Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category

4th Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, January 26th, 2013, Cabrits National Park, Dominica

February 10, 2013
Telling My Story at the Fourth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, January 26, 2013, Dominica

Telling My Story at the Fourth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, January 26, 2013, Dominica

Recently I traveled to Dominica, West Indies to speak at VF Inc’s Fourth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, held Saturday, January 26th, 2013, at Cabrits National Park, Portsmouth, Dominica.

Organized by Dr. Valda Henry, CEO of V F Inc, the 4th Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, in collaboration with the Bureau of Gender Affairs, and sponsored by the Ministry of Social Services, Community Development (among others,) attracted 150 women of all ages and walks of life from Dominica and neighbouring Caribbean islands.

My participation was fully sponsored by the Dominican Bureau of Gender Affairs, which is headed by Ms. Rosie Browne, Director.

With my presentation entitled, “Heeding the call of the Ancestor Spirits to unravel the secrets and shames and heal the wounds of our immigrant mothers, to liberate my inner Maroon Warrioress,” I shared my story of how I, “traveling the wrong way,” came home to my roots – my self – in Jamaica. It was a dynamic, interactive storytelling, in words, music and song, of my spiritual and physical journey and how, with art, creativity and lots of laughter, I overcame life’s obstacles and liberated my inner “Maroon Warrioress,” along the way.

Welcoming remarks were given by Dr. Valda Henry, Rosie Browne, and Vanya David, President of the Dominica National Council of Women, and the Keynote Address was presented by Minister of Social Services, Community Development and Gender Affairs, the Honourable Gloria Shillingford.

Including myself, there were four Phenomenal Caribbean Women Speakers at the Symposium representing three countries. I represented Jamaica,  Karen Hinds, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Mrs. Annette St. Hilarie and Gloria Walsh both represented Dominica. This year’s theme was, “What You Conceive You Can Achieve Because God Has the Power to Deliver What He Promises.” The conference’s main objectives were to:

  • Celebrate the successes of our Caribbean women.
  • Hear Caribbean women tell their stories of success, triumph over adversity, challenges, pain, joy and blessings.
  • Inspire women, especially young women to determine and achieve their life purpose.
  • Show that achieving one’s “Life Purpose” is possible.
  • Prepare a Personal Action Plan towards achieving one’s life purpose.

We Caribbean women speakers recounted different stories, our own stories, in our own words, and yet it was wholly evident that we were telling women’s stories.

I do believe that we all have a story to tell. The ancients, our ancestors, knew this. They were well aware that the need to be heard (to be truly listened to,) is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved. I was honoured and delighted to have a rapt audience of so many Phenomenal Caribbean Women listen to my story and I was humbled to hear that my tale and songs – my truth – had touched them deeply and provided them inspiration.

I, and my inner “Maroon Warrioress,” were liberated, and loved, in Dominica.

Here is an excerpt of my talk:

“In truth, only I hear what I hear. Only I know what I know. But do I dare?

They are talking to me, willing me, whispering to me. It is my story they – the ancestors – want me to tell. It is my story they wish me to write, to live. For it is my story that will set them free, set me free; set my mother free (she who left Jamaica for a better life, to become a better person, whitewashed – a proper English lady,) set we phenomenal Caribbean women free. But do I dare? Do I have the courage to walk alone, all one?

I did dare. I did find the courage. And it hurt. And it was lonely. And lonely and hurt entwined and became a physical being, a rough, jagged stone that lodged in my heart, suffocating me, that no matter how hard I tried I could not expel. But as I learned to listen, really listen, and know and trust my truth. As I met each challenge that confronted me, threatened to derail me from my path, but didn’t, that rock became smooth, weathered, beautiful, black, radiant – me.

You must mine your own heart, meet your own self – the good, the bad and the ugly – accept that it is true and love you, all of you. Inside all of the muck is your gift, your purpose, your reason for being here on this earth, at this time. Only you can unearth it, only you can set it free, though the spirits, the ancestors, they are guiding you, cheering you on, encouraging you, supporting you. They live in your imagination, in your creativity, your craft, your art, your voice, your laughter. They live in your loneliness. Embrace them to set you free.”

