Like so many colored girls and folx, my heart is heavy about Ntozaké Shange joining the ancestral realm. Her phenomenal, trailblazing, Black iconic cultural work has been a part of my life for almost, but not quite, as long as I can remember.
When I was a tween, one of my childhood best friends Danya Searles and I performed excerpts from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf at a City of Philadelphia-sponsored Women’s Herstory Month program organized by the late legendary Barbara Daniel Cox. Ntozaké Shange was a featured Black History Month speaker when I was a freshman at Swarthmore College. My dear friend Danielle Renee Moss was her campus host and Ntozaké changed clothes in her room. I remember her performance moving seamlessly between English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. During the Q&A some of us inquired why she performed in multiple languages? Ntozaké shared that as a daughter of the African diaspora, specifically the Middle Passage, she (and all Back people) had a responsibility to learn and to speak these languages because we are all interconnected. Diasporic Black people living in the Americas must be able to speak with each other in all of the colonial languages that were forced upon us without our consent. While I am not multilingual, her words ALWAYS stayed with me.
My cultural work stands on Ntozaké Shange's shoulders. There may not be a NO! The Rape Documentary if there wasn't a ForColored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf." It along with Michele Wallace’s "Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman," Alice Walker’s "The Color Purple," Barbara Smith’s edited "Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology," and Paula Giddings’ "When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America" was one of a few road maps that played a pivotal role in igniting my fire to cinematically break the silence about sexual violence in Black communities. I still have my copies of all of those titles from my tween and teen years. This is my Black Feminist Herstory.
In 2010, Tarana Burke invited me to participate in an Art Sanctuary curated and sponsored-public panel conversation with Ntozaké Shange, Imani Perry, Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon and Lorene Cary at the Church of the Advocate. Mem Nahadr performed her incredible song I Found God In Myself (Ntozoké’s Song), from the Motion Picture Soundtrack “For Colored Girls.” That was an incredible experience that left an indelible imprint on my memory.
Several years later, Ntozaké Shange’s very dear sister/comrades/friends Mariposa Fernandez and Maria Luz Marquez-Benbow facilitated her being able to attend and present at El Dia de La Mujer Afrolatinx, Afrocaribenx y De La Diaspora in both 2017 and 2018. On a personal level, that was a full circle moment from Swarthmore to present-day. This year was even more special because my partner Sheila Alexander-Reid and I co-hosted an “After El Dia” soiree at Sheila's home. Ntozaké was clear that she would be at the party and Luz made it happen and took her home afterwards. That was truly another diasporic Black night to remember, always in all ways.
The last time I saw Ntozaké was at the Black Women's Blueprint co-organized March for Black Women on September 30, 2018. Barbara Ransby, Sheila and I had a few moments with her before the rally at Freedom Plaza where, as always, she lifted up Black women and girls.
Without question, Ntozaké was a cultural worker par excellence who changed the game in so many ways. AND, she was a sister, mother, and grandmother. Paraphrasing sibling Shanté Smalls' words, “While the world is mourning an icon, her daughter, my friend, is mourning her mother, her sisters are mourning their sister.” I am holding them tight and close.
PRESENTE Ntozaké Shange! Thank you for seeing us...for writing about us...for talking about us, and for singing our Black girls' song, always and forever.
May Your Spirit Be Fully Liberated and Free in the Ancestral Realm.