How Therapy Gave Me The Grace I Needed to Breathe Easier

By Brittany Johnson

I was tired. Not just physically, I-really-need-a-power-nap, set the alarm tired. Tired as in, “I’m so emotionally and mentally exhausted that I can hardly get out of bed in the morning.” Tired as in, “I’m not sure if I can continue at this pace, in this brain, with this amount of overthinking.” From the outside looking in, I was going through all of the right motions. Meditating before I went to sleep – check. Trying to recognize moments of gratitude during the day – check. Encouraging friends and family to spread their light and love their truths – double check. But on the inside, I was killing myself ever so softly.

The hardest part about coming to grips with my anxiety and depression was that I didn’t feel like I even deserved to feel this way. I came from a loving, supportive family and grew up in a safe neighborhood. I didn’t have an absent father or an emotionally inept mother. My grandparents were the lights of my life and God was continually showing up for me in more ways than one. I did not deserve to feel sad, anxious, and mentally weary day in and day out. I did not deserve to experience the symptoms of depression so deeply that, at times, I was unable to hold simple conservations or sustain meaningful relationships.

It is lies like these, the secret ones we tell ourselves, that are responsible for holding back our recognition, acceptance, and subsequent healing.
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push(); Dealing with physical and emotional trauma as a young adult ended up exasperating the tendencies that already existed under the surface. I suffered a random, violent physical attack in my early 20s that left me with the scars, bruising, and hospital visits to prove it. The physical wounds eventually healed on their own – the emotional ones did not. I previously thought that PTSD was reserved for real heroes, who suffered from “real trauma”…soldiers, public servants, unrelenting activists. It wasn’t until a routine checkup (for previous brain swelling, among other things, from the attack) that the doctor questioned what I had been doing to heal mentally. Pause. My idea of therapy was sitting on an old velvet chaise lounge while a Caucasian man in his late 50s asked me, “how do you feel about that”. I was in denial of how much help I needed, and I was angry. I wanted to be brave enough to fix this on my own. It could’ve been much worse! I wasn’t raped, or permanently maimed. I could get past this! The reality was, it had been over a year since that night. I still had weekly nightmares, had caused the demise of my own social life and friendships, and ended up engaging in a codependent relationship that left me more damaged than it found me. I eventually left the relationship and made some progress in my personal life but continued to push away people who truly wanted the best for me. Later, it had been over two years since the attack and I was still a sad, super anxious, overthinking, anti-social, unmotivated mess.

I finally realized that I could not get past it any of it, not on my own.

My first day of therapy felt like an awkward first date. I was blessed enough to find a highly recommend black woman psychotherapist practicing in my area. It was so much different than I had expected – she was warm, personable, and never asked me “how do you feel about that”. It wasn’t just me dumping my problems out to a silent, head-nodding authority; we proceeded to have a real, honest conversation. To be able to share my innermost feelings with another black woman made me feel as though taking this step towards inner peace was not something foreign, or undeserved. I felt supported and strong.

There is strength in taking hold of the hardest parts of your life by recognizing how much of an effect they have on your daily existence. There is strength in realizing that you need help tackling the speed bumps of your mental health journey and in proceeding to seek that help.

Going to therapy was a deeply personal choice. It was an important step for me to recognize that as a black woman, there are certain trials that I’ll deal with at the intersection of gender and race that some people will never understand. It was important to realize that aside from societal pressures and constraints, going through further trauma in my own life was a burden that, at times, was entirely too heavy to carry alone.
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I’m still attending sessions, and I’m still working towards being cognizant of mindfulness and well-being in all areas of my life. It isn’t easy, and there isn’t a new epiphany every day. What there IS is an innermost calm in knowing that I can better recognize my triggers when they first occur and meet them where they start. There IS a subtle confidence in knowing that I do deserve to feel whole, loved, and happy. There IS a steadfast faith in knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that I deserve healthy and mutually respectful relationships, and what’s truly for me will always be within my reach.

Cheers to the grace that’s found in taking care of self, simply because we deserve it.

Brittany Johnson is the creator of codeREDD&co. and works in community marketing and content creation in the Bay Area. Passionate about authenticity in wellness and self care, her writing is heavily inspired by the peaks and pitfalls that come as the result of being a black woman working to manifest her purpose. 

The Pain is Not the Entirety of the Story: A Conversation with Aja Monet

By Kimberly Foster

Aja Monet has the voice of a blueswoman, husky and songful. It is was what first drew me to her.

That voice compelled me to listen more closely, taking note of her tone and cadence as a poem leapt from her mouth. I’m rarely able to resist a performance as masterful as the one captured in that two-minute video, but the work, the words, have stayed with me, too.

Then I read her book, My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter.  Her voice rang just as clearly.  I heard Aja as she worked through the complex, often fraught, ties that bind us to our families and communities, as she imagined a world that holds everyone dear.

That kind of clarity is not incidental. It doesn’t just happen. When I spoke to Aja by phone, she discussed how difficult creation can be. Even those who are blessed with natural gifts have to wrestle because talent and ease should not be confused.

The world is, in her words, “a fucking mess.” (Who could disagree?) She creates anyway. For herself, and for us.

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I periodically like to read an essay from W.E.B. Dubois, where he basically argues that all art is propaganda. If that’s true, then what message are you trying to spread with your poetry?

I don’t know if there’s any one specific message because what I’m writing can be very personal and intimate. It depends on what I’m going through or what I’m grappling with, what ideas I’m trying to work through. Maybe even sometimes I don’t know what the idea is. I just know I have a feeling and I need to get the words out somehow. 
And so if it is propaganda, then I guess I’m concerned with how do we do this thing called life better? You know? What are ways that we can use language to help us reimagine, re-articulate our loneliness, and therefore, our need for each other, and our ability to collectively work towards freedom. Freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression and sexism, and classism, and all these things that we could maybe imagine another way of doing this thing called life. 
And I guess that that is maybe a bit of the propaganda he’s talking about. 

