8,935,200 minutes, 148,920 hours, 6,205 days - 17 years
It's been 17 years since I was displaced from my home in Miami to live in foreign Massachusetts with a family where 1,166 miles separated us for 12 years. From adolescence to adulthood, I spent 17 years breaking and molding myself as an attempt to make my surroundings feel bearable. In 17 years I grew attached to my siblings and extended close friends who at this point are also my siblings - my sisters my brothers (Philly Fam).
During these 17 years, I graduated high school, went on to earn a college degree, and when success seemed distant, buckled up to pursue a Masters degree. Some would say, "I attained higher ed so what's the problem?" To be honest, there have been times where I'd ask myself the same question. But sadly enough, while living in Massachusetts, I've spent more energy seeking authentic, consistent, connection, and community more than I want to admit. Although, I participated in activities that I was truly interested in, the root of my participation was the search for belonging. In the midst of searching for belonging, I often lost myself because when those groups and activities were gone, I was left questioning, "Who am I?"
My 17th year in Massachusetts also marked my 29th year on this earth. Both of these turning points meant something different for me. For one, 17 years in a state where no matter how I flipped and turned it, I perpetually found myself feeling like a stranger in familiar yet unfamiliar territory. It was now time to travel, grab life by the balls, and discover what grounds me.
Secondly, your girl turned 29 (Twenty Fine), the past 3-5 years my birthday wasn't the happiest. This time, I booked my first impromptu solo trip to ATL. It was peace, a vibe, self-care - at its core, ATL was self-love.
Listen y'all the power of choice is life changing! Choose you!
But seriously, the glamorous lax I witnessed in ATL was jaw dropping. I mean everyone in that city is a super star within their own right.
What do I mean?
Faces beat to the gods! Brand name everything! Ladies and Gents slaying just to go to the grocery store! Securing bags all around the city while promoting one another, and the most beautiful thing of all, THEY ARE BLACK PEOPLE!
As far as being lax, it's the South! "We're lavish, we're not pressed and you aint about to press us"
If that isn't a concept to live by, I don't know what is. When I thought I saw it all, I visited Piedmont Park. I spent hours there walking, meeting people, and taking pictures. At one point, I looked around the park and felt teary eyed. I saw black families. There were picnics, drums playing, black people dancing, walking their dogs, running, cycling, and playing sports. These melanated beauties weren't scattered, they literally filled the park with their excellence. Living in Boston where the most comparable green area is the Commons, this particular scene at Piedmont Park was incomparable to the Commons. Why? Again,
"These melanated beauties weren't scattered, they literally filled the park with their excellence."
Still on my high, two months later, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to return to ATL for my friend Lo's birthday. My job was also having an event the same week, the alignment was fate. I spent the first half of the week working, during which I met a group of black women who for me embodied black girl magic. Not only were these women in their careers, they owned their own businesses; they were inviting, and warm. Please give me a moment to properly name these black women:
Alicia Butler Pierre: Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Alicia uses a combination of scientific, mathematical and business methodologies to design and improve processes that solve complex operational problems in manufacturing and transactional industries. In her words, Alicia helps businesses propel from being good to great! Click here to learn more about Equilibria, Inc., she's also on LinkedIn y'all!
Danielle Hillman: Danielle and her team of other black women created a company called 4BlackRoots to help us understand and love our natural black hair. They infuse historic, scientific, academic study with skill-based knowledge and individualized life coaching techniques to teach us how to better tend to our natural roots. Danielle is also a professional Motivational/Transformational Speaker, Life-Coach who guides individuals onto a path that allows them to “Embrace the Journey,” it's not only her business, but her direct focus & passion. Click here to learn more 4BlackRoots!
Kenna Cowser: Kenna is a self - employed professional travel agent for Evolution Travel and a healthcare consultant. With your traveling, Kenna will help meet your needs without the hassle of a web search or an agency. You would have a personal agent who you wouldn't need to repeat information all over again. Kenna's helpful and friendly personality makes her the ideal travel agent! Click here to learn more Evolution Travel and feel free to reach out to her on Facebook directly for more info!
My entire interaction with these women was sisterly. They instantly poured into me with laughs and counsel. As "professional" as I tried to keep it, for a second time in ATL, I was crying. I felt as though this was the older sister connection I had spent years tirelessly searching for. To be transparent, I have had instances in MA where I've met dynamic black women. But four sincere and affectionate black women at once, in one setting was truly a first for me. We all exchanged contact information - I left the event thinking, "Wow, what if this was my everyday?"
