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Writing with Nina

A communal chapbook inspired by the music of Nina Simone

Published by Creo Books Los Angeles, California 2011

Writing with Nina

Creo Books Los Angeles, California 2011

Compiled and designed by Amy Shimshon-Santo Creative Commons Copyright 3.0

Dedication
This chapbook is dedicated to the vision and vitality of Nina Simone.

Gratitude
Special thanks to the energy and perseverance of Amitis Motavelli, Shag, and all of the staff at the William Grant Still Art Center, for their support, dedication, and enthusiasm.

Writing with Nina

THE WRITING SPA
Spring 2011

Fanisha Muepo Camey Wiseman Scherrie Tate Sonjia Robles Leslie Rolison Cynthia Peterson with Amy Shimshon-Santo

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Preface Introduction Amy Shimshon-Santo Fanisha Muepo

Call and Response Writing I. Freedom
Nina Say We Say

“How it Feels to be Free” Reflections on Freedom

II.

Self
Nina Say We Say

“Images” & “For Myself” Reflections on Self

III.

Motherhood
Nina Say We Say

“Brown Baby” Reflections on Motherhood

PREFACE
This chapbook is an offering to the memory of Nina Simone. The work emerged in a creative writing class tied to an exhibition of Nina Simone’s life and memorabilia at the William Grant Still Art Center in South Los Angeles. The center allowed me try out a dream that had been simmering inside me for years - a writing group for mothers. It is easy for people who are caring for others to lose track of themselves. This is true for the service professions, but it is also true of parents. There were times when I was raising my own children that I forgot the sound of my own voice. I barely recognized myself in the mirror. Anything I wanted to accomplish had to fit within the needs and lives of my children. They came first. They still do. What I didn’t know at the time was that sometimes the best way for me to take care of my flock was to take a moment for myself to rejuvenate. No one ever told me that, and I didn’t know to ask. Parents in high-risk communities like Los Angeles have to do far more than love and educate our kids. We need to be attentive guides, educational advocates, and fearless warriors providing safe spaces for them to grow and reach. Strangely, society tends to denigrate the role of mothers. The term “single mother” is commonly used as a catch-all phrase that blames the present parent for larger social ills. What I have experienced in my own life, and what I have seen in the world, is quite the opposite. Attentive parents, whether single or married, are doing important work! They are raising the next generation of human beings in complex and challenging times. They deserve some dignity and respect. Maybe even a big “thank you!” I hoped that a writers’ group for parents would provide the healing that comes from creative expression and community building. Amitis Motavelli, the Center’s Director, invited me to teach a Big Read class at WGSAC. Later, she suggested that I talk to parents enrolling their kids in the center’s wonderful music program. Sure enough, a group of mothers pulled me to the side and we quickly

Writing with Nina

decided on a time and day to write. The wisdom in the group was phenomenal. We were continuously moved and inspired by the knowledge, beauty, vision, and resiliency that each one of us possessed. We read, wrote, and talked about profound and valuable issues related to parenthood and personal growth. After the first session, Camey asked me to pinch her. She couldn’t believe that we had created such a healing circle. Leslie quickly suggested the group’s name, Spa. “This feels so good, like we are in a spa.” This is how the Writer’s Spa was born. I am grateful for the women in the group, their beautiful children, and the William Grant Still Art Center. It has been a healing experience that would have made Nina Simone smile.
- Amy Shimshon-Santo

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Writing with Nina

INTRODUCTION
by our creative writing intellects. All of us expressed a desire to join this creative writing workshop a.k.a. “Writing Spa” at the William Grant Still Arts Center. Every week we sipped on green tea brought to us by our amazing instructor Amy Shimshon-Santo. Wives, mothers, divorcees, single parents, educated women who needed an outlet to express ourselves apart from our daily routines and responsibilities. Inspired by the lyrics of Nina Simone’s phenomenal music, she enabled us to view every aspect of our lives uncut, uncensored, creatively from our individual life experiences. We’ve shared, laughed, and even cried together to heal what was inside of us so that we can pay it forward. We challenge and encourage you mothers and fathers alike in the community, to find and tap into that creative imaginative spirit that you possess and open yourselves up to an outlet with like-minded people and explore the creative possibilities within you. So many possibilities for the “Writing Spa” that the sky is not even the limit. International women writing together joined by a common thread, motherhood. It’s Tea Time!
- Fanisha Muepo

Mothers, that’s who we are, joined together ten weeks ago

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Writing with Nina

Nina sang
about freedom

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Writing with Nina

How It Feels to Be Free
(The lyrics below are a transcript from a live performance in Montreal, Canada. 1976.)

