The Body Is Not An Apology

Fostering Radical Unapologetic Self Love, Body Empowerment and Healing Around the WORLD!

Posts tagged sonya renee

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White Orientated: Looking at Privilege in a Queer, Fat, Black Body

Written by Sonya Renee Taylor founder of The Body is Not An Apology.

*This piece is dedicated to my mother,Terry Hines who passed away October 19, 2012.

[IMAGE. In this photo two women, Sonya Taylor and her motherTerry Hines are leaning in toward the camera . There is a sand, people and a large building in the background. The woman on the right is a brown skinned Black woman. She has short dark hair and large silver hoop earrings. She is smiling. She is wearing an orange shirt and has a cross around her neck. The woman on the right is a dark skinned black woman . She has shoulder length black hair and gold hoop earrings. She is wearing brown sunglasses and has a small blue piercing on the right side of her face just above her lip. She is smiling]

I am sitting on my mother’s purple sofa during a holiday visit when I hear her holler to my step-father from the kitchen, “You know Sonie has always been white orientated!” My step-father quickly replied, “That’s okay. Sonya is the smartest person I know.” Now I don’t remember what particularly oddity I had traipsed before her that day that sparked the exchange,but I remember being doubled over in laughter at the sheer absurdity of the dialogue as I yelled back to my step-father, “You definitely need to know more people.”

Even in its ridiculousness, I knew exactly what my mother and her husband were trying to say.  “White orientated” was my mother’s way of describing the difference between she and I: a former crack-addicted teen mother and high school dropout versus her master’s degree having, world traveling, poet daughter. To be white orientated was to be educated, to have access to a world my mother often only experienced through my eyes. My mother was in the best way she could, articulating my privilege.

Privilege is a thing that I, as a Black, fat, queer woman focused on social justice, can often forget I possess. Yes, I know what it feels like to be followed through a store simply for being too Black in it, the glare of judgment at the space I take up on a train, or the disgust at the same soft hand of my lovers, but still there are parts of my life where I have had greater access and opportunity than generations of family who have come before me could have ever imagined. This access is why for years my mother insisted I make her doctor’s appointments and business calls. It is why she always had me read the insurance papers before she signed them. I was the gate-keeper to a world she felt incapable of navigating by herself. She knew I spoke a language that could get a manager on the phone, a discount from a clerk, the clear diagnosis and next steps after an examination, the “yes” after she had been told “no” a dozen times. Linguists call this “code-switching,” the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. While this definition focuses on the dynamics of conversation, I learned code-switching by setting and circumstance.  The ability to code switch was a function of my educational privilege and the way I learned to navigate and leverage that privilege to help my mother and my family move through an oppressive society.

In conversations with people just beginning to unpack what professor Peggy MacIntosh calls the Invisible Knapsack of privilege, the most common resistance I hear is, “ How can I have unearned privilege?  I have worked my ass off for everything I have.”  I get it.  It is hard to talk about my educational privilege without talking about the 3 jobs I worked, the homeless shelter I lived in, the one hundred thousand dollars in student loans I racked up to achieve said “privilege.”  Absolutely, I worked harder than many could ever imagine to get my degrees, but still, I have to own that many of the opportunities I received in life were not functions of my hard work.  They were acts of luck, grace, or timing.

It was pure luck that I was born to a father in the military, which meant from a young age I was immersed in diverse cultures.  A random luck of the draw saw to it that I had a 2nd grade teacher who encouraged me to become a voracious reader.  It was simple grace that my theatrical antics and performative nature were cultivated and applauded in schools rather than tamped down and punished as is often the case in young Black males. These “breaks” shaped me into the young woman who could adeptly write the essays that earned me the grants that paid for a large chunk of school. I did not earn any of those benefits of my youth and yet, without them, I would have never learned how to “code-switch” well enough to attain middle class mobility.

Today, I live in East Oakland, CA, a ravaged section of a rough city where violence is more routine than mail delivery.  I live here because I can have the kind of home I want for a price I can afford.  Living here means I can have an in-home office, fireplace, garage, and garden, rather than a small one bedroom in what may be a “nicer” neighborhood. This is not true for many of my neighbors.  We share blackness but we do not share educational and economic resources.  If I decided to move tomorrow, I could pack my things and go. I would only be losing amenities. But my neighbors are here because “here” is what they can afford and still be able to buy groceries for the kids. It is not about amenities.And even in my complaints, my neighbors tell me that moving here was an upgrade.  Here, according to many of them, is better than 5 blocks down the street in the “flats”. Living one block above the “flats” is an accomplishment for much of my community.  It means being one block removed from the drive-by shootings and street violence 500 feet away.

