How Hip Hop Serves as a NYT Bestselling Author’s Muse

Angie Thomas’ love of Hip Hop fueled her passion for storytelling, and just like the rappers she admires have sought to perfect their art form, she has sought – and succeeded – at doing the same.

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Bestselling author Angie Thomas

Her debut novel is her evidence, and when the movie version of the book hits the big screen in October 2018, her desire to give voice and humanity to a sector of Americans who often feel they have neither is expected to reach fever pitch.

Thomas is the bestselling author of the award-winning New York Times bestselling young adult novel The Hate U Give.  In addition to reaching the No. 1 spot on the New York Times list, the book is being sold in more than 40 nations, and Thomas has traveled the globe to expound upon its themes, including the narrative that Black Lives Matter and that every child deserves to be heard and valued.

In late July 2018, several hundred residents of metro Richmond, Virginia – including teens, librarians, book club members, readers and writers of all backgrounds and ages, and me – converged onIMG_0713 the Chesterfield County Public Library‘s North Courthouse Branch to see Thomas and hear wit, wisdom and words of encouragement pour from her lips.

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Angie Thomas spoke at the Chesterfield County Public Library North Courthouse Branch

Time seemed to stand still during her 90-minute talk as she mesmerized the audience with the story – her story – of being a 6-year-old girl reading Jet magazine (which she called that era’s “Facebook for black people”) in her home and stumbling upon the picture of Emmett Till in his casket – an image her mother took time to explain in depth, leaving Thomas with the message to “know your worth, but know that not everyone values you the way I do, simply because of the color of your skin.”

She also shared her memory of being an 8-year-old enjoying the swing set in her not-so-safe neighborhood park when she heard Hip Hop lyrics for the first time, in the verses of  Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message, which described the very reality of her hard-knock life. Then, there was her pivotal memory of seeing the late Tupac Shakur for the first time, in news coverage that cast him as a rebellious yet intelligent rapper. Soon after, she heard his music and his commentary, including the explanation for his THUG LIFE tattoo: The Hate U Give Little Infants F—s Everybody.  “Meaning (that) what society gives us as youth, bites (society) when we wild out,” Thomas explained during her talk.

While acknowledging the downsides of Hip Hop – its often controversial and profanity-laden lyrics and many verses that disparage females – Thomas still gave a nod to the musical genre for waking up generations of people who often feel invisible, forgotten and frustrated, and helping them (including her) find their voice.

Throughout her childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, she heard stories of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in his own front yard, not far from where she lived; and in 2015, as the reality of Florida teen Trayvon Martin‘s killer being acquitted of murder stunned her spirit, so did her desire to become a social justice warrior.

Rather than pick up the weapons she so despised for their role in harming people of color, she decided to model the rappers she had long revered and use her words as her sword. The Hate U Give was born as a short story for a college senior project, then grew into the novel we know today.

Thomas’ captive Chesterfield County library audience thanked her for her willingness to write a story that scared her; and one Caucasian middle school student asked for advice on how she could encourage her friends and classmates to read the book and try to understand kids who differ from them in some way.

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Angie Thomas during Q&A

Thomas told her to keep being herself – a brave “book recommender” – and serving as an ambassador for what it looks like to be accepting of others.

It’s a path that Thomas is determined to continue walking, with each new story she births and each new audience she introduces to her personal experience of being a little girl who had everything going against her until she heard herself reflected in lyrics (musical storytelling) that legitimatized her existence.

Because she believes “books can change the world,” Thomas intends to be that light for a whole new generation of young minds – whether they read her novels, watch her movie, hear her speak or encounter others who have been transformed by the messages in her words.

Her library talk was an invitation to everyone in the audience to individually and collectively become literary citizens who create meaningful paths to knowledge, understanding and connectedness.

