1 Category 1: ENGL 1010

Oremeyi Daniyan; Jennifer Hale; and Sarah Jane Nelson

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My Mother and Black

Awarded to Oremeyi Daniyan for work submitted in Fall 2021 to Dr. Ronald Kates in ENGL 1010: Expository Writing

Walking through the aisles of the flooded retail store, I can sense my mother’s burning glance as I observe the black hoodies on the wall. My mother’s negative relationship with the color black sat so far rooted in the past that on the crisp, cool February morning in 2003 when the light of her only daughter entered her world, she still lay bitter in disgrace of the color, hoping that my pigment and this hue would never mix so elegantly because two things so shaded could not possibly be complementary to each other. I never understood this connection. Her commentary spills out in the same enervating manner, sternly demanding for me to find a “brighter color, wear a tighter belt, or look for a more fitting size.” I simply could not comprehend why my mother cared so much about the cloth hanging from my own body. That was until cloth became more than cloth and the seams of life burst open, taking me by control, shoving the experience of life so far in my soul that the sewing needle lost itself in the cotton cloud of self-awareness, and I realized that a slightly disheveled look could lead to the boiling point for someone who resembles me.

On February 26th, 2012, when Trayvon Martin became a household name, shot clinging to the Skittles in the pocket of his loose, black hoodie, my relationship with my fashion appearance too changed. My mother gathered my siblings and me for a serious talk, one I thought to never have, lay before us a slouchy dark hoodie, a pair of pants far too large, and a fascinating sundress. My mother spoke, “Take your pick, always look great, make sure you are shining, and never be late because rushing is not in your favor.” Mother blared on repeating every stereotype she could think of, the next more typical than the last, but all I could see from her display was a story of expression behind each article set in front of me. The beauty of the dark colors, the illuminating light hues, the contrasts in shapes and sizes are all an individual slice of the most golden pie, known as fashion.

The complex psychology behind fashion merits debunking, looking for someone to solve the unexplored spaces. Traveling glares settle on the intense and captivating characteristics of the fabric and the brain contracts, searching through continuous files of upbringing and culture, preparing to evaluate its findings to the piece of art that appears before it, the world stands still. Certain colors heighten certain senses and relay different moods. Clothes have transformed from pieces of textiles providing warmth and creating shelter, into a representation of the emotional beliefs and values we hold, of our status and our tastes. Most dishearteningly, fashion has become yet another way to keep us separated. Another obstacle to keep each other misunderstood.

The large and tangled hoop earrings, the untamed crown of coils, the loose and dangerous black hoodie. For me and so many other African American children, the way we dress has faded from enjoyment, the creativity of life ran over by the desire to survive. The lively two-piece swimsuit I pick out, looked down upon by elders, results in the label “fast girl.” Their words paint me in a film of lust before I even know the definition of the word, so I settle for the dull one-piece in an attempt to appease wandering eyes. The shiny jewelry I choose, chalked up to simply “asking for attention,” hurls me into a basket of conceit, so I strip away the entrancing decoration.  My loose, baggy hoodie serves as a way to desexualize me in a world that only wants to see little black girls grow up too fast. My choice of black is a symbol of strength that encompasses me and keeps me from forgetting the former. Black, similar to the hands that spread throughout the burning plantations, black, relating to the trunks whipped one thousand times over. Black, analogous to the feet that carried the March on Washington. All symbols of persistence and determination for me and my love-hate relationship with the color black, but what did that dark hoodie mean for George Zimmerman? At that moment, when his nine-millimeter pistol surfaced from his concealment, and his bullets discharged, unloading into 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, what did he see? A sneaky thug? An unkempt hoodlum? Where lay his mind? The uncertainty in these questions, the gray areas in this concept represent the silence of the screams for help that fall on society’s deaf ears.

This confusion is what I can best describe as the “black experience.” Having to worry about the colors one chooses to wear outside. Deciding what size shirt shall be draped over the body is as much a necessity as a steady hand during surgery. Yes, beauty rests in the eye of the beholder, my slack and shadowed hoodie, my shield from the swords of degradation, my only protection from the peering eyes that burn through me, trying to find the delinquent inside. Black, mistaken even by the science of psychology as something associated with fear and depression, something we should be afraid of. My mother’s nervous fear for me as she watches her daughter sliding through the trendy sections of the retail store pricks at my soul, as I know she only wants to see her child return home, but I must continue wearing my loose, black hoodie, as my walls did not crumble with the premature death of Trayvon Martin. They only expanded with passion.

