Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Beyonce a Feminist?

Beyonce in superhero stance at the MTV VMAs. 
There she stood in all of her pop goddess glory at the MTV Video Music Awards. Bootylicious, Independent Woman, Diva, Queen Bey, King Bey, Destiny’s Child, Flawless—all adjectives and nicknames we’ve called Beyonce over the years. And near the end of her MTV performance she stands like a superhero in front of a new word to add to the list, “Feminist.” 

I’ve watched MTV for a long time and I can’t recall a time where anyone mentioned or displayed the word “feminist” on air, let alone with such pride. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but if it did, it’s been a long time. While so many women were excited about Beyonce once again proclaiming feminism, I’m still not sold entirely sold on Beyonce being a feminist.  

I’ve been following Beyonce’s career since she and Destiny’s Child did the “Jumpin’, Jumpin’” remix with with Wyclef Jean back in 1999. I bought her new self-titled album Beyonce and  I was hella excited to see her and Jay Z during their “On the Run” tour.  Beyonce has always been pro-woman and taken pride in her womanhood. I’ve thrown my hands up to “Independent Women”. “Survivorwas one of the songs that fueled me in college. I’ve shaken it to “Run the World (Girls).”  And if I ever dated a glow who was slow on getting on bended knee, I sure would tell him to “Put a Ring on It.”  Her sampling of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’sWe Should All Be Feminists” Ted Talk  in “Flawless” is what really ignited this feminist discussion. That is why I was so, so, so disappointed with Beyonce when she allowed Jay Z to compare himself to woman beating, misogynist Ike Turner in her song Drunk In Love

I’m Ike Turner, turn up
Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake, Anna Mae
Said eat the cake, Anna Mae  

The verse comes from a scene in What’s Love Got to Do With It?, the biopic about Tina Turner’s life and abusive, marriage from hell to Ike Turner. Watch the violent seen that Jay Z references here. I don’t understand how a woman can call herself a feminist and be okay with making light of this? How can she be so pro-woman, yet allow a man who devalued and beat women to be referenced in her song about love?  And how disrespectful to Tina Turner, a domestic violence survivor. Domestic violence is a HUGE issue when looking at feminism, the oppression of women and women’s right. Feminism or not, I was really disappointed Beyonce allowed this as woman. Especially in light of Rihanna, who’s on Jay Z’s record label and her Destiny’s Child mate Kelly Rowland—both women have been in abusive relationships. 
At the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the On the Run concert 

Another disappointment is how in "Flawless" she’s calling women bitches. I don’t understand why she would go from saying, “bow down bitches” then to Adichie’s speech. 

The good news about Beyonce proclaiming to be a feminist is that she has people talking about it, especially young girls. My sister, a high school senior, and I had a long discussion about it. Her interest came from listening to “Flawless.” This allowed me to not only talk to her about Adichie, but bell hooks, Angela Davis, Sojourner Truth, Patricia Hill Collins, Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, etc. I’m giving  her a copy of bell hooks’ Sisters of the Yam. Also I’m happy for the attention  Adichie is receiving. 

This book is a MUST READ. It
changed my life when I was in college. 
There are some criticisms about Beyonce and feminism I don’t agree with. Some are saying she’s less of a feminist because she’s married with a kid and goes by Mrs. Carter. Being a mother and a wife shouldn’t equate to not being a feminist. You can be in love with a man, married and a mother but still believe in women’s equality. And women have the choice to take their husband’s last name.

I also think people have gone way overboard about her sensuality on this album. Beyonce has always played up her sexiness so I don’t understand the shock. She celebrates her voluptuousness in “Bootylicious.” She sang about being a guy’s “Naughty Girl.” She’s unashamedly a beautiful, sexy woman and that’s one of the reasons why we love her. And sometimes her music makes us feel sexy. Yes, she turned up the heat in this album, but she’s a grown woman. And I thought she turned up the heat passionately and artistically.  She’s married and enjoying intimacy with her husband. I’m not mad at her. Roll up that “Partition” Bey ( I love that video).  Women like sex and should be able to express themselves sexually without being labeled a whore. Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics are way worse but people call him a player. 

The different sides to Beyonce is what I love about the latest album. She sings about being a mother, a wife, a woman with sexual desires, an entertainer. She shows the many sides of being a woman and how we don’t fit one definition. 

