth of someone or something.

     Sometimes, we are so caught up in the swirl of our affairs that we neglect to recognize those who avail themselves to make our paths clearer. We tend to see past people’s good deeds and do not let others know that we see their good works– and appreciate them for doing things they do not have to do.

     A popular train of thought that has chugged through many of our lives has been the adage “in life, no one owes you anything.”  Yet, so often, so many of us benefit from things we are given.  But unfortunately, we do not take time enough to show appreciation.

     I will be the first to admit that I do not often show my appreciation for those around me for making my life easier. For the most part, when I wake up in the morning, my partner sets the coffee maker for me so all I have to do is press “on,” and “voila!”  When I exit from the shower, my morning addiction greets me. Because of our differing work schedule, she arrives home before I do, and dinner often greets me when I get there. Those gestures make my day flow so much better; however, I on occasion neglect to let her know much it means to me that she does those things.

     While she never has to worry about the dishwasher being unloaded and clothes making it from the laundry basket to her closet, it still would be a nice gesture for me to recognize what she does to make my morning and evening better.

     Imagine how much better life could be if we simply let people know that we appreciate them for being kind and helpful. We teach children to say “thank you;” but how often do we incorporate that into our own grown-folk conversations?

     I refuse to accept that we cannot appreciate other people’s goodwill; or for that matter, we do not understand that when someone does something nice that they aren’t necessarily doing it for the applause– but because it is just the nice thing to do.  Sometimes, it’s the simple “I see what you are doing and I appreciate it” that makes such a difference.

     If you want to go full-out with floral arrangements, sweet treats, or power ballads to let people know you are appreciated, then that’s cool. However, sometimes the simplest gesture gets the message across just as well.

     All of us should be more proactive about letting people know we appreciate them in minor and major ways that fit the situation. It may be a simple wave of appreciation when the driver on the expressway lets you in his/her lane, or the smile and head nod when someone with a cart full of groceries lets you and your three items go ahead of them.  

     It could be as grand as a day when all your partner has to do is get up– because you have taken care of everything.  And, friends aren’t exempt from showing appreciation. Show that bestie who always “has your back” or a spare twenty dollars until payday.  In turn, you can appreciate the gesture by treating your bestie to lunch or cocktails.

      The simple act of appreciation doesn’t cost anything, but it can actually add value. Try it sometimes, and feel how good it makes you feel. True, it doesn’t compare to that slice of pie your aunt only makes this time of year; but it’s still a good thing, nevertheless.

     Until next time:  Adios, au revoir and I “holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya  earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is an active member of the, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective,a non-profit organization organized in N.C.  The Collective’s mission is to create a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, latoyahankins.com ; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com;
Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins;
and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

NATHANIEL OCTAVIUS-NERDO

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 16

Love Is Not Always Blind

Guest Writer: R. L. Norman  

       I stood at the door to the apartment, preparing myself for the mystery that was in store for me.  

     “Behind this door might be my perfect soulmate,” I thought.

     I checked my clothes, my breath, my hair—everything.  I had to make sure that I was totally “on point.”

     My hopes soaring, I got up the nerve to knock on the door. A voice told me to come in.  So, I opened the door and slowly walked into a dimly lit room. I hesitated just a bit to give my eyes tine to adjust to the darkness.

     As I got closer and closer, I noticed a man sitting on a chair in the middle of the room. I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized that the man was completely naked.

     “Norman, is that you?”

     “Yes. Are you Jimmy?”

     “Yes.”   I just stood there as he made small talk, recounting our previous conversations via phone and text messages.

     Suddenly, I heard some noise coming from another room!  Quickly, I stepped back because I assumed we were alone. And then in a blink of an eye, another person came into the room.

     Also naked! 

     Befuddled, perplexed–I took another step back.

     “Norman, meet Timmy,” Jimmy announced.

     Timmy was his twin brother!  It was then I realized why Jimmy always said something about “two tons of fun.”   Next, they informed me that they wanted to have a threesome.

     I didn’t know what to expect–but I was not expecting this!  Unfortunately for them, I couldn’t even handle one ton!  (LOL.)   I quickly declined, and left.

     Blind dates are a trip.

    As I walked to my car, I was wondering if this was the best way to find a man. I drove home disappointed yet again, and climbed into my lonely bed.

     As I lay there, I started thinking about my previous dates.  You see, this was another date that I had made on line through one of those dating apps. I don’t normally do the blind dating thing–but what’s a lonely man to do?

     And I was a lonely man.

     I had a regular routine of work, home, cooking dinner, watching TV and going to bed. And the next morning began the “rinse and repeat” cycle.  I’d been single since my divorce three years ago. I was used to it, though. 

     To an extent.

     But do you know the worst part?   It was at night, when I had to face the reality that no one was laying on the other side of my bed.   And only my six pillows against my back were helping me imagine that there was a man right next to me.  

     There was no warm body to cuddle up with, and to hug and hold during the night.  And sometimes, the pain of loneliness would be so bad that the tears would well up in my eyes.  I’d grab my pillows tight to try not to face the fact that I was scared of being lonely—and alone–forever.

     However, I discovered how to solve the problem to find that perfect soulmate. On the weekends, I would peruse the so-called “dating” sites for that temporary fix:  holding, cuddling and possibly having sex with someone–if even for a moment. 

     I was looking for someone to give me that temporary feeling of love.

    But at the same time, I’d hoped to meet the man of my dreams!   

     I remember Tracey, a guy I met on Adam4Adam, one of those dating apps.  I would say to myself, “There’s just got to be someone on this app who’s looking for more than just sex!”

     I’d been talking to Tracey for months, and the vibe between us was great! My only issue was that he was twenty years my junior. And you know those young guys have those famous lines: “I like older men” or, “I can’t relate to men my own age.”

     Eventually, I visited him at his home.  As we conversed and drank for a while, we developed an awesome connection–everything was going rather well!

      Until slowly, he revealed his true intentions. 

     He began asking about my income, house, car, etc. Suddenly, he seemed more interested in material things.  Bottom line:  he was looking for a sugar daddy!   

     I couldn’t afford to take care of me; so there was no way I could take care of him.  That “relationship” ended before it started.

     Next, there was James, the man that changed my name!  And it was not that he had a short memory span: he just decided to call me by different names.

     I met James on the Tango app.  I always thought it was to video chat between friends and family. Who knew you could also pick up men!

     Before meeting in person, James and I spoke for months.  We had so much in common that we spoke particularly every day for hours.  He had my heart. Or should I say that his voice had my heart.

     Finally, we decided to meet in person. I was so excited!  I knocked on his door, and this “phine,” sexy man greeted me.  As they say, “tall, dark and handsome.”

     I followed him to the living room, and that’s when it happened. He suddenly turned around, and before I knew it, he was kissing me–tongue and all!   He was doing such a good job that I just gave in and returned the favor. And I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly, my clothes fell off!  And there we were on the floor, exploring each other’s manly bodies–and in more ways than one.

     During that encounter is when he changed my name. It was not Norman anymore. It was Baby, Honey, Sweetie, etc.  And he added “love you” to that numerous times.  Either I was good at what I was doing, or he was crazy!  I would like to think I was good.  Come to find out, it was both.

     But after some time, I had too slowly disappear out of his life. He was moving to fast. He was calling me constantly, and actually started stalking me. I made the mistake early on in giving him my address. He popped up everywhere, and knew my every move. It got scary.

     So, tell me:  what does a lonely man do? Does he continue to search the internet for love and affection? Or does he just continue to live alone and lonely? There are so many lonely people in the world that I figured that sooner or later, I’d find him or he’d find me.

     So I continued my search.  And one night, I knocked on another door.

     It was opened by a very nice-looking man.  He was about 6′ 2″, 220 lbs. of muscle.  Brown skinned, he sported a mustache, beard and bald head.  

     And let’s not forget his beautiful smile!  He was my kind of man.  

     His name was Lenny.

     He led me into the living room that was dimly lit by a fire burning in the fireplace.

     I noticed a blanket and a picnic basket on the floor in front of the fireplace. Also, there was some wine and a platter which consisted of mixed strawberries, grapes and melon.  What a delightful surprise!

     Lenny and I stretched out on the blanket, eating and drinking particularly all night long, as songs filled the room. We talked, laughed and cuddled.

     The first kiss happened while we were listening to Teddy Pendergrass singing “When Somebody Loves You Back.”  It was then I was in heaven!  It was then that I knew I’d met my perfect stranger. This date made up for all the disastrous ones I’d gone on.

     After reflecting on all the blind dates I’d had, I would never have believed meeting him was possible!   But I had gone from loneliness to happiness. And Lenny was my happiness because this was the anniversary of our first date two years ago.

     But now, here’s the funny thing:  I didn’t meet Lenny via an app, or on line.  Actually, I met him in line–at a grocery store!  He just started talking to me.  And then he asked me out for a drink, right then and there.

     And now here we are.

     Now, I’m not discouraging people from doing the “blind on line dating thing” because I’ve met some very wonderful people in the process.  Just keep your options open, because your partner might be in the grocery store also.

     I’m simply saying that loneliness is hard at times. It’s probably the hardest thing to deal with in life. Because regardless of your circumstances, being lonely and alone make your situation seem ten times worst.   

     Your perfect stranger is out there somewhere, and you will find each other. Just be patient, and one day you’ll turn around and he/she will be right there.

      So you see, love is not always blind. You just have to open your eyes and keep the faith, and let your Lord fight your battle of loneliness.  You simply have to keep your mind and heart open. Trust and believe that your God has your back.

     As singer-songwriter and record producer Faith Evans says, “Keep the Faith.”


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.” The fourth and latest installment is “Love Is Complicated.”  The sequel will be available soon.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series. R. L. also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  All of these endeavors are part of the production company he’s forming.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram:rlnorman1.

Hot Tea and Ice 15

Roll With Being A Role Model!

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins  

     Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  Trusting you are well and staying cool this summer. I’m currently giving thanks every day for air conditioning, cool beverages, and lightweight clothing.  Although I’m a Southerner by birth, this heat is something else!

     Despite the high temperatures, I spent this past Fourth of July outside surrounded by my extended family. I considered it a blessing to be in the company of five generations ranging from my great aunt–who recently celebrated her 93rd birthday–to my twin third-cousins from Virginia who was spending the summer with their grandmother.  I ate too much, sipped on something…and had a chance to bask in the stories of days gone by.

     One thing I realized between bites was that I have so many role models within my family. My great-uncle, who has spent over fifty years being the only black barber in Brunswick County, North Carolina, sat beside his nephew, a U.S. Army veteran, retired fire captain and the father of two exceptional daughters. Across from them sat my younger cousin who, in her forty plus years, has lived several lifetimes:  she’s been a college student and ferry boat worker, and currently earns her pay as a nuclear power plant worker. She’s a devoted wife, exceptional big sister–and knows how to stunt on a motorcycle like nobody’s business!

     Too often, we look to celebrities and big names to be role models. We sometimes forget just being the people we are–lovers, friends, and family members–we are setting examples for others to follow. Celebrate that by doing what you do and doing it well:  this inspires others to step their game up. Roll with being a role model.

     I would venture that if you sit down and really think about all that you have done in life, you’d realize that you have accomplished at least three things no one expected to do. Because of that, you have the potential to encourage someone to push him/herself to be better.

     Two of my biggest role models are young men who live vastly different lives in two different states, but they each inspire me to do better. Calvin was a high school football stand-out who had potential to make it big. Instead, he decided to be a family man who nurtures and shapes the lives of his daughter and sons.  His social media pages are filled with pictures of his children, his wife and his family.   

     Calvin is a devoted family man who works hard to provide when so many of his former teammates are living it up. Despite having a frame that made an opposing player drop the ball rather than be tackled during a high school game, he is so gentle and affectionate with his children that it leaves me in awe.

     Leslie spent the first thirteen years of his life as a young Black boy in a small coastal town where he was the only Black student in his pre-K program.  He  spent his early education years being one of a few–if not the only–student of color in his advanced classes. Now he’s a globe-trotting, MBA-having, Eagle-Scout who “handles his bizness” for a Fortune 100 company.  And, he still keeps me cracking up with well-timed texts and social media posts.

     And then there’s Laura. Of Caribbean heritage, her family immigrated to America from Canada when she was eight. She worked hard, and earned her Master’s in community agency counseling in two years in a hostile educational environment. Laura works with children with mental health issues, takes splendid care of her friends and pets–and is the only person I know for sure who has read everything I have written in the past four years.

     We are all somebody’s role models. Own it and hold your head high because your actions help prove to someone else that whatever you want is possible. No setback is permanent, and we should see obstacles as opportunities.

     Walk in the reality that you are someone’s role model…and stay cool.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!” 


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya  earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is an active member of the, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective,a non-profit organization organized in N.C.  The Collective’s mission is to create a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, latoyahankins.com ; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com;
Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins;
and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

NATHANIEL OCTAVIUS-NERDO

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 15

“Four Simple Words of Comfort”

Guest Writer: R. L. Norman 

     It was so dark in the room that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. It was so dark that I could probably hear a pin drop; that’s if a pin did drop. I know that if I were a kid, I would probably be scared, calling for my mommy.

    But I wasn’t scared! I actually felt safe. I felt like nothing or no one could harm me. I felt like I could handle anything in life. But that wasn’t always the case.

      A friend of mine told me this one day while we were having lunch. I have known Kevin since our college days at Tuskegee University. After graduation, he went into the military and traveled all over the world until he settled down in North Carolina and became a stock broker. I went to New York and became an engineer. And, we’ve kept in touch over the years and became great friends.

     During the years, we talked several times a month; and due to our busy schedules, we’d see each other occasionally.  And from time to time, we’d get together for weekends–either in North Carolina or New York.

     But this particular weekend, we decided to meet half-way and spend the weekend in Washington, D.C. We both had never been there, and were excited to see Obama’s House: the White House.

     So, on this particular Friday afternoon, we met in the lobby of the same hotel we were booked in.  For almost two years, I hadn’t seen him face-to-face; therefore, I was understandably excited.

     I arrived at the lobby first, anticipating the arrival of my old friend. I stared at the elevator doors, waiting for them to open for what seemed like an eternity. As I waited, I was thinking about the first time I met HIM. He was dating my slut of a roommate who was cheating on him with every Tom, Dick–and sometimes John. I felt bad for Kevin, and befriended him once he found out the truth by catching my roommate in bed with another guy! That was so long ago, and there we were.

     When the elevator doors finally opened, I was surprised to see that my once broad-shouldered, 220 pounds, 6’2” friend was now practically a skeleton of a man!  Now, he was about a “buck fifty,” bald, very slim–and walked with a cane. I tried my best not to show the surprised and concerned expression on my face.  However, I’m sure he immediately noticed it.

     As we did our welcome embrace, I was afraid I was hugging him to hard. I thought I might break him because he seemed so fragile. We stood there for a while and did out usual laughing and joking. It was just like old times except for the fact that I could not help but have the thought in the back of my mind that something was terribly wrong with him.

     We decided to go to lunch before we began sightseeing.  After that, we had dinner before we did the D.C. nightlife, looking for men.

     At lunch, we did our usual catching up on each other’s lives. He told me about his job as a stock broker, which he truly relished.  He loved “playing with other people’s money,” as he put it.

     I told him about working on Park Avenue in New York.  He remembered that I’d always dreamed about working there. And I told him that I was single mainly because I worked a lot—which he also did.  But on this trip, we both decided to forget about work and do a lot of playing.

     After some chit-chat back and forth, and laughing about this and that, he got silent for a moment.  I just stared at him because it was obvious that he had something on his mind. 

     The silence was eventually broken when he said “Honey, I have to tell you something.” He was smiling as he stared at me for another brief moment.

     “Sure, what’s up?” I replied, a concerned tone enveloping my voice. As I listened with great interests, he told me his story.

     “Well,” he said,” one day out of the blue, I woke up with chest pains. I didn’t think much of it. I just thought it was something I ate the night before. The pain would come and go, and still I didn’t think that it was serious. And you know how most of us Black men are; we don’t want to go to the doctor. We are supposed to be big strong men that can handle anything. But of course, sometimes that’s not true. Women are the strong ones and I commend them for that.

     “Anyway” he continued, “after a few weeks I decided to go to the doctor. I finally made it after canceling several appointments, thinking and praying my pain would go away.

     “After many tests, I went back to the doctor for my results. That’s when he informed me that I had lung cancer and that it was serious.”

     Needless to say, Kevin’s revelation took me aback!  But not just because he divulged this like he was telling me some “everyday event in his life.”  It was because he told me this with such a positive attitude, confidence and smile on his face.   And, I was especially affected by him adding that even if the radiation and chemo didn’t work, he’d “one day pass away to heaven.”

