Audre Lorde: A Woman Who Brought Intersectionality to the Forefront

By Becca Howe, TRJ Parent

Audre Lorde was a Black poet, essayist, and activist, whose work is celebrated for its honesty, raw emotion, and powerful imagery. She has had a profound impact on literature, feminism and resilience, especially her consistent emphasis on the importance of recognizing the interconnected nature of different forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Known now as intersectionality, Lorde’s insights have had a profound impact on contemporary discussions of social justice and activism.

Lorde was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City, and was legally blind from birth. She did not speak until she learned to read at age four. She grew up in Harlem, known for its rich cultural history and vibrant community, which played a significant role in shaping Lorde’s identity and worldview, as it was a center of African American culture and activism during her formative years. 

Through her work, Lorde gave voice to the experiences of marginalized individuals, and she often explored themes of disability and self-acceptance. She challenged dominant narratives and advocated for social change. Lorde was known for her warmth, empathy and ability to connect with others. She was a mentor and inspiration to many, especially within the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities.

A quote from her essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” expresses a contemporary theme that many people today are unpacking in their own lives: “Your silence will not protect you.” This powerful statement encapsulates Lorde’s belief in the importance of speaking out against injustice and oppression. She emphasized the need for marginalized individuals to use their voices to challenge systems of power and advocate for change, even in the face of resistance or fear.

In 1978, Lorde spoke at the National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas. Her powerful speech titled, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” became one of her most famous and influential works. In this speech, Lorde addressed issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism within the feminist movement, calling for greater inclusivity and solidarity among women of different backgrounds. Her speech challenged the predominantly white and middle-class feminist movement to recognize and address the intersecting oppressions faced by women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized groups. Lorde’s contribution to the conference marked a pivotal moment in the feminist movement, sparking important conversations about diversity, intersectionality, and social justice that continue to resonate today.


Black Excellence: Taraji P. Henson – Actress

By April Dinwoodie, TRJ's Executive Director

Taraji P. Henson began her professional acting career in the late 90’s after graduating from HBCU, Howard University. For nearly three decades she has lite up our screens with her talent and grace. She has won a Golden Globe Award as well as being nominated for an Academy Award and four Primetime Emmy Awards.

Taraji made her film debut in the crime film Streetwise (1998), gained recognition for her role in Hustle & Flow (2005). For her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button she earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2016, she portrayed mathematician Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures. She has also acted in Baby Boy (2001), The Karate Kid (2010), Think Like a Man (2012), Acrimony (2018), What Men Want (2019), and The Best of Enemies (2019). Henson has also been prolific in television acting. From 2011 to 2013, she co-starred as Joss Carter in the CBS drama series Person of Interest. From 2015 to 2020, she starred as Cookie Lyon in the Fox drama series Empire, for which she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama and was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards in 2015 and 2016. Her other Emmy-nominated roles were for the Lifetime movie Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story (2011) and for her guest role in the ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary (2023). In 2016, Time named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Later that year, she released a New York Times best-selling autobiography titled Around the Way Girl. In 2019, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Most recently, Taraji stars in the Color Purple playing Shug Avery, the beautiful, vivacious, and flamboyant blues singer. For this role, Henson adds singer to her list of gifts and talents she shares with the world. During the media interviews for the film, Henson has been vocal about the heavy lift that professional Black women have in Hollywood (and generally) and the inequities in pay they face. “I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost,” Henson told Gayle King on December 19. “I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ I have to.”

The beauty, strength and grace from Taraji P. Henson is Black excellence personified and there are so many reasons to hold her up as an example for us all.


Black Excellence: Eartha Kitt

By TRJ Parent Rebecca Howerd

Eartha Kitt is known for popularizing the iconic Christmas song, “Santa Baby,” as well as her role as Catwoman in the 1960s tv show, Batman. But she was so much more. Her career spanned almost 70 years, and most of those were during a time when racism and sexism created insurmountable obstacles for any Black and Native American woman pursuing a career of any kind.

Born in 1927 in South Carolina. Her mother was a Black and Cherokee sharecropper and her father, the white son of the plantation owner, did not seek a consensual relationship with her mother. Kitt picked cotton before moving to Harlem when she was 16, where she became a dancer and toured with the Katherine Dunham Company for five years.

Eartha Kitt wore a literal mask in her role as Catwoman, but how many other invisible masks did she wear in her life? Code switching is a form of masking that many find helpful while navigating workplaces and social gatherings where respectability politics control whether or not you will encounter discrimination.

