Starting Your Dreams Later In Life and Embracing the Detour

Jenee Darden speaking at Creative Mornings I know it's been a while since I've posted anything but that's because of my job. I'm working as a reporter covering Oakland and I host an arts segment on the radio where I get to interview amazing artists from around the Bay Area. Plus I'm publicizing my book  and building my speaking career!  You know what's funny? I thought this would all happen by the time I was 27-30.  Nope. That wasn't God's plan for me. I'm finally beginning to do the things I've wanted to do and I'm almost 40 years old. Some people reading this who are 40 will say 40 is still young. But some younger people reading may think 40 is nearly ancient. But I'm writing this post for those who like me, thought their career and personal dreams would come true much early in life. I'm here to tell you not to give up.  You know, death inspires life. A number of my relatives and friends have passed away, ranging in

Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters: The Play About Young Black Womanhood I've Been Waiting For

Echo Brown is star of the PHENOMENAL
one-woman show Black Virgins Are Not
For Hipsters.
Photo: Alexis Keenan

Check out Cocoa Fly's Black Women and Sexual Empowerment Series. Follow on social media at #BlackWomenSexuality.

Updated 6/2016

I love being a Black woman. And there’s so much to being a Black woman — our loving, our struggles and triumphs, our beauty, our spirit. We’re often misrepresented and underrepresented in mainstream media. That is why I’m constantly looking for art and media by Black women that tell our stories. Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters is the play I’ve been waiting for. In her one-woman show, actress and writer Echo Brown, 31, powerfully shares her personal experience of love, sexuality, interracial dating, abuse, race and so much more. She covers the complexities of young, Black womanhood through a heartfelt blend of humor, drama and a surprising BeyoncĂ© dance tutorial. I laughed. I cried. I danced. I left her show saying, “Damn that was deep.”

Even Alice Walker gave Brown her blessings. “What I can say is that not since early Whoopi Goldberg and early and late Anna Deavere Smith have I been so moved by a performer’s narrative,” Walker wrote on her website.

Brown’s solo show often sells out. I’m amazed this is the first show she has ever written. She said she had no acting experience prior to this production.

Brown, a Cleveland native, plays a 23-year-old version of herself. She moves to New York City after graduating from Dartmouth. Then she lands a job investigating allegations of misconduct by NYPD officers. Brown is also a virgin looking for love. She finds it on Craigslist where she meets Ryan — a cute, white hipster from Portland, living in Brooklyn. The play begins on the night she’s anticipating having sex for the first time. As she prepares for Ryan’s arrival to her apartment, she reminisces on her past experiences in life that brought her to this point.

Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters recently ended its run at the Bay Area’s Marsh Theater. This summer she’s performing the show overseas in Ireland and Germany. The play hits Oakland and the University of Chicago this fall. On top of this she is writing a book, launching a Youtube channel, and looking to perform in other venues and colleges around the country.

I spoke with Brown who lives in Oakland. We discussed her life and the issues she raises in the play.

JD: Is this based on your life?

EB: All of the events happened. How it’s put together is the art of it.

JD:. What inspired you to write the show?

EB: I just moved here from New York and had such a hard time dating out here. It’s unbelievable to me. I’ve been out here for four years and maybe dated like two or three people. I thought I was going to write this cute show about dating, then all of this trauma emerged. That’s what I needed to write and I didn’t stop.

JD: Why is a young, attractive Black woman and Dartmouth graduate a virgin at 23?

JD and EB: [Laughter]

EB: Story of my life. f you have been so conditioned with ideas, as I was, that you are unattractive because you’re too dark and you look African-- and if you receive those messages from multiple sources like people in your family, your community and the media, then you grow up with a really low self-esteem. Which is what I had and what I still struggle with. I closed myself down entirely, and was only able to come out of that when I was 23.

JD: What changed at 23?

EB: First of all, I needed to get some action. Getting no action will make you crazy.

JD and EB: [Laughter]

JD: Yes it will!