     Kevin admitted that he hesitated to tell people–especially his closest friends–because they immediately treated him differently. Obviously, I was concerned and sad when I realized the seriousness of all that he said. After a few comforting words from me and some words of assurance from him, he was still smiling like he was on top of the world; while I, on the other hand, tried my best to smile.

     I asked him:   “How can you be so upbeat about this?” 

     He responded that from time to time, he’d let the world stand still and listened to God tell him the four little words of comfort. I was confused by what he meant.

      Until he explained it.     

     He said, “When I first received my diagnosis, I sat on my couch numb from shock! I sat there for what seemed like hours. It felt like time stood still as I sat there alone. And I felt like I didn’t have anyone in the world…and I was scared!  Scared of what the future may hold or should I say, ‘may not hold’.

     “Finally I went into my bedroom and drew all the curtains to make the room completely dark. Then I lay on my bed. It was so dark in the room that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. It was so dark that I could probably hear a pin drop; that is, if a pin did drop. I know that if I were a kid, I’d probably be scared and calling for my mommy. I wanted to shut the world out for a while. To make it seem like the world stood still while I came to grips with the reality of my situation.

     “I laid there for what seemed like an eternity until suddenly I wasn’t scared anymore. I actually felt safe!  I felt like nothing or no one could harm me. I felt like I could handle anything in life.

     “That’s because suddenly, I swore I heard God whisper in my ear the four simple words of comfort.  He whispered, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright’.

And then the Bible verse of Philippians 4: 6-7 filled my mind. It basically reads, ‘I can do anything with God who strengthens me if I just have faith’.

     “After a while of thinking about those four simple words, I realized that it was true:  “Everything IS gonna be alright’!  I can handle this.

     “And from that moment on, I smiled and enjoyed life the best I could. I realized that some things in life are going to be a test of faith: a test to make us stronger in life’s ups, down, trials and tribulations.

     “I decided that I was going to be strong and think positive. That’s why every day, I wake up with a smile on my face and count my blessings. Even though sometimes the chemo or radiation is so bad that I can hardly move. And sometimes, I get real sick and can’t get out of bed for a while. But I know everything’s gonna be alright.

     “So eventually, I got up, opened the curtains and let the sun and the world back into my blessed life.

     “But of course, like anyone else, sometimes I get down and lonely. Sometimes I just want someone to hug me and whisper in my ear, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright’. 

     “Sometimes we go through stuff and don’t tell anyone. We keep it locked away because we don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

     “But sometimes, we just need for them to give us a hug and whisper in our ear.”

     At that moment I stood, pulling Kevin up with me. I then hugged my dear friend and whispered in his ear, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” 

     It was such an extraordinary moment!  As we both exhaled, it seemed as if his positive energy was transferred to me  It seemed like the precious feeling of God’s love flowed through our bodies as I suddenly felt like I, too, could handle anything.

     That was five years ago. And today, Kevin is doing well. And from time to time, we still meet and chase men.

     Thinking back to that day, I realize that a positive attitude does indeed make a difference.   That’s why I always try to have a smile on my face to share with the world. A smile to let people know that life is great; and hopefully, that positive attitude will make someone’s day.

    To all the people out there who are going through trials and tribulations in their lives, you are not alone. Your God is by your side. 

    And it’s those people that we should give such simple things as a hug and a whisper of those four simple words of comfort in their ear.

    So hug someone today and whisper, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.” The fourth and latest installment is “Love Is Complicated.”  The sequel will be available soon.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series. R. L. also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  All of these endeavors are part of the production company he’s forming.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram:rlnorman1.

Hot Tea and Ice 14

Parents Are People, Too!

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

     Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers! I send a virtual shower of confetti and a round of kudos for the college graduates and their family members partaking of this month’s literary offering.  Regardless how long the journey took, you made it to the end and you should be celebrated.

     Along with college graduations, May meant Mother’s Day. Based on the cascade of profile pictures which blanketed social media, a lot of you have pretty fly mothers who know how to accessorize and strut. I also realize that for every picture of Momma and Mini-Me, there are those whose posts about that second Sunday reflected mothers who didn’t have the time, inclination or ability to be there for their offspring. Many people are estranged from their mothers due to old hurts, and the fresh pain of rejection.

     For many of us, that distance is necessary for our mental–and sometimes physical–safety.  But for others, it’s because they are clinching too tightly to things that happened in childhood.

     For many years, I was in the latter category. But this spring day, my advice to you is that sometimes, we have to let some of that stuff go.  If possible, we need to see our parents as persons now that we are adults–and stop seeing them with the eyes of a child.

Parents

     This is not to diminish the hurt, or disregard the damage done. But in order to heal, we have to really see and then try to understand the choices our parents have made.    Being adults ourselves, you know that adults make mistakes all the time; and if possible, we need to extend understanding and grace to our parents so that we can move beyond the past. 

     When I was six months old, my mother and I parted ways.  She sent me to my grandmother and great-grandmother to be raised in my hometown while she worked and attended school in the District of Columbia.  My mom wasn’t there when I lost my first tooth–or second or third, for that matter. She didn’t teach me how to ride a bike.  Nor did she stand by my side when I got my first library card.

     She was there when I had major surgery when I was five–but only for a brief period before she headed back to D.C. We didn’t reconnect until I was eight.  That was when my grandmother died and she came back home to live with my great-grandmother and me.

     My mom and I didn’t live together on our own until I was eleven.  Unfortunately, her reaction to something that occurred just added to my feeling of disconnection from her.  It was an incident with a neighborhood boy who simply didn’t understand that “no meant no.”

     You see, I loved my mom; however, I just didn’t like her that much. After all, you really can’t like someone whom you don’t know.

     So many times, we have trouble understanding the motivation behind our parents’ actions because we can’t see them as people.  We give more credit to people who cross our paths than to the woman who gave us life. Depending on the circumstances, I would like to suggest they deserve better.

     Getting to know the woman she was before she became your mother sometimes helps clear up misunderstandings, and helps form a bridge that will allow you to move closer together.

     Because so much of my early years was not spent with my mother, I never fully appreciated her and the sacrifices she made until I was well into my adult years. My mother–like so many others–sacrificed her time, talent and treasures in order to make a better place in the world for herself and myself.

     So last year, we began talking about who she was before, during, and after I made my appearance into the world. We addressed misgivings and hurt feelings and began building a stronger relationship.

     It is not going to be an easy fix, but I feel it’s worth the effort to start understanding the woman that is my mother. I encourage others who are ready to entertain the thought to reach out.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Mark’s Surreality 3

The Things We Do,” Part One

 Guest Writer: Mark O. Estes 

     “I’m so drained, Evan,” Derrick mumbled to me through his meaty palms. “I’m so fucking drained with no semblance of an end in sight.”

     I sat across Derrick at a seemingly swanky restaurant (until they brought out the oxymoronic monstrosity of gummy, stale pasta) as he spilled his frustrations onto the table like a tall glass of the finest southern tea. His puppy dog expression, complete with a full luggage set under his eyes and the weariness of a two-term president, matched his woeful words perfectly. This pained me. I’m used to gazing hours on end into his brown eyes, and wishing like hell that I could stare into them on an ironclad intimate level. Preferably in one of our bedrooms.

     Instead, the person who sat across from me was a black void in human form. A man who has ran the marathon of life so roughly to only get towards the next level and have the finish line lunge out of his grasp. Again, I’m not used to this version of Derrick Kent. The Derrick Kent I know (of admittedly a short period of time) was more jovial, yet comically twisted, and all around inspiring. Exuberating a nice balance of sheer intelligence and criminally sexiness, Derrick was pretty much sex personified and left men and women weeping in his path, both sexes yearning for more of his intellectual prowess.

     “Man, what are you doing to combat your fatigue?” I asked, taking a sip of my rum and coke. “This is the worst time to let the doldrums of life interfere with your winning streak of achievements. I mean you killed it tonight during your acceptance speech. The crowd loved you. Will always love you, actually.”

     The crowd in question was the throngs of people who came to congratulate Derrick on being published by a major publishing house with a six-figure deal for his first novel through the company right out of the stables. The novel, “Timeless Paramour,” wasn’t Derrick’s first novel by far, but it was the one that managed to snatch the attention of a well-renowned editor and manager for Macmillan Books. His writing stood on the boundaries between classic thriller and modern satire, with a twinge of irony thrown in for good taste. His unique blend of those top genres garnered a lot of support over the years, even before I knew of his existence. His fan base continues to grow weekly, if not daily, and some of the people who were in the audience tonight had traveled as far as New York City, Florida, and even London to see Derrick in his moment before he became a national best selling author.

     Derrick shook his head wearily. “No, that’s not what I mean. There’s a lot on my mind and it’s sucking the life out of me. Plus, work isn’t exactly being a grand help either. I just need space and a break.”

     “But you have this promotional tour coming up…”

     “That could serve as the break that I need.”

     “A break from what? Derrick, you’re on top of the world now. There’s a six-figure writing contract for a book that’s going to eventually become and international bestseller and a movie within the next two years, you have a bulldog of a manager, a twenty-city tour across America to promote said book… Your future is bright, Dee, so… Excuse me for drawing blanks on why you are not doing the backhand bounce while drinking from a bottle of the finest champagne on the planet?”

     “It’s my job, man. It’s killing me. This tour will be heaven on a bus. No nagging ass calls about collections. No shity ass lunch breaks. No triple necked bosses monitoring what I’m doing and when I take a shit. For two whole months, it can just be me and my brain and a whole host of crazy mothafuckers waiting for their time to shine in the pages of my upcoming books.”

     I nod in agreement, despite not believing one word he was saying.

     “You don’t believe a word that I’m saying, do you?” Derrick always managed to read me like a skilled, literary professor.

     “No, I don’t,” I replied, not blinking an eye. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there is some heavier mojo at work besides daily tiffs with the corporate establishment. But I’m not going to force whatever it is that’s ailing you until you give me the green light to do so. I’m sure this isn’t the night that you want to go into detail over something dark. In fact, it’s neither the night nor the time for any detractions from your happiness and the good luck bestowed upon you. So let’s just focus on the positives now. The dreg of “the work force” can be dealt with on another day. Preferably in a later novel, perhaps?”

     Derrick chuckled after my lame speech. He knew it came from the heart. I could tell. It was the first time he had smiled genuinely since we sat down to talk in the restaurant. Knowing that I had managed to conjure that heart-stopping smile, which only he could pull off with an up tuck at the corner of his lips, sent my soul on a satisfying victory lap throughout every inch of my body.

     “You’re so good to me,” Derrick said, his eyes piercing into mine. “Do you know I’ve always wanted to tell you that? You have the sheer knack for knowing how to talk a man off a proverbial ledge. So many nights I doubted myself in every avenue possible and you have always been there to slay the Procrastinator, the Doubter, and any other Writing Demons that prowl my mind. I truly appreciate you, Evan. And everything that you do.”

     On the surface I only blushed a little and smiled graciously in return. But on the inside… My mind had the biggest orgasm it had ever experienced since learning the existence of the excess check while in college. It took strong will power to not lean over the table; casually, but tenderly, grab Derrick’s face; and gently kiss those pink luscious lips of his. Instead, I silently cursed every force in nature keeping us from becoming one big happy gay existence. Or rather why he never saw me in the same light as I saw him…

     “Thanks, Derrick,” I managed to sputter out. “That means a lot. Really.”

     Derrick nodded. “And I want you to know that the green light is yours.”

     “The green light to do what?” asked a syrupy voice that sliced clean through my calm demeanor and sliver of happiness.

     Severing our connection to acknowledge the happy-go-lucky intruder into our conversation, Derrick smiled as a stacked female doused in white Chanel-everything (possibly panties as well) with long black hair teased to the salon gods stepped into our sights. “Hey, babe,” Derrick greeted, standing to kiss the woman lovingly. I nearly barfed all over the table.

     Meet Asia Wainright. AKA Derrick’s fiancée. AKA one of those forces I silently cursed only moments earlier.

     “I thought you were sleep,” Derrick cooed to Asia. “I didn’t want to wake you up, so I called up Evan and we decided to grab a bite to eat.”

     “I was asleep, but the guests in the room next to us decided to rehash an argument from ten years ago. I know the date because they continued to refer to it ad nauseam to the point that I woke up, tried to figure out what exactly what I was doing on May 23rd, 2005, and eventually gave up. I called your phone. Did you not get my messages?”

     Derrick patted his pants for his phone and pulled it out to check it. “Must have forgotten to take it off silence. Yep, I see two missed calls and one voicemail. I’m sorry, babe.” He kissed her again for emphasis on his regretful lapse of judgment on not checking his phone. I continue to sit and look like a doofus while playing with the rubbery pasta in front of me.

     “It’s fine, Derrick. I figured you were down here eating, anyway. If you weren’t, then I would have had an APB put out immediately. No officer in Memphis was going to rest tonight until you were safe in bed with me.” She paused and turned to me as like I was a bothersome afterthought. “Oh, hey, Evan.”

     “Hello,” I replied.

     “So, what was this green light you were talking about?” Asia asked Derrick. “Hopefully it’s green light to something special you’re cooking up for me…”

     Not missing a beat, Derrick took the chance and followed through with his prepared lie. “Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. You’ll just have to find out. In fact, I was actually just bouncing ideas off of Evan over some bad pasta and drinks.”

     “Oh, Derrick, you didn’t have to bother Evan for that,” she chuckled. “I’m sure he has something to do other than sit here and listen to you babble all night like a human springboard.”

     Um, wrong. I was enjoying myself quite immensely being Derrick’s “human springboard.”

     Hell, in fact, if I could I would morph into an actual cork board for Derrick to place his ideas on, because it would have been the only sort of way for his fingers to brush against my body. But I remained calm and collected as Asia continued to dismiss my existence and purr into Derrick’s ear like an alley cat in heat.

     “Well, he didn’t seem to mind. Did you, Evan?”

     I was about to concur when Asia pulled Derrick a bit closer to her, reached into his pocket and pulled out a few twenty-dollar bills and laid them on the table.

     “Well, whether if he didn’t mind or not, I’m releasing him to go live his life on this beautiful Friday night while it’s still young. Maybe you can snag you a boyfriend, Evan?” 

     “He already has one, Asia,” Derrick reminded her. “Remember you met him? His name is Juan?”

     Asia blinked before casually placing her hand on her forehead in a fake ass “Duh!” expression. “Right! I totally forgot about him since I never see him with you, Evan. Is he really busy or something?”

     Bitch.

     “Actually, he’s not into big crowds,” I stated as calmly as my reserve would let me. But even then my reserve was way past ‘empty.’ The gall of this bitch…

     Sensing the tension forming, Derrick pulled out another twenty-dollar bill and placed it on the table. “Well, I guess we could mosey on upstairs. I have to start work on the next chapter of Massive Heat anyway.”

     “Can’t wait to read it,” I chimed in, thankful for the interference.

     “Not before I finish the book in its entirety,” Asia interjected as she sauntered off, not even offering a half-assed wave.

     Derrick stood watching her for a moment before he broke his gaze long enough to look at me and say, “Sorry about that, Evan. The green light still stands. I’ll call you.”

     Then he stalked off to catch up with Asia.

     I continued to sit at the table and sip on my Long Island Iced Tea, replaying what just transpired over in my head a couple of times. It was apparent that Asia knew how I felt about Derrick. That was as abundantly crystal clear as the numerous work she’s had done to her face.

     She sniffed that fact out ages ago, like a true bitch guarding her territory would. That’s not what was playing through my head though. At least not the full culprit. I was pondering about Derrick’s gaze before he offered an apology for Asia’s behavior. He was pissed. And I don’t mean ‘pissed’ in an “I can’t believe you embarrassed me” pissed, but in a “Bitch, I can’t fucking stand you” pissed.

     Trouble in paradise? Possibly. Despite her confidence in putting together a fashionable outfit to go along with her sadistic (and unnecessary) penchant for reading people for filth, Asia seemed to also carry the characteristic of those people on Instagram who constantly post pics and quotes showcasing their sickeningly sweet love affair and reminding the unfortunate bystanders that they’re simply pressed to not have a “bae” in their lives. But in reality, those very people are fighting tooth and nail to retain said ‘blissful relationship,’ because it’s simply ‘pathetic’ in this day and age to not have someone cuffed to your side at all times.

