Thousands attend MLK50 commemoration in Memphis but for different reasons Civil rights icons, union workers, students and activists participate in several historic events

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Audriana Thomas made a trip to Memphis and found herself in the midst of making history. The Florida A&M University student, one of dozens selected as a delegate for the I AM 2018 Mountaintop Conference honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and other great leaders, was front and center for the MLK50 march on behalf of union workers.

“AFSCME came to my school and did a seminar on different injustices that are going on in society, specifically with workers’ unions, and they actually recruited us,” Thomas said. “They have actually been giving us leadership training and helping equip us for our future.”

Thomas, other visitors, civil rights icons, pastors, and others numbering more than 7,000 made their way to downtown Memphis to commemorate the death of King in the city where he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

A crowd gathered in the morning on the north end of Beale Street in Memphis to recreate the legendary “I AM A MAN” photo. Several groups of visitors headed to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. Others piled onto another corner at Fourth and Beale streets, anticipating a march slated for noon. The location was filled with music by performers Common, Goapele and Sheila E., as well as speakers who took to the stage throughout the morning. Hundreds more continued to arrive for the kickoff of the nearly two-hour MLK50 march.

Locked arm in arm, Martin Luther King III, his wife, Arndrea, and daughter Yolanda Renee were joined by Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. James Lawson, AFSCME president Lee Saunders, Bishop Charles Blake, actors Chris Tucker and Glynn Turman, and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Hundreds made their way through the stop-and-go path in the chilly spring weather.

While many were in Memphis to commemorate King’s death and honor his fight for justice, some were continuing his fight for better wages and safer working conditions.

Francis Nichols III of Washington, D.C., represented the American Federation of Government Employees as an organizer for AFGE Y.O.U.N.G. (Young Organizing Unionists for the Next Generation).

“We make sure there is a future for our youth today,” Nichols said. “We make sure there is stability and fair work wages and safe work conditions for all. That’s what we stand for at AFGE. … This is something monumental, and everyone got to witness that. He [King] died for us, and we will march for him.”

Meanwhile, Memphian Michael Clark said he understood local concerns in the community. As a Memphis sanitation department employee for 36 years, he said, this march is dear to his heart.

“I will be here every year until I leave here. And I will teach my kids the same thing.”

After the march, a red and white wreath was dropped from the balcony at 6:01 p.m., followed by a moment of silence and a ringing of the 120-year-old, 1,700-pound church bell from Clayborn Temple in Memphis. Singer Al Green hit the stage for a surprise performance in front of thousands.

Wednesday’s events wrapped up with an Evening of Storytelling at the city’s Crosstown Concourse, with panels hosted by Michael Eric Dyson, Tamron Hall and April Ryan featuring the local organizer and founder of the Take ‘Em Down 901 campaign, Tami Sawyer; national activist Bree Newsome; Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.; and others.

While many will leave Memphis, the city’s struggle with poverty, racism and classism persists. These issues are chronicled by columnist Wendi C. Thomas, who founded MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. The digital website is a yearlong reporting project produced by a team of writers, editors and photographers. The coverage focuses on issues that were close to King’s heart, such as jobs and wages, power and wealth, and black business. reported on research that concluded that 50 years after King’s fight for city sanitation workers, “white workers hold a sizable majority of the higher-status and better-paying jobs among large, private employers in the Memphis metro area, though they represent only 43 percent of the overall workforce.” The data also shows “88 percent of executives and senior level managers in the Memphis area were white. In the lowest-paying job categories, nearly 76 percent of laborers and 73 percent of service workers were black” and “the median income for 2016 was $35,664 for black households and $69,860 for white households.”

Other activists in Memphis were part of the Fight for $15 campaign, which advocates for a higher minimum wage. The state minimum wage rate for Tennessee in 2017 and 2018 is $7.25 per hour, the current federal minimum wage rate. According to the Fight for $15 website, the campaign organizers and participants “won $62 billion in raises for 22 million people across the country by standing up and going on strike for $15/hr and union rights.”

Daily Dose: 10/24/17 #NationalFoodDay isn’t about binge eating

There were a couple of different scuffles in the NBA on Monday night, but the best one was between Mario Chalmers and James Harden. No one was hurt, so we can laugh at it. Meanwhile, let this, below, blow your mind.

The power is still not on for most of Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria tore through the island, destroying infrastructure on a level not seen before, the issue of rebuilding became an instant controversy. But get this. A small firm based out of Montana has now landed the biggest contract to help get electricity back to Puerto Rico. It’s based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. His son worked at the company. And guess what! That place also happens to be the onetime part-time home of … Richard Spencer. Can’t make this stuff up.

Today is #NationalFoodDay. The purpose is to showcase healthier foods since this country has a huge problem with that on many levels; however, healthy, affordable and sustainable models for consumption don’t exactly flow in line with capitalism, so, yeah, it doesn’t really happen. But, in addition, xenophobia and discrimination are still very much part of the food world in ways that many people don’t really understand. But food is the front porch of many cultures, and one kitchen is fighting back against the hate.

