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Dear Benton Harbor, You will always be my secret place…

Dear Benton Harbor, You will always be my secret place…

Population of over 10,000.  Predominately black in population.  Some would say that most are living at the poverty level.  It’s home to the Whirlpool world headquarters.  Right on the shores of Lake Michigan.  I’ve taken you for granted before.  I must admit.  I love you.

I’ve lived and worked in many cities across the country.  I’ve traveled.    At the end of the day, there’s no place like home.

We all need a secret place.  A place to regroup.  It’s always been my secret place.

I can remember living in Raleigh, NC, and I would be itching to go home when things became absolutely unbearable at work, or in my personal life.  My friends would joke about my retreat back home would leave me recharged.

But sometimes home changes.

After my father died I knew that home would change.  I just didn’t know how it would change.

I often ride by the old family home, and think about what could have been.  What should have been? What was?

Home isn’t the same, but it’s up to me to make new memories.

This week I will embark on a journey that will absolutely blow my mind.  I will be traveling to the World Burns Congress.

Being a burn survivor has become a part of my life now, and so I’m traveling to a secret place to regroup.  I didn’t intend to make this a long post today, but thought that I should prepare you for the what is to come.

I will be looking forward to sharing all of the upcoming events that will come out of this week excursion.

I’m leaving my secret place in order to bring more love and inspiration to you.

We shall chat soon.

Benton Harbor, I love you.  That will never change.  It’s time for change, and a remix to my secret place.

 

Xoxo,

R.J.

Will the gate (door) always be OPEN?

Will the gate (door) always be OPEN?

New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana

Can you believe it’s August 1st???  At the beginning of the month I like to make adjustments to my budget, and check my goals checklist.  What do I need to follow-up on, and what opportunities have I missed?

Yes.  You read that correctly, what opportunities have I missed?  Whenever I visit New Orleans I’m always fascinated with the rich history, but in the feature photo I was mesmerized by the gate.  The gate is open, right?  Could I take this picture if the gate was closed?  Well, I could, but that’s not the point.  If the gate was closed I wouldn’t be able to walk through the park.  Now, if the gate was closed it could also mean that I arrived to the park too late, and would be denied legal entry.  In the past seven months how many times have you allowed the gate to close?

Think about it.  **Jeopardy Game Show Final Round Theme Music**

Do you have an answer?  You can leave your answer in the comments section if you’re bold enough to do so!  Be accountable that you’re going to do better in the remaining months.

I would say that it’s happened at least a couple of times, especially with social media.  I can let an opportunity go cold because I didn’t follow up, and when I decide to reach out again, well you know what. It’s TOO LATE.

That gate may not reopen, and I simply must find another avenue.  It is life.  You live, and hopefully you learn.

A couple of weeks ago I commented on a thread on a Linkedin page about a podcast that interviews authors.  Well, I honestly abandoned the post after I commented because I didn’t get a response right away.  And then…I heard a clear voice that said, “go back to that post.”  I did.  The author of the post responded at the very bottom.  I emailed her, and she responded to me right away.  I received the interview information this morning, and looking forward to getting on her calendar in early 2017. (Yes, she’s that popular, and booked until 2017)

So, you see I almost let the gate close on that opportunity.  Who knows there could be some other opportunities out there waiting for me.  I mean I did have a dream that Oprah and OWN endorsed Adventures of Alleykats last week.  Anything is possible right?!  I could be on Ellen talking about my projects, and chopping it up with Steve Harvey about my purpose and passion.  Sky is the limit.

Just don’t let the gate close, and lock.  If you do look for another gate!

Xoxo,

R.J.

“Are you mixed? You sound white.” Owning who YOU are.

“Are you mixed? You sound white.” Owning who YOU are.

So, what’s up with the title RJ?  Where am I going with this?

Over the weekend I was reminded that the culture of “colorism” still exist.

Colorism: prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

I was cruising around social media, and noticed a few things that were disturbing.  It’s 2016 and in an age of #blackgirlmagic we are still making comments about light skin vs. dark skin.  Then I noticed that it’s the parents that are teaching their children this stuff.  Information that the parents received as children is being transferred to their children.