Towards the end of the week, I seamlessly transitioned to being my free ass self with my friends to celebrate Lauren (Lo). In attendance was my fashionable best friend, musically gifted Dev; young man with old man sayings, that dude Day-Day; we getting a table, my favorite promoter, flame emoji Christian, my fav Naija, Twin, Tola and her friend Stephanie, and last but not least, quiet but loud side eye, bust a whine Gracia. I don't know everyone else's appeal for signing up to turn up in ATL. But as for me and my house, I grew to learn and appreciate Lauren. Same age, similar experiences, and during her stay in Boston she opened the doors of her apartment (The Trap) to be our group's glue, our sense of community.
We first brought our talents to Aurum Lounge for R&B throwbacks. You can't beat a $10 cover, free drinks till 12a, affordable hookah, live band, and great company. We quickly learned that Aurum was an appetizer, but we were nowhere prepared for the main meal that was IglooATL. After seeing the online clips of the event, it was clear that it was carnival in the park. Bring ya coolers, favorite spirits and chasers, flags, friends, and Igloo will guarantee you a good time and stories. Needless to say, Pedialyte saved my life the following morning, which also refilled my electrolytes enough to bring my high energy, only person awake at 7a (besides Dev) behind to church where his friend Kayin invited him to play.
Given my church journey, I mocked the entire situation,
"The saints finna side eye me at the door, I don't have church clothes bruh... Man I aint ready for this production but I also don't wanna be at the Airbnb restless."
We walked in and were immediately welcomed with smiles, bruh, I was shocked. We were seated at the front to participate in Sunday school. Listen y'all,
"God don't want no played over praise! Now we all black and love us some BBQ. You know when you go to reach for the potato salad and you see some BBQ sauce in the bowl, you don't want it no mo! Don't know nobody want no messed with, played over potato salad! That's the same thing with God! He want our first! He don't want no played over praise!"
It was sweet and simple, I have heard this breakdown before but that was one of the first things that stuck with me. While the church leaders prepared for divine service, I noticed that the organist, praise team, and many other members "came as they were." Here I was worried about what to wear and the organist had a matching cotton shorts set and sneakers on; again, I was shocked. Emphasizing the attire isn't to downplay him but to highlight what mattered was his heart and gift that was being presented to God.
Service started... praise/worship and shout went on for 30-40mins. Initially I thought, "this is excessive." But somewhere between Dev slaying the drum set and Kayin testifying through the organ, a wave of emotion began to hit me. All I kept saying was "wow, what is this?" Then it happened, I was up clapping, in my seat swaying, and tears flooding my face. I rested my head in my lap and sobbed... Church was happening. No production, no side eyes, just church. I haven't consistently been on anyone's pew for about a year. So this moment was pure and followed by a 15m sermon (Genesis 32:22-26). I mention the verse because it's been a week and I still remember the verse.
"Sometimes God sets you aside by yourself to change your situation and your name. Because where He's taking you, some people can't go. He's going to give you a new name, not what people used to call you or knew you as. But a new name, a new situation."
After church, Kayin and his wife Karlette treated Dev and I to lunch. They shared their story of moving from Boston to ATL, the authenticity of the church members and pastor, and the affordability of housing. I kid you not, as I took in everything they were saying, housing was the one thing my mind kept going back to.
"You mean to tell me I can pay $500/mo rent, with 3-4 bedrooms, and still live my best life out here?! Oh nah, let's wrap up this Boston tour asap sweetie!"
While I know every city has its pros and cons, for me, aside from my hometown Miami, this was the first time I felt so connected to a city. I have visited NY, D.C., and Chicago, I love those cities for different reasons but ATL is where I felt like I could call home. Being there for a week was a plentiful experience. The wonderful, carefree, intellectual black people I met was damn near a spiritual occasion. They say representation matters, but that’s an understatement. Being surrounded by ambitious black minds was by far one of the most motivating occurrences. For the first time since grad school, my goals and everything I wanted for myself seemed tangible and possible. My blackness was also acknowledged, I felt seen, I felt free. I went to church and had church. Again, no production, no eyes of judgment, just church.
Waking up Monday morning to return to MA was one of the hardest and saddest things I’ve ever had to do. I couldn’t immediately identify why my chest felt so heavy. As I started to process my emotions, tears rolled down my cheeks for the umpteenth time, I realized that heavy feeling was anguish. I initially told myself I’d move out of Boston in 2-3yrs. But the after this trip, my timeline has drastically decreased. I need to be somewhere where my soul feels free. A place that feeds my spirit, a place where my breath feels joyous. Massachusetts isn’t that place for me, it’s never been. I feel as though I've learned everything I could have and was suppose to learn in MA. As I step into materializing career, business owner, family, and the last academic notch, I know these things must be rooted and cultivated in a city that's designed with my blackness in mind. A city where every where I turn, blackness is celebrated 24/7.