A Purse With a Purpose initiative pays tribute to female veterans Jackets for Jobs and T.J. Maxx team up to show their support to troops this holiday season

Ten years ago, when award-winning nonprofit organization Jackets for Jobs (JFJ) decided to honor Michigan female veterans, they teamed up with retail giant T.J. Maxx and devised “A Purse with a Purpose.” The charitable initiative distributed hundreds of purses as well as $25 gift cards to the veterans.

“As the daughter of a deceased veteran, this project is near and dear to me,” said Alison Vaughn, founder and CEO of Jackets for Jobs, who added that she knows the road ahead for many veterans is not an easy one.

JFJ is a year-round program that helps thousands of job seekers find employment and has been doing so for 17 years. The agency has assisted more than 21,000 individuals by teaching candidates employment etiquette and providing interview-appropriate clothing.

Along with the work JFJ does daily, it is important to them and T.J. Maxx to foster a healthier veteran community while also empowering them in their personal lives. In November, the companies also participated together in an event hosted by Michigan Women Veterans Empowerment, where female veterans, military members and other organizations gathered to raise awareness to support female veterans and their families.

“We want to let the veterans know how much we appreciate their service to this country,” said Karen Hume, district manager for T.J. Maxx.

Not only is T.J. Maxx an off-price apparel and home fashions retailer in the U.S. and worldwide, operating more than 3,800 stores, the company understands that its business touches a lot of communities, from large cities to small towns, and it is committed to adding value to the communities it serves. Across those communities, T.J. Maxx decided to provide help with issues pertaining to poverty, education and training for at-risk young people, research and care for life-threatening illnesses, and safety from domestic violence. One step to bring T.J. Maxx closer to helping the community is partnering with Vaughn and JFJ.

Besides supporting women veterans, Jackets for Jobs and T.J. Maxx also team up to distribute coats to children during the winter.

These two athletes are thankful to be cancer-free after treatment at St. Jude’s Meet Nicholas London and Kane Hogan as they share their journeys

During the holidays, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital makes an even stronger effort to make sure that “kids still get to be kids, even while undergoing treatment. The mission and history of St. Jude is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80% since it opened more than 50 years ago.”

Families who travel there from near and far for treatment still celebrate the holidays, maintaining some of their old traditions as best as they can in a new environment.

Two teens are familiar with the atmosphere at St. Jude, and this holiday season they are thankful for the loving “familylike” atmosphere they received and the gift of life they now have. St. Jude stands on the proclamation that they are “leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases,” according to its website.

Nicholas London is thankful for life. It’s the holiday season. Most teenagers are shopping, gifting or making their lists. But the 18-year-old high school shooting guard is getting his body stronger. He’s beaten cancer. And he’s ready to get back on the court.

London was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer, in 2014. It is the most common form of childhood cancer. He was in treatment at St. Jude Children’s, where the world-renowned treatment center has increased the survival rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia from 4 percent in 1962 to 94 percent today.

The 6-foot-6 standout basketball star was just 14 when he started treatment at St. Jude. His father, Paris London, was a powerful basketball player at the University of Memphis. He noticed Nicholas, known by his friends and family as Nick, was struggling to catch up during Rockets point guard Chris Paul’s basketball camp they’d attended at Wake Forest University in 2014. Nicholas, the second-oldest child of Paris and Tangela London, was also complaining of a stomachache and grew tired fairly quickly when on the basketball court or just doing household chores. The Londons have five sons and two daughters.

The couple took their son to see his pediatrician on Aug. 4 of that year, and he was immediately sent to St. Jude for treatment, which he underwent until March. Now cancer-free, London reflects on his time in treatment.

“You would think it would be kind of rough, being away from home at Christmas,” London said. “I was at St. Jude for my birthday and Thanksgiving. The crew made me feel really at home. They gave me whatever I wanted. They were always there for my needs and really had conversations with me as if they were my family.”

London has also turned to music as a new way coping with overcoming cancer. He has performed his song about being a patient at St. Jude in front of more than 1,200 St. Jude employees and at a Miami gala, and he is working on his album release.

“I actually got started with music by going through treatment,” London said. “I was going through a rough patch, and I went to one of these events with one of my friends that used to go to St. Jude. They put on a beat and I actually started freestyling to it, and the teacher decided I could do a song for the upcoming St. Jude talent show. I did it and the people really enjoyed it. I came to find out that it really helped me get a lot of stuff off my chest that I was feeling. That’s kind of how I got into music, and now I’m getting ready to get an album together that details my journey through St. Jude and how they helped me.”

London said his first love is basketball. He picked up a ball when he was just 7 years old and remembers practicing with his father, who, with his mom and siblings, has been very active in his progress as an athlete and on his road to healing.

“I really enjoyed playing basketball, and the cancer came and really took that away from me. I want people to know how hard I had to work to get back and how St. Jude really gave me that opportunity. Without them being there, I wouldn’t have made it. I wouldn’t have been able to get back to what I love, but also finding another love, and that was my music.”

His album is titled United 14.

“The reason we came up with 14 is because I was diagnosed in 2014, I was 14 years old and I wore the same jersey No. 14 as my pops.”

