Like xoNecole on Facebook
*Editors note: this article contains information about sexual assault, child pornography and rape. Please read with care. If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
On June 29th, R&B singer and producer Robert Kelly, best known by his stage name R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison by New York Federal Court after being convicted in September of 2021 on charges of racketeering and sex trafficking. The sentencing was announced after many of his victims tearfully shared the impact his graphic abuse of them has had on their lives. This conviction and sentencing come nearly thirty years after the singer began facing allegations ranging from rape, possessing child pornography, marrying a then-15-year-old Aaliyah, having his own sex cult, and more.
In the weeks leading up to the sentencing, xoNecole spoke with four Black women activists who work diligently to address sexual violence within the music industry and writ large on R. Kelly’s conviction. Now that Kelly has been sentenced, we’re sharing our conversations with each one, condensed below: author and founder of the Me Too movement Tarana Burke (featured in the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly and the Russell Simmons documentary On The Record) and the founders of the #MuteRKelly movement Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye (who also appeared in Surviving R. Kelly ) and author and activist Sil Lai Abrams, who shared allegations against Russell Simmons in The Hollywood Reporter and the HBOMax documentary On The Record.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 07: Tarana Burke speaks onstage at the TIME100 Summit 2022 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on June 7, 2022 in New York City.
Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME
xoNecole: I also invited journalist and Surviving R Kelly documentarian dream hampton who declined an interview but did provide a statement:
“As someone who wants to believe in restorative justice, I think this could have been the beginning of actual healing and justice had R Kelly, at any point, admitted to the harm he's caused for decades. His victim should have a financial fund from which they can draw to rebuild their lives. He could have changed the culture by being accountable in this way. He could have opened up a conversation where predators and abusers could enter too. Which is radical. But no, he'll have his sentence meted out to him by a broken system. He will continue to have the currency of love and devotion by countless Black people, even as he spends these years in prison. It is all a shame.”
xoNecole: What was your initial reaction to the news of R. Kelly’s conviction?
Tarana Burke: I was asked this question when [Harvey] Weinstein was convicted when [Bill] Cosby was convicted and it stays the same: these convictions are not a victory. I understand the catharsis for the survivors. There is a duality, that you have an immediate sort of excitement that feels like we have *something.* Right? You can’t help it. I think that’s human nature. That feeling of we have something, especially as Black women. Because we never get anything. So, I think there’s that first wave of that.
And then there’s the immediate slap in the face – especially if you engage in anything public, like social media or walking down the street – of the rejection of that. So my reaction came in stages, is what I’m explaining. That first stage of sort of surprise and relief that we got something. And that something is acknowledgment of that – even from a f-cked up system – an acknowledgment that our trauma and our pain deserve acknowledgment. It deserves accountability. You have that first wave and then you get slapped in the face with “no, it doesn’t.” I don’t know if we even had sixty seconds of whatever that first wave was. I get settled in just the catharsis of the survivors. It’s like they get a chance to breathe after holding this sh-t for so long. They get a chance to be like, “I get to hold something.”
Sil Lai Abrams: I was not surprised because the conviction was the result of decades of lobbying by activists and advocates. In many ways, his social currency in the Black community was diminished in a way that would enable a conviction to occur in the criminal legal system. To dream’s point, the system as it exists is not one that takes into consideration the needs of survivors or even those that have caused harm. He’s being used as a totem in many respects and I believe that his conviction in some way shields other people who cause sexual harm because I think that society can look at him, point to what will occur with him, and say, “You see? The system works because R. Kelly went to prison.” When in fact, his incarceration does nothing to address the systemic nature of sexual violence and the very broad ways in which harm affects our entire society.
Oronike Odeleye: Honestly, my first reaction was relief. I was relieved for his victims because they have been gaslit for years about the abuse that they’ve suffered. I was also relieved for myself. This has been a long journey that I did not mean to embark on [as a founder of the #MuteRKelly movement]. It’s been emotional and hard, so I’m glad that my part was over and now someone else can take over. And I was relieved for our community because for so many people, a lot of the visceral and emotional reaction they had to this was not necessarily about R. Kelly but about their own interactions. Their own experiences of abuse and trauma that they had carried, a lot of the secrets they had carried and they wanted to see justice play out. I was relieved for everyone involved.