When it comes to news about Beyoncé, there are only two things that matter: Is she dropping new material or not. In some people’s worlds, having children would qualify as such under the “new material” category. That said, when pictures or any sort of side clue about her latest works show up on the internet, speculation begins about the truth of the rumors. The latest such nugget to be uncovered is a hint that Queen Bey and Cardi B might be working on a track together, which would be the ultimate glo up.

The World Series gets underway Tuesday night. It’ll be hot as who knows what in Los Angeles, but on the field there’s a matchup that’s worth highlighting. You all know the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig. His on-field persona, never mind his battle to get to the United States, are matters well-known to baseball fans. But the Houston Astros’ Yuli Gurriel’s story is a bit different. He was a team spokesman and a well-known entity without ever leaving Cuba. Their paths are so different but will converge on the field for this series, which is amazing.

Free Food

Coffee Break: While the business of marijuana is booming in a legal context, the cottage industries around it are also profiting greatly. Whether it be the accessories or cultivation, one such adjacent industry that’s now getting a boost is the Breathalyzer one. And yes, they’re looking to sell it to police officers mostly.

Snack Time: You all might remember Vinnie Johnson from his days with the Detroit Pistons. Now he’s heating things up in a different field, and doing well at that.

Dessert: All praises due to our national hero: April Ryan.

Daily Dose: 8/25/17 How the Browns’ national anthem protest came together

What’s up, gang, hope your week’s gone well. I’ll be hosting #TheRightTime with Bomani Jones on Friday afternoon from 4-7 p.m. EST on ESPN Radio. There will be quite a lot to discuss heading into this weekend.

When multiple Browns players took a knee in Cleveland during the national anthem last week, it wasn’t impromptu. As it turns out, this was a decision that went through multiple channels and happened with the blessing of the franchise. You might recall that head coach Hue Jackson made some comments on the matter a while back that some viewed as unproductive. Well, he felt he was misinterpreted. Check out this in-depth look at how it all came together for the Browns. Also, let’s not forget what one Ohio Supreme Court justice said on it.

We’ve all been on family vacations. Sometimes there are multiple parties involved, as in, different constituencies who don’t necessarily live in the same household. So interests are not exactly congruent, and even though you all love each other, so to speak, that doesn’t mean you’re always going to get along. In many ways, it can feel like a competition. And if you were to hold a news conference after one in which people had to answer questions like athletes, you’d probably get a hilarious scene.

If you’ve never been to Africa, you don’t know what it’s like. Ancient and modern depictions of the continent are typically rooted in racist, colonialist and otherwise just stupid, misguided generalizations. As a result, people still believe that Africa is full of jungles and darkness. FYI, that’s not the case. So when a Harvard professor decided she wanted to re-create the Heart of Darkness boat cruise and write about it, we knew we were in for a trip. But there are ways to report on the continent, which ain’t one country. Take some time and learn something.

Saturday’s finally the night. Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will get into the ring Saturday night in Las Vegas, and hopefully McGregor will deliver a vicious roundhouse to the face of Mayweather and set off a vicious brawl that will be far more entertaining than the described bill. Alas, most people want an actual fight, but we all know that’ll likely be super boring. That said, multiple $1M bets on Mayweather have come into Vegas, which have caused the odds to move a little bit. Awesome.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict were a seminal moment in U.S. history. Not because riots were anything new, but these were all over TV in the news cycle in a new way. Nonetheless, there were two sides. A new movie explores the Korean store owners’ side of the situation.

Snack Time: If you think the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony’s relationship is somehow getting better, you’d be wrong. He’s been left out of their marketing plans for next season.

Dessert: Happy weekend, y’all. This is how you educate the youth.

Pots & pans: We need to celebrate our heroes and heroines both past and present this Juneteenth No matter the when, they are all making it possible for blacks to realize the true American dream

On this date in 1865, black people enslaved in Galveston, Texas, were told the Union forces had won the Civil War and that they were free. Since then, black Americans have marked Juneteenth with jubilation, feasts, strawberry soda and other red drinks.

Today, I raise my glass of strawberry soda to salute some of the people I believe exemplify the continuing struggle to gain full civil and human rights for black people in our country, a struggle that has helped America draw closer to the vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

Consequently, I toast LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Since 2010, James has gone from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat and back again, winning three NBA championships along the way. This season, K.D. moved from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors and led that team to a 4-1 victory in the NBA Finals over LeBron’s Cavs, the defending champs. Furthermore, they triumphed by competing against each other vigorously while respecting each other as athletes and as men.

Although some deride and dismiss the significance of millionaire black athletes deciding their fates, their actions represent a generation of black athletes who feel free to pursue happiness and league championships on their own terms.

I toast broadcast journalist April Ryan and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris from California, wonder women who seek to lasso the truth with their probing questions. They have asked questions that revealed inconvenient truths about the white male political establishment that has sought, without success, to dismiss them and shut them up.

