A Little Jab at Gentrification …

Eventually every big city faces the sad reality of change. The question becomes who does change effect the most. For the “inner city” citizens and the urban dwellers, aka Black people and poor people, who are usually forgotten (until property and infrastructure are involved) it’s usually us with furrowed brows. We wonder what is going to come next. This is not just a simple matter of change construction-site-2858310__340but the buzzword of the century: gentrification. Everyone has some definition in one form or another of what this means. In layman’s terms, gentrification is when wealthier, mostly white people see something they want, and they take it. They take it, restructure it and manufacture it for white audiences. For example, the small cafes and restaurants popping up in what is called “Station North.”

Station North is blocks away from what would be considered dangerous or “ghetto” even, but “redevelopment” has started in the area. Redevelopment that allows white academics and art students to benefit from poverty (having lower rent) while being close enough away to feel safe but close enough to say they care about the plight of Black people and issues of poverty in Baltimore city. The gradual change in Baltimore has been happening for quite some time. The big universities started their bidding wars on properties on East North Avenue. The results are things like Parkway theater and (sorry folks) the notorious anti-establishment Red Emmas (which has left its North Avenue location). As nice as these places are, they both have an unspoken, “we only welcome certain types,” kind of vibe. You should be somewhere between wanting to free the nipples and having a Sinead O’Connor look with a septum piercing and tattoos of a dream catcher, geometric shapes, or the lunar cycle. They have the “I’m a cultured artist who is down with a revolution, some days, and I bike to save the environment” kind of vibe.

Look up the word in the dictionary and its synonyms are refurbishment, restoration, renovation, urban renewal, and even improvement. There is a constant question of what is being improved and who asked for the improvements. The problem with the “urban renewal” becomes losing the people who built the infrastructures around what is being “improved.” The problem becomes white people start moving in and pushing Black people out. When the hipster liberals come in, preaching peace, love, and all lives matter while taking your row home to hang ropes of paper lanterns from Target.

Gentrification becomes so important, especially to Black people in Baltimore city because it is more than a word or a synonym of “restoration.” So much culture has been built and erased in the city. From club music to style of dress and even the way we talk. You know someone is from Baltimore when you hear them! Higher rent and destruction of once were homes make life a lot harder for those relocating and reminiscing on “the good old days.” Gentrification is having your childhood memories become a portion of history because Johns Hopkins needs homes for residents and of course expansion of its famed facility. The Hippo, most of East Baltimore, Hammerjacks- places like these are no longer apart of the breath of the city. Instead when people think of Baltimore, they think of Natty Boh and Camden yards – which is a part of Baltimore but every neighborhood is not Canton or Camden yards.

East Baltimore should now be called “Hopkins Town.” Hopkins has changed most of it and is trying to mold it into a uniform, almost carbon copy of other cities. Baltimore once had a flair that is bitterly hanging on. That’s a problem with “urban redevelopment.” Gentrification is not just a textbook synopsis of the many inequalities Black & poor people face. It is the feelings, soul, and authenticity of a place being diffused brick by brick. It is almost as if Thanos snapped his fingers in much of East Baltimore, devouring the city. Higher rent and fancier grub makes nice for tourists and people who can’t afford New York and don’t want to stare D.C in the face, so we meet here in the middle, in Baltimore.

Before Fashion Nova, there was Rainbow …

I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s era where jelly shoes and door knockers were still a thing. Outlined lips and low-rise jeans were a must along with skirts with odd slip placements. These looks defined my youth and defined somewhat laughable trends to look back on. But what is ever present in our current fashion trends is the return of looks from the 90s. From lip outlining to baby hairs and various colored clothing. One thing that I remember most from these trends are the stores where people got their clothes. A little store called Rainbow, a littler known store called Fashion Bug, and maybe lesser known, Dots. These stores were formally considered the catalog for the “ratchet” girl. The girls who purchased make-up from Rite-aid or the around the way hair store. Girls considered to be “hood rats” before being a hood rat was cool.

