Setting My Mind Free: Brother Brother

Setting My Mind Free: Brother Brother

I lied.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to not tell the truth but my mind has a mind of it’s own. I promise I didn’t lie on purpose.

If you had a chance to read my blog Setting My Mind Free, I said, my next post would be a continuum of that piece. Therefore, it was 1 of 2 pieces. Well after careful consideration, I want to let you know that Setting My Mind Free is 3 parts
instead of 2.

What had happened was???

I wrote the second piece and I was ready to publish it, but in reading it I thought that I needed to provide you with more of the supporting details of what was on my mind that day on Whidbey Island. Therefore, you are actually reading the third installment before you can read the second installment. Please bear with me and I ask that you trust me on this journey of Setting My Mind Free.

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Allow me to take you back a little bit, imagine that I’m back on Whidbey Island, the sun is making the water glisten and I’m sitting on the deck enjoying the summer time feel of the moment. As I begin to drift into my stillness, while allowing my breath and the sound of the waves that are surrounding me work it’s magic in helping my psyche become clear and open to whatever the universe prefers. I’m sitting on the top step of the deck looking forward and I slightly turn my head to the right and stare at the tide as it calmly pushes the water onto the sand. FREEZE…BE STILL…BREATHE….

There he is just above the water, Brother and I say aloud, “Hey Brother, wow what’s this about you haven’t shown up in my head and heart in a while”. Brother isn’t my brother but he’s my cousin, whom we call Brother. His given name is Joseph Earl Jackson. I don’t know how he got the nickname Brother. But in my family we also have Teacher, Daddy Sandy, Dool, Bird, etc. just to name a few.

Growing up from time to time someone would mention Brother at a family gathering but it would be quick. Never long enough for me to learn exactly who he was but enough to make me curious about what kind cousin he would be. You see, Brother died on September 10, 1970 during the Vietnam War. He was only 21 years old and had only been in the army for three months. He died five years before I was born, so I never had a chance to meet him. But as I say in my piece Truth Is, “Truth is…There are love ones that I would never get to know. Truth is…I love the lost love ones. Truth is…I think of them often.”

Jackson, Joseph Earl_Brother pic
PFC Joseph Earl Jackson aka Brother (pulled this pic from Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces)

Around 2012, I started thinking about Brother a lot. It felt like I thought of him every day. I would ask random people in my family to tell me about him. The most I got out of anyone was my father, “He loved cars and he had the baddest car in Parkton, North Carolina. Yes, sir he was proud of his car”. There it is, there’s our connection my dream car is a 1966 Ford Mustang, actually any Ford Mustang at this point would get me really excited. If he was still here I would probably have my dream car by now and we would have this crazy relationship built around our unique love for Ford Mustangs.

When I think of Brother, I cry a little and I begin to miss him a lot. I know every time it happens it makes me feel weird because I never met him so how can I miss him so much. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I long for Brother and lord knows I’ve tried to figure out the why, plenty of times. I finally decided that it’s an emotional reaction that I won’t ever be able to explain. I’m trying to teach myself to stop asking why and be grateful that there are times when I know he is with me.

I recognize that times like this when I set my mind free and I allow it to go in the direction that it so chooses. I have to trust the journey and recognize that in this moment this is exactly what I’m suppose to be thinking about. My mind wanted me to remember my hero, BROTHER. I don’t need to question or dignify that to anyone or myself. I love my cousin and I’m reminded that time and time again in these moments. I may not know much about him, but I know he lives in me.

Thank you to all the soldiers and military families. I salute you for your service.

(Truthfully, I didn’t realize that Memorial Day was about to happen, when this happened.)

I will release the final part to Setting My Mind Free later this week.

