Celebration of Black Writing 2015 Call for Authors and Presenters | Perfection Events

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My Voyage to India (and not the Republic)!

India Arie, myself and my niece Jazmeen at the Keswick Theatre, Glenside PA
India Arie, myself and my niece Jazmeen at the Keswick Theatre, Glenside PA

Do you ever find yourself in a moment, time and place and think to yourself “how in the world did this happen”, “how did I get here”? If you’re fortunate, it’s a good experience that leads you to ask these questions, and thankfully that was the case this phenomenal evening. Saturday evening, November 23rd at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa, I found myself frozen in a moment in time, sitting directly in front of four-time grammy-winning artist India Arie;  an amazing woman, singer, musician and songwriter while she joked with her band, her back up singers and her assistants during a private soundcheck. I wanted to pinch myself, I wanted to run up on stage, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t engage my brain to do any of it. I was frozen in disbelief that in a few moments I would have the opportunity to shake the hand of and have a face to face conversation with a woman who I’ve idolized, appreciated and felt a spiritual bond with ever since I first heard her music and lyrics years ago. And most of all I was trying to wrap my head around how this happened..how I manifested this opportunity to touch hands and hearts with India Arie.

I connect with most musical artists, not necessarily because of their music, but because my love for words and poetry. I fall in love with their lyrics and become an eternal fan. Teena Marie, Rachelle Ferrell, Pink, Joss Stone, Leela James, Stevie Wonder, Vivian Green, Musiq, Jill Scott, Kem and countless others who touch a place within me with their words first and music second. I think it’s natural for you to want to meet someone who shares their innermost feelings and thoughts with you and causes you to change how you think and feel about others and yourself. I wanted to meet her and I guess I manifested that want for my niece Jazmeen as well.

My father was a songwriter and he didn’t leave us much when he passed this past May, but I knew that I wanted to take some of the money and do something that I normally would not have the opportunity to do. Never did I think “hey, I’ll try to meet a famous person” but my angels knew how to direct my path, and I believe he would have wanted to meet her too. I believe I was on Twitter checking out the latest “tweets” and since I follow Ms. Arie, I saw mention of a VIP pass for her ‘SongVersation’ tour. I clicked on the link which directed me to her website and my mouth dropped. Seriously??!! Did I read this correctly?? They are giving her fans the opportunity to meet her in person? I read the paragraph over and over again, and inhaled deeply, praying that when I clicked on the VIP button that the tickets would not be sold out. I don’t even know if I looked at the price of the ticket…exhale…I was so excited that there were seats left and that they were a few rows from and directly center stage and available. I didn’t even know at the time who I would take with me, but I purchased two and did a quick inhale, exhale again. It was September and the show was two months away, so I had time to decide on a date. I thought, “who in my life did I want to share this special moment with?” A few beloved friends came to mind but it was difficult to decide between all of them. Then I thought “who in my life did I want to pass this blessing on to?”and my niece Jazmeen came to mind. I remember giving ‘Jazz as we lovingly call her, her first India Arie CD because I wanted to share the lyrics with her. I see her traveling down some of the same roads I did over 20 years ago, and wanted to share this extraordinary day with her. I gave her this gift hoping it would expose her to the unique gifts she has to share with this world. But who was really getting the gift? I told her about the concert, but saved the VIP Experience details and surprised her with the part about meeting Ms. Arie in person a few days before the concert. Of course she was excited and it warmed my heart to bring her joy even if only for one night.

We had such an amazing time! I can’t even put into words the overwhelming feeling that came over me walking, arm in arm with my niece, approaching the stage while Ms. Arie sang to a theatre filled with just us 25 or so VIP Experience guests. She waved to us and made us feel as if we were her BFFs sitting in her living room, and all I remember thinking is…how did this happen? How am I worthy? I wanted to take pictures but we were not allowed to take our own photos, which forced me to just be in the moment and I thank you for that Ms. Arie. After the sound-check we lined up for pictures with her, taken by her staff and later displayed on her website and I began to rehearse exactly what I was going to say. I was going to thank her first for being vulnerable and allowing her fans to get close and touch her in the same manner that she touched us. I was going to tell her how much I loved and appreciated her words and music and that I was such a big admirer that when I was pregnant with my daughter that one of my friends joked that I was going to give birth to a little India Arie. I was going to tell her how that baby girl now takes voice lessons, piano lesson and almost cried when I said she couldn’t come to the concert. I wanted to hug her and hand her one of my poems. I wanted to encourage her to keep being authentic. I figured it would only take five minutes and the security guard wouldn’t have to tap me on my shoulder and tell me to keep it moving. I had it all planned out.

And then my chance arrived. I walked up to the backdrop, India Arie smiled, said hello (I think, I was still dazed) put her arm around me, smiled and laughed at my niece and I being silly and all I could say to her was “thank you for doing this…thank you”. She said “no, thank you for being here because without you, there would be no me” – or something close to that;  I was still star-struck and then my mind went blank. I said something to the photographer about making sure she was getting my good side and Ms. Arie laughed out loud and took my vain comment and ran with it. She truly wanted to make sure they got a good picture for me and we laughed about it until it was time for the next set of fans to come. As I shook her hand again I turned to her and said “bless you” and she said “thank you” and I grabbed my ‘India Arie’ tote bag and my autographed poster and floated away.

The succeeding concert was amazing, spiritual, moving, vulnerable, uplifting, tearful, humorous and most importantly an unforgettable bonding experience for my niece and me. November 23, 2013 was day filled with incredibly affirming and cohesive moments that neither of us will ever, ever, ever forget.

How did this happen? Many reasons. I am working on returning to my authentic self, I am ready for a breakthrough and need to “break the shell”, I am pursuing my passion, I am asking the Creator for what I want, I am a compassionate and giving person, I have some powerful ancestors who love me, I followed the voice inside me that said “check your Twitter page” and… I believed that I am worthy of it.