Rosie Browne, Karen Hinds, Dr. Valda Henry, Gloria Walsh, Sharon Martini, Mrs. Annette St. Hilaire

Sharon Martini proud as punch with Phenomenal Caribbean Woman Plaque

Sharon Martini proud as punch with Phenomenal Caribbean Woman Plaque

Mrs. Esther Thomas, Chief Technical Officer, Ministry of Tourism, Dominica, presents me with a basket of "Made In Dominica" goodies.

Mrs. Esther Thomas, Chief Technical Officer, Ministry of Tourism, Dominica, presents me with a basket of “Made In Dominica” goodies.

The view from Cabrits National Park, Portsmouth, Dominica

The view from Cabrits National Park, Portsmouth, Dominica

OpheliaMarie

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Color Conscious…

November 7, 2011

“Brownings, Please” So exclaimed the headline of the Jamaica Gleaner, one Sunday, September last. Even before reading the article, and fully aware that I am still learning to fully comprehend variegate Jamaican vernacular, I felt quite secure in my determination that this was not about cooking. I was reminded of a TV programme I watched last year while flying back to Portland, Oregon from Montego Bay.

That show was CNN’s “Kids On Race: The Doll Study Revisited.” In a recreation of a 1947 experiment, a group of children were asked to choose the good, bad, ugly, pretty or “one that looks like me” doll from drawings ranging in hue from pale pink to dark chocolate, or, white to black. Almost across the board when asked to select the “doll” with positive traits the children chose the “white” one. When picking the negatives, yep you guessed it, they picked the darkest dolly, the “black” one.

Though not my first time observing this type of experiment and sadly, not surprised, my heart still ached as I questioned, again, how it was that, Anno Domini 2011, sixty plus years on, with the leader of the “free” world a milk-coffee-colored cousin, that the “barely out of diapers” future leaders of our world (and as current headlines imply, suit clad corporate leaders) continue to learn, and believe to the detriment of hue-manity, these putrid but persistent lessons? What are we adults teaching our children? And why are we adults perpetuating the madness? Obviously something is a miss. (Incredulous, I ask myself, and anyone who can hear, “Why are we still having this conversation?”) Something is not working, or then again, maybe that was the plan all along. But I digress.

It has shocked and saddened me during my journeys to the land of my parents, my ancestors; the home of my own vagabond, or wandering, soul, that the same self-hatred and disdain for one’s darkness, blackness, abundance of melanin, visibly evident African heritage, that reigns and rages, in the United States of America (and beyond) permeates this – rich, bounteous of spirit, heart and life – little island of Jamaica.

My mother had told stories of when as a child, being darker of hue and shackled with the twin shame of poverty, her “place” was in the back of the classroom at the “good” school she attended, and even that only because her mother washed its floors. Still, I say to myself that was then…

Will we, and I mean all of hue—manity, learn the truth of whom we truly are and what skin shade simply is at its core? Can we purge ourselves of the poisons we have been fed, disguised as lessons and learning; the blatantly illogical yet pernicious lies that corrupt us, our colors, our consciences, our compassion? Can we reclaim our power, take back our hearts, reaquaint with ourselves? Can we become the conquistadores of our own personal Freedom?

What if one knew that melanin is what colors us, what paints us uniquely in shades from milk to midnight; that technically, it is due either to abundance or deficiency, that we humans become black or white.

What if it was common knowledge that melanin is what darkens our skin, our hair, our eyes? Melanin helps us hear, colors our hearts, our blood, liver, the marrow in our bones, and gave “birth” to the stars.

What if you knew that melanin is protector, reflector, diviner, deflector, healer, highway-to-the-Divine; the almighty alchemist; the chemical of life? One-drop being sanctifier not stain – the key to life’s door?

What if you knew that billions of dollars of global government monies have been spent, and are continuing to be spent, studying melanin…and its magic?

Melanin is the most absorbent material known to man. It is melanin in a synthetic form that provided the insulation protecting the electrical wires of the now retired NASA Space Shuttle.

What if these truths were known to all human kind?
Imagine with me for a moment…

A rending of the cloak of inferiority, victim-hood, self-hatred, worn by the melanin-infused among us; this cloak woven and gifted “in the name of love, and God.”

The silencing, once and for all, of the perpetually repeated lies of white supremacy. The diminishing of the potency and power of color prejudice, and its big daddy racism.

We all, each one of us of every hue, have (are) melanin. What if we all knew and understood this?

What if commonsense/the universe/Sophia/wisdom/Goddess/God, whispered and we listened, really listened to her, “If you need a touch of melanin just to function, might that suggest the more you have, the greater thou can be?