 

 

 

 

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Setting My Mind Free: Brother Brother

Setting My Mind Free

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2016 View from the deck on Whidbey Island

Don’t get it twisted I am not a morning person. It’s five minutes to 8 o’clock on Sunday morning. I woke up to the sun beaming on my face. I’m now sitting on the back deck of a house on Whidbey Island, Washington courtesy of a Hedgebrook supporter. The back of this house opens up to the beach. The sun is shining (THANK THE LORD) and my surround sound is the music being played by the waves of the water as it reaches the sand.

My initial thought is, damn this is beautiful. I’ve seen it before because I stayed here last year, but nature is picture perfect no matter how many times you see it. I take a moment and began wondering, am I ever going to be able to afford a house with a view like this. How did I get so lucky to be able to experience the beauty of the sun glistening off the water, the seamless waves meeting the sand repeatedly, the calming sound of the waves, and the quietness of the morning?

The purpose of coming out on the deck was to be present and enjoy the beauty of the moment. The other reason was to free my mind and be open to whatever thoughts would come to me organically. I had no plans or ideals in which the thoughts would enter into my head. Therefore, I just sat there filling the heat from the sun and the cool breeze from the wind waiting for something to challenge the quiet space I’d welcomed.

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2016 Whidbey Island Ferry

I’m watching the ferry pull into the docking area and my mind surprises me in what it wants me to think about. In my head I started retracing the steps in hopes of figuring out or at least coming up with an explanation of why out of the blue am I thinking about this. My mental investigation leads me back to one of the plays we read yesterday.

I’m here on Whidbey Island because it is the home of Hedgebrook an organization whom’s focus is women writers. It is an oasis on a beautiful wooded property, that has cabins, a garden, and a peaceful niceness that allows writers the opportunity to allow there thoughts to form with out the sound or the back ground noise of their everyday lives.

During this visit, I’m part of a group that is here to welcome five women playwrights who haven been commissioned or is currently working with a theatre in creating a new play. We spend the day reading excerpts of the writers work followed by a constructive observations/thoughts geared toward providing some information that we hope will be helpful to them during their two week stay at Hedgebrook.

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2017 Opening of Hedgebrook’s Women Playwrights Festival

Yesterday we were reading an excerpt from a play by Amy Freed. I had the pleasure to read the character, James who was a war veteran. I’m certain that being that character sparked my thoughts this morning as I relish in the sun and the view. Which I first thought was totally random, but now as the ferry has begun to make it’s return trip. I realize the thoughts weren’t totally random. As the sun continues to warm my face an the cool air from off the water softens the heat. I take a deep breath and allow my mind to continue to wonder in the path it has chosen. I haven’t talked about it much in the past couple of years but back in 2013 it was something that heavily weighted  on my mind and my heart. I guess this moment in time is as good as any to revisit this story.

I’m sorry, time refused to stay still, I have to leave the deck now and gather my things to return to Hedgebrook for our second day of readings. I will reveal what was going on in my head in my next blog.

Setting My Mind Free

Real Life: Shopping and Homelessness

Sharon Mexico
This is me on an immersion trip in Mexico where I learned more about the country’s history and struggle with poverty. My Humanity album features stories from this trip. 

Here’s my current situation. My brother has been living with me for going on three years and last year his son came to live with us. For about the last month my brother has been working in Richmond, Virginia; which means I’m on full time auntie duty.

This past weekend my charge was to take my nephew to the mall before it actually opened so he could get in line to purchase the new Jordan’s. To be exact they were the white and silver Jordan Retro 4 sneakers. Let the record show that I have never bought a pair of Jordan’s and there I was early on Saturday morning, sitting at a table in the mall, surfing the internet on my phone, watching the mall walkers go by, and waiting on my nephew to get his new sneakers.

I’ve heard about the process, I know I have family members; my brother, nieces and nephews whom have also made sure they got there place in line. If you want the new you have to be dedicated to this process because the store will only get a certain number of pairs and once they are gone they aren’t able to replenish there stock. Some of you may no this as supply and demand, but to me it’s just a hustle that Nike/Jordan and now several other companies have perfected.

