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Surrounded by Dream Chasers: Trust the process…

Surrounded by Dream Chasers: Trust the process…

I almost said, No.  I almost missed the opportunity.  I almost decided to play it safe.  I almost missed the chance to leap.  Oh, but my faith wouldn’t let me do it.

When I heard one of my childhood friends was hosting the annual event for the International Natural Hair Meet-up Day in my hometown I couldn’t wait until tickets went on sale.

I wrestled with the idea of being a vendor before purchasing my ticket, but didn’t think I was ready.  I waited until it was too late to inquire about the opportunity, and missed out.  So, I thought.

I was contacted a couple of weeks later about being a vendor for the event.  Was I ready?  I was scheduled for a separate event at the local library for authors and illustrators.  The library event was in the morning, and her event was in the evening.  I could do both, right? Again, I asked myself.  Was I ready?

Next thing I know, I said, “Girl lemme do it.”

**Exhale**

Vista Print was having a sale, and I thought oh my goodness this is PERFECT!  I can get a banner made, and look into getting a personalized t-shirt.

Promo Alleykats T-Shirt
Promo Alleykats T-Shirt

Alleykats Banner

Highlights from Saturday:

Library Professionals unite, and a cool member of the Alleykat Club!

Benton Harbor Public Library - Local Authors & Illustrators Reception
Benton Harbor Public Library – Local Authors & Illustrators Reception

I was able to connect with one of my favorite elementary teachers, Mrs. Elwell at the event Saturday evening.  She was so moved that I had written a book, she began crying.  We shared the emotional moment together, and parted with this picture.

Mrs. Elwell and I - INHMD

 

What if I would have said, No, I don’t think I’m ready to be a vendor.  This was my first event being a vendor, and connecting with so many cool people was truly a priceless experience.  I’m so proud of my childhood friend Dashuna, and the success of her event along with her Serenity’s Hair LLC staff/volunteers.

I’m #SteeleThankful for my strong support system.  My mom and sister do whatever they can to make sure that my dreams come true.  They are definitely my cheerleaders.

I scheduled an interview between both events on Saturday for the Final 48 Project. I was sitting in the car playing around with SnapChat reflecting on my morning, and preparing for my interview.  My morning went to a whole new level after a phone call from my mom.  Here’s a snippet of the video I recorded.

Squad Goals - R.J., My Sister, and My Mom
Squad Goals – R.J., My Sister, and My Mom

 

Amazing weekend! Thank God for the lesson and testimony.  Trust the process, keep the faith, and JUMP! It’s worth it.

Don’t forget to grab your copy of the hit book, Adventures of Alleykats – The Missing President!

Xoxo,

R.J.

Life is the Dash…

Life is the Dash…

“Here today, gone tomorrow…”

I remember hearing that a lot growing up.  Now, I’m looking around and realizing, gosh my elders were right.

Last week was quite an emotional week.  I talked about “Blue Monday,” got through Monday, went to the gym on Tuesday morning, hopped online as usual and began reading a story about a possible homicide-suicide that occurred in the next town over from my hometown.  When I initially read the story the names had not been released.  Later on in the afternoon I received a text from a friend, and I politely told him, “Yeah, I read the story, but no names, yet.”  I guess he thought R.J. CLICK THE LINK.  Well, I didn’t click the link, so he decided to do a screenshot (screen grab, whatever) to show me that the names had been released.  It was someone I knew.  In fact, I spoke with this person about a month ago, and some of you were able to witness it.

It was Denise.

98.3 The Coast

I sat in silence for 30 minutes after reading her name in that text message.  She was tragically killed by her husband, and leaves behind three young children.  Even though we never met in person, she had a huge impact on my life.  It’s amazing the effect that people can have on you in such a short amount of time.  During our interview last month on the air I promised I would include her and Jonny as characters in an upcoming book in the series.  I promise not to disappoint.

I did say that it was an emotional week right?

I wanted the passing of Prince to be a hoax.  I remember waking up Friday morning thinking it was still a dream.  Can we agree that Prince was amazing?  He was musical genius, but what really stands out to me is that Prince was an UNAPOLOGETIC BLACK MAN.  He didn’t mind telling you what he thought, and never apologized for it.  He worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the rights of his people.  He was a cheerful giver of his time, knowledge, and resources.