Could humankind walk hand in hand, freed, no longer needing to run, hinder, hide, detach, crush, control, squelch, the “other;” able finally, to let go, relax and open to the unique foibles and fortes of each individual, no matter their skin tone?

Imagine knowing, deep in your heart, in the marrow of your bones, in your soul, in your melanin, that, like chlorophyll to plants, melanin to man, is the alpha and the omega?

No person, rule, wrong, “Doll Study” or “Brownings, Please” could ever take that away.

Why Not Leave?

April 29, 2011

Often when “the dirty little secret” of domestic abuse finally escapes its carefully constructed prison of shame, fear, guilt, and self-blame, especially when its thick seemingly impenetrable walls are felled by murder, out tromps the Greek Chorus to query incredulously,  “Why didn’t she just leave his sorry ass?”

This, strange as it may seem, is easier said than done.

First, domestic abuse is frequently invisible to everyone but the victim(s) especially when it is verbal and emotional. There are no bruises or broken bones to display in exchange for compassion, empathy, or simple sympathy.

The victim becomes mute, surrendering voice to survive, suffocating in mind-jabbering silence, shame, self-recrimination and blame. “If I hadn’t made him mad…” “If we speak it will make her mad and she will beat us.” “If I speak then I expose to the world my ineptitude at being wife/woman/mother/man/husband/father/partner – human.” “If I speak I will shame my family, my church, my community, my workplace.” “If I speak I will lose access to my house, food, clothing, my children, money, my job, societal status, etc. etc. etc.”

Justification saunters uninvited into your taciturnity and proceeds to dance a maniacal two-step on your brain with denial and blame. You question your sanity, your desires, your needs, wants; your basic human rights. Unfailingly, your answers support your position that you are not entitled to any of those. “You are bad.” “You are black.” “You are poor.” “Remember where you came from….” “It’s all in your imagination.” “He took you and your children in.” “It’s not so bad.” “This is what you deserve.” “You are ugly.” “Toughen up, get over it, your mother had it much worse.”

Negative messages bombard you becoming crippling mantras with every laboured breath you take. Peppering your pummeled mind, adding confusion upon confusion. You find yourself questioning whether your left hand is indeed your left hand. “… Maybe it’s the right?” You no longer know anything.

You subsist on a diet of subterfuge, tension, and soul crushing anxiety. You swallow without chewing your festering rage. Tiptoeing around on eggshells you mercifully attend to the children, the family, the house, the garden, the church, the social groups, school, anything to avoid having to face the dire truth of your situation. One foot in front of the other, numb, impervious to feeling or sensation you maintain a state of frantic busyness, so as to not succumb – “to keep your head above water,” as the saying goes. Even though, if allowed one wish, it would be to buckle your knees and fall, surrendering wholly, finally, to Death’s seduction, the incessant whispers lasciviously caressing your every cell, enticing you with promises of sweet release – peace.

But, you do not succumb, you keep going; for the children; for the family; the community; the church; anyone but you. You see, on this long, ever-growing list of obligations and obligees, your name does not appear, for your life has become self-sacrifice, a lingering suicide, your self-esteem so fragmented you no longer exist. So how can it possibly occur to you that you can, (and must,) do for you? You cannot hear “GET UP! YOU ARE ENTITLED TO BETTER! RUN! SAVE YOURSELF! LIVE!” No. No. They cannot be talking to me?

And still, there is within, something, (spirit, an indomitable force, the call of the ancestors perhaps,) buried deep amongst the muck, mayhem, disappointment and duty that hardens your heart; “bellows softly blowing” doggedly pumping to keep the embers of your life-light from extinguishing completely, until such time when you can rise again from the ashes.

Leaving an abusive relationship is one of the hardest things to do. In fact, leaving any relationship is hard, even when uninspiring, the love long departed. It is because it is familiar; it is what you know. We are all too familiar with the adage, ‘Tis better the devil you know! On average it takes a victim of abuse seven tries before being able to permanently leave an abuser. (The most dangerous point in an abusive relationship is the time during and immediately following leaving). However, the task can be easier with planning and preparation:

Contact, or at least know, the contact information of the domestic violence/sexual assault programs in your area.

Build a strong support system if you can. Or at least try to become involved in outside activities so you are not completely isolated.

