If you haven’t heard the case of Kiera Wilmot of Bartow, Florida, then get familiar. She’s a teen with good grades and no prior behavior problems who messed up a science experiment and got charged with a felony.
As I get older, sadly, few things inspire me to write in for change. It could be that, as the world evolves, there are more instances of ridiculous behavior and of sad people trying to hold on to injustices to others so they may keep their perceived safe space. It could also be because sometimes you write and you never hear…things go into the ether. I’ve written ridiculous politicians and educators plenty of times with no word and that’s mostly fine since I’m usually calling them out on something.
This Kiera Wilmot story though, moved me in a way that I haven’t been moved since maybe last year with Trayvon Martin, perhaps more so. Kiera could have been me at that age. I got good grades, had no prior behavior problems and was pretty clumsy when it came to science. I had the best science teacher in the world, Mr. Ishakis, who believed we all had the ability to cure cancer if we tried. Imagining him punishing me for trying something is beyond comprehension. I could have been Kiera though.
So I wrote whomever I could about this little girl that I don’t know. I do what most do, scour the internet for contact information. Because most articles don’t have specific details, I collected contact information for almost anyone of authority in Bartow, FL - police, sheriff, state’s attorney, principle, you name it.
Here was my email:
To Whom It May Concerned,
With regard to the Kiera Wilmot case, I sincerely hope that you plan to drop the charges against this girl - a girl with good grades and no behavior problems - for a science experiment gone wrong. Your actions have now set this girl on a course from which few ever recover from. Her bright future is now tarnished because of the decision you’ve made to charge her with something from which few recover from…there was no malice, no injuries and no damage. Was there no other recourse but to charge her with a crime? Is it impossible to think that there may be another course of action suitable for a CHILD? Could you not have suspended her for the possible danger and then welcomed her back so she could go on to achieve any success she may be destined for? Are there no other criminals in this county that deserve your attention other than this child?? This case is making news across the country and I hope this forces you to reexamine whatever excessive disciplinary action you’ve deemed appropriate in this time.
T. Tara Turk
I clicked send and tried to think of something else I could do to help this girl, whom I imagined in juvenile hall, scared and worried about her future since she’s being expelled from school. Just as I almost walked away from my computer, here’s the response I got from Donna Wood, Public Information Officer for the Sheriff’s Department:
Had you, or any of the individuals who have been littering the Polk County Sheriff’s Office PIO inbox bothered to research this case, even superficially, they would have discovered the investigation and arrest was conducted by the Bartow Police Department – not our agency. It’s not our case. The suspect is not in our custody.
Please contact the Bartow Police Department for any further comments or complaints about this case.
Donna C. Wood, MSM, CPM
Public Information Officer
Polk County Sheriff’s Office
At first, all I saw was the word “litter” and I saw red. She must be mad or off her rocker. What public official uses the world litter to someone who pays taxes and writes them to express themselves? Then I read the email and realized that she clearly handled this the wrong way. Though their office is not involved, she responded to me in a way that says she doesn’t think her replies out to the public. But she works for the public. Are people in her county used to hearing that kind of tone? Having worked in customer service most of my life, I know tone and word phrasing is everything. Never would I think to tell someone that they are littering my inbox by emailing about something that bothered them, even if it didn’t apply to me. You see, I have answered general lines for a major magazine. I have talked to people who think they are Halle Berry’s parents and have sent hair samples to prove it. I have talked to people who want to sue a publication because of a documentary where they are shown kidnapping someone, simply because we reviewed the documentary. None of those people ever heard me utter the word “litter.”
This was my response to Donna (I was raised to use Mr. and Miss for people but I can’t do it this time):
Apologies if this has reached you in error. We don’t consider it littering when we are trying to find the right agency to reach out to. And perhaps this email will reach someone who can actually help. You are an agency so there for we appeal to you. Littering may not be the right word to use but thank you for your reply. I have sent an email to that agency as well as the State’s Attorney. As a tax payer, I feel as though I have a reach out to you directly. Good day.