I’m back!

It’s been several months since I’ve written anything on my blog and I apologize to my loyal followers for the long absence. It was just recently that I realized that I haven’t been able to write a thing since after my father passed. I tried to think about what other than the depth of grief you feel over the loss of someone who gave you life would keep me from picking up a pen. I’ve been to numerous open mic events, recited some of my poems and my creativity has been fueled by the multitude of talented and gifted artists that I’ve heard over the past few months. I celebrated my birthday this entire month even though my born date was on the 20th, and I haven’t isolated from friends or family, so why is it I don’t feel inspired to write?

And what I believe the answer is has something to do with control. Normally when I write, I know what I’m going to say, I know what picture I will use and usually how it will end all before I sit down at my laptop. I am in full control for the most part. Yet grief does not lend itself to such consistency. Grief is less predictable than an ocean wave, and  just as powerful when it hits. I can almost assure you that it will rear it’s ugly head a week or so before any major holiday and the birthdays of my parents who were born two days apart. And then sometimes it is equally as unpredictable. Sometimes I feel passionate about something (or someone) and I feel the urge to write and a piece of mail comes through my doorway with his name on it, or I need to take care of his last cable bill, and I lose the urge to create. As the administrator of my father’s will, I have numerous  duties  to perform which alone can be exhausting. My daughter struggles with closure after his sudden death and I sink deep into grief for a while as I empathize and help her to understand and honor his transition. And it think it hurts a little deeper when I look around and see that not only are both my parents gone, but both sets of grandparents as well, and grief tells me that I’m all alone. Ebbs and flows..ups and downs..highs and lows..around and around. When will it end? I don’t know but I have begun to pray for the willingness to let go of my high expectations for myself. I pray for the strength to bounce back from this sudden and profound loss; that I don’t have to do it perfectly or feel happy to write, and that it’s okay to feel what I feel for however long I need to feel it. And I can take the time to heal from it all and I’m worth it.

I am writing now from a beautiful beach home that I’m sharing with some family and friends, listening to the waves crash as I summon my dad’s spirit to guide me and encourage me. I wasn’t sure at first about sharing a house with a dozen people, but somehow the combination of the calm and the chaos awakened my spirit. And the love and laughter abound as a warm healing balm for my soul.

So I don’t have anything fabulously witty or poetic to write just yet, but I am thankful that once again I am writing, and that is a huge step in the right direction for me. Just for today, I am moving forward remembering that it’s progress, not perfection.


“In the middle of a street in Camden, NJ” – by J.T.Austin Jr.

I always thought that I acquired my gift of writing from my mother because she always kept a journal and I knew that she loved to write. It wasn’t until my father, as he began to age, passed along some of his writings to me that I became aware that it was his passion that I inherited. I was instantly transported to the time and place in his short essays and recognized the similarities in our writing styles. I now know that my love for words and my lyrical style was passed to me from Dad. I read this short essay at his memorial service this past Saturday (more to come about that) and several people have asked for a copy of it, so I am posting it on my blog. It was one of many small glimpses into the sensitive side of my dad that until his later years, was only uncovered in his writing. I can’t wait to put all of his thoughts into book form but for now, I’ll share one of my favorites so far:

In the middle of a street in Camden, NJ

Four of my grandchildren came to visit me on my 69th birthday, Jameel, Aamir, Naim and Hammad. They brought me a cake, a shirt, a food mixer, a birthday card and their wonderful company. As we laughed and talked together my mind began to rewind , but first I thought about my other four grandchildren and my great-granddaughter. After my grandkids had left, I looked at all their pictures and my mind lapsed again and tears came as I thought about a time long ago when two young people stood in the middle of a small Camden, NJ street. It must have rained that day as I remember the street glistened. They had been on her porch when she suggested that they take a walk. The young couple walked hand in hand down the sidewalk and started across the street when the girl stopped, looked up at the boy with tears in her eyes and said “ I’ve missed my period.” She put her head on his chest and sobbed. He imagined she thought he might leave her. His head was whirling. He thought , how’s he gonna support a wife and kid when he can’t support himself and then thought about the doctor at Hamilton Air Force Base in California who told him that because of the VD he had contracted overseas, he could never have children. So was this his child?? But when he looked down into the big wet eyes of HIS girl who was having HIS child, he kissed her, smiled and said “let’s get out of the street”. Well, they walked and talked, kissed and held each other. Two young people, in love, who didn’t have a clue how life was going to treat them but they started out together. So as I look at all these people we’re responsible for –  four children, eight grandchildren, and  one great-grandchild – 13 people who came here because of those two young lovers in the middle of a Camden street beginning to learn about life. The tears really begin to fall as I think “Well, ‘Fat Cheeks’, we didn’t do so bad, not bad at all!”

Written by Jabez T. Austin Jr


Jay and Ethel
Jay and Ethel

Finally Over_Original Poetry 1/9/1985

Finally Over

When I lost you

I found myself

and I hurt

I pained

for too long

thinking of how foolish I had been to believe in you

But my hurt turned into poetry and dance

and I wrote

and danced

until I filled up the emptiness inside of me

The void that set inside my soul

when you were no longer there

Poetry about you and for myself  poured from my fingertips

like golden rum at Carnival time in Trinidad

I loved until I stopped hurting

and I found not only myself


someone to love me for real

And oh yes

there were times when I wished he were you

until constant caresses and truthful sighs

showed me that true love takes me for what I am


it is finally over.

Real love has rescued my weary soul

and you are just a faded memory

because I am no longer afraid to return

the love that I have been given

(c) M. Tonita Austin  Jan 9, 1985

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