Living in this community is an exertion of my privilege because it is rooted in my ability to choose. I am privileged to have the option to leave the neighborhood violence for better manicured lawns and nights without sirens; my mobility is privilege. Once I acknowledged this privilege, I was left with the question What do I do with it? The first thing I needed to do with my class privilege in this community was check it. I needed to be honest about the assumptions I made about the people in my community as a result of my privilege. I needed to face my stereotypes and judgments.  I needed to check my superiority complex. In what ways did I think I was more deserving of peace and safety than my neighbors?  In what ways had I assumed I was better, smarter, more worthy than them? After honestly investigating how my privilege shaped my perception of my neighbors, I was able to look at ways in which my privilege could serve my neighborhood. This allowed me to start a neighborhood clean-up project with the youth on my block because I had the additional resources to pay kids a small stipend. It meant I was able to walk a neighbor through the appropriate steps log a complaint against a troublesome community member. It meant I was able to value the unique gifts each of the folks on my block brought to the tapestry of our community and work as a partner rather than some sort of savior.

Privilege is a complicated beast.  I need not feel guilty for having educational and class privilege.  Actually, feeling guilty impedes my ability to use my privilege to empower others. Guilt keeps me from challenging the voices in my head that tell me my privilege is a function only of meritocracy and not inequities in how people are  treated in society. My privilege in this Black, fat, queer body can be a bridge to greater access for those in my family, community, world. My mother knew this, many Black families know this and consequently encourage their kids to figure out how to access privilege and how to create doorways for greater equity. If anything, this privilege requires my humility and my stewardship. Never forgetting this is how I honor my marginalized identities. Knowing this does not make me “white orientated.” It just makes me the woman my mother raised me to be. And that, too, is a privilege.

Filed under the body is not an apology race queer lgbt fat black women class privilege Sonya Renee oakland gun violence poverty college middle class social justice

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Weighting To Be Seen: Being Fat, Black and Invisible in Body Positivity

Written By The Body is Not An Apology Founder, Sonya Renee Taylor. Reblogged from BEDA Weight Stigma Awareness Week

My best friend, Denise Jolly stood on a subway train and disrobed, revealing all 311 lbs of her formerly hidden body in a black bra and panties.  This was the culmination of a 30 day journey, in which she took photos of herself in various states of partial nudity at home and in her community.  She called it the Be Beautiful project.  Her nakedness in the photos was no more than what we might see on a Victoria’s Secret commercial or beer ad and yet it was revolutionary.  In a society filled with weight stigma, that tells us that anyone with a body like hers is not worthy of love let alone visibility, her work was a reminder to herself and others that, “The active practice of loving myself exactly as I am, is radical self-love.”  The photos were bold and powerful and I asked her to capture her journey in an essay for The Body is Not An Apology (TBINAA), an international radical self-love and body empowerment movement I founded almost 3 years ago.

The day after the blog went live the story went viral.  Calls flooded in, Huffington PostYahoo, Inside Edition, Queen Latifah Show, Laura Engram Show and several more media outlets began requesting her for appearances and interviews.  Her project had achieved what it set out to do, make her seen.

When the Huffington Post re-blogged the TBINAA article they included a slideshow of their ten favorite “Body Image Heroes”. Nine White women’s faces scrolled across my computer screen with the final woman on the slideshow being Asian.  If I am being honest, I felt the ugly twinge of jealousy creep up my spine when the media outlets started calling; when I clicked on all these fair skinned faces.  After all, The Body is Not An Apology started because of my choice to post a picture of my large body in just my undies on a social media page. 


[Image consists of TBINAA Founder, Sonya Renee Taylor.  She is standing in a hotel room mirror.  She is a larger Black woman with dark skin.  She is wearing a black corset.  She has her left hand on her hip.  Her right are is bent and she is holding a pink cell phone.  Her hair is a large curly afro.]

I wondered, “Where was the Huffington Post then?”  When I looked deeper at that ugly feeling it became clear it was not a personal jealousy about my gorgeous friend being seen in her brilliance.  It was the bitter reminder of how often women of color, Black women specifically, are not seen.