At the end of the day the race box on any application does not say, “Are you a caramel, red bone, yellow, chocolate, or cocoa black person?”

I can remember being a little girl in the neighborhood, and I found nothing wrong with the way I spoke.  I noticed a difference in viewpoints once family members, or friends of the neighborhood kids would come around.  “Are you white?” As a six year old child I would look at others as if they were talking to someone else, because I was the same hue as the person asking the question.  “Is yo mama white? You sound white.”

Where did this thinking come from?

So, not only are we fighting with the struggles of colorism, but we are also struggling with the way a person speaks?   We can’t win.

After my injury that left me severely burned, my way of thinking changed drastically.  I was surrounded by individuals who were diverse, but apart of the same society.  An event that changed the course of our lives forever.  I encountered people that had to learn to love the new person that they were, including myself.  It was no longer about skin color, or speech.  It was about coping with a new way of life.  It’s definitely not easy.

#burnsurvivor #EssiePolish “Fear or desire”

At the end of the day it’s about a person’s inner beauty, and not outer.  Right?!

How can things change?  Well, it begins with you!  Is this way of thinking valid, or right?  We must be mindful of what we are teaching the future generation.  Within the blink of an eye a life altering event can happen, and then the color of your skin, or the way that a person speaks isn’t really that important anymore.

Xoxo,

R.J.

Ride the wave 🏄🏾, with a flashlight! 🔦

Ride the wave 🏄🏾, with a flashlight! 🔦

Last week was jam packed with goodies, so let me get straight to it!

Tuesday:

I attended my weekly “Discipleship Class” at One Church Empowerment Center in Grand Rapids, MI.  The four week class has enlightened and encouraged me through this journey of my life.  Learning to embrace abandoning MY PRIDE in order to do the work of the Kingdom.  I arrived home to complete the story for The Final 48 Project #GriefTalkTuesday photo campaign.  Be sure to check it out on Facebook and join the conversation.  AH-MAY-ZING testimony that you don’t want to miss.

Wednesday:

Answering Emails, and ironically I went to sleep feeling quite blah.  I was overwhelmed with the supplies I need to purchase, and truly holding on to faith.

Thursday Morning:

Early morning I began gathering my things for a freelance assignment that I was doing in the evening.  I received a text message from one of my friends.  I’m not sure if I was still sleep because I misunderstood what he was saying in the first two texts.  Until I checked my email.

North Carolina Central University, SLIS Alumni Newsletter
North Carolina Central University, SLIS Alumni Newsletter

My book was highlighted in our ALUMNI NEWSLETTER!!! **tootsie roll, running man, and mc hammer typewriter dances**

What an honor, and I honestly have to give all the glory to God.  Only He could turn my morning around, and produce that type of joy in my heart.  My new hashtag is the #ReviewsDontLie see for yourself on Amazon and our social media sites under @alleykatsbooks

Thursday Evening:

I was working with the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center in Benton Harbor, MI for their annual summer b-ball program.  It was their Night Court – Draft Day.  It was really cool to see so many young men in the community off the streets, and engaging in activities that encourages teamwork and discipline.  The special guest this year was NBA Star from the Denver Nuggets, Wilson Chandler.  Chandler is also a native of Benton Harbor, MI, and was in the area to give back and to remind us all that dreams really do come true.  You have to believe and keep working towards every goal that you have set for yourself.  We were able to take this photo,

Wilson and I
Wilson and I

along with a copy of my book for his children.  Welcome to the Alleykats Club!!! I told you everyone is apart of the Club.  Are you rocking with us, yet?  Grab your copy here!

I ended the week with friends and family, celebrating upcoming weddings, open houses, a BBQ, and Sunday morning church service.

The road may seem uncertain, and you may feel like you’re drowning at times.  I encourage you to jump on that surfboard, pull out your flashlight, and be sure to ride the WAVE!

From me to you, with love.

R.J.

