Writing a song saved my life. I remember the tears that filled my eyes and stained the ink, blurring my vision of the scribbled letters as I asked myself, begging to find my soul, “How do you know when you’re finished?” I answered. If art can exist in the darkest of spaces, and if I write to find a way out of that darkness, why would I ever go back to hiding my truths? Through writing, I found that I could bring light to the answers for every question I could ever ask myself. If my words saved my own life, why can’t I do the same for someone else? This death and rebirth encouraged my creative voice and I turned my pain and triumph into song lyrics and guitar chords, writing prompts and creativity lessons. From the moment I started this work, I was no longer just living. I am alive. This is why I support the presence of venues for creative expression and sharing, museums, concert venues, parks, hiking trails, art galleries, after school workshops, speak easys, and open mics. In Baltimore, my favorite place was Terra Cafe. I miss it and I hope the artist community will reciprocate and help to keep the doors open. An even bigger dream? I’d love to have my own place one day. QueerCore is the closest that I can get, for now. With every show, I am a catalyst for inspiration in someone’s sketchpad, the paint on their easel, the lyrics in their journal. I am creating a safe space. A room is just a room. Add a painting to the walls. Play music through the speakers. QueerCore was created to help others tell their own stories.
I saw a Facebook post the other day, a scholarly article shared by a professor, an intelligent woman of color. Apparently, for African American women, there is a correlation between asthma and workplace discrimination. Lately, I have found myself catching my breathe and hoping I can control the stresses and the odds that have me fighting for my most basic needs and desires. Is there anyone like me? Where do I fit in? The confusion leaves a weight on my chest. I often wonder if anyone else feels as strangely as I do. Lately, the feelings have multiplied, exponentially. I’ve always felt a little different. Lately it seems, as soon as I learn who I am, my environment changes and I struggle with trying to find a new way to fit in. What ever happened to being comfortable. I feel like the world moves fast. Other days, I feel like I’m ahead of my time, speaking to the youth because by the time they get to be my age, maybe the world will be a little different. Maybe I’m helping us all to get there faster. In my lifetime, I have watched black faces appear and disappear from Prime Time television. I see lesbian couples in awkward not-sex scenes, unlike the steamy encounters of their straight cast-mates. I attend open mics full of white men with guitars. That’s okay because I know a ton of white people who play awesome guitar. But, where am I? How can I bring us all together or create an environment that doesn’t make people feel left out?
Someone said to me, this past February at the University of Baltimore, “Schools should encourage STEAM, not just STEM.” When the “A” was removed, it seemed like someone was keeping the arts out of educational priorities. For the 3rd year in a row, my colleague booked me for the African American Arts Festival kickoff celebration. In past years, performed a solo lunch set. This year was our first shot at a group performance. Like QueerCore, this event was discussion based, and I shared the stage with two other singer/songwriters, Hollywood Infinite and Quinton Randall. We told stories of those who inspired us to make music, honoring the legacy of those who came before us. Our stories revealed a group of eclectic heroes with many different identities.. Whether a room is packed or lightly attended, there is no greater pleasure than finding the people who needed to hear my story. They always tell me/us. I/we lovedoing this work.
Have you ever read statistics for Queer Women of Color? I don’t want to think about the narrow identity that society has created for me when I get discouraged by micro-aggressions and statistics for queer women of color, graduates with liberal arts degrees, adjunct faculty, and creative professionals. What will I ever make of myself? I am an 80s baby, with music dreams shaped by MTV of the 90s, following role models on the Cosby spinoff, A Different World, looking for myself in a 2010 economy, coming out of the closet at 27 and still grappling with challenging self disclosure. It is hard enough for me to figure out who I am. How can I explain it to anyone else? My San Jose friend told me, “There is a difference between dwelling and reflecting.” There are so many who didn’t live to tell their story, for they were dwelling in their pasts and full of regret. So many lives end too soon. I can’t live with that. Art is my self discovery and my affirmation of possibility, for myself and my future, for anyone who walks a similar road behind me, for anyone thinking of turning around and giving up. I hope they see themselves in my success, in our success.