     Although, I’m sure Asia could effortlessly pull someone else if she and Derrick were to take a one-way trip to Splitsville without blinking any of her carefully applied eyelashes.  I would also wager that her Venus flytrap type of personality has a reputation that transcends her sexual partners. Her caramel piece of ass may be considered the Louis Vuitton of Asses in the Mid-South, but the price to even sample her snatch had to be too rich for any sane man’s blood. Which brings me to the puzzling query of exactly what the hell did Derrick see in that woman? Class? Beauty? Great head? Whatever magic Asia possessed between her legs, it obviously wasn’t hitting enough home runs to clear the funk that was haunting Derrick as of late. So what gives?

     One thing was for certain: twice tonight I’d seen two new facets of Derrick Kent that I never knew existed, and they both intrigued me to no end. As if he wasn’t already intriguing enough…

     I had downed my last glass of Long Island Iced Tea (fourth in all) and was prepping my mind for the ride home when my cell phone began singing the chorus to Kid Cudi’s “Heart of a Lion” — Derrick’s assigned ring tone.

     “Hello?” I answered, wondering how he’d manage to wrestle Asia off his neck.

     “Hey, Evan. Are you still up for that green light?”

     Slowly, a goofy ass grin spread across my face…

     Of course I was.

To Be Continued….


Mark O. Estes is a writer, editor, columnist and librarian, who earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  Mr. Estes is a writer and editor for both The Big Boy Project and The Male Media Mind, dynamic and cutting edge infotainment sites that are specifically designed for larger men—and those who have an affinity for them.  Also, Mark is penning his debut novel.  You may reach Mark at buildingmysteries.wordpress.com; Twitter, @theanticritic; Instagram, markoestes.

Hot Tea and Ice 13

Spring Cleaning the Negativity Out of Your Life

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

     Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  We are now officially in the middle of spring; and depending on your faith, past the pastel parade that is Easter Sunday when it seems that everyone has to break out the suits in shades of sherbets.  For the most part, the weather is better and people are making plans to get together for weekend cookouts, family road trips, and just being out and about. Good things abound and while the living may not be totally easy, the only ice to be found is in glasses.

     Warmer temperatures tend to put people in a better frame of mind. It’s just something about the sun shining that seems to make things seem not so overwhelming.  However, even when it’s warm enough to break out the open toe shoes and short sleeves, some people seem fixated on holding onto people who and situations that have nothing good to offer.  The reasons for this are numerous.  They include, for example, that we’re comfortable, complacent or confused about something better being possible.  And unfortunately, the results are the same.

     Too many of us are tied to negative thinking, to the point that it clouds our vision to what good there is within and around us.  I’ve been guilty of being down hearted about things I couldn’t change, while totally ignoring the opportunity to celebrate the thing turning out right.

     Let this be the year when we leave negativity behind like those corduroy pants we bought that were too tight when we left the store. We just have to be prepared to do some spring cleaning and shake the dust off our feet, and “keep it moving” when it comes to negativity.

     Just as flowers are beginning to break through the dirt to emerge, we have to push through all the dirt that will hold us down and embrace the possibility of positive thinking.

     Now like all things worth doing, a spring cleaning of the negativity in your life will not be easy. Negative thinking is hard to break.  And sometimes, the most negative person in your life has been there the longest.

     The key is to step back and evaluate the matters at hand. Does focusing on what went wrong really solve the problem? Is it really worth spending time listening to your friend complaining?  You have to stop and realize that while negativity seems like a comfortable blanket that wraps around you so neatly and tightly, there’s no need for it when you can avail yourself of so much warmth outside.

     Challenge yourself to get rid of attitudes and people that no longer work. Put on mothballs that self-doubt and that one friend who never has anything good to say about anybody.

     Just as when we do spring cleaning, we start with one room at a time, ridding yourself of the negativity.  Start in one area of your life at a time.  Slowly cease  hanging out altogether with that person who seems to have a perpetual grey cloud hanging over his/her head, or who possesses a mouth that utters a complaint instead of a compliment.  Instead of doubting your ability, find something to do that brings you happiness.

     It will take time to change your social circle and your outlook, but it’s well worth the effort.  It will be like having clean windows: everything will be clearer, and you will be able to make better choices.  

     Hopefully, having a lighter outlook will attract more positive things into your life.   As well, that perspective should attract people to fill the space left vacant when you cut loose of those that weigh you down. 

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Hot Tea and Ice 12

Who Do You Think You Arr?

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

    Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for spring to officially arrive. I love the opportunity to bundle up with thick sweaters and strut my stuff in cute boots, but I’d much rather leave the house wearing a light jacket or long sleeves rather than worry about a bulky coat. But seasons come and seasons go. All we can do is carry on and look good in the process.

     For those who keep up with such things, March is recognized as Women’s History Month.  For 31 days, we aim to recognize those women who have made strides in so many different arenas, ranging from politics to business.  For example, you have Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.     

     Then there’s Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education, who at the age of 17 became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.  Ms. Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against the suppression of children and young people, and her battle to help guarantee the right of education for all children.

     We honor Katherine Johnson, who helped send a man into space.  There’s Shonda Rhimes, who keeps us glued to our devices every Thursday. We celebrate our foremothers, our sister superstars and those who are up and coming. We pay tribute to those women who know who they are and what they are “working with”–and don’t shy away from letting others know who they are, what they have done, and can do.

     During Women’s History Month, we recognize those women who know the value of their achievements and didn’t shy away from being proud of their talents. As a woman who is not ashamed of admitting I Goggle myself to remind myself of all that I’ve achieved, I fully support being proud of the things that set you apart.

     As the saying goes, it’s not bragging if it’s true. If you have something to be proud of, celebrate it to the fullest!  Don’t hide your talent under a bush. Let your  little light shine.

    There’s no worth in doubting your value. Be vocal about all that makes you special and trumpet your talents. You are exceptional.   And while you may not have snatched up trophies on a national stage, you have conquered something.  Don’t  shy away from being proud of that achievement.

     My mother likes to tell the story of how she graduated top of her class in nursing school, but never really talked about it that much because she didn’t want to be seen as a show-off.  If I were able to work a full-time job, carry a full course load and still have time to catch Parliament Funkadelic shows whenever they came through D.C., I’d have no problem letting everyone know.

     If you don’t celebrate yourself, not one else will. Be proud and promote yourself.   I’m not endorsing purchasing a roadside billboard or a full page newspaper ad, but nothing is wrong with letting people know how and where your skill sets “soar.”

     If you know something about a topic, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your experience. Get involved in projects where your experience can be an asset. Trust that your achievements are worthy of being known, and that you’re the best person to make sure everyone knows how much of a superstar you are.

     For so long, the notion of being proud and sharing your achievements was looked down upon as being unseemly. Put But now more than ever, it’s important to let others know how you manage to excel because it serves as example that it can be done.   Put your pluses out there, and prove that success is possible.

     While March is Women’s History Month, seize the remaining days to celebrate and share your own points of pride. Who knows:  maybe your accomplishments will earn you a spot during an upcoming history month run-down!

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Mark’s Surreality 2

“The Greatest Love Affair of All”

 Guest Writer: Mark O. Estes     

       Picture, if you will, a young, Black man on a personal journey during the chaos known as New Orleans at Mardi Gras. He ends up in an establishment on Bourbon Street where the music is just as lively as the gyrating bodies keeping up with its heavy bass and melodic beats. In the middle of this vivacious crowd stands two older Black men, gay and deeply in love, dancing with each other passionately.

     The young Black man was mesmerized by this striking scene.  He realized that not only were these two lovers thoroughly enjoying themselves–apparently without a care in the world–but that also, the crowd around them seemed to feel the same way.

      There weren’t any stares of disgust. No forms of childish finger-pointing or giggling. Just harmonizing love.

      Peaceful, harmonizing love.

     And they did not care.  THEY did nocare

     This wrecking ball of a revelation crashed into something deeply personal for that young Black man.  That wrecking ball was always aimed at the fortress surrounding his mind and soul, but was never successful of breaking through—regardless of the person or literature delivering the message.

     “They” did not care.  Nobody cares, Mark.

      As the young Black man watched this beautiful Black couple enjoy their life– their unconditional love serving as a beacon of hope–one of the lovers spotted him, possibly feeling the young Black man’s intense gaze upon him and his mate. The older Black gentleman matched his younger counterpart’s gaze of interest and awe; but instead of annoyance, there was an instant connection between the two.

     Maybe it was the sense of wonder emanating from the young Black man who encouraged the older gentleman to hold his gaze with this arresting person. Or maybe it was the freshly purchased rainbow pride flag clutched proudly in the younger man’s hand, its bright and bold colors reflecting the revelatory awakening spirit generating their connection at that very moment. Whatever the case, that moment was purely magical on so many levels; tear-inducing, almost.

      The older gentleman, still dancing seductively with his lover, gradually made his way to the young Black man holding the rainbow pride flag; surprisingly, their gaze never faltered! As the couple made their way off the dance floor, the older gentleman walked towards the young Black man with whom he’d just shared a temporary connection.  Then, he pounded fists with his new comrade, a knowing smile enveloping his face.

     The mutual gesture might seem menial to most people; but at that very instant, that fist pound served as the final strike against the blockage within that young man’s mind. Life began to seep through the cracks of his steely resolve until it couldn’t withstand the restless pressure, finally giving in to the weight of a long-awaited breath that was impossible to hold any longer.

     The young Black man became fluid in his surroundings.  The fear that had haunted him for most of his 30 years of existence evaporated into the hazy smoke and sultry environment of that New Orleans club’s atmosphere.  

     And at that moment, the young Black man – excuse me, I – started to really LIVE!

     That fist pound was like an electrical charge, a skeleton key, an inheritance of sorts to a life worth living!  It released me.  It demanded me to live in the moment– and to live for myself. 

     Yes, that message was drilled into my head since before college, but it was always a mirage of sorts when it came time for me to put the sound advice into play.

     I never believed it.  Not until that night!  That’s when I really felt it. The brick to the face divulgence felt supernatural, as if that specific fixed moment in time was supposed to happen. As if that mesmerizing beautiful couple were Angels manifested to properly deliver the message that was constantly getting returned to Sender. My God!  I’d never felt so emotionally free before in my entire life–and actually believed it.

     It’s incredible how something so small and innocent can change someone’s life around in one given, random moment. I hope that I will do the same for someone else one day; but until then, I will continue loving me.  I will continue building me. I will continue being me.

    Falling in love with yourself is the greatest love affair of all.  Everything else just comes naturally afterwards.


Mark O. Estes is a writer, editor, columnist and librarian, who earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  Mr. Estes is a writer and editor for both The Big Boy Project and The Male Media Mind, dynamic and cutting edge infotainment sites that are specifically designed for larger men—and those who have an affinity for them.  Also, Mark is penning his debut novel.  You may reach Mark at buildingmysteries.wordpress.com; Twitter, @theanticritic; Instagram, markoestes.

Balancing My Virtues and Vices

“The Virtues of Communication” 

Guest Writer:  Ja’Won T. Blackmon 

     After pondering my experiences as part of the LGBTQ community, I’ve learned so many things about myself, and the friends and acquaintances whom I have crossed paths with along the way. The variety and multitude of issues, facts and opinions are always interesting to listen–and respond to, as well.

    Whether it be relationships, acceptance, families and friends, money, professionalism–or just our culture in general–it’s never a dull moment!  And, it  allows me to see things for what they truly are—albeit contradictory or brutally honest. Therefore, after introducing myself, I figured I’d explore a continuing hot-button issue in our community:  how we as LGBTQ individuals communicate with one another. 

    But first:  just who is Ja’Won T. Blackmon?  Born in Belle Glade, Florida, I’m a Polymath Renaissance Man.  You may ask, “Exactly what is that?”  It means that while I have a pretty substantial base of knowledge, I’m continuing to learn, and acquire other talents.  I’m also part of the Big Boi Community (bears/big boys of color–and those who have an affinity for them).

    I’ve had a number of careers, including IT.  Currently, I’m social media specialist and peer counselor for STAND (Standing To Achieve New Directions), Inc., a non-profit organization.  STAND provides comprehensive solutions and evidence-based interventions to underserved individuals dealing with HIV, mental health issues, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence and re-entry.   

     My passion is strongly rooted in helping people, particularly in the arenas of technology, teaching and mediating.  Twice, I discovered my talent for helping others. When I was a teacher’s aide in the eighth grade, I was given the opportunity to teach a sixth grade class for an entire year. The second time was when I saved a high school freshman from bullying, domestic violence and suicide.

     These experiences have given my life more meaning and purpose.  As a result, I felt that I wasn’t alone in this world with the conflicts that plagued it.  I realized that I, too, could make a difference.

     Now, let’s delve into how we communicate with one another–particularly in  dating and sex situations.  Do we consistently portray who we actually are?  Do we always openly and honestly convey what we’re really looking for and what we really want?     

     One’s true intention is a crucial component of open, honest and effective communication.  For example, have you ever had an exchange on a social media platform, and the individual says, “Hey,” “‘Sup,” or “Hi”; he follows up with vague and predictable questions regarding physical stats, along with arbitrary phrases (“Cool.” “Okay.”  “That’s what’s up!”)

     Then, he’s sometimes bold enough to take the “conversation” to the sexual realm with no type of substance or direction towards the actual motive.  Next, the conversation seems to “hit the corner of two main roads,” meaning that the conversation reaches a destination or point by avoiding the proper path of execution.  Picture it like this:  a driver can mess up the flow of traffic by purposely driving on the curve, causing bumps and damage to the vehicle, himself,  passenger(s), other drivers and pedestrians.

     Here’s another:  how about when someone tries to hide his true intentions, only to reveal those very intentions at the most annoying times?  What about the unwanted and unwarranted picture or video link that person sent that makes you question their existence?   What about those nude photos people post and send practically everywhere?  (Now, that can be quite risky:  do you know how folks will use them?)  And, what about the inexplicable dead air on a phone or video call?

     It’s my opinion that more than a few men need to seriously consider changing their behaviors. First and foremost, we need to be honest with ourselves before approaching and/or engaging with someone. Then, it’s imperative to be forthcoming and transparent.  There’s no need for hidden motives! (That’s for super villains.)  Besides, that’s such a waste of valuable time.

     In my humble opinion, the direct approach is always best. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  

     I find it quite interesting that one can work hard at communicating effectively on the job, but then struggle (or not) to put in the required effort when getting to know someone in social—and particularly intimate—situations.  Successful communication is absolutely crucial: be it in the work place, in familial and friendship relationships, in the process of getting to know one another romantically—or just for that booty call

     Here’s the bottom line:  we need to make our intentions crystal clear–and consistently.  If you’re hitting me up on a “dating” app, be clear whether you’re looking for a real date—or just sex. Remember the old adage, “Honesty is the best policy?”  Well, it actually is!  It cuts out confusion, and safeguards against hurt feelings.

     Open, honest and effective communication are sorely needed in our community. And, let’s not forget to include integrity and respect.  In other words, let’s get it right!

     And “back on point.”

     Until next time ….


Ja’Won T. Blackmon is arguably the quintessential “Polymath Renaissance Man.”  He’s had a number of diverse careers, including internet technology (IT).  Currently, Ja’Won is Social Media Specialist and Peer Counselor for STAND (Standing To Achieve New Directions), Inc., a non-profit organization.  STAND provides comprehensive solutions and evidence-based interventions to underserved individuals dealing with HIV, mental health issues, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence and re-entry.  Ja’Won is in the process of writing his first novel.  You may follow Ja’Won at his on line home, Jtbchronicles.wordpress.com, and on Facebook.

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 14

“The Power of Prayer”

Guest Writer: R. L. Norman  

  1. I pray that the doctors find out what illness my friend has, and cures him.
  2. I pray that my cousin graduates high school, continues on to college, and stops hanging with the wrong crowd–before he ends up in jail.
  3. I pray that my fifth novel, “Honey Hush, Don’t Ask and I Won’t Tell” (the next installment of my “Honey Let Me Tell You” book series), finally is released because it’s a year overdue.
  4. I pray that my most impoverished relative and friend both be bestowed with many blessings in 2016.

     You see, this list has been in a sealed envelope in my bible since January 1, 2016.

     So, on New Year’s Day 2017, I sat in a comfortable chair in my den. It’s that place in my home where I can relax and be at one with my thoughts. It’s  where I can think about the past, present and future. It’s that one area where I feel a sense of inner peace, and feel closer to God.

     It’s my inner sanctum.

     My understated, cozy den has a large shelf that spans the length of one wall, and is filled with all types of books–including my series of novels.       As the shadows from the fireplace illuminated the room and emanated a sense of calm, I reminisced about the past year.

     I thought about all the things that I had hoped to accomplish:  acquiring a new job and home, earning more money, writing another book–just so many things that I wanted to do.