And what a feminist does or looks like, isn’t one definition. Some are arguing to give Beyonce a break on the “Drunk In Love” lyric because she’s not perfect. Or her feminism isn’t perfect. True. But I think if you’re going to align yourself with a belief, theory, cause, etc. pay attention to the core values. Standing against the abuse of women is serious in feminism. And I’m not ready to jump on the “Beyonce is a feminist” bandwagon because she quoted Chimamanda Adichie and stood by the word on stage. I want to see more feminist action from Beyonce in her philanthropy, involvement with women’s causes, and music lyrics.  

Jay Z and Beyonce should at least issue a public apology to Tina Turner. Or maybe address domestic violence seriously in a future song. I don’t know if it’s the feminist thing to do, but it’s certainly the right thing to do. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

I’m Taking Arianna Huffington’s Advice and Sleeping My Way to the Top

Photo by Xautumnx 
Somehow I missed Arianna Huffington’s bedtime call to action in 2010, which is to get more sleep. At the BlogHer ’14 conference I attended, she shared how passing out was her wakeup call. 

The incident is described in the “Sleep Challenge 2010” Huffington Post article by Glamour magazine Editor Cindi Lieve, who wrote, “…as for Arianna, she had a rude (and painful) awakening two years ago when she passed out from exhaustion, broke her cheekbone and got five stitches over her eye. Ever since then, she's been working on bringing more balance, and more sleep, into her life­ with varying degrees of success.” 

At BlogHer we all laughed when Arianna said she told the Smith College graduates during her commencement speech that sleeping their way to the top was the key to success. Part of me laughed and another part wanted to scream AMEN!. 

Prior to arriving to BlogHer,  I was tired as hell. Not tired from a tough day or week. I was
Arianna Huffington tells BlogHer to put in close to 8 hours
in bed. 
tired from years of exhaustion. For the last three years I wasn’t getting enough sleep. It started when I was helping my grandfather with cancer. Sometimes there were calls in the middle of night when he was sick. And then there’s bracing yourself for that call you don’t want to get when someone is ill. Living at home was stressful. Work was stressful. Anxiety kicked in full gear.  The internet and Craig Ferguson’s Late, Late Show were my comforts. I was going to bed on average 1am every night and waking up at 7am. Six hours. That’s not enough sleep.

“Americans are increasingly sleep-deprived, and the sleepiest people are, you guessed it, women,” Lieve reported.  “Single working women and working moms with young kids are especially drowsy: They tend to clock in an hour and a half shy of the roughly 7.5-hour minimum the human body needs to function happily and healthfully.”

Single working woman—that’s me! Six hours a night—that’s me! That was me. Sleep deprivation caused me to be cranky, irritated, sometimes less focused. And I believe it played a part in how I developed fibroids, gained weight and was easy at contracting bugs. Plus, sleep deprivation is horrible for people living with depression. I knew better. I needed to make some changes immediately. 
Even after moving out, laying my grandfather to rest, and getting rid of other stressors I was still tired. I kept telling myself I needed to sleep more, but didn’t listen. 
Finally, right before BlogHer, I decided to start getting at least 8 hours of sleep. I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep because there’s so much to do during the conference. But when I got back to Oakland, I started sleeping more during the week. I was just tired of being exhausted. 
Before, I would catch up on sleep on Sunday mornings. Then I’d start the bad sleep habits Sunday night. No more. 
Now I try to be in bed by 11pm. I wasn’t sure if I could do it because I’m naturally a night owl anyway. But since going cold turkey on staying up about a month ago,  most nights I’ve slept at least 8 hours and it has made a difference. I have more energy and I’m feeling sharper. Luckily I get sleepy around 11:00, unless I’m out partying.

At BlogHer, Arianna Huffington spoke about how our culture values putting business before sleep.  And she mentioned how we brag about having very little sleep but accomplishing things. When in reality, we probably would have more or better accomplishments if we had more sleep. Our bodies need sleep to replenish itself. 
I’m over the “I worked 12 hours and got 4 hours of sleep” mentality. It may sound cool, but the bags under people’s eyes tell another story. Yeah it’s hard not to stay up late and write a blog post or watch Craig Ferguson bust jokes with his skeleton robot. But a girl has to get her beauty and brain sleep. A girl wants to get back into her jeans. A girl wants to be her own boss, full time. 
Sweet dreams. 
Photo by mmagallan

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Compassion for Robin: My TV Interview About Robin Williams, Depression and Suicide

"I kind of see myself in this glass box, surrounded by darkness. And through that glass box I can see my healthy self. I can see my happy self. And I’m trying to push through it." 