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free I wish I could break all the chains still binding me I wish I could say all the things that I can say when I relaxed I’d be starting anew I wish I could be like a bird in the sky How sweet it would be to find that I could fly I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea Then I’d sing, ‘cause I know How it feels to be free I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart I wish I could break all the things that bind us apart I wish you could know what it means to be me Then you’d see! You’d agree! Everybody should be free! Because if we ain’t, we’re murderous. I wish I could be like a bird in the sky How sweet it would be and I’d fly Soar to the sun look down at the sea Oh yeah…Spirits moving now I know I got news for you Jonathan Livingston Seagull ain’t got nothing on me Free! Free! Free! Free! I’m free!

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Writing with Nina

I know it I show it Believe in me It’s alright And I Sing! Sing! Sing! Because I know, I already know. I found out how it feels not to be chained To anything To any race To any faith To anybody To any creed To any hopes To anything! I know how it feels to be free!

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Writing with Nina

We wrote
about freedom

>

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Writing with Nina

Paid For
Our African American ancestors paid the price Forced from their homeland to a new land Dispersed Dispersed Dispersed It was all for a reason Because of this dispersion to North America South America, the Islands and beyond We have made a global impact by contributing so much to the world in inventions, arts, music, and religion. Everything they went through was not in vain. Today we have a responsibility to make an impact on others as well What you go through is not for you! You are able to share with someone else Who is going through a similar situation. Encourage them and give them the hope that they can make it They’re just going “through”and don’t have to be stuck there. Question: What’s in you that can help somebody else?
- Fanisha Muepo

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Writing with Nina

Grandmother
My grandmother is working in the fields and taking care of other people’s families while she had her own at home She studied on her time off showing her children how important education was From that, she has taught her children’s children the importance of education Knowing what she overcame makes me know that I can!
- Scherrie Tate

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Writing with Nina

Relaxed
I am most relaxed when I’m standing on the beach and I’m looking at God’s creation. I can hear the waves rushing in and receding back. I wait anxiously each time. It’s like a cleansing feeling to me. I love the smell and the ocean breeze. If I could share this moment with anyone, it would be with my children. The ocean is mysterious to me In my own way, I am mysterious to myself The ocean allows me to imagine I can be anywhere I wanna be. like on an island, or another country But there are times when I feel sad to know that the ocean claimed so many lives.
- Leslie Rolison

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Writing with Nina

If
If she could dance naked… Naked means freedom freedom from clothes freedom from restraints that keep us enslaved freedom from garments that control us and that should not define us Dance! To dance naked To be free To have fun To express who we are An African dance Some ballet Some stompin’ Some tappin’ Dancing is living A time to express YOU and all your thoughts The focus is not the body but the mind of a woman who is free Free to do anything she wants. To move in ways that satisfy her inner soul
- Camey Wiseman

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Writing with Nina

Listen to our soul craving for flight into a time of freedom to think taste feel meditate and dream Even when I sleep I normally never feel like I’m dreaming But I am dreaming Loving me. Controlling me.
- Camey Wiseman

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Writing with Nina

Lost and Found
Lost my faith Please help me find Last seen in desperation Wearing hope and fear Needy Unable to grab it in the crowded world of truth Science and lies False beliefs Unanswered questions Disregarded inquiries Nothing Lost faith No faith Return if found.
- S.R.

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Writing with Nina

Bird Song
My grandmother had 18 kids. She always told me that she washed clothes on the board. She had a rough time to have all the kids. She’d go to the river to have peace of mind. My Grand used to feel so much freedom then. She was a nurse in Jackson, Mississippi.
- Cynthia Peterson

The Beach
When I’m on the beach I feel I see an angel around me looking around I see people, and a big angel around people. I wish I could save the world and the water, so much wave water, but they have to save their self.
- Cynthia Peterson

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Writing with Nina

Nina sang
about self

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Images
She does not know
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her beauty, She thinks her brown body has no glory. If she could dance naked, under palm trees and see her image in the river she would know. But there are no palm trees on the street, and dishwater gives back no images.