My mother hates the color black. What fills her with fear, I cannot tell; the black of the clothes or the black of our skin. I do not go shopping with my mother often anymore.

My Experience with Literacy Part Two

Awarded to Jennifer Hale for work submitted in Fall 2021 to Dr. Erica Stone in ENGL 1010: Expository Writing

The day I was discharged from Vanderbilt University Hospital was the new first day of my literacy experience, everything I had learned before that was gone, forgotten, lost in the sea of black and blurry that now took residency where my memories once lived. I came to this realization when the nurse came to bring me my discharge paperwork. I grabbed the pen to sign my name and then nothing. My mother, realizing what was happening asked if I wanted her to sign for me. “No. I want to try.” I looked at the nurse “Can you bring me another…one of these (holding up the sheet of paper) so I can try on it first?” A few minutes later she came back with several sheets of paper and a clipboard. “Take your time, if you need any help push the call button and I will be right here.” That’s when the knot in my stomach formed because I was not sure I could even write my name, much less sign it. My mother took the clipboard and wrote in big letters: X x x x x x x x X x x x. “Here try to write this, then we will work on signing your name later.”

A few days later I started therapy to regain my memory and work on my motor skills. These were some of the hardest days I experienced during my healing process, and the pain wouldn’t go away after taking my medicine. While I progressed with the physical therapy, hit several roadblocks when it came to the mental/emotional therapy. I struggled with remembering words, how to express my thoughts and feelings, and writing. It was as if that part of my memory had been wiped clean. My therapist encouraged me to try and told me regardless of how frustrating it was, not to give up. “The memories and the words will come back. You just have to work at it…” she said while handing me a journal “Here. I want you to take this and write in it about your day. Write what happened and how you felt every day or every other day.” Still unable to drive, my mamaw (my grandmother) picked me up from therapy and to the back seat that journal went. I sighed “Mamaw, how is that journal gonna help me? I can barely write. I don’t know how…how to…I can’t put what up here (pointing to my head) in the journal.”

At my next appointment my therapist asked me if I had written in my journal yet. “No, I was barely able to write my name. I can’t do that. I don’t know the words. A child can write more than I can.” My therapist looked at me and told me “You do know the words, they are misplaced. I bet if you were to sit down and just write the words will come back. Don’t worry about spelling or being neat. That will come later.” She then switched gears and asked me if I had any new memories of the accident surface since our last visit. “I don’t know. When I sleep, I think…maybe…but then it doesn’t…then I don’t understand. Everything is still mixed up.” By that point I was getting upset. “Why can’t I remember almost dying? Why is my brain broken?” Seeing the pain and frustration my therapist ended the session a few minutes early so I wouldn’t shut down entirely.

Mamaw was sitting in her car looking at a cooking magazine while she waited for me to come out. “Your appointment ended early, how…” before Mamaw finished asking me, I answered her question “I don’t want to talk about it!” I looked at her with tear filled eyes and asked her if we could just go home. When we pulled up to the house, I didn’t wait for the car to be in park before I opened my door. However, any dramatic exit I thought I was going to have disappeared as I tried to get out of her car, I was still moving around like my great grandmother. I retreated to my childhood bedroom.

It didn’t take long for me to be overcome with emotion. As I looked around my room, I was hit with the reminder that I used to read and write…a lot. The sadness I had felt over losing my memory turned into the fear that I wouldn’t regain it, or the ability to communicate like did before the wreck. I laid there and cried until I drifted off into a much need nap. I do not know what came to me as I slept, but when I woke up some of the memories were a little sharper. Thoughts were a little clearer. I went into the kitchen and sat down in the same spot at the island as I had since I was seven (before that it was Papaw’s, but I took it over after he passed away.) Mamaw handed me a cup of coffee and asked how my nap was. “Good” I replied, followed with “much needed.”

Sitting at the island in my Mamaw’s kitchen I decided I was done walking with the storm of confusion and frustration in my head. I was going to put on paper what I felt. I was finally ready to come to terms with the fact that I almost died. I was going to really write this time, regardless of how painful it is. I had been working for months at understanding what happened and working through the emotions. Unfortunately, my near-death experience left bruises on more than just my body. My brain sustained a serious injury as I was thrown all over the cab of the truck, I was riding in. We went off the road and its eight-foot embankment into a pasture and rolled. The police report said we rolled at least seven times. It also said that I was non-responsive upon arrival of the firefighter, paramedic and E.R. nurse that heard the “all call” go out and were close to the scene of the wreck.