While I was sitting there waiting for my nephew when a Black man comes over to my table and asks if he could sit with me. I saw that he had some food, therefore my response was, “Of course if you are going to share your food”. He laughed and said, “I don’t mind sharing”. He looked to probably be a little older than me and he had on his working clothes. Honestly I didn’t notice his clothes until I walked past him a little while later when we were leaving the mall.

During our conversation I learned that he was from North Carolina. The accent and a reference he made about Hardees gave that away instantly. I can’t remember the small town he was from but both of us being from North Carolina made the fact that we ended up at this moment in time together feel familiar. Yes, we did have to ask each other, “Who your people?”

The longer we talked the more comfortable we became with each other. I finally asked, “Why was he in the mall on a Saturday morning eating chicken?” I figured it was just something he liked to do. But he looked at me and said, “Honestly, I lost the place I was staying and I just moved into the shelter.” I instantly went into I’m so sorry mode, but he reassured me that he was going to be okay. That being in the shelter was only temporary. He believed in a couple of months he would be back on his feet.

You see his trade is painting. He’s been painting houses since he was 18 and he felt that he just needed a few big houses and some steady gigs to get back on his feet. I believed him, but I couldn’t help but feel some kind of way. Here I am in the mall with my nephew who is about to get a pair of shoes that cost around $200 (I didn’t pay for them.) and this man is living in a shelter.

For five years I worked with Neal Lampi and Jenn Romo of Real Change Newspaper on the Annual Urban Poverty Forum here in Seattle. Where we addressed certain issues around homelessness. A few years ago I released my first poetry plus storytelling album, Humanity in which the focal point was homelessness. Everyday when I’m driving around town I see the tents, the sleeping bags, the person on the side of the street with the sign asking for money/work and I may even see someone pushing a shopping cart. But no matter how many times I’ve seen it, or have written about it, it doesn’t and will never prepare me for when it looks me dead in the eye.

I woke up thinking I was just going to be taking my nephew to get a new pair of shoes. I never thought along with that would come a reminder of how lopsided our society really is.

Homelessness is real…

Real Life: Shopping and Homelessness

How do you create community?

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My nephew far right with his friends at his birthday party. (not the exact same crew at hospital)

Last night I had two missions. One was to take my nephew to the hospital to visit his friend. The second mission was to attend the Langston/Seattle Public Library event Seattle Reads: The Turner House a conversation with author Angela Flournoy and Seattle artists Inye Wokoma facilitated by Vivian Phillips. Inye, Vivian and myself are all on the Board of Directors for Langston.

During the conversation Vivian asked the question to Angela and Inye, “How do you create community?” This question made me say, hmmmm…. As they were answering the question, I kind of veered off in my head thinking about what I considered to be my community and how was it formed.

Growing up in North Carolina, I feel as though I was born into my community. Everything was ready upon my arrival and all I had to do was fall in wherever I could. After leaving North Carolina and going to college in Delaware. Again I felt that my community was already in place and all I had to do was join in. In reflecting on moving to Seattle, I now see that I did have to build my community. It wasn’t easy at first, I had to find a church, a hair dresser, got a job, figured out what my purpose was in life and worked through which friends were like family and which ones where just friends or associates. In going through all of that I believe I found my community.

In reflecting on Vivian’s question, “How do you create community?” During my first mission, last night I also experienced the community that my 15-year-old nephew has become a part of. He’s only been in Seattle for a little over a year and last night I had a chance to experience first hand his community. It was a beautiful thing to see. I say beautiful because with young Black men a lot of people like to focus on the negative. But last night was anything but that.

When we arrived at the hospital their where already four other young Black men and one adult Black male visiting my nephew’s friend. It was just wonderful seeing the support that this young man and his family have from the young men. And I’m proud that my nephew is a part of it. I was so inspired by the young men that when we were leaving the hospital, I told my nephew that he has selected a great group of people to call friends. I don’t know why this young man and his family are facing this medical challenge in his young life. But I’m thankful that it showed me how building/creating your community when you move to a place where your community isn’t a given contributes to who you are or may grow up to be.

