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).

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