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This event evolved also into a non-profit organization, The African-American Holiday Association (AAHA) and was the fore-runner of many African-American market-places that encouraged shoppers around the time of Christmas and Kwanzaa to "buy Black". This concept advocated the goal of bringing back needed dollars into the Black community to circulate them among Black people compared to other communities that spend with each other.. This fundamental principle of "self-determination" to empower a community that see's most of their money circulating outside of their community enables job creation, wealth building and economic self-help, which occurs in other communities, using our Black dollars. Our 2nd goal of the Expo was to raise our youth to self-sufficiency" with the understanding of entrepreneurship.
Sponsored by my non-profit, African American Holiday Association (AAHA) we offered youthpreneurs' vending spaces at a very low fee as well as offered scholarships and hired young people as assistants. In those years we operated self-sufficiently also, getting only one small government grant, and some sponsorship from local businesses. The rest came from fundraising with the attendees who donated to the program and the merchants who vended.
We recycled these funds to support over 5,000 young people, in the 10 years of a program we called Y.EP. (Youth Entrepreneur Program). All of the youth in this picture below were in the core group of YEP, of which several continue today to use their skills as business and family leaders . While several of these youth, - my son Rashid and Sister Valencia's son Imtiaz became Ancestors early in their life, we believe they learned a lot from YEP . And the adults in the picture, who are also Ancestors - my brother Melvin and Brother Wakili - along with all of the other core members at that time of the Expo, sacrificed time, money and effort because they truly believed in raising up a generation of self-sufficient youth, whose ability to stand on their own two feet would enable them to be self-determined in this world.
I.m very proud of this legacy.. I still see the "fruits of our labor". Several youthpreneurs are involved in businesses of their own or in leadership positions, today. I know that Christopher Lee in the picture, not only was the first in his famiiy to complete college, then he went on to become a director at Meharry Medical College, a HBCU in Nashville. Mukhtar, also in the picture, recently shared with his Mom, Valencia Mohammed, "that one of his most memorable experiences as a young boy was working at the Expo". He grew up to also attend college, majoring in business and is instrumental in the business founded by his Mother, the successful M.E, a business that advocates for cannabis access, justice and it's wellness and sustainability for economic and business self-help.
Not in the picture, is Zaki Rasheed, who imported African clothes at an early age like 7 or 8 maybe, who came into YEP and vended for years, then continued to import after he outgrew the Expo, opening up his own stand as a young man,. Now, his leadership skills learned from those day, still show up as a teacher and administrator at the Kuumba Learning Center in D.C's S.E. side, created by his Mom, Mama Maja Rasheed, who started a day care center for " special children " now over 37 years old, and a private school for african-centered learning focusing on the arts.
Rashid Handy, my son, who saw some vendors struggling to bring in their items into the Expo and suggested that the youth could earn money by helping them as vendor assistants. His vision became the foundation of the Youth Entrepreneur Program (YEP) Rashid served in YEP and helped develop it for 5 years until he was attacked and taken at age 17 on the streets of D.C. His legacy also lives on as I have breathed with millions because of him..
These are just some of the success stories and there are many more. The Expo left a legacy of self-determination because of it's YEP initiative, of which I am most proud of. But, we also spawned a number of entrepreneur marketplace replicas, which also enabled our community to gain self-determination and thereby self-sufficiency. We consulted with Brother Baruch about his desire to start an Expo which he hosted for several years, and next thing, he had a health-food store, then restaurants, and today, has several in D.C and Maryland.called Every-Lasting Life and E-Life.
We consulted with Juanita Britton, giving her consultation and a vendors list, and she became founder of the BZB International Art and Gift Show, which is now going into its 29 year. in D.C We consulted with Duron Chavous, founder, of Happily Natural Day in Richmond, Virginia, now going into it's 18th year; the,holiday craft show at Jacob Javitz Center in N.Y; and with Lee Greene founder of the Black Expo, U.S.A., that started in D.C., that went national and with Sala Damali' big vision of IBBMEC, the International Black Buyers Manufacturers Expo and Conference.
Years after the Expo ended, we still consulted with festivals, gift shows, marketplaces and entrepreneur ventures, like Kymone Freeman's, "Black Love Day Festival"; festivals held by One Common Unity; and several hair shows. The list of consultations we offered to start and evolve, "do for self, buy black businesses" go on and on.
In addition, many of the merchants who got their start, vending at the Expo, year after year, became successful store owners, opened retail outlets, and created businesses in which they helped grow their families into entrepreneurship self-determination. Brother Hodari Ali developer of Pyramid Bookstore, grew from a vending business to own 4 bookstores, before his passing. His legacy is being carried on by son, Haziq Ali who is a businessman and motivator of entrepreneurship. Barbara and Ollie Collier creators of Food for Life catering business, continued years after the Expo's long lines of serving delicious fish and tofu cuisine. They have passed their catering business to their daughters, who used to work with them at the Expo., while today are P.E.W. affiliates with Kangen Water systems.
Sala Damali and husband Alex Medley, proprietors of a greeting card enterprise, Kuumba Kollectibles and IBBMEC, also would have their children helping at the Expo, and today they all work for themselves and help with their families printing business. Brother Aria LaTham introduced his SoulFired food concept at the Expo, and now has gone international, sharing his plant-based menus and offering retreats in Jamaica. Again, I could go on and on to speak of the merchant success stories that came out of the African-American Hoiday Expo.