Last Tuesday morning, I was not feeling well. But I threw on a dress, put on some lipstick and dragged myself to work. About 30 minutes after I arrived to work, the interim executive director asked me to return a call from KTVU news reporter John Fowler. He was looking for someone to talk about depression and give their thoughts on actor Robin Williams, 63 ending his life. Within 45 minutes I was on camera

People were, and still are, terribly upset over Robin Williams’ death. There was so much speculation throughout the internet. Of course, there were the people calling him a coward, selfish, etc. But they don’t understand how depression works. I’ve lived with it for about 21 years, I know. 

One of the reasons why I did the interview is I  wanted people to have compassion for the man. Forget the rumors, the speculations, the trolls. Forget those who are not knowledgeable about depression and are saying cruel things. The man was in deep, emotional pain. We don’t know what his life was like when the cameras were off. We don’t know what struggles he endured before he became a star. No, I didn’t want to see him go out like that, but for him to be in such agony that he would leave behind the fame and his family, I can’t help but have compassion for him. Depression doesn’t care about your race, gender, class, hair length, eye color, favorite NFL team, if you’re a Trojan or a Bruin. Depression can affect anyone. 

Jenee Darden with reporter John Fowler 

Reporter John Fowler was very understanding. He made me feel comfortable. He didn’t do the story for sensationalism. He wanted people to get an understanding of how depression feels for people. Plus, he has loved ones living with mental health challenges so he came to the interview with compassion. 

Another reason why I spoke on camera is because I know there are people living with depression, watching television thinking they’re the only struggling with this condition. They may think they’re the only one whose life sucks and is gloomy. I wanted them to see they are not alone in their struggle. 

Thank you to everyone who sent me a kind message about the interview. I have received majority positive feedback. I’ve heard through my family grapevine that some people didn’t approve of me disclosing on camera. I expected some to react like that, but I didn’t do it for them. Plus, this isn’t my first time disclosing. I've disclosed on the podcast I host for work, social media, and Huffington Post. It's not a secret anymore. 

Feedback like this from a college professor that follows me on Facebook, make me happy I went on air:  
"One day I will summon the courage to publicly admit that I, too, have been diagnosed with depression. Until then, I will just stand back and let those more courageous than I speak." 

 I  also spoke up because people shouldn’t be ashamed about something they didn’t ask for. Trust me, I’m not jumping in line with my hand raised asking God to activate my depression. I hope that when a friend or loved one tells you they have any kind of mental illness, that you listen to them. What those of us experience with depression is not easy. Luckily, it can be managed. 

I strongly believe in education. I hope people learned something new about depression from my interview, even if it's just that you can recover from it. 

For those living with depression, reach out to people. Reach out to your loved ones and tell them how they can support you. I’ve reached out to people recently and it felt good. Don’t be ashamed and have compassion for yourself.

One of things I said that was left out the interview is that I have more good days, than blue days. Thankfully, most of my days are bright, or average. But it takes some work. Aside from exercise, I have to make sure I eat healthy and get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is so not good for my mental health. I practice mindfulness to keep my mind from racing. I have books and methods I use to keep me thinking positively. And when I need to go, I'll see a therapist. 

Robin Williams left smiles on many faces during his lifetime. Hopefully his death is raising mental health awareness and saving many lives. 

Watch the interview here

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BlogHer 2014: One of the Flyest Conferences

My selfie at the Selfiebration. 
My journey to BlogHer 2014 began with a 2-piece chicken dinner from Popeye’s Chicken (see the very bottom). It really did. I had NO desire for Popeye’s Chicken, until I stopped at the grocery store on the way to San Jose for BlogHer and saw a restaurant. 

My chicken dinner was great but BlogHer was even better. I was very grateful to join their “Selfiebration” and participate in the 10th annual conference. I’ve wanted to go for a long time. I went there open with no expectations. I didn’t see everything, nor try to,  because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself. Plus I wanted to catch up with some blogger buddies I hadn’t seen in a while. And I’m glad I took this approach because I had a great time. I met great women and left praying for the day I could do this full time without a financial care. 

