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 tense climate reminds 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).


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.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Many Perished in Oakland Fire

My heart goes out to the victims of the Oakland fire and their families. I grew up in the area where the fire occurred. It's a few blocks away from my high school. Many of the people are either poor, working class and/or people of color.  I noticed on social media that people were victim blaming because the warehouse, called Ghost Ship,  was used for a rave. They assumed people were using drugs and were therefore "asking for it."I don't care if they used drugs or not. Someone is hurt and devastated that their loved one died so tragically and probably painfully.


Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley were meccas for artists. This was a community where you live out of the box and let your freak flag fly. With gentrification and rising costs in housing, we are losing artists. I know talented people who left the Bay Area because they couldn't afford to live here. And I have never in my entire life seen so many homeless people in Oakland. Times are tough. I'm not surprised artists have chosen to live and socialize in an unsafe place like this warehouse. Other spaces are unaffordable. Last I checked Oakland doesn't have an arts commission.

It's hard for me to watch some of the city politicians look saddened by these losses when they haven't done much to stop long-time residents from being priced out of their homes. Maybe Ghost Ship wouldn't exist if they helped poor folks. Don't get me wrong. They owner of the building needs to pay big time for this. Neighbors called the city with concerns about the building. The city didn't do anything enough in time and now it's too late. I heard through the grapevine from an inspector that the city doesn't pay as much attention to buildings in that area. I wonder if the residents being poor, working class and/or people of color have anything do with it.

There's a lot of blame to go around. But right now that's not important. I feel bad because a lot of people are grieving tonight and will be for a long time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Too Angry to Write

I'm starting to get back into the groove again. I was so disappointed after the election, it was hard for me to write.  Actually I was more than disappointed. Anger, fear, anxiety, uncertainty were swarming through my body. Then I dived into the news and social media to keep tabs on what was going on. It actually made me more stressed out because some of the stuff I read were fake stories. Some were used to incite and feed on people's fear. And seeing how people were so fearful was hard to take in.

As I stated in my last post, hatred and injustice are nothing new in this country. I've never seen so much homelessness in Oakland. That's because gentrification is pushing people out of their homes. Child sex trafficking is another problem. Of course people are doing work to better relations between African Americans and the police. Lord knows the last thing we need is a federal government ran by white supremacists. They can call themselves "alt-right" all they want. Those people are white supremacists.

I hope we can come together and work together.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I'm Not Surprised Trump Won


How did America allow a racist, sexist, misogynistic, egotistical, short-tempered, politically inexperienced, reality star come to power? Easy. See below




If you're surprised that Trump won you've been living in a bubble. Wake up and see what kind of conditions and issues people are facing. 

It's unfortunate that liberals and independents who would normally vote Democratic either didn't vote or cast a protest vote. The point they tried to prove is going to cost people healthcare. Muslims and Latinos are scared. People overseas are scared. The Senate, House and Supreme Court will be dominated by conservatives. The country will be run by one political ideology. That's not good no matter which side you're on. But a few people who had power in this election wanted to prove a point. How unfortunate that all of the work and progress Obama put into helping Americans may be undone because people have a point to prove or weren't motivated. 

This election was not about politics, but power. White, male, Christian, heterosexual power that Trump supporters believe will make America great again. Donald Trump is going to be America's wakeup call. I just pray it's not too startling. 

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