Thursday, April 27, 2017

Jenee Darden, Christine No and Nkechi Give a Raw, Real and Beautiful Show for Nomadic Press

Left to Right Christine No, singer Nkechi and Cocoa Fly's Jenee Darden


I could not have asked for a more powerful and fun reading. It was a pleasure to perform with writer Christine No and singer Nkechi.  If you missed my performance for Nomadic Press in Oakland, you're in luck. I recorded it for the Cocoa Fly podcast. Listen to stories and poems about love, race, family, mental health, Prince, burgers and everything in between.

In a few days I will release a podcast of just my reading, along with some other stuff. Stay tuned!

Big THANKS to Nomadic Press for inviting me and putting this on. Special shout out to MK Chavez, Paul Corman-Roberts and JK Fowler. 



Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Real, Raw and Beautiful Friday Night in Oakland




This Friday night is going to be off. da. hook. I'll be reading with poet and filmmaker Christine No at Nomadic Press on Telegraph Ave in Oakland, 7pm. It's going to an intimate and fun night. Just to give you a little detail of who we are, Christine No says: 

You know Jenee Darden as a sassy, pithy wisdom slanging poet and essayist but do you know that she's an incredible tireless journalist and podcaster? That she is a staunch fighter for those whose voices need elevating? That this is in her very makeup? You KNOW she ain't delicate either. (But she's definitely a lady!)

You know me mostly as a host and curator. But shit I left the city then the desert then the film industry and producing movies and commercials and yelling at crew members and famous people and too many drugs and New York City and Hipsterville and losing the loves of my life, and warehouse raves and dancing til sunrise and a dream life turned huge depressive breakdown to hideout in the bay, heal and finally write. Hear me? I'm not a flower.

We've got words. We've lived lives. We aren't afraid to share them. Check it - You might have a good time with us.

If not, have some wine, a couple cookies and head over to a bar down the street. It's Friday for chrissake. And if you only have ONE plan on your radar then...

Just come out. [We] love you.



Monday, March 13, 2017

'Get Out' Gets In Our Heads About African Americans and Mental Health





SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN GET OUT


“When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it.”

--Carter G. Woodson
The MIS-Education of the Negro 


Get out for your safety. Get out of this neighborhood. Get out of Black minds. There’s so much symbolism to unpack in Jordan Peele’s film Get Out, a psychological thriller about how a black man’s visit to the estate of his white girlfriend’s parents turns into a trip from hell. Mental health and African-American trauma is one of the film’s major themes.

Chris Washington rides to upstate New York with his girlfriend Rose Armitage to meet her parents in a secluded, rural area. Rose’s mother Missy is a psychiatrist and her father Dean is a neurosurgeon.

I watched the film with a majority Black audience in Oakland. During the scene where Missy offers to hypnotize Chris in the middle of the night to “help” him kick his smoking habit, the audience yelled, “Noooo!” The hypnosis is actually the Armitages’ trick into trapping Black victims for enslavement. I’m a mental health advocate and live with depression. That scene and the audience’s reaction reminded me of our history with medical racism and why some African Americans distrust the mental health system.

In 1851, a physician published a report claiming that runaway slaves who sought freedom were mentally ill and called their “sickness” drapetomania. Today, the National Association of Mental Illness reports that African Americans are misdiagnosed more than white patients and over diagnosed for schizophrenia. This results in Black patients not receiving the correct treatment for what’s really ailing them.

Investigative stories from a few years ago revealed that providers are giving children in foster care psychotropics at disturbingly high rates. Black children account for 26 percent of kids in foster care, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Our prisons are filled with many who should be in psychiatric care, not behind bars. And there’s a serious need for diverse health providers. The American Psychological Association reports that, 84 percent of psychologists are white, while 5 percent are Black. Having culturally competent providers who understand our challenges is important.

I can personally attest that receiving quality mental health care and community support, understanding mental health and having a therapist who understands my culture makes a difference. We need the help because studies have shown racism causes stress, depression, anxiety, PTSD and other health issues.

For Missy to prey on Chris’ trauma from losing his mother and use that pain to enter his mind,
demonstrates the psychological oppression of racism. She sends Chris to the “sunken place,” a dark space where he sees Missy seeing him. It’s a reference to many things, including W.E.B Du Bois theory of “double consciousness” where we see ourselves through the eyes of the dominant culture. Double Consciousness is an internal struggle that affects the Black psyche. We carry this in our minds constantly. Which makes sense why the horror in the film is the Armitage’s surgically transferring parts of white brains into Black skulls.