As I began writing, recalling what I read in the report and the second and third-hand information I had been given I had images surface from that day that had been lost previously. I remembered putting my seat belt on and hearing the click, then I became angry, and I began to write furiously. I didn’t understand how I could have been thrown since I had my seat belt on. The sound of the click and the bruises across my right shoulder and chest confirmed that memory. I remembered waking up in the floorboard, in a pool of liquid and in pain. I remembered scooting up onto the bench seat and hearing the muffled voice of the ER nurse as she told me her name, and to not move. I didn’t remember her name, I still don’t but the look on her face right before I fell unconscious again has stayed with me eleven years later.

By now tears began hitting the pages covered in my angry scribbles. I was hit with a wave of fear and the what-ifs were flooding my thoughts. What-if those three weren’t in the area to respond? What if I hadn’t put on my seat belt? What if I hadn’t gotten in the truck with my son’s father in the first place. I began listing them on a new sheet, but I couldn’t remember the words I wanted to use. “Mamaw…can you bring me the dictionary and the…the…the book that is like a dictionary but blue?” Thesaurus was one of those words that had not found their way back to my brain, but she knew what I meant and brought them both too me. Mamaw had watched me spend hours trying to remember, trying to write anything down that was floating between my ears, watching as pain and frustration fell upon me. Mamaw saw the storm coming and watched it pass.

I wrote for hours that evening, enough to fill several sheets of paper in my journal…front and back. Chickens everywhere would be insulted if I were to compare those first entries to chicken scratch. They were covered in scribbles of broken sentences, misspelled words, and letters written backward and that was just the legible writings. Yet, I was proud of those pages because I put as much effort into them as I did every day of physical therapy. With time I was able to gradually have my journal entries make sense. As I progressed with written language, I also progressed with my spoken language skills. I relearned the words needed to convey my thoughts and feelings.

My life and experience with literacy hit a pause for a brief period and is quite a bit different than most. I had to adjust and relearn how to write and communicate. I had to deal with those frustrations and difficulties all over again. I did it; this is my experience with literacy part two.


Finding Her Wings

Awarded to Sarah Jane Nelson for work submitted in Fall 2021 to Amie Whittemore in ENGL 1010: Expository Writing

The first time I met Pat Turner, I was an awkward seventh grader, shuffling down the locker lined hallway at Ouachita Christian School in Monroe, Louisiana. I was insecure about my pimples, my quickly blossoming body, my first day of school outfit… and then I saw her. At the end of the hallway, sunlight streamed in the glass double doors and her silhouette shined with yards of white flowing fabric in high contrast to her dark, chocolate brown skin. Her hair was big and when she turned to me, so was her smile.

To say she stood out is an understatement. She was the only black teacher at the entire school. Her confidence and warmth radiated the class as she commanded the room with her hands firmly planted on each side of the wooden podium. I was transfixed. Looking back, I feel that this is the first moment I realized I didn’t have to try to be small or hide myself. Ms. Turner was unapologetically intelligent, flamboyantly stylish, and a force to be reckoned with in the most positive way; a far cry from how I had been raised to behave as a demure southern belle. That moment would change the course of my life.

Since that first day of seventh grade, I have traveled the world, starred on Broadway, written and released six albums, birthed kids, married, and divorced. Life has been a great adventure with many highs and lows, and now I’m the one with big hair and a big smile. Today for the recording of the first episode of my new podcast, They Found Wings, I’m setting out to learn what events shaped Ms. Turner into the woman she was when I met her and who she is today.

When the video clicks on, Pat looks just like she did 35 years ago, beaming and beautiful. Her Zoom background is an intricate collage of photos, artwork, awards, and memorabilia, a scrapbook of memories and accolades of a lifetime of teaching and a life well lived. This podcast is about people who have overcome challenges to create a life they love, and first, I asked Ms. Turner what life was like growing up in Monroe, Louisiana in the 1950’s and 60’s. To give context to the racial unrest that black people faced in Monroe at that time, civil rights activist Mike Lesser, wrote a book entitled, Monroe is Hell: Voter Purges, Registration Drives, and the Civil Rights Movement in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. The book chronicles his work with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) as he was embedded in the African American community in Monroe in 1961. He talks about witnessing more harassment and police brutality than he had faced in any community as he tried to register African Americans to vote.