EB: Who knows when the [personal] work that you do actually blossoms. I remember the moment. I was walking down the street in New York, and feeling super lonely. And I just had a thought to myself that somebody must want to date me. That thought propelled me to look for this person. It was some kind of internal shift for me.

JD: You talk about hardships black men experience, including your brother and the legal system.

EB: When I got out of college my brother was going to prison for the first time and that was so traumatic for me. It’s not like people just go to prison and do their time. People have connections to families. You send somebody to prison, you’re sending somebody’s son, brother. It’s traumatizing. I’m worried about my brother. I’m trying to do this job. I’m trying to find somebody to love me.

JD: You have compassion for Black men. But you also share your pain of being rejected and abused by Black men. Why was it important to include this in the story?

EB: That was hard for me to put in there because Black men are so crucified in the media. It’s hard when you want to talk about an issue in the community, but you want to be united on all fronts. But it has to be in there because I’m being truthful. The people who have victimized me the most in my life have been black men.

The father that I talk about in the play is my stepfather. My actual father left me and was one of the people that called me ugly. I’ve had systematic abuse from a lot of different Black men and hardly any positive reinforcement. I wanted to balance this out by showing love to my brother, a black man in the play and not have this “Oh this white man saved me [idea].”

JD: What’s your response to someone who thinks you started dating a white guy because of your issues with black men?
EB: When I first went out and started dating on Craigslist I wasn’t looking for a white man. I went on dates with different types of people. I dated a Japanese guy. I dated a guy from Jamaica. it’s not like I set out and said, “Fuck black men, I’m going to find myself a white man.” But what I did set out to do was find somebody who wanted to date me and can see me. That was very important to me.

Ryan just happened to be the first person I came across who met that criteria. He thought I was beautiful. I had never experienced that from any guy pretty much in that way. Beautiful in the way he wanted to hold me and be in a relationship with me, and not just sleep with me. Beautiful in a way that I was valued. Even to this day I’m open to dating black men. But I haven’t had an experience where a lot of black men express interest in me.

JD: That’s deep that you said you wanted somebody who can see you.

EB: Sure, is my trauma around black men something that I have continued to think about and process? Definitely. But it’s like racism. When you are more aware of it, you can work through it and overcome those issues. It’s something I work through everyday.

Photo by Alexis Keenan 

JD: How have you healed?

EB: Healing is not a linear process. Some days I feel like I’m running shit. Other days I feel like I can’t make it in life. Healing just means that you are able to face your past and the things that happened to you with authenticity and acceptance. If we use that as a criteria for healing, then yes I have healed tremendously. I couldn’t have written a show like this five years ago because I had to come to terms with all of the abuse that happened to me.

JD: I can relate to the relationship with your mother and how she discouraged you from dating, but not for the same reasons as your mother. My mother and the mothers of a few of my friends would say, “Just focus on school!” Then you graduate from college and you’ve hardly dated. I know our mothers have been hurt and they don’t want us to be hurt.

EB: My mother was sexually abused, when she was six,, by her stepfather over and over again. It only stopped when she grabbed a knife and told him she would kill him. And this was at the age of six or seven. I think when you go through that kind of trauma it creates this environment where your sexuality is really dangerous. And it’s dangerous because there are so many predators trying to take this thing from you. Which is another reason why women have another level of shit they have to overcome. Imagine if you didn’t have to consider your body all of the time. This takes energy from us. When you’re in an environment of predators, it’s necessary to shut down your sexuality because it’s a matter of survival.

I’m absolutely happy that she did it. She’s probably the main reason I graduated from Dartmouth and I’m so focused. But I have to work to not shut myself down in that way all of the time and to keep staying open to relationships.

JD: Why is it important to tell Black women’s stories?

EB: I think it’s important because you need to be able to see yourself accurately in society. That’s how we as human beings build self-esteem, identity, self-worth. You also get part of that from your family and your community. But you should also get part of that from society. It’s always refreshing to see yourself reflected back.