Y’all. I’ve been working on this 2016 review for weeks.
But I just haven’t been able to get my act together. Typically, I like to spend the last few days of a year reflecting on all that’s happened. You know, the highs, the lows, how I’ve navigated and God’s grace through it all.
The thing is, 2016 has not been typical.
As 2017 opens, I wanted to share a not-so-brief update on why I’ve been MIA. And ask for a bit of grace as my life drastically changes in a few weeks.
The primary reasons I’ve been out of touch are: a baby, a book and our new little bungalow. Since it’s been a while since we’ve chatted, I’ll just give you a chronological update (and lots of pictures) of the last six months.
PERISCOPE : A New Creative Space (June 2016)
I’ve never really thought of myself as an artist. I’ve always identified as a writer, with a business background to boot. For me, there was all this internal pressure to:
- and constantly be in motion.
But earlier this year, I was accepted into PERISCOPE an artist entrepreneur training program. And I learned four important lessons.
- Art is a learning process that materializes in a million different ways. Sometimes, the end result is wildly successful and sometimes it’s a disaster. Learn from it and embrace it either way.
- I must learn to say ‘no’ to work that doesn’t fit the mission and purpose of my work.
- I must account for the time I invest in each and every project.
- There is a broader community that is ready to support the mission of this work…if I’m willing to share.
It was a miracle I was even accepted into this program.
I mean, the other two writers were nominated for a Pushcart and Pulitzer. For some reason, however, the Good Lord saw fit to have be in the number (insert praise break).
After grappling with so many rejections and disappointments, it was a gift to have the confirmation that I do have some talent. I even won third place at the business pitch and was a guest on a podcast.
Life at The Library (July)
In the spring, I kinda decided I was done with writing.
The novel kept getting rejected, I wasn’t making enough money freelancing and I was just tired of writing and not getting the results I wanted. So, I started applying to jobs related to books i.e. publishing, book stores etc.
I just wanted out…
In July, I started temping at my local library. My first week of training was, shall we say, difficult. The police (and one ambulance!) were called in almost every day. (Lemme tell you, it was not what I pictured life at the library would be.) As a result, I gained a new level of focus and I thought “Hey, maybe writing isn’t so bad.” And after a month of training, I landed in a community and library that I loved.
But it still wasn’t smooth sailing…
Living Without Plumbing (July 2016)
Two weeks after we purchased our new little bungalow, our plumbing stopped working. (If you are a subscriber, you already know this story.) Our showers didn’t drain, our toilets didn’t flush and we couldn’t use our washing machine…for six weeks!
But the plumbing was just one of about 14 things that went wrong with our house in our first two months here. And it felt like we had REALLY missed the mark.
- Should have kept renting?
- Did we heard God wrong?
- Maybe we should have moved to the suburbs?
Then my dear friend, Simone, reminded us that maybe were facing so much opposition because we were supposed to be there. She was right.
And while it was awful to live without plumbing, face all the challenges that came and not take our frustration out on each other…Morris and I grew toward each other, became much more grateful and prayed like never before.
It’s a good thing we were praying because…
A Matter of Justice (August)
A few weeks into my library job, I witnessed a troubling incident. It was just a couple blocks away in Edgehill Village.
Two boys were stopped and questioned by the police. I knew one of the boys, because he frequents the library. So, I stopped to ask the officers why the boys were being detained. The conversation went something like this…
Officer MH: They were riding their bikes on the sidewalk.
Officer MH: Their parents aren’t with them.
Me: Yes. This little boy comes into the library by himself all the time. He’s a good boy. And he doesn’t get into trouble.
Officer MH: Well, they weren’t wearing helmets
Officer MH: (lowers voice and points) Listen, the Gelato place and several of the other businesses calls us whenever they see unaccompanied minors. They don’t want them around here, because there’s been some vandalism in the area.
Little Boy: I didn’t break anything!
Officer MH: I’m not saying you did, but these businesses have had problems with children.
I didn’t know what to say.
It was summer time.
They were riding their bikes two blocks from their home!
2 Boys, 2 Bikes and the Police Car…
In the end, the boys and their bikes were loaded into the police car and taken home. The boys are 7 and 9.
First, I was crushed. Then, I was outraged.
The next day, I called the police station and requested records of all the complaints of unaccompanied minors for that street. Because I wanted to know if there was a pattern of targeting children.
That afternoon I visited. One officer listened and seemed empathetic. But the Community Coordinator, Sgt. Michelle Jones, informed me that I am “just one person, she would have to conduct a database search, and that I would need to be an organization or something to attain that type of information.”
So, What Next?
This was a soul-crushing conversation to have with someone that is supposed to represent the needs of the community.
- Maybe this is to be expected in a neighborhood where the face of the community is rapidly changing?
- It could be that, my idea of community is unrealistic?
- Or maybe this was a tactic to intimidate low-income children from accessing public resources around new fancy pants businesses?
But like my friend, Aja, says…sometimes you just gotta get in Formation.
So, I started talking to anybody that would listen to my concerns (the local newspaper, my church, area non-profits etc.)