In my work as an arts administrator and as an artist I often reference my/our community, but last night allowed me to reflect on what building community actually means.

How have you created/built your community?

 

How do you create community?

Unified??

black-fist

Yesterday, I was excited to fall back into my Sunday routine of watching football all day. If every team is as competitive as they were yesterday throughout the season it’s going to be a very good season. Yesterday was also September 11th, which is a reminder of the painful day in which we were attacked on American soil. It’s a day that just about everyone can remember where they were, what they were doing, how they felt and sadly who we loss. It was a day that although we were broken we came together and said, “We are Americans, and we are STRONG!”

Yesterday was also a day to see how the NFL as a whole and as individuals would respond to one of their own. What would they do? Who would support him? Who will not support him? It was also a day where some who had announced earlier in the week that we should pay attention to what they do because it was going to be powerful. I listened to the commentators speak time and time again about the statements teams and individuals made by whether they linked arms, took a knee or even raised their fist. I woke up this morning and the conversation continued on the morning news programs. I went online to see what was happening in the world and the topic was trending.

I think it’s all-good whatever people chose to do on their own or in a group was their prerogative. Although, it’s making me feel some kind of way and I would like to share that with you. I’m not feeling inspired. I’m not feeling that the world will change. I have more questions. As Americans we know how to come together in times of heartache. We are a compassionate people. We know how to come together and support our favorite sports team, the Olympics, artists, politicians, etc. I guess my problem is or what I’m questioning is how do we stay together.

I thank Colin Kaepernick for taking a stance and for doing what he needed to do to bring attention to a national issue. I’ve listened to those who support him and to those who question him but support him in some kind of way. No worries, I don’t think it has to be an all or nothing type of thing. I’ve also listened to those who don’t have a clue and took it to the extreme on his intentions. For now the important thing is that when I turn on the news or go online people are talking about it in some kind of way.

But, I still have some questions. Would the teams that locked arms or the individuals in the stands who locked arms. Would they have continued to do so if right after the National Anthem there was a performance of the Black National Anthem? Or if after the National Anthem played a tribe of Native Americans came on the field and presented a traditional song and/or dance? Honestly, I don’t know why what the individuals in the NFL did yesterday just doesn’t make me believe that we are all linked in trying to make this country a safe and better place for all Americans. I believe were like family, we may fight each other but the hell if we let someone else kick our behinds. No I don’t believe that because we don’t love everyone, so it’s not like family. It’s more like we are a sports team we play hard and we play together when we have to, but when the game is over we go our separate ways. We live our separate lives. I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe.

My nephew once said, “I’m not impressed”, and at the time I busted out laughing. I know we as Americans can come together and show a sign of unity when the world is watching, but what happens when the world isn’t watching. When you are taking your child to school? When you are out to dinner with your friends? When you are at a play or a concert? When you are in the grocery store? When you are in class or at work? When you are simply walking down the street? When you are donating your time to a cause? When you are sitting home lying on the couch watching football, soccer, golf, NASCAR?

Are we unified in those moments? Or are we unified only in crisis?

I promise I want us to be unified, but the truth is we are not.

I want to thank everyone who is constantly working towards unification.

Unified??

PODCAST: HUMANITY

PODCAST: The Mahogany Project (HUMANITY)
Rhythm and News interview done by Chris B. Bennett
Posted March 24, 2014

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A young boy looking into the distance with a wall in front of him and growing weeds in the background.

Rhythm & News interview with Sharon Williams of the Mahogany Project about her new CD — Humanity.

click here to listen

PODCAST: HUMANITY

PODCAST: The Silent War of African American Girls

PODCAST: The Silent War of African American Girls
Rhythm and News interview done by Chris B. Bennett
Posted May 4, 2014

Rhythm & News interview with Sharon Williams about the current plight of African American females and the issues that they face.

PODCAST: The Silent War of African American Girls