Kenyette Barnes: It was very complex emotions. There was sadness of course because no one wants to be a part of perpetuating a broken system that over incarcerates Black bodies. However, thirty years has gone by and nothing has been done. And on several occasions, I believe that Robert Kelly had the opportunity to fix this in some way and didn’t. So my feelings were sadness because I feel like why did it get this far? My next emotion was a sense of relief for the survivors. They had been fighting for years. The #MuteRKelly movement had put that advocacy on a global stage. And through strategic organizing had resulted in a financial boycott of his music. We received some backlash and unfortunately, this accountability included the criminal justice system.
PARK CITY, UTAH - JANUARY 25: Sil Lai Abrams attends the 2020 Sundance Film Festival - "On The Record" Premiere at The Marc Theatre on January 25, 2020 in Park City, Utah.
(Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
xoNecole: It’s been nearly thirty years since allegations against R. Kelly first started. Why do you think it’s only now that we’re seeing a conviction?
TB: There had to be like six exposés. I feel like The Miami Herald did one. The Chicago Tribune did one. The Village Voice did one. And so, it’s not from lack of media coverage. It’s not from a lack of raising voices. Every Black woman journalist that I know has been raising their voice across social media. More than one social media campaign. Because #MuteRKelly preceded #MeToo going viral. People conflate those two. The #MuteRKelly hashtag started in August of 2017 after the article came out in Buzzfeed. It got amplified after the #MeToo movement went viral [in October 2017]. So, it took all of that and then the documentary to get people to pay attention. But it was like we had to stand on our heads and light ourselves on f-cking fire in order to get one singular Black man. There’s this narrative about the Black man being targeted. It’s so crazy because that was the singular person. And to your point, we’ve been talking about him for nearly twenty-five, thirty years. And it took that because of that famous Jim DeRogatis quote from The Village Voice where he says the one thing that he’s discovered in all these years that he’s been chasing R. Kelly is that nobody in America matters less than Black girls. I’m paraphrasing the quote, but I’ll never forget reading that quote. This is a sixty-something-year-old white man from Chicago who writes about rock n’ roll, who just on his own was so bugged out about how no one was paying attention to R. Kelly.
SLA: The #MuteRKelly campaign is really the driver behind this push for accountability, this incarceration, without which I don’t believe this would’ve occurred. It took a certain amount of critical mass to come together. They had built a groundwork and a framework for the campaign in the years preceding the #MeToo era. So when #MeToo exploded in 2017, it just facilitated his downfall, so to speak, because there was such a tremendous body of work, of evidence that had been collected and been disseminated for at least three years, I think. So, I believe that is a large part of why this has happened.
In addition, our views around sexual harm have evolved. And even now when someone is now “legal,” [i.e. age 18+] that is no longer seen as a shield against allegations or recognition of predatory behavior. So, for example, you could see an 18-year-old in a consensual – “consensual” – relationship with a 45-year-old and people don’t respond the same. People will call that out and note the disparities in power between the two parties. And I think that’s a big part of it. There is a very slow shift that’s going on in online discourse and I think that’s very healthy. I think another reason why change is happening is because many of the barriers that existed before such as all-powerful public relations agencies and representatives for some celebrities are no longer as effective because social media has had a democratizing effect upon those who recognize harm is occurring.
OO: I think so much has changed within our society. The way we talk about sexual abuse, the way we think about rape. The way we now have vocabulary around grooming. The way that we understand consent. The way that we talk about adulthood and childhood are different than when these allegations first came out thirty years ago. So, I think we are in a place now, to really reckon with all the things that he’s been doing. I think the time that it came out, the idea of these rampant groupies I guess a very dominant idea. We did not think about women’s bodies in the same way. We really thought about women’s bodies as the spoils of war for rich and famous men.