Make an escape plan which may include:

A place to hide the car keys and other important items.

A hidden emergency fund. Begin stashing away a little cash from any allowances
and/or grocery money. If your finances are entwined consider secretly opening a separate bank account in your name only, preferably with a different financial institution.

A packed suitcase with a couple changes of clothes for yourself and your family. Leave this with a trusted friend or somewhere your partner will not find it. Include copies of birth certificates, passports, evidence documenting the abuse, and any other pertinent personal documents such as financial records.

A safe, secure place, preferably unknown to the abuser, where you can go, Have a plan to get there undetected.

Develop a plan for calling the police in an emergency, or having someone call on your behalf.

Notify few people of your plans. Friends or family can, in an attempt to help, jeopardize your safety by exposing your plans to your abuser.

Be kind to yourself. Take time for yourself. Find ways to affirm your goodness and your worth.

Keep a journal and write out your feelings. Keep your journal in a safe place.

Continuing in my efforts to educate on abuse, I am again organizing, producing and performing in The Vagina Monologues in Jamaica. This time in Treasure Beach, ST. Elizabeth. The Ladies Who Dare! presents a benefit production of “The Vagina Monologues” as part of the V-Day Global campaign to end violence against women and girls.
Highway To Being! copyright Sharon Martini

7 pm, Saturday, April 30, 2011 at Frenchman’s Reef Restaurant and Bar
Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica

In addition to “Ladies Who Dare!” from the greater Treasure Beach Community and beyond, the cast includes Dr. Glenda Simms, former Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Marie Sparkes, founder of Pure Potential (a privately-operated Jamaican Therapy company whose objectives are to give victims a wider range of strategies, skills and knowlege to manage the issues of sexual abuse and exploitation) and five young ladies who dare from Treasure Beach’s A Ganar Youth Leadership Program.

This event is a fundraiser for abused and exploited women in St. Elizabeth. Funds raised will be used to create a Healing Advocacy Fund for “Suzie” of Treasure Beach. Requested donation Ja$500.

To buy tickets online or to make a donation.

For tickets and information call: 876-574-3556
Email: thevaginamonologues@sharonmartini.com

Visit the official V-Day website at: www.vday.org

Human salvation …

October 23, 2010

This Martin Luther King quote was in an email I received today. It resonated so much that I simply had share.

Does it speak to you?

‘Love, my unique personal love story is writing itself’

September 14, 2010

Dear Love,

I have been thinking a lot about you lately, Love. No, I am not submerged in some fiery new fascination. Quite the contrary! I have been pondering how you have appeared in my life, Love.

As a little girl I knew you well, Love. All pink hearts, apple pies, deportment and discipline. They told me. I knew it to be true, in-between. Then Love, you told me, “I beat you because I Love you. Never mind the welts, they will heal and you will be strong, steadfast; a person of whom I can be proud. Besides, it was the same love that grew me, and look, it did me no harm, I am fine.”

Is it standard practice, Love, to declare (on tape no less,) “Don’t take any shit from my daughter!” on her wedding day?

I grew up, (well, I had several birthdays,) and you Love, became red roses, opened doors, chivalry, providence and protection. I believed them then too, in-between. This time because I needed to.

Doesn’t the traditional “fairytale” wedding vow state, “In sickness and in health…?” So why Love, did you leave me fearing your care in the event of my incapacity?

“All you need is love.” Says the song. Has anyone ever asked what kind of love, Love?

Remember when you used to insist, “I do not want to hear you say, “Can’t” because you can. You forgot to tell the truth Love, that anything I did accomplish needed to remain behind you, in your shadow.

It was you Love who held me, manacled-by-man, arms behind my back, as you instructed love to beat me, break me, put me in my place.

“I love you!” You shout, type, tell, proclaim, at every opportunity. But then you shut me out, Love. “Send me to Coventry.” That is what we call it where I am from. “Of course you know I love you but you may not come in for your presence renders me invisible. Might you bend, shuffle, dim?” You confess in inebriated verbosity, Love.

Love you have a multitude of faces, forms and fundamentals. You are not always kind and you are most certainly not always nice. Quite frankly, Amor, you have been for me, to use English vernacular, a royal pain in the bottom.

So Love, the purpose of this letter is to bid you adieu, so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye. I will no longer accept you in my world as you are. Yes, I am fully aware that there will be consequences for my brave, or foolish, decision (only I shall know the final outcome,) but I need to take the risk. For Love, it is, at this juncture in my life, do or die my darling.