You see, I had to remind her that we don’t know each other and I am a tax payer. I had to remind her that she is there to help. How come I had to do that? I understand she in inundated with emails about this subject, as she should be because it’s ridiculous, but she lost the focus of the point. It is about Kiera. It is about directing information the best way you can. If it’s not about that, then it’s definitely not about littering inboxes.
Because sometimes we need it. I’ve got some big news coming up that I can’t talk about yet but in the meantime, please relax your mind with my boy Pierre Bennu’s masteful creation:
My name is Tara, and I have No Shame. I’m a child of a mother who has fought depression since I was young.
When I was less than a year old, my mom and her then husband were out here in Cali, living the life of the metropolitan urban fashionable couple. That is until her husband starting cheating on her with a white woman. My mom, devastated, took me and ran back home to Cleveland to the safety of my grandparents. My grandpa Larry didn’t take any mess and was literally the seam that held the family together. From the deep South, he was the one who taught his eight children to cook and clean. My grandmother, gorgeous and studious, was a college grad and a librarian who wasn’t so much for cooking. Her wardrobe though could knock any woman out in the neighborhood. My grandparents were VERY social and though sometimes couldn’t rub two pennies together, you’d never ever know it from looking at them.
My mother wasn’t doing that great at the crumbling of her marriage. When I look back on it, I am not sure I would be either at the age of 23. I think of me at 23 and the utter heartbreak I was going through and can’t imagine that heartbreak being the source of a marriage and having a kid at the same time. Things were so bad that my grandparents were “suggesting” that they take me while my mom got her head together. She was buckling. But apparently at that suggestion, she realized she needed to pull it together for me. I should have remembered this as an adult but this didn’t dawn on me until recently. When you pull yourself together for someone you’re responsible for, it’s not a cure for your blues. You’re just shoving it somewhere to deal for later.
We got an apartment, my mom got a job, I was going to kindergarten…life was great. Cleveland in the late 70s was great - I had multicultural friends, my mom had us dress up and take portraits together (we are both in denim with the flyest baby hair held down with Pre Con Gel). My grandpa was great. He’d pick me up from kindergarten in his old station wagon. He’d pay me to go to church (three bucks - two of which I gave to the collection plate) and I’d squeal with delight as he ushered folks who got the Holy Ghost and knocked his glasses across the church. My grandmother sat next to me and gave me half sticks of Spearmint gum. My aunt would braid my hair like Bo Derek. My uncles would let me write my name on the ceilings of their room with a lighter. My cousins and I collected enough pennies that we thought we’d go in on a nightclub together (to be fair, I couldn’t really possibly understand money and cost back then). My mom had a village of folks raising me. Then the unspeakable happened. Our seam got ripped from our family when my grandfather was murdered.
My mother, as the first born girl, was a daddy’s girl (much like I would be once my real dad came into the picture - let’s distinguish now that I don’t consider my blood father my REAL father), and when he was murdered, all that devastation from her marriage came rushing back to the surface (didn’t help that she just signed divorce papers and that her ex-husband was about to marry his mistress). My grandfather’s children could not handle his murder, especially since it was never solved. I remember my youngest uncle was watching me when he got the call. I remember blood curdling tears and chaos. I don’t even remember my mother being around. Everyone is just like a cloud of grief that traveled around with me. I’ve written before about my grandfather’s funeral and how I got lost in at the funeral home, trapped in a room full of bodies in caskets. Somehow I found my way out and ran towards an aunt who assumed I was crying over my grandpa. That too but…funerals for me have been obstacles.
