I will never be free from individual suffering until we are ALL free from suffering.” – Unknown 

Thanks so much for stopping by and supporting the site. I am Naje Aditi Badu, formerly known as Kimberly E. Banks. I’d like to welcome you to what I believe to be the beginning of our collaboration, our journey, of making a true contribution toward liberation – both internally and in the world. We may not make it to the day where suffering for all of mankind has ceased, but together we can make an offering of monumental proportions. It’s very likely that you may already be on your individual path to living life from the inside out, the way in which you were inherently designed. Yet, there is nothing like the manifestation of possibility that arises out of union between like-minded and like-souled individuals striving to create positive change. So believe me when I say that I am excited. After all, your  arrival to this site is no accident. Trust that there is something inside compelling you to live freely, authentically, and unapologetically; something calling you to live on purpose; something requiring you to rise higher than your current state or circumstances; something urging you to be a stand for the rights of your people, and ultimately, the rights of every human being on this planet.

Already, many of you have inquired about the background behind the creation of this site; especially those of you who have been following the LGOYB brand (Let Go Of Your But – the title of my first book) over the past few years. I can give you the short answer by stating this: TheRhyze is a venture close to my heart that is long overdue. I say this in respect to finally succumbing to the inclination to follow the highest aspiration of offering my gifts and talents to a cause(s) much greater than myself.Now, its quite possible that the curiosity of many of you reading or listening has not been quelled by such a short and ambiguous response. If this is you, I would suggest that you keep reading, keep listening, and  I will do my best to keep my explanation as short as possible. But before I proceed, let me emphasize that at the end of the day it is my greatest intention to inspire each and every one of you to reach deep within and find a way to the rhyze for humanity in whatever capacity you are capable.

Click the SoundCloud button to hear more via the introductory podcast. Click this link to keep reading (Post). (Record to the instrumental of erykah badu – the healer/mad lib)

First and foremost, please allow me a moment to shed light on the reason for the intentional misspelling of “Rhyze.” I made a point to remove the “i” (and replaced it with “hy” – taken from the word rhythm) as a reminder that the type of change inciting a much needed uprising in today’s time will certainly require a collective effort. Thus, this project serves as call to action for us to rise in rhythm, in unison, together, as one living and breathing body, for the sake of social progression.

The next thing I will address is the subject of that which we are aiming to rhyze above. In one word, I will simply state it as such: oppression. One thing has become clear to me is that underlying each and every being’s effort to live and express themselves wholeheartedly exists the constant struggle to rise above the fear of being judged, or even condemned, without forfeiting what little sense of belonging we have. With social media replacing human connection, and in the same light, playing a significant role in the shaping of attitudes toward varying lifestyles and preferences, we have made very little progress toward inclusion and equal rights for everyone. While some of us may be inspired to live out loud, shamelessly revealing our unique preferences and choices despite criticism, others are still opting for the closeted, secluded existence that merely perpetuates loneliness and depression. And rightly so. Why? Because of the subjugation derived of mainstream opinions, beliefs, and practices held by people, and groups, who deem themselves superior. And also, because of the promise of unconditional love and acceptance our families and peers dangle before us like carrots; like incentives offered only if we agree to stay within the dotted lines of a paved road leading to a sense of freedom that could never truly be attained to begin with. At least not in this day in time. At least not without first completely derailing some of these unjust systems and institutions that seem intent upon controlling our rights.

This leads me to my next point; a point that is heavily intertwined within the subtitle, sparking the revolution from within. What does this statement mean? It means that it is impossible for the changes we wish to see in this world to transpire until we first begin to cultivate change within each and every one of our individual lives. Not to be confused with advocating individuation. Clearly, with all of the injustices still taking place in this world, it is entirely impossible for one person to complete a task that is designed to be achieved by millions. I personally believe that the endeavor for racial, economic, and gender harmony will always be compromised when we neglect to overcome our own personal struggle of oppression and healing. Change starts from within. That which is sparked from within can ignite fires in our neighbors, then in our neighborhoods, then in our communities, and ultimately in the world. This means we need to stop and really take a look at how we are being, what we are speaking, and with whom we are associating. We must begin to truly evaluate the trajectory of what and how we are being in this given moment and what our actions, or non-actions, may lead to tomorrow. We have to tell ourselves some painful truths to the person staring back at us in the mirror.  Only then can we move toward uniting with others who have clarity of the powerful contribution to be made through our lives. 