The audience sees the internal struggle of double consciousness with all of the Black characters held captive. A few times Georgina, the house servant, is looking at her reflection. She sees herself through the gaze of Grandma Armitage, the white matriarch whose mind she carries. During the powerful scene where Chris tells her sometimes he’s afraid of white people, Georgina tears up. Then she contradicts herself and says, “No, no, no, no.” The real Georgina is trying to emerge, but Grandma mentally wrestles Georgina back into her place.

The “sunken place,” is where we’re weighted down by lies we’ve internalized about our history and image and racial trauma. Educator and researcher Dr. Joy DeGruy is author Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). On her website, PTSS is defined as “a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. A form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalized racism which continues to perpetuate injury.”

Like Chris, this “sunken place” paralyzes us by impacting both our mental health and physical health. But Chris escapes once he blocked out the hypnosis trigger of the silver spoon and teacup. His physical freedom was dependent on his mental freedom. Other victims became “woke” when they “saw the light” from Chris’ camera. Light therapy is used to treat depression.

The comic relief in the film reflects how Black folks have used comedy to cope. You know that saying, “I gotta laugh to keep from crying.” Sometimes the messages in the film were so deep and real to me, I almost got teary-eyed. The suicide of Walter the groundskeeper reminded me of captured Africans who jumped off slave ships because the middle passage voyage was so inhumane. And more recently, the suicides of Kalief Browder and Black Lives Matter activist Marshawn McCarrel came to mind. Walter possessed Grandpa Armitage’s brain. He knew he could not be free with the mental shackles. It was no surprise he shot himself specifically in the head. As for Chris, he made it out alive but probably with even more post trauma issues. How will his friend Rod support him in the aftermath? How do we as a community support each other mentally and emotionally in a racist society?

Jordan Peele brilliantly addressed so many issues in one movie without overwhelming the audience. It’s a disturbing reminder that Black people carry these issues every day, all day and all at once.

There’s an African proverb that says, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” Jordan Peele calls out the hunter, validates our pain, and let’s his Black audience know that our racial oppression is not a figment of our imaginations. We are not crazy. We are traumatized, constantly.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My First Personal Talk About Mental Health, O.J. Trial and Being a Black Girl at UC San Diego

Twenty years ago I started college at UC San Diego with a heavy heart and a lot of anger. I was carrying an emotional load following the O.J. trial because of how it affected my life and family.  I came to Southern California hiding a part of my identity and lying to people about my last name because I didn't know if they would hate or hurt me. Culture shock hit me hard too. The location of my campus, La Jolla, was so different than the diverse and pulsing Bay Area. The 18-year-old me was hurting.

What a difference 20 years of therapy, self-reflection and prayer makes. If you would've told me my first year of college that I would be sharing a personal story about my mental health and experience during the trial 20 years later at UC San Diego,  I would've laughed in your face and told you to get some help.

A few days ago I came full circle. I gave not one, but two of these talks at UC San Diego. I also encouraged the audience to maintain their mental health. I spoke to close to 200 student, staff and faculty. People gave me such positive feedback and thanked me for sharing my story. When I walked on campus in between presentations, students stopped me and thanked me. It was truly a blessing to share my story and to know I helped somebody. I thanked UCSD staff and classmates who helped me through my problems when I was a student. I'm so thankful for my sorors who made the trek out to support me.

I especially wanted to give this talk because many people have been on edge since the election. The racial climate, rumors, constant breaking news and tension remind me a of how I felt during the trial, but worse. I shared ways we can take care of ourselves during this time.

I'm working on bringing this talk to other campuses and conferences. If you work at a college, university, organization or know someone who does email me at jenee@cocoafly.com. Learn more here





Thank you so much to the Council of Provosts, Cross Cultural Center, OASIS, UCSD Student Affairs, Thurgood Marshall College, Black Staff Association, Office for Equity, Diversion and Inclusion; Black Resource Center, Women's Center and SPACES (Student Promoted Access Center for Education and Service) sponsoring my presentations.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I'm Speaking at the AWP Literary Conference


I LOVE books. I LOVE literature. I LOVE talking about books, literature, prose, writing, analyzing characters, all of that good stuff. I'm a bookworm and proud of it. When I asked to sit on a panel at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Washington, D.C. I couldn't say no.

The AWP conference is the largest literary conference in North America. I believe the attendance is anywhere from 12,000 to 14,000 people. All of those readers and writers!