Stacy Hawkins Adams

Her Story: I Survived Suicide

By Guest Blogger Quelina Jones

Four years ago today (July 11, 2014), I took an entire (brand new) bottle of pills in an attempt to take my life.
Mental illness is real. I thank GOD for keeping me! I’m so grateful and happy to be on the right side of the grass today! I’m grateful to have life and breath!
In that moment, I couldn’t see that joy was on the other side of my current circumstance. Had I been successful, I would have missed my oldest daughter’s graduation, her prom and sending her off to college. I would have missed our funny FaceTime conversations and silly texts. I would have missed being here for her during the moments she needed her mommy.
My youngest daughter wouldn’t have been born. My family and the rest of the world would have missed out on this precious little girl and all the joy that she brings. I wouldn’t have experienced waking up to both my girls and watching them rest peacefully beside me or in my bosom. I would have missed their giggles, hugs and their sweet kisses.
All of my new friendships wouldn’t exist. All of the trips I’ve taken and new experiences I’ve had in the last four years would have never occurred. (Aruba, St. Maarten, The Bahamas, Cabo, Dominican Republic and Jamaica) WOW! All of that could have never happened….
BUT GOD (and therapy)! Lots and lots of therapy! Then and now.
July is Black Mental Health Awareness Month. If you are struggling with something, you don’t have to do it alone. I can offer you a hotline number (1-800-273-8255); but I’d rather extend my hand to help you through. Like someone did for me.
I understand and I’m here.
We can pray, talk, cry together, laugh, I can listen; and if you are in the Richmond, Virginia area, I can accompany you to therapy, a hospital, a meeting – whatever!
Listen to me – You are NOT crazy! You are NOT weak! You’re just having a difficult time right now, but you can get through it. With help. I know because I’ve lived it.
Please know that:
You matter.
Your life has purpose (even if you don’t know what that purpose is right now).
This is NOT the end. Just a season. It will pass. It gets better.
Most importantly, please know that…
You. Are. Not. Alone.
YOU – are not alone.
Just reach out. If not to me, reach out to SOMEONE.  I did.
Choose life, because no matter how bad it seems right now, it DOES get better. I PROMISE! But you gotta be here and be willing to do the work.
I’m here and I care. xo
Quelina “Que” Jones

Quelina “Que” Jones is a Richmond-based writer and speaker who focuses on women’s empowerment through transparency. She believes that the first step to living your best life today is exposing and healing the pain of the past. She uses her own experiences to inspire other women to heal from the inside out. Connect with her here:  Website: quelinaj.com; Instagram: quelinaj; Facebook:  Quelina Jones

How to Make the Rest of This Year the Best of This Year

Can you believe we’re in mid-June and 2018 is half over?
No worries – there’s still enough year left to reboot, regroup and refocus.
Revisit your goals, set new deadlines and get moving.
Practice more self-care, whatever that looks like for you.
Try something new (a meal, a place, an activity) and open your mind to enjoying it.
Say no to whatever feels like settling.
If someone else’s “good enough” is your “almost but not quite,” trust yourself and be patient.
Make new friends, but keep the old.
Forgive yourself, and others too. It’s freeing.
Start positive new habits while gently kissing goodbye those actions, attitudes and encounters that no longer serve you.
Hug yourself. Respect yourself.
Water your soul with loving thoughts and words and watch yourself grow.
Be fair with others, even when they are unkind. Your grace could be the antidote to whatever is causing them to act in unbecoming ways; and if nothing else, you’ll walk in the joy of knowing that you remained your best self.
Be grateful for your allies, supporters and loved ones. People change and tribal members do, too; but your day-in and day-out loyalists are worth cherishing.
Move forward – one thought, one prayer, one choice, one step at a time. This all can add up to a powerful transformation.

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Help the Kate in Your Life – Especially If It’s You

I own two Kate Spade purses. A dear friend gifted them to me a few years ago as a “no special reason – I just wanted to” present. So whenever I’ve carried them, she has always filled my mind with loving thoughts.

Now when I use those handbags, I’ll also remember that Kate Spade was a real person, in need of help. I’ll remember to continue looking past people’s automatic smiles to make sure their eyes are smiling, too. If the light seems to be missing, I’ll offer a hand, listening ear, the truth in love, a therapist or counselor’s contact info, or a shoulder to cry on.

Let those around you know that your shoulders, hands, heart and lack of judgment are available, also. We all need safe spaces to land every now and then. 

My thoughts are with all who are struggling with emotional or mental health challenges. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help; in fact, it requires a certain strength.

Do it today. Many, many of us are cheering for you.

~ Stacy Hawkins Adams

Why We Must Surrender to Wonder

Sometimes our dreams are so big that we tiptoe to the edge of them, then shrink away.

But what if we had the courage to actually follow where they lead?

To consider how leaning into them and falling forward allows the wind to buoy us and keep us afloat? 

