Crystal Good presents at TEDx Lewisburg 2013
Crystal Good presents at TEDx Lewisburg 2013
I hope you will watch these videos and be moved to share your voice in the dialogue for environmental “rights” and women’s “rights”.
One poem at a time. Small things matter….
I wrote my first poem around age 12, I think. I rode my first motorcycle at age 8, I’m sure. I love twists and turns, throttle and words.
I’ve always been driven with a journalist sort of mind. I have always known I would write and be in these mountains, these West Virginia mountains. Even though as a girl I dreamed of myself as a writer – a war corresponded, a fashion editor, a script writer – I wanted to be interviewed on Merv Griffith as a writer perhaps with my fellow West Virginian Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton (in fact that was the last time I remember watching Merv was when Mary won) I imagined Merv would ask me about where I’m from and I would share all my ideas and then, he would complement me on my shoes.
The idea of being a poet came later.
I’ve learned sometimes writing can be prophetic. As an adult poet I was given the assignment to write about quantum physics and Randy Moss (the West Virginia native all-pro football player it didn’t turn into a book, not quite but the idea, or part of it is a TEDx Talk (for now) http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u2ocBoGBWSo.
My journey to merge these two topics – Moss and Quantum Physics, in a poem is as windy as the road from Richmond, VA to Charleston WV. It’s an over the mountain through the woods kind of story about Affrailachia and following your dreams and it started — long before I knew I would write poetry – or my first book Valley Girl that I would dedicate to the folks who taught me how to drive.
It started in a car ride.
When I think of myself between the ages 15-16 my main priority was getting the privilege to drive — legally.
Growing up in West Virginia I knew the freedom of being on a go-cart or a four wheeler. I knew what it felt like steer a boat and gallop a horse. From mopeds to the lawn mower. I knew I liked to drive – but the real freedom I craved was in a car.
My Daddy – a man I wouldn’t meet until age 12 and then again at age 15 when I was delivered to him at gas station somewhere between Tallahassee and Richmond, VA. My Dad said I was just like my Momma – I could drive anything. I have no memory of them together but in this statement I knew he knew my Momma well.
He shared this after I hopped out of my Granddaddy’s Cadillac with more suitcase than could fit into his 4 cylinder no air-conditioning Chevrolet. That day, my Dad let me take the wheel of his Chevy. I was 15 — it was illegal but it was his way of offering me what he had – the keys. For me I knew right then we were kindred spirits– my Daddy gave me freedom and a highway. He calls me a Gypsy to this day, Gypsy Girl.
My oldest son is 15 (he’s now 18 geez, this blog post took me a long time). I let him drive – with his permit – it’s legal. My son is the same age when I first fell in love and found a connection with God and with the mountains. That love has stayed with me.
I’m teaching my son to drive now — check your rear view– on occasion. Signal, it’s polite. You’re too close to the curb. Driving is a life metaphor.
They say boys pick women like their mother. My son has a girlfriend. She’s bright, beautiful — and biracial (he has a different girlfriend since the time this was written but, still bright, beautiful and biracial). I’m afraid to ask if he is in-love so while I’m teaching him to drive I say things like keep your eyes on the road, wear your seat belt, no texting even at the stoplight. I haven’t asked him, can she drive?
I can drive.
Two months after I turned 16 after living with my father for 8 moths — I decided to go home to West Virginia. I had a burning desire to be with my mother and younger sisters. I missed the familiarity of my town – the railroad tracks, Dairy Queen Mister Misty’s (grape and cherry mixed together), and eating dinner at least three of my neighbor’s houses. I have never been shy about getting my plate and as model-skinny as I was back then my bottomless pit eating was a neighborhood joke. I would always arrive at my neighbor’s doorstep hungry and barefoot
I grew up in the suburbs of sorts in a nice quiet town – middle class. At my Mother’s house I certainly had plenty of food and shoes – in fact I had two closets – but I’ve always like to feel the earth underfoot, barefoot.
When I decided to “go home”. My mother had divorced my step-father– and I had transitioned in my town from mixed girl to a black girl. At least this was the report from my friends in St. Albans, West Virginia – I was black, now.
I had a new style and confidence. This attitude was different from what I had learned as a model in New York. I started modeling at 12 and by 15 I had already worked for major fashion designers – but returning home from Richmond, with my Dad, I had learned a new walk and I carried with me the new rhythms of hip hop and coconut hair lotions.
I finally learned to do my hair.
While living with my Dad I often took the train from Richmond to Charleston on these yearnings be back home — I was always on a mission to get back to West Virginia. In my Richmond high school (Meadowbrook) the kids talked as if West Virginia was like some other planet. I’ve learned since most of the world does too. I couldn’t wait to drive. To be able to get myself from here to there on my own time.
At my Dad’s I had one pair of tennis shoes — I needed a new coat and I knew that all the amenities for a teenage girl – especially a teenage girl that had been a professional model in New York were at my mother’s house. My father certainly provided what I needed — a roof, food and love but he struggled to provide me with Clinique lip-gloss and moisturizer and the connectivity of fashion and fun. At my mother’s I always had a spread of new clothes, shopping and girl time.