I got my BlogHer weekend started right with the Sangria Sundown Soiree hosted by Eppa Sangria. The dress code was, get this… yoga clothes! Yes, yoga and sangria. I took off my work clothes, slipped into my black yoga pants, and enjoyed my glasses of sangria, surrounded by palm trees in the summer sun. I was getting my Soiree on with my rookie, respected blogger, life coach, yogi  and soror pictured above-- Ananda Leeke. Their party was my favorite. Eppa knows how to chill and party. Their white Sangria is delicious, very refreshing. I missed the swag bags they were giving out, but I didn’t go home thirsty. 

BlogHer conference is very large, I believe around 3,000 people. But the good thing is that most people are friendly.  And they’re really friendly to newbies. I only attended one workshop because most of the workshops being offered, I already knew the information. I’ve been blogging since 2004. But I’m planning to write a book, so I attended a workshop on publishing. From what I heard from those new to blogging, the BlogHer workshops were 
extremely beneficial. 

Kerry Washington!
Photo by Daniel Tsi Photography /Artistic Shutter Photography

Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress has saved many lives.
Photo by Daniel Tsi Photography /Artistic Shutter Photography
The speakers were GREAT! Both the bloggers and celebrities delivered awesome messages. Arianna Huffington, Kerry Washington (Ahhhhhhh! I’m still excited), bloggers Deb on the Rock and Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progreess were some of my favorite speakers. Kerry Washington was in new mommy mode. She stopped speaking mid-sentence when a baby started crying. 

Deb Rox of Deb on the Rocks kept it real
about bloggers using our voices.
Photo by Daniel Tsi Photography /Artistic Shutter Photography
BlogHer is great for networking with other bloggers and friends. I still feel like many of the brands are more for parenting bloggers. But there are still plenty of opportunities for people who don’t blog about parenting. 

On the final day, there was a discussion of diversity and intersectionality. I thought it was great that BlogHer wanted to address this issue. I was disappointed that this was on the last day at the end of the conference. There were a lot of attendees at the discussion,  but could’ve been more. People were tired and we had a light lunch so I imagine people were either resting or eating during the panel. But I loved the panelists and am glad we had the discussion. 

Photo by Daniel Tsi Photography /Artistic Shutter Photography

Rev. Run on the ones and twos.
Photo by Daniel Tsi Photography /Artistic Shutter Photography
BlogHer knows how to par-tay. We ended with a party hosted by McDonald’s. Rev. Run from Run DMC brought the old school jams. I was getting my dance on! So my journey started with Popeye’s chicken and ended with Chicken McNuggets. Just so you know, I rarely eat fast food.  All you can eat Happy Meals is dangerous but I didn’t get too out of control.  

After the show some of us kept on partying in the Marriott Hotel. There I met a man who told me I was beautiful. He was traveling with friends who were cameramen for UFC matches. When I asked him what he did for a living he said, “I have a job but just don’t know what it is.” 

Sigh and BYE! I finished our dance and headed back to my room. You get a lot out of BlogHer, just maybe not a love connection. 

If you’re serious about blogging and have never been to BlogHer, it’s a must do. BlogHer is fun for everyone, whether you have 100 followers or 100,000+ followers. BlogHer Pro which is a smaller conference that’s more narrowly focused on business is a great conference too. My only complaint is that there's so much to do in so little time, but I imagine a three-day conference would be really pricey.

Fingers crossed I’ll be taking a sponsored trip to BlogHer 2015. 

Below are a few other cool photos from my experience. 

The fruit tarts were soooooooo good. 
I met tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki. 

Great theme and message from the all-female rock band
The Mrs. Yep, I'm enough. 

A beautiful time with black bloggers at the conference. These
women are all doing amazing things in media. 

The dream I keep working on. It will come true.
Or maybe it's in the process of coming true. 

Actress, comedian, blogger Franchesca Ramsey is funny and
sweet. A few years ago her hilarious video "Shit White GirlsSay to Black Girls" went viral.  
I couldn't resist snapping this photo. Twisted Shotz
gave free shots to BlogHer attendees. 

All of the free goodies I brought home. Big thanks to
Angel Soft for the free toilet paper!  I was down to 1/2 a roll. 