The same day I watched the slideshow of body positive heroines, sans any black or brown bodies, TBINAA posted a clip from GLEE’s Amber Riley, dominating the cha- cha on Dancing With the Stars.  There was nary a peep in the media about her beautiful example of movement, endurance and power in a large body. Several articles talked about what a great job she did.  One article even mentioned she was “plus sized” but no one was mentioning television star Amber Riley as a “body image” heroine. Why? Because the social narrative is “she is a singing Black girl; she’s supposed to be fat.”  Such an assumption renders her body an act of happenstance.  Her body “just is” and therefore is not noteworthy.  It would be like reporting she has a nose. “Of course she is fat!” the world says. And boldness in her particular body is nothing to aspire to. She is not Kirstie Alley, former Cheers star and DTWS alum whose fatness was such a novelty in Hollywood, that it garnered an entire HBO Series, “Fat Actress” and of course set the course for dramatic weight loss.

Gabourey Sidibe, the breakout star of the 2009 film Precious, defied all odds and persevered beyond most of the entertainment industry’s attempts to make her, the illiterate food addicted character she played in Precious.  Her out loud, charismatic, ebullient personality and beauty continue to shine through and yet she is not touted as a hero of body positivity.{image

[Image consist of a black and white photo of Gabourey Sidibe her hair is black and shoulder length in loose waves.  She is wearing a necklace that says ‘Baby Doll”.  She has her face scrunched up with her mouth pursed and twisted to the right.]

Her large size and dark skin make her an outsider even in movements of inclusivity.  With an internet full of vicious comments and health trolling she is rarely even given space to speak on her detractors. Her absence in the dialogue in any meaningful way is unsurprising but important given treatment of other White actresses.

The truth is Black women have always found ways to live in our skin with a dignity that the world has not afforded us.  More often than not, when Black women’s bodies are acknowledged it is to pathologize them.  A Google search of black women + body image leads to scores of internet hits on the “obesity crisis” in Black communities.  Whereas, when the word “black” is removed, the same search generates article upon article of White women embracing body positivity.

In Western culture, White womanhood is held as the epitome of beauty and desire.  Part of the machine of size discrimination is stripping White Women of that status as punishment for fatness.  There is a way in which body positive movements both reject the notion of the body as object while reclaiming it as beautiful by dismantling the definition.  Black women’s bodies have always been objects in the social sphere but never exalted as beautiful.  The fat Black woman’s body has been rendered an object of service whether for food, advice, care-taking etc., but never has it been a thing to aspire to, at best perhaps to fetishize, but not a thing of beauty.  The mammy, a stereotypical trope born out of slavery validated large Black women’s existence only through their service to White women and White families, think Gone with the Wind, Gimme a Break or The Help.  Our society tells us fatness is not beautiful.  Blackness is historically, not beautiful.  So even while battling weight stigma and reclaiming size diversity as beautiful, the presence of Blackness complicates the narrative.  We don’t deal well with complication. This often means we don’t deal with complications, particularly in the realm of race.  We simply don’t tell those stories.  It is this unwillingness to wade through the murky waters of race that make Black and Brown women invisible even in the places where we say we are trying to make people seen.

There is a reason women like Stella Boonshaft  and Denise Jolly’s images have gone viral. Without question a great deal of that is about their brave declarations of beauty over their bodies, bodies that because of weight stigma, the world says should not be seen as such.  However, their loud demands for a seat at the table must be mitigated by the reality that they have always been invited to the table, as long as they could fit in the prescribed seat.  Being seen in our bodies, in our fullness and beauty is a birthright women of color have never had and what I thought was jealousy about a friend’s success was not that at all.  What I was feeling was the aching reminder that the vehicle to even beginning to dismantle weight stigma is to be seen as fully human in this society.  Far too often, that is a privilege that requires white skin and no matter how much I weigh or how naked I get, I will never have that.

Filed under weight discrimination racism be beautiful sizeism intersectionality women women of color black women stella boonshaft gabourey sidibe sonya renee denise jolly solidarityisforwhitewomen white feminism mammy the help huffingtonpost

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The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee

[So this poem is – oh I recently started a group on Facebook. Please go home tonight and “like” it. It is called The Body is Not an Apology. It is my new official movement to serve as a catalyst around the globe for people loving and embracing all of the ways in which they show up on this planet and not based on anybody’s fucking preordained assessment of what the fuck you should look like, talk like, sound like, dress like, any of that shit. That we love ourselves unapologetically and stop using our bodies as ways to ask for permission or ask forgiveness from people. You are worthy, you are not an apology. So please go home and “like” the page. And this is the poem that spawned the Facebook page, that will spawn the movement. I’m claiming it…. And in light of all of this, The Body is Not an Apology.]

