Photos by Lou Dorsey (Sci Academy) & Burnell Palmer (KIPP Renaissance)
Exhibit BE: De Gaulle Manor raised a part of our community and Hurricane Katrina killed this place, left it to rot. But Brandon ‘BMike’ Odums and his team were saviors, never in a million years would I have thought that particular apartment complex would rebirth in such a ingenious way. To see all those painters, photographers, poets, graffiti artists, etc. come together on this big project was mind-blowing. ExhibitBe was the biggest piece of artwork New Orleans has ever had. All my life living in New Orleans I’ve never seen anything like ExhibitBe before, none of us have. The energy of that place on January 19th, 2015 was astonishing and I’ll never forget that day; it brought a lost community together through art. The fact that tearing ExhibitBe down was a topic of discussion was heartbreaking, it was like art gone to waste, but memory is the best God-given gift we have. The walls of that apartment complex have witnessed and endured a lot and have many negative and positive stories to tell that are now apart of our history, but the stories will continue to live on throughout the community.
EARRINGS: Available on dopeciety.com on the NOIRLINIANS line. SHRUG is from H&M. I removed the sleeves for layering purposes. ELECKTRA TOP is by Doureian and is also available on dopeciety.com. No clue where I got the white pants, but it will be the last white jeans I purchase. Me and white clothing just don’t get along 😦
College me, 19 or 20 years old.
Denisio: I found my old highschool/ college journal the other day so rather than type my post out this week, I thought I’d switch it up and write to myself in my old journal. See below:
*This is the note that I wrote to myself in 2001*
SUNGLASSES: Bought from a thrift store in Atlanta at a Reproductive Justice convening TSHIRT DRESS: Denisio gave it to me! EARRINGS: From the Masaai market in Kenya
SHAWL: Another gem my boss Deon gave to me!
Mwende: Dear Mwende (or should I say, Dear K.K. … You haven’t yet started going by your given name because your still ashamed of parts of yourself, especially the Kenyan, but that’s OK, you’ll get over that soon),
There are so many things I want to say to you, but I need to tell you to stop being so angry. I won’t though because I know what you need to hear is that your angry is justified. Yes, the world is as fucked up as you think it is, and its frustrating that other folks don’t seem to see it, but it’s just not as simple as you try to make it.
Remember how you used to struggle with your African family and your American friends and how they clashed so often? How you thought about assimilating and went through the motions and then felt emptier than even before? How you truly believed you had to reject one side in order to fit into the other? How you never considered you could be entirely yourself in the context of both homes you’c created? It’ll take a long time for you to get there, to be able to be honest in both spaces about who you are, who you’ve always been and who you’ve decided to become, but it will happen. And all that love that was there, that love you were so afraid to lose? It will be there. It’s much stronger than you think it is, your just not yet able to see it.
You are only 17 years old, but you haven’t been a child for a long time. Some of that was because of others, but a lot of that was because at some point you became afraid of being free or of anything you could not see or touch or feel. Most of all, you are afraid of trusting others. You’ve recently left your family, the only thing that has ever been a constant in your semi-nomadic immigrant life, and your afraid that you will never find another place that will accept the whole of you. I need you to remember you already have. To remember that your own family were the ones to teach you that family is not just a 6 letter word for ‘we’re stuck with each other’, that it is a commitment to loving and supporting each other. Those friends that everyone thinks is destructive, well…they are, in some ways, but I know that what keeps you close to them is that feeling of home, the unspoken indispensability that binds all of you to each other as you’re trying to figure out just who it is you are while balancing all you’ve been told you are. Don’t be surprised when years later, these friends are still there. You always knew they’d be. That’s how family works. Don’t be surprised when years later your biological family is still there for you despite what you are about to put them and yourself through. That’s how family works.
I need you to know now that your work is not your worth. Your whole life people have looked at you and told you of your potential, but pay attention to the ones who ask you what it is you want to actually do with it, the ones who ask what brings the smile to your face instead of just telling you you should smile more because it’s pretty and makes others feel good. I know your whole life had been contextualized in education and academia, but you are not an academic no matter how many books you read or how many ‘As’ you get on your report card. You will go to a college you don’t really care about, and ‘excel’ during your time there, but you will also lose yourself and have to go back home to Kenya to remember where you came from and where you should always have been headed. To remember that you are, and always have been an artist. That you truly are your father’s daughter. And even then, when you finally do step into your art, still remember that your work is not your worth. Don’t get caught up in producing and forget that you quite literally wouldn’t even be here today if it weren’t for that pen and paper. That you have written in ink blackened by thoughts of your own death and lived to reread your survival. Writing will continue to save your life if you let it, but just know that everyday you don’t write, a part of your dies. Untold stories wield the sharpest of blades and your skin has not yet hardened. You are a broken thing and there is no shame in the cracking.
And aren’t you just so full of untold stories? Of rape, of insecurity, of isolation, of mental illness, of physical pain, of partial identities, of Queerness, of success by other people’s standards but personal failings, of untold vulnerability and projected strength, of wanting to just let it all disappear along with yourself? Of wondering if anyone would even care if you did or if it would just make things easier in the end?
In the next year you will meet your first love. It will confuse you because he will be a man and you’re just starting to come to terms with your Queerness, but remember when I said the world wasn’t as simple as you thought it was, as you wanted it to be? This relationship will remind you of that everyday. It will teach you about desire and intimacy and what it truly means to love someone and have that not be enough to keep you together. It will show you just how withdrawn you’ve become since leaving home and the emotional safety of your family, and remind you of the light and love at your core that you’ve tried to dim in the name of self preservation. It will remind you that you are deserving of love from those in your life. In the end though, it will teach you the importance of self love and caring for yourself even when it means you have to let go of someone that you love, but this is a lesson you’ll have to relearn over and over. Years later your mother will tell you with a smile on her face that you’ve always had trouble letting go of people, that you have always been a bleeding heart, but one day you will find yourself with a needle and thread and begin to patch yourself back together. You will teach yourself how to save that overflowing love for those who know how to hold it with care.
After college, you will want to think the world simple again, but you can’t afford to think like that anymore, truthfully you never really could. You will everyday be stepping into yourself, and your impatience will frustrate you often, but as someone said to you recently, “you are growing into the person you’re supposed to be which means you are exactly the person you are meant to be right now”. For once in your life, don’t be in a rush. Believe me, life will come at you, and it will come at you fast so enjoy these last few months of having no real commitments but having such real passion. Hold onto the possibility of yourself and don’t be afraid of growth, it doesn’t mean you are losing yourself, it means you are opening parts of yourself you never even knew you had inside of you. You will change so much in the next 7 years that people who know you now won’t be able to recognize you, and I don’t mean because of how you look. Keep yourself open to those changes, but never lose yourself. You are valuable with all of your faults…and there are many despite your reluctance to admit to them now.
I love you now more than you love yourself and that’s OK.
You are still a work in progress.
And you will always be.
PS: MoniQue and you need other friends. I tried to look back and get a photo of high school you and every. single. one. has her in it and you’re both being general weirdos…