     Every year we have hopes, dreams and goals for what we want to do in the coming year. We ponder those things that will make our lives better. Every year we make resolutions.

     And then at the end of the year, we sit around and think about what we have actually accomplished, and ruminated about the things we want to do in the next year. 

     We think about getting a new job.  Losing or gaining weight.  Changing our lifestyle, or entering into a relationship.

     We think about what we hope and wish for, and then we set out to accomplish those goals.

     But what do most of us end up doing? 

     For the first month or so, we do the best we can to meet our goals. We think about it, put our efforts into it–and strive to achieve it. We instill the thought of achievement in our minds and go for it.

     We try doing this practically every day until slowly but surely, the thrill is gone. The urge of achieving our goals eventually subsides. Then we forget about it until the next year, when the cycle of making and keeping New Year’s resolutions starts all over again.

     For example, a friend of mine wanted to get into a new relationship so he went on date after date after date. But that didn’t last long.  I suppose that he tired of the “calls answering for the booty.”

     Another friend wanted to lose weight, so every morning he went to the gym and worked out. That lasted for a little over a month. Then he went back to sitting in front of his TV. I guess he missed the feel of his butt print on his comfortable couch! (LOL.)

R.L. Norman     And then, there’s me. One of the things I wanted to do in the New Year was to try to eat right, and become a vegetarian.   But because I missed eating meat, that lasted about two days! (Hmmmmm…LOL!)

     But keep in mind that with all our efforts, if we don’t succeed in meeting our goals, we are not failures. Our intentions are good.

     And for a while, I was one of those people. But for the last several years, I’ve changed my ways.

     Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I make a prayer wish list to my God.

     I compose a list of ten things that I want to happen in the coming year. Five things are for me, and five are for family and friends. Then I seal the envelope, get on my knees and say a prayer to God for these blessings to come true. Then I put it in my bible and leave it there until the next New Year’s Day.

     And on that day, I sit in my comfortable chair, open that envelope, and read the list to see which wishes have been answered.

     Keep in mind that I don’t do this as a test of God’s ability to answer my prayers; instead, it’s an alternative to making resolutions.  Simply, it’s my special prayer list to my God. The power of prayer is wonderful because:

  1. The doctors did find out that my friend has curable cancer. His health is improving by leaps and bounds.   
  2. My cousin did graduate high school. Currently, he’s enrolled in Tuskegee University,with an internship job in electrical engineering.
  3. My fifth book was published, and is doing quite well in sales.
  4. And the biggest miracle was that a friend who’d lost pretty much everything:his money, job and possessions due to identity fraud, is now in a new home and a great job.

     You see, I approach the New Year with encouragement and faith in

myself, others–and especially God.   

     The lesson?  To live day-by-day doing the best we can to be the best we can be.

     And the power of prayer does work!  Prayer is a wonderful thing, but only if we have the faith to believe that we will achieve and succeed.


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.” The fourth and latest installment is “Love Is Complicated.”  The sequel will be available soon.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series. R. L. also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  All of these endeavors are part of the production company he’s forming.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram:rlnorman1.

Hot Tea and Ice 11

Who Do You Think You Are?

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

     Greetings and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  I send well wishes, and hope that 2017 has been filled with good things. We are not going to talk about what happened in D.C. on the third Friday of this month. It is enough to say we should not focus on being discouraged. Instead, we need to commit ourselves to being active, and refuse to let anyone ignore or minimize our value and contributions to this country.

     Within this climate of wanting to minimize the diversity that strengthens our community, I want to step forward and represent myself fully. I am a Black-Southern-Virgo-East Carolina University graduate-only child-pet owner-lesbian. That’s just for starters! With enough time I could list even more hyphenated identified groups of which I’m proud to belong.

     Depending on the setting, one hyphen might take center stage more than the others. For those who follow social media, J16 saw a lot of doves flying, and blue and white profiling in recognition of my sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, Inc., celebrating its ninety-seventh Founders’ Day. There wereabundances of graphics incorporating our national symbol–the white dove–soaring around.   

     If you read my books, you know I own being born and reared in the land of sweet tea and “Bless Her Hearts,” known as the South.  I’m proud of all the facets of my identity. While I may not celebrate them all the time, I have no problems claiming them.

     Our distinctive hyphens make us exceptional. We should never diminish our shine in order to make someone else feels comfortable. You should claim all your methods of belonging and identifying because it celebrates that you accept all that you are, and never just one thing. Those of us with hyphenated identities are mosaic masterpieces. The sum of the pieces makes a one-of-a-kind work of art.

     Far be it for me to make the process of walking boldly when others want you to fragment your identity seem easy, for it is not. For a lot of us, it’s easier to not claim our space as a woman, person of color, same-gender-loving individual, and immigrant in order to assimilate. However, when you remove a piece of your puzzle or try to rework your edges, it feels unnatural and ends up being unnecessary.

     Now more than ever, it is important that we wear our hyphens boldly. We cannot fade away or leave a piece of us behind on the nightstand or in the car when we venture into the world. Representing to the fullest is a mandate we need to follow through on every chance we get. Others are watching, and when they see us showing up in all our fullest, they have two choices. Get with the program and allow our brilliance to flourish, or get back.

     Maybe your hyphens are immigrant-Muslim-historically Black university graduate-single mother-Pisces or same-gender-loving-Trinidadian-bearded-Floridian-divorced-veteran. So many combinations contribute to the achievement that is us. We all have different hyphens; and depending on the situation, the order changes. The key is to never be ashamed of any of them.

     Claiming your hyphens and brightly beaming all the facets of your personality like a diamond are powerful. We need to claim that, and walk boldly and dare someone not to salute our greatness.

     So, as we move forward into a new year with new leadership (which may not be your choice), realize that within all parts of your identity is the tool to endure and inspire. Draw upon those hyphens, and force those who want to doubt your validity to see that you are too fabulous and fulfilled to be denied. While some may see hyphens as strikes, they instead can be seen as building blocks to help you soar and get over the hurdle.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Mark’s Surreality

“The Divine Power of Surreality”

 Guest Writer: Mark O. Estes

      Per Webster’s Dictionary, the word surreal means “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; unbelievable; fantastic.” The latest election; the virulent spread of false information in the form of memes, fake news sites, and sheer stupidity; and personal demons have all coalesced into a hazy blanket of what seems like a dream and an irrational reality.  My view of the world has changed, and I would be lying if I said it was for the better.

     But as I learned while I was in the early years of college (actually when I was a kid writing “The Goonies” fan fiction before it became a “thing” fifteen to twenty years later…), writing, for me, is therapeutic. It not only helps me make sense of the world, but it also helps me deal and live within it as well. And as I enter this next leg of my journey into uncharted, yet familiar territory with the “Orange Man” rising to power, my love of and sheer dependence on writing will be the  walking stick/guide through this surreal landscape known to me as my “surreality.”

     So what is “Mark’s Surreality?” This column will feature my journey through the surreal oddities, the trying tribulations, and the awarding triumphs of my life sprinkled with enough fiction to keep the reader guessing what’s real and what’s a simple, yet complex creation of my mind. I look at the set up as a casual view of the world through my eyes: noir tinted and constantly wondering whether I’m awake, “woke,” still dreaming, alive, or in a later stage of death. In other words, little to nothing will be as it seems here.

     Will I always be cryptic? Nope. Complex? I don’t know. Depends on my  mood–which tends to change with the tide. I’m spontaneous, and that keeps not only my audience on their toes, but me as well. One week I may hit you with a piece of biting commentary on the latest chapter of my or the world’s never ending saga, and the next week I may just simply give you some experimental fiction that may or may not be entrenched in some form of my reality.

     Just know it’s going to be some odd shit, regardless.

     Before we go there, some background information. I’m a thirty-three-year old Black gay male residing in a small country town who despises my being. I work as a librarian, am the middle child of my family, and strive to be a successful author. I am a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; class of 2008. I do love to travel, and I am a contributor/editor with both The Big Boy Project and Male Media Mind.

     I’m not your “average” black gay male. Nor do I strive to be. My musical tastes are as eclectically loud as Joseph’s magic colored coats. My views, while not radical, are unorthodox in nature. I can view things from a bubble like most red-blooded humans; but sometimes bubbles must burst from time to time. I am a pop culture junky, but I love the complex literature of Bret Easton Ellis, Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, and more. I also have a love/hate relationship with people.

     I am a social butterfly loner. I value my darkness just as much as the lighter side of my being. I say all this to warn you of what’s to come. And I don’t mean the Orange Man’s upcoming reign of terror, because my surreality isn’t for the faint of heart, nor the impatient, or the close-minded.

     Before I go, I would like to thank Wyatt O’Brian Evans for this opportunity and platform. I pray I uphold his well-established brand to the best of my ability, while trying to build and secure my own voice and brand recognition.


Mark O. Estes is a writer, editor, columnist and librarian, who earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  Mr. Estes is a writer and editor for both The Big Boy Project and The Male Media Mind, dynamic and cutting edge infotainment sites that are specifically designed for larger men—and those who have an affinity for them.  Also, Mark is penning his debut novel.  You may reach Mark at buildingmysteries.wordpress.com; Twitter, @theanticritic; Instagram, markoestes.

Hot Tea and Ice 10

Looking Back to Move Forward

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

 

    Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  Can you believe it has been an entire twelve months since we were introduced? My, doesn’t time fly! For those whose 2016 has been filled with all kinds of shiny and new things, I send thoughts of congratulations and celebrations.

    For others, this has been a year filled with losses and setbacks. For you, I offer a virtual hug and hope things are looking better and brighter.

    We only have to look at the in-memoriam ticker running on our TV news programs to realize that a lot of our great talents and loved ones shed this earthly coil and became the dearly departed.  Also, depending on how your voter’s registration card looked, the election results may not have been your preferred outcome.

    But in a few weeks, an electronic apple, peach, acorn, or whatever your municipalities use to mark the transition will drop, and 2016 will be in the record books–and a new year will be on deck.

    2017 is a blank slate right now. It awaits our actions to define how it will be remembered. Will this be the year our greatest hopes will be realized?  Or will this year be filled with disappointments so profound that it makes the heart heavy? Who knows?

    The new year is ripe with potential to inspire, impress, and improve our lives in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. But with all this looking forward, let’s not forget how we got here.

    There is a saying about what happens when you don’t remember past mistakes. It implies that forgetting incorrect actions results in those actions being repeated. No matter what happened during the past 365 days–be it good, bad, or indifferent–we should not let the lessons learned to stay in the past. We need to bring them forth, and be prepared to put them to good use.

    For me, 2016 provided so many opportunities! I began writing this column, reconnected with three friends through social media who saw me through the best and worst of times, and pursued an opportunity to enlarge my family unit.

    The year also resulted in me losing a member of my family who helped influence my view of what a true man should be–lover of family and friends, faithful to his church and community, and not afraid to get his hands dirty when the time called for it.  That family member was my great-uncle, who after serving in the Korean War, was both a gardener and garbage man.   

    I also bade a final farewell to one of the LGBTQ Pride organizers I had worked with for the past seven years. She was an inspiration and influence to so many dominant lesbian women in the Durham community.

    As well, she was someone I considered a friend. Her influence was so strong that my fiancee asked her thoughts about proposing to me—along with asking my mother for my hand in marriage.

    And through the evolution of two of the organizations I work with, I also came to realize that my leadership styles needed to be tweaked in order to be successful and faithful to the causes I supported.

    In short, 2016 gave me the opportunities to learn so many lessons. The challenge for me, for you, for us all is to take those lessons and move forward with them. Sometimes, unlike Lot’s wife, you have to look back to appreciate where you are going.

    We have to realize that while the erroneous steps we took in the past can’t be wiped out, we can still move forward in a better direction if we apply the lessons our mistakes provide us. 

    There is no shame in admitting that our actions weren’t always the best and that the outcomes weren’t always good. While dwelling in the past never saved anyone, seeing where you went wrong and avoiding doing the same thing again is a solution that doesn’t cost. Your experience is proof of bill paid.

    Time should allow us to see more clearly what went wrong, and that a new year is the opportunity to take that insight and move forward. Reflect on the situations, retain the lessons you learn–and realize you can move forward.

    Many of us begin the New Year with a list filled with things we are going to do differently. That’s great!  But accept that one of the best ways to be successful is to acknowledge the times you failed, so that you can take that knowledge to strengthen your resolve to get it right this time.

    I hope to learn from my past to let people know when I appreciate what and how they do things, instead of assuming they know how I feel. I also want to be more diligent about being open to other people’s ideas instead of operating in the following way:  that just because director/president goes behind my name, it  doesn’t mean I can’t be challenged and open to different methods of doing things. 

    My motto for 2017 is this:  as long as I can open my eyes on a new day, there is a chance to improve on my mistakes and avoid making new ones. Part of that plan is to think about what I have experienced so I can appreciate and handle what is coming for and to me.  I encourage us all to reflect and be open to using that knowledge to shape what lies ahead.

Until next time:  Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Hot Tea and Ice 9

Family Matters:  Not the TV Show

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

     Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  The holiday time is upon us with all the trappings that come with it. Travels plans will be made. Diets will be broken. And of course, the holidays are also the time that the concept of how much family matters is held up as a standard.

     For many of us, family is a mother who complains either you put on too much weight, or it looks like you aren’t eating enough. It is that cousin who needs to borrow money and promises to pay you back when she gets her income tax check. Don’t forget about that one aunt who never misses a chance to ask when you are going to find a good woman and settle down, totally ignoring the fact that you have brought Darryl as your plus-one for ten years to every family gathering.

     The coming together of those who share your last name and some of your facial features takes place throughout the year–but really starts being a constant factor during the latter half of the year. We gather around Thanksgiving tables, Christmas trees, Kwanzaa mkekas, and plates of pork and greens to mark the New Year. The families we are born into share laughs about old memories, shed tears for those no longer with us, and swap differing viewpoints about issues.

     For every one of us who looks forward to spending time with our assigned families, there are those who shiver at the thoughts of spending one hour, minute, or second with our relatives. Those families shame, shun, and silence those who don’t meet their expectations.  As the saying goes, no one can hurt you more than your family.  And for so many, this is especially true during the holidays.

LaToya Hankins

     This year will mark the fourth holiday I will spend with my partner and my forty-fourth one with my mom. This year, however, will be my first one with a trio of young people I hope will become part of my larger family unit.

     My partner and I recently went through foster parent treatment, and are looking to open our hearts and homes to a set of extended relatives seeking a safe place to grow and thrive.  We are in the process of starting our own version of family.

     We all have created families that go beyond the ones we are born into. For some, family is the neighbor who looked out for your place when you traveled out of town; and in return, you blessed that neighbor with the outpouring of your kitchen. For others, it is your work buddy, her wife, their kids and the baby daddy who makes the bomb mac and cheese–so they let him come around during the holidays. Still, for some, it’s your “boys” who have been with you through one wife, two boyfriends, three jobs, and more nights spent at the club that either of you will ever want to admit.  However family shows up, the point is that it’s a family that we create.

     I encourage us all to be open to redefining our views of family, and challenge us to keep that definition fluid as life changes. Accept what life hands you, and shape it to ensure that you always have someone around you that supports and nurtures you.

     In creating a new family structure, embrace the fact that you don’t have to spend extraordinary amounts of time with folks who don’t love you for who you are at this stage in your life. There are too many ride-sharing programs and public transportation options to spend a minute more with someone who doesn’t celebrate you. Family obligations are burdens that sometime have to be carried, but guard your spirit as much as you can to avoid it breaking you.  While Uncle Skinny is going on about whatever his liquor is telling him to talk about, turn your mind toward the gathering you are going to have with the family that loves you.

     The key to the family is not if you all look alike or even think alike. The value of creating your own version of family is that you understand each other and want the best things possible. I challenge us to respect the family we have created, and flourish from the strength it gives to accept ourselves.

      So this year, when I grasp hands to say the traditional Thanksgiving recitations of things for which I am grateful, there will be three extra names and experiences I will list.  And, I will do this surrounded by someone who shares my last name, someone who shares my home, and someone who shares my hope for a future filled with great things.

Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 13

“Hands Down, Hands Up” 

Guest Writer:  R. L. Norman 

      As I sat in the back of the car waiting, I was blinded by all the flashing lights. Vehicles were slowing down as they passed by, with the drivers trying to get a glimpse of what was happening. With all the people who were trying to get a look at me, you would have thought I was a movie star!

     I will admit that the scene did look like something out of a movie–as I sat there with my head down, trying not to show my face.

     I was nervous as I waited for what seemed like an eternity. And who wouldn’t be nervous as they sat handcuffed in the back of a police car like I was?

     You see, in a split-second, my life was turned upside down.