So, when you create, there’s no singular mission statement? It’s what’s moving you at the time? 

Yeah, but it varies, you know?

For me, the principle factor, and I will kind of lean on June Jordan in this sense, the principle factor for me is truth telling, you know, to be concerned with the business of truth telling. And in order to be able to do that, I have to be able to get to some level of personal confrontation, you know, with myself. 
And it does differ. Because in my book there are poems that start very personal, because that’s where I was. That’s how my entry point was to poetry. And then I started to realize, “Wait, poems do more than, you know, gratify my self needs or self worth.” They do more than just affirm my personal belief system. 
I’ve had poems that I’ve read, or even that I’ve written, where it has uprooted an entire belief system, or disrupted a certain narrative that we are taught is supposed to be the dominant narrative. And so, maybe in that way he’s right. Maybe in that way it’s propaganda. I don’t know. But I guess  I’m a little resistant to the word propaganda in my mind because of how it’s been used and manipulated against us. 
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push(); When you say that some of your work has uprooted dominant narratives, do you mean for yourself or for the audience you are presenting the work to?
I would say more for myself. And my hope is that it does something, sharing it with people. I don’t know if necessarily that was my initial hope when I first started, but what I learned in sharing poems is that it was doing something for people that I hadn’t necessarily intended. I knew that I needed to write poems in order to process the life and the struggles that I was living. I knew that I was experiencing my interior world, the way I emotionally responded, or the way I imagined things, was not always in alignment with the literature, the books, the media, or the education system I was taught. 
So I feel like in the work that I was doing with the poems, I was able to find my own voice, and shut everything else out for a second and listen intently to what I really was hearing in the world, whatever I was really seeing and in that it shifted something for me. It disrupted something for me. And other poems did that for me. 
Other poems I’ve read have helped me understand a situation differently, a conflict, a way of being, a way of seeing the world. And my only hope is that something in what I share is truthful to the point  to bring somebody else closer to telling their own truth, or to demanding a more truth telling society, so to speak. A healing. 
You were talking about working through things via your work. I’ve heard different artists have different ideas about the usefulness of trying to work through trauma [in their work], that sometimes the art is not the best place to try to do that. What do you think?
Well, healing is a real immaterial thing, right?
We talk about it very elusively in community spaces, often times. And for me, there’s no all-of-a-sudden I’ll put a bandaid on something so it’s healed. It takes care. It takes nurturing. It takes tenderness. It takes concern and attention.  So every wound you have, and I’ll use the body as a physical metaphor, you have to clean it. You have to put an ointment on it. You have to make sure it doesn’t get infected. You have to let it breathe. So I feel like the poem is a means to the end. It’s not the end. It’s the way of getting to the place of understanding what needs to be healed, what needs to be resolved. 
Just to give you some context, because I’ve been around before there was Youtube, I started very young. I was, like, 14, 15 when I was doing poetry. And I was one of the younger poets that was in the adult poetry community, at least in New York.