I remember being young, in the mall, watching these girls go in and out of the store with bags and bags of Rainbow clothes. Outfits for almost every occasion. I also remember some of the whispers and looks for the girls who came from Rainbow with the huge bags. As years past, Rainbow had morphed from popping to being “that” store. The one where “those girls” shopped. I remember once reading Facebook comments about the clothes looking like they would, “make the skin itch.” The trendy powerhouse of the 90s became the “ghetto, cheap” store where none of us wanted to go, or where we went in secrecy. It was the store to get the big bangles, quick camisoles, and a basic t-shirt. Those gems that made Rainbow a go-to faded into the background. This was not the move anymore. The urban fashionistas transcended to Forever 21 and H&M. Of course, by this point the jelly sandals and door knockers had become a thing of the past. Skinny jeans, snapbacks, and Polo had moved in like a cold front. Rainbow was a background shop being dragged by Forever 21 and H&M.

It had become an unwritten punchline to a joke about the “basic girls at Rainbow.” Later, the emergence of Fashion Nova changed the entire game in about 2014. Fashion Nova became IT, especially with their magic jeans and crop tops. Fashion Nova and Forever 21 changed the game with their fashions except I couldn’t help but notice some of their clothes looked like Rainbow’s. From the fabric to the look, some of these clothes are the same. But what was it about Fashion Nova and Forever 21 that people loved so much? It could be they have everyday essentials or date night outfits or something cute and causal.  Somehow, the reputation of Fashion Nova was building while Rainbow kept its bad name and bad taste in people’s mouths.

For years, up until recently, Rainbow was tens of steps behind the trendier stores. Recently, Rainbow has been making a comeback, being featured in magazines as a “cheap on trend store.”

The point is, before Forever 21 and Fashion Nova made their way into the hearts of thousands of Baltimore girls, there was Fashion Bug, Dots, and Rainbow. Three stores that defined the kick back, ring dance, and night out looks for several years.

The Jig is Up, Santa!

I believed in Santa Claus until around age 9 or 10. I had gathered enough evidence over the previous two Christmases to prove that the old Saint Nick was indeed not the one delivering my many, wonderful gifts. The first time I ever questioned the magic of Santa, I curiously asked my father how it was possible for Mr. Claus to get in the house and leave gifts under our tree if we didn’t have a chimney. We lived in a row house in the middle of the city, so the story just didn’t add up. He quickly explained that Santa had a magic key that could get into any house in the world, including those without chimneys. That time I was satisfied with the answer, and my joy and belief in Christmas remained intact.  I happily went on to leave Santa some saltine crackers and milk, as we were out of cookies that year.

It was not until I realized that Santa’s handwriting on my gifts was eerily similar to my mother’s that I grew suspicious. I knew that no one else in a 25-mile radius signed anything in a French Cadel style. When I asked my mother if she was the one labeling the gifts, she simply said “No, I didn’t.” From that point on, I was looking to disprove Santa’s existence and let my parents know I knew they were lying. Putting the clues together was almost more fun that actually believing. Another year, I noticed that my father (I know it was him) left the Walmart labels on my Bowwow CDs. I asked him why the CD’s said “Walmart” if they were from Santa. He told me that in recent years, Santa had outsourced from the North Pole to Walmart because kids were asking for too many toys or something. I was not at all convinced, but I needed concrete evidence to prove my case.

The year after that, I just found one of my sister’s gifts behind the couch. They didn’t even try that time. I went to my parents and let them know the jig was up, and they told me the truth. There was no Santa, no Mrs. Claus, no Rudolph, no magic elves, and while reindeer may have been real, they definitely did not fly. I remember being very satisfied with my little detective skills, and promised not to tell my younger sister about the fake Santa until she was old enough. That was the end of the innocent, childish joy of Christmas for me, but it was fun while it lasted.

I will forever appreciate my parents for their selflessness in letting their children believe. I understand that many parents hate the idea of “working all year and letting some strange white man take all the credit,” but your kids simply do not care about your financial struggles. Also, if it means that much to you, you can show them the many images of Black Santa. No 6-year-old cares a bit about how much you paid for their bike or dollhouse as long as they got it. They just want to have fun and be happy. Trying to force them to appreciate your hard work will not make them appreciate your hard work.  It does children a disservice to deny them a part of their childhood for selfish reasons. It is not your child’s fault that you will be in a tight spot until February because you wanted to give them a nice Christmas. I understand not wanting to celebrate the holiday altogether for religious or spiritual reasons, but if you do, let the kids be.