For Myself
For myself I must learn for myself Not from what someone else Has said or done And so I live my life from day to day And try to smile While feeling my way Just like a child For myself I must learn for myself The future that someone else May say will come May never be Oh, whatever destiny holds for me Let me see for myself

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Writing with Nina

We wrote
about self

>

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Writing with Nina

Pretty vs. Smart
I have pretty to the “T” Can’t you see? That’s all I heard growing up. “Scherrie’s going to be pretty.” I barely remember anyone asking what I was going to be. Not fully thought out, I would have just claimed what most children did, to be a teacher. I heard Pretty Pretty Pretty as if that would get me somewhere. Well, it’s gotten me somewhere alright! So far in a hole that only Smart can get me out. My dream at age 33 is to be Smart First then Pretty. It was their responsibility but now it’s mine.
- Scherrie Tate

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Writing with Nina

Fathers
I was raised in a home with three women My grandmother My mother and Aunt Kathy All I saw was women who had children But no fathers No one spoke of marriage or what was to come in the future for us children Now I have children of my own and fathers, but not in my home I’m trying to overcome this image But accept it at the same time.
- Scherrie Tate

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Writing with Nina

My Reflection
What images are portrayed by Fanisha Michelle Muepo? Woman of God Wife Mother Educator Ministry leader Loyal friend Entrepreneur Does all of this matter? Yes, to an extent, but not so much if Fanisha Michelle Muepo isn’t true to herself, if she doesn’t realize her potential, to be what God has destined her to be Do I see the image I want to see when I see my reflection in the river? The river connects me to people and places.
- Fanisha Muepo

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Writing with Nina

For the Writing Spa
Beauty surrounds me Paralyzed, not by what I see, but what I feel Overwhelmed with unseen beauty By words so real that I think they are my own Paralyzed by beauty that cannot be seen Immeasurable to any tangible thing Words spoken Soft and fierce Words shared Bold and true Words written and heard in silence Beauty surrounds me with all of you
- S. R.

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Writing with Nina

My Fears
Cancer is one of my biggest fears. Why? Because my mother, grandmother and favorite uncle passed away from it. My second biggest fear is becoming homeless. I’ve never been homeless but I’ve come across many friends and family members who have been. Just hearing the word homeless gives me anxiety.
The word itself takes me there. - Scherrie Tate

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Writing with Nina

Age
At the age of 40 I want to be carefree. I want to be satisfied with my life thus far. In my teenage years I was like a caterpillar moving slowly no real direction in life. I was just living Each day was whatever to me. Sometimes I felt loved, other times I felt alone. Who really pays attention to a caterpillar? Now, I’m more mature I feel like I’m in a cocoon just waiting for my turn. I know what I want, and who I want to be, but it’s a process to get there so I can’t rush life. One day I will break free and be that woman people look at and say, Yea, she got it going on. This is her time. Watch! You’ll see When I turn 40 I’ll be like a butterfly. Carefree.
- Leslie Rolison

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Lifestyle
I am 39 years beautiful. I think I play more at this age than I have my entire life. I’m just saying. I ride my bike, I skate. I run. I chase my three year old son, and he chases me. We play soccer. I am my own child. My son and I play video games. We visit the arcade. We play air hockey, and go to the movies. We play karate and battle each other. We sing, we dance, and we rap! All of these things we do weekly. We read and learn together. We fly kites. We take swim lessons twice a week together. We travel on a vacation once a month. When I was a child we took a huge family vacation once every summer. I joke and say that we are living the vacation lifestyle, but it’s actually the truth! It is part of the goal for my life, which is to be a business owner and also enjoy this life to its fullest capacity. I know my heart is healthy because it has so much fun playing every day!
- Camey Wiseman

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about motherhood

Nina wrote >

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Writing with Nina

Brown Baby
(Lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr.)

Brown Baby Brown Baby As you grow up I want you to drink from the plenty cup I want you to stand up tall and proud And I want you to speak up clear and loud Brown Baby Brown Baby Brown Baby As years go by I want you to go with your head up high I want you to live by the justice code And I want you to walk down freedom’s road You, little Brown Baby Lie away sleeping lie away safe in my arms Your daddy and your mama protect you and keep you safe from harm Brown Baby It makes me glad You gonna have things that I never had When out of men’s heart all hate is hurled Sweetie, you gonna live in a better world. Brown Baby Brown Baby Brown Baby

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about motherhood

We wrote >

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Writing with Nina

The Plenty Cup
“As you grow up I want you to drink from the plenty cup.”