,But the Expo was more than a "gift show" - it was a 360 degree family, community and cultural affair to lift up and expose the high values of afrocentrism, creativity, Kwanzaa and self-sufficiency, as an alternative to the commercialism of Christmas. We provided a platform for many up and coming D.MV. local presenters, authors, spokespersons and healers, who have since gone on to fame on the world stage - Iyanla Vazant, Julianne Malveau, silver-medalist, Jair Lynch and his father, historian Acklyn Lynch; performers Ayanna Gregory; Maimouna Ali, a grammy award winner; Englishman, Ivy Hylton; and harpist Jeff Majors. author, historian Tony Browder and poet, author Lamont Cary; the publisher, Paul Coates; and healer, Ra Ur Nefer Amen; drummers, Baba Ngoma; Melvin Deal, Asani Kan Kouran, Fara Fina Kan and Doc Powell's Malcolm X Dancers and Drummer; radio personality E.Z. Street; international dancer, Nana Malaya Rucker; acupuncturist/ visionary Kokayi Patterson of AWHA; Damu Smith, activist/founder of Black Voices of Peace,; Anise Jenkins of Stand -Up; Mama Hasinati, co-star in Daughters of the Dust; and Mymadi Nyasuma founder of "2000 Black".
We also exposed illuminaries on our stage such as the likes of musicians, Roy Ayers, Oscar Brown Jr, and Jean Carne; historian Niam Akbar and historian/social commentator/author, Dick Gregory; author and African centered psychiatrist, Dr. Frences Cress Welsing; the founder of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga; and Mayor Marion Barry.
We were also frequented yearly by the founders of many social and public organizations, such as: the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA), the Universial National Improvement Association (UNIA), the Nation of Islam, The Republic of New Afrika, ADACI, Rap Incorporated, Ausar Auset Society, African Wholistic Health Association (AWHA),, Temple of Nyame and Mother Taylor's church. The Serenity Players, WPFW, WOL and WHUR. Of course, every independent Black School would represent, - Ujamaa Shule, Nation House Watoto, and Abena Walkers school
Eventually the event's promotion offered AAHA it's third goal for the Expo. We were blessed to speak before hundreds of thousands locally nationally and internationally, developing a huge media presence as we advocated for whoistic health around the time of holidays,. We coined the concept of, "holiday stress syndrome" which identified 4 triggers of ill health around every holiday, especially around the year-end holidays. Those concerns linger today: 1. cultural diversity mis-identification with traditions and beliefs that don't reflect ones-self; 2. Over-consumption due to pressures to conform to out-directed media and societal expectations, leaving us over-spent emotionally and empty, disconnected and depressed; 3. holiday hype which mis-directs us from inner spiritual desires resulting in spikes in over-indulgence in everything from over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending, excessive family drama and violence; 4. Excessive consumption leaves us bankrupt fianancially and emotionally, which especially stresses us as we derive little community or cultural value, .
AAHA promoted that African-American market-places should minimize holiday stress by, at least, encouraging shoppers around the time of Christmas and Kwanzaa to "buy Black" at cultural marketplaces, stores and entrepreneurs that we could identify with.
We were pioneers in encouraging our communities to follow the "Buy Freedom" campaign in the '80's, advocated by journalist, Tony Brown. He was following in the footsteps of Marcus Garvey and Elijah Mohammad, men, who had fostered huge "do for self" movements in the 30's well into the '90's. So the "Buy Freedom" campaign of the '80s was our self-determination initiative adapted by the African American Holiday Expo to "buy Black" and we advocated this in a consistent slogan, "spend your money where it counts in your own community." All of the shows that we consulted with, were in alignment with this principle, and I.m. sure most of our volunteers, youthpreneurs and merchant vendors.
In 1988, in my PositivEnergy Newsletter I wrote, "Although you may already know about "Buy Freedom", the information bears repeating. the campaign is actally a concept that encourages African-Americans to spend 50% of their income with business owned by other African Americans and to spend the remaining 50% with businesses that employ our race or otherwise supports our community. By following this concept, African Americans can realize their economic ower and us it to build jobs and economic stability in our communitiies. ...it is a sad reality that we spend only 6.6% of our income with each other. Equally sad, is that unlikke other ethic groups, whose money circulates some 5 to 12 times before it leaves their community, a dollar last in the African American community less than 4 hours".
Continuing, "In relationship to holiday spending, tis means that large department stores and malls, stand to benefit from African-American gift-giving instead of our own vendors, merchants and store-owners. Consider that if only 1% of last year's 2.4 billion retail gross was spent with businesses owned by African Americans, it would generate some 24 million back into a community that needs the revenue for further business development and job creation"
You get the point, without up-dating the gross relail industry statistic of today. While we collectively have many people employed in these corporations where we spend our money, we still are economically behind our counterparts. We still have little wealth to pass onto our generations. We still are under-employed, under-paid and struggling to stay afloat without goverment assistance. We still are the last hired, and first fired. Black women are disproportionately underpaid and not in managerial positions which they qualify for, and Black men make up disproportionally the unemployment roles.
Think of, internalize and act on the concept of "spend your money where it counts" and remind yourself of "buying freedom" every time you spend outside of the community that represents you. Harnass the "holiday syndrome" to be more productive and vibrant every holiday. Let's practice daily, not making the rich even more richer, while making the poor, even more poorer -- morally, spiritually and physically poorer by our behaviors and spending habits, especially this holiday, as we face government shut-downs, food stamp cut-backs and rising prices due to tariffs. We, can live in a "self-determined" way, and it starts by making some decisions to change. Have a happy, "self-determined holiday" that reflects YOU.