Poem Text

The body is not an apology. Let it not be forget-me-not fixed to mattress when night threatens to leave the room empty as the belly of a crow. The body is not an apology. Do not present it as a disassembled rifle when he has yet to prove himself more than common intruder. The body is not an apology. Let it not be common as oil, ash or toilet. Let it not be small as gravel, stain or teeth. Let it not be mountain when it is sand. Let it not be ocean when it is grass. Let it not be shaken, flattened or razed in contrition. The body is not an apology. Do not give the body as communion, confession, do not ask for it to be pardoned as criminal. The body is not a crime, is not a gun, the body is not a lost set of keys or wrong number dialled. It is not the orange burst of blood to shame white dresses. The body is not an apology. It is not the unintended granule of bone beneath will. The body is not kill, it is not unkempt car. It is not a forgotten appointment. Do not speak it vulgar. The body is not soiled, it is not filth to be forgiven. The body is not an apology. It is not a father’s backhand, is not mother’s dinner late again, wrecked jaw, howl. It is not the drunken sorcery of contorting steel round tree.  The body is not calamity. The body is not a math test.  The body is not a wrong answer. The body is not a failed class. You are not failing. The body is not an apology. The body is not a crime, is not a gun. The body is not crime, is not sentence to be served. It is not prison, is not pavement, is not prayer. The body is not an apology. Do not offer the body as gift. Only receive it as such. The body is not to be prayed for, is to be prayed to. So, for the ever-more turtle tenth grade nose, hallelujah. For the shower song throat that crackles like a grandfather’s vitrola, hallelujah. For the spine that never healed. For the lambent heart that didn’t either. Hallelujah for the slowly pulp of back, hip, belly. Hosanna for the errant hairs that road the base like a pack of (?) wolves. Hosanna for the parts that we have endeavoured to excise. Blessed be the cancer, the palsy, the womb that opens like a trap door. Praise the body in its black jack magic even in this. For the razor wire mouth. For the sweet God ribbon with it. Praise for the mistake that never was. Praise for the bend to fall and rise again, fall and rise again. For the raising like an obstinate Christ. Praise the body that bends like a baptismal bowl for those that will worship at the lip of this sanctuary. Praise the body for the body is not an apology. The body is deity, the body is god, the body is god. The only righteous love that will never need repent.


Stop Apologizing

by Megan Ryland, Content Intern

I remember the feeling of sudden relief when I first heard the phrase, “My body is not an apology.” Finally, someone said it the way that I felt it. Someone had put words to what I had been failing to articulate for years. My body is not an apology, and I will not apologize for it. Oh thank god. This week, I wanted to talk about apologies and I thought that there was no better place to start than with the title of this tumblr and this movement.

I feel like I am frequently asked to explain and excuse and translate my body for others. I have come up with so many ‘good reasons’ why I have a right to be here, say this, leave you, cry, wear that, not smile, end a conversation, go there… I know that I’m not alone in this and I’m also very lucky how often I am able to go unquestioned, helped out by a heaping spoonful of (white/cis/abled/class…) privilege.

Not only is explaining and translating a tiring and unequal burden, it’s also just plain difficult. It’s hard to imagine never having down-time from this task, which is a reality for some people. My body and I have our own language, which I constantly learn and unlearn and learn again. We do not always communicate well. We don’t always get along. Sometimes, we’re not talking at all. Those are not good times.  

The only thing I am always sure of is that my body doesn’t know how to not be a body, doesn’t know when it’s “doing it wrong,” and it is not sorry for existing. It is not asking permission, even from myself. My body is making statements, not asking questions. It is telling its own story. My body does not need your approval to exist.

Sometimes, though, I find myself acting like I do. I shrink and avoid eye contact and ask forgiveness with the line of my shoulders. I hope I am wearing enough penance this morning to have earned the right to stay, to be seen, to be legitimate. I try to take up less space than I’d like. I pretend that I am not crying. I try to wear the right thing in the right way. I know that I may accidentally do something that is considered “too much,” too loud, too big, too demanding, too emotional, too angry, too disgusting. My body might say the wrong thing, tell an embarrassing story where I cry in the middle of dinner for no reason or show up too female in a room chock full of eyes.