I know the love that I need is out there in the ether, in the air! Love that laughs and likes little old me — warts and all. Love that is communicative, caring and kind; that lingers with neither hurt nor smart; that is affectionately loquacious both in silence and in song. Love that will share time, and breath, and space with me — willingly and wantonly.

Do you know what I believe, Love? I believe that this love, my special, particular, peculiar, kind of love, lives inside of me, and even as we “speak,” Love, my unique personal love-story is writing itself. It is up to me. In fact, it is only me, Love, who can publish it, set it free.

Throughout my years of acquaintance with you in your various guises, Love, the most sacred lesson I have gleaned is, “Love is the key to liberation.”

I am using my key, Love. How about you? Have you the courage to set it free?

This column was published in the August, 2010, edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper.

If by Rudyard Kipling

July 28, 2010

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

The Shadow

June 11, 2010

Me, My Shadow - I!

It is within me
All about me
It is me

My mirror
My muse
My reflection
My ruse
It is me

It is my left leg
Or maybe right
My daytime
Or my night
It is me

It is my sunshine
It is my pain
It is my thunder
It is my rain
It is me

It is my trail
It is my wail
It is my own personal Holy Grail
It is my magic
It is my menace
My terrific
Or my tragic
It is me

It is my womb
It is my wonder
It is me

It is dispassionately awaiting
My evasion
Or my embrace
It is my path to peace, purgatory,
Or wherever
However, I get to choose

It is my lifelong partner
Beckoning me to dance
If I dare
And with whom I will die
With, or without, care

Wake up! There are three snakes in your bed

June 11, 2010

Imagine yourself awaking, stretching as you leisurely unfurl yourself, eyes closed, into a regal recline. You are the mother of two rambunctious, loveable rascals whom have not as yet arisen.

You are luxuriating in the resonance of an audible inner exhale that thrills your every cell as it breathes from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, when, surrendering to the “Ahh,” your Zen is shattered by a helium-high pitched “One. Two. Three.” In stereo!

Welcome to one morning in my world. The boys were up. I opened my eyes to witness them cocksuredly laying out on the other pillow in my bed, their catch of the day, three lithe, not so little, garden snakes. Do you have any idea what freshly captured garden snakes smell like?

There they stood, Moses and Malik, wide-eyed, breathless, proud as peacocks, grinning Cheshire cats; the cats that got the cream. I could conjure another cliché, but you get the picture I am sure.

My gut reaction, the girly-girl in me. Yes, I know this is non politically correct language, but this is the truest way I can describe that particular bit of the many bits that make up the whole of me. Do you want to know what the woman/hag/crone/angel/witch/goddess/mother in me, wanted to do to my darlings?

Anyway, as I was saying, the girly-girl in me wanted to wretch, scream, hurl – all over Moses and Malik, not the serpents – but then I remembered Gwendoline. Gwendoline, heroine, star, of my little picture book, “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs!”

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what Gwendoline is made of, but, Gwendoline loves all things squiggly, wiggly, creepy and crawly. Yes! Gwendoline loves bugs! Forgive me but, cheek-to-cheek, in full pillow-patter pose with three ticked off ophidians, there is no distinction between a worm and a snake.

As I thought of Gwendoline, my stomach settled and I found my breath. Did you know you can breathe through your skin? I sat reclining, admittedly at this point more rigid than regal, smiling wanly, somewhat stupefied, and questioned how my life had come to this. No prince charming on my pillow. No knight in shining armor, only three Thamnophis Sirtalis serpents on my bolster, and Moses and Malik, fruit of my womb, standing to attention, positively glowing in exaltation. Had my offspring presented me at that time, with the Hope diamond, or a hundred-million-dollar winning lottery ticket, they could not have been more certain of their worth and entitlement to my deepest gratitude and undying love. I marveled at how I had never, in my wildest dreams (and I am she of the wild reverie,) imagined that this would be my life.

Do you know what? Looking back I am so glad I had never imagined so many of things that have been my life, for had I, I would have run hard and fast the other way (whichever direction that might have been.) Boy would I have missed out on so many weird and wonderful experiences.

I mean, one has not lived unless one can truthfully say, “I have reclined in bed with three snakes simultaneously – the reptile kind!”

This column originally appeared in the May, 2010 edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper.