KB: Because they were Black girls and we didn’t give a damn. Even in the space of defending Blackness against white supremacy, that Blackness is Black masculinity. It is not Black femininity. We look at rates that over 60% of Black girls are going to be a survivor of sexual assault before her 18th birthday. Sexual violence as a practice tends to be intraracial.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 21: Oronike Odeleye attends 2019 ROOT 100 Gala at The Angel Orensanz Foundation on November 21, 2019 in New York City.
(Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
xoNecole: Why do you think the #MeToo movement hasn’t taken off in the music industry the same way it's taken off in Hollywood?
TB: This idea though that Hollywood was broken wide open is not true. I think the cases that we saw were really huge. Weinstein was obviously the big one and there’s several more behind that. And for one Weinstein, there’s 25 that we don’t know about. And that’s why they keep trickling out little by little and they just get less and less attention every year. Because people care less and less every year. So the question of why hasn’t there been a case as big as Harvey Weinstein in the music industry? I don’t know. Most people when they ask this question they’re asking about hip hop and R&B. I have heard horrific stories off the record that artists have shared with me or industry folks have shared with me and I’ve said why won’t you come forward? And they’re like, "There’s no way that my career would recover if we did." In fact, there were people who would not come forward about R. Kelly even though R. Kelly doesn’t even have a career, because they were scared of the retribution inside of the industry. So, I don’t know what the music industry is set up in vs. Hollywood in terms of the way people’s careers are controlled. But if we’re talking about white women vs. Black women, Black women just have way less protection. And I think Black women have way more to lose. Even if you look inside Hollywood, how many Black women in Hollywood have come forward? And the ones that did come forward, look what happened to them.
SLA: The music industry has always been one in which personal relationships can facilitate success even with individuals with no talent. There isn’t a requirement of any type of education. The barrier to entry is very, very low in many respects. Which is a good thing. At the same time, in the way in which people are connected to each other and the amount of money that’s at stake, people are unwilling to go against the status quo. They’re not willing to speak up because they don’t want to have their money messed with. I believe that society is a cesspool of relationships that are highly interwoven and interconnected, the music industry in particular is just particularly patriarchal. It’s particularly rife with nepotism in a way that really encourages groupthink and group movement.
OO: Well, I don’t know if I would agree with [the framing of that question]. I think that it has in fact put artists and record labels on notice that the community is paying attention. Right now, I’m seeing so much conversation around Trey Songz. We’re seeing so much conversation around Chris Brown. We’re seeing so much conversation about Tory Lanez and violence against women. So I think everyone is hyper-tuned in and paying attention now. And so I think people now are way quicker to call these things out when they’re seeing it and to come forward.
Photo courtesy of Kenyette Barnes
xoNecole: Even with the conviction of R. Kelly which has been a long, long time coming, the culture that created him and allowed him to thrive still exists. What do you think it’ll take to finally dismantle rape culture within the music industry and writ large?
TB: This is the magic question. I think we have to have a huge culture shift and I think it has to happen from multiple directions. The example I use all the time is cigarettes. A little over thirty years ago, we could smoke on airplanes. Most people under a particular age don’t remember that. I remember when you could smoke on airplanes, in clubs – everywhere. And that’s how I grew up. Sitting in the back of my father’s car with the windows closed and he was smoking a cigarette. Then there was a huge concerted effort to shift how we thought about smoking cigarettes. And it’s obviously a very different paradigm, but the reason that I use it is because when I think about how they came at that, it was political, because laws had to change that said you can’t smoke in public places. It was a public narrative. We had major campaigns but also you don’t see the Marlboro Man anymore. Cigarette smoking was cool because everybody did it everywhere. It was a part of the culture that was just sort of ingrained. The way that rape culture is so ingrained that it's natural to us. So there was a political intervention, there was a cultural narrative intervention. There was a research intervention. All of a sudden there was all this research on how second-hand kills. Obviously, people still smoke now. But the culture around smoking today and the culture around smoking thirty years ago are completely different. I think about shifting rape culture the same way. We need multiple interventions.