     An hour ago, everything was fine! I was at a bar hanging out with some friends. We were having a great time laughing, joking, meeting and greeting.

     During the evening, the bartender approached and placed a drink in front of me. He motioned across to a handsome gentleman.

     I picked up the free drink, looked towards him, and nodded, “Thank you.”

     He smiled back! And within minutes, he was sitting next to me–hypnotizing me with his dark brown eyes.  

     We talked for a while as I tried to envision him naked. I tried to picture him and me in our “birthday suits,” rolling around the bed exploring each other’s bodies–and feeding our sexual desires! As he was staring into my eyes, he was taking over my mind. That’s how intrigued I was. 

      At one point, I was so worked up that the bulge rising in the front of my pants was becoming obvious. So, I excused myself.  I told him I’d be right back as I made my way to the restroom.

     When I returned, my new friend had bought me another drink.

    After a while, my friends came up to me, saying they were ready to leave.

     Of course, my new friend wanted me to stay.  However, I declined:  mainly because I’d had my three-drink limit. One thing I never, ever do is drink and drive. I know my limit and when to go straight home.  That’s what I intended to do.

     After exchanging phone numbers, he was rather persistent in wanting to walk me to my car.  I figured that he wanted to place his sweet lips on mine and kiss me goodnight. But my friends intervened, and we all walked out together.

     And the last thing I remembered was getting into my car! After that, the next thing I knew was that the police were knocking on my driver’s side window, asking me to get out of the car.

     I was so dazed and confused that I didn’t know where I was! As I got out of the car, I noticed the one in front of mine. It was obvious that I’d hit this vehicle because there was damage to both cars.

R.L. Norman

    I stood with my hands up as the cop kept asking me for my license and registration.

    “OMG, what did I do? I hope I didn’t hurt anyone.” Those were the thoughts ringing in my head as I struggled to remember what had transpired.

     After I told the cop several times that I didn’t know what had happened, he told me to put my hands down as he handcuffed me.  Then, he put me in the back of the police car.

     As I sat there looking at all the chaos that was happening around me, I tried to recall the events of the evening. The police assumed that I was a drunk driver that crashed into another car.

     Luckily, my case turned out well. First of all, thank God no one was hurt! But my precious mini-cooper did have serious front-end damage. After the police investigated, they realized that I was not driving drunk– but instead had been drugged. You see, the man I met at the bar spiked my drink. He was a con artist who tried to walk me to my car and have me pass out so that he could rob me–and then steal my car.  Thankfully, the police caught him.

     But during this entire ordeal, I was not scared of the cops. The police treated me well. I did not feel threatened. They did not harass me or overexert their power. They were simply doing their job.

     That happened thirty years ago, in 1986. During those days, we were not afraid of the police. And the police were not openly afraid of us as black men.

     But now, in the year 2016, times have changed. It seems like every day we hear about another senseless killing of a black man by a white cop. It seems like every day we hear about a white cop pulling over a black driver–who ends up dead.

     It’s funny how times seem to come full circle. Back in the day, black slaves were afraid of their white masters. They would try their best not to cause any problems, in fear of being hurt or even killed by their masters.

     It seems like that is what is happening now. We, as black men, have to be afraid of the white police officer.  We are in fear that we will wind up on that long list of black men being murdered by the law.  And, we fear that the police have a “shoot to kill” attitude instead of shoot to wound.  As well, there’s that fear that we are being executed to slowly diminish the black population.

    Just like the black slaves were afraid to be killed by their masters, we are afraid that we will be murdered by the very ones who are supposed to protect and serve us. And afraid that slowly it will be us against them–a test of survival.

    However, all cops are not bad. But unfortunately these days, we can’t tell who is good or bad. We have to be careful because it appears that if we make the slightest movement while in the presence of an officer, it will result in the “stamp of approval” to murder us.  

    So, it seems that we are going back to the days of slavery where we as black men have to fear the so-called master–now the police.

    These days, hands down we have to be afraid of the police–with our hands up. God help us all.


        R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The latest installment entitled, “Honey Hush; Don’t Ask I Won’t Tell,” is now available in e-book format.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series.  R. L.also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  And his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else,debuted January 1 on itunes.  All of these endeavors are part of his production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram: rlnorman1.

Hot Tea and Ice 8

“Grown Folks’ Friendships”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

 

Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  Sending wishes, and hope fall is doing right by you. For many of us, it is time to move away from shorts and open-toe shoes to sweaters and sturdy footwear. Nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping and before you know it, store aisles will be decorated for the winter holidays.

For those keeping score from my last column, I am now five years from fifty. My partner threw a phenomenal surprise birthday party for me. In attendance were co-workers, fellow writers, and folks I consider friends. Those in attendance have seen me through a few ups and downs. The get-together was a great experience not only because of the presents received, but also for the faces in the place.

Looking around at the diverse group that makes up my circle, I realized the power of grown folks’ friendships is often underrated. Many of us had ‘best friends’ when we were younger.  Mine were named Charlotte, Vicki, and Jodi. Those friends were the ones we swapped lunches with at schools, took turns spending time at each other’s homes, and got into trouble when we ”acted like we were grown.”

 For a lot of us, friendships formed through neighborhood or educational settings helped us pass a class, get that special someone’s phone number, or exposed us to worlds unlike our own. My friendships introduced me to different religions, family structures, and racial differences.

Friendships formed before the age of consent are fine. I celebrate those who have childhood friends they still hold dear. But I would venture, it is friendships formed once reaching adulthood that really help us become better people.

I consider myself lucky to have been blessed with the friendship of several people who helped me rise to a higher level of being an adult. Those friendships sparked me to start and end relationships by pointing out things I willfully ignored. My friends supported my visions when I was reluctant to stretch out. 

My adult friends are risk takers and empire builders. They have traveled the world, started empowerment projects for women from scratch, and refused to let their assigned gender keep them from expressing themselves as God intended.

We have taught each other so much by living our lives and allowing each other to be a part of the journey.

LaToya Hankins

Having the opportunity to see how other “grown folks” handle their business gives us the push to be on our game.  Adult friendships are the fuel that keeps the best of us moving forward. However, so many of us don’t take care with our adult friendships. We fail to realize once friendships are formed, they also need to be cultivated and nurtured in order to be successful.

We schedule dental appointments and get our hair/nails/feet done, but how often do we schedule time to support our friends?

Adult friendships allow us to not be “Daddy,” “Miss Hankins” or “Juror 91871.” We can be ourselves and share our ambitions and hurts in an environment that provides the support to get up when the world knocks you down.

Adult friends are invaluable resources, and you should ensure that they stay strong. I admit I have taken some of my adult friendships for granted. I didn’t take the time to make the calls just to check in or return that email in a timely fashion.  Friends I considered quite close soon faded away; and as they became “chance glimpses” on social media, I read the postings of their accomplishments.

In a life filled with little regret, my failure to maintain some of my adult friendships is one I carry.  I have a feeling I’m not the only one who shares that thought.

Unlike friendships when we were younger, adult friendship take work to maintain. People have schedules, family, and ten thousands things that need to be done. Still, the rewards are worth it.

The media is filled with portrayal of adult friendships. From The Best Man to Noah’s Arc toWaiting to Exhale. Challenge yourself to incorporate those portrayals into your own life.

My birthday wish for my readers is to reach out to those in your friendship circle to make sure that ties that bind stay strong. Make time to connect over coffee, cocktails, or whatever is legal in the state you reside in. No judgment: part of the fun of being an adult. My hope is that the payoff will be great, and it helps the rest of your adult life go a little bit better.

Until next time:  Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Slyer Than A Fox 3

Time: That Most Precious Commodity 

 Guest Writer: Buster Sly

     This past year has been challenging on a very personal level. After spending so much time away in Europe last year, I returned to the States when I find out that my mother had just been diagnosed with third stage cancer.  That came on the heels of the passing of my grandmother, uncle, stepmother and “baby” brother.

 

     As I struggled to work through the multitude of feelings caused by this succession of calamitous events, I retreated from work and friends.  I felt guilty for not being there for my family; you see, I’d been so focused on work and all that which went with it–including the long and involved hours spent sifting through data, maintaining my various social media sites, etc.  Consequently, this guilt weighed heavily on me.  And I’m continuing to wrestle with and sort out that–as well as the multitude of feelings I mentioned earlier. 

 

     I determined, therefore, that a balance is what I must seek, where family and friends are not taken for granted.  Putting off a call to a loved one for another day so that I can meet another deadline is no longer acceptable. 

 

     What it comes down to is priorities–along with accepting my limitations.   For instance, I will not travel abroad until there’s a viable solution, one that reduces my workload on the computer and allows me to focus on the things I do well and are necessary for financial survival and betterment.  I understand that this might rankle some fans, but it cannot be helped.

 

      This extended break was long overdue.  A while ago, someone whom I value and learned to listen to when she spoke of her life experiences posed this question:   “Do you live to work, or do you work to live?”   Food for thought, eh?

 

      After pondering that question, I came to the distinct conclusion that we all have a finite time on this planet.  As a result, my options these days are quite clear:  stay on the path I am on, and resentment will be front and center, while my quality of life takes a nosedive.  

 

     There will be many who may not understand why I have not responded to their messages. No matter what I say, there is no reference point for me to start that would give them a clear understanding of how futile it would be to try answering each and every message.

 

     We all should remember the following important tenet:  time is such a precious commodity!  I’m learning to respect and celebrate it.  Therefore, going forward, I vow to manage my time more efficiently. 

 

     It is essential–and my duty–to first offer time to those individuals whom are important to me.  And of course, this includes those I have grown to care for—and love.


Buster Sly is an in-demand Adult Entertainer and Model, who has worked for a number of diverse companies including Dark Alley Media/Raw F**k Club, Forbidden Funk Media, Oh Man! Studios, and SX Video.  Just last year, he had a months’ long, extremely successful European tour–which included live performances in clubs and modeling assignments for top photographers throughout Europe.  This year, Buster has several major projects on the horizon—including filming for the iconic Lucas Entertainment. You may follow Buster at his on line home, www.bustersly.com.   There you can find news, features, and how to contact him  for booking dates and more.

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 12

“The Master Plan” 

Guest Writer:  R. L. Norman 

      I was standing on the side of the stage out of the line of sight from the audience. From my vantage point, I could only see a few people in the front rows. I had no idea how many people showed up for this event–my debut.

     You see, this was my very first public appearance of my one-man stand up show based on the character of “Norman” in my “Honey Let Me Tell You” book series.

     I planned to make the audience think, smile and laugh about life, love and relationships. It was my dream about to come to true. I’d planned to amuse them with the brief story of Norman‘s life with music, singing, dancing, jokes and language that will make you grab your non-existed pearls as your mouths falls open.

     So, I was standing there, reviewing my notes as I was about to go on stage. Nervously, I waited for the moment of truth to arrive! And then, I heard the announcer say;

     “And now, welcome to the stage, debuting his one-man show titled, “Norman’s One Night Stand,” …here’s Mr. R.L. Norman!”

     As I heard the applause, several people behind me wished me good luck.  Next, I proceeded to the stage’s center.

     As I looked around the room, which was filled to capacity, all eyes were on me. I was shocked that the place was packed!

     Who would’ve known that these many people wanted to see me, or even that they knew where Fort Washington, Maryland was?  And then, I stared back at all the people who were staring back at me.

     “R.L.? R.L.?”  Several people were whispering my name from the sidelines of the stage. 

     “Are you okay? What’s wrong? Norman?” they were asking.

     I simply could not move!  In my mind, I really wanted to leave the stage, run all the way home, jump in my bed, pull the covers over my head and hide.

     That’s because I was frozen with fright! 

     Stage fright that is.

     I stood there holding the microphone to my open mouth like I was deciding whether to talk into it–or lick it like an ice cream cone.

     I couldn’t move…

     I felt like my hopes and dreams were slowly disappearing right before my very eyes.

     I suddenly started thinking back to the first time I actually had to do public speaking. It was in my eighth grade history class. I had made a model of a ship, the Santa Maria, one of Christopher Columbus’ ships. I was supposed to talk about the voyage of Columbus.

     I stood in front of the class, staring at my peers. I was frozen and could not move or talk. Just like now, my teacher was saying my name, asking me if I were okay.

     I could not respond.

     It was the first of three presentations I was supposed to do for that class, and couldn’t. Eventually, I failed history and had to go to summer school: simply because I couldn’t speak in front of people, and express what I had practiced in front of my mirror several times–with no problem.

     Another time was when I was in college. I was majoring in architecture. I’d wanted to be an architect since the ninth grade. I’d already designed both my dream and summer homes by the 11th grade.

     I was on my way! Or so I thought.

R L NORMAN NEW COVER DESIGN

     We had to design an office building and present it to the class as if they, along with the professor, were the clients. Basically, we had to sell our own designs.

     Like I always do, I practiced my presentation in front of the mirror numerous times. I knew it by heart. I was ready.

     When the professor called my name, I slowly walked to the front of the class and placed my building model on the table.

     As I faced the class, a couple people expressed approval of my model.  I was elated; I felt like this was the first step of realizing my dream of becoming an architect.

     Until I froze…once again! 

     Like always, the professor was calling my name, asking me if I were  okay. 

     And once again, I could not answer.

     Sadly, I realized that I could not speak in front of people! 

     Because of that, I had to switch my major to engineering. There was less of a chance of having to address individuals.

     As a result, my dream of becoming an architect slowly faded away.

     But life is full of many surprises–and I had a new dream!  One to make people think, smile, and laugh about life, love and relationships.

     And this dream came out of nowhere! Well, I should not say “nowhere.” Actually, it must have been one of God’s plan all along. I say this because I worked several years as an engineer and loved it. So, I also believe that was in God’s plan.

     But now, he has a new plan for me!   One to inspire people to think about life. A way for people to search their deepest feelings. I believe that God has given me the talent of helping people walk in“Norman’s” shoes as he goes through the “Miss-Adventures of Being Miss-Understood” when it comes to life. To make people realize they are not alone in their journey to true happiness.

    You see, first came the books. I have written five so far. And that was not planned. It was a personal journal that I turned into books.

     And then came “Norman’s One Night Stand,” which I wrote, created and now was trying to perform.

     That was definitely not planned. I would never have planned to stand up in front of people and perform a 40-minute one man show, one in which many people can actually feel the character’s struggle, pain, triumph and happiness in achieving his goal of being happy with himself.

     My friends suggested and encouraged me to do it.

     So I stood there, frozen with stage fright once again.

     However, I also remembered something else that happened to me a few days prior.

     You see, at a cookout, I met two new friends who made me recall certain events that happened in my life.  They were newlyweds with five adopted children. As if that were not impressive enough, they told me they never planned on adopting children. It just happened! It was “God’s Plan” is the way they put it to me.

     They had met by chance; and the next thing they knew, they were a family. They didn’t think they would succeed, but they never gave up. They informed me that God has plans for our lives and we should follow our hopes and dreams to the fullest.

     Remembering this as I stood on the stage, I bowed my head. I closed my eyes, quickly praying for God to give me the strength and confidence to make this dream a reality.

     I opened my eyes and said, real loud, “Honey Let Me Tell You.”

     The audience came alive! And for the next 40 minutes, I made them smile, think and laugh about life, love and relationships. It was the first of seventeen shows I have performed so far over a five-year span.

     My dream came to life! My dream became reality. 

     We all have hopes, dreams and goals in life. We should pursue them with vigor and tenacity.  

    We should all reach for the sky! And if you fall short, keep trying at whatever is in your heart to achieve your destiny. To bring your dreams to life. To follow God’s Plan.

     Because Honey Let Me Tell You, I have arrived.  God has made me the master of my hopes and dreams–which are now the reality of my life.


        R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The latest installment entitled, “Honey Hush; Don’t Ask I Won’t Tell,” is now available in e-book format.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series.  R. L.also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  And his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else,debuted January 1 on itunes.  All of these endeavors are part of his production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram: rlnorman1.

Hot Tea and Ice 7

“Age Is Just a Number”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

 

     Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers. I hope this month finds you all in good spirits–and staying cool. As for me, I’m coping with the heat by drinking plenty of cool beverages–some of them adult–and trying not to exert myself too much. I believe that a true lady shouldn’t appear slick from sweat by simply walking from her car to the door; but sometimes, temperatures in the upper 90’s cause strange things to happen!

     My body’s reaction to the heat is just one of the many ways I feel that my numerical age is starting to creep up on me. When I was younger growing up in my small North Carolina hometown, I could spend hours riding my bicycle or playing with my cousins without any regard to the summer heat blazing down. Now if I’m outside for any length of time, I feel “mugged” by the heat.  It seems that my tolerance has decreased for those bright sunny days.