The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville

May 12, 2010

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, I organized, directed and performed in (alongside twelve other “Vagina Warriors”) Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues.” The show, a “The Ladies Who Dare!” production took place at Bloomfield Great House, Restaurant and Bar. A benefit production for the V-Day movement and the Montego Bay Home For Girls (Melody House,) it was the first-ever performance in Mandeville.

The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville, Cast

Vagina Warriors Are We!

Vagina Warrior, Dr. Glenda Simms

Doing The Vagina Monologues in Jamaica was for me a personal quest. They say life is a journey and I concur. As I travel this life journey, raising my two sons in a country that is their country but not my country, and liberating myself from an oppressive marriage, I am surprised to find myself discovering my Jamaican roots. Crazy as it may sound, I am being directed, by my ancestors, to my spiritual home. The grandmothers are attempting to remind me as I trundle along in this my turbulent life, of the often forgotten yet most crucial, rest stop on the road to wholeness and home.

My parents are Jamaican. They immigrated to England before Jamaica’s independence, to partake of their “piece of the pie,” and help themselves to some of those golden ingots that paved the streets of London. Leaving behind their secrets, shames, and unresolved grief, to create a new life in a better place and then, as quick as one can say “Abracadabra,” become better people.

Unfortunately, shames, secrets and unresolved grief, all wrapped up as they are, with your spirit and soul, cannot help but follow you wherever you go, wherever you are and if left unattended to, wreak havoc on your life.

Prior to The Vagina Monologues in Mandeville, I had been lucky enough to visit Jamaica a few times over the eighteen or so months prior to the production, however, there were certain things “culturally” that bothered me. I experienced many a moment that had me wondering, both cerebrally and increasingly vociferously, how I could get The Vagina Monologues to Jamaica; how I felt Jamaica needed “The Vagina Monologues.”

More often than not, people would giggle and then rapidly recoil from me. I swear I could hear ladies’ brains questioning “… but, she seemed like such a nice girl?” followed fretfully by, “Where the hell is my husband?” He of “the little brush” on the other hand, had a tendency, once he recovered from the shock of such a word tumbling so nonchalantly from the lips of one who had one (a vagina that is,) would move in closer, pressing, ever-emboldened now, on my personal boundary barrier.

Nevertheless, at times shaken, but ultimately, undeterred, I kept coming back to Jamaica, and, because that is who I am, I continued voicing my opinions with regard to The Vagina Monologues. (What I now realize is that along the way, I was finally fully discovering, exposing and embracing, “the Lady Who Dares” in me, myself and I.)

Abuse, in its myriad forms, has been an uninvited guest on this life journey. My father beat my mother. My mother beat her children. My oldest brother beat me up because, being first-born, con willy, he had license you see, obtained free and clear from mummy dearest, who relegated to third power-position behind my dad and her eldest son, considered me someone who needed to be brought down a peg or two. Then chiseled and chipped a little, and still believing in fairytales, I met and married my very own white knight in shining armor – sparkling, solid, stainless steel, commanding and wholly impervious to emotion it was.  (In truth, I think there was a mix up at the bookstore and I somehow ended up with a white, bearded smiting dude.)

Still, such is life, you live and learn, as the saying goes. And I choose to seek and accept, my lessons, and laugh, and dance, and sing, and love (beginning with myself – warts and all,) and heal.

Abuse, particularly against women and girls, is subtly sanctioned by the mores of society, innocuously mixed in with the adhesive that adheres the, acceptable labels (and accompanying characteristics and expectations) assigned to she; woman, mother, daughter, sister, wife, girlfriend, grandmother and friend.

I am attempting to end the cycle that inflicts my family (me, myself and I, and my two sons.) I am calling it what it is. I am exposing it, and I shall not be claiming it as my shame, something to be hidden, covered up and endured in silence.

Contrary to popular belief, mandates, dogma and doctrine, abuse is not woman’s burden to carry. It is not my burden to carry and pass down to my children packaged in with the bone china and family heirlooms. As I continue to learn about my Jamaican heritage and history, I am beginning to understand more and more the cycle of abuse as it relates to me.

As I commit to the struggle of becoming aware and wholly conscious, of me, who I am, naked of all labels, and step away from those same civilized mores, discarding the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” of life and, as I like to say, “reclaim my vagina,” what I have discovered is that the universe gifts us with opportunities to aid in our quest for enlightenment; for our own truth. The Vagina Monologues was, for me, one of those gifts.