You never know what someone is dealing with, or how much time they have on this earth.  Life is the dash.  We are gifted this life on this earth, and we must determine how we choose to live it.  The outpour of love for both Denise and Prince last week was mind blowing.  There was no need to question how much they were loved.

My takeaway from last week was that we all need to start giving people their flowers while they are living.  I can only hope that they were shown the love that was displayed last week while they were living in the dash.

I decided to go over my grammy’s house on Saturday morning since I was in town filming for The Final 48 Project.  I spent two hours with her, and it was honestly one of the best visits we’ve EVER had.  She told me that what I was doing with the “Final 48 Project” is what God birthed in me, and I have to keep pressing forward.

I went over there to check on her, and received a mighty Word.  That visit with her is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

What are you doing with the dash?  It’s Monday.  Another opportunity to push towards the purpose that God has birthed in you.

“We are gathered here today.  To get through this thing called, life.”  ~ Prince

Xoxo,

R.J.

Recognition and Acknowledgement; There’s a difference?

Recognition and Acknowledgement; There’s a difference?

The first day of Spring was yesterday, and I received a nugget to start my life over.  In a good way of course.  Spring symbolizes everything that you worked so hard for during the harvest season will come to fruition.  If you are in the Midwest don’t pull out the sandals yet, but I do recommend sunglasses.  Always have them! 😉

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, we are in Passion Week, leading up to Resurrection Sunday.  If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you are celebrating the reason for this season.  Can I get an Amen?

Seriously.  So the new word is “lit.”  You’ve probably seen me use it before in a title.  A quick definition would be;

lit: to be crunk, on fire, a high level of celebration.

Anyways, I would say that the message from yesterday was very LIT!

The visiting pastor broke down the difference of recognition and acknowledgement.  I mean it was amazing.  My sister and I had a discussion about how we grew up in the church.  The elders always said, “God is good,” but what does that truly mean?

I recognize that God is good in my mental, but do I acknowledge God’s goodness?  Think about that.  Do I acknowledge that his grace and mercy has brought me through some things, and will continue to do it.  Let me check my faith chart.  Oh yeah, it’s a little low.  My faith is telling me to recognize that God is good but I’m not acknowledging his goodness.  How did that happen?

I recognize that God has given me gifts to work with others that suffered the loss of a loved one,  and to educate the masses about history especially in my home country.  I have not acknowledged that God is going to keep me and take to the next level to do so.  If I keep my mouth shut how will anyone know what I’m doing.  I’m not saying give away my ideas.  I’m saying if I don’t let people know every time I interact with someone about the gifts that God has blessed me with I have only recognized that they are present within me.  Ironically, I have chosen to dismiss the part to acknowledge the power that they hold.  Come on now, R.J. Sad but true.

Hold on.  Did I lose you?  I have an example.

I recognize (mental) that someone left their bag behind at the grocery store.  The cashier noticed the bag, hesitated, and said nothing.  I called out to the lady (acknowledged-action).  As she was walking away and said excuse me, you left a bag behind.  She was grateful, and proceeded to the exit.

We have to speak up and take action.  I recognized that my creativity has been suffering in other areas of my life, and I’m acknowledging that I need help.  So, I want you all to hold me accountable, and on my social media sites I’m looking for feedback. I’ll have more details for you later.  When you get free time I would love to hear your feedback on the new site for the grief platform, Final 48 Project.  I’ve revamped some things, and a new story launches every Tuesday for #GriefTalkTuesday.  I’m looking forward to working with a new mentor in May, and bringing you more amazing  content.

 

XOXO,

R.J.

 

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!

 

Who am I? When hiding gets tough. 

Who am I? When hiding gets tough. 

I’m currently still floating after spending the weekend at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. The four day intensive retreat was jam packed with information, feedback, and an artistic atmosphere. This was my second year attending, I must say I enjoy the feeling of always learning something new!

At the end of the retreat each student is provided five minutes to present their documentary project in front of their classmates, and a panel of experts for feedback. This is the FIRST time I was faced with the skeleton in my closet that I had to deal with. 

I have numerous projects. I have this website where I house my personal journey, historical facts, a snippet of what I do on Periscope with #GriefTalkTuesday and a few links to my other projects (children’s book and grief platform). Why aren’t they housed under the same site? I mean after all it’s me doing all of them. There was a comment during my presentation that stuck with me. Why do I function under a different alias? I have to think about what am I hiding from? Or should I say who am I hiding from?