SLA: Going back to what dream said, I think that there needs to be a space in our society where people can actually acknowledge the harm that they’ve caused in a way that’s not going to be met with highly punitive measures. We have to look at the ways in which sexual harm is fostered. It happens everywhere, the music industry is an easy scapegoat. I honestly don’t have an answer if I knew what it would take I would be extremely wealthy. I don’t have the answers, I have some ideas but everything is connected to something else. I’m a huge advocate for restorative justice and our existing system just doesn’t work when it comes to facilitating some kind of redress, for harm period, but particularly for sexual harm. As dream had said, because Robert refuses to take responsibility, it doesn’t even open the door to any type of restorative action. But also, I don’t want to forget that we can posit about restorative justice and restorative practices and how I think that would be an appropriate way to proceed, but the people whose voices matter and who's going to drive restorative justice are his survivors. So if his survivors don’t want that to occur, I can’t offer that as a unilateral response that’s going to address things. Some might want to see him incarcerated. That’s their choice. I’m not going to shame them for it.
KB: I think what #MuteRKelly did was a direct attack at the music industry. And it was one of the first campaigns that really directly targeted the sexual oppression of Black women and girls. I think we’re going to have to continue those conversations. I think we’re going to have a call-in of the entertainment industry. We saw people like John Legend and Chance the Rapper really speak against this, but we need more.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
At the end of last year, Saweetie decided to do the big chop and debuted her new crown on Instagram in time for the new year. When asked about her decision to shave her head in previous interviews, the “Icy Chain” rapper shared that she wanted to “start fresh.” But now she’s giving folks a deeper look into her relationship with her hair. In the May 2022 Glamour UK issue, the 28-year-old reflected on her hair journey from struggling with it as a child to cutting it all off as an adult.
“I hated my hair,” she confessed. “It’s naturally really kinky and curly. It’s beautiful, but I was a tomboy and was like, ‘I don’t got no time for this.’” Saweetie comes from a multicultural background with her mom being Filipina and Chinese and her dad Black American. Like many little Black girls and girls of mixed heritage, she struggled to love her hair texture and fell into the trap of trying to achieve society’s beauty standards such as flowy, straight hair instead.
“I loved me a long, straight, silky West Coast press. That was my favorite,” said the Bay Area native. “I remember when I would compliment another girl with straight hair, she wouldn’t compliment me back. At a young age, I just felt like my hair was very high maintenance and not easy to do. I always wished I had straight hair.”
The battle with her hair ultimately led her to cut her hair when she was young. “I actually got in trouble with my mom because I convinced my grandma to cut my hair off in the kitchen,” she said. She added that overall she was tired of her hair taking forever to wash and style.
The Grammy-nominated artist didn’t start appreciating her hair until she began playing sports. That’s when she began noticing how curly and wild her hair was and she fell in love with it.
Right now she’s enjoying the bald life although she still likes to wear her wigs. “Honestly, with my bald head, I feel so free,” she said. “I love just massaging my head at the end of the day. I feel like I can finally touch all of me up here. It’s like a different type of pleasure.
But the “Tap In” artist did admit that she couldn’t wait to get her curls back. “In hindsight, I’m vibing it now. I can’t wait to get my curls back nice and luscious,” she said.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
I vividly recall my mother implying that TV couldn’t teach me much of anything, but in reality, we know that representation teaches us a lot! It empowers us and highlights diverse ways of Black life (more so in recent television history) that vary from traditional to not so traditional – though this makes the impact no less real. Television shows like P-Valley highlight the importance of human decency over respectability politics, while other shows allow us to see the value in falling through life with our awkwardness.
Because it is so rare that we women, much less Black women get to view shows where we are the leads and in a meaningful way – I wanted to put together a list of shows that showcase the beauty in Black personhood.
Admittedly creating this list was difficult in the sense that there is a limited amount of Black series on TV at any given time period, thus requiring me to rely on older televisions as I attempted to give you a list of new shows featuring empowering women. Although feeling and being empowered means something different to everyone, I have no doubt that these 11 Black shows bring some sense of the world to life for most viewers.