For other children going through treatment, London wants them to keep the faith.

“Keep your trust in God, because it’s a hard journey. It is. But going through St. Jude and through my experience, I can say that they really made me feel like it was something that we all went through together. It made it feel like they were my family and they were fighting for me no matter what. Just keep faith in God, because it’s going to be hard days, but it’s going to be better days ahead.”


Courtesy St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Consistent with the vision of St. Jude’s founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. The facility has treated children from all 50 states and from around the world.

Fifteen-year-old Kane Hogan was traveling back and forth between Memphis, Tennessee, and Huntsville, Alabama, to get treatment once a week. His travel decreased as time went on. Kane, whose very first word was “ball,” loves sports. He’s played basketball, baseball and football, which all came to a halt in January 2015 when he found himself tired and lacking energy. He slept all the time, and he couldn’t keep up in practice.

After he was initially being treated for a sinus infection, a blood test revealed Kane suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the same diagnosis as London. Kane, who lived in Alabama, was transported by ambulance to St. Jude for treatment.

“It was very tiring going back and forth, but St. Jude’s an amazing place, and they make it as easy as they can on us and without them it’d been a whole lot worse than it was,” Kane said.

Kane’s treatment included 2½ years of chemotherapy, which he recently finished. The end of his treatment coincided with the beginning of Kane’s senior year in high school, and three days before his first football game of this season. This holiday season he will be spending time with his family and his girlfriend’s family. Family, he said, is what he’s most thankful for.

“After I was diagnosed, it changed the whole meaning of it [the holiday season],” Hogan said. “It gave me a whole new perspective and just being thankful for St. Jude, and for my community, and just being thankful to be alive. It’s just amazing.”

Hogan’s advice to other children spending time at St. Jude during the holiday season is to “keep their heads up, because it’s just hard, but having that positive attitude about everything helps a lot. You wouldn’t think it would, but it helps you. St. Jude is a wonderful place. They understand that you not getting to go home is not very happy, but they make it as good as they can there.”

Five ways the Sunday dinner tradition brings black families together Food is for more than survival, it’s a moment when memories are created and survival commemorated

In lots of households, Sundays are reserved for quality time with family, and that usually includes an elaborate dinner — a tradition many black families have carried forward for generations. No matter the menu, preparing and eating Sunday dinner is a reason to bring families together.

Looking as far back as the Bible and further, breaking bread together has been used to forge familial commitment. Family dinner for black families is for more than survival, it’s a moment where memories are created and survival commemorated.

Below are five ways food and cooking help families stay close.

space to share stories, shaRe love and gossip

New jobs, additions to families or exaggerated stories from 30 years ago surface at Sunday dinner. If lucky, family gossip (everyone’s favorite part) can emerge too and the opportunity to express feelings of love and gratitude (not lingering resentments).

Memories

The kitchen is the perfect place to create new memories to be passed on for generations to come. Preparing a favorite dish with a husband, growing child, parents or cousins also brings back old memories that spark those magical moments of family lore.

new and oLd traditions

The first Sunday in each month is a date that many Southerners are familiar with. It’s the day that communion is taken at many churches or it may be the day the children’s choir sings. Adding that special date to the meal planning can create new traditions. Revamping recipes sets the stage for strengthening old ones. Cooking is also the perfect outlet to teach those traditions to young family members.

familY Bonding

The reason for the meal is to keep the family close. That’s the whole reason for Sunday soul food meal dates. Families may disagree, but cooking has created bonds and kept families strong for generations.

FAmily teamwork

Aunt Sally may bring the potato salad. Cousin Mary may have the best baked chicken. Grandmother may have the tastiest seven-layer salad. And dad can likely grill better than anyone in the family. Cooking creates team-building and oftentimes can become a teaching tool.

Daughter finds peace in her late mother’s closet, launches Lillie’s Daughter Jae Henderson pays loving tribute through fashion and scholarship

Lillie Bell Marshall would have been 71 years old on June 21. She died on March 12, 2014, after spending almost a month in the intensive care unit, battling complications stemming from kidney failure and congestive heart failure.

Meet Jae Henderson, Marshall’s daughter and only child. Henderson wanted to celebrate Marshall’s life and honor her memory. While going through her mother’s things, Henderson discovered a gorgeous collection of vintage clothes and accessories. She decided to do a photo shoot as a way to give the world the opportunity to see her mother as she did.

My mother kept to herself, so most people never really got a chance to know her, but she was a beautiful soul with a good heart. She loved God. She enjoyed laughing, baking, doing yard work and fashion. I am the woman I am because of my mother,” Henderson, 39, said.

“My mother also suffered from mental illness. Eventually, it became so bad that she couldn’t maintain employment. She was a single mother and she refused to let her illness keep her from being a good parent. I was well cared for. She also demanded that I excel in my studies and stay out of trouble. She was my first example of perseverance and beating the odds. She’s my hero,” Henderson said.

Jae Henderson and her mother during her final days

Jae Henderson and her mother during her mother’s final days.

Henderson launched Lillie’s Daughter, a website that preserves Marshall’s legacy and showcases the vintage clothing. She also launched a scholarship in Marshall’s honor. It will be awarded to students who are pursuing higher education despite challenging or debilitating circumstances.