     Still, I can’t use my advancing years as a crutch to shy away from being involved and active in life. I urge my readers sporting a few graying hairs to resist the urge to shirk opportunities to try new things. I’ve always felt that one shouldn’t be held back by the number of birthdays you’ve celebrated.You are never too old to reach out and grasp your heart’s desire and your mind’s potential.

     A little over a month from now–provided the creeks don’t rise–I’ll celebrate my forty-fifth year on God’s green footstool, or what we call Earth. A lot has transpired from the time I drew breath that early Saturday morning. I graduated from college, explored at least five different career paths, buried loved ones, found love, and accomplished at least three goals on my life’s To-Do List.

     Still, I don’t plan to rest on my laurels; I plan to continue to strive forward by embracing opportunities.  I realize that until I close my eyes for that last time, there is always more to do. I shouldn’t let the fact it may take me a little while longer to get back up when I “drop it like it’s hot,” to keep me from getting my groove on, to getting things done.

     We can’t let the fact that we’re getting older keep us from branching out and stretching toward our full potential. Our life’s experiences are the best tools to conquer the unknown. Every disappointment allows us to develop the sharper vision to see and achieve the goals we want to scratch off our To-Do List.

LaToya Hankins

     Those of us who have been there, done that, and have the scars or stories to prove it have the tools to conquer new adventures or create opportunities to stretch ourselves in different ways. Getting older is a blessing to those of us lucky enough to experience it–and should embrace it fully. Step out of your comfort zone and explore different horizons.

     The longer we live on this earth, the more we realize that it doesn’t hurt to try something different at least once. If we don’t like it, then we don’t have to do it again. If we do like it, then we have found something which brings even more joy to our lives.

     Since 2016 began, there has been so much sadness, and things no one ever expected we would live long enough to see. We have followed the hashtags, seen the social media posts, and participated in the town halls, marches, and vigils to know that so many of us will not be able to enjoy their next birthdays. We owe it to those snatched away by violent circumstances to challenge ourselves by dipping our proverbial toes in different ponds. 

     Just like many of us have moved away from having the birthday cake with the candles we feel pressure to blow out with one breath, we have to think about how we approach the process of getting older. We can no longer view it as an excuse for slowing down! This is when we need to rev up and move forward.

     Now, I’m not saying that you have to explore bungee jumping or running with the bulls, if extreme sports aren’t your thing. I’m suggesting that you be open to new things if they come your way, and not staying stuck in how things used to be.

     I have changed in so many wonderful ways, and I’m looking forward to changing so more. I wish the same for all those looking to add to their list of enriching encounters when they find themselves trying something they never expected.

     It could be walking into the role of activist, serving as a parental figure to a younger person in need, or simply switching that hairstyle you have worn since LL Cool J and Queen Latifah were known for simply being good rappers.

     So, I leave this birthday wish for you all:  Let this upcoming year be filled with great adventures and tremendous and unique experiences! As for me, I plan to enter this next stage of life with high hopes and big plans to challenge myself.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 11

“I Will, I Won’t, I Do” 

Guest Writer:  R. L. Norman 

 

 

“I object!” the man shouted as he stood up in the back of the church.

I can’t believe this is happening! How dare someone object to my marriage?

I know that some people in my position would not get married; but I am doing what my heart feels.

You see, I remember it like it was yesterday.

Several years ago, I was living in Washington, D.C., and there was a terrible snowstorm. People panicked so much that you would’ve thought the world was coming to an end.

Now, me being from New Jersey, I was accustomed to snowstorms. I was used to waking up at any given day during the winter, and not being able to get out of the house. That was because the snow was so high that we couldn’t even open the door!

I remember as kids we would sit around the kitchen table hoping for a snow day.  We’d listen to the radio or TV, and just wait and wait for the announcer to say: “Whittier Elementary School closed.” Oh, how my two brothers and I waited with anticipation for that wonderful news! 

And on those days, we would yell and scream and act like we had won the lottery. My parents would tell us to calm down.  And then, of course, they’d tell us the rules we had to follow while they were at work. Oh, those were the days…

So as I said, I was used to snowstorms. But it was obvious that the D.C. government was just not used to such acts of nature.  They’d shut down the whole city!  The only other time I remember that happening was when I was in college in Tuskegee, Alabama–and they had a covering of snow. They shut down the city as if the world were coming to an end!  It was crazy and funny–especially because the snow melted the very same day.  

So, I was in D.C. and the city was closed. I was out of orange juice for my cocktail. I had plenty of food and stuff, but no OJ! And if I were going to be stuck in the house, I had to “get my drink on.”

I called around to see if any store was open. After several minutes, I discovered that the 7-Eleven was open, which was about a fifteen minute walk from my house. Then, I put on my heaviest and warmest winter coat and boots, and made my way to the store.

As I got closer and closer to that 7-Eleven, I saw another person in the distance. And as continued his approach, I surmised that maybe he had to get some orange juice, too. As came nearer and nearer, I realized that this was one cute, sexy man!

He was dressed in a big yellow ski coat with matching gloves. As we faced one another, I peered into his sexy brown eyes–and the pretty white teeth behind his smile.

 Passing one another, we nodded and smiled at each other. After taking a few steps I turned around–and noticed that he’d done the same!

After a few seconds, he walked back to me.   And for a good half hour, we stood there talking in the middle of a snowstorm.  While the city was shut down, we were getting to know one another.

Later on, I realized how romantic that was!  And, I am a hopeless romantic. 

Before I knew it, we were dating. And after a while, I went from admiring him, to liking him…and to loving him!  I not only loved him, I was in love with him. Who would’ve thought that I’d find the love of my life in the middle of a snowstorm, while going out to get orange juice for my cocktail? 

 And now, we’re getting married!  I’m thinking about all of this while standing at the altar.  I know that at the age of 55, a lot of people wouldn’t get married.

Last June was the one-year anniversary of the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. And during the past year, several of my friends have gotten married.  They’re all over the age of 50.

R L NORMAN NEW COVER DESIGN

Some people didn’t understand. You see, some of my friends said that they would not get married. They claimed that they just didn’t see the point. At that age, it’s a lot of hassle to figure out who changes his name.  And then there’s the changing of health and life insurance, driver’s licenses, credit cards, etc. 

Some of my friends said they would simply live together, and continue to love and support each other.

But then, others said they would get married, and make it a small affair. The last wedding I attended, the couple went to the justice of the peace, and then had a big reception after the wedding. It was a great time had by all as the couple was showered with love and support from family and friends. The wedding I went to before that was at the couples’ home, with only about ten people attending.  

And then there’s me! I’m standing here in a big church with my five groomsmen.  As I’m staring into the eyes of my future husband, we’re holding hands. The church is decorated in silver and white, with flowers everywhere. Afterwards, there will be a big reception in a rented ballroom, complete with ushers, waiters, caterers, music, etc.  And after this grand affair, we’ll be on our way to London and Paris for our honeymoon.  We truly are celebrating our love for each other.

Now, some of my friends objected, saying that we were too old to be doing all of this!  However, others thought that it was absolutely wonderful.

Here’s the bottom line:  the legalization of gay marriage is really the legalization of love for everyone. I believe that people should be able to show their love anyway they want regardless of age, race, gender or sexual preference. People should be able to love whom they want, and get married to whomever that want. Love is a powerful thing at any age. Without love, this world would be a terrible place.

Suddenly, I was roused out of my daydream by the sound of someone actually objecting to our nuptials!  Next, I was shocked back into reality as that person walked from the back of the church towards us.

And as he got close to us, he yelled, “I love you, Norman!”

At first, I couldn’t see who it was because the back of the church was dimly lit. But as soon as he stepped into the light, I was shocked to see that it was my very first love who’d disappeared out of my life!  You see, after college, he enlisted in the Air Force and was deployed to California.  We lost contact for about 25 years.

But as soon as he was upon us, someone else jumped up and said,“I object!”

OMG!  What’s going on?

Well, to find out, read my “Honey Let Me Tell You” book series! It’s all about my misadventures of being misunderstood.


        R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The latest installment entitled, “Honey Hush; Don’t Ask I Won’t Tell,” is now available in e-book format.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series.  R. L.also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  And his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else,debuted January 1 on itunes.  All of these endeavors are part of his production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram: rlnorman1.

Conversations With The Duchess 3

“PRIDE: A Celebration of Liberation” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith 

     President Barack Obama has just designated the area around the Stonewall Inn in New York City as the nation’s first national monument to LGBTQ rights.  As you know, The Stonewall Uprising is largely regarded as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ movement for civil rights.  And our PRIDE celebrations grew out of that movement. 

     During the 1960’s, very few establishments welcomed openly LGBTQ individuals.  Therefore, there weren’t many places for us to socialize.       

     Then, at 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, eight police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, located on the famous Christopher Street in the city’s Greenwich Village.  In 1969, police raids on gay bars occurred regularly.  It was illegal to serve LGBTQ persons alcohol, or for them to dance with one another.  During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, customers were lined up and their identifications checked.  Those without ID or who dressed in full drag were arrested.  Oftentimes, patrons would be roughed up.  And, those arrested had their names printed in the newspaper, which resulted in some losing their jobs.   

     It was simply another risk of being gay. 

 

     During that early morning, approximately 200 people were in the Stonewall.  The raid that early morning was the bar’s third during that week; and as always, the police entered with search warrants.  

     However, this time, those 200 patrons did not cooperate.  They resisted and fought back. They were people of color, including Puerto Rican drag queens, Black hustlers, bartenders and some “butch lesbians” (who are not always mentioned in the narrative of what transpired.)

     While others were lingering outside the bar, the police were escorting patrons into the paddy wagon. Suddenly, a fight broke out and the crowd started throwing cobblestones, bottles and garbage at officers, who retreated back into the bar as the crowd grew massive.  As the rioting crowd spilled into the streets and alleyways, the police was forced to call for reinforcements.  The uprising continued for two more nights.

     It was the birth of a liberation movement.

     The Stonewall Rebellion didn’t have “identifiable leaders.”  However, it had  community stakeholders who took a stance against oppression–resisting their oppressors.  It was collective action.  Stonewall became a model, a touchstone for gay liberation groups.  A revolution had begun across the nation.  

CARLTON SMITH  the one

     Now, having said all that, I have some pertinent questions:  shouldn’t the Black Queer Lives Matter Movement be as revered and respected as the Stonewall Uprising?  Shouldn’t it matter just as much?   Where’s the love for people of color who are constantly traumatized by oppression and hate?

     Moreover, Black and Latino trans individuals often face bigotry and violence as they try to live their lives like the rest of us, while too many of us take being exempt from it for granted.  

     On Sunday, June 12th, a gunman entered Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub and killed 49 people. This tragedy has claimed more lives than any other mass shooting in modern day American history–namely the lives of Black and Latino LGBTQ people.  However, mainstream media, politicians and others routinely continue to ignore the implications of race, citizenship and class in narratives about the Orlando tragedy. 

     Actually, the “whitewashing” is nothing new.  Storytelling about Stonewall and other acts of LGBTQ resistance has routinely been told without acknowledging the central roles of brown and Black queer folk–especially transgender women of color.

     Although this is rather disconcerting, together we must combat ignorance and hatred in our daily lives—even after the media spotlight dwindles, and then moves on.  I have to keep in mind to love my enemies according to the Scriptures. However, know without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not retreating back inside any closets, for that would be a spiritual and emotional death.  

     Remember:  love is our greatest victory–and I’m in it for LOVE! 

His Royal Highness,

Duchess

 


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

Hot Tea and Ice 6

“The Power Of Pride”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

 

     Greetings Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!   Hope you are staying cool in this summer heat. Although I consider myself a proud daughter of the South, even I sometimes find the rising temperature a little bit too much to take. Days of ninety plus weather leaves me praising the person who invented air conditioning—and mastering the art of sweet tea.

     For many in the LGBTQ community, June is the month we fly our Pride flag freely. We attend festivals where we eat, drink, dance, march, flirt, and triumph in the sheer bliss of being out and about.   But unfortunately, on June 12, forty-nine members of our community enjoying the freedom of being themselves were taken from this world by an atrocious act of a misguided and angry soul.

     That Sunday morning, hearing the news of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history rendered me speechless. My heart and mind battled to reconcile the reality of what had taken place in Orlando.  I joined the millions around the world wavering between anger and grief. Viewing pictures of vigils and hearing the voices of survivors, family, and friends almost made me exit social media. In order to guard my heart, I retreated from my ritual of listening to the news.

     But then, I remembered:  June is LGBTQ Pride month!  By definition, pride is “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.”

     For thirty days, the LGBTQ community celebrates the power we possess that allows us to thrive when others want to diminish us. That power comes from acknowledging and living authentically as the person you were meant to be–instead of what society expects. The Power of Pride empowers hundreds of men, women, and those who reject labels to walk in their truth–be it in sensible shoes or stilettos.

     While some point to the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 as when the Pride movement started in full effect, the reality is that the Power of Pride has always existed. It is the force that allowed members of the community to rise above the rejection of family and friends. Pride is what kept us going and moving past tragedy.  

     Now, more than ever, we have to seize the Power of Pride in ourselves and those who have gone before us to shake the dust off our feet–and keep pushing forward.

     The LGBTQ community, and by extension anyone who has been discounted for being who they are, have endured far worse and risen. We have survived and thrived! No one is strong enough to snatch away the many victories we have worked so hard to achieve.

     The massacre in Orlando should encourage us to dig deep and harness the Power of Pride so that we can continue to hold our heads up, reach out to others to help strengthen them, and continue on the path of being the individuals we are meant to be.

     Claiming the power that lies within isn’t always easy. Sometimes barriers such as shame, sexism, racism, and just sheer lack of self-acceptance block our power from coming through at full force.  But know that we are powerful when we embody our Pride.

LaToya Hankins

     While June is LGBTQ Pride month, the achievements which earned us the right to hold our heads high are something we should celebrate year-round.

     Unfortunately though, being powerful in our Pride won’t prevent obstacles.  Dark forces gather when communities seen as powerless try to assert their natural power.  We saw it in Charleston, S. C. last year when a killer gunned down nine church members during a mid-week service. We saw it in Los Angeles during the riots of the 1980’s when decades of mistreatment boiled over in majority-minority communities. We saw it across the South in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement when men, women, and children were arrested and killed simply for exercising their rights.

     The powerful cannot back down. We have to harness our Pride to push back the forces that want to diminish our shine. We can’t concede and allow those misguided, ill-informed and just plain wrong individuals to define and defile us.

     It is good and necessary to grieve for those who have been snatched away by and through hate.  But we have to lift our heads and walk strong with our Power of Pride.

     So I know it may be difficult, but I encourage everyone to unleash their Power of Pride this summer. Don’t limit yourself to the calendar. Go beyond the thirty days and use the Power of Pride for good. If we all unleash our power, perhaps it will defeat or weaken those who seek to derail our accomplishments.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 10

“Writer, You Say What?” 

Guest Writer:  R. L. Norman 

      He stood across the room from me not saying a word. I was slowly becoming nervous as he just stared at me, looking all seductive. As he walked slowly towards me, I backed up until I could go nowhere.

     I bumped into the desk that was behind me and stumbled for a brief moment.  He took that opportunity to get as close to me as possible.    

     Then he was directly in front of me, blocking my way between the desk and the door to the classroom.  And just as I was about to say something, he suddenly grabbed me, pushing me down on the desk.

    “I want to see if Norman kisses as good as his books state,” he said in almost a whisper as he stared into my eyes.

     At first I said, “STOP!”, with a force in my voice as I tried to push him away. But then, when his lips touched mine, I whispered “stop” because he suddenly had me under his control–and I simply could not deny my sexual urge for him.

     But as he kissed me, I knew it was wrong because of who he was.   

 

     Who would have thought that only an hour before, I was standing in front of a classroom full of students.  And now, I’m having my first “student-teacher conference”–so to speak.

     You see, I was teaching a college creative writing course at Honey University.  And, my job was to give them direction on how to write a book: 

     “Are you one of those people who thought about writing a book, but didn’t know where to start? Or, you hesitated because you didn’t know the first thing about writing? If your answer is “yes,” then this is the course for you!  All you need do is to open yourself up and allow your ideas to flow onto paper.  And the number one thing is that there is no wrong way to writing. Everyone has a different method to make their ideas come alive, if you will.” This is what I told my students.

     Most of them consisted of housewives, businessmen, and recent college graduates.  Their ages varied from 22 (an office assistant) to 67

(a great-grandmother who wanted to write her life story).

     And of course, there was my problem student:  Chauncey Whitmore III!

     I was addressing the class, when in, he walks.