So what ended up happening was, I was … we were kind of thrust into this community, and into these scenes as part of the youth poetry organization Urban Word, and we would be encouraged to go up there and tell our stories, and be truth tellers, and all these things. And yet, what I saw happening was students would go up there, young people would get up there, and they’d pour their guts out. But then there was no, there was nothing there, there was no one to hold them after. You know, there was no one to process what the remnants of what had been left, what had been scattered across the stage. 
And so I had moved away from the poetry community and I had gone through all this. I went to college, left the country, and I had become really disillusioned with my mentors and the people that I saw in the adult community because I felt like, “You guys weren’t readying us for the world.” They were exploiting our stories, but it wasn’t preparing us to really do something about the realities we were dealing with. And so I think because I got disillusioned, I saw a lot of people become very famous and do very well with poetry in that span of three years when I had stepped away. 
Then I came back, and I was doing my own thing and sharing things on the internet and stuff. I would organize my own readings, and I would really  have the support of one of my good friends, Daphne, who is now managing me, to really get back out there. And she’s like, “You know this is what you’re supposed to be doing. This is your purpose.”  I didn’t feel that way at the time, but in having her support and having someone who really paid attention to what I was writing about, and also what life I wanted to live. I wanted to heal.  
I spent time not writing. Another poet, Ada Limón, she said, “People ask me, ‘Oh, what do you do with writer’s block?'” And she says, “I don’t write.”  We live in a capitalist, individualist society where the assumption is you have to constantly be producing. You have to constantly be sharing it. You have to constantly be putting things out there. And for me, I was like, “Wait. I need to live a little. Can I get some time to live? Can I breathe? Can I take care of myself?” 
So, my writing was the beginning stages of me understanding, “Oh something is there.” I’m feeling something. I’m deeply moved to speak and write, and I wish I could sing it, but I’m going to use words in a way where maybe I can try to sing through it. And then I look back on some of those poems, some of them that are in the collection, and I say to myself, “I’m glad I had to write them to understand what I was feeling and experiencing or seeing.” But then I have to do something different in my life that’s going to change those conditions. I can’t put a poem out and think that’s going to change the world.
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And not even the world, but let’s bring it back to me. Can I write a poem and think that’s going to change me? At the end of the day, I have to do the work to heal, to resolve the inner conflict that I’m working through in the poem. 
I imagine that because you’ve been a publicly performing poet for so long that, in your work, you are working through different experiences, and discovering new things about yourself and the world, and so that creates a kind of conversation. I’m wondering if you’ve experienced those sort of epiphany moments or those moments of self-realization, self-actualization, and what you’ve learned? 
Yeah. Well, I always feel self-conscious about answering these sorts of questions because I know that I am growing, a constant work of process and progress, and all these things. So, what I feel today, who knows if I’ll feel the same way tomorrow. You know?
I feel like I’m a student of life. I’m not speaking in an all-knowing “I.” You know? So, in that I say what the conversation has revealed to me is that. It’s precisely that. I have a lot to learn and the more time I have spent with myself, I have been able to confront and engage a deep reservoir of knowledge, and emotional wisdom. My faith is very much connected to my upbringing and what I witnessed and what I’ve seen, some of the magical scenarios that I witnessed as a young person, I realized that what people said is reality and what is fiction is blurred. And that the things we were told were impossible…we were told they were impossible because it served somebody else’s interests. 
And as I started to delve into myself and question my own history, and my relationship with my family, and where my family had come from, and the Diaspora, and all the connections to other families, and other people’s ways of thinking. I learned there is spiritual wisdom. There is internal wisdom and knowledge that has been passed on to us. As much as things have been passed on to us in books, and songs, and art. Our physical bodies have genetic memory. We are a library of eternal resources. And when I start to deal with the pain and the healing of what this current life has brought to me, I start to recognize that that is not everything. You understand? Does that make sense?
The pain is not the entirety of the story. There’s also stories of triumph, and resistance, and resilience, and strength, and overcoming, and practices to help us learn how to do those things that have been ripped away and torn away because of the breaking of our cultures, and our identifies, and our languages, and our relationship to our past. 
So in my conversations with my younger self, I think my younger self was a bit more fearless, and only now in my coming of age as a woman, it’s only now that I’m starting to really embrace the power of being a woman and discerning and realizing, “Wait! Hold up! Where I was when I was 15 is not where I needed to be!” Even though I was a stubborn, young kid, I definitely had more of a sense of self, and agency, and fire, and confidence that through heartbreak, and disappointment and betrayal, I start to question myself as I came of age as a woman. So I started to, as I’m writing, and I’m looking back at poems, and I’m looking back at conversations I was having with myself, [and] I recognized I never took time to really love that little girl in me. She was so beat down by all that she had endured and a lot of my journey now has been how do I love that little girl in me unapologetically in the ways that she was never loved before, that I need to be able to be the best person in my relationships, in my world, in my community. So part of me taking the time to write and create is a part of me loving myself. You know?
In ways that I never was allowed to when I was younger, or I was never taught. I was never shown.  So I think the conversation changes depending on what I’m grappling with. But it’s funny when you think about your younger self. I don’t know if you feel this way. I remember having a reading somewhere and a woman she took very good care of me, and she put me in this really beautiful hotel, and as a poet you’re used to getting all types of treatment. You know, they say, I think it was James Baldwin or somebody said, “The artists are dangerous because they maneuver different classes.” One day you could be eating out of a can of Campbell’s soup. The next day you might be sitting around with somebody eating olives and hors d’oeuvres. It’s just the range of life for a poet and artists. You never know. 
For me, there was this one moment where this woman had just … I felt so appreciated because she had done so much to make sure that my stay was nice. And I remember that they had given me an upgrade at the hotel. And it seems very stupid and silly, but I just remember this bath. And I remember sitting in this bath, and it was a beautiful bathtub, and I remember trying to pour Epsom salt, and some lavender, and all these things into the bath and let the water bubble. And I created this bubble bath. And I remember sitting inside and thinking to myself, “I have never done this for myself before.” And it sounds so silly. It’s probably like the most insignificant thing. It’s a minute way of showing appreciation to yourself, but it was one thing I had done for myself. And in doing it for myself, I literally sat in the tub, and I thought, “Man, if 15-year-old Aja could see me now, she would think I’m living the best damn life.” She would have never imagined, never thought she would be here now. 
Maybe to me and my grown self, I don’t think I’m doing enough, or I don’t think I’m making the biggest change, or maybe I am hard on myself. As women we can be, or just as people. But, 15 year old Aja, she’d be like, “Oh you’re killing it girl. And I’m proud of you.” It was such a weird moment, but it was that one moment where you talk about a conversation. You know, that was a moment where I really did have a conversation with my younger self, and I could hear my younger self like, “Man I’m proud of you.” And that meant a lot to me because, in order for me to be able to be something for other people, I have to be able to fulfill the love for myself. You know, if I don’t feel it for myself, then I can’t, I don’t know how to show that to anyone else. 
My last question is, you’ve had incredible success with your work, and you get to do what you love, do you feel at peace?
At peace? I have moments of peace, but I think moments are fleeting. You know, we go in and out. I believe the movements. So, right now, I don’t need to tell you the world is a fucking mess. 
There are people who speak about this current moment as if they’re somehow above it, or somehow the rest of the world is crazy and they aren’t. Like they’re removed from their own role in it. And I guess I’m cautious to say I’m at peace because I’m pissed off most days. I want things to change. I want a better world for our children, and I’m tired of fucking marching and protesting. I’m tired. And I’m sad that this Saturday our babies gotta go do that. They should be in school. 
And there are babies across the globe who gotta do even worse throughout every day. But what kind of world have we allowed to exist where our babies can’t be at peace? If they’re not at peace, I’m not at peace. There’s no way. So it’s a funny question. I try to create moments of sanctuary and solitude so that I can hear my own thoughts and my own voice and know who I am in the midst of all this noise out in the world, the hysteria of media, and social media, and all these things. I do try to definitely create moments of peace and solitude, but it would be remiss to me if I made it seem as if I’m just here living a zen, meditative life everyday, as if I don’t look at the world around me and feel outrage, and the want to change, and help other people feel peace. I can’t be at peace if everybody else is living in pure chaos, you know? So that’s been my struggle. How do we reconcile the fact that, yes, self care matters, and healing, and resolution, but we have to be able to create a society where everyone has access to that. And until everyone has access to that, I can’t rest. 

The Bomb Life: Our Special VIP Screening of Men in Black International #WomenInBlack

Happy Friday, folks!

Last night, we were blessed to host a special VIP screening of Men in Black, International!

The film is historical in the Men in Black Franchise, as it is the first time a woman of color, Tessa Thompson, is featured in a leading role as a suited up agent.

Thus, the theme was #WomeninBlack to celebrate the strides women like her are making in infiltrating spaces typically dominated by men.

Reality stars Yandy Smith and Jessie Woo stopped by, as did influencers Rae Holliday and Starring Sara, celebrity stylist Mickey Boom, and designer Liana Zavo.