If anything, believing in Santa teaches children a crucial lesson: that they will be held accountable for their actions by entities outside of their loving parents. They learn that they can be rewarded for being polite and responsible, and miss out for being nasty and reckless. They will be judged by something that they cannot manipulate as easily as they do their parents and family members.

Regardless of what you do or don’t believe in, have a safe and happy holiday season with your friends and family. Stay safe, stay warm, and don’t leave your presents in the back seat of your car. How did you learn about Santa growing up?

8 Reasons to Have a Girlfriend Who Can Fight

Whether you are a woman or a man, gay or straight, feminine or masculine, you know dating a woman who can fight definitely comes in handy. It adds a little spice to the relationship and extra comfort when you’re out in public. It can also be a real turn on depending on what you’re into. Let’s just get into it:

  1. She’s More Confident

Who doesn’t love a confident woman? Women who know they can fight are not afraid of the world around them, and are more comfortable with themselves in the presence of others. They aren’t as afraid to speak proudly (or loudly) when necessary and are less tolerant of disrespect. They just shine and don’t worry about any competition. Everyone loves people who love themselves!

2. She Can Back Up Her Own Tough Talk

If she decides to crack slick with people in a crowded bar, party (excluding kickbacks), or bus stop, you can just serve as back up while she handles her own fight. There’s nothing worse than having to box three people in your brunch outfit because your woman’s hands didn’t show up when her mouth did.

3. Minimizes Domestic Violence

In the heat of an argument, you would probably think twice about putting your hands on a woman you’re 99% sure would beat you up if you tried it. So don’t.

4. The Sex!

Refer back to #1. Also, the sex is probably better because she can use that muscle power for both pain and pleasure 😉

5. She Can Get that Ex to Leave You Alone (if you want)

We are not at all advocating for sicking your woman on anyone (please), however, we also know you can’t tell her what to do. So if you do have a clinger on your hands, we’re sure she can take care of them. Of course, it’s up to you to decide if you really want that ex to let you be. Not our business.

6. Free Fighting Lessons

If your older siblings and cousins failed to give you the beat-you-up-until-you-learn-to-fight lesson, you get a second chance with your girl. Don’t be too proud if you know you can’t fight!

7. You Have Issues Speaking Up for Yourself

Hey, if you are afraid of returning defective items to Target or sending incorrect orders back at restaurants, have your Mighty Mouse lady do it. She ain’t scared.

8. She’s an Inspiration

Women with Laila Ali hands tend to move through the world with a level of confidence and grace that undoubtedly intrigues the rest of us. They are not necessarily violent or hotheaded, but rather willing and able to protect themselves and their less confrontational loved ones at all costs. Knowing that the women around us have our backs adds a great amount of peace to our lives. Get you one. Just please do not fight at kickbacks.

Take some time out of your day to show appreciation to your powerful girlfriends, wives, mothers, and sisters for all they do. What do you love about our fighter sisters? Let us know!

Elementary, my Woe

If I were to take an honest look at my early-childhood education, I would have to admit I was more blessed than I’d previously believed. Despite going to a public zone school in one of the many hoods of west Baltimore, I had teachers who showed me genuine care, support and love. For the most part, I felt respected, safe and guided.  I went to school close to my home in Easterwood with many of the other children from this low-income, African-American neighborhood. My classrooms were usually led by Black women who looked like me and the women in my family. They spoke to us in the language we spoke. They identified with our struggles, and did not judge us for going through them. Even with all the awkwardness that a young child feels as they adjust to an environment outside the comforts of home, I felt at home.

From the teachers, to the administrators to the volunteers, I was surrounded by Black women and men who cared at least a little bit. I never fully appreciated the diversity of the staff and parents at this school.  We had people from an array of cultures, family structures, age groups, gender identities and personal styles. The teachers and parents sported various hairstyles and colorful clothing. I particularly recall one administrator named Ms. Bullock, about mid-50s, who rocked this glorious, curly gray high-top fade. The fade stayed clean, okay? I think she even had hard curls at the top. The haircut was very much reminiscent of the Living Single and Martin-esque styles of the time. Thinking about this definitely reminds me that I started school in the ‘90s. A different time.