I have performed in The Vagina Monologues in the US several times. In fact my first ever rehearsal was on my 40th birthday. (Dr. Glenda Simms said that women don’t begin to come into their own until their forties… I will admit that I am a late bloomer, although in many respects I was born old.) The effect it has had on my life has been profound, or destructive, dependent upon your perspective. It has empowered me. It clarified abuse in my own personal world and the world at large, and its disguises, as it tore me open, and shamelessly exposed how entwined, how encumbered humanity is in its madness. Especially women.

It showed me how it is all the same thing, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, societal; whether we wear bruises the world can see, or we carry the pain, internally and constipated, its aim is to diminish us, to negate us, to crush our inherent, life-giving, life-bringing, life-bearing, omnipotent power and have us fighting and fearing ourselves and each other.

Quite simply the aim of abuse against women and girls is, at its core, an effort to contain and control our life force, our creativity – our sexuality. It shouted out to me that abuse of any kind, whether directed toward woman, man, flora or beast, is never about love. It is always about control, and the two sides of the same anger coin, insecurity and fear.

It touched me so deeply; it changed my life – opened the door on a little chaos some might say – yet here was a medium for healing, empowerment, enlightenment, education, entertainment, lots of laughter, lots of tears, and liberation. My being a part of it accelerated me into awakening and pushed me gently back to breathing on my own. I was a genie in a bottle (a blue one) I rubbed, I am out and I am never going back. Performing in the Vagina Monologues helped me find my stroke.

I believe that every human – man and woman – needs to see it; needs to be touched by the power of it, so they too can know where and how abuse touches them, where and how they abuse, and begin to work to stop it. “To help us all remember the inherent, life-bearing, omnipotent power of woman; that without She, there cannot be, You, He, She, nor We.” I too believe that every woman, (every Jamaican woman,) needs to be afforded the opportunity to perform in The Vagina Monologues, however small a part, for the participating is, in itself, empowering, imbuing a sense of pride and accomplishment, unlocking the long-buried memory of her inherent, awesome, inner strength.

To see it, or to be in it, can and will assist in opening up much needed dialogue, for oneself and for others, about abuse and its suffocating side-kicks, pain, shame, secrets, rage and fear. I absolutely believe that dialogue, daring to say, to tell, to speak out loud, is the first step toward healing. Putting it out there allows other women to know they are not the only one.

By organizing, directing and performing in The Vagina Monologues on the island of Jamaica, and, serendipitously, in the parish of my parents and my ancestors, as I continue on my personal journey of healing and liberation, I find that I need to be the universe’s messenger and share this power-filled gift with the Jamaican woman.

I am grateful to have been able to meet ladies brave enough to dare to make it happen with me, to share themselves and their voices in order to give voice to the unseen and unheard among us (and those of us who truly don’t know it is abuse, for it is our norm, it is all we know,) whom though invisible and silent are out there, all over our world, ever increasing in numbers, being swept up in the hurricane of abuse against women and girls, then discarded on the outside, disheveled, disorientated feeling powerless and in pain, struggling just to survive and, inevitably in their shame-filled silence, becoming the fuel that keeps the cycle flowing and repeating itself.

The madness of abuse emotionally and physically cripples, not only women and girls, but men and boys too, and humanity is dying spiritually because of it.

I am deeply honored, and humbled, to have played a small part in helping to shine a light to expose this truth, so we can all work individually, yet collectively, to end the madness and begin the process of healing.

See photos from “The Vagina Monologues, Mandeville, 2009” here:
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100009
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100038
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100024

Oreos?

May 10, 2010

Aren’t they a type of cookie comprised of chocolate-colored cookies on either side of a sweet, cream, white-colored filling? Flour, high fructose corn syrup and food coloring in pretty packaging. There is no nutritional value in this item that I can ascertain. Yet, academics have been known to pontificate profusely about this “cookie.” People of color spit this “food” at each other, intending to wound, belittle, and ostracize.

Living here in this land of the free and home of the brave, I learned that being deemed an Oreo implies that a person of color, specifically of African descent, who attempts to ascend the ladder of “success” by becoming “educated,” speaking “proper” English, enjoying Classical music, or anything outside of Hip Hop, is “trying to be white.” Apparently, said traits are synonymous with whiteness.