In these moments, I do not want to disappear. I want to unmake myself.  I want to be re-made less wrong. I have been told that there is a right way to have a body, and in these moments, I wish that I could just do it right.

Most of the time, I try to remember that there is no wrong way to have a body. I try to remember that my physicality is not separate from my personality; this body grew up with me. Remind myself that my body is more than the rind left when the fruit of my soul is scooped out. Remind myself that my body is attached to me with more than nerves and skin and muscle. It is me. I will not apologize for or justify my being in this world.

Everyone has their own relationship to their body. Their bones have their own meaning. Still, whatever it is, I hope that you aren’t sorry for existing, for taking up space, for mattering. Apologies can be beautiful, can be healing, but this is not that kind of apology. I hope for a world where no one apologizes for the shape their atoms have taken. All those tiny pieces coming together is a miracle, full stop.

I want to live in a society where your body cannot be held as evidence against you and requires no permission slip. For me, TBINAA is about moving towards that place, and I will always be thankful to Sonya for giving me the language I was looking for. By loving yourself and each other no matter how we “show up on this planet,” I hope we can get closer to the world where my body is not someone else’s body of knowledge or body of evidence. It is my body. It is me. And I’m not sorry.

Filed under the body is not an apology slam poetry apologies unapologetic body politics Sonya Renee

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The Architect - A Poem for the Builder and the Body

When we peel back the paint

the wood of our bones is not different.

You built this house, do not shame it.

If it leaks, your curses do not keep out the rain.

Lay the buckets, let it pour into itself.

Let its steel drum song, sing you soft again.

If the floors creak, worn with the running

of dogs, children, lovers, who left

or never came at all call them wind chimes,

call them ushers who have always led you to a good seat.

Call them a room in your house. A sacred place

to weep, rock, come undone in laughter.

When the door knob rusts, praise its opening still,

exalt the ten thousand journeys over threshold.

That which you buried on one side. That which you coaxed

back to breath on the other, all lived here.

In this wilting wood. In this shack made mansion

by the grace of seconds piled upon the other

like smart kindling. The kind that knows how to start the fire

burn through the night. The kind that wakes us up warm

but has kept enough of its own thin bones to flame again.

What should we call this but shelter?

How we kept the wolves out

or didn’t .

How we always lived through the attack.

We are alive in this plaster and spit. We are adobe

kibutz, we are teepee and tarp

pulled up over the storm. When the hurricane flung the city

in tantrum we were the house still standing. Our own sweet timber

that has not betrayed us. How dare we damn these buckled beams?

How dare we not honor the snap that never came?

What are we if not, a testimony of carpentry?

A hammer and nail altar, a temple in which to worship

ourselves if we say so. So SAY SO. If we call this thing

broken then it is. If we call it fortress

so shall it be. So be fortress.

Be a stronghold against the hail.

Be the gift you gave yourself for making it through

in the house you built. Even if it is only lit by candle.

Even as it aches, groans like a disgruntled forest

Even in its cracks, it is a still castle

so be the beneficent ruler of what is yours.

Be the keeper that let’s the light in. Be the gardener still fond

of the soil of her own rich palms.

There is so much you have saved you from

in the good thing you built. There is no disgrace here.

Tonight, before the crust of sleep takes you,

in the twilight of your own forgiveness

stand before this weathered tower

as architect, gaze at what you made as furiously

as a mother made you and in that lighthouse quiet

perhaps for the first time say,

Welcome home.


Filed under bodies Body empowerment women men sizeism shame houses architecture poetry Sonya Renee

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Rich White Men Do Not Have the Answers for Poor Black Kids

In an unprecedented surge of interest, rich White men have begun talking at length about the lives of poor Black children.  Thank you rich white men.  We have been waiting desperately for you to weigh in on the situation and now that we have your thoughts we can finally stamp out poor black childhood once and for all!  In recent weeks, we have received counsel from republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich and most recently Forbes tech writer, turned Freedom Writer, Gene Mark.  According to Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Mark, there are some very clear ways to end the scourge of poverty, blackness and adolescents in America today and most them involve either a toilet plunger or some awesome web-surfing talents.   Let me not sound unappreciative, in a day and age where the unemployment rate for the black community is a double digit source of depression and the situation for Americans of all hues is growing more dire by the day, having people even pretend to be aware is useful to some extent.  But I can’t help but feel that a critical voice is missing from Newt and Gene’s perspective… poor black kids.

