When I saw Beyoncé’s Homecoming on Netflix, the tears slid so freely from my eyes, I didn’t realize I was crying. She took elements from my youth that brought me joy, pride, and excitement; the normal beauty of my daily experience and made a moving visual fine art exhibition out of it.
It’s hard to value what you like when you are conditioned to not like yourself. I’ve been told no based on how I look SO OFTEN. By folks outside my culture AND from within. I've been too dark and talked too white, too skinny, breasts too full, and immodest. I've been too loud and not bold enough. My hair has been too nappy and I’ve been asked “are you sure your hair is real?” because of the length. The academics call it “Social Dominance Theory” and “Colorism.” I call it stupidity.
But Babehhh you couldn’t tell me SHIT when it was time to step, dance, and use my voice.
Fall of 1998 I would walk down Arbor Street in the cool of the Houston morning. It was chilly enough for a jacket that would be stuffed into my backpack by the end of a scorching day. You could see your breath in the morning and would be wiping sweat by the afternoon.
I’d cut through the campus of Texas Southern University, using the Tiger Walk as my shortcut on my way to the illustrious and world-renowned Jack Yates Senior High School.
I merged with college students, afraid to make eye contact, lest they out me for the high school peon that I was. Passing by the Alpha, Delta, and AKA trees, seeing the students with their box braids and their greek paraphernalia (called “pari” if you owned it), I felt giddy with excitement that I got to walk among them, even if only for a moment of my pedestrian commute to my tenth grade existence.
Now on the way home, I would hit the Frenchy’s on Scott Street (if I was rich that day) or that good ol’ Burger King at Cleburne and Scott if I only had a dollar or two. A couple of bucks could get you a Junior Whopper and about six fries or a bag of Shipley’s donut holes back then.
I’d pass by my own peers, the JY drum line outside getting ready for band practice. Track girls stretching. Heading back to TSU again.
This time I wouldn’t go straight to the Tiger walk. I’d head to the air-conditioned oasis that was Hannah Hall and walk as slowly as I could, staring at the murals curated by John Biggers and his students from one end to the other in the hallways. Scenes from African nations and black mothers nursing their babies seemed absurd but not x-rated. The stories and colors made my mouth gape open. The faculty and staff never bothered me. They just moved around me trying to do their work.
I got to the other end of the building just in time for the Ocean of Soul band practice. Sometimes, no matter where you are in Third Ward, you’ll still catch the boom of a tuba and a crisp snare drum will pop in your ear like you’re standing right there.
This was before I’d made any close friends at Yates. I savored this time alone with my sights, sounds and tastes. I sat on the grass and ate my chicken, my burger, my Shipley’s and I would listen. The sounds of band practice, rehearsing just as hard as game day. Sororities gathering for step practice. Athletes had that nervous trot, late to practice, knowing that the coaches were more like parents that would be furious when they ducked in.
TSU is way fancier now. That Frenchy’s is gone. For some reason I can’t fathom, they painted over the murals in Hannah Hall. In my memory, my before and after school culture haven is just as vibrant today as it ever was. I can still feel the mosquito bites.
Watching Homecoming, having had the privilege of:
Going to the South Side Classic,
the Labor Day Classic,
the Bayou Classic,
The Battle of The Bands,
Performing in Airtight Step shows, with a brief career as a JY Lionette and later joining a historic black sorority, Beyoncé called me forward. She talked with me about all the things that I KNEW were special, unique, powerful, and important--yet I had no language for. At step practice and in the stands, I KNEW the value of what we were feeling, seeing and creating, and I fought with the social conditioning that neither I, nor my culture was as important as the "dominant culture."
She reminded me that what I loved about it, what I saw and learned from it, what I CONTRIBUTED to it--
So important that she created an ODE to her history while making history.
I’m not gon lie, every time Beyoncé grows, drops a surprise project, or goes on tour, I get inspired to expand. I apply for something. I create something. After overdosing on her new work, I twerk right to my desk and get something new out. Her hope that her work inspires new levels of innovation is fulfilled in me.
This time, (after I finish popping, rolling, twerking and stepping in the privacy of my own home) I am going to experiment with the concept I observed her doing:
Mining her own history and creating an ode to it.
Some questions I will ask myself are:
What gave me the most joy about my family, culture, and environment?
What was it about those experiences that lit me up the most?
How can I create an ode to those experiences in how I serve the world today?
And I will say this: I am important.
What I like is important.
And when I do what only I can do, the way only I can do it,
CAN’T NOBODY TELL ME SHIT.
What happens in your mind when you respond to those questions?
What happens in your heart when you share that affirmation with yourself?
What action will you take in your great work in the world based on what you own about your story?
“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories... water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
-Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Danielle Fanfair is a writer, teacher, and Enneagram Practioner. She teaches public and private courses called Confusion to Clarity and is the Executive Director of The Hines Center in Houston's vibrant downtown district. To learn more about working with Danielle as a teacher, speaker or writer, email email@example.com.