Meanwhile, I toast Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chadwick Boseman. The two Howard University men continue the integration of the nation and the world’s fantasy life. Coates, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation genius grant winner, has been writing the comic book Black Panther, about a genius inventor and one of the world’s smartest people. Boseman, who has captured the physicality and emotional complications of James Brown and Jackie Robinson on screen, will continue playing the Black Panther in an eponymous 2018 movie.

As Coates and Boseman champion black inclusion in society through a superhero, Lynn Nottage uses ordinary people to help America better understand today’s challenges, which are made worse by racial and class divisions.

She earns a strawberry soda salute with her bittersweet Sweat, her Pulitzer Prize-winning play that explores the end of work and the emotional chaos that follows. Colson Whitehead, a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Underground Railroad gives us a poetic vision of slavery and its aftermath. And Tracy K. Smith, another Pulitzer Prize winner (Life on Mars), and the new poet laureate of the United States, finds majesty in the everyday, just as Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove did before her.

They meld the intellectual ambition of W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington’s veneration for sweat and craft. They show that the road to higher ground is paved with a commitment to excellence. They show that great art is fundamental to our survival. I toast them all.

And I toast all the black people, especially the slaves, lost to the years. They bore the lash. They prayed. They loved.

And they live in today’s triumphs, undefeated and unbowed, now and forever.

How I learned to love myself as a black woman My Aunt Cornelia taught me to find my true self

Last week, my family gathered in tiny New Hill, North Carolina, for a memorial service to celebrate my aunt, Cornelia McDonald. She had died in January at 65 after living for five years with cancer that ultimately left her weak and in a morphine haze for much of her final days.

Especially when she was receiving chemotherapy, even the faintest scents could set off waves of nausea. So in her final months, her bedroom in the Chapel Hill apartment she shared with her youngest sister didn’t smell like much of anything. But the Aunt Cornelia I knew smelled like well-traveled sophistication: a mix of Thierry Mugler’s Angel perfume, the buttery softness of whatever fabulous leather handbag she happened to be carrying, and good lotion.

She didn’t always smell like that.

Aunt Cornelia grew up the daughter of sharecroppers in Wake County, North Carolina. Her father, an abusive man who died when Cornelia was 14, repeatedly moved his wife and 10 children from one backwoods locale to the next, none of which had indoor plumbing. In her memoir, I Wanna Tell You My Story, she wrote:

Each shack we lived in was even more dilapidated than the last. I was so ashamed of these shacks that whenever someone came to visit, I would run and hide ….

The shacks were unbearably hot in the summertime and extremely cold in the wintertime. I remember using my coat on top of the cover because the fire would go out. In the middle of the night I would shiver trying to get myself warm.

In the summertime, we fell asleep wherever we could because we were so tired from working hard in the tobacco fields. The gum from the tobacco would stick to our hands and our hair.

The old shacks were surrounded by a well and an outhouse. One of my chores was to take the slop jars from the house. I would gag all the way to empty them deep into the wooded area, far from the house.

Because she hated the slop jars, and the outhouse was not much better, Aunt Cornelia often wet herself as a child, a habit that was probably exacerbated by the fact that my grandfather used to beat her with a brush broom. When she went to school, she was ostracized because she often smelled.

I thought about that story as I sat in a chair in Chapel Hill after one particularly perilous night near the end, holding on to her hand. Her skin, as usual, was soft and incredibly smooth. Aunt Cornelia would always light up with pride when her doctors remarked about her skin and how well she took care of herself. It signified how far she had come and the example she set for me. While she was still alive and lucid, I began to thank her.

“Thank you for loving me even when I wasn’t easy to love,” I said.

“Thank you for seeing me.

“Thank you for teaching me about black people.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Thank you for teaching me to love myself

One of my earliest memories of Aunt Cornelia occurred when I was about 5 or 6 years old and this unfamiliar woman showed up at our house. She was 6 feet tall, sporting a wide smile and a booming voice. She had dark brown skin like my father, and her natural hair was cropped close to her head.

She didn’t look like anyone I’d ever met before, certainly not in the small North Carolina Air Force town I called home, where my parents reacted with mortified laughter when I came home one day and told them I wanted to take clogging lessons.

I was in a community theater camp that summer. Small yet imperious, I informed Aunt Cornelia I was writing a play. Snow White, I said — an adaptation, clearly.

You can be a tree,” I told her.

I couldn’t know the memories that childish proclamation must have evoked. In I Wanna Tell You My Story, Aunt Cornelia wrote about how cruel her classmates could be:

I will never forget the days when I was on my way to class and the cool guys were standing on the school steps making fun of all the uncool people. I felt especially good about myself this one day. My sister Geneva had bought some deodorant, my mom had gotten a piece of green cloth and made me a shift dress. I had on green fishnet stockings. When I passed the guys walking into the building they said, “Ho ho ho! Green Giant!” Everybody laughed – including the teachers. I just wanted to disappear into the ground.

