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I’m not sure what the impetus was for me to throw away my harlequin romance books and declare: “ain’t no prince riding on a white horse in the ghetto down 52nd St., not even on a ten-speed bike, to save me.”  I then promptly threw all my romance books in the trash. Perhaps I need to consult my old diaries to find out what shook me out of my Cinderella fantasies. I just remember being mad and empowered at the same time. It was for this reason that I never introduced my daughter to Cinderella, Snow White or any of those “fair maidens” from my childhood. Not only did they not look like me, but the narrative damaged my psyche with the belief in a dream that someone will rescue and take care of me. The damage was already done; because even though I threw away the books, I did not totally dismiss the possibility of the fairytale coming true.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love—love. I have never given up on love; it just needs to be focused in some concrete reality that does not require me to give up myself. Whenever I shifted from this truth and slipped into a fairytale, I found myself in relationships where I was scuffling back to reclaim me or short changing the dreams I had for myself. The fairy dust made my eye sight blurry. I couldn’t see what I gave up by letting someone else take care of my needs and not my wants. I lost the focus on me.

My favorite book after I left Harlequin was James Baldwin’s If Beale St. Could Talk. I could wrap my mind and heart around these characters who found love in the midst of urban decay. Their love was a ride or die kind of love made from struggle and one which let each person grow and discover the self. Once I made it to Spelman, I was turned on by Paule Marshall, Rosa Guy, Toni Cade Bambara before falling head over heels for Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I wanted Teacake. A man so sweet he wasn’t afraid to let me discover and to kiss myself. I wanted a man who did not want me to show up as someone else or try to change me into his ideal once he believed he claimed me. I needed to be whole like Janie grew to be. A self-actualized woman, which is why I love me some Sula.  I teach this novel by Toni Morrison every year for my young women to learn the importance of loving your sisters and loving yourself and for my young men to learn why it is important for women to learn this lesson in order for men to be loved. I want to encourage them to be like Ajax, a free man who loved a woman he believed to be brilliant and did not confuse love with possession.

I gave my daughter both of these books. I informed her possession is antithetical to love and that a person must be free enough to love themselves to have some love to share.

Love is not a commodity to be bartered or bought. Once love is up for sale then so is the self, which means the purchaser reserves the right to dismantle or decide to return it if it does not act right. I let her know: I don’t come with a return label or any other kind of label or warranty. I am too valuable to be bought, which is why I had to disallow any thoughts of knights in shining armor.

So when my daughter decided to marry, I informed her and her husband that in order for their marriage to work a space must be created and respected for her to become a self-actualized woman. I let her husband know that his happiness rested on her knowing she is more than a mother and more than a wife. It means, before either of those roles emerged, the Creator put her here with a plan and a purpose which exceeds those roles. It means it is her duty to find that thing that brings her personal joy beyond a man or a baby. It is a mandate for her to live on purpose in order to earn her space on this planet. She has something unique to bring that has never been seen before, and I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for her to discover it and to share it.

I made sure from the time she was born that she had all the “paints and clay” she needed to paint and mold her world. This is not to say love is not necessary or needed; it is to say, loving up on her is mandatory and everything and anyone else that comes after is what makes the best fairytale.

I am her, that woman who is part of a line of bad, bodacious women. Except for my Aunt Bea, who was the publisher and editor of Sepia magazine, most of their names are not highlighted in history books or a PBS special.

My grandmother, who is 106, continues to wake up and be present in her world, although she no longer has sight. This propels me to get up when I want to sit down. She told me when she was living in Wilmington, North Carolina, that she sat in the front of a bus before Rosa Parks. The white bus driver told her: “you might as well get used to it” because of the civil unrest that was happening in her southern, segregated town. My grandmom is a trailblazer and entrepreneur who had a sandwich stand and a childcare business.

My Nana was a tiny woman in stature who had the spunk of a giant and the heart of a lion. She protected and provided comfort and rest for a world of women and men in her home. My mother continues Nana’s work to offer me and others who need her home a respite against a world that too often can be mean. It is my mother who taught me how to be a sister to other sisters.

I am part of women like Momma Emma who nurtured a neighborhood of children including her own and who told me: “Tell ‘em you don’t come in body parts.” I belong to that tribe of teachers and poets like Sonia Sanchez who told me not to gossip, but instead help a sister or brother to improve their condition. She continues to teach me what it means to be human and a Black woman in this world. Momma Sonia often reminds me of how some are surprised by our contributions like those showcased in the book, I Dream A World, which was produced by photojournalist, Brian Lanker and documents a range of Black women that editor Barbara Summers notes had a “fist up, death-defying love that challenged the unfair conditions of life and muscled in on injustice as it nursed both sides of a nation.” Without reparations, this nation has nursed our tits dry.