To trust the lessons we’ll learn, the people we’ll form bonds with and the experiences that will shape us as our divine birthright?

What if we loved ourselves- and those in our care – enough to surrender to this way of being?

Wow…just wow. Wouldn’t our lives be a wonder?

One Mother’s Journey: Pacing vs. Racing – Taking Time to be Kind to Yourself

By Guest Blogger C.A. Morgan

Fame isn’t my forte. But neither is obscurity.

What am I good at? Well…

As an artist, author, vocalist and Top Chef wannabe, I am quite the Renaissance woman, not to tweet my own tune. My friends will tell you: I do it all. (Thanks, friends!) But ask my family a few years back and they’d claim I was best at being Mean & Ornery & Hard to Get Along With. MOHGAW for short.

I can’t help it; it’s in my blood.

I never wanted to emulate my mother, though she is pretty sweet these days. As a stay-at-home mom of nine children who gave up her dream of becoming a nurse, Mom made MOHGAW her motto. I craved a family, but also to develop and share my own gifts with the world. Anything less seemed like a cop-out.

Once a bright-eyed collegiate turned ambitious young adult, I planned to become the next C.S. Lewis/Beatrix Potter combined. I moved east with great expectations and – blink! – somehow found myself married with four young children, struggling to not disappear under piles of dirty dishes and laundry.

While I love my kids, parenting well is demanding work. I began to understand – and resemble – my mom as I despaired ever achieving my career goals. Oh, the mom-guilt! Why couldn’t being the best possible homemaker satisfy my needs? Why must I want it all?

Still…I did, and it showed.

Deciding I could no longer wait for the perfect circumstances (there is no such thing), with our two oldest in school and portfolio, toddler and swaddled infant in hand, I met with a local author who generously agreed to mentor me. For the next several years, while trying to keep family my priority, I wrote and scrupulously edited the first book of my YA fantasy trilogy. To contribute financially, I went to work part-time teaching music at my children’s school. (How better to share that gift than by passing it on to the next generation?)

I created and donated art for charity, and kept up an illustrated parenting blog to encourage other moms while providing self-therapy. Life was fulfilling, exhausting…and totally unsustainable as we welcomed our bonus baby.

MOHGAW Momster reawakened.

Thankfully, and long before Oprah Winfrey put the sentiment into words, I had an epiphany: It really is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I was cheating everyone by trying. Pace myself and I might actually enjoy the life I already had, while creating the one I dreamed of.

Granting that permission to slow down was the kindest thing I’ve ever done – for myself and everyone around me. Skip ahead: Thirteen years since penning that first novel – the year after my firstborn graduated high school – it was published. Two more children left for college, and I gave birth to two more volumes. More are coming, all in good time.

And I’m not so MOHGAW anymore. Just ask my family.

Author C.A. Morgan

C.A. Morgan, author of Emrysia: The Three Sisters Trilogy (Emrysia Awakening, Lament & Endurance) is a lifelong learner and champion dream chaser who loves to encourage others to contribute what only they may to the world. From northern Michigan to remote mountainside in Vermont’s northeast kingdom, she is equally at home on stage or in her garden, and is currently sharing the gift of music in a hospice choir, and completing illustrations for her children’s book on the fears associated with diagnostic testing. She and husband, Roger, are enjoying a quieter house these days, raising their belated blessing with occasional unsolicited advice from her adult siblings. To learn more visit her online at: www.camorganwrites.com, facebook.com/reademrysia, and twitter@camorganwrites.

Guest Blogger: My Love Story with India

Iris E. Holliday has contributed to Life Untapped before, to share her journey into a fulfilling season of retirement after a lengthy career in corporate philanthropy.  She returns this week to share a heartwarming essay about achieving her lifelong dream of visiting India. Settle in and enjoy this bird’s eye view of her adventurous spirit as a solo traveler….

My fascination with India began in the living room of the Holliday home in Washington, D.C. My father and I began what would become our monthly ritual-filling out the “for more information” cards in magazines, circling numbers for destinations, products and such.  This began my lifelong addiction to mail, starting with the first mail addressed to Miss Iris E. Holliday from the Embassy of India, and one from the Embassy of Morocco. There were so many stamps on these large manila envelopes.