And this is where the trouble started. So wrong, but so good. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Blessings to Being Bullied

Cocoa Fly proudly hanging out with a Klingon that kinds of look like Cee-Lo
at a Star Trek Convention. Live your life and be yourself! 

A young sorority sister I follow on Facebook shared past pains of being bullied and inspired me to write this post because I was bullied as a kid.  If you’re looking at the title and thinking, “What the —?”, don’t get it twisted. Being bullied SUCKS. It is awful, horrible and psychologically torturous. I wish it on no child. However, I took the lessons from abuse and put it to good in my own life. 

When someone has a birthday coming up at my job, we go around and say one positive word about them at a staff meeting. I will be turning 35 this week. The word our executive director used to describe me is “nerd” and she meant in a good way. She said it was because I’m not ashamed of my love for superheroes and other nerdy things. Later on other co-workers told me that they noticed I am unapologetic about who I am and had a “take it or leave it” mentality. Like Mary J. Blige sang, “So take me as I am, or have nothing at all.” Coming to embrace myself took time. This personal acceptance was a result of being bullied. 

Like many kids, I got bullied for being smart and nerd. I went to a predominately black grammar school and was sometimes bullied for having long hair. I was bullied because I spoke proper English and people thought I was trying to be white. First Lady Michelle Obama knows what I’m talking about. But the bullying that hurt most was for being dark skinned. My story about experiencing colorism won me my first journalism award

It was after my first of year of college that I decided to hell with not loving me, because of other people and their issues. I met so many other unique, smart and talented people in college  I thought were awesome. And they saw the awesomeness in me. So I began to embrace myself more. 

I remember coming home from elementary school crying because of something mean another kid said or did to me. My mother would say, “They’re just jealous of you.” I didn’t understand how that was possible. Those kids were popular, respected, even feared. Why would they be jealous of the nerdy, scrawny girl?
I began to understand as I got older. People young and old will try to dim your shine if your light is bright. Those kids saw a brightness in me that I didn’t recognize in myself because it came naturally to me. 

I’m not on here to brag, because like everyone, I have my own personal issues. I love myself but I’m still working on being a better Jenee. A lot of kids are bullied and it hurts. It’s sad when I see kids take their lives or other lives because they’re rejected and/or harassed by their peers. And it bothers me that some schools and parents of bullies aren’t taking action. 
The bath towels in the back give the photo more effect. 

 I saw a meme on Facebook that said something to the extent, be yourself because life is too short to be anybody else. That’s so TRUE. I’ve even come more into my own because I’ve lost a lot of people in the last few years. Most recently, my 22-year-old cousin was killed in a car accident. He had just graduated college about two to three weeks prior to the accident. From all of the loved ones I lost, I learned to value life and LIVE IT UP, LIVE IT UP, LIVE IT UP! And do what you want because you never know when it’s your time to go. You only get one life. Why live your ONE life for someone else? 

As for the bullies, I eventually learned from their taunts that I must be special and blessed because they wanted to make me feel inferior. I think bullies even see that in kids who may have some kind of disability or different issue. Often those are the kids who are stronger. Being bullied has also helped me see signs in people I probably shouldn’t trust. I’m also very compassionate toward people who are mistreated. 

I hope bullied kids know it will get better over time. Everyone is not going to love you. That goes from the day you’re born until you take your final breath. But you’ve got something bright in you that those see. It’s something they don’t have.  Don’t let them dim your shine. 

I was the skinny girl who got called, “nerd”, “talk like a white girl,” “chalkboard,” “hella black.” And what do ya know: my nerdy ways led to a master’s degree; someone likes the way I speak because I've reported on the radio and am a paid speaker; my chocolate skin and healthy hair made it to a popular magazine’s website

Sometimes the best middle finger to give someone is success. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Beautiful, Brown and Baring it All: Rihanna and Venus Williams

Remember when pop star Rihanna caught some flack for the sheer gown she wore to the CFDA Awards? The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) honored her with the 2014 Style Icon Award. Some people thought she looked tacky for baring it all under the glittery fabric. I know I’m late to commenting on her attire but I thought she was stunning. Yes it was sexy. Yes it was revealing. But it was a sophisticated sexy. People called her trashy, but a trashy woman could not have pulled this off. 

