To Be a Woman

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved. 

"Green and Purple" Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Green and Purple”
Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

 

To be a woman means you can admit that you are afraid

when you really are afraid.

You can admit that some things

cannot be fixed by you and you never lose face

or your womanhood because womanhood itself

defies the definition placed on it by others.

A woman can always say she is vulnerable and then

end up being twice as pliant and twice

as durable as she was before she

admitted to anyone that she was prone,

precisely

because she knows that an unacknowledged

liability is not a symptom of a lack of will

or a lack of courage.

She knows it is not

all about her.

To be a woman is to know that

a disclosed weakness is

that visible wound healed only by

exposure to light and air,

and the first real step toward

unburdening and freedom,

and that inescapable revelation that

all flowers die, but

can bloom again.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

An Encounter with the Police on My Way to Latin Class

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Most of my encounters with police have been rare and routine.  Most of the police officers I have dealt with have been courteous and helpful.  I have made the occasional phone call about the neighbor whose dog has been running around the neighborhood terrorizing a few people.  The police come out, speak with the offender, and the matter is resolved.  Yet, I remember this incident…

A police officer discovered I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on my driver’s license.  For those of you born late in the 20th century, let me explain.  An insurance cancellation suspension was common if you changed cars or changed insurance companies.  You used to get a form in the mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles instructing you to record your new insurance or new car.  Occasionally, however, you might not receive the form by mail, and you could easily forget about it.  Therefore, if your new car/new insurance data had not arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you bought a new car or changed your car insurance, you could end up with this particular type of suspension.  You typically had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, show them your new purchase, along with your new insurance card.

In what appeared to be a routine road check for driver’s license and insurance, the Decatur Police held me for three hours only a few months after I purchased a car from my elderly uncle.  This happened in the spring of 1998 when I was back in college to complete my Bachelor’s degree at Agnes Scott College.  After checking my Driver’s License number the officer stated that I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on the car I previously owned.  I showed him my new insurance card on the car I was driving.  I knew I would have to straighten out the suspension before I drove my car again.  Since I was about a mile from the campus, I asked him if he could radio the Agnes Scott College Police and have someone from that police department drive down the street, and pick me (and the car) up.

I explained that I would have my Mama come pick me up at Agnes Scott and we would go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get the suspension problem cleared up.  “I’m not calling anybody,” he said.  I pulled out my student ID.  He said, “I don’t need that. Girl, get out of the car.”  I was a grown woman in my thirties; and while I might not have looked as old as my birth certificate said I was, I was no “girl.”  I kept my mouth closed, but I am sure he sensed my displeasure.

I got out of the car and he instructed me to lie down in the street.  When I asked why are you doing this?  He told me to shut up.  While I lay down in the street for over 30 minutes, he and another two officers pulled the back seat out of my car.  They searched the trunk.  If it had not been for the little old man that came out of his house to watch, I do not know what else might have happened.  I was terrified, but I suffer from something my Mama used to call, “Your Daddy’s Disease.”  She said my father never showed fear when under pressure.  He always looked fearless, even menacing, when some horrible event was going on.  Then later when everything was all over, he would fall apart, shaking and reaching for a good stiff drink.  “That kind of thing can get you killed, Joy,” Mama said, “When someone expects you to be afraid, sometimes the worst thing you can do is look like you have no fear.”

Eventually a female police officer appeared and asked me if I wanted to call my Mama using her phone.  The first police officer decided to write me a simple ticket for driving with a suspended license and left me standing there in the street.  He drove off.  That sweet little old man stood there and talked with me until Mama arrived.  He told me he thought the Decatur police were doing some kind of sweep.  “They’re looking for somebody that’s up to no good, and they’re tryin’ to find ‘em in these road blocks,” he said.  Mama arrived in about 30 minutes and picked me up.  My new best friend—that sweet observant little old Black man told me to leave my car where it was until the suspension problem was straightened out.  “Them SOBs are probably waiting somewhere watching and waiting for you to drive off so they can give you another ticket or take you to jail.  I’ll watch your car until you get back,” he said.