Of course, my 8-year old self proclaimed that I would travel to India and ride on an elephant. And quite a few decades later…I recently did.

The India of this child was images of princes and princesses, majestic palaces, statues of mythical gods, home to Gandhi and the sacred river Ganges, and people clothed in silks reposing on their heavily adorned furniture. Such is the fantasy of childhood.

The India I saw as an adult in my travels to the Golden Triangle-Delhi, Agra and Jaipur- screamed of complexity, beauty, contradition, conflict, passion and intensity.

My body of historical knowledge was woefully inadequate to receive the jaw-dropping architectural marvels of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (called UP everywhere I went); some now UNESCO sites.

India is a moving color wheel-people, clothing, food, flowers, transportation, and art. It is also dramatic as joy and sadness come in high octaves. The sheer number of people occupying the public spaces with you brings a dazzling affirmation of humanity in fast forward motion.

Anyone who really knows me acknowledges my obsession with preparedness, so reading a dozen or more books on travel to India would come as no surprise. I also confess to being a fan of Bollywood movies and Punjabi music, all tastes cultivated way before the movie Slumdog Millionaire. I credit award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair and her movie Salaam Bombay for further piquing my interest. After all, I have carried the dream of traveling to India for 57 years.

Each airport has its own Zen, especially after 9 p.m., and Dulles and Frankfort are at opposite ends of the spectrum to me. The snowstorm I encountered in New York on the first leg of my trip posed some interesting flight challenges. However, there was no problem hitting 10,000 steps as I traversed the gates en route to a new carrier and flight time, and in desperation, not wanting to raid my rather large snack stash, I got a tuna melt. Oh God, why? Awful, inedible.

The time was made tolerable and rather entertaining by a brief encounter with a Duke University MBA student on his way to India for the first time. Our chat was so lively about technology and art and Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama that I forgave him for dissing my iPhone SE. He had an iPhone X.  Yep, tech matters and in all things shallow and cultural, tech is a distinct marker of status, intelligence or hipness.

On this direct flight to Delhi, I heard voices more audible in different languages, predominantly Hindi, as the time zone changed. I also noticed the sea of orange, lemon yellow, ruby red and fuchsia turbans reflecting the Sikh faith of my fellow passengers. Time to tackle the large print Word Search on Plants and Flowers scored at the Dollar Tree. Not one to miss out on free movies, I viewed The Greatest Showman and really disagreed with the move critics who panned the film. I downloaded the soundtrack as the flight info screen showed “7 hours and 5 minutes to Delhi.”

On the movie roll, I discovered a two-part epic Indian movie Baahubali – the sixth largest grossing Indian film worldwide. Watching both parts would absorb nearly five hours.  No popcorn, but that was okay.

It wasn’t hard to settle in, wrap up in my pashmina, and position the pillows. This fantastical movie had handsome stars, romance, and political intrigue with powerful, immoral rulers, bromance, martial arts, religion, kingdoms on mountains beneath blue skies with billowy clouds. I loved the descriptions of the hero of the film: “His strides are like the wind…Even death does not scare him…He is like a bright shining star…an immovable mountain.” Oops, forgot to mention the music. Yes, there is singing and tattoos.

The now-quiet flight of the sleep deprived is inching to Delhi over Ankara, Kabul, Doha, Dushanbe and Ahmadabad. In less than two hours, I will be there, after eating a way too spicy “chicken puff” and reflecting on this engrossing movie.

Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport is truly magnificent, more like one gigantic hotel lobby. It is 2:00 a.m. As one of the sleep deprived, it is truly funny when you are looking for the right Immigration and Custom’s counter and realize that you are now the foreign passport holder with a visa.

Candidly, I don’t remember all the details of the early morning hours except the spacious hotel room and the note to meet my driver and tour guide at 9 a.m. Oh, I do remember being greeted with “Namaste” and responding in kind.

The beauty of solo travel is travel without negotiation, compromise or resignation.

Being the museum devotee that I am, I began to embrace Delhi through the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Iris reflecting on her visit to the National Gallery of Modern Ar

Established around the time of my birth, the collection shows 5,000 years of Indian history through arts and crafts. The sculptures both wood and bronze and stone, textiles, miniature paintings in a range of styles, terracotta pieces captured my interest for hours. I lurked in the “jewellery” gallery lusting after several eye-popping gemstone pieces; didn’t know that diamonds have been mined in India for over 3,000 years.