On July 26, 2007, James Michael Bishop Jr. was born. My life is not only about me anymore. A child is a true blessing from God. He was given to me to love, protect, teach, and to coach into an awesome brown man. My hope for my brown baby is to create a legacy that can be passed to him to help assist him into who he aspires to be - greatness. I go out of my way to teach him diversity and how to conduct himself and be around all shades of the human rainbow. Appreciate every type of person. Today’s society and economic system is showing us daily that nothing is for certain when it comes to our future. I beg to differ… Brown baby, Mommy is here to help mold and support you. Enjoy all the things that life has to offer.
- Camey Wiseman

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Common Sense
When I was younger, my mom said I possessed the academic intelligence - always getting certificates and medals. But all of that would be in vain because, she said, I didn’t have any common sense. My mom wanted to make sure I didn’t grow up naïve but used wisdom to guide me through life. I appreciate that gift from her. Now, fast forward. We’re raising four black young men who I want to “live by the justice code.” Yes, they are intelligent boys academically, love sports, and learning music. But they need to be street smart as well. As young Black men, the world has targeted them just because. I want to instill in them wisdom and responsibility. We’ve sheltered them from many things and didn’t want them exposed. But, reality is, those negative things and people are there anyways. We have to teach them to recognize it. As a parent, I want to know that my sons can live by the justice code and possess integrity. Integrity is basically doing good even if nobody else is looking. I dedicate these lyrics to my sons Dontrel, Xavier, Savion, and Joel. They are my brown babies.

- Fanisha Muepo

Justice Code
My brown baby boy How I love you and fear for you at the same time I want you to live by the justice code But I don’t know what it is What is right for some, maybe be wrong for you What is honestly yours, can be stolen again Integrity is a road that is often crooked before it is straight Your journey through the justice code will be a challenge. Perseverance Self Control Indomitable Spirit Walk Strong Stay focused I promise to support you with all of me Remember your name Sanjay: invincible, unconquerable. Create your own justice code.
- S.R.

Sonora
Dear Daughter, my first born My introduction to motherhood To love as I have never known To life as I will always remember Dear Daughter, my first born My exposure to fear unknown Unexplainable, and unable to escape You help me! Dear Daughter, my first born My induction to pain penetrating all remedies You cure me! Dear Daughter, my first born Smiles that overtake my heart Uncontrollable laughter, until I begin to cry Hugs that swallow me whole Kisses covering my soul You bring me Joy! Dear Daughter, my first born My launch to life as a MOTHER Life as I dream it Life as I live it Life as I know it Life as it is. Dear Daughter, my first born I love you I adore you I thank you
- S.R.

Brown Skin
Be proud of your dark skin, light skin whatever shade of brown skin Don’t let no one tell you, you cant because of your beautiful brown skin You deserve everything the world has to offer with no limit at all - wealth, education, fame, and happiness Never should you feel shameful, useless, or undeserving Your brown skin represents beauty, struggle, grace, pride, and determination. Let those things illuminate through your dark skin, light skin Whatever shade of brown skin I love my skin It’s one of a kind It tells a story of a brown skinned woman Who lives a beautiful life regardless of what you see on the outside Look past my tattoos, stretch marks, and scars. My brown skin tells you that I am a queen whose life journey brought me this far.
- Leslie Rolison

Message for the Children
Leslie: Your brown skin represents beauty, struggle, grace, pride, determination. So let those things illuminate through your dark skin, light skin, whatever shade of brown skin. We have to be gentle with our brown babies. They are little flowers to us. It’s what we put into them that will grow. A child is a true gift from God. They were given to us to love, protect, to teach, to coach them into an awesome brown man or woman. As your community of parents, we want to know that you live by the justice code and possess integrity. Integrity is basically doing good even if nobody else is looking. We dedicate this to all of the children in our communities. They are out brown babies. Perseverance. Self Control. Indomitable spirit. Walk strong. Stay focused. Remember we love you. Remember your name: Invincible!

Scherrie:

Camey:

Fanisha:

Sonjia: