My Sister Helps Me Tear Down Walls I Didn’t Know I Had Built–Tribute Blog

Miriam and I started Live Unchained in the hopes of bringing women from different parts of the world closer to each other. Of course, appreciating women of African descent, starts at home. I am writing this blog for my sister, Ciara Arnise Calbert, one of the most brilliant and beautiful women that I know.

One of my favorite quotes from Hill Harper’s, Letters to a Young Brother, is “You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. So pick friends who you wish were your family.” It just so happens that one of my best friends, was reading that book at the same time that I was. She is like family to me so I always refer to Ciara as my sister.

I can be really demanding, critical and just, in general, hard on myself. When it comes to school and Live Unchained, sometimes I think that I could and should be doing things quicker and better. But, I can say to myself, if God thinks I deserve to have someone as wonderful as Ciara in my life, I must be doing something right. Ciara leads by example. As Pearl Cleage said, “she taught me how to fly by flying.” She helps me be the woman I want to be, the woman I feel I ought to be to realize all my goals for Live Unchained…

Here is just one example of how wonderful she is…I had just gotten back from Madrid, Spain. Because, my bank hadn’t received some checks by the time that I thought they would have and because I hadn’t budgeted my money right, I returned to the United States broke and anxious. Who likes to ask their parents for money in situations like this? I called Ciara. After I explained the situation, she didn’t judge or suggest someone else that I should talk to about it or even give me “tough love.” She trusted that I would learn what I needed to learn from the situation without her having to lecture me. She paid for my shuttle, gave me a ride to the airport the next day and even gave me money for breakfast. After apologizing and thanking her profusely all she said was, “I’m just honored to have the opportunity to help.” By the way, she said this in a “don’t be ridiculous!” tone. Now, that’s a good friend…

She’s also my role model. After she completed the Honolulu marathon last December, I decided to boost my running and finished a half-marathon that summer. Ciara came with me the day before to pick up my race packet. That night she also let me borrow her ipod. I completed the marathon running to her music—Allison Hinds, Annie Lennox and Wyclef Jean got me through the race.

Ciara also loves travel and languages. She was fluent in Spanish before traveling abroad to Brazil. Ciara learned Portuguese during her stay there. (She’s now fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese, like one of her heroines, Phylicia Rashad). After her study abroad program ended, she stayed and worked as a journalist. It was her interest in Afro-Brazilian culture and history that inspired me to learn more about the African Diaspora—and, most importantly, recognize myself and my responsibilities as a person of African descent. She came back from Brazil knowing how to Samba and, even though I was timid and self-conscious, she got me to do it with her on stage at an event at the University of Maryland-College Park (before I even considered going to that University for graduate school).

We brought in the year 2004 together at my house—watching Waiting to Exhale (pausing after every major scene to re-enact lines and analyze the deeper message behind the dialogue), eating pizza and dancing. We were in different states on New Year’s eve 2005, but she sent me this message:

“I want to tell you how happy I am that we are friends. I couldn’t have asked for
a better friend than you. We kicked things off pretty much the summer of 2004
and it has been going strong ever since. You brought in my 2005 and I look
forward to the future. So, I think it’s time to say, thank You. You have helped
me feel so much stronger in myself. You’re kind of like my conscience in that
sometimes I think, would Kathryn respect this.? If not, then I don’t do it because
I see you as my younger sister and I have to look out for you, or at least set a
good example. (confusing – is she like your conscience or has she said that you are like her conscience) But, you have always been supportive of me in all the decisions I’ve made and I really appreciate that.”

Ciara was with me throughout the graduate school application process. I expressed to her my frustration and anxieties over graduate school. She knew just how to calm me down. She sent me this message:

“…for women like us–creative, healthy, highly imaginative women–planning is our saving grace.

If you plan out what you’re going to be doing for the next few months–anticipating all questions or ‘situations’ that may come up–it will help you feel much better when you go into the activities that you have on your plate. Plus, if you prepare yourself for things now, you’ll be ready when/if they come up in the future. As you start visualizing how you would like your graduate experience to go, you can plan it out so that you can make it happen that way. Maybe even think about other aspects of grad school besides the immediate application process–Where do you want to live? How do you imagine it being, living on campus/going to campus, etc? What will your first day of class be like?

