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 Susan Taylor

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black-history_feb-18_copyright-shila-iris-2017The first time I picked up an issue of Essence magazine, I noticed Susan Taylor’s picture. She looked like a statue of an ancient African goddess, sort of that Grace Jones bold look, but with clothes. I read her “letter from the editor” and it became my favorite part of the magazine. Throughout the years, I have seen her with various writers, artists, activists, and its easy to see that she is loved. Taylor served as Editor-in-Chief of Essence from 1981-2000, but worked for the magazine since its conception in 1970. That’s commendable. As a woman who writes, and aspires to publish a book, I really admire Susan, and I think that she is one of the most influential women in journalism.

“Thoughts have power; thoughts have energy. And you can make your world or break it by your own thinking.” -Susan Taylor

Thank you for reading,

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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My Introduction to Shirley Chisholm

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black-history_feb-10_copyright-shila-iris-2017To be the person to act against the odds with no precedent is honorable. It means you are a builder, helping to establish a blueprint towards positive change. Every lucrative society needs architects. On the road to freedom, we have had many great minds that fought, tooth and nail, to help people of African descent living in America breakthrough the pain that would impact every aspect of their lives for generations. There were leaders, who wanted Black people to become active members of the society that they in fact built. The innovative Shirley Chisholm, was a woman to admire. My mother talked a lot about her and Fannie Lou Hamer. These were women that she grew up watching in action, and they are two women that I uphold. I know what discrimination feels like- to walk into a room, store, or an organization seeking employment, and have people look at you, like you’re out of place. I’ve heard those derogatory names and comments used to describe me. I’ve done all the hard work and watched other people receive the benefits. It changes you, so, we must go against the odds! The disillusioned will become afraid of you, claiming that you are combative. When you seek your humanity, resistance will knock at the door with guns. You must remember that you are a fighter, and you have to keep pushing, because like Chisholm said, “racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” Be unbought, and stay unbossed. Be happy, embrace the all, and never be complacent.

Thank you,

Shila Iris

My Introduction to James Baldwin

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black-history_feb-9_copyright-shila-iris-2017As a child, when tough times fell on my family, I became an avid reader. At the age of 8, I was visiting the library, checking out the thickest and heaviest novels I could carry. I would read just about anything, as long as it kept me occupied. Browsing the shelves of the African-American Literature section, I often saw James Baldwin’s name, but for some reason, I avoided his books. I did this for a long time, and didn’t take an interest in his writing until I was in my 30s. I kept hearing his name in the art community, both locally and nationally- it turned out, he inspired many people.

One day, I was visiting my oldest sister and she had a copy of one of his books in her purse. I inquired and she said that he is her favorite writer. I said, well that’s enough. I am going to have to read one of the three Baldwin books I have at home! Yes, I had gone as far as purchasing his books, but still never read them. Giovanni’s Room was my choice. I was pleased. I will read many others. The way he brings the Black experience to life, and the way he isn’t afraid to discuss what conformists think are the “darkest” parts of our existence, is what makes his writing so attractive. He is the voice inside of our heads.
And, that’s all I have to say!

Thank you for coming here,

Shila Iris

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