Turns out, I’m not crazy and my concerns were valid. After numerous, emails and one meeting to placate me…the police department pledged to hold bicycle safety training for the children.
Y’all, this was an unsatisfactory response. But more on that below.
Baby Boyd + Book (August 2016)
Two weeks later, we found out that I was four months pregnant! Suddenly, it all made sense why we were in our new home…just 8 minutes from my parents.
We won’t know the gender until we meet Baby Boyd aka Ray/Rae of Sunshine in February.
After working with an editor for two months, swapping manuscripts with a dear writer friend, and rounds and rounds of edits the book was finished. And was finally ready to head to the designer for layout.
A Disguised Blessing (September 2016)
As I mentioned earlier, the police department’s response was unacceptable. But the Lord had a ram in the bush…
During PERISCOPE, the arts entrepreneurship program I mentioned earlier, I learned that Nashville sometimes funds community-based art projects.
I’d never heard of the program before. But it got me to thinking about the unjust incident I witnessed:
- Maybe there was an artistic response?
- Could we use the incident as a way to lift up the voices of our children?
- Maybe we could connect neighbors across ethnic, educational, and economic backgrounds?
So, for two months I worked on a proposal to submit to the city. At the same time, four years of work came to completion.
Spreading the Message & Celebrating (October)
On October 3rd, The Day Sonny Died was published. Many of you read it AND wrote reviews (thank YOU). After so long writing, rewriting and fighting with scenes and characters…it was a gift to cross this finish line.
So, me and Morris headed to NYC to celebrate.
The Day Sonny Died
The Day Sonny Died highlights the struggles of young black men and explores the story before the headline and hashtag.
The story came to me after serving on a jury in Washington, D.C. A mother was being tried for drug possession, an unregistered firearm, etc. But the worst of it was, she had her 9-month old baby boy in the car with her. Her face and the thought of what her son’s life would probably be never left me.
And I started writing.
Living in Survival Mode
You see, so many times we witness the end of these young men’s lives as a 6-second news clip. But we don’t know that they’ve lived a life in survival mode. The thing is, there is always hope despite tragedy.
We’ve taken an organic approach to spreading this message and are having discussion groups. To date, we shared at a mentoring program in Maryland, a group of families in Northern Virginia, the Family Foundation Fund mothers, and to a chapel at a local jail.
Sharing with the young men that are incarcerated was true confirmation…
Sharing in Jail
We visited the jail twice. First, to share the need for fatherhood, introduce the book, and request their honest feedback. When we arrived for the first session, we waited about 45 mins for the men to join us.
But when we returned ten days later the entire group was there waiting on us, with their books and ready to share! And the session ended up going over on time.
It was nothing short of miraculous to hear these men share their hearts and how the story connected with them. Four men even wrote letters of support to help us access more prisons and possibly schools. Here’s a quote:
What intrigued me the most is how Sonny story was so close to mine. The resentment one feels from not truly knowing your father, or knowing the roots from which you came…Somehow we find excuses to govern our lives, either it be drugs, alcohol, sex anything that can suppress that feeling to take on that responsibility to live as a productive citizens. Most fall victim to gang life because they’re looking for that false sense of love to feel that void of neglect that blinds you to the beautiful people that God’s surround you with. The Day Sonny Died will be a very inspirational book to share with our youth, because they’re are future.
Only God could do that.
And, apparently, He’s not finished…
The Freedom Awards: My First Press Trip
I did my best to keep cool, but standing in the space where Dr. King took his last breath, interviewing Soledad O’Brien, talking with Bryan Stevenson and witnessing the cost of change…
Y’all it was almost too much.
- It was heavy
- I felt all emotional
- But it was a good reminder…
Freedom ain’t free.
The Bible commands us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. The road will be tough. And the road will be long.
But God is beginning to show me my place in the struggle for change…
Art In The City (November)
My art proposal in response to the boys being detained by the police was approved! As a result, in the very neighborhood where our children were humiliated…they will have a platform to respond and be heard.
The best part is that so many community members, businesses and local organizations are stepping up to support our children. The project is funded in part by the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission…and I’m just grateful.
So those are the 10 reasons this blog’s been silent.
2016 Review: Writing With God
Simone, are you still blogging? When’s your next book coming out?
I get those questions a lot these days. The short answer is: I don’t know.
I started last year by reading Fervent. By writing this 2016 review, I can see the year was all about letting God drive my agenda and priorities…and being obedient. For me,
- it’s uncomfortable to let emails go unanswered.
- I hate not returning phone calls for days on end.
- I worry about being silent on this blog.
- And it’s painful not to have a plan for 2017!
All the good things and trials that I’ve overcome happened because I was available to God. And that’s the point : power in God’s kingdom is NOT based on ability…but availability.
So, I’m just going to make myself available. If He tells me to blog, I’ll blog. If He tells me to write, I will. He’s given me three priorities:
- The Baby
- The Day Sonny Died
- And Our Home
Outside of that, I really don’t know what my days will look like. But I’m excited and expectant to see what He has in store.
Question: What was 2016 about for you?
Can’t wait to hear your updates! Love, Simone