Most of the time we do this anyway without really thinking about it–like when we’re children and we say what we want to be when we grow up, and then become that. We also can take an active role by–when you think of anything that could come up–acting on it immediately before it happens.”

After much deliberation, I finally decided on the University of Maryland-College Park (where I first danced that Samba!). Ciara and I now live less than ten minutes away from each other. Before preparing to send my applications out, I tried the “speak it into existence” approach. In light of all the graduate acceptance letters I knew I was destined to receive (hahaha), I prepared a joke acceptance speech that I only shared with Ciara—its riddled with inside jokes, but maybe you can follow along (if you remember old episodes of “In Living Color” and are familiar with black Pentecostal or Baptist churches it shouldn’t be too bad). The original e-mail text is in standard font, my present day reflections are in bold italics. Here is what I sent to Ciara:

“You know what I realized, I’m bout to get accepted into EVERY SINGLE GRAD
SCHOOL that I apply to [This did NOT happen. The majority of schools I applied to said: “Hell No!” Ciara and I joke now and say that I’ll be asked to deliver an important speech or serve on a distinguished panel at a university that didn’t accept me…It would be a victory for both of us!].

And, so, I have prepared my acceptance(s) speech. Like to hear it?! Here it go! Remember this from Martin, Ciara?-I think that’s what Jerome would say… [It’s actually from In Living Color, one of David Alan Grier’s characters said that—Ciara pointed this out to me later.]:

First and foremost, (clearing throat) I’d like to give an honor to God who is the head of my life, for making all the crooked places straight and all the rough places smooth.

Additionally, I’d like to thank my parents and family members who stood (pause) in the gap, so that I could fly high!

And, I have to thank all my friends who supported me when I had to muster up the strength to support myself. I thank you for not losing faith in me and reminding me of my capabilities. Sometimes my only reassurance in knowing that I was talented was the awareness that I had to be doing something right to be blessed with such amazing women in my life.

I’d like to give a special thanks to my play sister Ciara. (starting to tear up) Ok, girl, don’t look at me! You gone ruin my makeup, trick! I love you so much and I thank you for your friendship. Your faith in me is like wings. I’m a better person because of you. I remember you shared a quote with me that you thought truly captured our friendship, and part of it said that friendship is supporting someone in ‘taking big chances.’ Thank you for that support and helping me realize that those ‘chances’ were really steps to attainable and fundamental goals.

Because of your integrity, seeing you work towards your vision showed me that I could realize mine. I thank God for you and all of you everyday. The best is yet to come. Now, I would like to invite you all to the after-party. R A for life! (Gunshots and applause)…”

Well, the last line is truly an inside-joke, you kinda had to be there…

Ciara’s birthday is coming up soon—October 21st is the special day! And, so, I’m faced with the same dilemma I have every year: What do you get the person that you want to give the world to…? As selfless as she is, I know Ciara would like that her day serve to inspire someone else. I’m writing this post to honor her and let whoever is reading this know that everyone should have a friend like Ciara—someone that helps you tear down walls that you may not have known you built, does not judge you and makes you laugh so hard you cry uncontrollably and your stomach and back muscles hurt. If you haven’t yet found a friend like this, I hope this post would at least be a message that you do not have to settle for friendships that are more emotionally taxing than supportive.

As the Live Unchained community grows I hope it will bring more and more women of color together—if this project can spark a relationship like mine and Ciara’s, Miriam and I will have realized one of our greatest dreams for Live Unchained.

So, in advance, Happy Birthday Ciara! My wish for you on your 27th birthday is that this be the year that all your dreams come true. I love you!

2 responses to “My Sister Helps Me Tear Down Walls I Didn’t Know I Had Built–Tribute Blog

  1. I still enjoy reading this article. It fills me up! Thank you so much!


  2. I like reading it too…brings tears to my eyes.
    Ahh-haaaa. Thank you very much!

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