Mama asked me how my clothes got so dirty.  I lied and told her I slipped and fell.  She would have had a heart attack if I told her what really happened to her only child.  We headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The clerk handed me a simple form that I filled out citing that I no longer owned the previous vehicle and therefore had no insurance on that vehicle.  I had to write down the serial number and model of my current car and provide my proof of insurance.  The clerk recorded my data and lifted my “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension.”  All of this took about 20 minutes.

I did argue my case in traffic court.  The police officer rolled his eyes at me as I explained in detail his refusal to call the Agnes Scott College police even after I showed him my student ID.  I told the judge every detail and showed him my insurance card, the purchase of my car, and the statement from the Department of Motor Vehicles that lifted my insurance cancellation suspension.  To add as much injury as I could, I said, “I missed my Latin Class because of this!”  The judge dismissed my case.  I paid no fine.  I was lucky.  Yet, I sensed that what happened to me was not rare.  This kind of treatment happens to women, and particularly Black women and women of color, with a frequency that many people do not want to admit.  Black women encounter more than our share of rudeness and physical intimidation from police.  

I consider myself to be an average size woman.  I finally managed to gain enough weight to make it to a whopping 135 pounds at 5 feet, 5 inches tall.  At the time of this incident, I weighed only 115 pounds.  That police officer was at least 6’ 2” tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He called me a girl.  He told me to shut up.  He did not throw me to the ground, Thank God.  Yet, just imagine how easy it would have been for him to do so.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Guide My Feet…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Guide My Feet”
(Traditional Negro Spiritual)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful that my late Mama and Daddy taught me our old African tradition of ancestor worship.   That worship was as much a part of my childhood as was the old Western Judeo-Christian tradition…Now, for those who know me well, you know that I can be the most severe critic of ministers and organized religion(s) that too often fail to act in the best interests of the flocks they claim to serve, lead and protect.  Yet, that is another blog.  Save your breath.  I am only responding to the message(s) sent to me…

I occasionally re-read the poem that my friend actor-poet-writer Charles Reese wrote immediately following the death of my nearly 92-year-old mother in early 2013.  In homage to her, he referred to my Mama as “a Queen,” but he also referred to her as “our newest ancestor.” — Nothing in “Syble’s Poem” struck me as much as that line about her becoming an ancestor.  For people who know my late Mama, they know that certain songs remained in her repertoire right up to the very end of her days here on earth.

I do not need to recount the tragedies that have happened to Black folk in the last few weeks or even over the last year.  Yet, for the last couple of days I have been unable to get the old Negro Spiritual “Guide My Feet” out of my head.  Composed and sung in the caldron of American chattel slavery and passed down from generation-to-generation by my people, I have been singing it and humming it off-and-on for the last couple of months.  At first, I thought I was going crazy.  I must confess that I had a similar experience with “You Gotta to Move,” a Gospel/Blues song composed by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  A few months earlier in the year, I was singing “You Gotta Move” in an impromptu singing session that followed a gathering of my Sistahs that was a combination of good coffee, prayer, testimony, and truth-talking with each other at Dream Café…A few days after that meeting, I ran into a brother in a wheelchair who was singing the same song on a corner in downtown Atlanta.  That had to mean something, I thought…

When I went to my cousin Dexter’s graduation from Morehouse College this past May 2015, the class Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude graduate Jerek Sharrod Brown burst into “Guide My Feet” before he began his inspirational and spellbinding Valedictory address.   His voice in song was an unexpected, but welcome and perfectly poetic pleasure.  I felt something inside of me shift and move when Brown sang and when he spoke.  I felt something shift again when my cousin Dexter’s name was called as a new graduate of Morehouse College. After all, I remembered when I first held him in my arms when he was still an infant…

Today I decided to see whether the lyrics to “Guide My Feet” would come up in a general search on Google.  It did.  Now, usually when something comes up in an internet search, I typically download it and then email it to myself just to make sure that I have a couple of copies of my research findings in two different places.  Yet, something strange and beautiful happened after I performed my usual ritual…