Young Jae Henderson and her mother Lillie Marshall.

Young Jae Henderson and her mother, Lillie Marshall.

Adults who lose a parent are often overcome with overwhelming emotions. Dealing with the loss can create feelings of loneliness and vulnerability. But Henderson found solace in creating a link with the past — her mother’s clothing.

The tribute photos are a mixture of old and new. Most of the clothes selected are from the 1970s and blend well against the decor of the contemporary studio where the photo shoot was done. In several photos, she is wearing vintage blouses, a white leather jacket and a brown corduroy blazer with various accessories that belonged to her mother.

In another, she is dressed in Sunday best, wearing a navy dress and a navy hat with white eyelet gloves and lilies nearby. In another photo, she is wearing a pleated plaid, tea-length wool skirt with a gray sleeveless turtleneck and in yet another, Henderson dons an orange and white bow-tied top with a white polyester blazer and boyfriend jeans.

Fashion Photography Memphis

Henderson is taller than her mother was, so any pants and shoes in the photos belong to her, except for a pair of brown leather and suede boots she forced her feet into for an especially touching photo where she poses with a family portrait, wearing the same blouse her mother wore in the photo. Henderson even used some of her mother’s belongings during the shoot: a small General Electric Co. radio and Polaroid 430 camera (produced from 1971-1977). She vividly remembers her mother bringing it to family functions to capture special moments as a child.

Fashion Photography Memphis

Jae Henderson found her late mother’s camera and used it in her Lillie’s Daughter photo shoot.

Henderson said the time she spent with her mother produced life lessons and served her well. She is an independent author with six books in print. The seventh, Husband Wanted, was recently released. She is also the president of Put It In Writing Professional Writing Service and PR. She spent many years as a radio personality and talk show host on WHRK-FM/K97 in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. She even did a stint as a contributing writer for the nationally syndicated radio show, Tom Joyner Morning Show.

After embracing careers as a radio talk show host, marketing and media professional and voice-over artist, Henderson decided to add inspirational author to her roles. She first displayed her witty way with words and keen insight into human emotion through her inspirational romance trilogy: Someday, Someday, Too and Forever and a Day. Her other releases are Things Every Good Woman Should Know, Volume 1 and 2 and Where Do We Go From Here, which she co-authored with Mario D. King. Henderson’s entertaining tales about the astounding power of love and God’s ability to care for us in the midst of life’s storms have been warmly received by readers.

The scholarship Henderson launched in her mother’s honor is called The Silver Bell Memorial Scholarship and will be awarded in 2017 to two students who are attending college despite overwhelming odds. Those overwhelming odds can include mental or physical illness, a learning disability, being a foster child, homelessness and other extenuating circumstances that could cause a young person to abandon his or her dream of obtaining a college education.

To qualify, students must be at least a sophomore and enrolled in a two- or four-year college. “I want my mother’s memory to live on in something other than myself,” Henderson said. “She had a lot to give that the world never had the chance to see. The photo shoot was a lot of fun, but this scholarship is my way of giving a little piece of her to future generations. I love my mother and miss her dearly.”

Fashion Photography Memphis

28 black-owned businesses’ gift ideas to get you through Black Friday Shopping black means furthering your commitment to diversity, and these black businesses have all your shopping needs covered

Black Friday deals start earlier and earlier each year and have begun to spill into Thanksgiving Day festivities. After a full meal, some football and time with family, millions of Americans will flood stores and the cyber world for Black Friday and Cyber Monday must-have deals.

However, off the megaretailer path — on hosted online stores such as Etsy, or on individual websites — there are a multitude of black-owned businesses offering unique gift ideas for your entire list. Not to mention, supporting a black-owned business shows a commitment to diversity and a diversification of gifts under the tree.

Black businesses have rapidly increased over the past 40 years, with a big boom in the last decade. According to Black Demographics, black-owned businesses in the United States increased 34.5 percent between 2007 and 2012. On any given day, small-business owners, with the goal of selling products and services, compete for their fair share of shoppers in an inundated marketplace, and the competition is even greater during the holidays, when Big Retail makes a final profits push.

Check out The Undefeated’s online gift buying guide, featuring items for your holiday shopping. We’ve updated our prior list and combed the webosphere for our best finds, and here are a few that caught our eye. Discover these black entrepreneurs who offer a variety of gift ideas.

Art

Leah Lynnette

MarcusKwame

Tiare Smith Designs

Bags and Mugs

Urban Heirlooms

The February Store

Men’s tidbits

EdCentrik

Mo’s Bows

Stationery and Expressions

African American Expressions

Women’s tidbits

Originally Young

JeannePaulCreations

Demestik

ThreeLittleBirdsTees

Electronics

I Am Plus

Jewelry

Talley and Twine Watch Company

Mombasa

Spring Break Watches

Brave Chick

apparel

The Official Malcolm X Store

Bodied Sports

HGC Apparel

Sweet Knowledge

Beautiful in Every Shade

Household and Beauty

Don’t Sleep Interiors

Angels and Tomboys

Jacq’s Organics

Armani’s Aromas

Pets

Rose and Pheebs Co.

