Monthly Archives: March 2010

Poets Are Leaders

I guess it’s funny that I feel more comfortable calling myself a leader than an artist. I came across this poem by Maya Angelou and realized that you can’t be a poet without being a leader.

A Conceit

Give me your hand

Make room for me
to lead and follow
beyond this rage of poetry.

Let others have
the privacy of
touching words
and love of loss
of love.

For me
Give me your hand.

Perhaps it does take a bit of conceit to think your experiences, dreams and passions could be instructive to someone else. Of course, many of us may not intend to lead with our works. We create because something in us needs freedom and form. We know if we tried to contain it, we would implode. Still, our work takes people on a journey that they wouldn’t have taken or even known about if we had not used those words, colors or sounds. Obvious politics or not, art is leadership. It can take us to scary places within ourselves or drag us out into the sunshine.

Our personal creations are the evidence of our courage and unity. It is always a risk to write, but the fact that it may be received by someone on a similar journey makes it worthwhile.

Warrior poet Audre Lorde once said:

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

I was recently speaking with some friends about why we do not share certain creative pieces with people. I wish I had mentioned Audre Lorde then. She makes my voice move when it needs to and motivated me to share the piece below. This poem came about after I received a big career opportunity based on my performance, but still felt like a little girl scared to show her face.


When I have nothing
to prove.

When I have nothing
to hide.

I will be free.

Toni Cade Bambara tells us,  “The job of the writer is to make the revolution irresistible.”  She also explains, “Revolution begins with the self, in the self.”

Which poets lead you? Where do they lead you? Do they make change irresistible?

Thoughts From One of Our Readers

Writing in cyberspace, it’s easy to forget that your words are available to the world. We recently reached out to one of our regular followers and learned that we were receiving much love from Brazil. We decided to show our gratitude to “fejapimienta” and learn what his name meant, how he found our blog and why he kept coming back. Here Fernando shares his thoughts on Brazil’s African heritage, diversity and social justice.


Your blog is just amazing. When I landed on it by accident I just thought: Wow! I didn’t even know African people got together to reveal a rich portion of their culture multilaterally, to show us online readers many many beauties of such a vast and diverse land!!

So, fejapimenta is the fusion of my surnames. My entire name stands for Fernando Januário Pimenta, and in Portuguese, my native language (as I am Brazilian, of almost completely Portuguese descent, but with a few black grand-grand-grand relatives in the blood line), “fejapimenta” can be read by a curious mind as “feijão (com) pimenta” which could be precisely translated as “bean[s] (with) pepper”.

You must know that here in Brazil we have very deep-rooted African cultural manifestations, especially in the estate of Bahia, but widespread in almost all other estates as well. Capoeira (fighting), umbanda, candomblé (religions), feijoada, acarajé, vatapá (the most delicious Brazilian food is African in its roots!), cachaça/pinga/aguardente (the word with the greatest possible number of synonymns in the Portugues language… they exist by the dozens!!) (–>a very alcoholic [40 GL] beverage derived from the sugarcane, originally produced by enslaved African people brought in cargo ships during the years of 1532 until 1888), samba/carnaval (music, festivity), and a dense and superb folklore, full of myths, proverbs,  and jokes, are just a few of the most known examples  and I, by the way, am very interested in knowing about them. We have many many words whose origin is iorubá, and several others directly linked to African languages and linguistic branches.

Here in Brazil it is a very common phenomenon for middle and lower class white people who study in public schools (unfortunately, but truthfully, recognized here as an educational failure) to have black friends, and vice-versa. As it happens, I myself am middle-class, and as I am sort of broad-minded for acquiring every kind of knowledge about the world and all its beauties, I happen to know and be friends with many black folks.

There are racist people in Brazil, as they exist practically anywhere. As there are xenophobic and close-minded people and fanatics and hooligans throughout the entire globe – let’s exclude the Eskimos and indigenous peoples (laugh 🙂 ) whose “social contracts” don’t tolerate by any means such examples of transgression of essential social values, of inclusion, of a person’s intrinsic worthiness as a human being.

So, I liked very much your blog. It supports diversity, and diversity is what makes the world so beautiful. It is a shame there are so many people who can’t comprehend it.

