Browse Author: Spectra Speaks

Spectra is an award-winning writer, media advocate, and new media consultant. Her work explores the relationship between culture, technology, and philanthropy, and her writing, gender, media, and the African diaspora. She's also the founder of QWOC Media Wire and community philanthropy programs officer at Africans in the Diaspora (AiD). Her mantra: "Love is my revolution."

Getting Organized The Virgo-Melancholy Way

I’ve been on hiatus since QWOC Week, with the intention of getting some much-needed rest and personal time to reflect and plan my upcoming year. I’ve always approached yearly planning from an astrological perspective, starting in August as we enter into the realm of Virgo and scoping my plans till just before my birthday in September the following year.

This year has been a little different in terms of timing and strategy. I find that I’ve consciously shifted gears to accommodate for my current position and temperament – emotionally, professionally, spiritually; I’ve been calling on my inner melancholy a lot more lately to help me tackle the year ahead. My saggitarius fire is still driving me forward, but Virgo has definitely taken the lead with getting myself organized.

I remember a few years back, when I was just coming into my own post-college, and trying to figure out my place in this city. For a long time, the over-analytical, ultra-sensitive girl from Nigeria, who was afraid of losing family connections due to a growing bi-cultural gap and strenuous family structure, had held herself back from accomplishing any personal goals for far too long. Whether it was more out of fear, dedication, duty, innate selflessness, or an overwhelmingly discouraging clairvoyant view into milestone challenges – I may never know what really held me back – one thing is for certain: I completely neglected myself. But, I also vowed to never do it again.

I know for a fact that the minute I tapped into the latter, after keeping this side of my personality locked up for years, QWOC+ appeared, along with many invaluable opportunities, and I’ve been forging ahead ever since, unstoppable whenever I put my mind to something. I wasn’t going to let anyone hold me back. Not negative people. Not jealous people. Not well-meaning, but distracting people. No one. And it’s worked. I am really proud of all the things I have accomplished these past few years. Yet, I am also aware on the toll exerting myself in the name of social justice took on my mental health. I stayed the course. I’ve laid the foundation, and I’ll be working with new enthusiastic organizers and volunteers to keep the momentum. But, I’m going to be fierce about taking better care of myself this year.

There is much to be done in terms of carefully planning out these next really crucial years. Being out in the world as a professional adult and not confined within the walls of an institution has helped me figure out what I want to do. Unfortunately, it’s also been revealed to me that the nature of the undertaking I’m embarked on, requires much rigorous planning, careful timing, my resourcefulness, and persistence. However, I must admit, that in spite of these feelings, it seems that I’ve changed overnight to re-invoke my virgo-an/melancholy qualities. My desktop has gone from a cluttered mind-field to a bare, folder-viewing portal into my future.

In the past few weeks I’ve created more charts, task lists, word research documents, goal-oriented excel spreadsheets, and a very cool formula that I use to assign”points” to my priority labels: Important-Urgent, Important-Not Urgent, Not Important-Urgent, and Not-Imprortant-Not Urgent. I have organized my life into 6 distinct categories, which I track progress against linearly and daily. I have resorted to staying home more evenings out of the week than I have in the past three years, working towards life plans, reading my professional, management, and self-help books, and playing SIMS for fun (judge me if you dare, but not before you checkout: I couldn’t be happier and more amused at myself.

Luckily for me, and for the first time ever in my life, I am surrounded by fellow virgos who GET my charts, task lists, obsession with syncing my blackberry calendar, and share my general enthusiasm for all task-organizing tools. It used to be just me and my sister that suffered from detailitis. But no more :o) Today I had to stop in the middle of a conversation I was having with one of my favorite bois and take a minute to acknowledge our virgo-ness. We were in the midst of a serious discussion about our failure to incorporate national holidays into our outlooks calendars – it’d caused us to schedule an event on a holiday weekend, which was unacceptable. In true virgo fashion, we of course resolved to each do some research into the matter and report back later. This was of paramount importance. Obviously, life would be so much simpler if we were properly armed with national holidays that we could schedule social justice events around. Oh, and this was just after he’d told me that he’d put together an agenda for our conference call at 8 in the morning tomorrow regarding our upcoming fundraiser for Obama! This conversation was truly the highlight of my day.