It takes an intellectual and moral authority rich white men often have a corner on to present opinions on subjects they have no first hand, second hand or even tertiary knowledge about.  How do Newt and Gene know so much about poor black kids? Have they gone BRANJOLINA on us and adopted a secret Tamika or Tykwan under the cloak of night? Or are they simply unaware that telling people what they need without asking people what they need is not only patronizing but phenomenally disempowering.  No one knows what poor young black kids need better than they do. They are the experts of their experiences. Have you talked to them lately?

There is NO SOLUTION for the circumstance of disproportionate systemic poverty and racism that bears the responsibility of fixing by our children.  If our answer to the barriers of success for young people today is figure it out, that is an obscene shirking of our responsibility as adults.  RICH WHITE MEN hold a substantial burden of accountability for the social circumstances of inequity and injustice in America. Doing their part to remedy it will not happen via campaign rhetoric or sensationalized blogs!   Is it not, the work of a society’s adults to honor, protect, and provide for each of its children?  If so, to Newt I say: How dare you sit on millions of dollars while telling kids with the least control and resource in this world, what work they need to be doing, all the while proposing legislation that decimates their communities?  How dare you have numerous adulterous affairs and then speak to black children about ethics? Gene, how dare you work in a sector that holds the keys to technology and offer only some websites to poor young people of color? Why isn’t your company in elementary schools providing mentorship and software rather web addresses?  How dare you both sit from your chariot of privilege and offer nothing but a lecture to young black kids, while your children go to the finest schools with the finest technologies and have likely never scrubbed a toilet for pay.

Let me share with you the lived experience of a poor black kid.  She was born to teenage parents who were born to struggling poor parents. By the time she was 5 her mother had a full on crack addiction.  Her father was an enlisted military man often gone on long deployments.   This young girl did many of the things both Newt and Gene suggested.  She got good grades. She read voraciously.  She sang, danced, spoke articulately.  Most of this she learned as a tool to keep adults from peering into her life and placing her and her disabled brother into foster care.  She spent time at the school library and looked at new technology on the days she was able to go to school but when her mother was on a crack binge she had no way to send her brother to school and still make the school bus so she missed some days.  She was 10.  She washed her underclothing out in the bathroom sink. She convinced adults to buy she and her brother pizza so they didn’t starve without ever letting on that she hadn’t seen her mother in over 5 days.  She was 10. Getting consistently good grades is pretty difficult when you are literally starving.   Even though her grades slipped somehow she still got into that magnet school Mr. Mark.  She was tenacious, hard working and regularly out scored her classmates in standardized tests.  She desperately wanted to be placed in honors and AP classes because she knew these gifted classes would direct her toward scholarships and academic opportunities, a way out.  Unfortunately our testing does not recognize ambition and because she was 5 points below acceptable math score she was kept out of those classes.  When she moved into a homeless shelter in high school due to family instability she still managed to hold down a full time job and various volunteer positions.  By graduation she had managed to finish school with a 3.0.  Given the trauma and volatility of her home life, and her mother’s 10th grade education, she had done pretty good but not good enough for these illustrious scholarships Mr. Mark speaks of.  To add insult to injury, although she had been residing in a homeless shelter for her final year of school, federal student assistance determines aid based off the student’s parents income.  As a result of that stipulation, our poor Black kid was ineligible for grants for school.  Even with this, she returned to the homeless shelter, worked 3 jobs and figured out how to return to college the following year.  When she finished college cum laude the world rewarded her HERCULEAN effort to beat the odds at all costs with $100,000 in student loans. YES ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS WORTH OF DEBT at age 24.  I would like to respectfully ask Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Mark where in this economy a new college graduate might even begin to pay back that sort of debt?  Oh, yes, scrubbing toilets. 

My story is not the only in the world. It is a snapshot of the superhuman efforts of poor black children who struggle to make it out of inhumane circumstances Mark and Newt cannot begin to fathom.  Knowingly allowing young people to go through what I went through is CHILD ABUSE!  We owe our children better than desperate, life sapping struggle.  We are failing them, in policy, in practice and in word.  Rich White Men,  I swear we do not need any more of your advice.  But if you would like to pick up a broom Newt and help clean up this place, we’d be much obliged. 

Filed under gene mark newt gingrich privilege race youth 1% sonya renee

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Could a RUHCUS have saved AMY WINEHOUSE? Could It Save You?