You can be a tree

Even when I could have been a giant trigger for her, even when I said hurtful things without knowing it, she didn’t retreat into herself (a favorite tactic of mine as I grew up). She loved me anyway. She had faith that I wasn’t just a tactless little brat. She spoiled the dickens out of me and, like all good aunts, took it upon herself to rescue me from bouts of parental insanity. She found humor in the phantom pain that echoed through her and helped me overcome my own awkwardness in the world.

My sister Carol, Aunt Cornelia holding me, and my Aunt Barbara, holding my cousin CJ.

She saw how we were the same.

Of all the lessons she gave me, learning to love myself and my body was the most difficult. It was much easier to find reasons to despise myself, and they occurred with such abundance: my hair is too short, my arms too long, my feet too big, my belly and thighs and face too round. My general nature is just all-around difficult. And I’m prone to cataloging and internalizing slights.

Aunt Cornelia grew up wishing she looked more like her sister Florene, who had lighter skin and longer, more loosely textured hair than she did. I wanted hair like my sister Carol, who is 11 years older than I am. She had long, loose, bouncy curls that grew more rapidly than my tightly coiled naps. Our mother, who is not African-American, is a petite, olive-skinned Dutch woman. My father used to recount his grandmother jokingly advising him to marry a light-skinned woman so his children wouldn’t be ugly.

Like Aunt Cornelia, I grew up longing for normal-sized feet, not the podiatric monstrosities that had me in a ladies size 10 shoe when I was 10 years old. She was “Green Giant.” By the time I was in fourth grade, to my classmates I was “Bigfoot.”

Like feet, outsize bosoms are common among the McDonald ladies, and they present similar challenges. It’s difficult and expensive to find bras that are pretty and feminine and also perform well as over-the-shoulder boulder-holders. My mother was responsible for buying my bras when I lived at home, and once I’d reached a C-cup by eighth grade, it didn’t take long for me to notice that the ones she bought for me didn’t correspond with my size. They were always too small, as if she was trying to will my body to stop growing in inappropriate directions.

The underlying message I took was that my body was unruly and made others uncomfortable. The worst was when adults would talk to my parents in front of me about the curves that had suddenly sprung from nowhere, as if I didn’t know what they meant.

Me, my sister Carol, and our mother Lilian. I was 14 here, and I’m looking down, mortified, because someone just said something about my bust.

Aunt Cornelia tried like hell to spare me the pain of bodily dissatisfaction. She’d tell me to look in the mirror and tell myself I was beautiful and capable and amazing, like the Soraya she saw. Most of the time I didn’t heed her instructions. They seemed cheesy, and frankly it felt like lying to myself.

But Aunt Cornelia kept delivering perfectly customized compliments as I grew into adulthood. “Who taught you how to beat your face like that?” she’d ask if I showed up with a fully made-up face — and she didn’t bull– me because she knew I’d spot it immediately.

At the beginning of January when I came to visit, I took a shower and came out to her bedroom wrapped in one of Aunt Cornelia’s big plush towels. “I’m gonna flash you,” I warned her. I opened the towel and did a little shimmy and she laughed.

“You’ve got some nice t—–s!” she exclaimed. “That’s how mine used to look.”

I had put on a black and pink balconette number, and my aunts cooed in awe. “That’s a pretty bra,” Aunt Gail said through the iPad. “Where’d you get that?!”

I walked them through the glories of Figleaves and HerRoom, not unlike how Aunt Cornelia introduced me to mail-order catalogs full of specialty sizes of ladies shoes.

After years of unsolicited jeers, come-ons and street harassment, I put on weight after college and part of me was happy with the sexual invisibility that came with it. But that didn’t last long, and I grew frustrated and unhappy with myself again.

I learned to embrace my body and its imperfections when I stopped obsessing so much about what size and weight it was and focused more on what feats it could accomplish.

When I triumphantly called Aunt Cornelia to inform her I was training for my first triathlon and relay the sense of satisfaction I felt when I completed my first 30-mile bike ride, giant thighs and all, she told me about experiencing similar revelations after running the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. Now, my sister and I are training for a triathlon this fall, which we’re doing together in honor of Aunt Cornelia.

Thank you for seeing me

Aunt Cornelia showered me with all sorts of fabulous stuff my parents would not buy, as aunts do. But more importantly, she let me pick out clothes and accessories that corresponded with my personality and not someone’s idea of what a “good girl” should look like.

When I was in high school, she took me shopping at a Loehmann’s in Los Angeles and bought me a pair of $200 Via Spiga boots that had a 4-inch stiletto heel. Aunt Cornelia was well-acquainted with the melange of horror and dread that accompanied the prospect of having to wear men’s tennis shoes or hideous granny clodhoppers as a result of being the owner of a pair of enormous, narrow feet that looked like boats protruding from too-skinny legs.

I didn’t have to say it out loud. She’d been there, too.

Aunt Cornelia and me in front of her apartment in Santa Monica, California, during a visit when I was in high school.