If we live in loneliness it is mainly because we never learned to communicate with our neighbour’s! All the time they could have shown a new world and brand new perspectives of life to us!

Thank you for asking! It’s jolly good to have a voice! I appreciate your work, it is fundamental for a pluralistic world to breathe free of moral restraints and hateful biases!

So long!

Visit Fernando’s blog at

Happy Black Girl Day!

Today is UNIVERSAL Happy Black Girl Day! Founder Sister Toldja says: “National is not big enough. International is for chumps. We are interplanetary, baby.”

We want to thank the Beautiful Struggler, herself, for naming this wonderful day. Of course, we do not need a holiday to celebrate ourselves. But, just like that special someone’s birthday, it’s nice to have a set time when you know that no matter what is going on, you will celebrate her for all that she is and has become. This is why we are happy to celebrate Happy Black Girl Day.

For those of you who are uncomfortable with the idea of Happy Black Girl Day, Sister Toldja has a message just for you:

“Cry me a river. Go to said river, fill up a pail and water some flowers. Pick said flowers and bring them to me on Happy Black Girl Day and maybe, just maybe, I will care about your whining.”

So, today is a day for connecting with the little girl inside who likes to eat ice cream in the back seat, makes abstract art in bold colors and dances and sings with confidence because she lets the music take over her.

Our wish for all the little girls, as well as the female veterans of girlhood, on Happy Black Girl Day is that you love your dreams unconditionally–cherish and protect them like you would a little girl.

I leave you with the most inspiring girl I know; my little sister Chloe. Every time I see this video I smile.

How will you celebrate?…

A Taste of Freedom, A Taste of Love–This poem is yours!

Thanks to everyone who contributed to our potluck poem. We are so grateful and so full. Everyone’s words on freedom were inspiring and made us proud to be a part of Live Unchained.

We are also happy that some of you were motivated to share more than the 1 to 2 lines we suggested. Unfortunately, we couldn’t include every word from you free spirits that could not contain your thoughts. Some edits were made here and there to the longer contributions to unify and tighten the piece.

We also want to shout out Farai Chideya and Pete Chatmon for their lines. Their words, like all of yours, were encouraging and meaningful. If there are any talented people that you admire, it is worth it to reach out to them–they just might respond and be happy to do so.

The incredible poet and model, Tiffany Okafor, read the poem for us. See her performance below. You can also download the full poem here: Live Unchained Poem 3-9-10

Don’t forget about our poetry contest. Contact us for more details.

“A Taste of Freedom, A Taste of Love.”

I will speak.

I will listen.

I will move as if it was written.

Continue reading

About The Editresses

In light of all the interviews that we have done, some folks were surprised that Kathryn and I had not shared more about ourselves. So, we finally decided to interview each other. Here, Kathryn and I discuss our backgrounds, current work, and of course, what living unchained means to us.


You are studying sociology. Why did this subject matter interest you?
Sociology, simply put, is the study of society and the local and global communities and forces that shape it. Also, as a social science, many sociologists conduct experiments and develop theories to better understand social issues. So, I think everyone is a sociologist really—everyone has tried to make sense of the world and how they fit in it and why.

I became interested in sociology because I had a strong understanding of social injustice and inequality at an early age. I thought sociology might help me understand the social processes and problems I was seeing better…I think it has.

You are studying sociology. Why did this subject matter interest you?

Professor Delores Aldrige

I have SOOOO many opinions about this. If there were and audio button that I could insert here, you would hear me screaming: YESSSSSS!!!! Many black female sociologists are concerned with issues of race, class, gender and sexuality.

They have been strong advocates of the feminist “personal as political” concept, which explains that the discrimination that individuals experience in private spaces cannot be separated from their public interactions. Black female sociologists were also important in popularizing the concept of intersectionality—the idea that our race, class and gender identities, for example, cannot be separated.

Two important women in this regard are professors Delores Aldrige and

Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins

Patricia Hill Collins. Let me say that what I admire about both of them is that they have acknowledged the black women who have come before them and are creating spaces for more black female voices. Delores Aldrige’s, Imagine a World: Pioneering Black Women Sociologists discusses the important contributions of black women to the field of sociology and academia, in general.