Our dress code call for black. Take a look at some of our stylish guests:

As for me, I was instructed to dress in character, so I dusted off my Lisa Nicole Cloud Collection suit, slipped on a tie, and finished with a pair of shades.

As Will Smith said in the first Men in Black, “I make this look good.”

It was a great time and the movie was light hearted and funny. Tessa Thompson did an amazing job, as did her co star Chris Hemsworth. Check out a trailer below:

Be sure to check it out tonight and this weekend! You won’t regret it. And it’s fun for the whole family.

If you’d like to be added to the list for our next event, it’s easy! Purchase a VIP ticket to ConvosWithClaire for endless perks. Our next event is in Atlanta this weekend! RSVP at

Until next time: What do you think?

Images: Nyki Elle

How A First-Time Author is Bringing New Life to the Urban Novel

When I spoke to first-time author Tanzania Glover, she told me that her primary literary influence was Terry McMillan. McMillan became a hero to Black women readers in the 90s because of her warm, affirming depictions of Black women’s struggles and friendships. Even as she’s been consistently underappreciated in the mainstream for books that are filled with dramatic plot twists and exceptional character development, McMillan is an icon to our community.

The spirit of Terry McMillan can be felt in Glover’s first novel, The Soundtrack: #musictomyears. The book draws readers in with its many ups and downs, but it carefully gives as much care to the lives of its Black women protagonists as anything we’ve seen in Glover’s idol.

Jauri, the story’s central figure, is a fiercely independent and opinionated woman looking to make her mark on the music industry. But she makes a series of unforced errors in her personal life (men, will do that to you) throughout the book’s 400+ pages that require her to be lifted up by her family and her best friend, Ashley. Despite the missteps, Jauri never loses herself. In fact, she provides an important reminder of the tenacity we’ll all have to tap into at some point.

We pick up different books for our different moods. The Soundtrack: #musictomyears is a light novel you’ll want to dive into for a fun escape to a world that centers Blackness. Tanzania Glover is putting a new spin on the familiar urban novel format that’s perfect for millennial Black women.

In our conversation, Tanzania Glover dove into the novel’s intricacies and her journey to publishing it.

– Kimberly Foster

Take this survey after reading our interview for a chance to get a free copy of The Soundtrack: #musictomyears.

For Harriet: All right, let’s start from the beginning. Where did the idea for this book come from?

Tanzania Glover:  Before I was telling you about how I was so obsessed with celebrity culture and I thought I would try to turn it into something meaningful. You know how we all have our faves and what not and think we know how they are in real life. I’ve always wanted to write a book that showed the real stories or the story how I saw it for women who are real Black women. I don’t really wanna say real Black women, but Black women who are non bi-racial, not mixed, not always lighter. You know, how we don’t typically get to see women like that in the glamorous roles.

I wanted to write a book and see how putting someone like that in that role and seeing how they would react. I read a lot about the obstacles that some of the younger dark skinned Black women artists are dealing with and it disturbed me. For instance, I saw what’s happened with Sevyn Streeter. She has had some of her visuals lightened in the past.

I saw that happening with Normani Kordei from Fifth Harmony and Justine Skye and it’s just like, “Oh this is kind of what happens to them and it’s the norm.” I wanted to write about it and how it shouldn’t be acceptable and how to navigate the industry while still being true to yourself but trying to be successful as well.

For Harriet: Okay. 

Tanzania Glover: I definitely had an agenda when I was going into it. I wanted to focus on that because we always talk about, “Well, why do we only see one shade of Black women or one look for Black women?” And I wanted to talk about this whole different take on the Black women who are now rarely put in these positions.

For Harriet: Is this your first book?

Tanzania Glover: This is the first that I’ve published.

For Harriet: How long did it take you to write it?

Tanzania Glover: I started writing it at 14 or 15. It was 2005, so 15. But I’ve taken several breaks. This is the third draft of it and I was determined to finish it this time. I got a lot of inspiration from trashy reality shows and Lipstickalley and just seeing a lot of big celebrity moments over the years. Definitely the whole Beyoncé Lemonade album. I love how that was described as a love letter to Black women. I thought like, “Well, what if I had the ear of the whole Black community, specifically Black women. What would I say to them?” And I came up with, “Your past doesn’t define you. Sure it’s a part of you and it will always follow you, but you’re not limited by it.” My Lemonade advice would be don’t accept mediocrity because Black women are always helping whoever needs help sometimes to our own detriment. When we help and give it’s not mediocre so we shouldn’t accept it back. You know, reciprocity and all that jazz. Just always have high standards and put your own needs and well-being first. You’ll live longer.

For Harriet: One thing I was really struck by is the majority of the book is set in Chicago. I feel like I don’t read a whole lot of books where that is the case, particularly books about entertainment. Why’d you make that choice?

Tanzania Glover: I am from Chicago. I researched Los Angeles. I researched New York, but I wanted to stay true to home because I’m most familiar here, so it felt completely natural writing about riding the train at night or being here, being there because I’ve seen those places. One scene in particular by the Chicago River where a character talks about being molested, I go to that spot every summer and I love those famous winding stairs. I’m so familiar with that so it felt really cool to put places that I go all the time and see and it just felt so much more special than if I were to research some random place in Los Angeles.  I really enjoyed writing about Chicago. It’s actually funny because the sequel will not have any Chicago in it. For part two I’m going to have to do a lot of research and I’m considering traveling for it.

For Harriet: In the book if you read it carefully, it seems like there are some familiar Chicago artists or composites of artists that we might be familiar with.
Tanzania Glover: Yes, there are a lot of archetypes. The big phenomenal female artist who has a lot of stans and a huge, huge following. The narcissistic Gemini celebrity who is always in trouble because of his big ego. And it’s funny because I was just thinking, “Wow these celebrities are oddly going through a lot of stuff right now.”

