On Confidence and Self Esteem: an Artist’s Conundrum

“My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live”

— Kanye West

Wow, right?  I wish I had one twentieth of that kind of sentiment, however misguided. I’ve been told for a lot of my life that I have low self-esteem.  Somewhat recently, while I was feeling fairly on top of my game, but not seeing any fruits from my efforts, it was again suggested that I have low self-esteem.

As my mother’s daughter, I felt compelled to turn to the dictionary: Continue reading

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What I’m Trying: Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a shrub that grows easily in a variety of climates or indoors in a pot.  Its name is derived from its smell, which is apparently that of horse sweat.  (I have to take their word for it.  I’ve never really smelled horse sweat.)

It’s known as an adaptogen, which means it adapts to heal whatever ails the body.  In ayurveda, it’s said to lower kapha and vata doshas, while raising pitta, which is to say it raises the fiery aspects of the physical and emotional body while lessening cooler and heavier aspects.  Modern science has found that Ashwagandha lowers cortisol and helps heal the adrenal glands as well as increasing thyroid function. Continue reading

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Habari Ghani? Nia – Purpose

When thinking about purpose I always call on my ancestors to remind me of where my DNA has been.

Today I was looking for info on my maternal great-grandfather, a blues singer and musician in the early 20th century, and found this Library of Congress entry which might be him.

There is also this from Bourgeois Blues:

“A potential Last Straw to the Leadbetter story was added in the late spring of 1939, and a lesser man may have bowed under the burden. On March 5, during a party at a West 52nd Street address, he was arrested, accused by one Henry Burgess of stabbing and slashing him a dozen times. Huddie countered that he did indeed stab Burgess, but only in self-defense, and pled Not Guilty in magistrate’s Court. He was freed on bail of $1000 which was posted by Alan Lomax through the National Surety Corporation. On March 13th, the New York City court cabled the Caddo courthouse in Shreveport for Leadbelly’s criminal record.”

My grandmother recently told me the fight was over her mother’s friend Irene, of “Goodnight, Irene” fame.  She told me her father was always throwing music parties on 52nd Street.  The Barnum circus people would come when the stayed at a nearby hotel during shows at Madison Square Garden.  Something was always happening.  That stabbing ended all of that.

My entire family makes music.  My mother has toured the world.  My father sang with Placido Domingo.  One of my brothers is a guitarist.  The other is a drummer.

My purpose flows  with ease.  I make music.  I write words.  My definition of Purpose is “what’s left when you stop denying yourself”.

Nia – Purpose


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Habari Ghani? Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics

In my mind, this is the “Think Globally, Act Locally” principle of Kwanzaa.  It ties in with the gift-giving aspect of this celebration.  To me, it builds even more community by encouraging us to directly support small businesses and entrepreneurs.  It’s an opportunity to explore the creativity and innovation of people around the corner or around the world. Continue reading

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Habari Ghani? Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility


When I was younger, I didn’t like Ujima.

My parents were always telling me to be responsible. I hated responsibility. I just wanted to sit in the corner and get lost in my books. So what if my room wasn’t clean? There were Elves and dragons waiting.

Collective work was even worse.  It was hard enough doing things on my own, but why should I have to help my brothers?  And why would they want to help me? Continue reading

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Habari Ghani? Kujichagulia: Self-Determination

IMG_6283This morning I told my children never to let anyone else tell them who to be or how to be it.  As my son enters his tween years, I feel like I have to reinforce this message again and again.  Identity has become a big deal to him and he looks toward his friends, family and heroes to balance who he is. Continue reading

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Habari Ghani? Umoja: Unity

Kwanzaa Set-UpDuring Kwanzaa, ever since I was young, my father always puts on the Kawaida album by Mtume, Herbie Hancock, et al. (link after the jump).  We sit around the fireplace with the requisite Kwanzaa items: kinara (candle holder); mkeka (straw mat); vibunzi (ears of corn); kikomba cha umoja (unity cup); and last, but not least, zawadi (gifts). We pour juice into the kikomba cha umoja and talk about the principle of the day.

It didn’t occur to me that other families would not eventually catch on to this tradition.  So, welcome to my virtual house.

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Kwanzaa For All

KwanzaaBotIn most of the U.S., secular and religious Christians are opening presents near a decorated evergreen tree and feasting. They sit in appreciation of family and friends.  For some, this is one of the holiest days in the year, celebrating the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ.  For secular and religious Jews, Hanukkah has just ended, celebrating a miracle of light.

In my family, we start celebrating on December 26th.  Every year we do something deeply meaningful to us and to many Americans of predominately African ancestry. We focus on being strong and conscious in the face of overwhelming adversity.  We begin the celebration of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa was created as a secular, positive response to police brutality, riots that engulfed many of our cities, and overwhelming poverty and incarceration in the Black community.  It was created to combat the continued erosion of Black families despite the end of institutionalized slavery and Jim Crow.

Now, we’re facing a resurgence of old racist attitudes, reseeding the national conversation with new pleas for peace and equality. Massive non-violent protests have taken the place of riots and have extended around the globe.  More Americans are beginning to understand the damage the idea of race has done to our society.  I think we can go deeper.  I think every American should be celebrating Kwanzaa. Continue reading

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You Put WHAT in Your Coffee?

coconut oil in my coffeeCoconut Oil.  I put coconut oil in my coffee.

Let me explain.  I really like coffee.  Especially the Fair Trade non-GMO organic dark-roasted kind.  (Yeah, okay, I’m one of those.)  You can imagine my delight when each new discovery about the benefits of coffee uncovered: lowered diabetes risk, increased mood, antioxidants, amazing smell and of course the deliciousness.

Coconut oil also has amazing benefits:  it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-fungal and it contains medium-chain triglycerides. Yes, triglycerides.  I know, I said it too: “Isn’t that bad?”

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Ayurveda Every Day – My Top 5 Daily Practices

IMG_1061Hooray!  Ayurveda is making its way around the Western world. Practical remedies to make every day smoother is starting to make more sense to us than visits to the hospital when ever something goes wrong. My 5 favorite things to do daily are simple and make it easier to manage a hectic daily life.

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