I started to wonder… How could so much of my personality shift in just one month? Last year, my sister gave me a reading that really helped me stay true and strong to my goals this year. I imagine that if I hadn’t gotten the reading, I would’ve been thrown all over the place and lost focus very quickly. There was so much going on career- and passion-wise that I needed to withstand the energy of my own chart, she said. This year, I am eagerly awaiting what the stars have lined up for me, and in the meantime, diligently preparing for it the good old Virgo way; being overly-detailed, analytical, and introspective about everything.

Promoting 101: This Is What Success Looks Like

After the night ends at 2AM, you must smile through at least four vodka redbulls, steady-eyed, and thank everyone for coming.

Your party friends will try to get you to go to some after-party. Some hot chick(s) will be there, and adding you to the entourage will up their game. Your real friends will to stand around and talk. Yes, talk to you about how great everything was, because they are so excited for you. And they are drunk.

You will smile, steady-eyed, through the four vodka redbulls you consumed to keep the bubbly charade going. Your ‘benefit’ friends may linger, waiting for the right moment to pop the “are you coming home with me, tonight?” question. You will feel guilty at the fact that they think that they’re the only contenders for your post-party downtime. And, your girl, if you have one… well, she’ll either be right there with you, or complaining that you didn’t give her enough attention during the party.

When everyone finally leaves, you will be left alone with the men in armani black. They will tell you that your ‘people’ didn’t spend enough money, that you are over $1000 short, and ask “How are we going to handle this?” as if there are more options than the obvious. You will attempt to negotiate – through four vodka redbulls – and maintain your composure as you tell them that you simply do not have the funds to make up the difference, and would appreciate their understanding. They will nod at you, indifferently. They feel sorry for you, as a woman… as a black woman… as a black lesbian woman. Life must be hard enough for you; you are so weird. You will hope real hard that they stay with this thought, and that it moves them enough to leniency, even though their pity angers and offends you.

Perhaps they will let you off the hook and keep your security deposit. Perhaps they will not. It depends on the weather, your outfit, and if the head armani dude has gotten laid recently. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. Nevertheless, you are there, alone, awaiting the verdict, ‘successful’ night, after ‘successful’ night.

Queer People of Color History in Boston: Thank You Letta Neely

Last night, Letta told me, “I’m proud of you,” and I was speechless. She had no idea how big a part she played in all of this.

I first saw her perform more than two years ago at the Dyke March. She performed some of her poems, and then just spoke frankly about everything from trans-people, to immigration, sexism within the queer community, and being allies to other causes outside of being gay or lesbian. At the time, I was part of the planning committee for the annual Dyke March – my first time volunteering in the queer community, and had been feeling somewhat disappointed at the world of LGBT community organizing; everyone seemed to be much older and so ‘boxed-in’ to doing things ‘the way they’d always done them’; bi-phobia pervaded many conversations but went un-checked, regularly; women of color were completely ignored (‘unintentionally’ – after all, we always invite them), and I was wondering what on earth I was doing sitting amongst ultra-American, predominantly (politically correct way to say “all”) white, New Englanders who I didn’t have anything in common with. Oh, wait… that’s right. We were all “dykes”. Yikes!

Anyway (and I didn’t know this then), the Dyke March some time ago decided that it made for a sensible formula to invite people of color to be the main performers during the annual Friday rally in order to draw out a ‘diverse’ crowd. Don’t ask. (Poor Zilli Musik, I don’t know how many times they’ve been asked to perform but…) Anyway, on this particular year, Letta Neely took the stage. And, it changed my life.