I needed train fare. So, I got a job. Not a modeling job but as a telephone sales operator job at Olin Mills. I landed the job sharing my photography vocabulary — I explained that I had worked with Ralphs Lauren and such. I imagine they thought I was lying – they just needed me to answer to call people and sell their photo packages. I sold them and I sold them well – I made the hour’s fun pass by practicing different accents and characters on the phone.
It was at Olin Mills that I met a woman who was from West Virginia, my supervisor. She and I traded West Virginia stories. Our conversation made me miss home – not just lip-gloss. We talked about the beauty of the mountains, waterfalls and the Mountaineers. I shared about the long walks I would take with friends and my baton twirling.
One day she said she was going home. Without hesitation or permission from my mother or my father I asked for a ride. She said sure and that there would be no charge. I was glad to save my money – I was ready to go shopping.
I finally asked my Dad – he agreed – and I painted a very reliable picture of the woman I had been working with for two weeks. My father dropped me off in the parking lot to meet my supervisor. I remember it well – he was wearing tube sock and dress shoes with shorts. I was teenager and embarrassed at his attire – and then I looked the car I would be riding in for the next 8 hrs.
It was an old car – big like a Delta 88 with Bondo and no bumper. It was in this car that I had a life-changing trip home.
My supervisor was sitting with Jack – her husband in the front seat. I call him Jack because the two of them reminded me of the riddle –
“Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean,
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean”
Jack was the skinniest man I had ever seen and she was the biggest. She must have been over 300 pounds. He was not only skinny but the mean – his meanness I discovered with ever turn of the car – he told her about her weight the way she shifted the car. There are a lot of turns between Richmond and Charleston. It’s a windy road.
I was anxious to get home and nothing was going to stop me. Not this car or the puppies I discovered I would be sharing the back seat with.
I waved good bye to my Dad and noticed the back seat floor board was rusted – there was a big hole and you could see the road. This was dangerous – certainly for me but for the puppies roaming. I discovered I would be traveling with a litter of puppies. It was my job to keep them from the hole in the floor board.
I knew this was going to be a long ride home.
Sharing a back seat with puppies was cute until they peed – or worse pooped. Luckily the car broke down – at least three times. I say luckily because during these breakdowns I was able to clean the car and me up. Jack was cruel – he chastised his wife for everything. I cringed at the cruelty and clung to those innocent puppies they offered me comfort. He was also uncomfortable that I was Black, I could feel it. My supervisor refused to let him say nigger even though I knew it was sitting there like another passenger on his tongue
I took my mind home to the dogwood tree in my mother’s front yard – wandered myself back to New York City and Central Park. In that ride I dreamed of being a scientist of exploring things that I could not see. I had plenty of places to go in my mind and I imagined one day I would be driving myself in a fine, fast and fancy car.
The closer we approached Charleston, I realized my mother would be furious at my Dad for letting me take this journey with Jack and his wife. The car by this time was smoking. As soon as I saw West Virginias gilded gold dome capitol glowing like a beaming beacon, I knew I had made it!
They dropped me at the Go-mart. I stood at the pay phone with my bag, smelling like dog, hungry.
I was home.
I had grown up in what is known as the Kanawha Valley, I knew the seasons of life. I knew you had to cross bridges daily. For me then and now those bridges represent how you get over the challenges of life. My journey with Jack, his wife and the puppies was no different. It was full of challenges – race, socio-economic, landscape – but was driven by the knowing and safety of home.
My Dad called to make sure I had made it home. He shared that he too was going to be coming home. He was a native West Virginian who had spread his wings in Richmond and had now decided he was coming home and was going to live in Rand, WV.
I had been raised Baptists, I knew how to pray. I prayed a lot on the car ride home with Jack – for him to stop his cruel verbal attacks on his wife. I felt like my prayers were answered as soon as we hit the Welcome to WV sign. He – magically stopped.
My adolescent indeed was challenging – It intersected the American standard of beauty in modeling, my body image, being bi-racial and a host of family dysfunction and abuse.
My Mother was still young when I came home from my Dads– she had me as a teenager so often family friends helped in my rearing. I understand this now – as the mother of three the value of the village.
One family friend took me to church – this wasn’t a Baptist church as I was used to but a “spiritual” church. Here I learned about affirmations and how to think about your thinking. She taught me Bible verse and that lesson stuck with me.
For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7
It was in this church that the map of my mind would alter – I felt that we all me and Jack, my father in his tube socks, my mother – all of us have something in common.
Life started connecting for me – I could see that small town and people are all interrelated like the parallel tracks from Rand to St. Albans.
I knew if I wanted to I could walk from my Mothers to my Dads new address in the unincorporated town of Rand. I knew where Rand was because – we passed it often on the way to my Mothers Credit Union.
The West Virginia breeze blew my imagination and memory often. I learned to listen to the wind. I listened as an adult as I did as a child to the wind and often heard the familiarity of the train.