 

 

 

Activate your gift 🎁 Don’t get BURNT OUT! 🔥🔥🔥

Activate your gift 🎁 Don’t get BURNT OUT! 🔥🔥🔥

When you’ve grown up in the Midwest (Michigan, on the lake to be exact) you can identify with the struggle of experiencing all four seasons within 24 hours.  Imagine running errands, preparing for a photoshoot, and snow in April! Sunny, Rain, Snow, and windy all within one day, and no wonder I’m recuperating today.

I have a habit of committing to things, and becoming burnt out.  I’ve done it with social media.  I was too focused on being present on every social media site (new and old) that I became exhausted.  I’m only one person, and Super(wo)man is a fictional character.  I’m not able to always save the day, and I don’t always have the answers.  Even though I try my hardest to solve every problem.

I was quite weak yesterday, but I was determined to complete the photoshoot for the photography campaign.  The project uploads a new story for #GriefTalkTuesday on the Final 48 Project site.  The ministry that God blessed me with is not designed for me to be burned out, but it is designed for me to draw people closer to him while addressing an uncomfortable topic.  When you are able to identify your God given gifts life can become a whole lot easier.

Last Tuesday I completed my gifts assessment at the conclusion of a four week course held at One Church Empowerment Center.  I received confirmation on gifts that I had been denying.  When I read the results, my only response was a chuckle.  One of them I had been hearing since I was a little girl.  One conclusion is for certain, when working in any gift, you must have FAITH.

That’s right, faith.  I’m sure people thought I was crazy when I was laid off from my last job, and I said well now I can work full time in my ministries.  “Well, where is the money gonna come from?”  When you totally commit to the will of God, the finances will come.  Where is the mustard seed?  You know faith the size of a mustard seed.  That kind of faith had me moving to a new state with $100 and no job, and that same faith has kept sane through this whole process of trusting God in this journey.  It’s been hard, but I have faith!

I’m sure there were plenty of times Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to throw in the towel.  Whenever you want to examine a test of faith read an autobiography or biography of a great leader.  Start with Jesus and work your way to the present!

The reason I used Dr. King today because today marks 48 years since he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

4/4/11968, 48 years later.
4/4/11968, 48 years later.
Fighting for change in your life, and the lives of others is no small feat.  There are things that you must sacrifice to get there.  Reducing pride, and getting rid of old habits to usher in the new and improved ones.  I’m going to take a lesson from Dr. King today.  When you receive the calling that God has put on your life, keep fighting, don’t give up, and surround yourself with Kingdom people.

 

Xoxo,

R.J.

Position and Timing: Determines the outcome!

Position and Timing: Determines the outcome!

I am on cloud nine this morning.  The weekend was a time for reflection, connecting with family/friends, and of course Resurrection Sunday.

On Thursday I received a phone call from the local radio station in my hometown that wanted to do a short segment with me.  Now, let me tell you how we arrived at this moment.

A childhood friend of mines reached out to me shortly after the book was published.  He wanted to connect me with the radio station to talk about the first book in the series.  Well, that day has come.  This morning I was featured on 98.3 The Coast with Denise & Jonny!  I had a blast, and looking forward to the next convo with them.  If you missed it you can catch the replay by clicking here.

I’ve been learning a lot about position and timing over the last year.  I told you about being laid off, and it being God’s timing.  It was clearly His timing because if I would’ve done it on my own the outcome would have been a lot different.  I’m sure you have heard being in the right place at the right time, similar to wrong place, wrong time but with a positive spin on it.

This is the first time in my life that I can say I have chosen to let God lead the way.  I changed my position and location in order to walk in the will of God, and it has not been easy.  I’ve resisted.  I wanted to throw my hands up plenty of times, and say I’m sure this isn’t the route God has for me.  Maybe, I should try this again in a couple of years.

Again, I had to focus on God’s timing, and not my own.  By changing my position/location and mindset to focus on God’s timing has provided a sense of peace, and prepared me for this moment today.  I’m sure there will be more lessons ahead that will have me feeling indifferent at times, but I find comfort that I’m not alone on this journey.