As I sat on the grass listening to her, I felt like I knew her. “Finally! Someone gets what it’s like to be me,” I kept thinking. She was loud, alright. Opinionated. Strong-willed. Idealistic. Passionate. A “wordsmith” for real. Listening to her empowered me. Somehow, she’d made it up there to get people to listen. To learn something. I couldn’t help but think that I’d been wasting my time in endless, drawn-out, unproductive meetings, organizing for the social rights of white lesbians. What the hell? Needless to say, I found my calling, and left the Dyke March Committee to do… something. I wished them well, but stated that there was just no way I could go on volunteering for them when my own people had no where to go, no place to speak and be heard… no one representing them. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but being on the Dyke March, and seeing someone like Letta up on stage had confirmed for me that I could do something. I had the power to do something. And, I think, for many young idealists wanting to impact change somehow, this idea is the most important, most powerful weapon to carry.

QWOC+ Boston’s myspace page popped up that August. And the first event was planned with MadFemmePride on October 17, 2006; a bit of history someone from the crowd felt they needed to respond with last night, when Letta posed the open question, “What do you know of queer people of color history in Boston?”

It felt weird to hear my name thrown into that pool, especially since I’m so young and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing. But I will own it today. I did do something. I did. And I should be proud of it.

Almost a year later I saw Letta perform again at a Truth Serum event at the Milky Way. I told my girlfriend at the time, “That woman… she’s the one that inspired me to start QWOC+ Boston.” Sensing my deep admiration, my girlfriend urged me to go up to Letta after the performance and talk to her. “You should tell her! I’m sure she’d be happy to know! Go on…” And so I walked over, slowly, nervously, which is quite rare for me; I’ve practiced being confident and sure of myself in public since my summer sales job in college. However, as I approached Letta, I felt really… young, and awkward, like a nerdy school boy asking a really pretty girl to dance. I don’t remember what I managed to say to her, but it couldn’t have made any sense. I probably reverted to the standard “Hi, I just wanted to say I’m a huge fan I love your work-,” to which she replied almost immediately, “Thank you. Thank you.” Of course she’d heard words like that before. I signed up for her mailing list, then promptly returned to my girlfriend. “Did you tell her?” she asked. “Yeah, kinda,” I lied.

I’m not sure when next I’ll get the chance to say this to her in person. I choked again yesterday. But at least I can say something now, on my blog:

Thank you, Letta Neely, for arming me with purpose that day. Thank you for continuing to inspire me. Thank you for everything that you have done.

Day Three of QWOC Week

I wonder how many times I can use the word “magical” in my blogs this week. I really can’t think of any other way to describe the past few days. In fact, I’m checking an online thesaurus right now…

Main Entry: magical
Part of Speech: adjective
Synonyms: charming, enchanted, fascinating, marvelous, mysterious, occult, spellbinding, spooky

Spooky? Oh hell no. Enchanted. Yes. Marvelous. Yes. Spellbinding… in some ways. But I still prefer “Magical”; I picture sparkling lights and fireflies; children following the unexpected with their eyes, joyfully suspended in moments surrounded by warmth, laughter, and camaraderie, without a care in the world. That’s what last night’s, OUTSPOKEN event felt like to me; an evening filled with beautiful fireflies, and one to remember.

All our performers brought. it. Aliza and I worked seamlessly – and in unison – during the course of the evening, managing changes, updates, and even one cancellation. The volunteers were excited to be there, and remained pro-actively helpful throughout the night. It was good to see some newcomers really settling into their QWOC+ Boston volunteers niche’s, talking to people about the organization, the events, our recent successes, me (haha!), and the energy around them; it was clear that some of them were beginning to take on more ownership of our little grassroots organization. Everything was near perfect. But, for me, the secret ingredient to last night’s success was the age diversity in the room, and in the show.