Museum visitors are intriguing, and it thoroughly surprised me to meet students on field trips. These students (who appeared to be ages 12-16) were not guided through the galleries as is the norm, but were self-guided based on interests. Hip-hop culture is global and their fashions were the latest sneakers and strategically torn/ripped jeans. Some of the students wore hijabs and still dressed in Gen X wear. They enthusiastically agreed to pose for pictures. Smiles are still part of the universal language. Not a huge fan of audio-guides, I am glad that I used it in this museum.

Old Delhi offered the Red Fort and the India Gate, the homage to Indians who fought in World War I, and modeled after the Arch du Triumph in Paris. The much anticipated visit to the Jama Masjid, one of the largest in Asia, welcomed all, however only Muslims were allowed in the actual mosque prayer area. With shoes off, men and women entered separately and the security was highly visible. Those who did not respect the site enough to wear appropriate dress were given long covering robes to wear. The sun was blazing and I am so glad that there were long runners leading from the entrance to the interior. One step on the brick pathway meant scorched feet.

With all the people I crossed paths with, what are the chances to see again, a Muslim woman I had encountered in a different part of the city. With that recognition, we exchanged greetings and mental hugs. Truly a serendipitous moment.

The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Qutub Minar and the tomb of the Emperor Humayun left me in want of more details of Mughal architecture. Named after a Sufi saint, Qutub Minar is a minaret on the Qutub complex that stands 239.5 feet tall with 5 tapering towers. Construction began in 1192, and each of its columns are of a different stone-pale red sandstone, marble, marble and sandstone and are engraved with texts from the Holy Quran and decorative features. It is alleged to have been inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and built by Hindu artisans.

The Emperor’s tomb has the distinction of being the first garden tomb in India. Commissioned by his first wife, the Mughal Emperor Humayun’s resting place is a solemn garden now filled with tombs of his descendents. The Persian-influenced architecture and gardens divided by walkways or flowing water intentionally reflects the view of paradise described in the Holy Quran. I found it hard to focus on this site as a tomb because of its astonishing beauty and serenity.

The streets of Delhi require bravery to navigate, with the mode of transportation being either foot or rickshaw, tuk tuk or car, bicycle or motorcycle – doesn’t matter. Not one to be skittish about close encounters, I exercised deliberate calm in the car as a passenger, and certainly in the rickshaw. The proximity of one rickshaw rider to another in a separate rickshaw was hands distance, and the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk redefined the word narrow. There was constant conversation with other drivers and vendors. The horns of vehicles never stopped and continued all through the day and night.

The rickshaw ride is also an opportune time to talk about Old and New Delhi, education, the gossip on Salman Khan (film idol), and preservation. I was struck by children, very young children, who were selling loose peacock feathers and a fan made of peacock feathers. Of course, they should be in school; however school is mandatory from ages 6-14 but not heavily enforceable. And to the issue of peacock feathers, it is illegal to sell these; they are banned like ivory for commercial or retail sale.

It’s time for my dinner and the night lights illuminate Delhi’s sky, and even on the fifth floor, I can hear the incessant sound of honking. I am craving a bowl of dal, with yellow lentils and garlic naan. Soon, my appetite was satiated by the best dal on the planet and the most attentive food manager and wait staff at the Radisson Blu. The open kitchen afforded the view of chef creating elaborate dishes and it was a wonder to see my soup being blended, spiced and adorned based on my preferences. It was as if there were no glass wall between the chef and I. The night was capped by my first cup of masala chai.

This would be my beverage for the start of the day and the ending. With cows being sacred, did I even ask what type of milk was used in making the chai?

Nope, I just savored it. The question would be asked and answered at another time.

 

Retirement makes time for dream travels. Iris Holliday is featured here in a 2017 trip to Lisbon.

Iris E. Holliday is a third generation  Washingtonian (Washington D.C.), a Cruzan (St. Croix) and Hoosier (Indiana), and both a Howard University University Bison and VCU Ram. During a career spanning more than 35 years, she advanced the reputations of government entities, corporations and nonprofits, including serving as Director of Corporate Philanthropy and Community Partnerships with Dominion before retiring in 2016.  A recent graduate in museum studies, she looks forward to traveling to other dream destinations and sharing her excursions with Life Untapped readers.