Just as the theme song says, P-Valley is all about women who grind harder than the men in their world. They get it by any means necessary because sometimes that’s just what’s required of us in the world we live in. Additionally, these dancers showcase artistry that we don’t talk about quite enough when it comes to pole dancing as they unapologetically move through life at The Pynk.
2.I May Destroy You
Arabella (Michaela Coel) is a sexual assault survivor, who like so many others, is forced to put her life back together as the events of that evening come back to her. For this particular character, putting her life back together means reevaluating and recreating! We get to watch as she does so while surviving a devastating and violent act against her on what should’ve been a fun night out.
3.Blood and Water
After making a new connection, a young woman is convinced that a swimming star is her sister who was abducted when she was a child. This prompts her to investigate on her own even when met with concern and pushback. Blood and Water is a South African teen crime drama that pulls you in with intrigue and the search for the truth and performances that make you hungry for more.
Of course, Insecurewas going to make the list! Though the show may seem to miss the mark on empowerment early on while the main character is still struggling to stand in her truth. Nevertheless, this show depicts an amazing arc for character development (with the main character, Issa played by Issa Rae). I’d also say that she empowers us awkward girls to navigate the world as is.
This period piece focuses on the happenings of the 80s and early 90s through ball culture. A movement made for and by Black queer people who needed a safe haven when the rest of the world saw them as outcasts, Posenavigates the way that ball culture empowered those on the scene to remain optimistic and fight back in the midst of an ever-changing and chaotic world. We live with the cast through historical moments such as the HIV epidemic and the Stonewall Riots, amongst their many other day-to-day revelations.
Admittedly, due to the intended demographic, Grown-ish not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s without a doubt for teens transitioning to young adulthood, maybe those who watched Black-ish, and those new adults (not the seasoned vets) who like to reminisce on their (recent but distant) college experience.
In this series, we get to finish growing up with Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi)! Though she is 18, we navigate all the young dumb shit she does along her side, remembering what it was like trying to find ourselves and simply exist in this new world. We watch as Zoey becomes more empowered to stand in her adultness and the decisions that will impact her the most.
After growing up in an extremely strict household, Tracey (Michaela Coel) is determined to come into her womanhood – whatever that means! Inspired by mainstream culture, she taps into her inner Beyoncé as she navigates trying to make a connection to her sexuality.
8.She’s Gotta Have It
Follow Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), a jack of all trades when it comes to her sexual identity, while she digs deep to figure out what it really is that she wants out of both herself and her lover. Things can get pretty complicated when you’re a woman in this world making your own rules, but Darling is determined to remain true to herself through and through… even if it’s a bit unsettling to others in her life. For that reason, She's Gotta Have It's lead definitely makes this list.
9.Power Book III: Raising Kanan
Whether you followed the rest of the Power franchise or not, this show is a must-watch. In the series, Raquel "Raq" Thomas (Patina Miller) is a young mother who learns to do more than survive – she learns to thrive the best way she knows how – in the jungle that is early 90s New York City. Cutthroat as they come, she’s put in a precarious situation when she can’t keep her overly ambitious son out of the world she created around them. Though the main character of the show is her son, Kanan (Mekai Curtis) – to know Raq is to know Kanan!
10.Dear White People
In Dear White People, the main character, Sam (Logan Browning), will do nothing short of calling out white supremacy as she sees it throughout her collegiate experience. However, as a biracial person, this sometimes means pausing to look at her own blindspots as she navigates her personal experience of Blackness.
Though it irks me to no end that Queen Sugar tends to take such long and inconsistent hiatuses, this list can’t be complete without speaking to the empowering nature of the Bordelon women. Strong-willed, vulnerable, and determined to be the individuals they were truly meant to be in this lifetime for the sake of family and their hometown in Louisiana, we see those personalities clash time and time again. However, when they come together, it’s an endearing experience to watch.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image via Tumblr
Halle Bailey and her boyfriend DDG are one of the cutest celebrity couples in the game right now. After confirming their relationship in March 2022, Halle, 22, and DDG, 24, made their red carpet debut as a couple over the weekend during the 2022 BET Awards. In an interview with Extra, The Little Mermaid star shared that she was “nervous” about their debut. “We’re like tryna figure out what we were going to wear. All this stuff,” she said. The couple matched each other’s fly with both wearing all-black outfits.