To me, the need for solidarity is most compelling message that I would like to assert by way of the art, literature, articles, videos, films, photographs, reviews, and interviews shared on this site. Creative expression is vital to those of us who may feel powerless in a time where change is imperative. We must recognize that not everyone fights the same. Not everyone possess the organizational skills that is a crucial part of any social movement for change. Therefore, we won’t necessarily see everyone shouting on the front lines of rallies and marches they helped to facilitate. However, two things that we all have is a perspective and a voice. Obviously, creative expressions helps us to share them.

In maintaining the theme of being true, I will add here that there is a huge opportunity to inspire change through music of all genres, but especially through Hip Hop – a bazillion dollar industry. As a Hip Hop head myself, I have witnessed her grow up and transcend all of the limiting beliefs that were rampant in its early stages. Like a rose that grew from concrete, (shot out to Tupak Shakur) she has rhyzen against the opinions and oppression of those “who knew not what they were doing.” Needless to say, we have all watched her spread her wings and mature into a culture that crosses class, nation, creed, generation, and gender. Thus, there is never a more ideal time than now to utilize Hip-Hop as a means to uplift communities, to create the change we all wish to see. Some of our artists are already doing so, but clearly we need more of them to step up and contribute to the rhyze. It is because of this that you can best believe I aim to have some of the tough conversations with musicians, producers, and rappers in order to glean from them how they could help us help them to make an even more powerful contribution to society.

Upon first glimpse, this site may appear to be a platform that advocates the rise of a people, class, or nation that has grown exhausted with living in an oppressed state of existence. And it is quite easy to conclude that the content shared on this site encompasses works designed to incite a revolution of epic proportion. In part, you would be largely correct. But also bear in mind that this venture isn’t about agitating political positions and perspectives as much as it is about constructing a creative collective that addresses topics related specifically to remedying the inequality and oppression many of us experience sexually, culturally, financially, and educationally. It is about constructively venturing down paths that have not been previously explored in order to devise a world in which we all desire to reside. Thus, I wish to reiterate that topics centered on race, gender, transgender, and sexual inequality will be covered throughout. Why these topics? Well, considering I am a writer and an artist, who happens to be of African descent, who also happens to be a fluid female, intersectionality of injustice, inequality, and oppression is extremely evident in my life. I am all too familiar with what it felt like to live a life that is under-fulfilled and under-expressed consequent to not having the courage to be true to who I really am on the inside.

I would be remiss if I stated that I fell short of living my life as I preferred because of ineptitude, or the lack of intelligence and potential. Much of my choice to live by societies standards was largely due to fearing the experience of failure, judgement, and abandonment. Not only do I experience oppression in society, but there is a great amount of oppression I experience within my own culture/community as a result of being a fair skin, articulate, middle class woman (trust these are not classifications I placed upon myself; these were classifications placed upon me as a form on intercommunity segregation). And then there is the oppression I experience within my own family as a result of following a path that looked nothing like the ones my parents have laid out for me. In other words I had the audacity to attempt to make my own choices that had nothing at all to do with them. 

There are so many of us who are suffering silently as a result of the oppression we are experiencing internally. Some repression is self-imposed consequent to choosing to do what others think is best. I am inclined to believe that most oppression is perpetuated by the need to preserve ourselves from the atrocities we witness on a daily basis of those who were bold enough to live their life whether it  made others uncomfortable or not.

