A few weeks ago, I went to visit my godbabies. As life—and by "life", I mean God—would have it, all of us are Geminis which automatically makes us bonded in some pretty significant ways that only other fellow Geminis can even begin to comprehend. Anyway, as I was bonding with one who is right at three months and another who is 25—my bad, eight-years-old (she really is waaaaay beyond her years, though)—I was reminded of something that I truly believe about children—they come into this world with the ability to love unconditionally, to be remarkably creative and to be totally unapologetic when it comes to their "yes" and "no". It is our job as adults to nurture those abilities. Unfortunately, a lot of us…don't.
And since all of us were children at one point, this means that we also came into the world with these things. Some of us got them disciplined (in this case what I mean is beat) out of us (hurt people, hurt people…sometimes those "people" are our very own parents). Some of us were pressured to do and be anything but creative. And then there are those of us who had so many of our boundaries violated that, to this day, we don't know how to say "no"—or we feel guilty for wanting to.
I have always related to the quote, "Adulthood is about surviving childhood." Not that I think it should be that way, but it's simply the reality for a lot of us. But you know what? There's no time like the present to tend to the "inner child" and let her know what it is OK to love fully, live creativity and be fine with saying "yes" and with saying "no". "No" to what exactly? Let's start with this list right here.
Someone Disrespecting Your Boundaries
An author by the name of Suzette R. Hinton (who happens to be a Black woman which makes me like the quote even more) once said, "If the person you're talking with continues to press you for more or can't seem to accept your answer, then you are being harassed. I know that sounds hard for people-pleasers to accept, but it's true. No means no." Amen. Something that I'm very careful and cautious about, when it comes to my godchildren and children in general, really, is honoring their boundaries. I don't just scoop them up. I don't force affection on them. I try and put myself in their position and give them their space to come to me in their own time.
I think a part of the reason why I'm this way is because my boundaries—which are limits—were disrespected on so many levels while I was growing up. I didn't get the right to say "no" or if I did, I was treated like I was wrong for saying it or I was, as Ms. Hinton put it, harassed to the point of changing my mind.
Now? Don't even try it. Case in point, I was recently staying at someone's house and they asked me if I wanted to go out to eat early the following morning. I said "no". Boy, they spent a solid 15 minutes talking about the restaurant, how rise and shine time wasn't "that early" and why I should want to do it. Goodness. I said no. People tend to push past our limits so much that we don't even realize how much they are dishonoring us when they do. But even the Bible has your back on this—"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37—NKJV)
Always remember—the same people who dishonor your "no" would have a fit if you did the same thing to them. "No" isn't being mean. It's simply a form of honoring yourself. Anyone who has a problem with that, has a real problem.
Abuse. Of ANY Kind.
Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Mental abuse. Spiritual abuse (if you wonder what that looks like, check out "25 Signs Of Spiritual Abuse"). Professional abuse (there's a good read on that here). Platonic abuse (toxic friends are abusive ones). Neglect. There's no simpler way to put it—you should not tolerate abuse of any kind. Ever and period.
By definition, abuse is "to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way" or to malign or misuse. But I'll be honest with you. As I shared in an article about date rape, if you have to wonder if you are being abused by someone, something is automatically really unhealthy. There are definitely some things that you should be putting your foot down on and saying "no" to. Anything that even mildly mimics abuse is one of them.
Toxicity. Of ANY Kind.
If there's one thing that we try and nip in the bud over here at xoNecole, it's toxicity. If you don't believe me, check out "The Self-Care Of Ghosting Toxic Girlfriends", "We've Said A Word About Toxic Fathers, But Who's Talking About Toxic Mothers?", "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members" and "Blac Chyna & Tokyo Toni Are Proof That Your Parents Can Be Toxic Too". I think the reason why it's so important to have a profound aversion to toxic behavior and people is because when something is toxic, it is harmful, poisonous and malicious.
As I was checking out an article (off of the platform) that someone wrote about toxic individuals, I found it really interesting that aside from mentioning things like jealousy, manipulation, control, backhanded compliments and playing the victim, something else that made the list was "They can't take 'no'". A person who doesn't respect your no is showing signs of being toxic. Wow. Just wow.
Doing Something That Violates Your Values or Principles
A few weeks ago, I watched comedian Corey Holcomb on The Breakfast Club go on about his lack of interest in monogamy. Before he got into all of that, everyone was discussing something that I agree with—the world is getting waaaaaay too sensitive. "Sensitive" to the point of being tyrannical. It's like unless you agree with what someone is saying, you immediately need to apologize or be canceled. That's unfortunate too because a lot of people who feel that way would be HOT if someone demanded the same of them.
We all need to be considerate and compassionate. Hopefully, that goes without saying. But to expect folks to go against their core values, principles, passions or interest, simply because you feel a different way than they do is…dangerous.