For Harriet: Yeah.
Tanzania Glover: There’s a lot going on with celebrities as people and what it means to be famous is evolving in front of our eyes with social media. With this book, I wanted to give some background into how I view them and what I believe is the motivation behind some of their actions and their art. I was trying to be–I don’t wanna say relatable. It sounds so predictable. I guess I was trying to put out celebrity archetypes that we’re all familiar with.

For Harriet: What kind of function do you think that serves? Is it to hook in a reader when they feel like they can see Kanye is having a meltdown?
Tanzania Glover: I hope so. That was the plan.

So far the feedback that I’ve gotten has been amazing. People instantly recognize it because I’m so not great at being subtle, but the names were very deliberate. Everybody picked up on it and they actually really like that part of it. I’ve got the whole BeyHive who love the Beyoncé references and stuff like that. Wait I’m not supposed to confirm or deny who the characters are.

I think that was a great addition to it and it’s actually fun seeing people try and guess who the stars are based on because you have some big personalities in there. That’s always really fun.

For Harriet: One thing I really thought was innovative about the book was the structure. I was so drawn to this idea of each little section having an accompanied song to go with it and also I thought it was interesting how you switched between voices in the book. One moment you’re reading the protagonist, Jauri, and the next you’re reading Orrin. How did you come up with that?
Tanzania Glover: I’m gonna start with the first question. The songs happened because I’m a big music nerd. I listen to music 24/7. I have a catalog of music that’s out of this world and I listen to music when I write so I was almost thinking of these chapters as songs. I started out with song lyrics because I actually have a version with the song lyrics, but I couldn’t legally put those in the published version so I have it as a keepsake for myself. The song lyrics woven together beautifully tell the story for the book and it hurt to not be able to include them, but luckily I found a legal work around. I also have playlists on Spotify and YouTube for people who want to actually hear the music as they read.

For Harriet: You couldn’t legally use the lyrics because they’re copyrighted?
Tanzania Glover: Yeah.

I would have had to get the permission for 80+ songs. Some by the same artist, but that process would have taken so long. When I realized that, I was all done.

But the structure with the “his and hers” chapters and the dual chapters and the back and forth, I’m honestly just very scatter-brained. When I was writing, I would be at an event with Jauri then I would jump to Orrin and wonder what he was seeing? And I was so stuck on writing traditionally that I’d try to do her chapter ten pages, his chapter ten pages. I realized that it just didn’t work for me. I realized that I’m the boss so I really just made up the rules as I went because I hate trying to put everything into the same neat box. You’ll see some chapters are 20 pages while some are only 5. I would start and I would stop when it felt right and I liked it that way.

For Harriet: Have you seen another book that’s done this before because I haven’t?
Tanzania Glover: I haven’t either. I don’t want to claim that I’m the first to do it this way either because there could be others, but I just did what felt right for me and the story I wanted to tell.

Also, I wanted to directly connect to social media with the hashtag in the title and the musical element. I’m a one person team here. I wrote it. I did the editing. I created the cover. I did it all. So I was trying to be creative with my nonexistent marketing fund. There’s a lot of social media use in this book. So it’s like dating in the social media age and blocking people on Instagram. I’m on Twitter and it’s just so fun to me to see celebrities do this every day. We literally get news alerts. “Oh, this person blocked their ex or this person unfollowed so and so.” It’s so funny how it’s a part of everybody’s life and I just really wanted to talk about that as well.

For Harriet: Okay we’re gonna get into some of the plot points on that, but I’m just so shocked that you are saying that you did all of this yourself.
Tanzania Glover: Yeah I did and it took a while, but it’s mainly because I was broke and didn’t have a choice lol. I didn’t have money for an editor. I didn’t have money for someone to create a book cover. What I did was I taught myself how to use a Photoshop-type/Adobe program and during the free trial I created two covers– one for the first book and one for the sequel. I paid I think it was 23 dollars total for both images. I just designed them as simply as I could because after looking at the top 100 books on Amazon to see trends in cover designs, I saw that most were pretty simple. I thought, “Hey, I could do this.” I tried it and hopefully people will get what I was going for.

For Harriet: There is just so much happening in this book. I haven’t read a book like this in a long time. I read a lot of nonfiction, but I was engrossed in this. I thought it was really interesting that there are a couple of characters in this book that talk about suffering molestation or sexual abuse. I’m wondering why you felt it necessary to insert those kinds of plot points?
Tanzania Glover: First of all, my mom is a survivor. So that has been a big part of my life since I was born because she has never shied away from telling her story. She’s just such a hero to me for that because as black women we’re just expected to suffer in silence, but she told the truth. She’s always pointed her finger and said, “No, you did this to me.” Even when no one believed her and she was called crazy, she never wavered from the truth and I’ve always respected her for that.

I always want to dedicate at least a few lines for her in whatever I write because she’s just so brave and that’s something that happens in the Black community so much more than we’re willing to talk about so it was important to include that as delicately as possible.

It’s such a big plot point for Orrin. He was the child star who “things happened to” and he is still dealing with it and he thinks he’s over it, but he’s not. He pretty much has to realize that he’s never going to get over it. It’s something that happened to him. It’s a part of his life so he has to come to a point where he realizes that it’s not like a wound where it heals and then it’s fine. No, it’s always going to be slightly open. He’ll always have to treat it. He feels like, “It happened. I dealt with it. I did what people said I should do. I went to therapy. I talked about it so I should be fine.” That’s not the case and it always resurfaces. He has to deal with it and he chooses not to and we see what happens in the book.

For Harriet: I thought it was so interesting that you had both a woman and a man who were survivors of abuse. I feel like I don’t necessarily see the men’s perspective explored as much.
Tanzania Glover: For Book Two I actually go more in depth with it because one of my friends pointed out that I never used the words “raped” or “molested” in the book. I didn’t realize that. I guess I was trying to be sensitive because it is based on real celebrities and their stories and their rumors and what not. I was trying to be sensitive because I absolutely do not want to use that as a draw. I just wanted to write how I interpreted the situation as a fan of the artist and their subsequent behaviors. But Book Two actually explores that where he begins to say the words and really heal because Book One was just peeling off his bandage. He still has more growing to do as you can see by the ending.

