Tag: grief

Our Sister Erica

At 27, Erica Garner is now an ancestor.

In hearing of her passing this morning, I thought of my life at 27 and then her mother, Esaw. I am in an active state of heartbreak. There was a tweet through my Twitter timeline when she had her asthma attack and subsequent heart attack earlier this week which mentioned the craziness you have to go through in order to prove you are human.

I, like Erica, am a part of the fatherless tribe. Only difference is Erica’s father was stolen from her by the worst of the NYPD and the world saw it all happen. The world watched her mourn, her mother all but shatter and her family be subject of the 3/5 human theory in regards to the life of her father.

People often fumble with that to say when people die, master at feigning ignorance of what to say, where to be and being intentional in times of grief after saying if you need anything, let me know.

There is something that is needed and can no longer wait. Coretta Scott King said this in from a place of wisdom and experience:

Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.

The thing that people forget to tell you is that struggle is not sexy no matter what people tell you or what you see on social media. Struggle costs something, it will take something and always require more than you may willing to pay. Worst part? There are even fewer who will understand or help you.

Erica was a daughter, a mother, sister, friend, and activist. She was entitled to all her years with her children, her mother and all those that loved her. She traded peace for progress. She tried to help is all to speak louder when it was so hard for us all to breathe after the murder of her father.

Erica put a portion of this thing called movement and struggle on herself and her children and other people’s children she won’t see.

Don’t let her age fool you. Lionesses wield power and presence before 40.

I celebrate Erica today, pray for her family and make a resolve to demand all my freedom, too, for the children I won’t see and because I still can’t breathe.

Rest Erica, we gon keep going.


Nights are long without him

Because he is the lingering


I close my eyes

so the dark envelopes,

but never quiets.

When I wake, the light

Will kiss me as he should.

As I have lived one more

Day without him.

(c)JBHarris, December 12/23/17

Tired Phrases

“This is the worst mass shooting in US history.”

I am so sick of hearing this phrase. I’m tired of death being so…common.

I am old enough to remember what happened on April of 1999. I remember coming home from school, two months before graduation, and turning on the news to see kids my age running out of a school in Colorado with what can only be described as panic and terror.

Then I saw it in Paducah, KY.

Pearl, MS.

And this rash of school shooting, mixed in with regular murder, before I graduated high school that June—and I still remember where I was on 9/11/01…and when Sandy Hook happened, Virginia Tech, and when the crazed man killed more children…this time in the Amish school…Orlando, and now Las Vegas.

I’m tired of this phrase. I’m tired of blood. I’m tired of the NRA wiping blood away with money.

I’m tired…

And I’m tired of this being sanctioned. And pulled away from the light of scrutiny.

I’m tired of experts, pundits and reporters fighting about the Second Amendment as if it were some holy writ on cable news and other media outlets.

ProTip:  It isn’t.

Like all hurt, mad children whom know they are in trouble and their toys are about to be taken, gun enthusiasts clutch their AK’s, rifles and Desert Eagles with their Bible like there is a no-knock warrant being served. You cannot defend murder like this with the interest of public safety in mind. The illusion of that is broken by virtue of the overzealous nature of police in dealing with people of color.

This has got to stop.

Much like the Columbine flower here, native to the town in Colorado that shares an infamous name, there is hope. That hope is at the root level: acknowledgement with appropriate action. That, and a good dose of common sense. Starting with this question:

“What is a gun, and what is it used for?”

1-We first have to admit that guns, by design, are weapons that hurt, maim and kill people.

2-No matter the manufacturer, no matter the caliber, no matter the intention, the basic design and purpose for a gun is to be a weapon.

From here, we can discuss why one shouldn’t have an AK-47 to shoot beer cans in the backyard.

A Dog In The Fight 

I’m a cisgender heterosexual married mother of two daughters. As a mother, I try to encourage my daughters to think and reason, have a consistent work ethic, and treat people with respect—even if they are different, or look different, than you.
In the face of trying to raise my beautiful black daughters, my heart is broken for the mothers whom have to bury their transgender or gay children. I don’t know why that soft spot is there, but I believe the root of that tenderness is being alive to remember whom Matthew Shepherd is. Even thinking about it now, from a parent’s empathy and depth of compassion, I want to throw my arms around Mrs. Shepherd and cry with her and tell her how sorry I am—and that is nowhere near sufficient.

