Sunday, November 26, 2006


what is it? one moment, an atomic bomb, tentacled and luminous. the next, a strange flower that blooms whenever it moves. perhaps it is both.

Friday, November 24, 2006

happy thanksgiving!

happy thanksgiving!

checking on the fried turkey in my parent's backyard. no one but me seems to care that it's 600 calories per serving...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a few thousand words

norris bennett and queen esther

this is norris bennett on mountain dulcimer and myself on vocals (with a slight visual of henrique prince behind me on fiddle) at sekou sundiata's wedapeople cabaret at the gatehouse in harlem a few weeks ago.

queen esther @ the gatehouse

this is what the stage area looked like. of course, the acoustics are amazing. so easy to imagine the water rushing through the place when it was a water plant in 1890. it's a remarkable achievement that they were able to preserve the intregity of the building the way that they did. the venue holds about 200 people. it was a sold-out night.

queen esther @ the gatehouse

here's a shot of the rythym section: dave on bass and boo on acoustic guitar.

coming soon: video footage.

Friday, November 17, 2006

my gym, my life

When my gym membership ran out at the beginning of November, I knew that I was in trouble. For some strange reason I saw myself sliding into a sedentary abyss that would blow me up in a sudden way, and have me floating around the city like a balloon on a stick. I scrambled to find another gym that would make me happy. I wanted treadmills and Nautilus and all that, and yet – I wanted more. I wanted to work out whenever I wanted. I wanted a steam room and sauna. And if I felt like a massage after my workout, well, I wanted that, too.

When I found what I wanted, it was what I had all along, or at least off and on in my early years in the city: New York Sports Clubs. That was when I was living in an unbelievably cheap SRO. Now that I was living alone, I simply couldn’t afford it. Then, as divine providence would have it, a week-long pass to fell into my hands, and I went out at 3am the other night and had a brisk workout in one of their 24 hr. gyms. It actually felt like an adventure.

As my legs were spinning under me on the treadmill, it hit me: the reason why I was so panicky about a place to work out had nothing to do with weight loss or even weight management. I’m a healthy size six on a bad day. I’m a size eight when I let myself go – but I never really let myself go. Not really. And that’s the point. Some people can eat whatever they want and never gain weight but I’m not one of them. I used to envy those folks. But not anymore. For me, everything requires discipline and sacrifice and hard work. After a certain point, each thing feeds on the other until all of it runs together and my whole life is a well-oiled machine – focused, purpose-driven and (strangely enough) joyful.

That balloon in my head wasn’t my body. It was my life. I was panicky because I wanted to stay on point, not because I wanted to stay in shape. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to get healthy and look great in my clothes. But once those goals are reached, other priorities come into focus, things that I’d never considered. Like the time that I get to spend alone with my thoughts as I’m running. How I can meditate, or pray, or mull over a problem and find a solution, even if it’s only a 30 minute run. I love doing that. After awhile, I find myself looking forward to that alone time. Working out is no longer a chore. It’s a release. And when I start my day that way, everything seems to fall into place.

Looking back, I can see that I joined New York Sports Club and worked out everyday without fail at a time when I was the most stressed and when my struggle as an independent artist – to find my own voice and develop my own style creatively in spite of the impossibilities that faced me every day – was at its absolute worst. Did my body look great? You betcha. Was I healthy? Like an ox. Yet there I was, attacking every situation head-on and forging ahead with a fearlessness that seems bizarre to me now. My friend Eric Andre Johnson says I was like a human bullet. Anyone that got in my way had to look out for shards of shrapnel, because I was going straight through them, if that’s what it took to make it happen.

Gee. I guess I’m still like that.

I still can’t afford to join that gym at the regular rate, by the way. But as divine providence would have it, a rep for NYSC sent me a temporary membership…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Racial Divide Still Evident

okay, maybe it's me. maybe i'm the only black woman out here that's a single college graduate with no kids that happens to earn as much if not more than the median white income level in this country, according to the latest census reports. but i don't think so. i think there's a jillion of us. so where are our stats?

who knows what my life would be like if i left new york city. let's face it: my rent is a mortgage payment. that's the next step: home ownership. or maybe graduate school. hm. let's see which one comes first.

Racial divide still evident
Blacks, Hispanics lag behind in education, income levels
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
of The Associated PressWASHINGTON, D.C. -

Decades after the civil rights movement, racial disparities in income, education and home ownership persist and, by some measurements, are growing.

White households had incomes that were two-thirds higher than blacks and 40 percent higher than Hispanics last year, according to data released today by the Census Bureau. White adults were also more likely than black and Hispanic adults to have college degrees and to own their own homes. They were less likely to live in poverty.

"Race is so associated with class in the United States that it may not be direct discrimination, but it still matters indirectly," said Dalton Conley, a sociology professor at New York University and the author of "Being Black, Living in the Red."