Ayo Handy-Kendi, the Breath Sekou, founder/ CEO, PositivEnergyWorks, founder, the African American Holiday Association (AAHA), founde,r Black Love Day, Feb. 13th. Author, Speaker, Wholistic Practitioner, Diversity Trainer, Entrepreneur and lover of "the people".
i am today so grateful for life. I didn't have to be here. I.ve done a lot to stay healthy and vibrant, but, I.ve also abused my health and neglected myself, being so focused on saving the world and others. Thank God, you felt that I was worthy to continue while I was on a crash course to do otherwise.
In this month of November, while so many are planning a big dinner for thanksgiving,, I instead celebrate tNovember as a month of "giving thanks". . I actually attempt to practice daily "gratitude", which is not the easiest but it is so beneficial.,,so even when I have those "whoe is me moments", I somehow work through them by reminding myself to look at what is working and not what isn't. All of the self-developmentgurus speak of "gratitude " as the one aspect of healthy living, healing and success, that we all should be practicing daily as well as moment to moment.
Today, I start with feeling grateful for my eyes...Last week I was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma. I wasn't surprised, as my Mom had dealt with this issue, and so far medics have said that this issue has a genetic pre-disposition. I was adviced to get a quick operation. Today, I.m. grateful to my husband John who pulled out the U-tube videos of natural remedies and I.ve already started some. I ..m grateful to my spiritual brother Dr. Kokayi Patterson,,who is an excellent acupuncturist, who needled me up yesterday, and it immediately made a difference. And I.m thankful for the MMS (Multi-mineral solution) and how it oxides so quickly toxic waste (more on this product in my John and Ayo Healing Journey blog coming up) Today, I.m. grateful for being able to be flexible, so I.me already trying new ideas for love these eyes more, so they will not be dry, drained or over-worked, so they can heal themselves.
Today, I give thanks to my father, Morrie I. Thomas, a World War II survivor, for his Veterans Day honor, and to my brother Melvin, and my former husband Damani, for their service too in Vietnam. All were reluctant to serve, but they did, and when they came back home, they all struggled with post-traumatic stress and endured mental, emotional and substance abuse pain, chasing away the demons. While my Dad seems to have already been damaged by his Dad, a World War I veterans, and his early abuse was most likely due to his father's behavior towards him,
, I.m. affirming that the cycle of abuse ends with me. I abused myself, not my sons, and I have to thank my father, whose example I watched which made me really want to behave in a different way from him. I remember being very careful to choose my words when I talked to my young ones, different from the abuse teasing, taunting and negative word choices of my Dad. And when my sons grew older, although I did substances, I was extremely careful that I didin't do my harm to myself in front of them, unlike my Dad. Today, I.m. grateful for the healing that I sought to find the root og my depressive behavior . I.m. grateful that this search lead me to transformative breath techniques that helped me open up pathways into my sub-conscious that then started me on a self discovery journey as a survivor of my Dad's sexual and emotional assaults.. today, I.m. grateful that this journey has helped me to grow, and help so many others. I feel certain that I.m. the compassionate, healer today due to this aspect of my life,
Today, I give thanks for this same Dad, who did offer love to me, who did teach me about playing and humour; who did teach me how a man works to take care of his family; and how to hustle as an entrepreneur. I learned about serving others as I watched him look after his people, as a number's runner, who would go all the way across town to pick up a number or pay someone who had won. (In those days, we didn't have a state-run lottery, but we did have a under-ground, betting network where Black folk would place their bets with the hope of winning big.. This was actually an entrepreneur hustle for my Dad as a numbers' runners who would get a commission, as he would pick up the bets and place them and then make the pay offs. But, my Dad would go further then just place bets - he would take food and clothing to those in need. He would also transport people who needed a ride for any reason. There was a lot of kindness I saw in my father, that I will also never forget, so I could never "demonize" my Dad for the other "sicker" behavior that he showed me. Today, because of this balance, I give thanks for Forgiveness because I I was able to understand that "hurt people hurt people" which today makes me less judgemental. about life, my clients and mainly my relationships.
Today, I want to thank my Native ancestry, which was so much apart of my appreciation of one of my spiritual teachers Antonio Carpenter. Today, I thank him, as he has left the body and as he travels to his ancestral, heavenly homeland, I am so grateful of his work, in the science of spirituality and his introduction of my work as a breathologist to his spiritual community, very early on in my steps to share this powerful modality to the world.
And of course I have so many teachers, masters and guides to thank, and realize I am grateful to them all, but this other person, I just have to mention here and now. I.m. am so grateful to Leonard Orr, another spiritual teacher, whose trainings he offered me, in breathwork which were so awesome and life-enhancing. Leonard Orr left the body about 2 maybe 3 months ago,and I have been remiss in not speaking of his passing, so it's appropriate to do so in this article.. I am so grateful, for his trainings and the chance to have gotten to know him by staying at his ranch in Virginia His concepts on immortality, and re-birthing breakwork will stay with me forever, and I affirm in all that I share with. . He was another remarkable man on a mission, another maverick who lived outside of the box, just like my Dad, and like Antonio. He was another person who encouraged me to breathe through my pain; to train with the community and to serve humanity, using the "power of the breath. He was another very special person, who recognized the "specialness in me". and pushed me to push it through, despite the pains it took to do such labor.
I am full now, feeling so much gratitude, but more is yet to come this month.
I affirm that I will go into the journey that John and I have been taking, in helping him to heal in 2018-2019, as the second part of this message "I am so grateful". Stay tuned.
To me, it was no coincidence that in October, the month of Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness Month, that just before mid-night of Saturday, October 28, 2017, my mom, Doris A.M. Thomas, quietly slipped away to “go home” to her Maker.
She had announced to me and the family, in early August of that year, that she was ready to move on because she was tired of living and had done everything that she ever wanted to do. I knew she had a serious determination, what she called her motto, “the will to live”, and I had seen this “will” many times in my life-time, so I tried to challenge her to stay. She was the rock that was stead-fast for her marriage, her family, her community, her church, her jobs, then her business she started at age 65, and her group, the Cameo Club as the founder. She went to her Ms. Senior D.C. Pagent in August, and listened as she was described as the oldest of the Ms. Senior D.C. queens, crowned in 1972, but she told me after the great program that honored her, “that this would be her last pageant. She said quite calmly with resolve, “I/ve survived cancer twice, survived the death of my husband’s brain cancer, the untimely deaths of both my sons and grandson, and a whole lot of confusion, abuse, and yes, good times too, for 53 years of marriage to your Dad – I.m. tired”. It would be many days of concern as we saw our Mom turn from a healthy senior with no serious health issues, to a shadow of herself, as she literally willed herself to die. She actually begged God to take her home. And, she was so ready....had written all of her obituary, her plans, had paid for most of her expenses, and helped my two sisters plan her "great home-going EVENT" we called it. She was 92 at her passing, and her contributions in making a better world, was a glowing testament of a life worth-lived.
One of her biggest contributions was her involvement as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society and October was “a very important” time for her. My Mom, became afflicted with breast cancer, in 1968, the year before I graduated from high school and I became part of her “care-taking team.”. My Dad found her lump, he often bragged, and despite it being a small tumor, it resulted in surgical removal of her left breast (radical mastectomy) and all of the lymph nodes under her armpit. . After undergoing 45 radiation and chemotherapy treatments, my Mom realized her deep desire to help other women who faced the same challenges. She joined the “Reach To Recovery Program” of the American Cancer Society, visiting in hospitals and homes of countless, women, supporting , praying and motivating them right after their breast cancer surgeries. Eventually she became a spokesperson, featured on radio, television, and in public advertisements on behalf of the Society, encouraging women that “there is life after cancer”. For her consistent volunteerism, she was awarded the American Cancer Society’s most prestigious recognition, The Bartlett Award, named for one of their pioneers.
Although 7 years after her breast removal, she developed cancer in her hips, and again managed radiation but also incorporated a new paradigm shift in her personal treatment. She said that I had motivated her to use more natural approaches and vegetarianism, so she stopped smoking, did lots of stretching and dance movements, attended a yoga class, and later acclaimed that she had survived cancer for over 49 years by living a wholistic life-style of increased breathing, relaxation, moving, and limited medicines!
While, I was drawn to a wholistic lifestyle as early as 1970, due in part to my Mom’s health , I remember as a young child destined to pursue this lifestyle. I was pushed into eating meat, very sensitive to the fate of animals being killed for us to eat them. I remember being terrified, watching a restaurant cook boil some crabs, while they were alive, and feeling their pain. I was really into nature, plants, talked to trees, and dis-liked violence of all kinds despite my being a tom-girl who loved to physically, tackle down my older brothers on the football field. Quite an introvert, shy, a reader, a writer of poetry, observant, and super sensitive, I felt the inter-relationships of everything, especially people and their emotions. So, I grew into adolescence, care-taking my Mom, and in some ways my Dad, who I began to notice that he would drink something that made his behavior change, and next he would be asleep at the dinner table. I would wake him up and help him into bed. Then, I was given the responsibility of helping my younger sisters, 12 and 10 years younger than myself.
So, I grew into adolescence, care-taking my Mom, and in some ways my Dad. I was “wired” to be a helper and by age 15, I declared I wanted to be a social worker.
From this framework as a helper and a care-taker, I wanted to know how my calm, always in control, underweight, Mom, attracted cancer in the first place, why did it come back and what made this imbalance stop.
I questioned the tension that I felt in my family, despite moments of love and laughter, and I really noticed tension in my body and holding my breath, whenever I was around my Dad. My Dad, during those periods when he seemed “different”, would go from being a joking, person to a person who would tease me, saying unkind things about my crooked teeth comparing me to “Mickey Mouse”. He made negative statements about my curly, frizzy hair, my dark-brown skin color, and as I grew breast, about my body. He was nice/nasty, and you never knew what to expect from him.
I clung often to my Mom, who would tell him leave me alone, but then he would turn on her with unkind words. . I believe, because my Mom had so much grace about her, with a quiet presence, she could quietly and firmly put you in place, which is often how I remember, she handled my Dad during some of his rants. You seldom heard her raise her voice, nor even show anger. One day, I saw him standing over her on the stairs to their bedroom, screaming nasty, and she actually took her cigarette out of her mouth, and without a word, put it to him arm and burned him. This truly backed him off.
When I look back at my Mom, her manner of dealing with my Dad, must have created a strained peace that went on for years, and that this internalized stress, eventually became the serious illness of cancer, that my Mom survived, ironically, with the help of my Dad.
As I matured, I decided to run away from home, to get away from my Dad, who by then, had become more verbally abusive and sexual in his language towards me and my girl friends. I was 19, and ran to Okinawa to marry my high school sweetheart who also joined the Air Force to get out of his home environment. I did pursue my dream of working with people, and went to college to become a human services professional, but saw that I was re-creating the relationship I had grown up with, watching my Dad and Mom. As drugs and drinking became the “third party” in our relationship, I too had a health scare, as my breast thickened, and test showed that I too was at risk for breast cancer. I was truly into wholistic health, and at the same time, was incongruent with self-abusive behavior with drugs and alcohol, I went to my Mom to probe deeper into her early childhood, in order to discover how the seeds of her emotions had played into journey with cancer, to better understand my body.
She shared that while born and raised in Washington, D.C., her grandparents had struggled to leave the South, Rocky Mountain, N.C. so her Mom dealt with serious poverty during the “Great Depression” of the ‘30’s. She had one brother, who was 8 years older than her. Because her Dad, left his wife, son and my Mom when she was only a year old, her brother ended up serving as her father figure. I believe, he must have been a good guy, as my Mom did gain a positive perspective about men and parenting from him. Years later, her Dad came back to the family, just as mysteriously as he left. At the end of the week of his return, he passed out while walking with my Mom, and died that evening. Mommy shared with me, that she did forgive her Dad after he died, for abandoning her Mom and she often spoke about how forgiveness had taught her one of her most valuable lessons in her life, yet she also talked about resentment that she did not know her father.
On February 14, 1943, Doris became the wife of Morrie Ignatius Thomas, Jr., my Dad. He was a neighborhood, determined young man, who saw my Mom walking down the street and went home to his mother, and told her, that he had met his future wife. Mom shared that he pursued her assertively, with a determined, "you are the one" attitude. They married on Valentine’s Day, after a whirlwind 3 months courtship and they remained together for over 53-years, until his death. From their union, five children were born and two did not come to term. I was the 3rd born of this family.
World War II interrupted their new marriage, and when my Dad returned from his post in Europe, my Mom had, like her Mom, served as Mom and Dad to their first born, who was 3 years old by the time our Dad came back stateside. Dad returned home an alcoholic, traumatized from the death, destruction and racism he faced in the war.
Doris and Morrie were uniquely different, yet, they worked together despite their differences and many challenges, providing a loving, fun, creative and always exciting family life. So while my Dad, reminded me of "Papa was a Rolling Stone", who worked diligently at his government job for over 30 years, he partied just as hard. My Mom always reminded me of the song, "I'm Every Woman" because she was so vibrantly interested in so many things and pursuits. Since their interests were so at conflict, my Dad had the good sense to NOT curtail his Doris, who was not to be contained, like women often were at that time in the 30's- 50's.
Dad would be coming home from the after-hours club, while Mom would be heading out to church. She started out at a Baptist church, but left in turmoil and became a member of her catholic church in Southeast, D.C, the working class side of the city. For 50-years, she served as a member of the solidarity and the choir. She loved her church home, but also would attend other spiritual and religious services always willing to seek “God” in many mansions. I loved that she went to a Buddhist Temple, a Mosque and services at the Nation of Islam, with me, as my spirituality expanded. My father, would only pray when encouraged over a meal, and never went to any religious services.
More often than not, my Mom went her way and my Dad his, but we saw more of their unified actions as they worked through their many ups and downs, including her serious health challenge, than his as he also succumbed to brain cancer, HBP, obesity, gout and alcoholism. She weathered his extra-marital affairs and seemed not surprised when a 13 year-old, showed up at his funeral stating she was his daughter.
Seems my Dad had been abused as a child by his parents, and hurt people tend to hurt people, so my Mom, eventually put up with a lot of abuse from him, quietly, to keep our family together.
After this deep conversation, I took myself into therapy to gain greater insight into why was I so unhappy in my home, with a man, similar to my Dad -- a good man, who was also verbally abusive, distant, and unconnected in our relationship, both of us dependent on drugs. I was also having some serious issues with allowing myself to be sexual with my husband, despite having 2 sons. The therapist asked me did I think that I had been raped or sexually abused as a child, to which I emphatically said “no”. However, he helped me face myself to deal with depression, as my mental health issue that I attempted to manage, using substances. After 9 years, I left this marriage. Changing my mind-set, my habits, and the suppressed anger that I felt from emotional abuse, I believe helped stop the thickening walls in my breast and I did not incur cancer.
But, I continued to attract other relationships, very much like the pattern I saw in my Mom and Dad and each time, I would attract a major illness. My gall bladder enlarged, almost burst and had to be removed with relationship No.2 that lasted close to 8 years; then a small tumor was found in my breast, with my 3rd relationship, to a man, I married from another state, not knowing him well and whose troubled past haunted our lives for over 6 years during the “crack-cocaine” epidemic in the District and in the Nation.
By now, I.m really into wholistic health, and have gained several certificates in various forms of “breathwork”. I realize now the correlation between emotions and health, so I do a deep dive into breathing, meditation, watch my anger, and worked with my diet. The tumor goes away, once I address how traumatized I feel chasing this man down, in “crack houses”, and being physically and verbally abused in the streets of my home-town. Then, my son Rashid is killed at age 17 (another story), and 2 years later, my Dad lay dying with brain cancer.
I.m. depressed, angry beyond rage, and can barely breathe. The walls of my breast begin to thicken again, and I.m. told that I should consider some type of invasive treatment for the issue. Instead, I take a course in a different, breathing method, called conscious –connected breathing, and get certified as a Transformational Facilitator. This training uncovered all of the stuck, suppressed and subconscious memory of trauma stored within in. After 3 sessions, in which I kicked, screamed and fought off something, the 4th session revealed that I had been fighting off my Dad.
I reclaimed the image of him coming into my bedroom after his evening work shift to touch my breasts, fondle me with hugs and kisses and put me on his private area and push me up and down. The trauma of this behavior, for an 8 year old, who silently dealt with these sexual acts, until I was almost age 13 was too much for my young mind to handle, so my mind blocked them out on the conscious level. Yet, they laid frozen in my neural pathways, showing up as numbness, anger, guilt and shame turned upon myself which lead to depression, thereby, I coped with, by drinking and drugging.
This discovery, was life-changing for me, as I felt liberated and restored from years of held trauma, and I made a commitment to myself to keep up my own personal sessions. Thank God I discovered, conscious connected breathing, along with cathartic movements, release work, journaling and disconnecting from the negative energies around me, as this work sustained me to cope effectively with a succession of deaths, starting with my own son, then my first husband now one of my best friends, his mom, my mother-in-law; his dad, my father-in-law; then the eviction from their house and eventual homelessness twice; the incarceration of my second son; and the death of my father – all within a 6 years span. I would later have to breathe through the untimely deaths of both my brothers and the divorce from my 2nd husband. By then, I was working and breathing with hundreds of thousands around the world on radio, t.v., in print and in private practice, using my own system of breath techniques that included conscious –connected breathing.
I.ve been addiction free also for over 20 years and in this time, have weathered the ups and downs of my 3rd marriage, 4th serious relationship, with my husband John. And I.ve had no more breast concerns and no major health issues.
I have also been able to forgive my Dad, who I don’t demonize, but had to be truthful to myself and to my community, that his emotional pain caused serious damage to me, and my family, as I since found out, that he also inappropriately touched and made sexual advances to other members of our family and to some of my friends.
In the last years of my Mom’s life, I shared that I had been verbally, mentally and sexually abused by my Dad, her husband, just so I could be truthful to her during a family gathering, as the issue of sexual and domestic violence was raised as the root concern of her breast cancer, my scares with breast cancer and could be affecting their health concerns. As I shared this truth, my Mom’s eyes teared up, as she admitted that she often suspected that her husband had done “terrible things” to me, and to others and she often questioned had she done enough to protect us, as she realized that 4 of her 5 children had had difficulties with some sort of self-abuse, along with relationship dysfunctions.
She apologized for not doing all that she could, and described that in those days, within African American communities, there were many “hidden secrets” of sexual abuse; emotional, physical and mental acts of domestic violence; as well as all levels of child molestation. My Mom thanked me for going public with this issue and encouraged me to continue, even if it meant exposing our Dad’s reputation.
In her name, I continue to share my story and hers, so that the truth may set us all free, not only during the October month of Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness month, but as often as I.m. able to speak up for survivors, the voiceless and those who are seeking remedies for the emotional link to their health concerns. Thank you Mom, for giving me permission to share freely, as we are still saving lives.
This link I thought on this same subject of the emotional link to breast cancer, I found very helpful, and felt that it should be shared.
by Ayo Handy-kendi, the Breath Sekou and Mama Ayo, the storyteller
We (John and I) are just returning home, as of Tuesday eve July 2nd after travelling on June 19 (Juneteenth Day) from D.C./Capitol Heights to Joshua Tree, Palm Springs and Cathedral City. California.
Wow, what a shift being on the other side of the U.S.A, in the Mohave/Colorado desert with rocks, mountains and starlit nights all around, at the Joshua Tree retreat center with 17 vortexes of powerful energies; in the Joshua Tree National Parks on one of its highest mountains, then in the celebrity casino cities of Palm Springs and Cathedral City.
We returned from quiet and peace to tanks on 4th of U-lie in our D.C. streets. As we are unpacking, we are unpacking our first impressions of our 2019 Global Inspiration Conference (GIC 2019) sponsored by the International Breathwork Foundation (IBF).
We have a lot of pictures that we can share now, after the excursion. With all intention like the youth, I was planning to send pictures along the way . But, our attempt to send pictures and a live stream was totally NOT supported. My phone overheated shortly into the conference days and Wi-fi kept crashing, overwhelming Joshua Tree's retreat capacity.
This turned out to be a challenge in our team organizing efforts which we creatively had to overcome. However, the limited access actually turned out for me to be a blessing, as I was able to truly disconnect from the technology and the peace there was so meaningful.
Yes, the GIC was really great - just a wonderful place Joshua Tree Retreat Center is with an amazing staff. Add to this metaphysical space in the desert, people from all over the world, and many from North America all converging to Native lands to breathe together and advance the world of breathwork. With attendees from the 50 states and countries, some 300 or more gathered the first day of the GIC and the magic began.
This was my fifth GIC so it was so special to welcome many of my international family to my birthplace and to hear their impressions of America and about their travels. I helped with greeting the new arrivals in the registration area, while at the same time, organized the GIC Store so I was able to feel the full excitement of many amazing people arriving to an amazing place at one time.
My Galee (headwrap) off to Lauren, James, Jodie, Erin, who really did a great job of finding a very special place to host this years' GIC and then develop a powerful program of speakers, workshops, panels, and features. To just get so many of the pioneers of Breathwork together was a real program effort which meant presentations by Dr. Judith Kravitz, Dan Brule, Jim Morningstar, along with a panel of organizers of professional breathwork training schools, which included yours' truly Optimum Life Breathology training and Jessica Dibbs training school of the D.M.V. area along with international schools, Judee Gee, Viola Edwards and Brigitte Martin Powell , along with the aforementioned
What I always love about the GIC is that you gain so much opportunity to learn new techniques from practitioners who have not been practicing as long, but gaining mastery, quickly, as breath training offers that chance to excel. Breath practice for trauma, emotional physical release and recovery; rope breath; learning the concept of practicing breatharians on the run; along with breath techniques that were shared to the youngest, as part of our IBF program, "Breathing in the Classroom" program-- were just a few of the many expressions of breathology and breathwork demonstrated. I was able to offer our "Power of the Breath" workshop, accompanied with "live" music by John and our instruments Earth Love Tune Up Crew(ELTUC) which is always a real treat.