The ever elusive “they” says that death comes in three’s. With this, I was certain that the ninety –three people reported dead in the devastating Norway terrorist attack on Thursday (link) would cover the clichéd standard.  The news was beyond tragic but I found myself breathing a selfish sigh of relief, no one I know.  When emotionally tormented songstress, Amy Winehouse was found dead in her bed the next day, I was not surprised; sad, but not surprised.  Again, I was clear the collective “we” had been visited with enough loss and devastation to be safe for a while. Surely, the universe would offer a respite.  I mean, didn’t “we” deserve one?  The text I received early Sunday afternoon from someone I love very much stated starkly:

 “Blair died.”

David Blair, sweet friend, fellow artistic peer, and phenomenal writer and human was found dead at a motel and there was little information beyond that.  And all I could say was, “WHAT THE F*CK?” “How could he be gone so randomly?” I lamented naively, as if I was unfamiliar with the magician’s hand of death: how we can be here one minute, vanished the next.  “But what about the rule of three?”

 When I am honest with myself it is pretty awful but selfishly, I suppose I desired the blood of innocent youth and chaperons thousands of miles away to provide shield for those I know and love personally. Of course I was sad about Oslo and Amy, but what a luxury it is to grieve remotely, on the other side of a plasma screen.  That half a globe away sadness does not dry to cement, leaving you stationary on your knees, just as I was Sunday evening, weeping at my bedroom altar in pain, wrenched at the thought of watching my friend’s make plans for Blair’s funeral.  Having death be as close as me and Blair’s last email exchange, made Amy’s death close, made the deaths of scores of teenagers simply playing in the summer Norwegian waters no longer a remote sadness on the other side of a plasma screen.  The grief of tragic seemingly senseless loss is palpable, a heaving bloodied thing we must all hold at some point.  This weekend was so many of our turns, again.

I cannot help but frame all of this tragedy in a RUHCUS lens.  Distilled to its simplest truth, RUHCUS is about RADICAL FREEDOM.  It is about how we live our FULLEST, MOST COURAGEOUS LIFE so that we might receive and give the most from humanity.  I know Blair.  I know he lived a big brilliant unapologetic life and left so many filled with joy and better for having known him and his art.  I have no doubts Blair lived in a constant state of RUHCUS, peeling the layers, shaking the rust and peeling again, creating stunning art all the while.  He was RUHCUS personified.

I wish I would have known Amy personally.  I wish I could have helped her see how her commitment to her pain was a vacant marriage, how it could only level her again and again.  I suppose it is arrogant of me to think I could help her see something her parents could not, her lovers, managers, ardent fans could not.  Silly to think I could help her heal something I cannot help some of those I love the most heal.  There is a poem by Marge Piercy entitled, Maggid  about the exodus of the Jewsthat I believe best symbolizes what the RUHCUS Project is truly about.  It says:

The courage to let go of the door, the handle.
The courage to shed the familiar walls whose very
stains and leaks are comfortable as the little moles
of the upper arm; stains that recall a feast,
a child’s naughtiness, a loud blattering storm
that slapped the roof hard, pouring through.

The courage to abandon the graves dug into the hill,
the small bones of children and the brittle bones
of the old whose marrow hunger had stolen;
the courage to desert the tree planted and only
begun to bear; the riverside where promises were

shaped; the street where their empty pots were broken.

The courage to leave the place whose language you learned
as early as your own, whose customs however
dangerous or demeaning, bind you like a halter
you have learned to pull inside, to move your load;
the land fertile with the blood spilled on it;
the roads mapped and annotated for survival.

The courage to walk out of the pain that is known
into the pain that cannot be imagined,
mapless, walking into the wilderness, going
barefoot with a canteen into the desert;
stuffed in the stinking hold of a rotting ship
sailing off the map into dragons’ mouths.

Cathay, India, Serbia, goldeneh medina,
leaving bodies by the way like abandoned treasure.
So they walked out of Egypt. So they bribed their way
out of Russia under loaves of straw; so they steamed
out of the bloody smoking charnelhouse of Europe
on overloaded freighters forbidden all ports—

out of pain into death or freedom or a different
painful dignity, into squalor and politics.
We Jews are all born of wanderers, with shoes
under our pillows and a memory of blood that is ours
raining down. We honor only those Jews who changed
tonight, those who chose the desert over bondage,

who walked into the strange and became strangers
and gave birth to children who could look down
on them standing on their shoulders for having
been slaves. We honor those who let go of everything
but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.