I won’t go into the specifics about what happened to 17-year-old Ally Steinfield from Cabool, Texas Country, Missouri. What happened to her is beyond anything I want to repeat. The fact that she is dead because she was transgender is reprehensible. As a mother, you want to protect your children and show them how to fight off the sneaky and open evil which will set out to destroy them.

I tell my children that there is never a time you should attack someone because they are different. And no one should attack you because you may be different. There will never be a need to be part of a pack of jackals on another human being.

I think about what she might have thought, seeing that her ‘friend’ brought her to this place knowing —KNOWING what would happen to her.

I speak out on these issues because to be silent is to be complicit. Being silent shows my daughters that complicity is normal and the goal in conflict. It is resistance that causes and provokes change. Resistance is what agitates complacency to move so change and advocacy can come.

In order to be the change you wish to see in the world, you must see the world as it is. The murder rate of trans people in this nation is horrendous, even higher for trans women of color. This type of evil cannot be dressed up in anything less than what it is:  evil.

It’s not ignorance. It’s not fear. It’s evil.


Ally was still a child of God. No one’s child deserves this. No one’s child deserves to be lured, stabbed in their genitals, eyes gouged out and set on fire. No one’s child deserves that.
The Bible says that a friend loves at all times. I cannot imagine why Ally’s friend would betray her like this. And it has to be unfathomable for her mother and family.

I told my daughters when they were younger that no monsters lived under their beds. I would check and make sure, even ‘fighting’ a few. The monsters are often outside the doors you lock.

I don’t know when this transphobic-fueled silence will stop, but I know where complicity stops:   Right. Here.

I will speak, because to be silent is to agree with the forces that desire to kill you and all you love.

I advise you to do the same. Speak up.

And We Speak

“Mike Brown saved my life.”

-A. Templeton, 2015*


August 9, 2014:

My husband and I were headed to our Saturday night service in South St. Louis. We were living in Ferguson, and had lived there with our kids for about a year. We were new pastors and our church plant was Spirit Of Life Church. We left home, and he was driving. There was so much traffic on West Florissant. It was backed up and we were upset about the possibility of being late. My husband, the meticulous one of the two of us, was eager to get where we were going.

I remember having this cold feeling. It wasn’t dread, but something was wrong. It’s a feeling I have had only since I have become a parent. This sense that something within me, part of me, a thread of my being was pulled and I could not catch it to cut it. I told my husband something bad must have happened. I took out my phone, and looked through what was trending. It wasn’t until I got to service, that I had found out what happened:

Officer-involved shooting. 18-year-old African-American male. Dead.

His name: Michael Brown, Jr.


They left him outside in the street for four hours. We had been in that traffic. We had been within the net of all that had gone on, and complained about being late for service. We had just seen people strewn along the sidewalks and streets, confused and angry, clutching one another and I had fussed about the traffic and wanted to get to service.

What followed from that day was the beginning of what has become no less than a tidal wave. We were swept into this roux of people that we would have never passed on streets, avoided in stores and never spoken to in public. Our neat bubble was broken, yet we had not died. I remembered how loud I cried, how hard I prayed, and how I cried to God not to let them kill all of us.

There is a scripture in the book of Isaiah that reads as follows, in part:

Here I am Lord, send me. (Isaiah 6:8)

This resistance, this activism is service. It is this that compels me to speak and to be a vessel for such speech. Such amazing things happen in the course of hours, and days, and it was this single event that has unlocked portions of my faith that I had only whispered about.

Part of the prayer I shouted as my biblical foremothers, in their strength, their passion, was, “Lord, you see what they are doing! Don’t let them kill all of us!”

There is something to be said for that type of endurance born from such a place. It ignites. It unlocks. It unties. And most of all, it UNITES.

Here. I. Am. Lord. Send. Me.