Despite, John and I working hard as part of the on-the-ground team effort, we learned a lot from the workshops we were able to attend. We also had a ball participating in the Women's and Men's Healing Circle held at a massive Labryith playing in the many spontaneous drum circles that sprung up or playing with the staged performances; offering a brand new story performance in the talent show; clearing the land and the halls; serving as part of the wellness team; and just being present as Elders in this camp. It was a beautiful opportunity to engage in a Cacao ceremony for the first time. And we had several parties where we danced into the night with a local rock band that totally had us rolling with their soulful beats and favorite renditions; and held the bottom, during the drum circle training by Brother Andrew and Sister Monica, and later in the week danced the star-lit night away in ecstasy with playlist by Sebastion, Daisy and Griet Verstraete.
The GIC 2019, in my summary was fabulous. It had its trials like all events, but with a great JT staff, GIC teamwork, amazing breathed-up people, and a great program, I saw a lot of smiles and happy people.
Our after GIC retreat, was complete by living our Air B& B in Cathedral City, returning to Joshua Tree Retreat Center and spending the night on the highest mountain, seeing the Milky Way, watching the sun rise as we played music, chanted and breathed together. Going to the desert was revealing, as the Ancestors channeled more to me of my path, so now rejuvenated, we continue our breath movement recharged.
Please consider breathing with us for GIC 2020 in Sweden, then in 21 in Germany and then in "22 in Kenya, and all in between, connect with the IBF our annual conference, as we support the world with breathing initiatives. To learn more about IBF and the annual GIC, view .https://www.ibfnetwork.com/
Ayo Handy-Kendi, the Breath Sekou aka Mama Ayo the Storyteller, sharing for the first time, a story performance on breathing and bullying, at the talent show at the 2019 GIC held at Joshua Tree, California
PART I: WHEN JOHN MET AYO.
I.m. not sure when we met or where we met, but, seems like John and I were a natural fit. John Davies 3 and me, Ayo Handy-Kendi, married in 2003 but we had been together since 1999. John is my 4th husband and I am is 2nd wife. We had a lot in common - both native Washingtonians, only 4 months apart in age, who grew up in D.C. when it was truly "chocolate city".. John went to the high school in N.W that was the rival to my high school in S.E., and our backgrounds were similar - we both grew up in 2 parent households, in which there was an entrepreneur parent present, and in both households, our parents really believed in spirituality, education and human rights for all, especially, Black people.
We both married quite early, right out of high school and at the time, I met John, we were married to someone else.. I remember seeing John at the "Community Warehouse", the local, hang-out, where you could get wholesome soup; your bulk organic vegetables, spices, herbs and other types of "herbs". At the "Warehouse", a tight-knit community bonded around the anti-war, civil rights music and slogans of the times, and this would be the foundation of D.C.'s "cultural community".
John was the tall, quiet, kinda "geeky" guy, who always looked stoned, rocking as he talked, with eyes filled with mischief like a "big boy" up to something.playful. I remembered I liked that he laughed easily. However, because he was so quiet and unassuming, I really paid little attention to this "really nice guy" and didn't connect.. But, I would continue to see him for the next several years, always in a position of helping me accomplish something, like a guardian Angel appearing just in time, when I needed him. .Then one day, a good girl-friend suggested that the guy she was dating was too "spiritual" for her, but would be just right for me". She described him, but I could think of no one who met her description. She said that she would introduce us and that his name was "John".
At that time, I was going through a horrible, abusive, tormenting marriage to husband #3. This brother's trauma was being played out in domestic violence and anger toward me, as we struggled for 6 years with his raging crack-cocaine addiction, and unwillingness to face his childhood abuse. After being dragged in the streets, and chocked, I could take it no longer. (This story is in my Black Love Book, too painful to repeat here). I bought that man a one-way ticket back to his home-state in Florida and sent him back to "face his demons".
Shortly after he left D.C., on a super bright day, I went to my local health food store, and there was this guy, that I seemed like I keep running into just when i needed support. He asked me why was I "beaming" and I said, "because I just sent my mad husband away, and I.m. about to get a divorce". John smiled at me and said, "great, I.ve been looking at you for years"........We went out on our first natural date that week.....to a movie.. That was in 1999 and we've been going to movies, and health food stores, ever since. It turned out that this man, was the very man that my friend had mentioned to me. John and I became one.
(To BE Continued).
Nya Akoma is the greeting on Black Love Day. It is pronounced N-yah
Ah-coma". It means "get a heart, be patient". The Akoma is an ancient African symbol. It is NOT a Valentine.
The history of Valentine's day includes the the co-opting of this symbol to represent romance.
For the true confusing history of Valentine's Day, read The Black Love Book - an anthology on Love and Guide to the wholyday - Feb. 13th - Black Love Day".
The Black Love Book 3rd Ed (E-Book) by Ayo Handy-Kendi
by Ayo Handy Kendi
NOTE: Original essay was written in 1995. Ironic, here in 2019, as much as things have changed, they still remain.
In the climate in which many were working on the destructiveness of Black on Black
crime and the sad reality that Black youth had a 1 in 4 chance of being killed or
incarcerated before age 21, Black Love Day was born. During a time in humanity in
which many people were struggling with spirituality and inter-personal issues of identity
and roles, prompting many relationships and marriages to fall apart, Black Love Day
was born. At a period in history, in which the fast pace of American life produced high
levels of stress and achievement pressure, causing many to struggle with substance
abuse, food, sex, gambling or some other addiction just to cope, Black Love Day was
born. At a time in the world in which “intimacy” diseases were taking out people in large
numbers in their early 20.s and 30.s, Black Love Day was born.