Recently, Gwyneth Paltrow noted how she learned about self-love from her Black friends. She says, “It’s like from the deepest part of their souls all the way to the tips of their fingers.” My question to this is if we don’t love us, who will? This is the muscle earned when we are not put on pedestals, when we have to fight white women, white men, and our men too, to claim our femininity, brilliance, and space. I am her!

It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s a day when some are blinded by Cupid’s arrow and professions of love and ignore red flags. Red flags like finding out a fiancé’s credit is in the toilet because he signed for a car for someone which was later repossessed, and this impacts the couple’s ability to buy a home. Then there’s the mate whose debt ratio is so high because of back child support that they will only marry with the condition of keeping their name, so they aren’t financially liable, or the gambler who falls for pyramid schemes and other get rich ventures who marries someone to give them financial stability, and their partner thinks they will instill financial discipline in them. Sometimes there is not a big red bull with a matador waving a flag for someone to catch these bad behaviors because the other person hides them well. At 20 or 21, both might be walking red flags, fumbling through financial darkness; however, when one is over 30, both sides of the brain are developed, and falling into financial quagmires becomes a habitual way to look good, to feel good, and to say they are enough to be loved and not in a healthy way. 

One of SOAR’s first workshop modules asked participants to excavate their earliest memories which are emotional triggers that impact their behavior. This same strategy can be used to find out how others respond to money. To see if this strategy worked, I called my cousin, Terrence. Terrence recalled how Granddaddy would load us up every Sunday with papers to deliver. Afterward, Grandaddy asked us if we wanted to go out to breakfast. We always answered yes, expecting him to treat us instead of making us use the money we earned delivering papers for him. Do you remember how Lucy held the football for Charlie Brown to kick only to pull it away leaving poor Charlie Brown on the ground? Well, we were Charlie Brown, and Grandaddy was Lucy because we fell for it. After breakfast, our stomachs were full, but our hard-earned funds were depleted. 

If one is told “money doesn’t grow on trees” but is never shown how money is manifested and managed, then that line means nothing. Growing up, I was in a fantasy land thinking my family was rich, and we only lived in the ghetto, so I would remain grounded. Unlike most of the kids in the neighborhood, my cousin and I both went to private schools, summer camps, and family vacations out of the city. We had no way to know how our mothers sacrificed or denied themselves. Looking back, my cousin realizes he didn’t know money was a resource until he overheard his parents’ discussions about tuition. They talked about how it was being wasted because of his poor grades, which his childhood mind interpreted as him not being good enough—not that there were money issues. No one explained the sacrifices made. We shook the money tree every Sunday and the change left over from Sunday breakfast was more than what most kids had. To this day, both of us hate to ask for money because it makes us feel less than. Grandaddy taught us there are always conditions to the ask. I had to get over this for SOAR and the participants who need our financial assistance.

Money became a tool to look good and to give us freedom; however, to not be taught about money and not financial management is not freedom. When asked about their relationship to money, some folks respond: “I ain’t got none, it’s fleeting, or I’m a broke ass look good.” The need to “look good” to others is what has some people uptight about their $70,000 car; their $600 car note, and $600 car insurance payment because they can’t pay their $700 rent. They use money to validate their hard work, sense of being, and ability to look good. It’s okay to look the part but at what cost to financial freedom? They are hustling backward without knowing it.

Understanding finance which includes management, creation and study of money means self-worth is gained from a source other than money. Terrence thinks, “if the dinosaurs have a reset, then maybe we’ll catch up with the wealth masters who deal in future markets and stocks. Think about the one percent who purchased in the fuel industry at a locked price years ago for .50 cents a gallon and are still getting it at that same price while we pay $5.00 a gallon.” He is correct about a reset. It is possible to change behaviors that are disruptive even for those of us who fear the window to fix financial errors is closing. At this juncture, it is more important to understand how I am relating to money and not being used by it than it is to be hit by cupid’s bent arrow. If I look at the basics, my God has always provided for me. This provision is not always in the form of financial favor but also by way of a SOAR-hosted two-part online financial workshop facilitated by financial coach Tony Jackson who is ordained with a talent to heal the financial health of others. Like any good coach, he will ask how long have I had the pain and where does it hurt? It’s up to me to do the work to root out the answers.

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