What I loved most about what Rihanna wore, was her attitude. Some people who were offended questioned why do female celebrities feel the need to show so much skin. And I can understand that argument. But Rihanna wore that gown and owned it. There was no apology in her eyes. You can see the pride in her smile and she knew she rocked the hell out of that gown. 

She also wore it in tribute to Josephine Baker, whose birthday was around that time. Baker opened the door for black women to have that type of sensual expression under their own definition. Also, Rihanna wasn’t the first. Late actress Pearl Bailey did it back in the day.  Cher has gone sheer too. If I was a young, successful pop star with a body like Rihanna’s, I would wear it to. 

Actress Pearl Bailey beautiful and bare. 
As I tweeted, i think people have more of a problem with Rihanna with her being unapologetic about her sensuality than what she wore. The same thing applies to Beyonce. I don’t agree with everything on her latest album, but I can see that she’s owning her sexuality and body more. Some people don't want to see Beyonce doing that. We forget that people are sexual beings too.  

Venus Williams carries her name well. She’s definitely a tennis goddess. But like the Roman goddess of love, beauty and sex who shares her name—Venus Williams embodied all of that in her photos from this year’s ESPN Body Issue. Venus looks AMAZING! She made me proud of my chocolate skin and bootyliciousness. She’s 34 and 6’1. I love it! There's a great interview with her on about her sport, the shoot and living with Sjogren's syndrome. I find it interesting that Venus hasn’t received the same amount of criticism as Rihanna. I don’t know if feel people differently because she’s an athlete or her sister Serena Williams posed a few years ago. 

Venus Williams is a goddess for this ESPN Body Issue.
Pick up the magazine in stores now. 

 I’ve studied black erotica and black sexuality for some time. And sometimes when artists pose like this, the criticism that arises is that the women are being exploited or fetishized. Jada Pinkett-Smith received similar critique when she posted a gorgeous nude photo of herself on Facebook. But that’s not always the case. In all of these instances I listed, these women are celebrating their bodies and sensuality. And think that’s okay to celebrate our bodies. That goes for women of all races.  Big, small, tall, short, old, young, limited ability or athletic—it’s okay to honor our bodies.  It’s okay to honor one of the Creator’s best artwork—the human body. 

By the way, Rihanna still isn’t listening to ya'll.

Check out my thesis on black erotic literature and sexuality

Friday, July 11, 2014

Jean Kwok On Unleashing the Beauty, Power Within and Her New Novel 'Mambo in Chinatown'

Author Jean Kwok and Jenee aka Cocoa Fly at Book Passages in San Francisco
Receiving a tweet from an author you admire is cool. Meeting that author in person, who also remembers your Twitter handle, is even cooler. 

I recently met New York Time Bestselling author Jean Kwok at Book Passage in San Francisco. The Bay Area was the last stop in her book tour to promote her latest novel Mambo in Chinatown. It’s about a young, Chinese woman named Charlie Wong.  She’s a dishwasher turned ballroom-dance studio receptionist. Ballroom dancing appeals to her and she learns the art. But she keeps it a secret from her father who wouldn’t approve of her exposure to this western dance. As she gets more immersed in the dance world, her sister becomes seriously ill.  

Jean Kwok hooked me with her first novel, Girl in Translation. That book is about a Chinese girl who immigrates to the United States with her mother.  It follows her trying to survive in America, while attain the American dream. Kwok is very passionate about telling the story of working-class immigrants’ experience because they’re often invisiblized. 

“There are so many nobody sees, like the people you pass in the taxi, “ she said.
“Or the girl who hands you your food.” 

Both stories have elements from Kwok’s own life. Kwok, the youngest of seven, immigrated to the U.S. with her family from Hong Kong when she was five. She said her family was wealthy in China but fled because of a communist revolution.  Their hope was to land in America, a place they thought, where the streets were paved with gold. After arriving to New York City, the  American Dream seemed more like a myth. 

“Instead of finding ourselves in the skyscrapers of Manhattan, we were in the slums of Brooklyn,” she told the San Francisco audience. 

Her family lived in a building that was not legally up to code. They were the only tenants in the building. Their apartment was infested with rats and roaches. Add to that, the building was unheated.  If you’ve been to the East Coast during the winter, you know how brutal the winters can be. 