So, when you are feeling discouraged I challenge you to re-evaluate your prayers, position, and timing.  A little shift in how you do things can make a huge difference for the outcome.

Xoxo,

R.J.

Alleykats Headquarters

P.S. Almost forgot!  If you are on social media be sure to follow/like Adventures of Alleykats on Facebook by clicking here.  On Twitter and Instagram @Alleykatsbooks the cutest features and updates on all things Alleykats! The first book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble now! #TheMissingPresident

The Negros Can Now Vote in Virginia: The Power and Freedom of Voting

The Negros Can Now Vote in Virginia: The Power and Freedom of Voting

I am still attempting to wrap my mind around the #SuperTuesday results that’s occurred in 2016.  The country is divided, and I’m baffled that people are not exercising their right to vote.

I know it’s a choice for you to vote. I guess because I know my history I look at my right to vote as a privilege to do so.  The right to vote was not always accessible to my community, and the road was quite tumultuous getting there.  So, I’m sorry when you tell me that you decided not to vote I’m quickly throwing you the infamous **side eye.**

I’ve probably told you the story before about my grandfather, and how important it was that everyone connected to him exercised their voting rights.

I can remember being a little girl and my grandfather providing each grandchild that turned 18 with the paperwork so they could register to vote. My grandfather was very active in politics and a strong advocate for equal rights.

I would like to dedicate this post to those that strongly believe in exercising that right, and respect the legacy of those individuals that died for our right to vote.

Below you will find photos of the 7 page document of “Colored Negro Men” of Midlothian, Virginia and their Voter Registration Signatures in 1870.

Even though decades later there would be many obstacles to overcome in order for all of us to vote in this country.  I wanted to provide a snapshot of how it began for the Negro Men in Virginia shortly after emancipation.

Please be advised that the voting rights were for men of color, not women.  Women’s right to vote was not until 1920.  That’s right, fifty years after these signed documents were submitted in 1870.

That’s another lesson, for another day!

Negro Voter 1870 Negro Voter VA 1870

How important is a Life Insurance policy? Should I get one?

How important is a Life Insurance policy? Should I get one?

NOW!  If you don’t have an insurance policy you should start shopping around for a policy today.  Trust me.  It’s worth it.  Take a look at Go Fund Me.  You will understand the need to have your own insurance policy.

Many slave masters knew the value of having a policy on their slaves (or property).  They wanted to protect their investment.

I really did not realize the importance of having Life Insurance until three years ago.  I couldn’t imagine the burden my family would have to bear of putting together arrangements for me, and I had the option of adding Life Insurance to my Car and Rental Insurance.  I re-evaluated my priorities, and realized not investing in Life Insurance would be the  “Wrong Answer!”  **Dad’s Voice**

It’s similar to having car or renter’s insurance.  We must protect what’s precious to us and on top of that driving without car insurance is against the law.  Hmm.  Car insurance is more important than life insurance.  Think about that.  It’s a choice.  Will you be reckless or not?

Below you will find a Slave Policy from April of 1858, a policy for a slave named George in the amount of $1,000.

Slave Insurance Policy blogger-image--762415460

 

I know you’re probably thinking, “Gosh, R.J. talks about insurance a lot.  Maybe she works for an insurance company.”  Well, I used to work for a large health insurance company, and I was able to witness what happens when you don’t have insurance.  You can go bankrupt without insurance, and fall into a deep depression trying to work yourself out of the hole.  I don’t want that to happen to anyone that’s attached me.

On this Friday, I just want you to remember one thing.  Invest in yourself today.  We must protect all of our serious investments, those with and without a heartbeat!

 

The Blueprint: The importance of HERstory. Stay Lit and March 4th!

The Blueprint: The importance of HERstory. Stay Lit and March 4th!

I love when this day comes around every year. Say it aloud, “March Forth.” Move forward. How does that statement resonate with you? For me, it motivates me to keep pushing to the next level of my dreams.

We are almost ninety (Yes 90) days into the new year and how are we doing with our goals for 2016? I’ve been reflecting on the goals I have on my vision board, and I’ve made progress. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot of work to do.