"It doesn't mean it's any less powerful just because it's indirect," he said.

Home ownership grew among white middle-class families after World War II when access to credit and government programs made buying houses affordable. Black families were largely left out because of discrimination, and the effects are still being felt today, said Lance Freeman, assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University and author of "There Goes the 'Hood."

Home ownership creates wealth, which enables families to live in good neighborhoods with good schools. It also helps families finance college, which leads to better-paying jobs, perpetuating the cycle, Freeman said.

"If your parents own their own home, they can leave it to you when they pass on or they can use the equity to help you with a down payment on yours," Freeman said.

Three-fourths of white households owned their homes in 2005, compared with 46 percent of black households and 48 percent of Hispanic households. Home ownership is near an all-time high in the United States, but racial gaps have increased in the past 25 years.

Asian Americans, on average, have higher incomes and education levels than whites. However, they have higher poverty rates and lower home ownership rates.

The Census Bureau released 2005 racial data on incomes, education levels, home ownership rates and poverty rates today. The data are from the American Community Survey, the bureau's new annual survey of 3 million households nationwide. The Associated Press compared the figures with census data from 1980, 1990 and 2000.

Among the findings:
  • Black adults have narrowed the gap with white adults in earning high school diplomas, but the gap has widened for college degrees. Thirty percent of white adults had at least a bachelor's degree in 2005, while 17 percent of black adults and 12 percent of Hispanic adults had degrees.
  • Forty-nine percent of Asian Americans had at least a bachelor's degree in 2005.
  • The median income for white households was $50,622 last year. It was $30,939 for black households, $36,278 for Hispanic households and $60,367 for Asian households.
  • Median income for black households has stayed about 60 percent of the income for white households since 1980. In dollar terms, the gap has grown from $18,123 to $19,683.
  • Hispanic households made about 76 percent as much as white households in 1980. In 2005, it was 72 percent.
  • The gap in poverty rates has narrowed since 1980, but it remains substantial. The poverty rate for white residents was 8.3 percent on 2005. It was 24.9 percent for black residents, 21.8 percent for Hispanic residents and 11.1 percent for Asian residents.

Thomas Shapiro, professor of law and social policy at Brandeis University, said the "easiest answer" to narrowing racial gaps is to promote home ownership, which would help minority families accumulate wealth.

"The wealth gap is not just a story of merit and achievement, it's also a story of the historical legacy of race in the United Sates," said Shapiro, author of "The Hidden Cost of Being African American."

Shelton, of the NAACP, called for more funding for preschool programs such as Head Start, improving public schools and making college more affordable.

"Income should not be a significant determining factor whether someone should have an opportunity to go to college," Shelton said.
On The Net:
Census Bureau:

Monday, November 06, 2006

video coming soon!

the gig at the gatehouse for sekou sundiata's wedapeople cabaret on saturday was stellar. there were at least two photographers (aside from the one that i brought with me) and two videographers on the scene to document everything -- so i'm hoping for something good to put online via for mass consumption, and more pictures for the blog. stay tuned.

Friday, November 03, 2006

can't. shouldn't. won't.

my manager called me last night and asked me if i wanted to go to japan for six months. We have an ironclad agreement that he is not to call me for three basic things: cruise ships, regional/stock theater and disneyworld -- or any combination therein -- but he feels obligated to let me know what's out there. and evidently, mickey mouse is hiring in Tokyo.

But there was more: several months on a cruise ship and a philly production of caroline or change were waiting in the wings. how odd that in one phone call, he would tell me about all three things that I categorically refused to consider.

as he went on about the disney thing, i remember thinking, wow -- i've always wanted to live in a foreign country. but to tell you the truth, it was strange, listening to all the details: pay rates, per diem, LORT agreements. it felt like he was talking to someone else. Those are the kinds of opportunities I would have followed when I first came to the city. Until I began to develop my own ideas, I was at the mercy of this business, forever wondering what I was or wasn’t doing to make the phone ring and waiting around until it did. My strategy was to throw myself into the fray and say yes to everything. I was a roman candle, exploding in every direction, sure, I was exhausted and broke. but it felt so good to run after my dreams at full tilt that I really didn’t care. My successes shaped my goals and priorities. When the ideas I came up with were more interesting than the opportunities that were being presented to me, I began to say no more and more often until I hardly said yes at all.

Suddenly, here I was, going no-no-no all over again, without hesitation.

I know that I’m not a negative person but when the moment presents itself, I genuinely enjoy saying no – and I honestly don’t mind hearing it. I think it’s a freeing thing to say and to accept, as long as you’re objective about it. The word no has to find its way through a situation that the word yes never seems to know of. Yes gives it to me. No compels me to shift gears and find another way. And work harder.

it's not that i can't go to tokyo and do a show in disneyworld if someone offered me the part, or that I don’t want to take the gig. it's just that, at this juncture in my career, i would rather do commercials/tv/film, so I probably shouldn't. and that means i won't.