While Halle and her sister Chloe began to reach stardom after singing covers on YouTube, reach led to a record deal with Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, DDG also started his career on YouTube and built a very impressive fanbase from there. Here are a few other things about DDG that we know thus far.
Who is DDG?
PontiacMade DDG or DDG, which stands for his name Daniel Dwayne Grandberry Jr., is a rapper from Pontiac, Michigan. He got his start in the music industry in 2014 by releasing music videos in high school where he graduated as valedictorian and later through vlogs on his YouTube channel. He attended Central Michigan University but later dropped out to focus on being an entertainer. While he was signed to Epic in 2018, in 2020 he founded his own record label called Zooted Music with his longtime managers.
In an interview with Billboard, he opened up about owning his masters. I met with every single label you can think of, and I knew what I brought to the table,” he said. “I came with a good fanbase already, I came with good music and a hit already. I came with everything already. So to not get what I wanted from a label would just be shooting myself in the foot. It was never about the money.”
“Before I signed, I already had the money. It’s just good to have a machine behind you and the whole building trying to take you to the next level. I just knew what I brought to the table. I knew what type of deal I wanted and that it should work in my favor.”
DDG’s Relationship with Halle Bailey
While they’ve dropped hints on social media that they were dating, it wasn’t until March that they made it Instagram official. The “Treat Me Right” artist gave his boo a birthday shout on Instagram and displayed several moments of them together. “Happy Birthday to the beautifulest, the flyest, the sweetest ❤️ love you forever 🥺💎 @hallebailey,” he wrote for the caption. She replied, “u will make me cry again” along with heart emojis.
Since making it Instagram official, Halle has gushed about her man multiple times. More recently, she tweeted two photos of herself wearing the “Moonwalking in Calabasas” rapper’s clothes. “i live in my mans clothes lmao,” she wrote.
But perhaps one of their sweetest moments was when the “Ungodly Hour” songstress was giving DDG singing lessons on TikTok. The couple was singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and fans couldn’t get over how adorable they were. Some were even impressed by DDG’s singing capabilities.
Featured image by Momodu Mansaray/WireImage
“Who made the potato salad?” As summertime kicks off, this is the universal question that, without fail, will be asked at every barbeque and backyard kickback over the coming months. With the Fourth of July also nearing, summertime celebrations and cookouts will be in full force. However, as the tide begins to turn in this new day and age, more Black Americans are celebrating Juneteenth, instead of the Fourth of July, because, after all, there were still over 250,000 Black Americans enslaved in Galveston, Texas during this so-called Independence Day.
In the words of our brother Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Also, with the world being put on pause for over two years due to COVID, and in many cases keeping families separated during this time, now is the perfect time to reach back to our roots and bring back family reunions as an alternative to celebrating the Fourth of July.
It’s time to cue the Soul Train line as folks boogie down to the beats of Earth, Wind and Fire’s "September," and Cameo’s "Candy." Of course, you have to whip out the card table for endless rounds of spades and hear the back-and-forth banter that will surely ensue, followed by the familial “whack!” sound as some unsuspecting soul just got their deuce of diamonds cut by a little joker and backdoored by the big joker to seal the win. “Who got next?!” the victor queries.
Tables shake and “bones” rattle over an intense game of dominoes. Uncle So-and-So, the self-proclaimed grill master, throws down on the grill while rocking the universal “barbeque sandal.” You know the ones we’re talking about. Paper plates sit on laps and red Solo cups rest by feet. Family, food, and fellowship -- ahhh yes, the perfect recipe for a family reunion.