There was a queer, masculine woman named Ms. Florence who volunteered at our school almost every day. She was very kind and funny, but also delivered the necessary stern approach that teachers could not. She would remind whatever unruly student like “Hey, I’m not your teacher, I’ll beat your butt and tell your muva I did it!” Despite the opposing opinions of people who never have to deal with children, you do in fact have to be firm with them sometimes. And they will live if you roast them back a little. Anyway, Ms. Florence was probably around from grades K-4th, and made every lunch time, recess and movie time a fun, yet structured environment. For those of you who use the “my children will be confused” excuse in attempt to keep the existence of queer or same-gender-loving people away from children, I’ll tell you some of us were confused. I wondered why we called her “Ms.” even though her clothing and persona were more masculine than I had been taught to associate with women. Perhaps a better word would be curious, because that’s how I would describe my thoughts at the time.  I certainly wasn’t afraid to ask questions, and one day during movie time, I did. It went like this:

Me: “Ms. Florence, are you a boy or a girl?”

Ms. Florence: “What are you?”

Me: “A girl.”

Ms. Florence: “Well, okay then.”

That answered my damn question! No more confusion and I went on about my third-grade life. It was that simple. Talk to your kids!

There was also the very colorful, young, gay Mr. Ellis. He was the best art teacher I ever had. I loved his bold, sarcastic sense of humor and how his pastel crayons matched his many pastel sweaters.  He somehow planted a seed of confidence in me that snuck up on me later in life. He taught for a couple years then left after being struck by a car for the second time in two years. From what I heard, he was fine but no one really answered our questions about this situation. I certainly never forgot Mr. Ellis.

We had a classmate’s mother volunteer with us as well. This woman was the poster child for Lexington market in the early 2000’s. If you know, you know. She was a very kind, gentle, and funny woman. Every time I saw her, she was sporting a long, greasy dark brown ponytail, a black bubble coat and a big Styrofoam cup full of half-and-half (iced tea and lemonade). She was an either white or biracial woman who stood close to six feet tall with a very slim figure. Her teeth were somewhat crooked and discolored, but she still had one of the brightest smiles in the whole school. She, like many other parents, often brought her daughter a fresh chicken box for lunch a few times a week. She may not have been an official volunteer, but rather a parent who showed up often and shared her warmth with the other students. Her daughter was one of my earliest friends, and stayed my friend despite the fact that I threw up on her a little when I had the flu in kindergarten. She was as kind and gentle as her mother. Of all my memories of loving parent-child relationships, they will always stand out to me. I hope they are doing well.

I could go on through the entirety of my elementary school experience and the impact of each teacher because it was just that important to me.  So many kids in this city grow up ahead of the average child in traumatic experience, yet behind in all the resources deemed necessary for success. Somehow these teachers, administrators, and parents managed to provide me with a hilariously unconventional education that has kept me grounded two decades later. This is where I fell in love with the passion that would never leave me: writing. I saw my friends fall in love with drawing, dance, and music. I had no idea how fortunate we really were.

To many people (likely including my classmates) this school would be dismissed and condemned for both its location in central west Baltimore and the backgrounds of the students and parents who attended. It would be deemed unworthy of mention and assumed to offer nothing of value to its students. Just another ghetto Baltimore school. To be real, the school did have its fair share of issues, and maybe some things happened there that should not have. I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t have watched Scary Movie 3 AND Set it Off in the same week, but we didn’t die. I understand that many of us have been hurt at our schools in ways we believe others cannot understand. I understand that many of us feel that we have been cheated and abandoned because being born Black and poor disqualified us from a quality education early in life. I also understand that we look to our wealthier and whiter counterparts for what a good school environment should look like, and see that we didn’t have that. No, we did not have horseback riding and state-of-the art computer labs. We did not have organic chicken nuggets in the cafeteria and luxury hypo-allergenic reading rugs in the classrooms, but we had people like us who cared. We had the benefit of being under the care of people who were reflections of us. They effortlessly related to us and never had to be reminded of our humanity.  We were educated within our own culture, and never had to question our identities in the process. We were enough for ourselves.  This is an important difference between knowing and being proud of who you are, and having to spend your adult life trying to discover it. Two and two makes four no matter where you learn it. It’s everything else that counts.