Kitt went on to perform on Broadway, become a popular singer and recording artist, be nominated for two Tony Awards, write three autobiographies, and was an actor and voice actor in film and tv right up until just before her death in 2008. It’s impossible to endure the rejection (perceived or real) of a parent, the violence and discrimination caused by racism and sexism, and grow as a creative public figure without hiding parts of yourself nearly constantly in some way. But Eartha Kitt also generously took her masks off in order to advocate for marginalized groups, despite intense political and economic consequences. Most notable are her ongoing public support of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the time when she spoke against the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon in 1968. These remarks effectively ended her career in the United States for ten years, during which time her LGBT supporters kept her name alive.

Kitt performed in numerous nightclubs and was active in Civil Rights communities throughout her life. Eartha Kitt was a strong, independent artist unwilling to let discrimination dictate how far she could go.

Each person in the transracial adoption community has potentially many intersections of identity to navigate in a world that often does not honor all of them at once, and at times none at all. When is it good to have a mask on and use it as a tool? For preserving energy, for protection or for art or even just for fun?

Learn more:
When Eartha Kitt Condemned Poverty and War at the White House
1982 Documentary: All By Myself, The Eartha Kitt Story
NYT Obituary: Eartha Kitt, A Seducer of Audiences, Dies at 81

 


Book Corner – August 2023

The Skin I’m In

Sharon Flake
 Grades 6-12

Author Sharon G. Flake is a multiple-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award! The recipients of this award are African American authors and/or illustrators who create outstanding literature for African American children. Ms. Flake received this award for The Skin I’m In in 1999.

Seventh Grader Maleeka Madison is bullied for her dark skin. Maleeka’s father died two years ago, and Maleeka’s mom struggles to pay the bills. Making Maleeka’s clothes is one way to help make ends meet, but this is another target for bullying. When a new English teacher arrives at school, Maleeka is not only disturbed by her teacher’s sense of fashion and her high self-esteem, but also by the large birthmark on Ms. Saunders’ face.

Ms. Saunders takes no nonsense at school as she addresses the stigma society assigns to skin color, has zero tolerance for bullying, and assigns her students more work than any other teacher. Could be that Maleeka has a few things to learn from her new teacher.

Book Corner: Recommended Books Transracially Adopted Children

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

Our Transracial Journeys families regularly seek out books to share with their children and to read for themselves, as white parents of black children. We are fortunate to have a resource in the Transracial Journey's Board of Direcors Secretary, Avril McInally. Avril and her colleague, Vicki Richards, collaborate to curate phenomenal book recommendations for our children and parents.  Both have Masters of Library Science and over 30 years' experience as professional librarians. The Book Corner is a regular feature in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters. If you would like to receive monthly book recommendations via email, please subscribe.


Black Excellence: Sharon G. Flake

Sharon Flake b. 1955 in Philadelphia, PA

Award-winning author, Sharon Flake didn’t get her start as a writer. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in English, she went to work for several years in foster care as a house parent. She later went to work in the public relations department at the University of Pittsburgh Press followed by a directorship in the public relations department for the University of Pittsburgh’s business school.

As a student and later in her career, Ms. Flake coped with apprehension related to her writing (spelling and grammar) but she persevered and wrote articles and stories which she submitted to publishers. These attempts were mostly rejected until after fifteen years of working to be printed or published, Ms. Flake’s first book “The Skin I’m In” was picked from a “slush” pile of manuscripts by Andrea Davis Pinkney. This book went on to win the Coretta Scott King Award, YWCA racial justice award and many, many more accolades.

On her website, Ms. Flake writes:

"I am so much like many of my readers. I grew up insecure; not very confident. Yet here I am, one of the top authors for young people in the world.

I write about everyday, average teens who are loved and cheered on by readers on six continents. My characters fall down, get up and learn life lessons that help readers believe they too can achieve anything; make it through any storm. Quirky. Honest. Open.. Vulnerable. My characters get young people of all backgrounds reading as never before."

Ms. Flake has authored several books with two more on the way.


Book Corner – May 2023

Letter to My Daughter

by Maya Angelou

A beautiful book full of accessible, beautiful insights that was dedicated to the daughter Maya Angelou never had. It’s filled with essays, poetry, lived-experience, kindness and advice for all of the world’s daughters. This small volume can be used as a touchstone for the meaningfulness of what it means to be a human being.