    “During this course, I will give you the basic elements of writing a book. And then I want you to …”

     (The door opens and closes.)

     “Eh, excuse me!  But did the dog break your time clock?” I directed my pointed question to the late arrival.

     “Professor Norman, I am Chauncey Whitmore III, and I can explain why I’m late,” he replied, with a certain amount of arrogance in his voice.

     As he stood there as if to say, “What nerve do you have to question me,” I immediately knew that he was going to be a problem. It was obvious he was a snob. I could tell that just by his demeanor and air of arrogance. 

     But I will admit, he was one sexy man!  Very attractive, he was tall, brown skinned and muscular, with a mustache and shaved head. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties.

     “Mr. Whitmore III, there is a time and place to be a storyteller,” I replied, because it was obvious that he was about to lie to me as he stood there trying to think of an excuse.

     “Ah, Professor Norman, that’s cold! You don’t even want to hear my excuse?”

     I ignored his question and responded, “You cannot be a writer if you don’t have discipline–especially time management. Please sit down.”

     I looked back at my students.  Some had smirks on their faces.  They were obviously amused by our brief banter. 

     After Mr. Whitmore III sat down, I proceeded.   “After that rude interruption, I will now continue.  During this class, we will go through the basic elements of writing from the beginning until the time you submit your work to the publisher.

    “And for the purpose of this class, I will be the publisher/editor.  Any questions?” I looked around the room.

     “Hmm, the man with no sense of time,” I said, peering at my problem student as he was raising his hand. “Yes, Mr. Whitmore?”

     “Well, professor: how are you qualified to teach this class?” he asked with a high and mighty tone, as if he was challenging my credentials.

    “Good question,” I replied. 

    “Well, let me tell you about my experience in writing. I didn’t plan on becoming a writer. I’m an engineer by profession. I didn’t write my first book until I was 50 years old. I am now 55, and have written five.

     “I started writing my first book by accident. I kept a personal journal since I was in college. And every day, I would write a page or two of my thoughts and ideas of the day’s life, love and relationship events. I called it ‘starting small’. I suggest that for all first-time writers.

     “And that brings up another point: what to write.  Write about what you know! The easiest thing to write about is something you know about.”

     Then, the not-so shy great-grandmother raised her hand.

     “Yes, Mrs. Walker?”

     “I’ve read some of your books, and they are about sex!” So I assume that is what you know.”

     The class stared at me curiously, awaiting my reply.

     “Well, my books are really about the ups and downs of someone searching for love.” I tried to refrain from talking about the sex part.

     “But I bet the sex didn’t hurt!  Professor, I’ve read all of your books, and it seems like you’re very experienced,” Mr. Whitmore added, with a smug look on his face.

     Several people in the class muttered comments under their breath.

     “This is going to be a challenge,” I said to myself.

R L NORMAN NEW COVER DESIGN

     “Okay, class. Look at your handout,” I said, once again ignoring another question by Whitmore.  “I’m going to tell you the basics for writing a book; and during the course, we will discuss them in detail.  Now, here’s the list:”

  1. What do you want to write about? As I’ve stated, write about what you know. And, character development is essential:  create a character that your audience will want to know, and know about. That’s half the battle.
  1. Start small. Write little by little. Anytime an idea pops into your head, write it down so you won’t forget it. You can expand on it later.
  1. Develop an outline. As you write, make an outline. Organize your thoughts. Remember that everyone has a different method of writing. I write the beginning and ending, and then fill in the middle. That’s my style.
  1. Set a time to work on your book. Personally, I write whenever the mood hits me. Or I have an idea that I just have to write down, then and there. But if you are naturally a busy person, set a time to record your thoughts. And be accountable for your time. It’s all about setting goals.
  1. Choose a place to write. Pick a place that suits you best to make your thoughts come alive. When I write, I have the TV or radio on. Some people like complete quietness. It’s up to you.
  1. Give yourself a deadline. That’s where time management comes in. Set goals to complete various portions of your book. And that’s important because publishers and editors will give you certain deadlines.
  1. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Make your writing sound realistic. Enable readers to understand what you are saying. As well, make your words come alive for readers, so that they can actually visualize what you are saying. 
  1. Get early feedback. There is nothing worse than writing a book, and then having to rewrite the whole thing. Have a few people close to you help you discern what’s worth including in your book. And regardless of the criticism, stay motivated to finish your book. Because when you do, the rewards of self-accomplishment will be well worth it.
  1. Read, read and re-read your work. Make sure the story flows. The best way to do that is to read it! And always spell check your work. But here’s a little trick because the spell-checker doesn’t always catch everything…read your book backwards! I know it sounds crazy, but you will be surprised by how many errors you catch by doing that. Think about it:  you probably know your book by heart. But by reading it backwards, you see errors that you may have missed.
  1. Embrace failure. Know that everyone is not going to like what you write or how you write. But criticism, good or bad, is part of the learning process. Don’t be afraid of rejection.

     During the whole class, Chauncey was staring directly at me with lust in his eyes!  He was eyeing me seductively, which made me a little tense.

      “Our time is almost up for today,” I announced.  “And during the course, we will discuss each point in detail. But in the meantime, do me a quick favor.  Off the top of your head, record what you want to write about. Hand that in so I have a general idea about your thought process.  This is all to prepare you for the final exam. And, we will discuss the topics anonymously at the next class.

     “Class dismissed,” I said as I walked behind my desk and sat down.  As they left the class, they each handed me a piece of paper with their book ideas. They seemed excited with my class so far. I sat behind my desk, pleased with my first day.

     I got up to leave.  At first, I didn’t notice that Chauncey Whitmore III had stayed behind, and was standing at the door smiling at me.

     “Here is my book idea” he said, staring at me seductively.

     And suddenly, he had me on my desk, kissing me aggressively. The song by Al Green filled my head, “If Loving You is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right).” 

     I don’t know how long we kissed–or how long the dean of students was standing there watching us!

     But once we were aware of it, reality set in and we jumped up quickly!

As we straightened our clothes, I was speechless.

    “Dean, I can explain!  I was just…..”

    “You don’t have to explain, Professor Norman,” The dean said, interrupting me. “I came because I had a feeling that this was going to happen.”

    “What?” I said with a puzzled looked on my face.

    “Chauncey, you can leave!  And, don’t let his happen again!” the dean said sternly, with a sound of familiarity towards Chauncey.

     Chauncey smirked and didn’t utter a word as he left the room.

     I looked at the dean, waiting to be reprimanded–and possibly fired.

     “Professor Norman, don’t worry about this at all!  It is not the first time he has done this. He can’t seem to help himself.”

     “Oh,” I responded, confused. “He’s done this before?”

     “Yes. And I know that firsthand!  You see, he is my son,” the dean revealed as he walked out of the classroom.

     As I stood there with my mouth hanging open, I was tongue-tied!   Then I thought, “Oh, that’s right! Dean Whitmore. Chauncey Whitmore III!”  I hadn’t realized the connection at first. Wow.

     Well, this will be another chapter for my book, “The Miss-Adventures of Being Misunderstood.”

     And never forget… put your work out there, and see what happens!  And most importantly: NEVER, EVER GIVE UP YOUR DREAM.


   R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The latest installment entitled, “Honey Hush; Don’t Ask I Won’t Tell,” is now available in e-book format.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series.  R. L.also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  And his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else,debuted January 1 on itunes.  All of these endeavors are part of his production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram: rlnorman1.

Conversations With The Duchess 2

“I Am a Survivor!” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith 

     For my second column, I was trying to think of a theme that would be of compelling interest to my new readership.  

     Then, I had an epiphany:  how about sharing my story, my journey of being a longtime HIV survivor.

     As of March of this year, I quietly celebrate 30 years of living with HIV.   God and His amazing grace has made this milestone possible. 

     And simply put, I’ve always wanted to be an instrument of change.  It’s been my strongest desire that my testimony would be as a shining light to help others who are living with the disease. 

     My personal journey began during the mid-80’s, as part of the disco scene of Studio 54, Better Days and the Garage. These were the glamorous New York City nightclubs during the height of the disco era where many people endeavored to escape the reality of the real world.   

     Like scores of other folk, I wanted to a part of the nightlife and the sexual freedom of that decade.  I’d arrive around close to midnight and hear my favorite DJ beat those melodic sounds that linger in your memories as though it was yesterday.  I’d groove to Grace Jones, Donna Summer, First Choice and Gloria Gaynor, among others. 

     Remember the songs “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Hot Stuff” and “I Will Survive?”   I certainly do!  And, I can vividly recall sweating up a storm, sucking on my favorite cocktails–and meeting hot dates that gave you “service” in the bathroom stalls!   It all reminds me of that “Basic Instinct”movie scene, the one in which Sharon Stone and her girlfriend Roxy ushers the Michael Douglas character into the men’s room stall to “carry on” inside the club.

      Yes, those are some of my memories of the mid and late 80’s.  And, who would’ve thought that a little four-letter word (AIDS) would be an epidemic that would take the lives of millions of people across the globe?

     Therefore, my life’s journey starts the day I found out my HIV status.  I was a twenty-three-year-old Same-gender-loving (SGL) man with the expectation of entering the Air Force. I’d visited the local recruiting station, and signed up for what I’d hoped was going to be a great opportunity to expand my educational background after finishing college.

      However, I received a letter from the military recruiting station’s medical office requiring me to immediately come in for a follow up.  It never dawned on me that my test results would be at issue.

      I remember that chilly morning in March.  At the medical office, I learned that I had acquired AIDS, and had that my life expectancy was only between five months to five years.   And, I was truly devastated by the comments from the doctor who said that my “promiscuous lifestyle” and prior sexually-transmitted diseases were responsible for the infection.

     Like many other men during that time, I didn’t have any information about HIV/AIDS.  Feeling angry, confused and suicidal, I asked myself, “What kind of future will I have?”  I felt as if I’d fallen into a deep abyss, without a parachute.  I didn’t know what would become of my life. 

     Fortunately, because of my strong spiritual background, I realized that suicide just wasn’t an option.  The only thing for certain was that the Universe (God) had my back.  My unshakeable faith in God and prayer got me through this dilemma, along with the positive support I received from many people who themselves were infected/affected by the epidemic.

     Moreover, I just couldn’t get over the hypocrisy the so-called Black churches were spouting to tithe-offering individuals who love God as much as other fellow Christians.  This judgmental attack is why churches are behind the curve on HIV/AIDS prevention.  This promotes ignorance and stigma.  Once again, I had to bounce back and know for myself that God is Love. 

CARLTON SMITH  the one
     Even though I saw death all around me, I didn’t succumb to the illnesses that plagued many of my associates and friends. I had the will and the power to survive!!   This was the result of many years of process and sharing my stories about living with HIV to many groups. 

     And, having a HERO (Health Education Resource Organization) buddy give me support enabled me to soldier on.  The information and resources I obtained through the support of others empowered me to become an advocate and a leader.   I found strength in discussing my status as “Heaven In View” (HIV)–and encouraging others to do the same.  Meeting esteemed individuals including A. Cornelius Baker (National Association of People with AIDS, NAPWA), Bishop Cheeks (Inner Life Ministries) and Marlon Riggs (director of the film “Tongues Untied”) also was empowering.  

     All of this assisted me in bolstering my self-identity and self-esteem to later establish a purpose of survival in a culture where Black men and women were being accosted by media outlets for the high incidences of HIV/AIDS. This “scarlet letter” of affliction had penetrated the inner circle of the Black community.

     Through advocacy groups, Black SGL men and some Black women made a declaration to fight against HIV/AIDS in their communities.  As a result, these minority leader activists created a purpose for community-based organizations whose main purpose was to disseminate information about prevention and treatment during the third wave of the epidemic. These national and local organizations (National Minority AIDS Council, NAPWA, etc.) created the groundwork for many to raise their voices.

     Not being called a victim of the epidemic became the cornerstone of empowering many individuals living with HIV/AIDS.  The death of Ryan White  was the impetus for Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Legislation, the largest Federal program focused exclusively on providing HIV care and treatment services to people living with HIV.  White was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December 1984.  He later died from the disease.

     Today, I have become that advocate, policy maker and community leader/ stakeholder for many individuals across the country.  As an activist, a champion, and a fighter, I’m one who dared to care for the community and give himself to that community. 

     Being stigmatized gradually guided me to my passion to keep myself healthy. It is the love of God that has sustained me and allows me to serve humanity with divine purpose.                                                

His Royal Highness,

Duchess


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

Hot Tea and Ice 5

“No Confetti Required”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

     Greetings and salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers! Happy belated Mother’s Day and early Father’s Day to those who fall in those categories. Also, we observe a moment of silence and loads of respect for those who served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice. We honor you all on Memorial Day.

      Along with honoring parents and veterans, this is also graduation season. This is the time of the year everyone pulls out their good suits and hats to see the next generation leave behind an academic institution, and become part of the real world. Be it high school, college, or for those special graduates leaving behind the wonders of kindergarten, everyone it seems dons solid-color polyester robes to line up and march in step. Some will sit under the spring sunshine listening to some celebrity try to inspire and impress. Others will be shoulder to shoulder with classmates in auditoriums or gyms.

      Regardless of the setting, the feeling of accomplishment is universal. It doesn’t matter if the graduate walks with honors or through the grace of Most High, graduations are good times. It brings together family members who otherwise wouldn’t speak to each other unless under court order, and usually ends with a meal where everyone laughs and loves.

     Yes, graduation ceremonies with the handing out of diplomas, requests to hold applause until the end of the ceremony, and cards with money inside are wonderful things. Graduations are formalized ways of celebrating the achievement of accomplishing a goal, which in some cases, may have taken four, fourteen or even forty years.

     However, even if you are the Class of 19- rather than 2016, you have something to celebrate during this graduation session as well. We may not wear mortar boards or have someone say our full name in front of strangers and classmates who never knew your middle name is MyCole, but we are graduates of the hardest school there ever existed–life.

      Some of us graduated when we decided to no longer define our worth through someone else’s lenses. We turned our tassels when we left behind situations that weren’t beneficial to us.

LaToya Hankins

     We may not have heard Pomp and Circumstance played when we walked into that job,  but we graduated. There was no need to put on a robe or walk across a stage to confirm we made it through whatever tried to keep us back. We have our confirmation when we look in the mirror and like the person looking back.

     Take time to celebrate your individual graduation situations. When we honor the journey, the destination becomes even more valuable.

     It is easy to get (Set) Adrift on Memory Bliss,” shouts out the musical group P.M. Dawn (for my ‘90’s ‘peoples’, Y’all), when we see the pictures on social media of friends, family, and friends of family. I admit, my mind went back to the summer of 1989 when I was a young woman getting that high school paper or that day in May when I officially left behind Emerald City (Greenville, N.C.) after four years to start my bachelorette with a bachelor’s life.

     Then I remembered I didn’t need Wake County Schools or the North Carolina Board of Governors to confirm my graduation from being a shy school girl to a self-assured woman. My graduation took place when I realized I had the power to create my own better life.

     We all have graduation stories we need to remember and draw upon when we face challenges. Just like when we walked into those classrooms those first day, nervous and unsure, only to emerge years later strutting and serving it up for those in the back rows.  You see, we graduated to something better. Celebrate your achievement and realize you don’t have to hold the applause until the end. Take pride in your triumph.

     So get loud and throw your hands, hats, and heels in the air because you have graduated to the next part in your life’s journey. Have a graduation dinner and invite all those family and friends who adore you and hopefully don’t think you are too big for a gift card—or card with cash inside.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.  During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Conversations With The Duchess

“Remembering a Musical Genius: Prince Rocks Us with ‘Pop Life’ to Pop Culture” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith

     Greetings!  First, I want to give a shout out to Wyatt O’ Brian Evans for such an amazing opportunity to write this column for his extensive fan base.

     My nickname is “Duchess,” which was given to me by one of my lifelong friends who, unfortunately, succumbed to AIDS. As you read my bio at the end of this column, you will have the opportunity to review some of my accomplishments within the African American LGBT/SGL (same gender loving) community.

     For me, writing assists in putting my rapid thought process in concrete form.  And, it’s very therapeutic!  And like music, writing is “food for the soul.”  

     And like you, I also was saddened by the recent passing of the man who was formerly known as Prince.  Many of his fans were heartbroken with grief, and saddened by the unexpected death of this multi-talented artist and the music he left behind. However, we will to continue to remember his legacy.

     In fact, many of us recall when Prince first burst upon the scene with his provocative and erotic messages, which caused “parental consent” stickers to be placed on his succeeding albums.   I remembered when I was “coming out” of the closet, and the “Controversy” video was getting it’s gyrations on MTV during the 80’s.   