Amtrak always moved the wind fast — passing like the moment when the Oprah Winfrey show called my NYC agent to request my appearance on a special show about up and coming young models. Oprah was my hero.
My Mother refused the request because I had skipped school that day – my Mother would later discover to her horror why.
I didn’t know that Oprah was going to call the day I skipped school, I was most concerned about missing my first appointment for braces. Oprah called before my mother sent me to my Grandfathers in Tallahassee with a big Cadillac – before I would be sent to my Dad’s with the Chevrolet and the roll down windows, before anyone knew of the terror I was living in.
The day Oprah called I was on my way to school — my white step-Father naked and aroused – again – said good morning to me asking for me to look, to touch him, complimenting my developing hips . He had a way of subtly reminding me that nobody would ever want my mother –because of me, because I was Black.
I walked out the front door that day wishing I could drive – and just keep driving. Instead I walked the train tracks. I’m not sure how far I walked that day, but I paused to autograph my name with a rock into a utility box on the tracks. I was going to sign books one day. Last I checked my signature is still there.
I am a writer.
Childhood dreams, like an Amtrak train, passing. I watched fashion models and thought of model trains, model ships, model behavior. Everything had specific directions and rules.
I knew that West Virginia – The Valley was special. It was healing in so many ways. I wondered if the Valley created entanglements. Was the Valley giving us all the same “spin”? I knew as that things exist in duality until you decide.
My opportunity to go on Oprah is gone. I kept the dream and hope alive until I watched the Oprah show go off air I realized that it will never be.
I grew up.
My teeth are still crooked teeth from skipping school and that missed orthodontist appointment. They remind me of windy roads – and that our childhood dreams, losses and experiences shape us – they sharpen us, they don’t define, we define us. We have that power – the power to decide how we see things.
I remembered the hole in the car floor with Jack and his wife. How I watched it like a black hole and the road moving underneath pass– how I created a future in that hole that would get me home, again and again and as many times as needed to a place that was safe and sometimes – out.
When I arrived at the Go-mart — my mother hugged me. She didn’t ask any questions then she told me about my gift. She was proud of me – of my grades of writing for the school paper for being strong and telling the truth.
She had a car for me. A blue Subaru Legacy – stick shift. It was time for me to get my license.
I drove myself, with a cool lean and my Uncle Boy in the passenger to take my drivers teat. I passed made the decision to be an organ donor then signed my name – in my mind this was my official second autograph.
The Sheriff handed me a lamented card, it said West Virginia Wild and Wonderful.
I could go and be anything. I could drive.
Many thanks to Elizabeth Gaucher for driving this essay. I was nervous to publish because at the time it was written I was in the process of prosecuting my step-father for sex crimes against me and others. He has since been found guilty of sexual abuse and I am free to not only write what I want but free to live a richer and fuller life having accepted not only my crooked teeth but all of me.
I recently started a new job with West Virginia State University as the “Extension Service Interim Assistant Director for Development” — long title for fundraising and marketing.
It feels good to be back on campus — the place I wrote Valley Girl, A Poem For Pia inspired by the juxtaposition of a chemical plant and college. It was here, at WVSU that I started to develop a passion for environmental issues, in fact it was a class assignment that I wrote Valley Girl, the poem.
Because of that class assignment (thanks Dr. Ford-Ahmed) the Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) was present and published my first poem in the OVEC newsletter. Thirteen years later, I serve on the OVEC Board.
Things come full circle – or maybe there is a lesson here at WVSU I missed as a student and am back again. I’m not sure where this road is going, but everyday as I pull into the parking lot I recognize (again) the sheer genius of another WVSU alum – the artist for my book, Heidi Richardson Evans.
I totally am, for sure to the max, a Valley Girl.
Heidi Richardson Evans is a Valley Girl too, she’s also a fine artist, designer, and blogger, who created both the cover art and poetry text layouts for my book.
Heidi says, the cover art is a “Chemical Valley Sunset” and is a composite drawing of chemical plants in “Chemical Valley,” in Kanawha County, WV with textures of oil slicks and metal corrosion and acidic colors against natural textures. She used this technic to illustrate the tension in WV between industry and the environment.
Heidi is amazing, she “gets” me and I love working with her because it’s an intuitive process for us. And, she loves paper and text as do I. She explored typography in the interior of Valley Girl- she is very well known for using digital fonts and hand lettering in her art to create a visual expression of the rhythmic patterns in my poetry.
The interior text was important to me because I needed her visual expression of rhythmic patterns for people to “get” my cadence on the page. We used text and font like musical notes to clue the reader. We made music with Valley Girl.
I wrote this four years ago while working at the Covenant House. I just found it while searching for a mailing list on a thumb drive.
Here are my reflections on my childhood friend who passed away, Changa Kidd and his fathers impression on me during the inauguration in 2009. Dr. Kidd passed away in December, 2012 and I share this posting as a memorial to Dr. Kidd and Changa. – Crystal
I was there, on January 20th, 2009 watching history unfold as the first African-American President, Barack Hussein Obama, was sworn in. I shared this historical moment with the Kidd family and millions of others in Washington, DC. It was fitting that I would be with this family on that auspicious day as it was their charismatic son, brother, and father, Changa Kidd, who first challenged racism in my life.