As for Patricia Hill Collins, I’ll try not to say too much about what she means to me because there simply aren’t enough words (maybe a million would get me halfway there…). Perhaps, her most recognized work is Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment —I read this book and it became a part of me. I am so grateful and honored to have her as an advisor. I see so much consistency between her words in Black Feminist Thought and how she approaches the discipline of sociology and interacts with her students—she doesn’t want to be idolized, she wants her work to stand for something and liberate minds. She makes me proud to be a part of this profession. (By the way, her nickname for me is “Miss Thing”).

Most importantly, both of these women have incorporated their knowledge into their activism; they have fought and risked a lot for their beliefs—they were truly unchained. I think many black women sociologists bring the field back to its roots as a discipline that aimed to not only make sense of society, but to better it. Sociologists in this camp include Harriet Martineau, W.E.B. DuBois (love him!) and Karl Marx who famously stated: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, is to change it.”

What does living unchained mean to you?
Some women live in societies where it is dangerous, even deadly to speak honestly about the way they see and understand the world. So, for those of us who can share, why would we take our voices and talents for granted? Living unchained means living with an awareness of the world around us and knowing women’s voices in it matter—deserving respect and an audience.

Living unchained also means being true to yourself and not waiting for things to be perfect or having something that someone says you need to have to act or speak your truth. Anna Julia Cooper did not earn her PhD in sociology from the Sorbornne until she was 66. She had gone most of her life sharing her social analysis and critique without having a formal titled that said she was “qualified.” I think that many women are waiting or simply have chosen not to speak because someone discouraged us; we don’t think we’re good at it, we haven’t studied it, we don’t want to be misunderstood. So we kill our potential, we bury our creative voices. Living unchained means coming back to life and squeezing all of the juice out of it. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m know I’m getting closer with every blog post, every dance, every tear.


What do you do when you’re not working on Live Unchained? Is there anything else you like to do creatively?
When I’m not working on Live Unchained I’m often working on other design projects either for clients or myself. Digital media is my primary tool for creating art, but I also enjoy taking out my camera or paints and pencils and working in those mediums as well. Sometimes I find that I can take elements of those creative experiments and bring them into my graphic design.

What made you interested in graphic design? What do you like about it?
As a teenager I took a graphic design class and was hooked. Back then I hardly knew what graphic design was, but I loved how it merged technology and creativity, and I wanted to learn more about it.

There are many things I like about graphic design. As a designer I love to help my clients realize a vision. Many of my clients need logos or marketing materials for businesses they started or projects they are a part of. It is great to create a sharp logo to show of their business or develop marketing materials that help to more clearly articulate their message.

As society and technology changes, so does graphic design. It is a communication tool that has the ability to bring across important messages when used responsibly. I like responsible and thoughtful graphic design because of its utility and beauty.

Do you have any advice for people interested in graphic design or creating digital media?

Graphic design can be beautiful and it can be seductive as well. It is important for designers to be responsible and conscious of what they produce and put out in the environment. Graphic design can be just as effective in selling cigarettes as it can be in selling the idea of quitting. Make sure you take the opportunities when they arise to create something meaningful.

Can you share some examples of your work?
Sure, I’d Love to! In addition to the pieces seen below, my design work can also be viewed at:

Also, I just started a blog:, where I will show work that is not on my website. It is sparse now, as it is just getting started, but stay tuned! I would love to receive feedback from the live unchained family.

BOOK JACKET RE-DESIGN- I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS: In this jacket re-design I experimented with using type as image to create the birdcage imagery, and included paint elements in the piece as well.

PEZ WALL GRAPHIC- PROJECT FOR EBAY CAMPUS: Ebay wanted a fun wall graphic for their toy themed building. To create this wall graphic each PEZ dispenser had to be shot individually with a high resolution camera and photoshopped to fit seemlessly into the auditorium image. This image shows the final wall graphic.

ROCK TIMELINE - PROJECT FOR EBAY CAMPUS: To maintain a varied and fun environment for their employees, E-Bay has several buildings on their campus each with a different theme. This poster was a large wall poster for the music building on that campus.

JAZZ TIMELINE - POSTER FOR EBAY CAMPUS To maintain a varied and fun environment for their employees, E-Bay has several buildings on their campus each with a different theme. This poster was a large wall poster for the music building on that campus.

What does living unchained mean to you?
Living unchained is allowing yourself to create and speak your truth honestly and freely.