My mother was part of that first row of grieving family members. We were all loud and broken. I do remember she grabbed tightly to my hand. Her hands were tear soaked. She’s always had these thin water like tears that crystalized her face. They always silenced me. Soon after grandpa’s passing, my mom met my real dad on a double date. He was from Detroit and came up to visit her a few times. She fell HARD in love with him. He was tall, protective, hard working, handsome and best of all, he loved me. I remember him picking me up from kindergarten once and I was so excited I ran and called him “Daddy” for the first time. He hugged me tight and laughed. We were inseparable from that point on. My mom couldn’t be more pleased, even through her blues.
Ordinarily the story ends there. We all live happily ever after under one roof and become like the Cosbys. Except life is way more complicated. My mom and dad would never live under the same roof, even after she moved us to Detroit to be closer to him. I don’t profess to know the ends and outs of their relationship (I only know her side because, well, she wasn’t afraid to ask me for advice even at the age of 10). My dad wasn’t that kind of person. The only thing he would ever say about my mom is that she had the worst luck. He said that when I was a rebellious angry teenager, threatening to leave the house after one of our massive fights we would have regularly. I insisted it wasn’t her luck. It was her. My mom’s depression crumbled her in every aspect except for making sure I had a roof over my head, my acne was worked on, my homework was done (she was strict), that I didn’t get pregnant and that I didn’t mess around with my education.
But when it came to her, she just kept dreaming. Most of my childhood memories of her include her working and taking the bus home (we never had a car - she wanted one but I think her blues just couldn’t let her figure out how), of her sitting in the dark on Sundays listening to old sad Motown songs on WJLB in Detroit and indulging in substances that would let her forget (I’ll that at that). I was an only child and had an active imagination so I can and always will be able to entertain myself without much help from other people at all. She was happiest when my dad came and got us for brunch, dinner, a movie or a drive. She was saddest when she realized they probably weren’t going to ever get married. I resented her for putting her heart on her sleeve over and over again, begging him, questioning him. I wish I didn’t but I just wanted her to be Superwoman. I wanted her to be strong and independent in every area of her life. She was trying to raise me to be that way but there some days that she literally would be there but not there.
When college came, I couldn’t wait to leave. Two grown women under one roof was torture for the both of us. She wouldn’t admit it but it was wearing her thin and I could be so independent and cold sometimes that her image of us being besties I’m sure was difficult to keep up. When the chance to go to New York came, I jumped on it even though I’d miss my parents (and even though my dad was bribing me with a car to stay). Later, after I had lived in NY for about five years, my dad told me they just knew in their hearts I wouldn’t last a month. But they forgot who they raised. Or maybe they didn’t realize who they raised. My first week at college, my mom called and asked me to do something I didn’t want to do (when I was living under her roof, I would be forced to do what she asked but this was my freedom) and she literally had a melt down. My roommates could hear how loud she was over the phone. I cried for the first time in my life over an argument we had. It was hard for me to do but I knew I had to say no to her because sometimes her requests were bad for her (I won’t say what they were but they had to do with my dad and her desperation to get him back since their break up). When we hung up, I knew that she was in her room, crying like when my grandpa died. And that broke my heart. But I am not the type of person to relent once I think I’ve done the best for both of us. It’s a trait some forget that I have.
I didn’t realize that my move away from home would make my mother’s depression worsen. When I was home, she was upholding the bargain she made with herself to try and keep it together for me. But I wasn’t there anymore and so I am sure the blues floodgates just opened and poured out. She tried to figure out the best way for us to communicate but I was so defensive and so was she. I was so angry about her not being what I expected and she was angry at me for not being the same. I wanted her to suddenly go back to school, get her degree, travel the world, turn into Auntie Mame and call it a day. She wanted me to call her everyday and talk about everything and nothing like she did with her sisters. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted less. It took years for us both to come to some sort of resolve. We’re still not there. I’m not as close as most are there to their moms yet I’m closer than most are to their moms, if that makes any sense. I have recently realized that she is a bit different than I imagined as she is for more independent than I thought. She totally doesn’t need to talk to me everyday but she would do it happily. She’s actually just as well being alone with her thoughts. But this is recent, like in the last 7 years, since my dad died. We both changed when that happened. Even though they weren’t together, her love for him never ever died.And almost six months after his death, my elegant grandmother died too (my mom had moved back to Cleveland to help take care of her…she’s still there).