I, like Barak Obama am bi-racial with light skin, born to a White mother and Black father. I too, was raised by my White mother, with Mom’s parents playing significant roles. Both Obama’s and my father were largely absentee, as were African American role models. Indeed, neither the President nor I had Black communities in our schools or hometowns to support us through various bouts of identity questioning.
There are notable differences in our lives however. Rather than embracing diversity and the pursuit of education as Obama’s family did, my mother’s White Appalachian culture often taught me to fear Black people, as well as other “outsiders” and that a high school diploma was sufficient preparation for adult life. With little value placed on multi-cultural understanding, I was left to form my own theories and attitudes about race, in an environment of subtle and not-so-subtle racism. As a result, I developed habits of self-doubt and insecurity, always fearful that my Blackness would be discovered. I refused to eat fried chicken in the elementary school cafeteria, for example, and refrained from drinking chocolate milk, somehow believing that the chocolate would darken my skin.
At the age of 15, during my mother’s divorce from my cruel stepfather, I was sent to live with my maternal grandfather, a native West Virginian who had relocated to Tallahassee, Florida. Among Granddaddy’s various rules was one forbidding my ever saying that I was Black or bi-racial. His excuse was that it could cause discomfort for his wife’s children, “Just tell ‘em you’re American,” he regularly admonished, perhaps with an unsaid wish that his granddaughter would simply blend in.
I was stunned by how different Tallahassee’s LeonHigh School was from St. Albans High. The drastic socio-economic differences were the first surprise. Although Granddaddy was White, drove a Cadillac, and had a swimming pool (which previously had classified him as rich in my book), he was far below the wealth levels of the typical Leon students driving BMWs, Porches, and Range Rovers. Further, my accent and blue collar manners quickly gave me away as less enlightened.
Simultaneously, I was awakened to the cultural diversity of my new community. There were different types of people — Blacks, Latinos, Asians – more than I had ever seen at St. Albans High where there had been fewer than a dozen students of color. Further, these Floridians seemed proud to identify themselves racially. It was among these students that I was told directly, for the first time, “You are NOT a White girl!”
It was during these first days that I met Changa Kidd.
Changa, his friends, and his family embraced me. Their influence changed my perception of what it meant to be Black. In them, I found none of the fearsome stereotypical images and perceptions which I’d been raised to expect.
How my life changed during my time in Florida as Changa and others taught me about American Black history! Study hall was spent discussing Martin Luther King. Passed notes not only included “What are you doing for lunch?” but contained talking points to convince my Grandfather to accept my being bi-racial. Through Changa and his friends I gained entrée to the homes of middle-class and wealthy Black families where, for the first time, I saw art and photographs capturing Black people as regal and grand. Those very images have served as permanent sources of inspiration over the years. They also helped me understand how artistic expression is powerful, educational, and provides solace to the soul. In those living room paintings and framed family photographs, I began to find a new confidence and surety, just as the image of Barak Obama is certain to inspire confidence in African American youth for generations to come.
Changa would drive up and down my street at least twice a day. I always knew it was him by the loud engine and the honk. One day I heard his car coming and waited, anticipating his honk. There was no honk. Instead I heard the door bell.
It was a bold move.
I opened the door with great anxiety to find the dashing Changa on the doorstep. “I was driving by and thought I would go for a swim with you,” he teased, then laughed at my gasp. He was aware I had been taught by White folks to never swim with Black people for fear of getting “greasy”.
“I just wanted to tell you hello,” Changa admitted, smiling as he grabbed my hand to place a copy of Malcolm X’s autobiography in it. He drove off, arm waving out the window and horn blaring.
I stood in the foyer afraid to move, sure I was going to be in serious trouble for having a Black visitor, even if my friend was not invited to cross the threshold. I hid the book in the small of my back while quickly turning to apologize to Granddaddy. He said nothing, shocked perhaps at the audacity of Changa Kidd.
I was often on punishment at my Grandfathers house. In fact, Changa’s surprise visit occurred during one of my weekend groundings – no phone, no television. The remainder of that weekend was spent writing in my journal (in a now undecodable teenage code), secretly reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X by flashlight.
Upon closing that book, I took my own leap of faith deciding to proclaim that I was Black in a school research paper, which I was determined to then share with my grandfather. The assignment was an “I-search” paper in which we were to research, write, and give an oral report on something about ourselves. “It’s simply the truth,” I kept telling myself.
Changa and others diligently edited my writing. They helped me to develop points and led me to understand that this paper was the most important of my 15-year life. They pushed me to solidify my ideas and perfect my grammar. “Good is never good enough, Crystal Good, when you deal with these issues,” they advised.
Following my well-received school presentation and A-minus grade, I felt newly confident and free. Still, it was with trepidation that I shared it with my grandfather and his wife (a former English teacher who read my work with a red pen in hand).