For Harriet: I loved the character of Jauri.
Tanzania Glover: Me too! She is like every friend of mine. She’s so flawed, but I don’t care. I just love her. She’s so funny. She’s so relatable. She wants to be bougie so bad, but then she’s really down to earth. She’s just everything. She’s so talented.

For Harriet: I appreciated how she changed throughout the course of the book. I think that seeing her open up with Orrin and get hurt in the process it was so real. Her reaction to dealing with somebody trifling–I felt like those reactions were really honest.
Tanzania Glover: Right because she’s such a closed book. Like the people who are the closest to her, like her sisters and Ashley, don’t even know things about her that we do. So it’s almost like we’re her friends too because she told us everything with no filter.

For Harriet: She seemed like a really normal Black girl, you know. I love that you mentioned early about trying to write against the colorism that Black women experience or how we’re erased in media. I thought this is definitely somebody that I would know. And the way that you described her physically, it felt like somebody who was very familiar.
Tanzania Glover: She is just your normal Black girl in Chicago. She’s been through some stuff. She’s rolled around in the mud a little, but she’s dusted herself off. I love seeing her confidence grow, even though it got shaken through some of the plot points. I love seeing her, but especially someone who looks like her, still winning in the end.

I have this thing where I want to write this ruthless Black woman character who just does not care what anybody thinks and she is all about winning for herself. I actually have a separate book for that character, but I think about The Coldest Winter Ever. Every Black girl I know fiercely loved that book. The character Winter was so selfish and because of that she had to have a bad ending. She had to be tragic. It was like a warning. Like, “Black women don’t be like her.” I hated that because as “bad” as she was, I was rooting for her. I wanted her to win.

For Harriet: I love that. I love that about this book. Even despite all of the ups and downs in the plots, and there were lots of ups and lots of downs, I loved that on the very last page I felt like things in this woman’s life are not perfect, but she’s fine. She’s okay.
Tanzania Glover: She has every reason to fall and stay down, but she’s not. She is slowly getting back up. She’s being accountable for her actions and I love that about her because she’s not the kind of person that’s going to wallow forever. She’ll take her punches and she’ll, you know, be hurt because she’s normal and she has feelings. As you can see, she is very hurt, but she’s not going to stay that way. She can’t so she’ll reinvent herself again and again.

For Harriet: This book has a lot of drama in it. There are lots of twists and turns. It’s interesting to me that you were still able to balance the dramatic stuff, the things that can, if not handled properly, devolve into a soap opera or a bad reality show. I appreciate that you’re able to balance that.
Tanzania Glover: Thank you. I wanted to toe the line because we all have our guilty pleasures. I love Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives, but I didn’t want it to be that. I struggle with the respectability politics thing. I struggle with not wanting it to be–I don’t want to say “urban” because I am urban. I fully embrace that, but I didn’t want it to be stereotypical and cartoonish. I wanted a normal Black experience where the readers could say that it feels real because they’ve seen it or something like it.

For Harriet: Yeah, I love rejecting respectability politics. I can imagine that this is a book that somebody might write off as being you know too something. Did you worry about that or do you worry about that, or do you just feel like this will speak for itself?
Tanzania Glover: When I had to categorize it on Amazon, that was when it hit me again, like what category do I put it in? I thought urban romance. I think it’s an urban book. I think it’s a black pop culture book because I wrote it for Black women like myself. If anybody else reads it then that’s great for them, but this is for Black women. This is for us because we don’t get these kind of stories and we don’t get to see ourselves as the love interest—being doted on, as the special one. She’s [Jauri] all of that. Things happen, of course, but it’s not a “woe is me” story at all.

She doesn’t want that. She wants the spotlight. She wants that badly and she wants to work for it the honest way. This book was conceived pre-#MeToo movement, but it has a lot of the same themes of sexual harassment. You have to sleep with the guy whose finger is on the button. It has a lot of that and it wasn’t intentional, but it was. I wanted to talk about it casually because it’s not a big deal in the industry. It’s just not. I would love if my book could add to that conversation for black women’s treatment in the music industry and Hollywood.

I was actually shocked to see this movement pick up so much steam because when I was doing research, all I saw was how it’s just expected and accepted. You have to do these things, these “sexual favors” or you’re not gonna make it. It’s so normalized that I didn’t want to write about it like it was traumatic even though it is traumatic. Women should not have to do these things, especially to people that they look up to. Like these are their heroes who they find out are monsters in the worst way. But most have to weigh it and play the game accordingly because everyone else is. It’s just not fair for women to have to compromise themselves in order to be successful.

For Harriet: I loved that Jauri was in it and then she decided, “No, I don’t want to do this anymore.” She was in control of herself and her body.
Tanzania Glover: Yes. Book Two definitely explores it more. I’m gonna give you like a little spoiler because we already know Jauri’s not gonna stay away from music. She just can’t. So in the future, she has her own record label and she’s setting the example and doing things the right way for her artists. And when we’re talking about this topic, we have to be honest about why there’s so much abuse of power. It’s because men rule Hollywood and the music industry, hell the world, but specifically for entertainment I do believe a lot of this would go away if female label heads and producers and creators were represented more.

So yeah she is taking that next step in Book Two. But as far as Book One, the reason that she has so much control over herself and her image and her body was because she had the capital to do so. It was really interesting to see a Black woman do the right thing with her money and invest it in herself. The last couple chapters, when Orrin was trying to buy her out of her contract, she realized that she couldn’t let him because he would be using his money to basically buy her and not the contract so she had to do it herself.