On Friday at 3:00pm of the conference I'm on a panel called "The Reporter and The Story: How Journalism Can Inform and Fund a Literary Career." I'll be in good company with fellow journalists who have reported for the LA Times, Washington Post, Bitch, NPR, The Atlantic, PBS and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.







If you're going to AWP tweet me at @cocoafly and say hi. If not, follow me on social media, all @cocoafly to see what I'm up to. Chimamanda Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates will be speaking too. I'm hyped!!

DC here I come! You can read more about my panel here.  Check out the AWP book fair below. That is a BEAST. They're expecting 800 vendors.




Photo provided by AWP 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Black Women Leading During the Obama Era



Seven more hours before there's a change of power in the presidency. The other day I realized that at that very moment my First Lady, Congresswoman, Senator, Attorney General and Miss USA were all Black women. Miss USA gets extra props for also having served in the military. At that very moment, Black women held these honored positions. Then I remembered today that our Librarian of Congress is also a Black woman. Carla Hayden is both the first woman and African-American to serve in this position. Pres. Obama appointed her last year. 

Before the new president comes in I just wanted to take this in. There are so many others like Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Essence Magazine featured many of the women who worked for some capacity under Pres. Obama.  

As I celebrate this diversity, I'm nervous about the future. I've been to a Republican National Convention and Pres. Obama's 2nd Inauguration. And I've never felt so much fear and hatred from others in this country. It's going to be a long uphill battle. And many conservatives, especially those who are poor, may be happy now. But eventually many of them will be fighting that uphill battle too. 

Until then I will take in this moment before it ends--for now. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

My BBC Commentary On the Art Revolution During the Trump Era





I spoke on the BBC Manchester show "The People" about how I feel about the Obamas leaving the White House and what I predict will be a huge arts movement during the Trump Era. It's a short piece.  Listen here at 1:34:00 (1 hour and 34 min).

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

It's Not About The Money or the Fame:
Remembering Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds circa 1987
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I was afraid this was going to be my next post. Debbie Reynolds died from a stroke just a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher. She was 84. 

During funeral planning with her son Todd Fisher, she reportedly said, "I miss her so much. I want to be with Carrie." She had a stroke 15-minutes later. Those were her final words.  

Debbie Reynolds' stardom catapulted before my generation. I identify more with her daughter's fame. But I knew about her from Singin' In the Rain and Will & Grace. Of course I knew the scandalous story when ex-husband Eddie Fisher left her for Elizabeth Taylor. It rocked the media like when Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie.  Fisher and Taylor didn't last either. 

There was an Oprah interview you can watch below where she talks about forgiving Elizabeth Taylor, moving on with her life, other loves, raising Carrie, etc. It's a great interview and very funny. 

I was concerned that this would be my next post because people die from broken hearts. I have a few relatives who couldn't bear to go on without loved ones they were super close to. I've seen people mentally give up after experiencing a lot of deaths. It's hard. 

She supported her daughter through the drug abuse, bipolar, Hollywood drama, divorce and other stuff. They survived so much together and I guess burying her was too much. Can you imagine? I feel bad for Carrie's daughter who lost her mom and grandmother within a day of each other. I also feel bad for Reynolds' son. 

I find it interesting that these women died during the holidays. The holidays is about spending time with the ones you love. But too many of us get caught up in the gift giving.  Debbie Reynolds had fame, money, awards and beauty. She lived in Beverly Hills. She had a life that many dream of.  But none of that could replace her daughter. None of that could fill the void of losing her child. They were just things. What she lost was love. 

My grandfather migrated here from Texas, worked as a longshoreman, and bought a nice home in Oakland. He provided for his children and grandchildren. He lived the American Dream with his homemaker/entrepreneur wife, nice cars, nice home, etc. I remember during the last Christmas we spent with him, he took in that moment with his family. When he was on his deathbed, he didn't ask for his car or clothes. He just wanted my grandma. He wanted his family. Your family may not be your blood relatives or people who adopted you. They may be good friends, in-laws or your spouse. Family is how you define it. In the end what matters is love. 

And so Reynolds probably died because she lost someone she loved deeply.  It's a tragic story, but a beautiful story about the importance of love. I hope she and Carrie Fisher are resting in each others' arms.  


What Carrie Fisher Meant to This Girl Nerd and Mental Health Advocate

Carrie Fisher
Source: Riccardo Ghilardi photographer via
WikiCommons
I woke up to these words from my alarm radio, "Actress Carrie Fisher has died."