Picture Perfect Pup

Happy Shopping!!

Josh Norman partners with Boys & Girls Clubs this holiday season Washington cornerback is also helping recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

After Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman learned of the devastation left by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, he didn’t hesitate to do his part. He initially donated $100,000 to send food to the island.

Now, Norman is partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America for a holiday season campaign to benefit Puerto Rico, and he’s also donating toys and food to families in need. He donated $50,000 to activate the partnership and plans to raise an additional $200,000.

“The crazy part about it is everybody was out helping Miami, and helping Houston, but who was out to help Puerto Rico? When you saw the devastation that was caused, it was the worst kind. … Some places still don’t have power now. We’re talking about it’s been months, months, months.”

Norman and his brothers visited the island and appreciated the kindness he received from the community.

“They are part of the United States. It’s really sad, but we were able to form up forces and link arms,” Norman said. “I’m not saying that people didn’t do that. I’m not saying it, but it wasn’t enough. For me, I’ve been over there, I’ve experienced the people. It was just something that I just couldn’t look away from.

“God spoke and I moved, and that was one of those things I moved on. What we do on this earth, yeah, it’ll last. It’ll last on earth, but what we do for others, that echoes an eternity. It really does. What you do for others, it will last a lifetime, so that’s why I see it, for me, helping out.

“I put my money towards that. But then I started looking for a foundation. … And the Boys & Girls Club came up where it’s something that it can affect the kids.”

For more than 150 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of America has helped young children and teens by providing a safe space and programs during nonschool hours. Today, 4,300 clubs serve 4 million young people annually.

Although Norman is not a product of the Boys & Girls Clubs organization, he visited a few times as a child. As an adult, he knew he wanted to team up for the cause.

“It’s truly amazing to be doing something to help others,” Norman said.

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Norman will be donating food to families and having Santa Claus deliver gifts and food. He has to play on Thanksgiving Day, but he wants to make sure he is involved in the giving process. So he has combined the two holidays into a big day for the entire season of giving.

“Last year we did gifts along with the turkeys for up to 24 families. This year we just kind of combined everything and everybody. Have them under one house and give away toys and gifts and just have a big party.”

Meet motivator, author and life/relationship coach Stephan Labossiere ‘Women were digesting the information and wanted more of it’

Life coaches and motivational speakers have been around for centuries, inspiring by their work, expounding pearls of wisdom to the masses and helping heal communities. These coaches are similar to an athletic coach pushing his or her players in the last crucial moments of a championship game. In The Undefeated’s new The Motivational Speaker series, stories will spotlight several individuals who uplift others as either authors, trainers, social media vocalists or, most importantly, listeners.

A vast majority of us have been there.

The stunning reality of a failed relationship can cause us to become hurt and heartbroken, calloused and damaged. It’s something relationship and dating coach Stephan Labossiere has witnessed time and time again with clients, direct responses from fans and his own personal experiences. Instead of feeling helpless, Labossiere was determined to make a difference. In a career-changing decision, Labossiere became a popular relationship expert, amassing over 2 million followers across such social media platforms as @StephanSpeaks.

“One reason, of course, is God,” Labossiere said. “It’s just what God led me to do, and I never in a million years thought I would be doing this.”

Labossiere definitely was not into writing and hated it in high school and college. But he understood how real the struggle was for people hurting and how much toxic relationships affect society. In his words, “I’m just a guy trying to do what God wants me to do. My main message is: You need to heal. Everybody needs healing. It doesn’t matter what you’re dealing with, if you don’t let go of the past and negative energy, then you’re only going to hold yourself back.”

An author with an analytical mind …

Originally from Queens, New York, Labossiere was uprooted to Miami as the lone boy (also a twin) in a house with three sisters.

“My family is filled with women, so I’ve been around women all the time growing up,” the current Atlanta resident said.

Being surrounded by women during childhood proved to be advantageous, as most of Labossiere’s following is composed of women from across the world. Except for two books from his collection — How to Get a Woman to Have Sex with You If You’re a Husband (2011) and He Who Finds a Wife: A Man’s Guide to Finding the Woman & Love He Desires (2015) — Labossiere’s books are mostly consumed by a female audience.

“People assume, but I didn’t make my audience women,” Labossiere said. “It just worked out that way because that’s who kept coming back. Women were digesting the information and wanted more of it.”

As Labossiere’s career gained traction, the relationship coach decided to expand his reach by writing a book for single women. At the time, it would be called That’s the Problem with Single Women. Yet Labossiere, a techie with a degree in management information systems, had a difficult time trying to write about those perceived “problems.” Frustrated and in financial despair, he prayed and asked God for guidance. “What do you want me to do?” Upon receiving direction as to how his book should actually flow, Labossiere needed a refresher on the Book of Ruth, Boaz’s wife in the Bible, and finished writing God Where Is My Boaz? in two months. The 2013 publication is Labossiere’s most successful book.

“A lot of dating books are either very mainstream, very secular or so preachy that they are not really practical at all,” Labossiere said. “It’s just pray, pray, pray and some verses of Scripture and you’re good to go. But in this book, both sides are merged with a spiritual foundation and more practicality.”