     I mean, could you believe it?  This small framed man dressed in Edwardian fashion, wearing women’s pumps, who was slightly clothed in lingerie and leading a band called the Revolution. His lyrics baptized and mesmerized you with this new gothic, funky beat.

     And let’s not forget the unforgettable, “Am I black or white?  Am I straight or gay?”   He was questioning our ethnic background with the temptation of our sexual orientation, along with the spellbinding Lord’s Prayer–in a salacious nightclub setting. The conversation about his song definitely pushed the envelope, which caused his video to be shown as late night adult entertainment. This was just the beginning of His Royal Badness crossing over into the mainstream media.

Prince

     In the spring of 1984, just one year before I graduated from Morgan State University, Prince introduced the world to what is now his signature album, “Purple Rain,”— as well as the song of the same name.   I remembered such tunes as “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” receiving much rotation on major radio stations, VH1 and MTV. It wouldn’t be Prince not to include exotic songs like “Darling Nikki” and “Erotic City” to keep up the tempo of the 80’s sexual revolution.

     Meanwhile, many artists were expressing their androgynous style on videos and television.  For example, there was Culture Club with their own outrageous Boy George singing “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” and Madonna crooning, “Justify My Love.” These artists were pushing the envelope–as well as our sexual imagination. What used to be censored is now being shown during VH1/MTV daytime rotations.

     In fact, the “Prince-inspired” sexual and Cultural Revolution gave birth to the Stonewall Anniversary Rally and the LGBTQ marches on Washington in the 80’s and 90’s. His songs would influence so many people, as well as myself.  I was especially “tinkering around” my own sexual orientation and impulsiveness toward black SGL men.  I, too, was “coming out” in such a way that produced radical changes in my life–and the people with whom I have associated from college to later life. This, too, were the “Sign o’ the Times,” another album Prince released in 1987.  It spoke to social and cultural norms, health disparities, the AIDS epidemic ravaging the black community, and drug trafficking—including the use of heroin/crack in poverty-stricken communities.

     Prince was like a scriptural prophet who was given historical revelations about the oneness of humankind. Truly, he was that creative visionary and genius who challenged many of us to think differently about who we were and how we engaged in society.

     Prince produced more than three decades of discographies that shined a bright light on raw sexuality and scriptural contemplation.  As well, he had written and produced songs for many artists who had just gotten their starts in the music industry, including his proteges Sheila E, The Time and Vanity 6.

     Lastly, I remembered his exclusive interview with Ebony magazine in July 2010, written by Harriette Cole.  During that interview, he was at the “ageless age” of 52. 

     Prince discussed his profound love of God, his religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness, and his acknowledgement of studying the bible.  In that interview, he  spoke of his tutelage of music legend Larry Graham, who also was a devout Jehovah’s Witness.  I was somewhat astonished by his truth about God and his relationship with people.  He commented, “Keep your friends close–and your teachers closer.”  Profound, indeed.

     On this past April 21st, the Artist Known as Prince Rogers Nelson made transition from earth into afterworld. We remember a legend. Musical polymath, prolific singer, songwriter, virtuoso guitarist, keyboardist and drummer. Film star. Oscar winner. Prince was truly one of a kind. After all, he’ll be the only one that knows sometimes it snows in April!  Thank you, Prince. There will never be another one like you in your little Red Corvette…

His Royal Highness,

Duchess

CARLTON SMITH  the one


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

Hot Tea and Ice 4

“It’s Not How You Got Them, It’s How You Keep Them”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins    

 

        Greetings and salutations, Hot Tea Sippers. Hopefully, temperatures are warming up in your neck of the woods, and you are getting ready for short sleeves, shorts, and sundresses. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s just something about shedding layers that leads people to consider adding a “plus one” to their lives. Perhaps it’s the increases in wedding invites, pop-up BBQs that lead to hook-ups, or you finally realizing that the cutie who has been sitting across from you on public transportation all winter long actually has a pretty smile–when it is not hidden by a wool scarf!

      And then there are those of us who have spent the past several seasons in relationships. We are usually the ones buying yet another present for friends who decided to jump the broom.  We are the perpetual hosts for the BBQs because we have the houses/condos/apartments. 

      The mystery of knowing what each other looks like with or without the scarves is long gone because we probably purchased the items–or “borrowed” yours. Spring time is indeed for lovers; but sometimes, long-term partners don’t feel the enthusiasm.

      It’s easy to take each other for granted when you see each other day in, day out.  I know. After three years, I have to admit my partner and I began acting more like simply friends than lovers.  We spent our nights doing the same old dinner in front of the television thing, rehashed the same conversations about work/family/friends, and went to bed at a “decent” hour where we fell fast asleep.

      Don’t get me wrong:  it is good to find a comfortable existence with the one who feeds your spirit. Relationships don’t have to be a go-go party every night to be authentic. Still, you have to challenge yourself with the thought:  if we didn’t do this when we dated, why are we doing it now? The two of you are the same people who talked long into the night about complex topics, traded favorite movie lines, and got down with the get-down every chance you got.

      Why is it too easy now to pass as few words as possible when you do pass each other, fuss back and forth about what to watch on TV, and can’t remember the last time you got “funkdafied?”

      Too often, we can find time for everyone else, but sometimes our partners find themselves slipping farther down on our priority list. So many of us have our days scheduled on our smart phones to the “Gawds,” but can’t find an extra moment for our special one. For those who have someone special, reflect back on when it was new and exciting. You didn’t get her or him by talking about what your irritating co-worker did to vex your spirit once again. So, why do you think that will keep him/her?

      Being in a relationship allows the best of you to come forward and connect with someone to make a fantastic whole.  It takes work to form a suitable and sustainable bond. Once the hard work is done, keep it going may seem to be a task– but it’s worth it.

LaToya Hankins

      When you reconnect with your significant other, you are also reconnecting with yourself.  That fun, engaging, enticing self whose milkshake or frozen yogurt brought the boy or girl to the yard is still there. Dig deep and unleash that person back into the world. In the process, you have the potential to stoke the relationship fire and get your own flame burning brighter.

      So, first things first:  use those time management skills you have mastered through juggling work, friends, and community involvements to schedule time for you and yours.  And no social media allowed!  Don’t worry, it will be there when you get back.

      Focus on something totally fun and freeing. No bills, no nagging, no picking the same fight you have had for the past season. It you need to switch up the scenery to get it going, go for it! The key is for the focus to be on each other.

      For me and my spouse, we decided to break out and get back to what brought us together.  We started telling each other fantastic stories about ostriches with gambling skills, fictionalized titles from memories, and how our hips were too dangerous to be insured. Those creative bursts helped bring us together and hopefully will keep us together. We instituted date night where we attempted to pick each other up using our best lines. Sometimes it worked, sometime it didn’t. But it was always fun!  

      We decided to treat each other to a week without cooking. When it’s my week, I cook for the house and when it’s hers, she cooks for me.  Nothing is better than coming home to a home-cooked meal or at least a meal ordered from home.

      So as spring causes all those singles around you to get sprung, I challenge all my paired people to focus on keeping love going and value the other person who shares your space. The payoff will be priceless. 

      Until next time,  Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.  During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Honey, Let Me Tell You Something! 9

“Honey I Should Have Told” 

Guest Writer:  R. L. Norman 

      I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was stumbling down the street to meet my blind date whom I had met on-line. It was about 9 o’clock p.m. on a Saturday night in the middle of winter. There were about 10 inches of snow on the ground, as the whole town was a sea of white.  Actually, everything was white except for the red on my blood-stained white shirt.

      I didn’t want my date to see me like this, but I only had two options because I didn’t have a cell phone.  It was either not show up and keep him waiting, or go meet him and explain my appearance.  So, I did the latter.

      I was supposed to meet my date at a restaurant down the street from my home. I didn’t want him to come to my house for two reasons:  first, he was a stranger and I did not want him to know where I lived. And secondly, I didn’t want him to meet my ex-partner, just in case he was in one of his drunken drug-fueled rages.

     My ex-partner: whom unfortunately, I still lived with. My ex-partner: whom, at one time, was the love of my life.

     Oh yes, the love of my life, Craig!  Now, let me tell you about Craig.

     Craig and I had been dating for two years, and we’d been in a committed relationship for three. When I first met him, we had such a great time! We went everywhere together. Movies, plays, museums and even walks in the park. We even traveled to London, Paris and Italy.

     After two years, he asked me to marry him. We bought a house and moved in together. We actually had a white picket fence and two small dogs!  I was working as an engineer and he was a graphic artist. I drove a BMW; and him, a Jaguar. Several times a year, we threw lavish parties in what some called our “fabulous home.” 

     Life was wonderful!  I was truly living my dream.

     But then one night, in the blink of an eye, everything changed!  Craig punched me in my face.

     We’d had disagreements in the past, but never anything physical. Our philosophy was if we got that mad at each other, we’d go to our separate corners, so to speak. And later, we’d meet after we had calmed down.  And then, we’d talk.

     But not this night. 

     On this particular night, I came home late from work and Craig was really upset. And I didn’t understand why.  I’d called him and left a message saying I would be late. I even texted him. But he accused me of cheating on him . He was yelling and screaming at me; and during our heated argument, he punched me.

     I was shocked as I fell over one of the kitchen chairs, and then landing  hard on the floor. When I regained my composure, he was standing over

me–apologizing again and again.

    I just sat there, staring at him in amazement!  I could not believe he’d done that.  His expression told me that he felt the same way.

    He grabbed a warm towel and placed it on my suddenly bruised face. He kept apologizing over and over, promising that he would never strike me again.

    The next day at work, I told everyone that I accidentally bumped into a door.

    For a few days after that, everything seemed to be back to normal. But slowly, he became more and more agitated. He would get upset over the littlest of things.

    The arguments became more and more frequent, just as the bruises on my body and my excuses to my family and friends did.

    I covered up everything as best I could. When he twisted my hands and broke one of them, I told people I fell while running to a meeting. When he  hit me on the back of my head with a pot–which produced a gash–I told the hospital that I’d accidentally fell backward against a window of a metal gate.

    When Craig pushed me down the stairs, I told everyone that I accidentally fell.  And when Craig’s mother popped up at our house for a surprise visit, Craig told her that I was the one who’d trashed the office, throwing stuff everywhere–even smashing the computer.

     Craig told everyone that I was the “crazy one,” always yelling and screaming at him. His family and friends believed every word! And my friends and family didn’t know because I never told. Or should I say I never admitted anything, even though they knew something was wrong.

    Come to find out that Craig was an alcoholic and addicted to crack. It was a deadly combination for the both of us. I assumed it was the pressures of life—(and of course) me causing him problems that made him do it. And I didn’t want anyone to know that I was living in my private hell.

     But I loved him.

     Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore!  I told Craig that I was leaving him, that our relationship was over. I’d packed my bags and was going to move on the following Sunday.

     The Saturday night before, I’d made a blind date. I’d been on-line for a while; of course, behind Craig’s back. I normally don’t meet men on-line; but this was my first date since I broke up with whom I had considered to be the love of my life.

    And this night, I made a date with Clarence. He seemed to be a nice, well- established gentleman. And single–which was a plus!  I’d been out of the dating game for years, so I was just jumping back into the swing of things.

     The only problem was that Craig could not accept the fact that we had broken up. He just refused to believe that I was leaving him! He kept telling me that I was ugly, no good, and that no one would want me. All the while, he was beating me. 

     He broke down my self-esteem so badly that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t know who the person was staring back at me.

     I’d lost myself.  

     Well that night, I left the house and walked down the street relieved that Craig was asleep–or so I’d hoped. I hated for him to know that I was going to meet someone else.

     As I got closer to my destination, with each and every step, I was becoming more and more nervous. I had not been on a date since I met Craig, so I felt like a fish out of water.

R L NORMAN NEW COVER DESIGN

     As I was trying to get my nervousness under control, suddenly someone jumped me from behind! I didn’t see who the person was because he was on top of me so fast, punching and clawing at me. At one point, I couldn’t see anything because my glasses had been knocked off in the tussle.

     Punch after punch, he beat me up. I tried my best to defend myself; and at one point, I got the better of the person. I was on top of him, punching him until he lay lifeless in the snow. I was so scared that I didn’t take the time to see who it was or try to find my glasses.

      I got up and stumbled down the street. I decided to meet my date instead of going back to my house just in case Craig was awake. I hated to explain where I was and with whom.

     As I approached my date, who was standing in front of the restaurant, he had a confused look on his face–as did other people walking in and out of the restaurant.

     “Clarence?” I asked, as I approached him.  Slowly, he took a step back as I got closer.

    “Yes” he hesitantly replied, as I’m sure he noticed that I was disheveled with a blood-stained shirt, no coat or glasses.

     “My name is Norman.”

     “Oh my gosh,” he replied.  “Are you okay? What happened?”

      “I was mugged.”

      “Well, you have to call the police,” he insisted.

      “No. I can’t. No police,” I practically yelled at him.

     I didn’t want Craig to know I’d left the house. And I didn’t want the cops investigating my personal life because they would find out the truth about my life in hell. I loved Craig so much that I had to protect him. He was in my heart. I thought, “He didn’t mean the things he did. I was the one that made him upset. And this would have definitely made him upset.”

    “Well, you have to at least go home and get cleaned up.”

     Clarence, a perfect stranger, was so concerned about me!  It felt good to have someone genuinely care about me. It had been so long.

     He convinced me to go home get cleaned up–and then we’d continue our date. I agreed, but I asked him to wait outside while I changed clothes. We got into his car and drove to my house.

     The events that night prompted me to write this poem: 

     I met him, I liked him, I wanted him, 

     He’s in my heart. 

     We dated, we went to movies, we went to plays, we went to dinners. 

     He’s in my heart. 

     I wanted only him, I wanted him to always be in my life. 

    He’s in my heart. 

    We moved in together, we got married, we brought a house. 

    He’s in my heart. 

    I was in heaven, I was on cloud ten, I was loving my life. 

    He’s in my heart. 

    But then he cursed me, he belittled me, he chastised me. 

    But he’s in my heart. 

   He kept me from my friends, my family, my loved ones. 

   But he’s in my heart. 

   Then he slapped me, he punched me, he cut me. 

   But he’s in my heart. 

   He said he was sorry, that he will never do it again, He said he LOVES ME. 

   He’s in my heart. 

   I forgave him over and over again, I could not leave him, I LOVE HIM. 

   He’s in my heart. 

   But my family and friends told me to leave him and I finally listened. 

   He’s not in my heart anymore. 

 

   You see, the person who mugged me was Craig! When I walked in the house, he was waiting for me. And of course, another fight erupted and my body received several more bruises.

   I wish I had reported the abuse to the police or the hospital earlier. But at this point, who would’ve believed me?  Besides the fact that most of my bruises were below the neck.  He had everyone convinced I was the abusive one.

   And before that night, I told myself that I loved him and could not live without him.  Or should I say he convinced me of that lie.

   But no more.

   I moved out of my private hell into the sunshine of heaven. I finally left the man who abused me for years.

   And even though I am happy now, every once in a while, I think about the fact that he might be abusing someone else. I think about the fact that…. 

   I should have told……..

   LGBT domestic violence is vastly underreported, unacknowledged, and often reported as something other than domestic violence.

   Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behaviors utilized by one partner (the batterer or abuser) to exert and maintain control over another person (the survivor or victim) where there exists an intimate and/or dependent relationship. Experts believe that domestic violence occurs in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community with the same amount of frequency and severity as in the heterosexual community. Society’s long history of entrenched racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia prevents LGBT victims of domestic violence from seeking help from the police, legal and court systems for fear of discrimination or bias.

   Abuse is never right. If you are in abusive relationship… tell someone.  If you know or suspect that someone is in an abusive relationship…tell someone.

   YOU SHOULD TELL. 

   For more information or to get help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.


R. L. Norman is a writer, performer and author of the popular series of novels entitled, “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  The fourth and latest installment is “Love Is Complicated.”  The sizzling sequel, entitled “Honey Hush…Don’t Ask & I Won’t Tell,” drops soon.  As well, he performs“Norman’s One Night Stand,” a one-man show he conceived and wrote, showcasing the main character of his series.  R. L. also is writing a play based on “Honey Let Me Tell You.”  And catch his Podcast, “Honey Let Me Tell You Something Else, on iTunes.  All of these endeavors are part of his production company, Honey Let Me Tell You.  You may reach R. L. at his on line home, www.rlnorman1.wix.com/honeyletmetellyou; by email at: rl.norman@aol.com; on Facebook at RL NORMAN; on Twitter, @rl_norman; and on Instagram: rlnorman1.