Recently we made some headway as my mom wouldn’t ever go to a shrink. The whole point of me telling this story as a child of a parent with depression is that this is how our people have dealt with these issues for ages. No doctor, no therapy, no discussion…we just work around it. It’s like a Toni Morrison novel - so dense and thick, so many types of blues floating around these simple things we say to each other that are actually so complex. My mom and I discovered that she has probably been depressed since her father died. Her way of coping is exploring religion and I pray that helps her. My way was to go to a therapist a few times. Along the way I got into a couple of relationships with men who showed signs of depression - one of those relationships very serious but it took its toll on me. I realized I was finding people to save like I felt like I was doing with my mom. Being around depression is hard. It’s isolating, frustrating and a roller coaster ride of other -ing emotions. You never quite feel like you see the whole person for who they are, like they have the blue fog over them. And if you come from that person as I came from my mother, well, it’s a whole other tricky trip because you are the closest and yet so far away.
Lately this thing about keeping our blues to ourselves has become a disease that eats us all alive inside and it’s coming to the surface. As we lose loved ones who are buckling under the weight of all of this, it’s important to talk about these blues. This is the first time I’ve told my story about my mother because I never knew how to begin and I thank Bassey Ikpe for giving me an intro to doing so. I really hope one day my mom gets to find her intro and can tell her own story.
In support of the Siwe project, please visit www.thesiweproject.org to read other stories and share yours if you have one. If you’re on twitter, check out @thesiweproject with the #NoShame hashtag. Silence is really deadly.
This past week I found out an online friend, Erica Kennedy, passed away and it spiraled me a bit. I am not one to use other peoples’ situations as a platform for my own. Rather their actions affect me and Erica’s got me thinking about so many things (my writing, not procrastinating with anything, being grateful for blessings that I have and…death).
My first experience with death was my grandfather’s murder. He was shot seven times in Cleveland outside of a card game. It was like somebody ripped out the seam from our family. I remember lots of crying (I was only 5 or so) and lots of screaming. That’s enough to traumatize a kid but I also got lost in the funeral home and wondered into a room of open caskets. It’s the stuff horror movies are made of. I ran out, crying, everyone thinking I was crying for my grandpa (I did do that but this other thing was something entirely different) since I couldn’t really articulate the real life horror I had gotten myself into. I remember my grandpa’s funeral with all seven of his children weeping hysterically. I remember looking at him and thinking they did a horrible dye job on his already perfect salt n pepper hair. I remember my mom being depressed from that point on.
Life was pretty death free until grade school when two tragedies sent me into my head. First, when I was in Girl Scouts, one of our members, Dawn, died in a house fire. We all went to her funeral in our uniforms and I remember her mother’s hand clasping mine as I paid my respects. They were wet with tears. As with most girl groups, you have one member of the gang who’s usually a pathological liar or an exaggerator. Gabrielle, the resident story teller, was older than me and insisted on telling me that Dawn considered me her best friend and I believed it. That disturbed me for a few reasons: 1) Dawn and I never really talked that much and 2) what a horrible best friend I was that I didn’t even know and I didn’t have any way to save her.
The second grade school tragedy hit me harder than Dawn. There was a girl who was a few years older than me. She and her brother would walk past my house on the way to our school and I would always think how nice it seemed that they had each other (as an only child) and that she seemed so happy. And then she hung herself. I think she was in 7th grade and I was in 5th grade. I remember writing in my journal about why she would do it, did she leave a note, what was so bad that she would take her life, did her brother have a grief he couldn’t even figure out how to overcome. I remember I wrote her a letter in my journal. I can still see the journal. It was puffy plastic on the front, fake lock and key, large lines. My handwriting never fit and, depending on the day, always looked different but still horrible.