“Fix your perception first.”

When Labossiere makes his points on social media, people listen and pay close attention to his online posts. His followers are either sharing, retweeting and/or liking quotes from one of his three relationship books. However, Labossiere is now eagerly looking forward to publishing a full-length version of a fourth book, 7 Things You Should Know for the Man God Has for You, which is currently available in short form as an e-book.

“This book is going to hit harder because God Where is My Boaz? was more of a foundational piece,” he said with passion. “7 Things You Should Know for the Man God Has for You will help break some things down as far as a lot of women getting caught up in the wrong situation and confusing things, such as ‘Is this guy from God?’ The first chapter, which I’m very passionate about, examines how people say there isn’t enough men in the world for every woman. I despise when any Christian or spiritual person says that, because you’re going to tell people God can give them whatever they want, but when it comes to relationships, he’s limited there? I wanted to address it once and for all. If you don’t believe it can happen, then it’s not going to happen. There are other subjects I touch on, but I feel really good about this book.”

Don’t expect Labossiere to sugarcoat the truth to make it easy for you to digest. He truly believes “it’s important for us to embrace taking action and knowing our part in producing the things we want in our lives.” But what is the identifying substance that sets his books aside from the countless other life-affirming, do this to fix that, ’cause I’m an expert cornucopia of relationship encyclopedias?

“I’m going to tell you what you need to do, but I’m telling you with love and a genuine desire for you to win. I think once you understand if your energy is in the right place and you’re talking to someone correctly and present yourself in a proper manner, then they’re going to be more receptive to it.”

When asked about a favorite quote, Labossiere reflected on a Milton Berle meme he recently read: If opportunity doesn’t knock, create a door.

“I think too many people, especially Christians, are sitting back waiting for stuff to come to them and not understanding you’re supposed to go to it but with God’s guidance,” Labossiere said. “I’m not a biblical scholar, but the few times I’ve read the Bible, any story about someone getting great things, there was a process and things that person had to do. It wasn’t like he told Moses, ‘Just chill right here, I’m going to bring the promised land to you.’ No, you have to walk through all this and deal with xyz — and this is how you get there.”

What the Ibtihaj Muhammad doll means for African-American Muslim women ‘A black Muslim woman can be both authentically American and authentically Muslim’

Barbie has long been a name synonymous with the ideal standard of beauty for many girls growing up in the U.S. Introduced nearly 60 years ago, the doll has been problematic for exactly that same reason for almost as long: facing criticism of being hypersexual, promoting unrealistic body expectations and sorely lacking in diversity.

Perhaps that’s why the announcement Monday from U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad that manufacturer Mattel was releasing its first hijab-wearing, African-American, Muslim Barbie doll in her own image filled me with equal parts pride and wonder.

Bronze medalist Muhammad, the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal for the United States, unboxed the doll at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit in New York. Clad in a crisp white fencing uniform complete with saber, helmet and white headscarf, the doll is part of Barbie’s Shero collection, which recognizes women “who break boundaries to inspire the next generation of girls,” according to Mattel.

I remember well one of the last Barbie dolls I coveted. Dressed in a canary yellow tee, fuchsia jeans and aqua blue hiking boots, Camp Barbie represented the epitome of cool to my 10-year-old self in 1993. Sporty and chic, her yellow sunglasses complemented her purple backpack-turned-sleeping bag adorned with glow-in-the-dark stars.

Her name was Midge, and she was introduced by Mattel as Barbie’s best friend. Best of all, her strawberry blonde hair changed colors in the sun, or so the box promised.

But in my household, that of a preteen African-American Muslim girl growing up on the South Side of Chicago, the odds that I would be able to bring her home were slim. The hitch: My mother was adamant about raising her three daughters with a healthy sense of self that included images and toys with hair and skin that resembled ours.

I considered myself a Barbie aficionado, collecting all the black versions of the doll I could get my hands on: from Totally Hair Barbie, whose long, textured strands reached all the way to her heels, to Babysitting Skipper, whose bouncy black curls rivaled those of the three baby dolls she accompanied.

But black Barbie dolls were hard to find — practically nonexistent in neighborhoods outside of majority-black areas, or relegated to a dusty corner even in the stores that did sell them. Still, those dolls often were not the newest and coolest and, crucially for my 10-year-old self, not available with skin that looked like mine.

I may not have appreciated at the time my mother’s push to ensure my dolls looked like me. As an adult, I now get it. It represented one of the few avenues in which she had the power to curate the images her children were seeing and the faces that would help color our imagination.

Even if the commercials of my childhood never explicitly negated my worth, they paraded women with silky brunette, blonde or strawberry blonde hair in their shampoo, makeup and clothing ads. Even if the magazines geared toward my younger self claimed to be for all girls, they rarely featured any who looked like me.

Perhaps that’s why the symbolism of Muhammad’s announcement was not lost on my peers and I who noted, with awe, that the first Muslim, hijab-wearing Barbie is also black.

Her announcement comes at a time in which the erasure of African-American Muslims seems particularly pronounced. A time in which a major black women’s lifestyle magazine released a list of “100 Woke Women” and yet couldn’t seem to find one woke African-American Muslim woman to include among them.