Jean Kwok shares her story with the audience 

Kwok and her family worked in a sweatshop, making $.01 per garment. One of Kwok’s brothers gave her a life changing gift, a diary. 

Kwok said her brother told her, “Whatever you write in this will belong to you.” 

Monday, July 7, 2014

I'm Good Because of Karyn Washington Founder Karyn Washington

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. In 2008 the White House added the late author Bebe Moore Campbell's name to the title because of her advocacy. Campbell's daughter/actress Maya Campbell lives with a mental health challenge. 

Normally I don't write about my job, but back in May I led an online blogging campaign project called "I'm Good." May is Mental Health Awareness Month. You can read about why I started the campaign here.  Around the time I was planning the campaign, I learned that blogger Karyn Washington took her life.  

I wrapped up the campaign with this blog post below about her: 

While in the middle of preparing for the launch of this blog campaign, the stress from planning peaked.  We were not only getting the blog together, but organizing a kick off event for the I’m Good campaign.  My team’s outside workload increased, which led to us pushing back meetings. And we still had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. I was so frustrated that one day I asked myself, “Why did I even suggest we do this?”
That same week I questioned what was I thinking, blogger Karyn Washington’s beautiful face was all over my Facebook page. Karyn, founder of the website For Brown Girls, took her life. She was only 22 years old. Friends say the loss of her mother to cancer was too much for her to bear. Karyn Washington advocated for black women and was an up-and- coming young talent and voice.
How I learned of Karyn Washington was through her Dark Skin, Red Lip Project. I wanted to wear red lipstick but felt nervous about doing so. In the Black community, many of us have issues with colorism or shade discrimination. I’m of a darker hue, and many times I heard growing up that dark-skinned women shouldn’t wear bright colors. And I also heard that red lipstick didn’t look good on dark skinned women. But those are all lies we’ve been telling people in my community.
As I gathered the courage to rock red lips, one of my sources for inspiration was the website that Karyn launched. It was filled with everyday dark-skinned Black women who submitted beautiful photos of themselves wearing red lipstick. I know it seems like a such a simple act, but it empowered a lot of women. Karyn’s website and singer Janelle Monae are two of the reasons why I proudly wear red lipstick today. Unfortunately the domain has not been renewed since her death and the site is down.
When Karyn died, I thought, “Could I have done something?” I never met her but I wished something I wrote or produced, or an interview I did with someone on depression could’ve reached her. I was saddened to see so much potential...gone. Yet I still had compassion for her pain and prayed she was at peace now.

Karyn’s death revitalized my reason for wanting to do this campaign. Maybe my post didn’t reach her. But maybe the posts on this blog helped someone.  My team and I worked really hard, but if any of these posts gave even just ONE person hope, then we did our job.

Cocoa Fly rocking red lips in honor
of Karyn Washington #RedLipsforKaryn

After Karyn passed, I thought about that question I asked myself, “Why did I even suggest doing a blog campaign?” I did it for people like Karyn. I did it for people who are struggling so they know they’re not alone or not weird for having certain thoughts, feelings or experiences. I did it because I’m so tired of the constant depressing, hopeless, negative stories in the news about people with mental illnesses. There are so many other stories out there to tell. I did it so people out there know they can overcome anything.
Karyn Washington uplifted a lot of people through her work. And even in her death, she continues to encourage people like me to keep going, keep spreading hope.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this campaign by sharing their story. I know you touched someone out there and I appreciate your openness.  Thank you to those who read and shared posts. Keep reading and sharing posts!  Thank you to my team who started this journey with me back in October of 2013. I couldn’t have done this without you.
We’re keeping this website up because you never know how one person’s story could be a blessing to someone else.
Remember, that no matter what you’re going through, or your diagnosis—just remember you’re good. You’re good because you’re trying. You’re good because someone cares. You’re good because you’re not the only one on the planet with this hardship. You’re good because someone understands. You’re good because there’s hope. You’re good because someone else probably went through the same thing and if they made it through, so can you. You’ve Struggled. You’re  Growing. You’re Good.

**You can read more posts by visiting Please,  if you need to talk to a counselor or therapist, don't be ashamed. Do it. **

Monday, June 30, 2014

Life is Like a Purple Tutu

Fly in my purple tutu at SF Pride's Dyke March

Remember the opening of “Sex & the City” when Carrie Bradshaw, sporting a cute tutu-skirt, was splashed by a bus that featured an ad with her column and picture? Oh, I love that show and I loved that outfit. Ever since then I’ve wanted to wear a tutu. 