Around this same time, Pat Turner was a 10-year-old whose parents were determined to protect and shelter her from that “hell.” She recalls walking through downtown Monroe with her parents and 8 brothers and sisters:

We didn’t know that we couldn’t eat at the counter at Woolworths. We’d say, “Oh we want a hamburger” or “Oh we want a milkshake” and my parents would go, “No. Woolworth’s isn’t that good. You wait until we get to the Red Onion Café. They have the best burgers.” And we’d say, “Oh, ok! We love The Red Onion hamburgers!”

She also recalled how she and her brother used to take the train to St. Louis to see her grandparents in the summer, and she had no idea that there was no waiting room for black patrons of the railroad:

We’d get all dressed up to take the train, and we thought that it was just an ideal situation for us because our family was so careful. My Aunt would pick us up from the train station when we arrived, and we never knew that we weren’t welcome inside the lobby. Do you know how much effort that would take for them to shield us from that?

The determination to shield their children from the realities of racial unrest began a generation earlier with Pat’s maternal grandmother who said, “I have picked enough cotton for the whole family and my daughters will never pick a blade of cotton.” Pat says, “It’s unheard of for a black woman my mom’s age to not have picked one single blade of cotton.” Pat’s mother was shielded from picking cotton, and she in-turn shielded Pat and her siblings from the racial battle that raged around them.

Even when Pat was a teen and she became more aware of the racial realities of the outside world, she recalls, “We lived across the street from the Catholic school right on the border of North Monroe and South Monroe, but the priest and other businessmen would come and play cards and drink beer. We had a United Nations in our home.”

The family also got to know Mayor W.L. Howard who was a white, democrat who fought hard to desegregate Monroe. Turner says, “People complain about the south and I’m not trying to glorify anything, but Mayor Howard was truly working on blending the races and making things equitable.

After graduating from Carroll High School, Pat was granted a full scholarship to Abilene Christian University where there were less than 100 blacks on campus. Pat recalls, “None of that ever bothered me. I didn’t even think about that. People need to realize that contrary to what you see on TV to pull in the audience, in my experience, most black people do not walk around thinking about race and thinking about black. They walk around thinking what all humans think. They want to be able to be productive, to be able to function, and to find joy.”

Pat graduated with honors, married a Marine, moved to California working as a manager in retail boutiques, had her daughter, went through a divorce, moved to Rapid City, South Dakota to sing backup for her brother’s band on the Air Force base, and then decided, “I’m going back home.”

Upon returning to Monroe with her daughter, she was hired to be the speech and drama teacher at Ouachita Christian School, founded by former mayor W.L. Howard. That’s where I met her. Eventually, she went on to teach in the public school system for 26 years at Neville High School where she took the Speech, Drama, and Debate teams to numerous championships. Her bright light has shined on so many students and she tells me, “I’ve taught doctors, lawyers… anything I need I can pick up a phone and call a student!” Pat is decorated with every teaching award and honor that the school district and state can give. She is now retired and works as a life coach as she continues to inspire, educate, and make her community a better place.

When asked how she found her wings, Pat says, “My father would not let us say ‘Sir’ to him because he did not want us to feel subservient. He would say hold your head up, hold your shoulders back.” Her father raised her to have confidence, and that confidence carried her through life without fear:

I grew up in a tumultuous time and was shielded from so much. I didn’t feel angst regarding race wherever I was. My parents didn’t start me off with, “Oh you’re black, and it’s gonna be hard, and you can’t do this, and you can’t do that.” They shielded me from all of that, made me that little bird who thought “Hey, I’m ready to fly,” and they released me. And I found my wings that way. When I left home, I had them, and I was never fearful.

As a blonde haired, blue eyed, white girl, I will never know what it was like to experience the world that Ms. Turner grew up in. It’s hard to imagine the challenges her parents faced raising those 9 children in Monroe, Louisiana, but I am eternally grateful for the wings that they gave her with which she flew into my speech and drama class over 30 years ago. Through Pat’s fearless example, I found my wings and eventually flew with the same confidence that she modeled.

Work Cited
Faulkenbury, Evan. “Monroe Is Hell”: Voter Purges, Registration Drives, and the Civil Rights Movement in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, Louisiana Historical Association, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26476405.

Turner, Pat. Personal Interview, 27 September 2021.



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Category 1: ENGL 1010 Copyright © 2021 by Oremeyi Daniyan; Jennifer Hale; and Sarah Jane Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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