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 Times Bestselling author Jean Kwok at Book Passage in San Francisco. The Bay Area was the last stop on 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. **


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