Aunt Cornelia didn’t just let me be myself, she encouraged it, and when she noticed me shrinking into some preconceived notion of what someone else said was cool or appropriate, she’d remind me it was OK to be me.

“I love that word: agency,” she said to me once.

I was 20 when I exhibited some agency of my own.

I’d finished an internship at a paper in Mississippi, and my father had come to help drive the Mazda he’d bought for me back to North Carolina, with a pit stop at my sister’s house in Atlanta. In the course of casual conversation, my editor told him that I’d recently taken a weekend trip to Florida to visit my boyfriend, and this clearly bothered my father.

I remember him bellowing through most of Mississippi, and probably Alabama too, about not wanting a daughter with “hoochie mama tendencies.” (This was before “slut shaming” became a common part of the lexicon, but that’s exactly what it was.) Mostly I remember cringing into the passenger side door, trying desperately to will myself to disappear into it.

By the time we reached Atlanta, I’d had enough. When it was time to leave my sister’s house and continue to North Carolina, I’d decided to stay. I handed my father the keys to the Mazda and took out all my belongings.

“How are you going to get back to school?” he asked me.

“I’ll figure it it out,” I said.

I was so scared. I didn’t know much of anything, but I did know I never wanted to feel again the way I’d felt in that car.

My aunt believed in having control over every aspect of her life. Aunt Cornelia was the first adult I ever heard say the word “p—y,” as in “No, I don’t owe you any p—y just ’cause you took me to dinner and you drive a Mercedes” — a line from a story she told me about a onetime suitor. He did not make it to a second date.

She went through a phase of sexual conservatism, which she ditched for a more sex-positive approach after having a growth removed from her uterus. This was also after she’d directed and starred in a production of The Vagina Monologues.

That was when Aunt Cornelia began to dispense unsolicited advice concerning the quality and frequency of orgasms: “Girl, you better get you a B-O-B.”

“B-O-B?” I asked quizzically.

“Yeah! A Battery Operated Boyfriend!”

Thank you for teaching me about black people

Aunt Cornelia taught me to trust my own judgment about how I should run my life. And she taught me about black people and how wonderful we are.

She used to work as a pediatric nurse for UCLA’s hospital, until the 1994 Northridge earthquake prompted her to skedaddle back to my grandmother’s house in Holly Springs, North Carolina. She brought back all sorts of treasures with her, among them an embroidered settee, masks, sculptures, vases and mud cloth from Africa, and an Ernie Barnes print of two men playing basketball and another of four men running track. It was such a contrast with my parents’ house, which my aunt described as “nice, but Waspy.”

“What’s Waspy?” I remember asking her.

My parents had a classical, jazz and NPR household, which made my Another Bad Creation cassette tape, a present from my sister, practically contraband. But in Aunt Cornelia’s car the radio was tuned to hip-hop and R&B, and when she started going through menopause, we’d cruise up Durham’s Highway 55 with the windows down in the middle of winter, blasting Lauryn Hill.

One summer, my aunt was an artist-in-residence teaching drama to children in a Durham housing project called Few Gardens. The same summer, I was a day camper at Duke Young Writers’ Camp. Aunt Cornelia used to roll up to Duke’s campus in a big, un-air-conditioned eyesore of a van, usually with her charges, and pick me up.

She didn’t say anything to me, but I saw the way she treated the kids and took heed. My aunt wasn’t condescending, and she wasn’t overly prescriptive. She taught me there’s no shame in being poor, that it’s not a moral failing. Watching her work, I learned important lessons about respectability politics and not looking down your nose at other black people.

Aunt Cornelia, chilling in a hammock at my grandmother’s house in Holly Springs, North Carolina.

In her book, she reminded her readers not to judge people — not if they were poor, not if they smelled. “You never know what someone’s going through,” she wrote.

My parents didn’t want me to go Howard University, but it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. And I probably wouldn’t have made it without Aunt Cornelia.

My father, who’d attended North Carolina Central because educational segregation and economic circumstances demanded it, didn’t think I should go to a historically black university. He thought I could do better. I proudly told my parents Howard was the school of Toni Morrison and Thurgood Marshall and Zora Neale Hurston. It was more than good enough.

When I was at Howard, I started to believe that the lessons Aunt Cornelia had been trying to teach me began to take root.

I was at this place with all sorts of black people, from all sorts of backgrounds, and plenty of them were smarter than I was. The girls, in their impossibly high heels and their perfectly coiffed hair, seemed like they were from a different planet. My freshman year, I was perfectly happy to walk around with a bright pink L.L. Bean backpack, wearing hippie skirts and Jesus sandals and drinking from a Nalgene bottle. I went to Amnesty International meetings and anti-Iraq War protests.

That summer, my parents wanted me to come back to North Carolina. But I had other designs, ones that set me on the path to where I am now, here at The Undefeated. I shared a rented rowhouse on Florida Avenue for a summer, working an unpaid internship with during the day and a paid job at the downtown Barnes & Noble at night. When my earnings fell short, Aunt Cornelia helped cover my rent, subsidizing the work I needed to do to become a professional writer.