Letter to My Daughter

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

Our Transracial Journeys families regularly seek out books to share with their children and to read for themselves, as white parents of black children. We are fortunate to have a resource in the Transracial Journey's Board of Direcors Secretary, Avril McInally. With a Master of Library Science from Kent State University and over 35 years as a public librarian, Avril and her colleague, Vicki Richards, collaborate to curate phenomenal book recommendations for our children and parents.   The Book Corner is a regular feature in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters. If you would like to receive monthly book recommendations via email, please subscribe.


Black Excellence: Maya Angelou – April 4, 1928-May 20, 2014

I am a woman phenomenally, phenomenal woman that is your grandmother, that is your mother, that is your sister, that is you and that is me.”

Mlack Excellence Maya Angelou

Poet, author, singer, dancer, activist, playwright and director Maya Angelou nee Marguerite Ann Johnson was born April 4, 1928. Over the span of her life and career, she accomplished many things, but the list of her extraordinary accomplishments may have started in San Francisco where, as a girl of 15, she became the first female African American streetcar conductor! Close to the end of her life, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Barack Obama.

One of her most notable works was her autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” which begins with the story of her life in Stamps, Arkansas where she was raised with her brother Bailey by their grandmother for part of their childhood. Angelou overcame almost insurmountable hurdles in childhood throughout her life to become one of the most important voices of American history. She is thought by many to be a “symbol of strength and leadership for the plight of women and the underprivileged.”


Book Corner – January 2023

Token Black Girl:
A Memoir

By Danielle Prescod

Danielle’s Black parents raised her to be “colorblind.” They rarely talked about race, and Danielle sensed it was not a comfortable topic. Attending predominantly white schools, and avidly consuming the same whitewashed movies, magazines, TV shows, and books as her friends, Danielle was confused and conflicted about her identity. She convinced her mother to take her for chemical hair treatments starting in elementary school, and later developed disordered eating in an effort to “integrate imperceptibly into the world of [her] white friends.”

Danielle became obsessed with fashion and popular culture, and chose a career in the beauty and fashion industry. Working her way up from intern to editor, she was driven to be “skinny” and project an image that didn’t reflect her true self. After spending years starving herself and burying her thoughts and feelings, Danielle looked inward and began taking a close look at how her childhood experiences and career in a white dominated industry had affected her. Unflinching and illuminating, Token Black Girl is a thought-provoking look at a young woman’s experience of identity formation and eventual self-acceptance.

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

Our Transracial Journeys families regularly seek out books to share with their children and to read for themselves, as white parents of black children. We are fortunate to have a resource in the Transracial Journey's Board of Direcors Secretary, Avril McInally. With a Master of Library Science from Kent State University and over 35 years as a public librarian, Avril and her colleague, Vicki Richards, collaborate to curate phenomenal book recommendations for our children and parents.   The Book Corner is a regular feature in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters. If you would like to receive monthly book recommendations via email, please subscribe.


Black Excellence: Serena Williams

Uppermost in the news today regarding tennis star, Serena Williams, is her very recent retirement from the sport. Over the course of her career, she has won 21 Grand Slams but now, she’s leaving her tennis career with plans to grow her family. “If I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

 

In a recent interview with Selena Gomes on her new website for mental health awareness, acceptance and support, Wondermind, Serena stated that you have to “put yourself first mentally”.

She detailed that for her, "mental fitness" is learning how to "shut down," and she said: "I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries."

Related Posts:

Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Book Corner – Mental Health Month


Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

During Women’s History Month we shine a light on Serena and Venus Willams.  These two strong sisters are the epitome of strength, grace, and excellence. Whether on or off the tennis court both women have continued to show and prove how dedication and commitment can turn gifts and talent into winning records, successful businesses and fulfilling personal lives.

“I love me. I’ve learned to love me. I’ve been like this my whole life and I embrace me. I love how I look. I am a full woman and I’m strong, and I’m powerful, and I’m beautiful at the same time.”
– Serena Williams taking on body shamers in a 2013 interview with ESPN.

"You have to let fear go. Another lesson is you just have to believe in yourself; you just have to. There's no way around it. No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to every time."
- Venus Williams

Even under the harshest conditions when folks are coming at them, they stand tall, are not afraid to show their vulnerability, and to fight for what is right.  We salute Serena and Venus.  We also can’t wait to watch “King Richard” to have deeper look inside the lives of this amazing Black family.