For Harriet: I love that she was able to write her own checks.
Tanzania Glover: Yeah. She wrote her own check. She did it on her own terms. I wanted to come full circle with that because in the first chapter, we see her getting dressed to meet “Wayne”. She’s wearing her hair how he likes and wearing clothes that he picked out for her. But in the last chapter, she’s wearing her big hair how she wants to, dressed how she wants and she’s summoning him to her. I just thought that was so beautiful. I cried writing that scene. Like, “Oh, my God! It’s over. She’s done. My baby’s all grown up.” She’s not a victim. She’s just not into victimhood. And there’s nothing wrong with being a victim, but she recognizes that there are people who are victims to things out of their control. She feels that she controlled a lot of what happened to her in her past and would definitely be in control of things from that point on.

So she’s thinking about, “Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently?” And she realizes that we look over red flags and signs and we compromise on things all because we like someone. We can’t do that anymore. I have readers that are still holding out for a certain ending in book two and I want to shake them because they didn’t get the message. He was not good for her at all!

She realizes exactly where she messed up. She takes responsibility for her part. Not for all of it, because it is not her fault. But she realizes where she will never compromise again and that’s really interesting for the sequel because she is put in a position where she could backtrack or she could just keep it moving. I really want her to remember the woman on the roof at the end of Book One that was saying she would never be in that situation again because she has learned from her mistakes.

For Harriet: I am glad that we had the conversation about how to categorize this because it felt really reminiscent of my favorite novelists. Do you have any people that you look up to, people who inspire you?
Tanzania Glover: Terry McMillan. I’ve read everything that she’s ever written. She’s like the quintessential author for true Black sisterhood, Black female joy, and getting up again after life punches you in the gut. She is just everything to me. She’s everything.

For Harriet: She’s literally amazing. One of the best conversations I’ve ever had in life was with Terry McMillan. She is literally the best.
Tanzania Glover: Oh, my God! I’m so jealous. I’m so jealous. It literally started for me. I was maybe five when Waiting to Exhale came out in theaters. I was there because my mom couldn’t get a sitter. I remember seeing Black women on the big screen loving on each other and fighting with each other, but that bond was still there. When I got older and realized that it was a book first, I had to read it! I found her other books and I’ve watched every movie based on them dozens of times. I just love how she showed the full spectrum of Black womanhood. She is just the greatest of all time.

For Harriet: Do you have any final thoughts about what you would want readers to take away from this book? You mentioned your Lemonade message of “Don’t accept mediocrity.” Is there anything else?
Tanzania Glover: I think the message is pretty straightforward. Love yourself more than you love anyone else. Have a code of conduct. Don’t have unprotected sex. Just don’t do it. That got her [Jauri] into a lot of trouble. I think as Black women, we have to be more in control about who we allow into our lives in that way because of kids and STDs. We see how much these things affect us in our community. This is something that is fully controllable and preventable. She didn’t get off easily, but Jauri is lucky that things weren’t worse for her. I just want us to take more responsibility for our sexual health because that is the beginning and the end to a lot of avoidable problems.

I really don’t want to come off as preachy because I have the tendency to come off that way in real life if you ask my friends. I am just so passionate about my love for black women and girls that I want to see us live long, healthy, fulfilled lives on our terms. Whoever we chose to date or be intimate with, I just want us to set healthy boundaries and live and do things for ourselves and not because someone manipulated us into it. That’s it. That’s the book in a nutshell.
Purchase a copy of The Soundtrack: #musictomyears.

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Disclosure: For Harriet was financially compensated for this post. 

Despite Trump’s efforts, Stacey Abrams’ credentials cannot be denied.

by Kimberly Foster//

After 2016, I thought I was done with politics. But in these two years, we’ve seen so much policy that harms marginalized people being pushed and passed across the country, that I realized sitting out of this system is not an option. The people who hold the most power are only going to make things worse. 
And once I got educated on the work that Republicans have been doing to keep voters of color, young people and poor people from the polls, I got even more fired up. Now, I’m all in. I think November 6 is going to be a good day for Democrats across the country, and I will be heartbroken if my favorites lose. 
Stacey Abrams is one of the people I’m really pulling for. Though I have to admit that I wasn’t immediately on the Abrams train because I didn’t think she had a chance. I was wrong.  And as I’ve learned more about her, the work she’s done to expand the electorate in Georgia, and her political skills, I’ve gotten more invested. 
At this point, her race is a statistical tie. She will win if she can overcome Brian Kemp’s attempts to steal votes. But there’s no guarantee she’ll be able to do that. Systemic voter disenfranchisement is out of her hands, and that’s what’s most frightening.
 I’ll shed a tear if the outcome isn’t the one I’d prefer on Tuesday. 

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Abrams victory in the primary could not happen if she weren’t an exceptionally talented woman. Her being tied with a Republican in what used to be the heart of the Confederacy is the product of Herculean effort. I am as amazed by her abilities as I am disgusted by the attempts to minimize her. I know it doesn’t make sense to keep riled up by Trump’s bigotry, but I can’t help it.  
This week he said to the press, “I like Oprah, but the woman that she’s supporting is not qualified to be the governor of Georgia by any stretch of the imagination.”
He is, of course, talking about Abrams. 
Unbelievable is the only word that comes to mind. I believe in the importance of credentials and experience. I thought other people did too, but that man is in the White House. Those of us who believe in competent people running government have been consistently horrified by the people Donald Trump surrounds himself with. If you’re going to come into the highest office in the land knowing absolutely nothing, at least build a team of smart, knowledgeable people. Trump hasn’t done that. This is the least educated cabinet in 26 years. For the past two years, we’ve been inundated with stories about the disturbingly high levels of incompetence in every department. 
Was Ben Carson qualified to run HUD? Was Rex Tillerson qualified to be Secretary of State? Was Rick Perry qualified to lead the Department of Energy? What are Jared Kushner’s credentials to be making Middle East policy? There’s a report out saying Trump offered the job of UN Ambassador to a woman whose previous occupation was Fox News host. I could go on.
Why is it that the only time he’s talking about credentials and qualifications is when he’s talking about people of color? Curio couldn’t be a competent judge because he’s Mexican, and Trump has a history of calling Black people stupid. It never sticks, but it’s downright laughable when aimed at the woman poised to claim the governorship in a state once thought to be solidly red. 
Doesn’t Donald Trump love Ivy League schools? After all, he did send this tweet to discredit Andrew Gillum, another Black person on the verge of a historic win.