She was a fantastic live storyteller, a woman who created The Moth for herself before The Moth was a thing. She would sweep into a room or onto a stage with perfect posture and a brightly patterned scarf wrapped intricately around her head. She had a way of relaying painful incidents that would cause audiences to erupt into peals of laughter, the kind that made tears spring from enjoying yourself so much. Aunt Cornelia remains the writer who was my biggest inspiration, champion, and the most trusted judge of my work.

Having an aunt who was a poet and playwright who performed pieces about poverty and abuse and being the descendant of slaves was like having your own personal Maya Angelou, except much cooler. She used to randomly break into Nina Simone or Tracy Chapman. Now, I sing Erykah Badu lyrics aloud to myself.

Four years at Howard taught me I could wear my hair natural and paint my face as I pleased. I could develop whatever sense of style I desired, sport a giant Afro or a sleek blowout. More than anything, it taught me that I could be whoever I wanted to be, and be black doing it, and that was enough. Howard taught me that I was enough, providing the most powerful bulwark of all against a world that still insists in myriad ways that I am not, and that black women just like me (Hello, Rep. Maxine Waters and White House correspondent April Ryan) are not enough, either.

I arrived at Howard a feminist, but my experience there showed me what was possible in a world where blackness was valued and celebrated. It made me impatient with racism and white supremacy. It changed me from a person who looked at such ills and thought they were bad to one who finds them unacceptable.

And when I returned home after four years there, I didn’t have to say any of that out loud. It was in my body, in the way I carried myself, in everything about me. Aunt Cornelia took one look, and she just knew.

“I don’t know what they teach y’all at Howard. But thank the LORD,” she said, drawing the word out into multiple syllables, “you didn’t stay here.”

I knew exactly what she meant.

Black Twitter takes lemons and turns them into lemonade with #BlackWomenAtWork Black women join in shared workplace experiences and encouragement via Twitter

On the heels of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s recent remarks about congresswoman Maxine Waters’ hair, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke down to White House correspondent April Ryan during a news conference on Tuesday. After the veteran journalist asked how President Donald Trump’s administration would revamp its image after what has been a rocky start, Spicer immediately disagreed with the content of her question. The press secretary dodged the question and Ryan began to shake her head, at which point Spicer told her to “stop shaking your head.”

His comments sparked outrage among Black Twitter and birthed the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork. The hashtag — created by Brittany Packnett, vice president of Teach for America’s National Community Alliances — became a safe place for black women to share similar workplace experiences involving aggression and unfair practices simply for doing their jobs.

Unfortunately, this isn’t Ryan’s first time being caught in the Trump administration’s line of fire. Earlier this year, Trump requested Ryan set up a meeting between the Congressional Black Caucus and himself, which clearly isn’t part of her job description.

Black women face a double whammy of being black and female. Attacks like those launched against Ryan and Waters merely highlight the daily experiences of black women. Although Tuesday proved to be a trying day for black women, Black Twitter managed to take negative encounters and transform them into teaching tools via social media. Here are some of the powerful stories and encouragement shared through the #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag.

For National Women’s History Month, stories of Undefeated black women From athletes and actresses to soldiers and writers, here are some of the amazing women we’ve written about

To kick off National Women’s History Month, we’re sharing stories about the most Undefeated women who we’ve written about since we launched in May 2016.

They include athletes, actresses, soldiers, musicians, educators, activists and journalists.

According to the National Women’s History Project, “recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life – science, community, government, literature, art, sports, medicine – has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women.”

Here are stories about special women who are truly Undefeated:

  1. LUPITA NYONG’O is always on the queenside
  2. MARY J. BLIGE opens up about her message, her music and yes — her marriage
  3. SERENA WILLIAMS sits down with Common to talk about race and identity
  4. CANDACE PARKER leads Sparks to WNBA championship
  5. The UNDEFEATED 44: African-Americans who shook up the world
  6. STACYE HARRIS — The first black woman to become an Air Force lieutenant general
  7. CHRISTINA HOPPER – The first black female fighter pilot to fly in wartime
  8. ISSA RAE and Insecure
  9. The world of AVA DUVERNAY
  10. SKYLAR DIGGINS and her game preparation
  11. White House reporter APRIL RYAN ON her family, her new book and dealing with Trump
  12. LAILA ALI on new mentoring campaign

Veteran White House reporter April Ryan on Trump: ‘He’s different … I govern myself accordingly’ Her new book isn’t on politics — it’s on race and motherhood

Twice in the last two weeks, longtime White House correspondent April Ryan has been the subject of news stories: once when President Donald Trump made an unusual request of her during a White House press conference and after a heated exchange with Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault.

But the two occurrences do not define her nor have they inhibited her from speaking on topics dear to her heart, including her new book At Mama’s Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White, which was released in December 2016.