Looking at their stunned faces, I declared, “I am mixed race, but in this American culture that means I am Black.” Granddaddy’s wife started crying. “But you can pass!” she exclaimed – a commentary on my fair skin. They could not conceive of why I would “choose” to be Black..
My Grandfather’s teenage stepsons took a stand for me, stating that my Blackness imposed no inconveniences or hassles for them. It was only then that my grandfather agreed to “let me” be Black.
Naturally, this was not the end of family racial tension. When Granddaddy refused to allow me to attend a lecture by Rosa Parks, I skipped school and went anyway. That night, in further adolescent protest, I snuck out of the house to attend an all-Black dance on the campus of FloridaA & MUniversity — the first such event I ever attended. Changa and I danced to Digital Underground, New Edition, En Vogue and all the now “old school” jams of the 80’s and early 90’s. It was a moment of pure adolescent joy.
The next morning my grandfather, who had found my room empty, yelled that my behavior was unacceptable. I learned I was being sent to live with my father, whom I had never even met, so that I could be “Black”.
Another cultural shift awaited me. My biological father’s neighboorhood was a stark contrast to the Black world of which I’d caught a glimpse in Tallahassee. Crack and poverty abounded. Although finding money for new school clothes and supplies would always be difficult, I found a peace in being racially authentic, something that I had not experienced in life before.
With my dad, I was not forced to be or to say I was anything other than what I was. I could be friends with whomever I wished, openly read whatever I chose, and listen to hip-hop at my pleasure.
Changa had made certain I took plenty of books with me from Tallahassee. He encouraged me to consider college. He gave me books by African American poets, books on African Art, and others on how to successfully debate. Some of the most impressionable books he shared were on the Black Panther Party. I was intrigued by the Panthers for their efforts to develop their own schools and to feed the poor — even poor Appalachian Whites. I read all the books Changa gave to me, once even by flashlight. This time, the flashlight was not necessary to hide my activity, but rather due to Dad’s electricity being shut off. During my adolescence I went from White and blue collar; to “claim you’re White” and middle class; to Black and poor. I decided then that I would rather be poor and authentic, than “rich” and living a lie. Living with my father, in all the complexities of poverty, I understood there is no substitute for living the honest truth.
Sharing the Inauguration with the Kidd family and studying Barack Obama’s journey to the White House was another lesson in the value of education. Watching the Rosa Parks bus lead the Inaugural Parade took me back to myself as the defiant teenager when, like Ms. Parks, I demanded equality and acknowledgement of my equal rights and heritage.
I realized, as the parade passed by, that my actions had been inspired nearly entirely by books and dialogue. This leads me to theorize that American families can start a positive revolution, beginning in our homes, simply by educating ourselves through reading, encouraging our children to read, conversation and art.
The Inauguration was also, for me, like many others, a call to action. It encouraged me to hold fast to my passion for diversity and to continue challenging others to include and think about people of different sexes, sexual orientations, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.
Dr. Kidd, the patriarch of the Kidd family and a former college president, spoke at an intimate dinner following the Inauguration. He advised close friends and family in attendance that the ongoing challenge is to pursue not simply education—but an education for all that embraces tolerance.
Dr. Kidd’s words gave me a new perspective on the diversity work I do and have done for organizations such as Jackson Kelly PLLC , Charleston Area Alliance, Covenant House, Create West Virginia, Generation West Virginia and many others. Over the years, I had abandoned working toward the concept of “tolerance”, turned off by its connotation to merely “put up with”. That had never been sufficient for me. I was still rebelling, I suppose, at my grandfather’s willingness to tolerate “letting me” call myself Black without allowing me to fully embrace Black culture and society. I am now moving toward tolerating “tolerance”. “Tolerance is our first step,” Dr. Kidd said, assuring me that it’s tolerance that precedes acceptance.
I realize now, healed by years of time, that my Grandaddy actually took that first step in agreeing to provide a home for his biracial granddaughter in my time of need. Then, he took yet a second step by allowing her to proclaim that I was Black. Had I more patience and allowed more time, Granddaddy would have eventually taken another step, allowing me, his granddaughter to wholly explore and celebrate my full self under his watch.
I now pray that those who do not fully accept and embrace the idea of President Obama as an African-American will at least find tolerance enough to “put up with” him. That will probably buy him the time he needs convince them that they should and can support him.
My friend, Changa Kidd, died of cancer at the age of 34. His life changed my life. His constant encouragement of self-education inspired my own quiet revolutionary habit of gifting books to total strangers, friends and sometimes CEOs.
Prior to Changa’s passing I visited Tallahassee to see Granddaddy with my then husband (a Black man) and our three children. Changa was bald from chemo but looking as fit as he did at 16. Together we sat with Granddaddy in his living room, laughing together and reflecting on the joys and challenges of life.
Changa and I would never have believed the day would come that Granddaddy would embrace Black people gathering in his home.
But, on that day, he did.
Likewise at the Inauguration, millions said they never thought the day would come that America would inaugurate a bi-racial or Black President.
But, on this day, we did.
Reflecting on the Inauguration and my experiences, I am reminded of one of my Granddaddy admonishments. I am now, more than ever, willing to recite his mantra to my children: “Just tell ‘em you’re American!”