A Yale education is a boon for DeSantis, the man racists think is racist. But you know who else went to Yale? Stacey Abrams. She graduated from the same law school as Brett Kavanaugh. Her opponent has no terminal degree.

And Abrams does have experience navigating Georgia politics. She was minority leader of the Georgia state legislature from 2011 to 2017. While there, she stopped the largest tax increase in Georgia state history by discovering a math error. I thought Republicans hated taxes?
Stacey Abrams is a politician so skilled Oprah fly into Georgia to stump for her. The Queen of media knocked on suburban Atlanta doors and shared the stage for public events.

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Mike Pence, obviously threatened by the flood of attention that comes with an endorsement from one of the most famous women in the world responded at a Kemp rally. 

“I heard Oprah was in town today. And I heard Will Ferrell was going door-to-door the other day. Well I’d like to remind Stacey and Oprah and Will Ferrell — I’m kind of a big deal, too. And I’ve got a message for all of Stacey Abrams’s liberal Hollywood friends: This ain’t Hollywood. This is Georgia.”

The Republican Party forfeited it’s right to claim they’re above entertainment when they elected a reality tv star who stays on the road to meet his fans. But we only need to go back a couple weeks ago to see the glaring hypocrisy.

Donald Trump could not have been happier to praise a MAGA-hatted Kanye West and welcome him into the White House. The Trump who spent 30 years getting as close to famous people we like as possible wishes he was one of them. Celebrity is frivolous to these people now because celebrities can’t stand them. 

I know why her resume doesn’t matter. Black people in the United States have long known that there is no credential that will sway a racist committed to believing you inferior. But I think I point out the lies racists tell about merit because they use them to gaslight the rest of us. When we see the goalposts moving, they call us the paranoid race-baiters. Abram is a brilliant woman and sterling candidate, and no one can take that from her.

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor-in-chief of For Harriet.

Why Ryan Lochte Said Yes to Celebrity Big Brother: Viewers Are Going to See a Different Side of Him

The first time Ryan Lochte appears on Celebrity Big Brother will actually be the second time he has been asked to compete on the CBS reality series.

But that was then. And now, Lochte — a few months fresh from successful treatment for alcohol abuse and still in the middle of training for the next Summer Olympics despite a 14-month ban — is ready for America to see a different side of him.

“He’s not how he is in the media,” his agent, Jeff Ostrow, tells PEOPLE. “He’s a great person, laid-back and down to earth.”

“I thought it would be nice for the 10 million people that regularly watch the show to get to see who Ryan is,” he says.

“People who want to see Ryan — what they think, he’s a party animal, crazy person, that’s not what they’re going to see and that’s not what Ryan is,” Ostrow continues. “And, in fact, he made a commitment to change his lifestyle a little bit and sought a little bit of help for alcohol and he doesn’t party like that.”

Lochte, 34, is one of the most decorated athletes in his sport and a superstar of past Olympics. But his prowess in the pool has often been overshadowed by his behavior on dry land, including a reality series on E! in 2013 that didn’t seem to miss a single moment of cluelessness or shenanigans.

And then there were more troubling incidents. Lochte falsely claimed he and other American swimmers had been held at gunpoint and robbed while at a gas station during the Rio Summer Games, touching off an international incident. He later apologized amid conflicting accounts of what his group had done and why security had felt the need to draw their guns.

Despite stiff punishment from U.S. Swimming, Lochte vowed to make it back to the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020 and was well on his way when he was barred last year from competition for 14 months because he received an illegally large IV infusion. (The substance itself was not banned.)

In October, Lochte underwent treatment for a years-long alcohol addiction after police were reportedly called to an incident at his hotel in California.

RELATED: Ryan Lochte Says Adorable 6-Month-Old Son’s Smile ‘Warms My Heart So Much!’

Ostrow, his agent, says now that the outpatient treatment lasted about a month and “went very well.”

“It was something that he voluntarily wanted to do even though many professionals would suggest that he didn’t necessarily need to,” he says of Lochte. “He needed to kind of take control over himself and his decisions better.”

There have been recent bright spots as well: Lochte wed former Playboy model Kayla Rae Reid in a lavish ceremony in September after a civil ceremony earlier in 2018. They are parents to Caiden Zane, born last June, and Kayla is expecting a baby girl this summer.

“They’re super excited, they always wanted to have two children,” Ostrow says.

RELATED VIDEO: Ryan Lochte Is Ready for His Fresh Start — ‘I Can’t Wait to Be a Dad’

Lochte, particularly, “couldn’t be happier — No. 1 that he’s having another kid because he loves being a dad, but having a baby girl has always been part of his dreams.”

After all the ups and downs, Lochte is now set to join a house with 11 other celebrities from various fields (including former White House official Anthony Scaramucci and Lindsay Lohan’s mom) to compete for $250,000.

They will be cut off from the outside world and watched constantly by cameras. Unlike the other sports stars in the cast, such as Olympian Lolo Jones, Lochte is still competing.

RELATED: Ryan Lochte Met His Wife Kayla on Instagram and Knew ‘She Was the One’ After Their First Date

“Ryan always goes into everything to win. His mindset is to win,” says Ostrow. ” I think he’s going in there to try and win the game but not at the expense of making himself look foolish or doing things that are contrary to the type of person that Ryan is.”

One thing Lochte won’t stop doing is training. There will be a pool at the Big Brother house just for that purpose.

While he has brushed up a bit on the series, “He didn’t want to over think the process too much in terms of strategy,” Ostrow says.

“You’re thrown into that experiment,” Ostrow says, adding, “My advice is, ‘Go in and be yourself, obviously be mindful that unlike the rest of our life they’re going to watch everything you do. Just be you’ — and I know he’ll be fine if he’s him.”

Celebrity Big Brother premieres Monday (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.