Within this critical time period, where many adults didn.t know if they.d have a job
from week to week to be able to take care of their families; with poverty rampant in a
land of plenty, with a widening gap growing between the haves. and have-nots, Black
Love Day was born. In a frightening period of time, in which we read of children being
abused by adults in frightening ways; where alienated, White youth were killing their
classmates, committing suicide at alarming rates, and carrying out racial hate crimes
like their parents, Black Love Day was born. At the dawning of the new millennium
which promised “Age of Aquarius”, humanitarian behavior, yet still faced with Klan
rallies, church burnings, continued brutal lynchings of Blacks by Whites, noose hanging
threats and news reminders of the existence of fear and racial polarization in the
Nation, Black Love Day was born .
Many of the relationship issues, today, are similar to those that were seen at the
beginning of Black Love Day ( BLD) envisioned and proclaimed in 1993 by Sister Ayo
Handy Kendi, a community organizer in Washington, D.C. She is the Founder /
director of the African American Holiday Association (AAHA), a non-profit, tax-
exempt, 501 (c)(3) membership organization. A spiritual message, from the Creator, was
given to Sister Ayo inspiring her to develop BLD. The concept has been gaining greater
acceptance each year.
Black Love Day (BLD) is a commemorative holiday or "wholyday” of observance,
celebration, reconciliation, atonement, and demonstration of love, showing at least 5
specific acts (tenets) of love – towards the Creator, for self, for the family, for the Black
community and for the Black race. Whites show “love in action” for Blacks and inspect
their own racial attitudes.
The objective of BLD is to encourage Blacks to take a day to actively raise themselves
up through Black self-love instead of self-hatred, by demonstrating love through service,
celebration, forgiveness, apology, public and private rituals of reconciliation and for
Whites to take the same day to raise themselves up, by being more reflective of their
racial attitudes of fear, guilt, denial and negative behaviors of white privilege, white
supremacy, prejudice, segregation and bigotry . BLD offers a chance to use the
transformational, spiritual power of love, as a healing tool on the day of Feb. 13.
February 13 was chosen by the founder of BLD because February is the month for
the observance of Black History Month and the number 13, in astrology and
metaphysics, is the number of spiritual transformation. As Black people put love in
action and involve themselves in the love rituals of BLD, and as Whites take personal
inventory of their attitudes and be more mindful in their demonstration of loving acts of
service and kindness towards Blacks, this will help all people grow more spiritual. As
one grows spiritually, this increases the ability to love. The return to love is a healing
force and can be used as a tool to address many of the destructive behaviors,
disrespectful attitudes, abusiveness and self-hatred which fuels much of today's family
disruption, violence, racism, crime, anger and race polarity. BLD offers just one solution
to make a difference to increase the peace and stop the violence for all people.
BLD offers a cultural and wholistic alternative to Valentine's Day whose primary
focus on romantic love between couples, is based on pagan European culture and rituals,
and encourages Blacks to be mere consumers, buying the customary Valentine tokens of
affection. Instead, BLD offers each individual or family member, every neighbor, co-
worker, or gang member; any organization, group and all citizens of the world-wide
community -- a chance to make a difference by giving of themselves, through loving acts
and by being more mindful of love for a day to actively, rejuvenate relationships.
The rituals and symbols of BLD are a synthesis of spiritual, metaphysical, African
and African America customs which aid in heightening Black cultural pride and self-
esteem. Gifts can be given if one desires to express their love, however, gifts must be
purchased only from Black merchants, in the spirit of Ujamaa (cooperative economics) to
recycle money within the Black community. It is recommended that gifts be made or
chosen to enhance the spirit, mind and body or chosen to reflect the love of African
Diaspora culture and heritage, instead of the impractical trinkets and unhealthy, sugar-
laden gifts traditionally given for Valentine's Day.
BLD gives both Black and White communities one day to rejuvenate their
relationships; a day of harmony in the Black community and a day of honesty in the
White community. Hopefully, this one day of reconciliation will feel so good in both
communities, that they will want to re-create these feelings again and again. Just
possibly, this chain reaction of love will transform the nation as never before.
We know of the heart as a symbol for Valentine.s Day. Yet, long before Europeans
used decorative, lace hearts to symbolize romance, this ancient African, Adinkra
(pronounced Ah-dink-rah) symbol was called The Akoma (pronounced Ah co mah). The
Akoma means literally “the heart” and symbolizes love, patience, goodwill, faithfulness
and endurance, with its origin traced to the Asante people of Ghana and the Gyaman
people of Cote' d'Ivoire. This symbol, as well as other Adinkra symbols, have been re-
discovered and re-popularized, in modern times, by African-Americans in search of their
stolen, African cultural legacy. Thus, the Akoma was adopted as the symbol for BLD.
The greeting on BLD is Nya Akoma (pronounced N-yah Ah-coma) which means “be
patient, get a heart”. On the day of February 13th, take 24 hours to be more mindful of
love, be patient, get a heart and return to love. In the Spirit of the Akoma,
Ayo Handy-Kendi is reknown as the Breath Sekou, which means in the Guinea language "a master teacher". She has worked with breath techniques for over 40 years and loves teaching "the power of the breath". She has created a system called Optimum Life Breathology (O.L.B.) which teaches 10 best practice breath techniques with 5 breath practices. As a Wholistic Practitioner she incorporates sound healing, laughter yoga, Aroma-therapy, Reiki, healing touch, movement, water hydrotherapy, nutrition, behavior modification and stress management into her trainings.She is creating a "breath movement" to wake people up to their joy and positivenergy with the belief that when you breathe better, you live better. She is also known as Mama Ayo, when sharing cultural presentations or performing as a storyteller, actor, author or speaker. She is the founder of Black Love Day, Feb. 13, the Ritual of Reconciliation, founder/director, African American Holiday Association (AAHA) and founder/CEO, PositivEnergyWorks.