My Introduction to Nina Simone

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Back in 2009, my girlfriend and I met each other in Atlanta, Georgia for a weekend of fun and to get fitted for bridesmaid dresses. One afternoon, we stumbled upon the art district, Little Five Points and wandered into an attractive shop called Moods Music. I got really excited. This was the first music store I had ever gone to, that catered to my personal tastes. It was amazing! I wanted to buy the entire store, but settled for a really wonderful CD by Quadron and a copy of Wax Poetics Magazine that I cherish to this day with Gil Scott- Heron on the cover. Since I liked this magazine so much, a friend of mine, who has always gotten me the best and most thoughtful gifts, decided to buy me a subscription to Wax Poetics for my birthday. On the cover of the 1st issue I received was Ms. Nina Simone. Reading the article, I fell in love with her spirit. They dubbed her “the Black poetess of protest.” I learned that she was a child piano prodigy, was great friends with Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Richard Pryor, and Lorraine Hansberry, and that most people who came into contact with her thought she was fearless and revolutionary. They say, Nina Simone didn’t give a fuck, meaning, she was going to do her thing no matter what. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do on this woman who had an attitude that I could relate to. I wrote and performed a tribute to Nina Simone soon after I read this, and I have listened to her music since, mostly adoring the unconventional sound of her voice and her unapologetic lyrics. We are forever connected, Ms. Simone.

Peace & love.

Thank you for reading,

Shila Iris

My Introduction to David Banner

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black-history_feb-19_copyright-shila-iris-2017Transformation is possible. He used to be vulgar, ruled by his lower self- arrogant, over-sexed, chasing money, starved for attention, allowing Black life to be dictated to him by non-Black people at his record company. He did this until he knew better. “When you know better, you do better.”  In 2017, he is taking a different approach to African consciousness and to Black life.

David Banner is using his charm to resuscitate Black History, and he is striving to help Black people wake up. Willing to meet people where they are, he uses his own life as an example to inspire change. When you have knowledge of self, small distractions like technology, sex, and material possessions fade. Banner doesn’t hide from his past. He acknowledges his own humanity, and takes responsibility for his actions, reminding people to be humble and honest. When you bring up any of his mistakes, he smiles, laughs, and continues on in his evolution. This level of maturity is necessary on the path to transcendence. I have not known about this man for very long, but I am happy to see him boldly taking action. It’s so easy to get caught up in worldliness that weakens the spirit, but at some point we all have to lay our egos to rest so that we can survive. Always in search of good music, I listened to his latest album, The God Box. I love it. I am sending him good vibrations on his journey to push Black people into consciousness.

“I don’t care what you think of me, I just want you to think!”

Thank you for reading,

2015

Shila Iris

My Introduction to the Wu-Tang Clan

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black-history_feb-17_copyright-shila-iris-2017The year was 1997, and online music was no where to be found. Most of the world experienced solid, art-based hip-hop through Rap City, Video Vibrations or through either the Vibe, Source, Right On! or Word Up! magazines. My older brother was a hip-hop nut! He introduced our family to this raunchy, fun, yet highly political style of beat-based poetry. When I saw my first Wu-Tang video, Triumph, I was so intoxicated that I wanted to be a rapper. The intensity of the lyrics made my heart percolate! The fast-paced imagery tugged at my youth, urging me to be free. The 10 men I saw on the screen were raw and oddly intellectual.

They seemed to be well-read, open, and real. They were from another world, far away from where I was from. The beats were right up my alley. I was intrigued. The music of Wu-Tang has taught me that we can’t sanitize Black life, making it appear to be easy, and we cannot not alter our stories to please others. Life is what it is. Give it to them raw. I feel blessed to have seen them perform live. It was a fun experience. I also saw the solo performances of Ghostface Killah, and last year I saw GZA perform in Akron, Ohio. RZA had a book talk at the public library, where he shared parts of his personal life story, talked about the business side of Wu-Tang and explained his book, The Tao of Wu. These men are such heart throbs! Their ability to be honest makes them all the more attractive. Whenever Wu-Tang is in town, I will be there, no doubt. The Clan is an ultimate example of the Nguzo Saba aka 7 Principles of Kwanzaa. If you ever see me in the gym, nearly falling off the elliptical, it’s because I’m listening to Triumph, and I have gotten so lifted, that I’m in another world! Be careful when you listen to the Wu. Peace.