Crystal Good, 34, lives in Charleston, West Virginia. She is a proud member of the Affrilachian Poets, and works toward “justice for all” as the Assistant Director of the Covenant House.
You say a prayer, like his family did for three decades that Elizabeth will get home — and then you send that prayer with hope and expectation just before you start Googling. At least that’s what I did.
People always ask me about calling myself a “Quantum Christian” — It’s hard too explain but its in the little things, little things like prayer that make me call my self a Quantum Christian”. I believe in intercessory prayer and that prayer is everywhere and available to everyone and anytime — prayer follows some “spooky” QP logic defying the laws of reality of classic physics. Particles are connected as are we.
If you need “proof” that intercessory prayer works or maybe your faith just needs encouraged please read this story by the talented Douglas Imbrogno: Elizabeth & George
I bust out with Alicia Keyes’ hook THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE in the grocery store, my car, the office, wherever.
This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She’s walking on fire
This girl is on fire
It’s my theme song. Love Alicia Keyes, always have. Whenever anyone asks, “Beyonce or Alicia?” it’s always Alicia.
The “Girl On Fire” lyrics are motivation for anyone looking to accomplish something, overcome something, make a change. It’s motivational. Being a girl on fire myself, I very much relate to the song, which happens to be the theme song from the “Hunger Games” movie.
The song and the movie remind me of my vision, purpose and drive to Create West Virginia. Surely you’ve seen the movie by now, or read the book. My son told me about Katniss, the heroine of the story, and the how it is set in West Virginia long before the movie. He said, “Mama, her Daddy dies in a coal mine. I think this is West Virginia.” He was right. Katniss’ home – the rural and desperately poor District 12 – is set in in Appalachia. It’s distinctly West Virginia, my home. It’s a place filled with good people struggling to survive when it feels like everything is stacked against them.
Just as District 12 has little in its favor, the odds always seem stacked against us. Yet, my head is always in the clouds, believing. Believing, specifically, that West Virginia has brighter days ahead. Katniss goes to great lengths to take care of her mother and sister. I know a little something about this. When my Mamma went to work at 4 a.m. at the chemical plant, I dressed my sisters and then took them to school. I had lots of motherly responsibilities at a young age, just like Katniss.
Let’s be honest. The odds are really not in my favor of “surviving” in West Virginia given that my ambitions are to write, produce and create businesses.
Nobody knows that she’s a lonely girl
And it’s a lonely world
It is lonely. But sang, Alicia, sang … because
Everybody stands, as she goes by
Cause they can see the flame that’s in her eyes
Watch her when she’s lighting up the night
I know that, like Katiniss, I have perfected a few skills. She draws a bow. And me? I bring to the table creativity. It feeds my family. What’s special about Katniss is that she doesn’t want to lose the essence of who she is. This is my prayer. Don’t let me forget where and what I come from. Don’t let me forget my Mamma’s hardhat and coveralls. Don’t let me fall in love with a man with soft hands.
I wonder about this idea of “forgetting where I’m from” as I start to shape my book with editors. They want to re-style me and create a platform that will sell books. I’m told time and again that I can’t get national work if I “lead” with West Virginia. I get it. But I want to fight it, too, because this place IS me.
Katniss’ goal isn’t to win hearts but to save her own life and that of her family. She does what’s necessary, but I have to win hearts. Katniss doesn’t want you to love her and doesn’t care if you do. She just wants her family safe and fed and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I have to make people care about West Virginia in order to feed my family. To live, here.
Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame
So bright, she can burn your eyes
Better look the other way
You can try but you’ll never forget her name
She’s on top of the world
Hottest of the hottest girls say
There is a flame in me that cares about Appalachia, loves West Virginia, and believes sincerely that I can – that we can – win. She’s just a West Virginia girl … but she’s on fire. If your reading this, I bet you are too.
Burn, baby, burn baby.
Check out Crystals book of poetry Valley Girl: http://www.crystalgood.net/store
Given the MTV WV Reality Show Buck Wild discussion across the internet and mainstream media, I’m thinking about my own poetic portrayal of WV. I think my little Rand Poem offers more insight into the persons, places and things that are WV.
Have a read and if you are curious about this little town take a look at the: Google Map of Rand, WV.
for the Block Project
By Crystal Good
Living in a time warp
Stuck between an 18k gold dome, a pot hole
River water breading champions/like rabid packs of dogs.
Unincorporated/ Person/ Place/ Thing
Rand, Dub Vee
People wave and call it a community,
Sending charcoal smoke signals, We Are Here!
It’s the safest and scariest place you’ll ever know
Poor they say, but you won’t go hungry, Amen.
Paper plates serve the best food you’ll ever eat.
Rand, West Virginia, where time stands still……………..
just long enough for the Sheriff to pass
And the Mountains so high you can’t help but look to God
This is an outsider’s village, inside the segregation zone.
No one can ever really leave Church or Starling Drive.