In 7th grade, one of the most popular girls in our school didn’t make it to the first day of school. She was so popular that everyone looked for her, wondering where she was. Jennifer was nice, beautiful, talented (she was a dancer) and had the best laugh. She never talked down to us lower grade kids. Her cousin came up to us hysterically crying right before class. Jennifer had died the night before of a brain aneurysm . I didn’t even know what that was but I knew it was unfair. I thought of her popular boyfriend and how devastated he must have been. Who deals with your girlfriend’s death in 8th grade? I knew her family was suffering but my thing was about the rest of us who saw her everyday and heard her laugh but had no real bond with her other than school. We’d be grieving too.
I’ve written a lot on her about my dad’s death. I still think it’s unfair 7 years later. I still fluctuate from feeling his presence to missing his presence. There is no happy medium for me or the rest of us who loved him, especially my brother who is so like him and whom I’ve gotten so close to. There are days when I remember being in my dad’s house, after he died, with my brother and his then wife. The three of us hold up in the house like hostage mourners. Nobody wanted us to stay there but we did. At one point, we all slept in one room, me on the top bunk and them on the lower one. The house was our grief blanket.My grandmother soon followed but her life had been full of love, children, style, books and laughter. It didn’t feel like she was yanked…it felt like she glided.
There are some people who say that they are okay with death - that when the time comes, the time comes but I’m not one of them yet. I am bothered by it because all the death I’ve pretty much known has been a yanking into death. None of it seems peaceful. I do sometimes wonder if a long illness gives you that time to glide into it but from my loved ones who have gone through that, it certainly doesn’t seem like it. Is death supposed to be like that ride on the roller coaster, when you get to the top and you drop so fast that you can’t scream? That’s what it appears to be. I’m not really worried about myself other than knowing the grief and tax it causes the people who love me. But I am not sure how to cope with the death of these people, near and far, who affect me in some large way.
I didn’t know Erica well at all but you don’t really have to sometimes when things happen so suddenly. There’s been a great outpouring of love and discussion about depression, something I don’t think I’ve gone through since puberty (I’d call the grief over my dad’s passing something else but not depression). I’m glad we’re talking about this when people are alive so they can see that there is a wave that happens when you are no longer here.
Sometimes, as a writer, the road is long and hard and super silent. There are some who are lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time early and they get agents and what not. I’ll not bore you with the infamous details about how for every one actor in Hollywood, there at least ten screenwriters. I won’t even bore you with the whole thing about how even super established screenwriters are taking rewrite work or doing television just to keep their food on the table (okay some of their food might be ahi tuna but hey, they gotta hustle to keep status quo). I wish I could say these things don’t echo in my head when I get down to my one on one time with Final Draft but I do have to work hard to move that stuff to the side and get my stories out (right now I’m outlining another script I’m writing with Scott in hopes that it’s a way to make things easier - ha!). So imagine my joy when I finally got notice that one of my scripts, which I send out in the big big big bad world regularly, got a hit at the African American Women In Cinema Film Festival a few weeks ago.
First I was told I was a selectee which elicited a happy dance on its own. Then I was notified that I won! The Brooklyn Bubble, by moi, was an official winner of the AAWIC Screenwriting competition. The AAWIC is a special one because it’s about AA women keeping doors open for all of us and not about trying to shut it down for anyone. The evening was moderated by Roxanne Shante (the ten year old me was DYING) and my sister/bestie Marcella Oliver was able to be there to accept AND make a speech on my behalf. I have few people in my life who could swing that (and y’all know who you are) so I had no worries at all because she is definitely somebody who could hold it down for me.
I’m still on Cloud 18989789 and so now’s the time to….WRITE more! Yes, no rest for the weary. The Brooklyn Bubble is a script I’m super proud of because I wrote something that I enjoy and that makes me laugh while also showing my folks as we are - phenomenal and regular too. Below is the photo of the award which I hope I’ll be able to use to keep me going when the world of screenwriting gets a little dark and silent again (which it will because it always does).