That's what this current president of ours is on. It takes courage to do or not do something based on your own core set of beliefs, but if someone tries to bully you into doing just that, while it may not be popular right now, it's still OK to say "no".
Doing Something Before You Are Ready to Do It
One of my favorite quotes of all time is "You'll never be good enough for a man who isn't ready." When someone is ready to do something, it means that they prepared, equipped and in the right condition. On the relationship tip, it is NOT our job as women to "get a man ready". It's actually violating and pretty disrespectful to volunteer to take that role on. I actually know many a man who are now husbands who are pretty miserable because they were "ultimatum-ed into" their marriage; they were pushed to move before they were ready to do so. Not to say that those men don't need to take some personal ownership for being pushed because if you're not ready to do something, you need to say "no". At the same time, the person hearing that needs to either accept the response or move on.
The same thing applies to all other matters. Being ready requires desire, time and focus. I don't care how "ready" someone thinks that you might be, only you know how ready you truly are. If they respect you and your knowledge about yourself (ain't it a trip, how many folks think they know us better than we do?), they will respect your "back up, not yet" or your flat-out no. It really is as simple as that.
Conceding to Compromises That Offend Your Spirit
A writer by the name of Stephanie Lahart once said, "Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish. Anybody who gets upset and/or expects you to say YES all of the time clearly doesn't have your best interest at heart. Always remember: You have a right to say NO without having to explain yourself. Be at peace with your decisions."
There are some things that I will say "no" to, for no other reason than it doesn't sit well with me. Sometimes even my friends will look at me like I am crazy, but if my spirit isn't at peace, I'm not at peace. Peace of mind can keep you out of all sorts of unforeseen or unpredicted foolishness. Don't ever betray your spirit. It's got your back in a way that no one else ever could or would.
Relationships That Lack Reciprocity
Almost every chance that I get, I bring up how important it is to have relationships that are reciprocal. To tell you the truth, when you think about the fact that the root word for relationship is "relate", I'll take it a step further and say that if you're in something where mutuality does not exist, it's not really a relationship anyway.
People who are willing to take without giving in return are users. Not all of them are entirely conscious of this fact, but they still are. And you know what? Your time, resources, and heart are far too valuable to be out here sharing yourself with those who leave you empty in return. The sooner you say an emphatic "NO!" to folks who drain rather than fulfill you, the better off your quality of life will be.
I recently read an article on Inc.'s site that said having a self-deprecating sense of humor is connected to great leadership skills. By looking deeper into the piece, I agreed with this line—"People that can admit to their failures or shortcomings with a smile are more approachable." But it's one thing to not take yourself so seriously, to be self-aware enough to know what your own flaws are. On the other hand, it's a horse of a totally different color when you don't know how to take a compliment, you try and make yourself the butt of every joke and you are constantly speaking negatively about yourself.
For one thing, it seems like you're begging for attention and affirmations which can become exhausting. Secondly, it does a real number on your self-worth and esteem. So, while we're out here talking about all of the things outside of yourself that you should say "no" to, self-deprecation is an internal issue that you should deny, each and every time the temptation to tear yourself to shreds comes to mind.
Cyclic Patterns, Habits and Behaviors
Along the lines of what I just said, sometimes, the main one you need to be saying "no" to is yourself. Whenever you do that, it's called self-control. I once read somewhere that people who can control their appetite for food and sex are empowered in ways that few ever are. I get why they said that because when you can master how not to give into urges, simply because you have them, it trains you to become unstoppable in so many ways and on so many levels.
It's an article within itself to explore what constitutes as an unhealthy—or at the very least, counterproductive—pattern, habit or behavior is. But for the sake of time and space I'll just say, anything that holds you back, keeps you stagnant and encourages you to be the kind of person that you don't want to be or become, that is something you should definitely say "no" to. Right now, please.
Someone Wanting You to “Justify” Your No
I remember being in my late 30s and my mother asking me if I had ever had sex with a particular person that she had known since he and I both were kids. Then she looked at me like, "Well?!" Sometimes, I think people don't realize that receiving any kind of information about someone else is not a right; it is a privilege. This includes parents who want to know the business of their adult children.
Saying "no" doesn't require a follow-up statement. Anyone who feels otherwise, I don't care who they are, they are not honoring the limit that you set by saying "no" in the first place. When you are pushed past your no, when you are expected to defend or justify it, they are basically telling you that they don't respect your limits and you need to provide enough information until they do. That is not even close to being the truth.
Whew. I don't know about you but even writing this has gassed me up to find something to say "no" to (kidding…kinda). Bottom line, "no" is not a bad word. It's an empowering and necessary one. Use it with care, intention and maturity but do use it. Today, if necessary. Tomorrow and the next day too, chile.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members
Does Your Life Need Personal Boundaries? Take This Quiz To Find Out
Being A People-Pleaser Taught Me The Power Of The Word "No"
I'm Good Luv, Enjoy: How Saying 'No' Keeps Your Life Balance In Check
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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