What it really boils down to is this: Say yes to what you really want. Say no to everything else.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Black Cowboys Ride the Range in Queens, and Keep a Sharp Lookout for Traffic

(Rufus Earle, left, sells western gear near the stables for the Federation of Black Cowboys, and Ali Rahman calls himself a Muslim wrangler.)

By: COREY KILGANNON, from The New York Times

Link(Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

In a shallow valley just off the Belt Parkway near the Brooklyn-Queens line, there is a dusty ranch where cowboys in wide-brimmed hats, muddy boots and pearl-buttoned shirts saddle up and ride the high plains of Howard Beach.

Most of these urban cowboys are black men getting up in years. But they take out their quarter horses or appaloosas or dappled paints and head out onto the streets of New York. They are members of the Federation of Black Cowboys, which keeps alive the heritage of the forgotten black horsemen of the old West. They keep their horses at that dusty ranch, the Cedar Lane Stables, at the junction of Conduit Avenue and Linden Boulevard. There are no cattle rustlers here or gunslinging outlaws to face. But there is one pervading peril: negotiating the heavy traffic that has steadily increased in an area that 50 years ago was largely farmland and wooded lots.

“Yes, we do a lot of riding in the streets, and traffic is dangerous,” said Edward J. Dixon, the president of the federation. “A horse can bolt anytime, so you always got to have your guard up.”

This is exactly what happened to a 13-year-old boy returning to the stables Sunday afternoon from a horse ride along city streets. The boy, Jared Johnson, was riding a 7-year-old quarter horse named Romeo that had been boarded at Cedar Lane Stables. The boy and the horse were stopped on a grassy median of Linden Boulevard opposite the stables, waiting to cross at the traffic light. The horse suddenly lunged into traffic and struck a yellow cab, the police and witnesses said. The boy was knocked to the ground, suffered head injuries and was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital in Manhattan, where he remained in critical condition last night. The horse, which the boy had borrowed from a family friend, slammed into the cab’s hood, windshield and roof, slightly injuring the driver. The horse suffered a severe gash across the belly from the cab’s roof light fixture and died at the scene, according to the police.

Mr. Dixon called the accident a tragedy, but emphasized that the horse belonged to a man who is not a federation member, but who simply rented a stall at the stables. The boy, who is not a member, was not taking part in a federation event, he said. The federation, a nonprofit group formed in 1994, has 35 members, many of them former law enforcement professionals. Roughly 45 horses are kept in the stables on the 24-acre site, which the federation has leased from the city since 1997. The group’s mission is to teach poor black children horsemanship and the role that the black cowboy played in the old West.

About a dozen of the horses here belong to nonmembers who lease stalls from the federation, according to Mr. Dixon. Members do not let unskilled riders take their horses off the property, but cannot dictate to nonmembers what to do with their horses, he said. Doug Elder, another federation member, said: “We can’t police every person who takes a horse from here onto the street. Anything could spook a horse out there, even a plastic bag blowing by.” Mr. Dixon, 66, a retired transit worker from Brooklyn, said, “We’re in the middle of New York City; Queens is right there, and Brooklyn is over there.” “The kids we teach to ride start from the ground up and learn to ride in control,” he said. “They have to pass a test, and we keep a very tight watch on them.” “We keep alive the heritage and history and culture of the forgotten black cowboy,” said Mr. Dixon, who was wearing Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots and a white wide-brimmed hat as he picked okra and green peppers in the small garden on the property, next to a graffiti-scrawled wall.

Members teach the children to muck out the stalls and groom the horses. The federation stages Wild West shows and holds rodeos that feature bronco-riding and calf-roping in the main corral. The group often plays host to school field trips and church groups. The horses stay in rudimentary stables in long, low-lying structures with tar-paper siding. Some have been converted from large metal shipping containers, with stable door spaces cut out of the corrugated metal sides.

“We used to have many stables around here and hundreds of horses,” said Rufus Earle, 78, who sells western apparel and gear at Leatherworks by Rufus on a desolate stretch of 78th Street near the stables. It is decorated with vinyl siding, wagon wheels and horseshoes. There are saddlebags and chaps inside. Outside, lariats sell for $20 apiece. “Once upon a time, black cowboys helped build this country, but somewhere along the line, we lost our heritage,” said Mr. Earle as he sat yesterday in the strong noonday sun on his porch with Ali Rahman, 65, who called himself a Muslim wrangler.

“You got Muslim cowboys, yep,” Mr. Rahman said. “Why not? A cowboy is a working man. You got cowboys who are businessmen, truckers, entertainers, even presidents. A cowboy is a working man, is all he is.”