I miss you, dad!
Like so many, New York had a pull on me even before I moved there. The benefit of growing up in the 90s meant there was SO much good music, hip hop specifically, happening there that I had to go even when I had no idea what I was going to do there. I grew up, really, in New York even though I was raised in Detroit and born in Pasadena. New York made me an adult.
If it hadn’t been for the Native Tongue movement, Jazzmataz and Digable Planets, I have no idea what kind of person I would have turned out to be. Scratch that. If that music hadn’t affected me like it did, I don’t know what I would be now. The whole idea that there was a quest for identity and a consciousness that nobody else seemed to really need except for a selected group of us, was an amazing moment to be connected to.
I get weary of docs about that time because, well, if you didn’t love it and didn’t feel like it was pulsing through your veins, then it’s hard to capture. Michael Rapaport obviously loved it as much as many because his doc “Beats Rhymes Life”, all about the journey of A Tribe Called Quest, captures it like he was taking a picture of each lyric, each loop, each crazy concert where we all nodded our heads so hard that we came away dizzy.
I can remember most of my growing up moments with this soundtrack underneath. I remember Pierre Bennu giving me a tape of a De La Soul album and playing it until it broke. I remember listening to Midnight Marauders in my Shockwave extra bass Sony Walkman, the joint vibrating, while sitting on the 4 train to Brooklyn. Bonita Applebaum set a standard for how I wanted anybody to step to me. It’s just clearly amazing to remember these moments and how they’ve built up like muscle in my whole being. Like jazz, this kind of hip hop will never leave me and I’m so grateful for that.
Every group that is formed should watch this doc. Not just hip hop groups but any time you work with people you start off caring about like family and then realize that sometimes, when you grow up, the dynamic doesn’t always keep always keep you on the same page. And that’s okay.
Hopefully folks won’t view the non-beef between Phife and Q Tip as an impetus to watch some dramatic tale unfold. It’s really about how art can be so collective and it’s process can be so dividing. At the end of the day, what lives is the music, thank whatever diety that’s over that. The group succeeded because they are still at the top of the major playlist of so many around the world. It’s just life.
This. Is. Funny..
I stan this video, this song, this choreography, this…oh just this.
thanks to Bossip
It’s fascinating because with the invention of Twitter and Facebook, blogs sometimes come to a standstill because you’ve kind of already said a bunch of stuff in a bunch of places. I’ve been trying to figure out what piece of my writing goes where. I write fiction but I’m trying to finish it! I have random thoughts so I post them to Twitter where they get lost in the ticker tape abyss. I hate Facebook because I feel like there’s far too much personal information that sometime causes you to lose friends and acquaintances (both have happened to me and I hate the feeling of finding out somebody is a bigot or a hater on other people).
So here I am today, with a little more time on my hands. And what do I get inspired to write about? That hot ass mess called “Single Ladies” on VH1. Now, let me back up. The concept isn’t so bad or original. Three women who are friends, navigating single life. I think that was called “Everything Candace Bushnell Writes” or “Any Of Those Hot Mess Reality Shows on Bravo.” But I judge this one particularly harsh because the flaw is in the acting. It’s not always the actors’ fault, by the way. The job of the director is to Tim Gunn It (Make IT Work). If it ain’t working, fix it! Lisa Raye seems really nice but folks aren’t telling her that her reaction timing is off. The vanilla girl is not good for this show. I can’t find anything that would make me miss her acting specifically if she were replaced. They do it on the soaps all the time. Not a big deal. Stacey Dash has always been a bit of a shining star. She’s no Meryl Streep but she makes you want to watch her because she knows her marks.
In the rush to put shows about women, drama and controversy on television, networks are putting up sloppy work. Listen, I’m free if you need some script doctoring. Anything can be fixed.