It is sometimes in the the face of lions, that you discover that you, too, can roar. And you must. Sometimes, your voice, hands and feet are the tools God uses and sends to be change and the answer to prayer. Indeed, He does move in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.

And sometimes we are His instruments.


*-This a direct quote taken by a young woman I have been blessed to know that I will only identify as A. Templeton. When she first said this quote, I remarked on how open it was, and how candid it was. And as I reflect, this quote became applicable to and for the people I have encountered since this day 3 years ago. The wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoes through it: 

Our lives begin to end the day be become silent about things that matter.



My Little Brother, *Vincent Winston

He was the most awkward black dude I had ever met.
The first time I met him, I almost ran over him in an attempt to catch a bus back to campus of this job training program I was in where I met my first husband.

Odder still, it was him that taught Vincent how to use grease in his hair–MURRAY’S. Yeah–I married the only white guy that knew how to use Murray’s and had the only brother that didn’t oil his hair.

I met Vincent through him formally when he changed trades. He was quiet, reserved and he just didn’t fit in with the merry bandits that we had assembled as family at the job training facility. But from being around my boyfriend, I got to be his adopted sister. From that day to this, I call him my little brother.

Vincent was funny, sardonic and dark. We would talk all the time about everything, and I introduced him to my inner circle of best friends and they treated him another brother.

Vincent would let me correct him if he got outta pocket, he talked to me about girl issues and hung out with me and Zack constantly.

Vincent was intelligent and was still trying to figure this life thing out. After he graduated from the job training program, he joined the Army after a series of jobs.

This was 2006.

The war in Afghanistan was ongoing.

I asked him why he was going to the Army. He said that he was going so he could have a job when his time was done. “I’ll be okay, sissy.” He said. I trusted him.

He came to visit Zack and I after he finished basic training. I made him a dinner, and  invited people. I always tried to go out of my way to tell him that I loved him. He always wanted me to be okay.

One of the last memories I have of him is him on my back porch in his ARMY sweatshirt that I told him was too small. I hugged him–he was so warm.

After his visit with us, he went back to where he would ultimately get deployed from (Ft. Hood).

The night we found out he had gotten deployed, Zack had spoken to him. He said that Vincent was afraid. Vincent didn’t want to die. Zack tried to reassure him, told him about his nieces that he had to come back and see (our oldest was already born, and I was pregnant with our second). Two months later, I found out that my brother had been killed by an IED in Afghanistan…at 22, two  years after he enlisted.

I had talked to Vincent about God, and my faith–the only person that he really listened to about things like that.

I wanted to know if his death had been quick. I wanted to know if he had suffered. We weren’t even allowed to go to the funeral, didn’t know arrangements  and I haven’t had the strength to visit his grave in Jefferson Barracks here in Missouri.
I thought about when or whether I would see my brother again. I prayed that someone had reached him with the news of Christ. I hoped he had heard it…accepted it, so I would see him again.

With all the talk of war and its funding by this administration, I think of my brother…and other people’s brothers, lost.
It has been almost a decade since I have heard my brother’s voice, held him, or  asked him how his day was.

I miss him.

With this great gulf fixed, all I have of him is memories, and thoughts of what life could have been, should have been for him. It is his blood that is in the country’s soil and flag, too.

And to me,  he will ever be the goofy dude that I had to ask why his face was nasty in the morning. He never stopped being my brother…even when he became a hero.


*At the top, is me and Vincent around the time I was dating my first husband.  It’s one of the few I have left of him. Pray for the Armed Forces…they need it now more than ever.

Being A Daddy’s Girl

There was a time that I considered myself…a Daddy’s Girl. I adored my Father and thought the world of him. My fondest memory, and oldest memory, is being on his shoulders and he took me to my grandmother’s house to be cared for while he and my mom worked. 

I remember it was a cold day and he had me and my sister, one in each arm, and carried us up the five stairs to her front door. I wrapped around him to keep balance.

That was safest place in the world to me. Nothing could hurt me as along as  I had my Daddy. He was strong and smart and superhuman. He was one of the funniest people I had ever come across, and could be arrogant to the point you didn’t want to ever speak to him again.