Amy was Jewish, a descendant of Maggid.  I wish she could have walked out of the pain that was known believing that something verdant and growing was just beyond the desert.  I wish she would have believed enough to let go of everything but freedom.  I wish she would have radically unapologetically sought her healing.  She did not and ultimately, I believe that is what killed her.  If you are waiting until you are not scared to start your journey, I submit to you, your journey will never start.  Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to move in the face of it. Do not wait to get your healing. You are promised nothing but this moment, not the next.  There is a RUHCUS waiting for you. Grab it while you can; for those humans in Norway who will never be able, for those in your life still bolted to the floor by fear, for my friend Blair, for you.   Today I speak courage over your life, over your fear, over your bondage believing that a Radical FREEDOM from pain, shame, trauma and fear is within your reach. I know this.  All who love you hold this for you until you can hold it for yourself. Do not let it die in our hands. Come and take that which is yours. The Body Is Not an Apology honors you, … who let go of everything but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought, who became other by saving themselves.






Filed under freedom, AMY Winehouse Sonya Renee RUHCUS Healing David Blair Norway massacre motivation Jews shame trauma fear courage maggid

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Casting a Wider Net. RUHCUS around the WORLD!

Welcome to The Body Is Not An Apology RUHCUS Project tumblr page! Since I started my RUHCUS project 16 days ago, I have been overwhelmed by the folks who have affirmed, assisted, followed, and created their own RUHCUS projects!  This space will be used to highlight various folks RUHCUS journeys around the country and abroad


The RUHCUS Project (Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge 4 Us) is a 3 step, 30 day multi-dimensional, personal and community engagement project designed to launch the journey of radical healing over areas of shame, trauma, fear and pain in our emotional, spiritual, and physical bodies. The RUHCUS project is designed to help us identify and begin to untangle the narratives of victim, powerlessness and bondage that manifest in our lives via our myriad bodies.  It seeks to engage humans on a global scale in introspection, community building and collective healing. A RUHCUS may address issues such as distress, shame, or negative beliefs about a specific portion of one’s body or the physical self as a whole.  A RUHCUS may seek to dismantle emotional bondage regarding sexuality, abuse, neglect, historical fear, or other emotional pains.  A RUHCUS may also be used to address spiritual trauma, pain and fear.  Whatever issue one may seek to explore through a RUHCUS project, the endeavor is created to open the possibility of healing by taking audacious, courageous sets in that desired direction. A RUCHUS is not a cure.  It will not heal trauma, pain, shame or fear unto itself.  It does however; seek to engage individuals in process of exploration, willingness, and freedom seeking while creating expanded awareness of our interconnectedness and the necessity of existing in community to achieve true transformative healing.


Element 1. Identify the wound

Create a list of 4 things you have PAIN, SHAME, FEAR, or TRAUMA about in your life that you TRULY wish to heal from.

Element II. Radical Action and Ritual in a Loving Community

The second element of a RUHCUS project is to engage community as you commit to taking a Radical Unapologetic Step toward your healing.  This portion involves a ceremony or ritual where you request the help of your community as you work on this issue.  

·         Invite 5 to 10 loved ones to be present at this intentionally created event

·         Engage in a ceremonial activity that accepts, honors and releases you from your shame, pain, hurt, fear, trauma.

Element III. Exist in Action in Community

·         You will create a list of 3 activities that you will engage in or not in engage in over those 30 days to pursue radical healing.

·         As a point of personal reflection and as an element of community building through shared experience, you will write or video log the process as OFTEN as possible.


Some days you will follow the details of my RUHCUS journey, some days I will highlight the journeys of other RUHCUS starters.  This will also be the one stop shop for how to begin your very own RUHCUS project and begin the process of RADICAL UNAPOLOGETIC Healing in your life. I am gonna start this tumblr page with where the RUHCUS journey started.   

I hope you will spread this page far and wide if you think it can help anyone struggling to heal  historical shames!  Tomorrow I will introduce you to some other RUHCUS projects happening around the country.  Thank you for being  a part of all the RADICALLY Unapologetic Healing in the world.  Visit us on facebook  and on Twitter!


Filed under Sonya Renee RUHCUS Body SELF ESTEEM healing poets dc spokenword fat beautiful radical unapologetic video blog empowerment bald ceremony shaving community