This erasure reinforces the idea that Muslim equals Arab, South Asian, immigrant, anyone other than an athletic, Olympic medal-winning black woman from New Jersey — one with a modest clothing line, hundreds of thousands of social media followers and now a Barbie in her likeness.

The introduction of this doll lends support to the reality that a black Muslim woman can be both authentically American and authentically Muslim. A notion driven home by statistics that estimate a significant percentage of the enslaved Africans brought to this country were Muslim.

In a week when one of the most widely shared articles about hijab on my social media feed involved a Tennessee teacher posting Snapchat video of her young student’s headscarf being pulled off, along with captions “pretty hair” and “lol all that hair cover up,” Barbie’s latest edition goes a long way toward reinforcing the notion that beauty can be defined in myriad ways, including with hijab.

Malika Bilal with her 8-year-old niece, Hana.

Courtesy of Malika Bilal

Most of all, Muhammad’s announcement matters because representation matters. It matters to the many girls and young women who’ve messaged me over the five years I’ve co-hosted a daily talk show, as my channel’s first — and only — woman in hijab to do so. Their messages are full of encouragement and a sense of wonderment at being shown that a career path like mine is possible.

And it matters to those around the world who witnessed two black Muslim women in hijab on their television screens as I interviewed Muhammad before an audience of millions of households, days after the New Jersey fencer learned she had qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016. Among those watching, there could very well have been a young girl who will now aspire to enter sports, and fencing in particular, because Muhammad placed that dream on her radar. Because beyond the image of a gorgeous hijab-wearing doll, Muhammad’s Barbie is athletic and unapologetically so.

It’s not just young girls who are representation-starved. Grown women like myself, and the many who’ve retweeted, reposted and reblogged the Barbie announcement, are just as excited, not just for the next generation of girls but also for ourselves.

Recently on a visit home to Chicago, my 8-year-old niece insisted upon showing me her new Barbie dolls. In her possession were members of the Fashionista line, featuring Barbie and Ken dolls in various shades of brown and black, and a range of body types — some slim, others thick. A Barbie with an Afro, a Ken with cornrows. Although I’m firmly in my 30s and have long since put away my toys, I couldn’t help but be a little wistful that options like hers did not exist when I was her age.

So when the Ibtihaj Muhammad Shero Barbie goes on sale in 2018, I’ll be ordering one to add to my niece’s collection. But I’m not ashamed to admit that another one just might find a home in my house as well.

Nikki Giovanni knows everyone needs a good cry and she bares all in her new collection ‘A Good Cry’ reveals the poet and activist’s thoughts on life, growth and pain

The understanding of the intersections between race, gender and national consciousness has long been part of the unique genius of one of the most celebrated poets of our complicated times. Nikki Giovanni has been shedding her light on our social consciousness through riveting literary work since graduating with honors from Fisk University in 1967.

The poet, activist and professor has reeled audiences into a world of power and self-awareness for decades. Now she’s captivating a new audience with new verses of grief, sorrow, laughter, growth and healing in her powerful new collection, A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter.

She recalls her relationships with loved ones who have gone on, including her late mother, Yolande Cornelia Sr. She colorfully and sometimes playfully draws space and time through raw emotions. Giovanni’s writing extracts a pureness at heart, by expressing moments of truth that should provoke tears but that many so often repress.

“I know crying is a skill. … Maybe I will learn,” she writes. “My mother did when she thought I was asleep.”

Crying is necessary, as Giovanni expressed. Especially after the death of a family member, friends, loved ones or others who have made a deep and lasting impact on the lives of others.

“My mom died some years ago,” Giovanni told The Undefeated. “There’s so much to do, and you’re holding things in. And then my aunt died. And so again, you’re holding a lot in, you’re trying to get things done. I was thinking, you know, I could use a good cry. And my doctor’s always teasing me, and I tease him too. He’s a nice guy and he’s cute, and he’s always saying things like, you know, you have to learn to take it easy and stuff like that. And I thought, and said to Gregory at one point, I don’t think that I need to take it easy. I think that what I need to do is to learn to cry. And I’ll get it out. So he and I have been arguing about that ever since, because I think that everybody needs a good cry.”

A Good Cry reveals in-depth emotions about Giovanni’s thoughts on the late Ruby Dee, poet Maya Angelou, Fisk University, her roots, her home state of Tennessee, Black Lives Matter and even sports.

Giovanni’s work, as described on her website, has “spurred movements, turned hearts and informed generations. She’s been hailed as a firebrand, a radical, a healer, and a sage; a wise and courageous voice who has spoken out on the sensitive issues, including race and gender, that touch our national consciousness.”

Now, Giovanni takes readers to the most intimate part of her life: drawing the geography of her heart and how it has shaped her. She reveals her family history to put the reader into her development through childhood and adulthood. Her energy offers a glimpse into the mirror of her soul and yours.

Her selfless acts over the years are also displays of the respect she has for herself and others. Her arm bares the words “Thug Life” after the rapper Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas and later died in 1996.

Giovanni’s life is multitudes. She loves watching football. Her favorite sport is tennis. Included in her new collection are pieces about the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Black Lives Matter, volleyball and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.