I shed tears for Carrie Fisher, 60, throughout the day. I got into Star Wars when I was a teen in the '90s thanks to my religious teacher. We had to analyze the moral messages George Lucas was dropping in the series. Like so many girls and women, I appreciated Leia for being a badass princess. She was not sitting on a throne looking pretty. Leia fought evil, even into her later years when she became a general. Like someone pointed out on Twitter, in the last Star Wars movie you have a woman who lost her son, her ex-lover, her brother, her parents, her planet--but she still fought for goodness. She pressed on in adversity, just like the real Carrie Fisher.

Fisher also had to fight her own personal battles. She wrestled with addiction and was open about living with bipolar disorder. When I was wrestling with my own internalized stigma about being diagnosed with depression, I looked up famous people with mental health challenges and there she was. I read some of her personal stories and felt a bit more hopeful and normal.

She dealt with people judging her for not having the 19-year-old look and body from Star Wars decades ago. Isn't that silly?! She said when she was 105 lbs, she was asked to lose 10 more pounds. Anyone talk about Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill getting wrinkles and gaining weight? NO

She kept it real about aging, addiction and living with mental health problems. She lived openly to control how information about her came out to the public. Which was a smart idea. It doesn't work for everyone, but she made it work for her. And she often had a, "I don't have time for this bullsh*t" mentality.

I hoped she would pull through after having the heart attack. Her life and art touched me as a woman, Star Wars fan and mental health advocate. I love Princess Leia, but Carrie Fisher is my shero for her role in life as Carrie Fisher. She entertained us, made us laugh and gave a lot of people hope through her strength and realness.

Per her request, Carrie Fisher died being drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

May she rest in power and may the force be with her.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Watch What You're Reading: Fake News, Foolishness and Spiritual Toxicity


I was meditating the other day because I've been in a funk. My mood was dipping and I needed to check in with myself. During meditation what came to my spirit was to be mindful of what I'm consuming. I've been on social media watching folks get worked up over lies. Look at this Twitter exchange:



Here you have Donald Trump, then so-called Donald Trump Jr. criticizing Obama, then an Obama supporter reacting. After that Obama supporter is an exchange with him and a Trump supporter. Total discord right? I thought it was strange that Trump's son would attack Obama because since Trump and Obama met, the billionaire hasn't been criticizing POTUS. Usually candidates stop attacking former presidents after joining the exclusive POTUS club. Plus, Trump looked like he saw a ghost after his Come-to-Jesus White House meeting with Pres. Obama.

Now take a closer look at Donald Jr.'s Twitter handle. It says @denaldtrumpjr. Denald Trump? I visited his page and saw this:



It says this is just a parody account. People actually thought the person was Trump's son. This user got me for a second. There is so much anger and hatred in our country and a lot of it is due to people reading lies. People are being manipulated. People are consuming what they want to believe. And these creators of fake sites are making tons of money off of our emotions. Even credible sites with click bait headlines that don't have anything to do with the story should share the blame.  It's sick and it makes me angry because it's costing people's lives.

Dylan Roof, that monster who shot up Black church members during prayer at a South Carolina Church was found guilty yesterday for their murders. One of the reasons why he was motivated to kill those people was because of the racist garbage and lies he read online. That's an extreme example but people are being assaulted because of the hateful rhetoric that was unleashed and condoned during this election.

I visit social media sites where content targets the right and the left. The bickering and anger is sad. The hate scares me. What's even more scary is that when the truth is revealed, like U.S. intelligence confirming Russia interfered with the election--many on the right don't want to believe it. And I'm not just targeting the right because there were people on the left who bought into fake news too.

Consuming hateful, bogus content and digesting it into your minds and spirit is not healthy. It's what has caused so much madness in this country.  I've seen a lot of lies and people circulating lies on the internet without checking the sources of information.

Be careful what you read. Read the full article instead of the headline only. Lately I've noticed headlines are there to get clicks and may not even reflect what the article is about. I've even had to contact editors when headlines to my articles were inaccurate and misleading.

Check the source of the information. Don't just go by what someone is sharing online. Make sure you check many sources. Also, you should have more than one news source. I read BBC, Guardian, LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, Fox News, Mother Jones, Ebony, Latina, New America Media, Ms., Bitch, NPR, my local news, etc. I don't get my news from just one place. I don't get my news opinion from just one angle either.

Media is very powerful. Be careful what you read, hear or watch. Denzel will tell you.



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