For most of my life I’ve lived for the approval of others. That’s exhausting. As much as I’ve tried to break the habit it creeps back into my life in another way. The fear of judgment can hover over your life, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling. It’s almost as if your in a locked box, and someone else has the key. 

I’ve always lived a life of seclusion, and in some cases that’s okay. At this time in my life I need to own all of the decisions I’ve made thus far, and make no apologies for them because it’s my journey!

I mean my friends call me “Carmen Sandiego” for goodness sake. I’ve always had a mystery about me. Well, look at my tag line, “the girl behind the lens.” I enjoy being behind the scenes. How can anyone trust me if I’m not willing to let my guard down? I’m living my daily life as Ronnika, but I’m also R.J who writes a children’s book series and creating a platform to talk about grief. On occasion I’m Carmen Sandiego, and to my family I have numerous nicknames which is another post lol. 

My attempt at being transparent is functioning on different sites as an alias. That approach won’t work anymore. This week I will restructure my platforms. No more will I hide from the greatness that is inside of me, nor will I hide behind the platforms that I am creating to make this world a better place. I’ve told you before that this is a journey and I’m continuously learning. I’m learning more about my craft, and especially more about myself. 

Now, I’m not saying I’m eliminating the mystery from my life because that element is important for my writing projects. I’m saying that this is a process to eliminate barriers in order to bring you amazing content that will change the world. I’m owning the hats that I’ve been chosen to wear. 

Hi, my name is Ronnika. I also go by R.J. I’m the Author of a children’s book series called the Adventures of Alleykats.  You can purchase the book by clicking here.

 I’m a Documentarian and I created a platform to talk about grief and it’s titled, “The Final 48 Project.” Last but not least I am a trained Archivist (MLS), and I’m the girl behind the lens on SteeleLens.com

I welcome you to my world as I continue on this journey of transparency, and entrepreneurship!

The Mourning After…

The Mourning After…

I spent some wonderful summers in Richmond, VA as an intern.  I learned a great deal, featured in the local newspaper and news station.  It was truly an amazing experience.  #SteeleThankful for it.  I wanted to master the art of reading 19th Century manuscript before I departed my final summer in Virginia.  It wasn’t until I came across primary documents with black borders that I became more intrigued.  My good southern friends would refer to it as, “mourning” stationary/letter.

What is a mourning letter you ask?  A mourning letter in the 19th Century was stationary paper with black borders.  For example, the border would symbolize if the person writing the letter has experienced the loss of a  loved one.  The width of the border depended on the sender’s state of grief and/or the timeline of the passing.  Basically the  current emotional state of the sender.  The letter (featured photo) that was written by Mrs. Jefferson Davis (First Lady of the Confederacy) addressed in August of 1899 shows the presence of the black border.

From research I was reminded of the death of the President’s daughter, Varina “Winnie” Davis in 1898.   In true super sleuth, Archivist mode we are able to piece the story together of how Mrs. Davis was dealing with the grief internally from the width of the borders on her letters, and of course the letter itself.

(Sidenote: Have you thought about why its customary to wear black to funerals?)  There was documentation of a woman who wore black for years after her husband died.  Proof that she grieved for over five years!  Interesting, right?

After during research in the archives and losing my father in 2013, I found myself ironically wearing a lot of black clothing. Well, I still do, for other reasons. Lol.  It didn’t hit me until my  last year of school that I was not allowing myself to grieve.  Similar to the people that were writing with the black borders in the 19th century, and wearing black garments, I had to realize that the void of losing a loved one will always be present.  I must allow the borders of my own stationary paper to become narrow.  People have to go in order for us to grow.  I must continue to grow in strength.  Mind, body, and soul.

Why I’m not going to church tonight!

Why I’m not going to church tonight!

It’s the last day of 2015. This year has taught me so much about myself. I have everything within me to be great, and I need to step it up a notch in the new year.

It’s no secret that I grew up in the church, but I’m amazed at how much things have changed.  I’m not sure if we ever discussed where  “Watch Night Service,”  derives from.  Do you know?

Also known as “Freedom Eve,” happened for the first time on Wednesday, December 31, 1862. Slave and free blacks gathered at churches and homes anticipating the news that a law changing decision was around the corner by way of the Emancipation Proclamation. January 1, 1863, the law was passed but unfortunately that did not mean that slavery was over. What it did mean is that the black community came together and believed that their faith would get them through to the other side, freedom. From that New Year’s Eve going forward the Freedom Eve now known as Watch Night Service is still an annual tradition in the black community every year. The faith that God will bring closure to the past, and bring forth a prosperous and healthy new year.