How Family Reunions Started
Family reunions go beyond those, just the right touch of sweet, baked beans and finger-lickin' good barbeque ribs. While food may be the vessel through which we fellowship and frolic with our folks, how Black American family reunions took shape dates back to the times of the Emancipation Proclamation. During enslavement, Black families were ripped apart.
According to an Equal Justice Initiative report, "It's estimated that more than half of all enslaved people in the Upper South were separated from a parent or child, and a third of their marriages were destroyed by forced migration.” After the Emancipation Proclamation, newly freed Black Americans desperately sought out their missing family members, posting advertisements in local newspapers as a part of their search efforts. If history has taught us anything, it’s taught us that our ancestors are resilient and resourceful.
Whether it was through advertisements or word of mouth, the nation experienced what would become known as the Great Migration where nearly 4 million African Americans migrated from the South to the North. This migration and reunification of Black families was the beginning of family reunions as we know them.
Nowadays, family reunions have evolved to be more than just a picnic. They are now oftentimes multi-day events that alternate locations from year to year, and out-of-towners make the pilgrimage, much like the ancestors, to reunite with family.
The Importance of Family Reunions
Why are Black family reunions so important? Because, while our roots may be intertwined with a harrowing past, our resilience is what has led us to where we are today, and that is to be celebrated. Black family reunions serve as an opportunity for us to sit at the feet of our elders and learn about our family’s history and legacy -- to soak up the knowledge that we will one day be able to pass down to those that come after us. It is an opportunity to truly connect, beyond the computer screens and social media statuses, and to gather for events besides weddings or funerals. Life, lineage, and legacy should be celebrated while living, and while there are things that should be buried with our ancestors, i.e. generational curses, our family’s stories should live on forever.
Want to incorporate some new traditions at your next family reunion? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Shop with Black-owned brands and businesses.
Family reunions are the perfect time to support skinfolk by shopping Black. Use Black vendors for things like catering, DJs, decorations, etc. Those matching t-shirts we mentioned earlier, use a Black-owned t-shirt printing company. Keep those dollars circulating in the Black community.
2. Create a family journal.
Creating a family journal for your family reunion is a great tradition to start as a way to document the lives, stories, and words of wisdom from the family. There are a few ways this can be done. You can create a video journal, which is likely the easiest and quickest way to capture information, especially for elders who may be unable to write or type. Another way is to have people physically write their stories or advice and have it all scanned into a digital ebook. Another possible option is for everyone to submit their information electronically and then it is all compiled into physical or digital books. Imagine future generations being able to have a tangible book of their family's words that have been passed down for generations.
3. Create a family cookbook.
Some of the best recipes are those that have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of the best recipes are buried in graves because our loved ones refused to let anyone in on their secret ingredients. For shame. However, for those willing to depart with their secret 11 herbs and spices, creating a family heritage cookbook is a great way to do it. Give them fun titles like “Aunt Mary’s Make You Wanna Slap Yo’ Mama Mac & Cheese” or keep it simple like, “Uncle Bobby’s BBQ sauce.” These recipes will stay in the family long after loved ones have departed.
4. Create a scholarship fund.
Starting the family reunion tradition of creating a scholarship fund is a way to pour into the family youth while promoting family unity through academic excellence. Applicants could be high school seniors who must complete an application form and essay. One of the questions could be “How do you plan to continue the family legacy?” Whether there are multiple recipients or a single recipient, another requirement could be that they must pour into or give back to the next year’s recipient(s), whether that is through time and mentorship and/or financially.
5. Host a fashion show.
Who doesn't love a reason to get gussied up and dressed to the nines? Having a family reunion fashion show is a fun way to get everyone involved, young and old. Themes can change yearly, or however often you have your family reunion. Or if you don’t want to hassle the family with packing extra clothes, you can simply do a “Strut Your Best Stuff” fashion show, and the person that serves the fiercest strut and garners the biggest crowd reaction will be crowned the victor.
No matter how you celebrate, big or small, consider getting the family together for a family reunion as an alternative to Fourth of July celebrations.
Featured image via Getty Images