Thank you for reading,

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ShiLA IRiS

My Introduction to Imhotep

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black-history_feb-16_copyright-shila-iris-2017A few years ago when one of my good friends was a med student, he changed his online alias to Imhotep. I didn’t inquire about it, but in my heart, I acknowledged the change. Then, I realized that instead of taking the Hippocratic oath that students of medicine are required to recite, perhaps he decided to invoke the spirit of the true Father of Medicine. If you’d like to know about him, I encourage you to research the greatness of Imhotep, the world’s first physician, who laid the foundation for the healing arts. I’ll say this: we are forever connected to the past and to our ancestors, each and every one of us. We value their traditions because it makes us stronger. We stand on their graves and ask for guidance and offer our devotion. Imhotep, I honor You, for I am You. My heart told me to dig deeper, and I found jewels, gold, stories, hidden colors. I went above and beyond mainstream education, to find out who I really am, and now I know my worth. I value history. In this age of information, we can uncover truths faster than ever before. This is necessary, because being Black is tough. This is not rhetoric, it really is. That double consciousness that W.E.B. DuBois taught, that invisible man that Ralph Ellison described, is a part of our everyday realities. It can be exhausting, and it can drive you crazy. But, I learned, through a Master Teacher, not to give up, and settle, and make excuses for my ignorance. I need to be healed. We need healing. My ancestors look over me. I swear by Imhotep. That is my oath. Peace.

Thank you for reading,

Shila Iris

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My Introduction to Kara Walker

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Back in 2011, I spent a lot more time than I am willing to admit, in an ongoing conversation with a dear friend of mine. We were consistently conversing, texting, emailing, Skyping, and meeting up to share our worlds with one another. One day, this wonderful companion of mine sent me an email with a link to Kara Walker’s website. I took a look. It was pretty amazing. Her style of storytelling is appealing to the eye in its simplicity, and culturally relevant, urging humanity to reach inside themselves and find out who they really are. With that same friend who I spent most of 2011 talking with, I was honored, this past Fall, to see the Kara Walker exhibit: “The Ecstasy of St. Kara,” which reflects upon the complex history of Christianity and the myths surrounding slavery- worldwide and in the lives of Black people. Kara’s work supports mental growth and spiritual evolution. It makes me think about where I was, where I am, and where I want to be. I am grateful to have experienced Kara’s ecstasy.

… a little behind, celebrated my birthday on February 13, and been under the weather, but now I’m on top! Peace and love! Gonna continue to celebrate the African Diaspora. You should too.

Peace and blessings manifest with every lesson learned.

Thank you for reading,

2015

Love,

Shila

My Introduction to Anthony Browder

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black-history_feb-14_copyright-shila-iris-2017I didn’t know much about Anthony Browder, but I knew that I didn’t want to miss the presentation that he was giving at Kent State University. So, I drove the hour it took to get there, and sat in the packed audience. He shared his research findings about things he’d discovered during his travels to the motherland. It was the first time I’d heard a man speak so confidently about Egypt, it’s history, and it’s indigenous people. My heart beat fast. I was excited. Browder has traveled to Egypt over 60 times and is doing excavation to discover the true history of our ancestors. In the states, he shares this information in carefully orchestrated presentations that teach and inspire. I bought a copy of his book Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization and had him autograph it and sign it over to me and my dear friend who really wanted to be there, but coudn’t make it. I wanted to share the wealth! I got to see Browder present again, 4 years later at the public library, with that same friend! We had a great time sitting round table, talking with Browder after he gave yet another wonderful and historical speech. He is a beautiful man and I love his spirit. One thing that I noticed about Browder, and I believe it is helping to sustain him, is the fact that he had great mentors- Asa Hilliard, John Henrik Clarke, and John G. Jackson, to name a few. I am seeing more and more that good leadership comes with great mentorship. These scholars influenced Browder’s work and he mentions them often, giving power to the their research. I admire Anthony T. Browder for the work he is doing in Egypt, with his daughter and with all the people who want to be a part of this history-making journey of adventure.

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Shila Iris

My Introduction to Nikki Giovanni

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black-history_feb-12_copyright-shila-iris-2017Storytelling has been an African tradition for a very long time. Our ancestors used stories to record history and to communicate important messages through generations. Poetry is the method I use to tell stories, and this is the woman who made me believe that it could be done. Poetry can change minds, change hearts, lead to soul revivals; it has a place on the streets, in politics, in music, up high, down low, poetry is a tool we use to transcend. Back in 2005, I heard Nikki speak in the wonderful Jubilee Hall on the campus of her and my Alma Mater, Fisk University. She was amazing, with her candid interpretations of life, or should I say, thug life! Check out the tattoo on her left forearm. I can’t believe that Nikki Giovanni is 73 years old. Her name sounds like she is fashion designer, but she is indeed a game changer who has tried to help us recover from having our culture stolen. With her pages of accolades, she has been a fighter and a major voice. With her words of wisdom and ability to communicate with people from all walks of life, she has helped us fight against the deeply-rooted injustices targeted at people of African descent. She is more than a writer, she uplifted the Black Experience and taught it to many generations of young minds. My favorite piece from her is an essay named Gemini, in a book also named Gemini. She speaks about her first 25 years as a Black poet, and in this particular essay, she talks about the relationship between Black men and women. Looking back on it, I can see things a bit clearer. I am grateful. Prophetic poetry is a part of our Black history. Thanks Nikki, for paving a way. Peace.

I really adore you,

Shila Iris

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