At Mama’s Knee combines Ryan’s personal story, her experience on race from her perspective at the White House, conversations with her mother, and a look at how she educates her two daughters as a single black parent in Baltimore. It weaves in accounts from well-known people about what their mothers told them concerning race and how they talked about the topic with their children.

Ryan, 49, works from an office right behind the White House press briefing room, preparing stories for listeners of 300 affiliates of American Urban Radio Networks as well as readers of her blog Fabric of America. Trump is the fifth president she’s covered.

During the past two weeks, Ryan, who prides herself on delivering news and not being part of it, has become the center of attention. Trump asked her to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus following a question she addressed to him about meeting with members of the organization.

Just days before, she had an encounter with a former friend. According to ABC News, “In conflicting accounts, Ryan accused Manigault of verbal intimidation. Ryan also said her friendship with Manigault became estranged after Manigault accused her of an improper relationship with Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Manigault denied the accusations.”

Despite the recent drama, Ryan embraces her life as a journalist, author and mother. At Mother’s Knee includes accounts from Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), Clinton, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Christopher Darden, Valerie Jarrett, Iyanla Vanzant, Harry Belafonte, presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter and others.

In her first book, The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America, Ryan used her experience as a White House reporter to relate a narrative about race in America.

Ryan talked with The Undefeated about her new book, writing, family, and Trump:

When President Trump asked you about arranging a meeting with the CBC, how did that make you feel?

I couldn’t believe he said that. I was like, ‘Is he kidding?’ I said no, because as a journalist I’m not supposed to do that. He didn’t have to call on me, but he did. I was happy he did that.

How are you handling the situation with Omarosa? How are you handling the chaos?

It’s not chaos. I wish her well.

How do you prepare to deal with the president?

There is nothing hidden when it comes to Donald Trump. We see who he is. We see that, we believe it and we march on. He is not George W. Bush. He is not Bill Clinton. He is not Barack Obama. He is uniquely Donald J. Trump. And he’s got a learning curve. I see that. So I have to be aware of who he is, be aware of if I ask him something, he may throw me off like he tried to do the other day. But understand, he is different from the last three that I dealt with, so therefore I govern myself accordingly when it comes to him.

Do you have any insight on the president’s expected executive order on HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities]?

The way we understand it is they are going to take the HBCU initiative out of the Department of Education and put it under the White House. That’s one piece. They want to have a microscope on it because it’s a big issue. They want to make sure that the 105 HBCUs succeed. There are a lot of issues there. You’ve got the Pell Grant issue, the Parent Plus Loan issue, you’ve got some of the schools that are failing and some of the schools are succeeding. What I’m hearing is that they want to strengthen the financial component.

What inspired you to write your second book?

I’m a mother and I talk to presidents about matters of race and urban America. But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk to my children, particularly when it’s right in our backyard hitting us hard. And the crazy thing about it is that I really started dealing with it when Tamir Rice was killed. I felt like I was at a crossroads with it trying to figure out what to do, how to do. And I wanted to see how other mothers related to the issues and certain periods of time.

"At Mama's Knee" is April Ryan's second book that deals with motherhood and race.

“At Mama’s Knee” is April Ryan’s second book that deals with motherhood and race.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

What inspires you as an author, as a correspondent and as a mother?

My kids. They inspire me. I love it when they come home happy. That’s inspirational — the fact that they look to me as inspiration. I always say the words ‘aspire to inspire.’ I don’t think I’m aspiring to greatness or anything. I think I aspire to a greater day. I think I aspire to do the best I can on my job. To report the story and give the facts that others may not see or look over. Find stories that are in my community that people don’t know. I’m inspired by people who march on in the midst of it. And that could be anything – crisis, heartbreak, sickness, or confusion. I’m inspired by that. I’m really inspired by those testimonies, those stories that really show the resilience.

How long did it take you to write At Mama’s Knee?

It was about a year. The first book was tough. The first book was 17 years. It was kind of an interesting transition for me between the first book and this book. I felt I couldn’t get my mind off The Presidency in Black and White. It was hard to transition. And I did. People say this is just as good and even better. I’ve been taking notes for a possible next one.

Talk about your evolution from the first time you stepped into the White House until now.

I was green as green can be. It was amazing. Every time I walk into the White House, it’s a fresh new start. Something new every day. Everyone doesn’t get to go to that place. Everyone doesn’t get to walk into that press room. Everyone doesn’t get a chance to question presidents. It’s a fresh new day and it’s something I’m very thankful for. Twenty years ago, I was green. Twenty years later, they call me a veteran. There’s a lot that I can still learn. That place is very dear to me. The issues are very dear to me. I just can’t believe that 20 years later, I may be one of the longest-serving White House correspondents who happens to be African-American. It’s a very interesting position. It’s a very interesting time. I’m just thankful for each day.

Do you remember the first question you asked a president?

It was in the hallway and I asked President Clinton to call me by my name. I introduced myself and I asked ‘Will you call me by my name?’ He said, ‘Why is she worried about me calling her by her name?’ Because that’s Washington power. When a president sees you and calls you by name – April Ryan or April.