We went from Black History Month to Women’s History Month. Can we agree that last month was jam packed with greatness?! I know that this month will be no different. I mean Hello, March is the month for movement. It’s instructing us that everything we’ve worked for is requiring us to act on it.

March…March…March

This week I reflected on my interaction with Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson. She was the matriarch and activist behind the Civil Rights Movement and marches in Selma, Alabama.  When she was on tour last year (at 103 years old) I was given the opportunity to edit a video for her to be placed in her personal archives.

I thought about the strength of Ms. Amelia. She was in her fifties when she was apart of  the fight for equality in Alabama. When I listened to her speak in an intimate venue last year she repeated the one thing that continued to keep her going.

Faith.

Faith without works is dead, right?  It all starts with faith. The faith that this thing is gonna happen. If it aligns with God’s will, it’s gotta work!

She was brutally attacked on March 7, 1965 (Bloody Sunday), in Selma during a march for voting rights in Alabama.  After the attack I’m sure that would have stopped the average person.  Ms. Amelia was far from average.  She was determined to keep the faith until things changed.

Have you seen the movie Selma, directed by Ava Duvernay?  Ms. Amelia is played by Lorraine Toussaint in the movie.  If you haven’t checked it out please do so this weekend.  Thank me later.  😉

On this day what will you do different to make a change in your life?  I’m holding myself accountable and taking notes from the blueprint that Ms. Amelia has left behind.

 

From Fist Pumpin to West Philly: Fresh Princess of Books!

From Fist Pumpin to West Philly: Fresh Princess of Books!

I think it’s safe to say after the last three weeks I am exhausted!  The pack/unpack cycle has concluded for at least a month, but I’m definitely grateful for the Historical Tours w/R.J. that were completed.

You know I love a good road trip.  Can you believe of my many road trips on the east coast I’ve NEVER been to Philadelphia?  I rode through Pennsylvania heading to Virginia but never visited any historical sites in the state.  Our nation’s first capital, and I finally made it!

It was chilling cold the first day in Philly so my friends and I decided to venture out on Sunday afternoon.  Our first stop was the Art Museum, and also the scene for the famous steps from the Rocky Movie.   You know we had to go to the top right?! Lol.  RockySteps2

The view from the top of the “Rocky Steps” was amazing.  We hung out at the top because it was the perfect photo op for anyone who conquered the stairs!

Rocky Stairs
Rocky Stairs (Philly Art Museum) – View from the Top

Of course this stop wouldn’t be complete without posing with the statue!

Rocky Pose

By the mid-afternoon we worked up quite an appetite marching around Philly, so we decided to go over to the Reading Terminal Market.  There was so much to choose from but how could we come to Philly without getting a cheesesteak.  Sure, my friends from the area told me to try Jim’s or Ishkabibble but Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagie and Cheesesteak was President Obama approved!  Since my former alias is Carmen Sandiego I was definitely down to try.  Placed my order, took my Ace of Spades card, and waited patiently for my order.

Yum.  Aces of Spade card for my order wearing one of my fave nail colors, Essie - Mint Candy Apple
Yum. Aces of Spade card for my order wearing one of my fave nail colors, Essie – Mint Candy Apple

No need to snap a picture of my food.  We were thoroughly satisfied.  I’ll check the other places out to compare the next time in Philly.

I saw a story on Facebook about one of the oldest African American bookstores in the country was located in West Philly, Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop.  I was excited to stop by, drop off my book, and patronize the business.  We met the late owner’s daughter, Ms. Yvonne Blake.  Her father, Mr. Dawud Hakim began selling books from the trunk in his car in 1959 before settling in it’s current location on 52nd Street.  Can you imagine the history that has been exchanged in that space for the last 40 years.You can honestly get lost in there with the collection of books that is offered in the store.  It is truly an amazing treasure to have in West Philly, and I wish more bookstores like that one existed all over the country.  When you are in Philly be sure to stop by Hakim’s and it’s possible you may see a familiar book(s) in there very soon!

Hakim's Bookstore