Without an outlet for my lessons, I forget where I am going. When I forget my dreams, something inside of my disappears. Too much forgetting can be fatal. Even more, forgetting all of the lessons from my life, or ignoring the possibility for light in the darkness will result in tragedy. Art shows me a way out. It gives me a voice, a presence. It would be easy to dwell on the fact that, in some places, I am invisible. I decided to make music and give a voice to people like me, people who are struggling to find themselves in their mirror’s reflection or on the radio, those who are aching and searching for a mentor down the roads less traveled. In my quest, I’ve come across stories about women in tech, African American business owners in San Jose, Ca, black girls who code, hip hop in Silicon Valley, guitars at poetry venues, poets at music venues, comedians at acoustic open mics, transgendered singer/songwriters, bisexual Jewish women, male nurses, gay NBA players. I am finding that there is room for all of us.
Meeting Ash Beckham and sharing the stage at Arundel High marks a milestone in my career as a musician/educator. Because of shows like this, and because we shared a similar message for the students, I am empowered. I don’t feel alone when it’s time to speak up about me, a black female guitar playing singer/songwriter, college professor, and entrepreneur. Did I mention, I’m also queer?
When I’m working with the LGBTQ community and social justice advocates, doing speaking engagements with high school and college students, I am standing in my element and I never doubt myself. My purpose is to come to life. Kids in high school and students on college campuses, they have no idea how much they teach me about beating the odds. When I was in high school, I never thought I’d be someone like QueenEarth. At these events, I’ve seen some amazing students come out and share themselves with me and the classroom, their classmates filling seats in the auditorium. I watch those brave souls walk away, knowing they are leaving the auditorium with a little more hope. Whenever I doubt myself, I think about all the people who are watching. They need me to never give up.
Facts and statistics would have me believe in my inevitable failure. They would persuade someone else into thinking they will not succeed or coax someone into choosing the easiest path instead of the one they truly desire. My continued success gives me further faith in myself and my decisions, my interests, my morning curiosity over a cast iron skillet or a blank page in my sketchpad. Sometimes, I dare to think that I can do everything I dream. Without dismal facts and statistics, I’m not sure I would have the motivation to create this job. This is about more than just sharing my music. Perhaps my music is opening a door and leading someone down, or away from, an intended path. Maybe these songs have the power to stop folks who are on their way to self hate. Silence is suffocating. Without air, we die. Whether to ourselves, our teachers, our friends, or our community, we must make time for discernment, find the avenue to channel ourselves and make time to love ourselves and evolve into people that we can love and appreciate. Honesty with oneself is a great place to begin this journey.
Those of us who live to tell our stories, those of us who use the darkness to sprout light and life into our despair, I hope we can blaze a trail with our stories and give others inspiration to speak up and speak out so that oppression is not filling graves with misunderstood intellectuals who died trying to fight for their freedom to love, and be loved. I don’t want to fight anymore. I want to invite others to come up and tell their stories. I want to create more safe spaces. I hope QueerCore spreads our messages through the cities, the campuses, the radio waves. With that type of action, how could we ever be invisible? The legacy of art is immortality. I am not a superhuman, but perhaps, when my children’s book is finished, I’ll be upgraded to superhero status. Maybe something like a comic book heroine. Like my heroes, I’m learning that my path is going to be different from the roads traveled by my peers. It might also be more challenging. Or maybe it will challenge me in different ways. Maybe I’ll be more resilient. All at once, I am ordinary and unique.
The universe vibrates and speaks a message to the creators and we follow suite, transforming our world. Society demands a change and the art follows. I believe I am discovering a way to bring life to our stories and build connections between us. I am starting to recognize the need for our collective voice, the collective benefits of self discovery. I work for the day when no one will run away from their unique queer core. I want society to make room for every one of us. We will endure. No one will die in silence. We will live out loud! I write because I want to be proud of myself. I have so many big dreams. This social justice work is one of my chances to make them a reality.