Category Archives: Media

The Cypher: We Can Use Hip Hop to Prevent Violence

As I read this morning’s headlines I am neither shocked nor disgusted. I am sad, I am hurt but I am not surprised. Between the newscasters who said that rap songs caused slavery, Don Lemon defending the mom of one of the racist fraternity chanters in Oklahoma and the people recording a brutal beating of a teenage girl instead of intervening, I feel like we are living in a Boondocks episode. Someone put me in touch with Dave Chappelle because this stuff needs proper analysis and it’s so raw we need to laugh while we break it down. We need  to laugh to keep from crying.

Dave Chapelle

Over the past two years I’ve been diligently working to get my affairs in order and organize the vision for my life’s work. It has not been easy. After 20 years of facilitating cyphers and cypher workshops I started doing cypher trainings on how to lead nuanced cyphers that create space for transformation. In the wake of the political uprisings this work is too often seen as “soft” and not “real” activism, but I stayed committed to it because it is my ministry, the cypher is my purpose.

The cypher is a circle of sharing. In my new book, Wisdom of the Cypher, I define cypher as representing 360 degrees. It is completion of thought, the continuum, the giving and exchanging of energy, information and ideas. Whenever you see a gathering of artists in a circle or semi-circle formation, whether they are rapping, dancing, telling stories or sharing the spoken word, you are witnessing a cypher.

I proposed a focus on the cypher in two of my residencies this year but it gets inserted into larger programs because administrators and decision makers don’t get that the cypher is its own program. The cypher as I present it deserves its own platform because both youth and adults need a safe space to express themselves from their core.

My cyphers are disguised as freestyle rap, improvisational poetry and impromptu speaking workshops but are really spaces for people to release stress, confront fear and self-doubt, improve critical thinking skills, build vocabulary and confidence, heighten access to creativity and learn to think on their feet. The cypher helps us to build community while providing leaderships development and transformation.

Unable to secure the proper funding, I currently host cyphers out of my home or the home of my partner. We know that the cypher is a sacred space. We know that the best intervention is prevention. We know that as much as we complain about technology, emotional detachment and the lack of human interaction people have nowadays, that we are still human and deep down we long for moments of connection. The cypher reminds us of this need.

Akua Soadwa, founder of the Sista2Sista Summit, reached out to me this morning. Her online comments about the teenage girls fighting and what we need to do to help our youth inspired my commentary. She said that young people are dealing with spiritual warfare and that hurt youth without the right resources and support become angry, uncontrollable youth. Violence happens when people are not able to say what they want to say so they act out physically.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Of course, I am waiting for one of the newscasters to blame the melee at McDonald’s on a rap song. I’m sure that will happen at some point today, but these are the folks that know very little about Hip Hop music and culture. Part of me gets it. Hip Hop still has a stigma and when educated people formulate opinions about it based solely on mainstream media then ignorance will pervade, but I know the richness, the beauty and the spiritual consciousness that Hip Hop provides millions of people around the world. I also know how many lives it has changed and saved. This is why I am promoting the cypher, a concept my work borrows from Hip Hop culture, but is universal and relates to the human experience.

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Stressed Out: Healing in the Midst of it All

Toni Shining the LightI’ve reached a new level of “healing” with my body.  I am detoxing, eating to live, exercising, meditating and de-cluttering my car, my closets and my files.   I don’t know what’s going to happen next but I’m channeling the prayer warrior skills of the elders from St. Marks Baptist Church, a place where the old folks would moan the spiritual hymns.  It smelled of Avon perfume and sweet potato pie and was filled with women and men from the deepest parts of Louisiana.  I am choosing to believe that I can heal  and if there is surgery needed I  will have a speedy recovery.

Part of my healing approach involves minimizing stress and anxiety.  Right now, many of us are functioning at a heightened state of awareness as we see injustice being replayed on our television and computer screens.  It’s hard to fathom how our ancestors coped with all of this nonsense.  Although the church no longer functions as the safe haven that it once was, I am understanding why it was so important to our grandparents.

I am finding it impossible to be signed in and not read, watch and listen to every single thing about Ferguson. I am finding it challenging to not think of my heart as an aching machine with I think of Mike Brown’s friends and family. I am finding it difficult to not cry at least 2 to 3 times a day. Behind on work  and deadlines, important meaningful work that I believe makes a difference, I find myself needing to check out–often. 

New research revealed that the shorter lifespan of Black men can be partially attributed to the pressures they deal with in society. I know, I know it seems like common sense, but there is now scientific proof  that racial discrimination causes a reaction in the body and impacts stress hormones in a myriad of negative ways. This same stress affects Black women and children as well.  It’s the build up of micro-assaults and the cumulative affect of dealing with them that creates health issues and conditions that can lead to early death.