How do you feel this particular piece of work differs from the other pieces in your body of work?

A Good Cry is more vulnerable. You know, as you grow older — I’m a big fan of growing old, by the way, and I think it’s important as you grow older, you’re learning more and you’re looking at the world a little differently. When you’re young, you’re impatient, you think, ‘Oh, I gotta get this done, I gotta get this done. I gotta make people understand.’ And then you start to get a little more mature, and it’s like, well, let me share this and let me share that. And I think that’s kind of wonderful to just to try to figure out where you are and how you’re going to go forward with it.

What do you think involves learning how to cry?

It helps to have a good friend, and so if you can cry with a good friend, you’ve got a really good thing going. But it also helps to just accept the fact that things are not going, or things are going as you, things, are changing. And you really want to make a difference. You want to let it out, and then you want to go take another step. And I’m at the stage now that several of my friends have lost their parents and or losing their aunts and uncles. You know, these things are going on. And it’s sad. And we’re always saying to people, oh, you’ll, it’ll be all right, you’ll get over it. But you won’t get over it, and it won’t be all right.

You have to deal with it, you have to bring it in and say, OK, this is why I’m upset, this is why I’m crying. And I think it’s important. And of course I love the blues, so the blues definitely lets you let it out. That’s why the blues was invented. It gets the emotion out. And I think A Good Cry is a much more emotional book than any of my other books.

I read your piece in The Huffington Post you wrote that really intersects race, sports and culture. And I really liked the last few lines of it. ‘Kneeling was a sign of love … our athletes who are kneeling and asking the Constitution, will you be mine?’ How do you think that sentiment can be communicated going forward by athletes?

The athletes are doing what they understand, what they want to do. They’re doing their job. I’m a football fan. And you are watching all the people in the stands, many of whom are of course not black. And they’re cheering for the players on the field, many of course who are. And then they’ll come off the field and not like black people. It’s like, you know, y’all got to get over it. If you’re going to cheer for us, then keep it up — you cheer on the field and off the field.

You were born the child of athletes. What’s your favorite sport?

Tennis. I used to play. I watch it. My mother was quite an exceptional tennis player, and she played during the days of segregation. They had the black tennis tournament, which was at Wilberforce. And Mommy made it to the finals one year and played Althea Gibson. Of course Miss Gibson defeated Mommy, but it was so great, she had the runner-up trophy. I wasn’t born then, but I love tennis. When Mommy was here, we went to the tournament every year. They have a tournament in Cincinnati just before the US Open.

Which tennis player do you love to watch most?

I am a big Venus [Williams] fan. Oh, my. If somebody said Venus is playing, you know, in Timbuktu and I’d say, ‘Oh, OK, if I can get a flight.’ I just love her; she’s such a classy young lady. And she’s come through some health issues and she’s held that together. Venus isn’t a friend, they’re too young, but when you meet her, she is just gracious. She’s just a gracious young lady. And there’s so many trashy, ugly, stupid people in the world that running into people like Venus is so wonderful. She’s my favorite athlete, period. I cheer, and I always will. Serena [Williams] is great, it’s not that. It’s that Venus brings it all together. Venus is the princess of tennis. She brings it all together.

Graduating from an HBCU (historically black college or university), Fisk University, how do you view the relevance of the education of HBCUs now?

We need the black education, and like all other schools, we need to have non-blacks coming to our schools. I’m a Fisk graduate, and if you look at what Fisk has brought, W.E.B. Du Bois invented sociology. The Jubilee Singers took the spirituals around the world. They became the Jubilee Singers because they were invited to England to present themselves, as it were — they stayed for quite a while — to Queen Victoria. And she awarded them ultimately 50,000 pounds. And they were able to save the school because the school was going bankrupt. And they stayed and she had the court painter paint a lovely portrait, which is right there in Jubilee Hall. And they became the Fisk Jubilee Singers in honor of Victoria.

It’s like, we’re going to let you sit anyplace on the bus now, so you don’t need your own school. Well, of course you need black schools, and you need the history that we teach and we need the diversity that these schools offer. So I’m very proud.

Do you recall the first time you knew your words had so much power?

Not really. You know, people will quote you. I think that probably people really liked Ego Tripping. And people would come up to me and I would say, wow, they were treating that poem like we treat some of the songs we like. Like when Aretha walks in, people go RESPECT.

So you have an idea that people enjoy your work. And I do so much with history, and I think that maybe I’ve opened up some doors that people haven’t considered before.

Are you enjoying your time at Virginia Tech?

Oh, my, yes. I like teaching and I like young people, and I know I’m one of the people who needs a rhythm. If I didn’t have a routine, I would get work done but I wouldn’t be as disciplined. So it’s very nice. I teach one class and I get up and I go into my office; the kids can drop in. I also get other work done while I’m there. But it’s nice to go and have an office and to sit and, you kind of get work done at a different rate. And I’m lucky because the sun, I have a corner office.

I know you’re still asked this all the time, but can you shed light on your ‘Thug Life’ tattoo?