It don’t matter if your Daddy’s house gets foreclosed/ you make it on national TV
It’s a place you call home (even if its collect, they will accept)
Life is simple. You’re expected to visit your Mamma/ to wash and wax your car/ dodge and stay alive.
Good ole boys with oil on hand busy with not much to do. Lemonade a quarter, December barbecues pick up games and I can run faster than you.
Whatcha heard? It’s true. Somebody’s Auntie is always talking about you know who!
Mayberry on crack, ya’ that too, cause Rand got pimps and prostitutes.
From Athens to Bluefield to Clemson. Davidson, Emory, Glenville, Harvard, Kenyon, Marshall. Nine avenues dream university so YOU can too.
Baby Jesus walks everywhere saying, “Hello, hello have a nice day!”
As the sirens sound and the good people all shelter in place/ with fishing poles/ rolls of duck tape, just beneath the sign that reads,
Home of NFL SUPERBOWL Great.
No matter if I tried, I would never be seen as a Friend of Coal. I’m a bastard child, an environmental child.
I know this.
Yet I salute multimillionaire coal baron Jim Justice for what he’s doing for West Virginia’s tourism economy while protesting mountaintop removal with a vengeance.
Is it really possible to do both?
In my adult life I’ve come to understand the dualities and the “third” options because of my experiences: I am biracial.
My life has taught me that what black people say about whites is never 100 percent true. Neither is what whites say about blacks. There are always shades of gray. There is always room for investigation. There are always shades of Green.
I’ve learned to look first for the fear. Once you identify that, you can sift through whatever black/white/nigger/cracker/tree hugger/evil coal baron generalizations are being made.
Make no mistake: In West Virginia there is a lot of fear. Fear of not having jobs, clean water, healthcare, and on and on. Match that with some hell-raising, true grit Mountaineer spirit and, well, you’ve got yourself a debate and some Pinkerton police.
It can be deadly combo.
Today we are still at the heart of the “labor wars” – today we are divided – Republicans vs. Democrats, elites vs. non-elites.
Our notion of what is elitist can cut our nose off to spite our face. I’m thinking back to the Clay Center – the multimillion-dollar arts center in Charleston – and the early opposition it faced from those who felt it was elitist. We need the Clay Center. It is a jewel in Charleston, an artery and selling point for the city. Without it we are, dare I say, po-dunk.
It’s always a matter of perspective and experience when you’re making comparisons, and I certainly have my own lenses. But I think what I have to say is important because when it comes to our West Virginia economy and our environment, we are trying to be either/or and, folks, that’s just not the way it is.
The Pro Coal vs. I Love Mountains decision reminds me of how I grew up on BOTH sides of black and white with the constant question: What are you?
What the HELL am I? I’m dang blasted American. I’m Appalachian. I’m somebody’s Momma. Geez. I’m human.
I’m black. I’m white. And so much more. But at 12 I just said I was an Indian born on a clear morning and that’s why my name was Crystal Dawn.
The question – What Are You? – is asked of EVERYONE in West Virginia. No longer does it matter (as much) if I am black or white. Now it’s am I, or you, GREEN?
Are you a Friend of Coal or not?
Are you a Keeper of the Mountains or not?
I’m making broad strokes because what I am is a poet, too.
Appalachian complexities reach beyond race and class. Even the bumper sticker on your car – either Friends of Coal or I Love Mountains – defines you here.
I’m free. Montani Semper Liberi.
I am free to take my position in the environmental struggle and decide what kind of soldier I want to be in the “war on coal.”
So here I sit, like I did in the 10th grade when my white Granddaddy told me I could be anything but black and the kids at school explained to me that I was indeed black because, as the old slave law said, “one drop of black blood … ”
My single drop of environmental “green” blood today shuts doors for me, forces me to drink and eat over here. My life is divided. Too green. Not green enough.
In the 10th grade I told my Granddaddy his argument was flawed, that I could not “pass” as white, that I should be allowed to be friends with whomever I chose and, especially, black kids because I am black. I am.
I claimed NO other identity then. It was a hard choice; a necessary separation. Then even the census required this choice.
Today, with Obama as president, we have a greater tolerance for mixed people defining themselves. Today, the census allows me to move beyond the “other” category and identify myself as both “black and white.” Yet in West Virginia, when it comes to coal, you MUST make hard choices.
There is no OTHER in coal but I am standing once again in the middle, with a different perspective and a prayer that something will change for my beloved West Virginia as it has in my life.
Today my family is a beautiful blend of black and white sitting together around the table on holidays. This took a long time.
I decided a while back that it was my self-appointed job to be an ambassador for West Virginia diversity and urban tourism. I’ve been on a mission for several years. I know the state isn’t gong to offer me any support. The Powers that Be have their formula and it often feels like there is no room for me and my guerilla marketing tactics. Still, I stay committed through my West Virginia youth projects, at NYC dinner parties, in my Affrilchian poetry and through Create WV.
For me it all starts at The Greenbrier. When I am there I am Mizz. Affrilachaia. There is no place like it. It is uniquely West Virginia. It is our crown jewel.