Whether you decide to watch the ball drop, drop it low at the club, chill at home, or attend church, I am hoping that you, YES YOU, are surrounded with love and happiness as we close out 2015.

Oh what am I doing?  I’m not sure yet.  I thought about hanging with friends tomorrow night, instead of tonight because personally I want to go to a place where everyone is believing that their faith will take them to the next level.   I don’t want to say that I’m going to church because it sounds good.  I’m going because I know that I personally need to go.  In 2016, I’ll continue to be transparent, and unpack more of my story.  I can’t wait!  The mission for 2016 is to continue to bring awareness, educate, and encourage.  Are you with me?

It’s been an amazing year, and I’m looking forward to 2016!

Xoxo,

R.J.

Our Ancestors Footsteps…

Our Ancestors Footsteps…

For the last year in my 20’s I decided to take on an adventure every month until my 30th birthday.  The last weekend in my 20’s I decided to embark on a mini road trip from North Carolina to Maryland.  I didn’t care if I went by myself or with a group of friends.  I was determined to get to the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.

It was overwhelming from the beginning to the end.  That is definitely a museum that you need to visit more than once.  There was so much to see (and learn), and there was no way that I covered everything within one visit.  So, if you can catch my drift, I need to go back soon!

I attempted to get as many photos as I could.  I snapped this picture of, “Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Ancestors.”  That’s a powerful title/statement.  A few figures that are featured in the photo are Thurgood Marshall, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Mary Church Terrell, symbolizing education and justice, right?

Let’s take a look at the events that are going on around us.  There’s so many movements that are taking place.  The time is now to dedicate ourselves to strategically prepping our cultures for generations to come.  For example, Mary Church Terrell, being the first African American woman to receive a college degree, and a national activist for civil rights and the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  She used her activism to progress the lives of African Americans in the 19th and 20th Century, and now in the 21st century what are we doing as a people to follow in her footsteps.  How can we keep this train from going in reverse?  Everything that our ancestors died for shall not be in vain.  Let’s start with educating ourselves, and our children. #teachthebabies

Let’s revisit the practices of Ida B. Wells, and read with our children every night before bed.  Let’s teach our children how to be leaders, and to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors.  I am reminded of a quote by Thurgood Marshall, “Sometimes history takes things into its own hands.”  It’s all about action, no more talking!

How can we continue to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Working together on one accord for the future!

Stitch by Stitch: Granny’s Quilts, Nostalgic Lessons & Love…

Stitch by Stitch: Granny’s Quilts, Nostalgic Lessons & Love…

My sister and I spent last weekend laughing and joking about the good ole days.  I would call her when I had a new discovery while looking through my dad’s “archives.”  The way my dad’s archives is set up, we were screaming and laughing the entire time.

One of the highlights of going through his stuff is the family history, until I came across this quilt (featured photo, bottom quilt).  There was a laundry basket that was full of my stuff that I left behind when I moved away from home in 2008.  I began to unpack the basket. There were many items that I could donate to a local shelter, until I got to the bottom.  Folded neatly was the quilt.  My sister had been looking for this quilt for almost 20 years.  It was in our possession the entire time.

I used to believe that the quilts made by my grandmothers had super powers.  Seriously, I mean there was no way to explain it otherwise.  When I was in high school, my sister was home visiting and received a phone call that her apartment building was on fire, and that it was a total loss.  I can remember where we were when she received the phone call; in the living room at home.  There’s just some things you never forget.  My parents and I went with my sister to see if there was anything that could be salvaged from the blaze.  We walked into her 3rd floor apartment and I must say it was a depressing site.  My sister would have to start over from scratch, and my heart truly ached for her.  It’s never easy starting over.  It was definitely a total loss, but there were a few items that were untouched: vacuum cleaner, Aunt Jemima cookie jar, and grandma’s quilt.  Can you believe that quilt was in mint condition? (See featured photo, top patch work quilt).  There’s something about those quilts made with love from our grandmothers.  I would know.   A small quilt also made by our grandma was wrapped around my waist when I had my grease fire at my place.  Those super powers must be prayers.

I’m enjoying going through my dad’s stuff, and continuing to unlock so many memories.  I would say that’s something to be #SteeleThankful for.