I wore a purple tutu over the weekend at the Dyke March for San Francisco Pride. I went last year with friends and we had LOTS of fun marching and dancing in the street. This year’s theme was “My Body. My Business. My Power.” Isn’t that a powerful theme? One advocate named Leslie Ewing gave a great speech. She talked about her pride in being a lesbian and then how women’s bodies are judged and scrutinized. Whether it’s because some women dress more masculine, or more revealing, or have a disability  are overweight, etc; it doesn’t matter. Women bodies are constantly under surveillance, which is oppressive. There was a line I like. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something like, no body is an accident or a mistake. 

I unapologetically got my nearly 35-year-old body in a purple tutu. And I happily danced through the Mission District all the way to the Castro along with thousands and thousands of women. Now I’m sure when I got on the BART train with my tutu, a few may have been thinking, “What the hell?” But I didn’t care. It was something I wanted to do. And those people don’t pay my bills. Actually a woman waiting for the train told me she liked my tutu.  I had a family critic say I shouldn’t wear a tutu. Again, I didn’t care. It’s my life. It’s my tutu. Hey, it’s also “My Body, My Business, My Power.” 

Life is like a purple tutu because you gotta take a chance, wear it and dance your way through it. And everybody might not like your tutu. Everybody might not like the choices you make that are making you happy. But you have to do you because life is too short. And I’m glad I tuned out the naysayers and joyfully danced through the streets of San Francisco to Diana Ross and Beyonce in my purple tutu and Mardi Gras beads. And no one can take away that experience from me. Nor can they can take away the compliments I got about my tutu. 

Plus I also participated to show my support and love to the LGBTQ community. And no one can take that away from me as well. 

I took this picture at last year's Dyke March. 

I recently lost a relative. He died in a car accident and was only 22 years old. He just graduated from college a few weeks prior. His death hurt my heart because he was so young and his future was so bright. But it reminded me that we don’t know how long we have in this life. And so we have to live it fully. Sometimes that means doing things that may not please everyone. Plus we have to live with gratitude. Trust me, I know life is hard. Life can be something else. Still I try to be thankful for something in my life when times are tough or good. 

So live your life with vibrancy and color. And dance like a 34-year-old woman, wearing a purple tutu, in the streets of San Francisco to “I’m Coming Out” like no one was watching.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thank God It’s Natural Butter Cream Was My Moisture Miracle

I really, really love Thank God It’s Natural or TGIN productsI’ve blogged about them before, but have since fallen in love with a another TGIN must-have. While attending a conference in Austin last year, it was just my luck an ice storm decided to pass through. Thankfully, I checked the weather before leaving and packed a heavy winter coat, cute hat and TGIN products. The temperature dipped into the 20’s. For a Cali girl, 20’s are like Antarctica. 

The company sent me a sample pack to review of their shampoo, conditioner, twist cream, and the Butter Cream Moisturizer.  I knew my hair was not going to be happy with the cold. Hours before heading out to 6th Street to get my par-tay on, I moisturized my hair with TGIN’s Butter Cream.  My hair stayed really soft and hydrated throughout the night. 

I dabbed on just a tad bit more before I went to bed, rolled my hair and tied it up in a satin wrap. By morning my hair had a nice bounce. I had no worries about my hair the remainder of the trip. 

Warning: My Hair Looks Good! This is right after
I did a presentation in Austin. My hair wasmoist and soft. 

The great thing about the Butter Cream Moisturizer is that you don’t need very much. A little really does goes a long way. It doesn’t weigh down your hair, or make it greasy. I don’t even think there’s a fragrance. 

I finally finished my other tub of daily moisturizer and immediately bought TGIN’s Butter Cream Moisturizer. I ordered it on Wednesday and it was on my porch Saturday morning.  

TGIN creator Chris-Tia Donaldson has great products. I’m also a HUGE fan of her lip balm. And kudos to TGIN for making travel size natural hair products so I don’t have lug a big tub of Butter Cream in my bag.  

Check out TGIN. Trust me, I don’t give favorable reviews to stuff I don’t like. 

Butter Cream! 


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