It started with our lineup. Letta Neely and Judah Dorrington, two pioneers that paved the way to raising awareness of LGBT multiculturalism in Boston via Black Pride, Sistah-to-Sistah, and various other community engagements, were in the house. It was such an honor, for those that knew who they were, and even – I dare say – those people who had no clue; time and time again last night the theme of old school partnering with new school was celebrated by hearty cheers, “Obama” call-outs, and moments of utter silence in reverence of the words of wisdom being spit on stage. I couldn’t have felt any prouder (or more humbled) to be part of an event that helped raise these women’s voices in our community today. Both Judah and Letta said to me at different points: “I’m proud of you”, and I got all choked up.

As someone from a culture that values its elders – e.g. we don’t throw our parents into homes when they get old, they come and live with us instead – and grew up sitting in a circle with siblings, cousins, friends, listening to the funny uncle, or old grandmama telling stories of life, love, children, spirits that whistle in the night.. OUTSPOKEN was an event that felt as close as I could get to that part of home. My face ached from smiling so hard during Judah’s performance, as I watched her relish the opportunity she had to sing her heart out to a diverse crowd, and have FUN. It was such a delight. Judah and Letta brought some wisdom and perspective to the stage, alright, but Ignacio, Kay, and the Good Asian Drivers, reminded us all that our generation isn’t entertaining any ideas about letting the work of our pioneers be all for nothing.

Ignacio Rivera not only sent so many women into heat (seriously, I saw so many fanning themselves as he was talking), he stomped on so many gender stereotypes within a minute of getting on stage. Sexual liberation is my new favorite thing now. I can’t wait to see his film during the Cinemental event later on this month! Kay Barrett did what I knew he would do. Political isn’t the word. White/class privilege annihilation would be a little too strong, but that dude held no punches when he got up there. “Where are my queer people of color?” I loved it! ‘Cause at events like that, white people show up sometimes and forget that it’s not about them. But in the spirit of unity, queer pride, recognizing those of us who can’t be as loud and that we must carry on our shoulders out love, I take my hat off to the Good Asian Drivers.

Every single time I see Kit and Melissa perform, I am blown away. “Queer Nation” and “Red Guitar” are my two favorites, and I’d only just heard the latter! It was a beautiful way to end the evening, Kit speaking on our flaws even as queers, the sexism, racism, classism, and hypocrisy that we’re probably more vulnerable to as the ‘liberated other’; we have real problems, still. Melissa’s musical rage at the media and MTV, challenged us to think about who we are as consumers of pop culture, and urged us to speak up and against all of it! Wow. Thank you, Good Asian Drivers, for supporting QWOC WEEK and speaking to this particular crowd that needed to hear the truths of our community; we are all not queer-rated equally.

A number of white people came up to talk to me afterwards, moved by QWOC+ Boston’s work and wanting to volunteer. This was wonderful. I am always very excited about white people who are ready to challenge themselves and their prejudices, especially since at events like OUTSPOKEN (and many other QWOC+ events in general), it’s very common to experience groups of white people showing up just to hang out with each other. They literally will not engage with anyone but other white people. So, they never learn anything, they never challenge themselves, and I have to continue dealing with ignorant comments/viewpoints on Obama whenever I bump into them.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as last night was, it was hard not to notice that during key moments, which illuminated race/class/white privilege, a couple of popular white clubbers remained un-engaged with the performance, and instead, chatted away in the corner, and spent time ordering their drinks. I wonder if they were aware of how it looked. I wonder if they’re aware of their own subconscious discomfort with the idea that all is not fair in the world and that maybe, they should care. I wonder if this subconscious discomfort manifests itself in conscious decisions
to avoid talking/engaging with others about these things. I wondered. But not for too long. ‘Cause yesterday wasn’t about privileged white people who have no wish to grow.

OUTSPOKEN was about creating a safe space for “outspoken” queer people of color – our black pride pioneers, our activist poets, spoken-word performers, immigrant self-defense teachers, and proud, sexually liberated trans-entities – being given a chance to speak, without any shade or color of resistance, even if it was just for one night.

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