As an author, how do you turn the White House off and flip to writing?

When I leave the White House, I cannot stand talking about politics when I get home. I watch it. I read it and I eat it. I switch it off. And when it comes to writing, this is crazy, but I could be in the middle of something and something came to me and I email myself. I may get up at 4 or 5 o’clock and start writing. I need that peace, that moment and I find myself just getting angry because I have to shut it off because I have to move on.

What was the most challenging part of writing your new book?

The most challenging part of At Mama’s Knee was just writing my story. As a journalist, we are not the story. You know a lot about me in this book. The first one, I was scared. I had never written a book before. I’m a radio person. We give it to you in 30 seconds or less. I write that way. We give you the meat. So I was scared. I was like, ‘People are not going to like this.’ But they did. And I had to get out of my own way because I was defeating myself.

As a radio journalist, how do you want to deliver information to listeners?

I like to grab the audience with impacting statements, things they haven’t heard before. I like to bring the audience in and bring them with me on the journey.

How would describe your life thus far?

I have markers in my life. I was a kid that didn’t think that I really was going to do what I’m doing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do something significant. I used to want to be a lawyer. I wanted to be this, I wanted to be that. I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be in TV. But I wound up being in radio. I look at how it happened. Just walking out on faith and thinking I could do anything and thinking I could succeed. I guess I did. I’ve been here 20 years. That was one marker. The biggest marker was when I lost my mother 10 years ago. She was my best friend. You realize once you have life-or-death issues what you will or won’t take. I realized that I lost the biggest piece of me, my biggest champion, my biggest critic. And I was not living the life I thought I should be leading, meaning I didn’t feel my personal life was right. There were some changes in my life. I became a divorced single mom. I had two children. When you come face to face with death, you look at things in a real tangible way. My life changed and, really, it changed for the better, meaning I found myself again. I was true to myself. I’ve not looked back. I love what I’m doing. I enjoy it. I walk through life just thankful for the people and the experiences.

What do you want readers to take away from this book?

They need to talk to their children because it’s a life-or-death situation right now. We are the influencers. We help shape how they formulate their mindset on certain issues. We help them walk down that narrow path that sometimes may narrow even further, or it may widen. We help them understand the dynamic of a world that we’re still trying to figure out day by day. We try to give them the tools – lifesaving tools – to help them to thrive in this world. I think we need to talk to our children and let them know where we come from, who we are and hope for tomorrow.

What’s up next for you?

Loving on my children and trying to take a vacation and I know they [publishers] want me to write another book.

Daily Dose: 2/17/16 Do you know anyone in the Congressional Black Caucus?

I’ve been in Miami for the last couple of days because I’ll be hosting Highly Questionable at 4 p.m. with my radio co-host Mina Kimes on ESPN. Thursday, though, I dropped by Bomani Jones’ The Right Time to chop it up.

One thing intrigues me about the White House press corps: Why don’t they simplify things? Policy questions are pointless. Just go basic. If I were in that room, I’d meet the president on his level. Why do you care about the media so much? What do you think the purpose of the press is? Why do you watch television and tweet? When do you plan on ending your comments about the election? It would all be fair at this point, judging from how Thursday went. And, oh, yeah. April Ryan is a hero for dealing with that Congressional Black Caucus reply.

If you’re an undocumented immigrant in this country, right now is a fearful time. No matter how many public officials deny it, raids are certainly being carried out and many of them are rather craven. There are some truly sickening stories circulating about how this crackdown is going. Snatching people up coming from work, picking their kids up from school, or leaving church? All of it just seems so extra. To top it all off, quite a few of these arrests are breaking up families, which is really sad.

You know what the funny thing is about black folks? Our stories are interesting. For more than one reason. No. 1, because most of them are not necessarily well-known in mainstream storytelling lanes. No. 2, because, ahem, we are humans, who deserve to have our stories told like everyone else. So, shocker, when we actually get to tell them as we choose, guess what? People like them. As in, everybody. And, unsurprisingly, the numbers show that it’s true. No one should be shocked.

One thing that working in the sports industry does is humanize you. When you cover the people who play the games that so many people watch on television, you get to see their actual personalities behind those numbers and jerseys. This seems obvious, but every once a while you get a story from an athlete that truly breaks your heart. This tale of the former Chicago Bears’ defensive tackle Tommie Harris and how he lost his wife is the kind of thing that no one should have to deal with.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The Golden State Warriors need to learn to stop doing group photo shoots in anything other than their sports uniforms. The whole squad always ends up looking like models in some stock photo situation, which of course opens the door for supreme roasting. Actually, the jokes are too good. Dubs, please never end this tradition.

Snack Time: Eric Andre is a pretty eccentric guy. His television show is a series of explosions, anatomy jokes and other absurd high jinks, but, he’s now dating Rosario Dawson. No one wants to believe this is real, but it is, folks.

Dessert: There’s nothing like a good love song. Here’s one to help out your weekend.