It’s boring, too. As colorful as its decor is, it could use more color, more diversity, in its guests. After all, it’s “America’s Resort” and should represent that ideal year round.
I’ve learned on several of my West Virginia recon missions that if I can get people to our state they fall in love with it and with us. They go back and tell others and thus our tourism is enhanced, our possibilities are increased.
I serve on the board of OVEC – The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. I travel around reading my poem “Boom Boom” about strip-mined mountains and women who take off their clothes for money. And I’ve traveled a fair part of the world talking about The Greenbrier.
I’ve never met JJ (Jim Justice – that’s what I like to call him). I don’t agree with everything the so called “evil coal baron” has done, such as ignoring this humanitarian disaster this past summer. But this blog – heck, my life – is about compromise and balance, so at the same time I have to agree that the state sorely needed the media exposure given to the Greenbrier Classic, the world-class event Justice was hosting as people were suffering.
It’s my open letter to him about the possibilities for bringing affluent African Americans to a create another major event at The Greenbrier.
Dorothy Draper was the interior design queen of color, texture and pattern. She was also the designer of the legendary Greenbrier.
She is my inspiration, not for my living room but for how to get things done. How to have a vision, stick to it and be BOLD. How to mix things that don’t go together but somehow they work.
I made the video for JJ when I was doing consulting work with the Boy Scouts of America and trying to do the impossible there, challenged with developing minority and diversity outreach. Some might say the organization is “evil” too, given its history of covering up sexual abuse and banning homosexuals. But I believe that in order to influence change you have to have people on the inside that are willing to sincerely see both sides.
During my time on the inside as a consultant for the BSA, I wore rainbow dresses in silent protest of its stance against gays. (Take a look at these heartbreaking letters from Scouts turning in their badges in protest of the policy.) And while I am very sensitive to child abuse, I worked with the BSA during my own effort to prosecute a child molester. Again, in the name of compromise and balance, I am appreciative that the BSA is investing in West Virginia and bringing thousands of new visitors to the state with the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County. It’s is expected to produce more than $50 million economic impact.
In fact, I’m proud.
I’m giving you full disclosure here: I also worked for a major coal law firm, Jackson Kelly, as communications director. I saw the human side of coal lawyers. They’re people, with families and a love for the outdoors. I also know the intimidation that goes on in those law firms.
JK was good to me. While I worked there, we took on meaningful projects. Our “Global Sullivan Principles” seminar was one of them. Based on the principles of native West Virginian Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, it called on businesses to support economic, social, and political justice in the communities they serve, with the goal of improving quality of life.
Looking back, the compromises I made were worthwhile. I believe I made favorable West Virginia impressions through my work with JK. I also believe I created a positive opinion on the value of diversity while inside the Scouts.
I have a knack for creating bridges. West Virginia is full of them already. I intend to make more.
I’d like to create a bridge between green and pro-coal. And that’s why I feel like Jim Justice as a coal baron – as the only coal baron in the dang blasted HISTORY of West Virginia coal to reinvest in its tourism industry – is valuable to the redevelopment of our economy.
We have to diversify our economy. We can’t close mines, we can’t expect to grow without an innovative new economic strategy, and we can’t build on our greatest assets – our people and our natural beauty – if we don’t have them.
That’s why I made that silly video for JJ dressed up as Dorothy Draper. I believe in what I’m saying. With my “guerilla” marketing tactics I got myself to the Black Enterprise table and guess what? West Virginia doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for welcoming diverse communities.
Just look at the recent Presidential campaign. West Virginia was in the illustrious Top 10 for racist tweets following the election. What kind of branding does that give us alongside mainstream TV shows like “Buck Wild” and “Wild, Wonderful Whites”? Dreadful branding, that’s what. And that’s a shame because our ski resorts and whitewater rafting destinations are within driving time of some of the wealthiest African American zip codes in America.
Race matters for now, even as some folks cannot wrap their heads around the idea of a black President. And in West Virginia, coal matters, even as some can’t wrap their minds around a compromise.
I walk IN compromise. It’s my skin.
The compromise for West Virginia is an economic one. And just as sure as I stood up to my Granddaddy and said, “I am black,” I’ll tell JJ and whomever else will listen that I’m pro-mountain, pro-water, pro-small town survival.
I’m for all our survival. Spike Lee asks, “the Knicks or the Nets?” It doesn’t matter as long as you have love, a love for New York or, in our case, a love for WV.
Love doesn’t mean giving in, sometimes it means standing up. I didn’t back down from my Grandaddy. I am a daughter of the state of West Virginia. I knew what was right. And once I found myself in a black world I took a few hits for being “white.” Black or white – whatever box I check – I will always be a daughter.
If I can use my perspective, my poems, my ambition and marketing tactics to build bridges – to straddle the world between Jim Justice and the “Environmentals” – then I want to try to find the shades of green.
“Never look back, except for an occasional glance, look ahead and plan for the future. Success is not built on past laurels, but rather on a continuous activity. Keep busy searching out new ideas and, experimentally, keep ahead of the times, or at least up with them.” – Dorothy Draper
My Create West Virginia Start Something Story — What’s Yours?