This morning, I signed onto Facebook and saw that an old friend and classmate who I love and adore is on the ground in Ferguson.  Within 20 minutes I felt a knot form in the upper left quadrant of my back. I was immediately reminded of the importance of feeling my feelings, not trying to stuff them and why we must let the tears fall. I did a prayer for him and his safety.  I then repeated the following:

I release all pain. I release all stress. I release all fear. I release all anxiety. I release all worry. I release all anger. I release all resentment. I release all fear. I release all pain. I release all fear. I release all pain. I am filled with good, with love, with light, with faith. 

Sunset in Yamoussoukro

One of my little “sisters” works in a conservative corporate environment in the south and is dealing with daily microaggressions that have intensified now with recent events in the news.  My recent conversations with her reveal classic stereotypes about Black women and textbook examples of the stresses that women face.  She is expected to be strong, to carry more work than others, to not be emotional, to work without acknowledgment and to not complain.  When she complains she is perceived as angry.

The strong Black woman stereotype is another issue for us to address because many of us internalize it adding even more weight to our wellness challenges. I no longer try to be strong.  I admit when I feel powerless and frustrated while at the same time clinging to the idea that I/we can overcome any challenge as long as we believe it’s possible.  Managing stress means being present to how I feel at any given moment, monitoring what I ingest mentally, emotionally and energetically and establishing practices and rituals that support me feeling peace within. I just don’t have the luxury of being able to not manage my emotions. Stress shows up as physical reactions (i.e. illness) in my body and it is my intention to be well. Insomnia, binge eating or loss of appetite can be a reaction for some women. In my body, anger, rage, fear and worry each trigger symptoms like physical joint and pelvic pain, nausea, a weakened immune system, tension in the back and hips, edema, even more painful PMS symptoms and worsened monthly cycle issues.

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This month I am channeling the prayer warrior women of my childhood.  Here are a few of the things that I do to stay as grounded as possible.  Check out the list below:

1)Slow down and take a minute to just breathe and pay attention to the breath. There are plenty of breathing exercises on youtube where you can learn how to breathe properly if you want to go deeper.

2)Do a body scan.  Go from the bottom of your feet to the crown of your head paying attention to the places where there is tension and letting it go. Wiggle your toes, move your hips, breathe into your back, relax your tongue and loosen your facial muscles. When we’re busy we often forget to check-in on our bodies.

3)Listen to inspirational audio.  It might be religious or spiritual, it may be motivational or meditational, but find audio that helps you to tune into ways of thinking that benefit you and your health.

4)Take walks, exercise and/or dance. Movement helps us to release tension.

5)Stay in touch with loved ones.  It’s easy to feel isolated so stay connected to those who love you and make you feel safe.

6)Don’t hesitate to seek out support or professional help if the pressure gets to feel like too much to bear or if it’s consuming you. I see a counselor who is also an energy healer rooted in spiritual healing practices and I sometimes go to a monthly healing circle she facilitates.

 

 

DOVE Self Esteem Movement

Even though the official start of summer was last month, mine feels as if it began last Monday. I honored my last public commitment in the midst of DC’s heatwave and returned home to a bedroom of chaos and clutter.  Still, it’s nice to be home, to have time to get grounded and focus my energies within. So much has happened since the launch of DOVE’s Self Esteem Movement and my being selected as a 2012 DOVE Real Woman, Role Model.  I was totally overwhelmed by the sincere commitment of the staff and team that work to make this campaign happen.  Their love not only for their work, but for girls and women could be felt at every turn.  A business advisor of mine said the authenticity of the people behind it is probably why it’s so successful.  The best part of it has been the opportunity to meet and connect with the other DOVE women-Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Jane Chen, Arlene Blum, Melanie Matchett-Wood, Fahima Osman and Severn Cullis-Suzuki.  Check out the Women Who Should Be Famous Film Series and get ready to be inspired. Share them with girls and women you know! Search DOVE + the name of any of the women above on youtube.com or check out http://www.dove.us/Social-Mission/Dove-Real-Role-Models/ .  DOVE has been a trailblazer in the area of social cause marketing and has inspired paradigm shifting change since its launch of a Campaign for Real Beauty.

This weekend one of my mentees asked me why I hadn’t posted my own video yet? lol #Duh So here goes in case you haven’t seen it and if you have it’s a new edit from the original posting.

I take this Real Woman stuff seriously.  🙂 I am recommitted to my life’s work and looking forward to the good 2012 is bringing into my life.

Toni’s DOVE Film

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