Oh, my, yes. You know, when Pac got shot I was hoping he would pull through. I was really hoping, and he didn’t, as we know. And my mother was with us still. And I said to my mother, I said, ‘Mommy, I’ve gotta do something, I think I’m going to go get a tattoo.’ And she said, ‘Oh,’ because your mother, I don’t know about your mother, my mother did not want me to have a tattoo. And she said, ‘Where are you thinking about putting it, baby?’ My mother was never one of those people that said no, but she was like, and where you going to put it? And I said, ‘Well, I’m thinking about running it down the side,’ which I was. I was just going to run it down the right-hand side. And I could see that that shocked her — that was understated. And she said, ‘Well, I can see your point, Nikki, but you won’t be able to look at it if you do that.’

I said I’ll put it on my arm. You know, Pac had it on his abdomen. But I’m a girl, and he was in way better shape than I am. And I couldn’t put something on my abdomen and then pull my blouse up and share it with people. So it was on my arm. And I wanted his mother to know that we all miss him, that he was special to us.

What are you a fan of?

I’m a big fan of Black Lives Matter. I think it’s important, and I think we should acknowledge that, that Black Lives Matter are the people who made the Klan take their hoods off. But now the Klan has to come during the daylight. They have to let us know this is who I am. And I think it’s so wonderful, because without Black Lives Matter, that wouldn’t have happened. I think that’s wonderful. I think Black Lives Matter, and of course you’ve seen too, you know, White Lives Matter, All Lives, you know, you see that everybody’s got this response to it.

We’re the people who’ve been getting shot down, innocent people. Unarmed people being shot down. I love to see what the kids are doing. And it just gives me great pleasure to think that my generation has helped to bring this next generation up. And so I’m very proud that they’ve taken what we have to give, what we had to share, they have taken it and taken it to the next step. I think it’s wonderful. They should be very proud because they’re doing their job. I’m sure that their grandmothers sitting there saying, ‘Yeah, that’s my baby.’

Ibtihaj Muhammad talks diversity, body image and, of course, Barbie The Olympian says she is honored and humbled to be part of Mattel’s Shero doll line

When Ibtihaj Muhammad hit the scene at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, she immediately caught the attention of women everywhere. As the first Muslim-American woman to sport a hijab while competing for the United States, she was an instant hero. She went on to earn the bronze medal as part of Team USA.

Now the 31-year-old Olympian has her very own Barbie. Muhammad joins women such as Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, Selma director Ava DuVernay and dancer Misty Copeland in the Mattel Inc.’s Shero line, which honors women who break boundaries. Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie, says the doll will be available online next fall.

“I’m excited and honored and humbled. I really look up to the women that have been part of the Shero program previous to me, and I think this is a wonderful list of women to join,” Muhammad told The Undefeated. “Barbie’s been a really big part of my life as a kid, so to now have my very own Barbie, I don’t know, it’s almost like an indescribable feeling. A lot of excitement.”

Muhammad agrees that Mattel’s efforts toward diversity are indicative of today’s times.

“I think, as a company, Mattel has decided to make a decision to be inclusive and to celebrate diversity,” she said. “So to have dolls of various sizes and different skin tones, and now to even have a doll that clearly wears hijabs and is modeled after an American Olympian, I think is revolutionary. I hope that other brands, especially in the toy industry, follow. It’s important for children to see themselves represented in the toys that they play with.”

The new doll bears a striking resemblance to Muhammad, who says the likeness is uncanny.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

“I wasn’t expecting the doll to look exactly like me,” she said. “I think that Mattel’s really nailed it, all the way down to the eyeliner, which was really important to me that the doll had, because I love a good winged liner.

“I guess Mattel is moving forward and changing this traditional way that Barbie has been made in the past. They have dolls now in different sizes. My Barbie doll isn’t tall and, like, really leggy. My doll has these more toned, athletic legs, which are more reflective to the body type of myself and other athletes. I hope that this creates a more positive image, especially in terms of the body image for young girls who play with the doll.”

The most important aspect in the Shero line of dolls for Muhammad is that young girls understand the message behind it.

“What we want to encourage little girls to believe is that they can be anything and anyone that they want,” she said. “One of the great things about doll play is that children are able to imagine themselves in any role, doing anything, being anyone and achieving whatever they want.”

Muhammad said the hardest part of her overall journey is the obstacles that she’s faced as an African-American, and as a Muslim female athlete, growing up and developing in the sport of fencing.

“A lot of them do have to do with being discriminated against,” she said. “I wanted to embrace those difficulties in my journey, especially like they’re notches in the belt, and it’s helped me achieve and get to where I am as an athlete. I would say that one of the most instrumental things in helping me achieve the success I have as an athlete is learning to believe in myself. That’s also part of the messaging that I would like to extend to little girls who purchase a Barbie from this Shero line, is that everything that they need is already inside. We’re all going to be faced with obstacles in our life, and it’s how we approach and how we handle these things that makes us, and that dictates our future and makes us who we are.”

The doll also is donning a dress from Muhammad’s clothing line, Louella, named after her grandmother.

“I was given, in addition to my doll made in my athletic apparel, I also had a second doll made in an evening dress, and they modeled it after a dress that I wore to The ESPYS.”