But this memory, this now 30-year-old memory, I fight to remember as I continue to age. I struggle to remember his voice sometimes. I force myself to remember the minutia about him: his smile, his skin tone, his eye color. I feel like I am losing him all over again when I can’t remember right away.

There are times now where I look at my husband…and I desire to weep. I want to tell him to keep taking care of himself. I want to tell him how in raising girl-children, you have to have a surgical touch:  have the greatest impact with least amount of pain.

 I want to tell my oldest that at her age, and see myself at her age, thinking that in seven years you won’t have a Dad.

I fight back fearful, hot tears to remind myself that my husband is not my father. But my father was a husband. I remind myself that the memories I create with my husband do no supplant the ones I fight to keep, regain and hold on to as time passes.

I think of the little girl, with her hands outstretched looking for the strength of her father to carry her a little further. The same girl that needed his hand to take her to kindergarten, and be with her as she opened the big brown door to that brave new world.
 I think of her, as I am her, and remember that she is allowed to remember him as he was…not as he will become.

In that, I keep his memory cherished and perfected…because the safest place in this world, is still on his shoulders.

Gumbo Pots, Tomatoes and Dreams

My grandmother was the best. She is so much better than yours. Why? ‘Cause she mine. She raised 10 children on a less than high school education, and possessed the kind of rock in her blood that let me know that my nana, MY GRANDMA, was nonfuckwitable. She  taught me how to garden, love plants, and the power of silence and presence. She died almost 4 months after I married my second husband, taking every secret and joy with her into glory.

Her house stands empty now, grass uncut, sewing machines and dishes as ornament to the mausoleum that has become her house. The last time I went into it, her bed was still made. There were things in her living room, and dining room, and basement. The house had a smell that dictated it hadn’t been cleaned. The house was full of–her.  I wanted to weep and scream, but I was way too busy to feel anything. I was looking for bedrails for the beds I was getting, I couldn’t be consumed or taken in by the lack of my anchor, my grandmother.

One of the things my family would do, especially before she got sick again, was cook. She made the most excellent homemade barbecue sauce (Like me, it was sweet and hot!). She could make cakes from scratch, and my ambrosia was her greens and hot water cornbread. It was so good I would eat it cold. I would be barefoot in her house, and eat and soak up all that it was to do that day, every sight, every sound, every everything. This made losing her, that much harder.

All I have of my grandmother, and the intertwined 32 years together, is a red wallet, a handful of pots, some linen and 2 beds. The one thing I wanted, was her cast iron pots.  These pots of magick that she would conjure candied yams, gumbo, rice and chicken and any other dish her imagination and groceries would offer up. From pots and spoons, she soothed, she softened and she loved–every last one of us. From that love, I could do anything.

In the summer, as her garden gave us its wealth, my favorite were the tomatoes. She would snap them off the vines and stems, sometimes have us wash them, and gave them to us to eat with salt. It was the best thing for summer heat. Sometimes, I would watch her as she gardened. Her big straw hat, and old clothes, and so deft and agile between rows of flowers or vegetables. Indeed, my grandmother had black girl magic. I think she would have called it, ‘just doin ‘bess I can.’

From that love, and the space she gave to us, I was able to dream. I was able to start writing silly stories and reading them to my aunt. I was able to enjoy girl hood, and know that in her house, this same house, it was my castle. It was my fortress, it was my kingdom with a magic drawbridge that shut out all of the outside world. Her passing made me vulnerable, and tenacious. It made me seasoned, steady, as everything else seemed to be swirling round about me.

I understand that death has a long grasp, and cool, cruel grip, but it was merciful to me. It took my grandmother, after seeing almost all her children and her great-grandchildren before leaving the world. She left us the reminders of all she tried to do, had done all she had yet to do, and all she tried to give all of us:  herself. I supposed all those well-lived warriors leave evidence of their travels through this life. It is up to us to sometimes sift through what remains in order to see what else can be saved, and passed on. You see, even memories fade.