Now, I will concede I am a foreigner, an alien, according to the US government, albeit a legal one, but from where I sit, and I confess, sipping tea, it makes no sense to me. I have to ask, “Who animated this biscuit and allowed it to escape the cookie jar?” Does anyone realize this pseudo-confection has neither legs, nor power, unless one believes in the lie of white supremacy?

When did we (I include myself here, for I am black, although in reality I am, like you, ultimately iridescently human, inside and out,) as a people so thoroughly lose our way? Yes, one could argue that slavery misdirected us all.  But if we dare to dig we will discover that our ancestors, yes the illiterate slave ones, did not sell their souls for a cookie, or even a whole jar. How is it we have allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated so?

The Latin root of the word “educate” is “educare” which means to draw forth from within. What is within us is an indomitable, inviolate, inner strength, our spirit. We, blinded by learning, manmade material lack, and ingested inferiority, have allowed this spirit to be educated out of us.

What if we could remember ourselves, rediscover our spirit and the strength of our ancestors and reacquaint ourselves with our truth?

What if you believed that the roots of humanity live in you, in your black African indigenous roots? That Africans, blacks, have been in the Americas, since long before Columbus and that there are ancient monuments 20,000 years old, and older, proving this?

What if we discerned that throughout modern history, obstacles camouflaged as Laws, Parliamentary Acts, mandated multiculturalism and prejudices, have been constructed to hinder the prosperity and progress of the dark ones among us and keep the truth far, far, away from our consciousness?

What if you knew that many Africans who were brought here were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people?

What if we understood that the ability to communicate fluently in Standard English is a tool for all humans of all hues, nothing more nothing less?

What if you knew that in United States Army Intelligence tests during World War I, blacks led the whites in several states, north and south?

Prior to desegregation, black people enjoyed academic competence, even with substandard resources. When they dared to demand better buildings, books, etc, desegregation was enacted. While children were bussed to more resource-rich schools, self-esteem, or spirit, was intentionally shuttled elsewhere. The Institution of Education pulled off one of the greatest bait and switches in history.

What if we knew that the first slaves brought to the Americas, were not black but white, mostly British Europeans. Transportation of convicts was a regular pursuit through the 17th and 18th centuries. Between 1737 and 1767 approximately 20,000 of these felons were deposited in Maryland alone. America was considered the “graveyard of the white race.” These “carcasses” are the forefathers, and mothers, of today’s dominant culture.

What if you knew that far from being the inept, inherently naughty, criminal cretins depicted in the media, Africans, nubians, blacks, melanistic peoples, provided western civilization with the fundamentals of music, mathematics, medicine, spirituality and yoga? There were no jails, locks, or bolts in the villages from whence the African’s came. Such controls were not needed.

The “Father of medicine” was not Hippocrates, a Greek, but Imhotep a Nubian, a black African. What if we were cognizant of this?

Famous missionary, Dr. Livingstone, stated, “Syphilis dies out in the African interior. It seems incapable of permanence of any form in persons of pure African blood.” What if you knew that the Africans brought to the “New World” had neither, tuberculosis, syphilis, nor any other venereal disease? Makes one wonder, why then the Tuskegee Airmen syphilis experiments that continued for 28 years (yes 28,) after World War II ended.

What if you knew that the Greek historian, Herodotus who visited Egypt around 450 BC, described the Kamitian people (ancient Egyptians) as having black skin and woolly hair? Somewhat different from the tan, eurocentric depictions in our textbooks. The original name of ancient Egypt, “Khemet” means black and is the root of “chemistry?”

What if you knew that both Beethoven, the world’s greatest musician (“short, stocky, broad shoulders, short neck, round nose, blackish-brown complexion”) and Joseph Haydn, were black?

Could chewing on, the foregoing, instead of a sugary snack, allow you to see yourself, and your black brethren as equally, yet individually, uniquely, capable? Might it liberate us, like wildflower seeds scattered upon fertile soil, to blossom and bloom however we may, with no need to feign, claim, or foist whiteness or anything else, and own our right to all possibility in human form?

I do not know, nor do I purport to know your truth. However, I do know that I am committed to neither ingesting nor lobbing Oreos. There are only home-baked, home-styled biscuits in my biscuit tin.

What is in your cookie jar?

A version of this article appeared in the January/February/March, 2010, Edition of The Beloved Community Journal