When I clicked the email button to send my Google search findings to myself, the email did not pull up my personal email address.  Instead, it opened my late Mama’s email address which was and remains a secondary email account affiliated with my own primary account…Sometimes the Creator knows that you need a little help.  Sometimes the ancestors are talking to you…

There are moments when no matter how bad things are or may seem, you simply do not worry and you no longer expend energy on people who do not work in your and your own people’s best interests.   I have reached that moment. More than we know or acknowledge, the ancestors speak to us in small but important ways if WE only listen, if WE only listen…So, Thank You Mama and Daddy and all the known and unknown ancestors and saints…Thank You Goddess…Thank You God…Peace and Blessings.  Àṣé…

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my feet,

while I run this race,

For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

5 Memorable Comments Made to Me by My Teachers

by Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Archive Joy!,” Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Trying to pick five favorite quotes by former teachers and professors is a real chore.  Blessed with some of the greatest teachers on this earth, I have no other choice but to acknowledge their intelligence and their wit.  It is also impossible to remember what so many of them said to me verbatim.  Yet, when I start to count my blessings, I can hear them.  We may not be able to remember who won the World Series in 1990 or what film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2000, but we remember our teachers.  On so many occasions I hear their wisdom and humor, loud and clear.  So here are my favorite five; at least my “first” favorite five.  This one is short and sweet.  Enjoy.  

 

1.  “It was a joy to teach you!” – Mrs. Doris Prather, 7th Grade English Teacher

2.  “You are too intelligent for this!!  If I catch you and Louis with Cliffs Notes again, I will call both of your mothers!!” – Sister Barbara Sitko, 12th Grade English teacher

3.  “The only good thesis and the only good dissertation is a finished thesis and a finished dissertation.” – Dr. Jacqueline Howard Matthews, Africana Women’s Studies Professor

4.  “You write very well. But relax, you won’t hit it out of the ballpark every time.” – Dr. Waqas A. Khwaja, English Professor (when I received a grade of “B” instead of an “A” on an English paper)

5.  “Scholars say that there was a heavy concentration of lead in the water back in Ancient Rome. They believe that the reason why so many of those old Roman Emperors went crazy was due to lead poisoning. But just between you and I, I think a lot of them were crazy due to all of that family inbreeding.” – Dr. Sally MacEwen, Latin Professor

Àṣé!!

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

One of My Mama’s Friends

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I have lived over fifty years and I have never really met and never really dealt with a Black woman who was passive. My experience may not be the same as everyone else’s, but as a young Black girl growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, there simply was no such thing as an uneducated, passive and do-nothing Black woman; and my late Mama and her friends have been that example. Mama’s friends have been a blessing to me while she was alive and a boon to me in her absence…

I will only share a little bit about one of them here…

Her full name is Mrs. Bendolyn Handspike Ricks. Her nickname is “Peaches.” The house she has shared with her husband of more than forty years has always been one of the homes in the neighborhood where all the kids went to just hang out and be kids and clown around.  Even though she insisted that I call her “Peaches” well over twenty years ago, I had to reach the age of fifty before I could call her anything other than “Mrs. Ricks.”  Being raised to be extra respectful to adults, I simply could not call her by her nickname until after I passed the half century mark.  But here is what I learned from “Peaches.”

Make your voice heard! Everyone at City Hall, the Mayor’s Office, and the local police department knows her.  She will call them all day long if need be to get what she needs and what our community needs. I know….

because when a pipe from the street collapsed and created a plumbing problem for me, the City’s water department claimed that they could not arrive at my house for the next three weeks.  So, I called Peaches…

and she told me the city council person I should call.  So, I called them and the water department and crew arrived the next morning rather than the next three weeks…

When she is travelling out of town, she asks that our police department send extra police officers to cruise by and look after her house…

and this past week, while she and her husband were vacationing, I watched as one police car after another sat near her house…

I say this to make a point…

One need not be wealthy to get something done. One need only be persistent enough to demand what one needs and to fight for what one needs… 

and one needs only to have the kind of Black women I know and grew up with…

On those occasions when I worry, I simply pause and remember my Mama and her cronies—some Baaaad Sisters who I can only hope to someday emulate…Àṣé!

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.