We are living in a period where the whole of humanity is at stake. I recently went through a major depression that lasted for a period of six months. I can’t necessarily say for sure I am totally “out of the woods,” but I can say that I am doing  much better. Now, I completely understand that six months may not be a long time to some people, especially those who suffer from this condition chronically. (If this is you, I send you love and light. Please know that this project was born out of my attempt to rise up from darkness. I hope it inspires you to do the same.) However, I will say that to know me is to know I have been a bright light for the greater part of my life, even through hardship and turmoil. I, and many others, would never have imagined I’d ever allow myself to travel down a path of hopelessness. For now, I will refrain from getting into the whys or whats that triggered my depression. Ins short, it had something to do with living a life with very minimal sense of belonging for well over twenty years. All of this, mind you, resulting from being “different” or following a path that was unlike the environment in which I was raised – creatively, sexually, educationally, economically, and relationally. Yes…I am certain there are many of you who can relate. And we’d most likely agree that loneliness is a huge and unfair price to  pay for choosing our own path, and making choices and decisions that best suit the life we wish to live, and have every right to live.

Apparently, life was far less concerned about whether or not I thought being ostracized and disowned by the family in which I was born was a unreasonable exchange for self-determination.  Unfortunately, it took me two decades to learn that life had no intention on stopping and waiting for the fruition my desire for connection and love to expose me to its “lighter” side.  Equally as unfortunate, is the fact that it took me reaching a point where ending my life was the only logical way to bring about the cessation of my suffering. I suppose the daily practice of repressing, adapting, and attempting to fulfill societal expectations for the sake of acceptance by my family, and in hopes of silencing the pain of unworthiness, had become detrimental to my existence. 

The irony of my depressive state is that even though this happened to be one of the most painful periods in my life, I came out of it with an epiphany that was as bright and clear as day: any rise from oppression (which is what ultimately triggers depression) could only occur from within. The much needed rise to empowerment I needed in order to pursue the life I deserved could never take place outside of me, nor could another person walk through the fire on my behalf. The only way to the life I wanted to live was to fight my way through powerlessness. Suddenly I was clear that I could never fully contribute to a much needed change in society if I couldn’t show up to the fight wholly.

You may not be surprised to hear that I dream of a day where the inflection of harm and injury is no longer a choice we make as humans. Obviously a project of this magnitude and nature is birthed through compassion and concern. Now, to say I’ve always been a passionate proponent for equality is an understatement. Most people would never know this about me unless we became engaged in a conversation about the plight of society and culture. Shock is often muted through their discovery of my literary and artistic talents. “Yeah, you all see the world ‘differently,'” is the usual response, as if the creatively inclined are the only people who entertain thoughts of liberation. My choice to repress sentiments of resistance had little to do with not having the courage or feeling fit for the job. Some of it had to do with what Toni Morrison coined as Colorism back in 1980’s, yet has always existed amongst the African American community since the days of slavery. Brothers and Sisters were always quick to remind me  how the lighter hue of my skin automatically disqualified me from running the race for true freedom. I grew tiresome having to defend myself, let alone my perspective, especially since I was “blacker” (culturally conscious) than any of my friends and family put together.  

Also, there was the fact that I really thought the era of civil unjust had long since passed, and therefore the need for revolution was no longer dire. Therefore I didn’t see the need cultivate any bit of proclivity I had for “fighting the powers that be.” Yet, I have always admired activism. I used to say that I was born in the wrong era. Throughout my youth I read books on the great leaders of the civil rights movement, and eventually moved on to study books that highlighted the work of the Black Panthers. As young, avid reader I studied the works of Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Julian Bonds, Al Sharpton, John Lewis, Jessie Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ghandi, Stokely Carmichael, Elaine Brown, Eldredge and Kathleen Cleaver, Amiri, Baraka, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni, to name a few. (Believe me, I can go on and on.) Then there were the books and documentaries I consumed about humanitarian efforts made by legendary entertainers such as Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, and Harry Belafonte. Needless to say, there was something that always inspired me about people who stood up for justice, and was quick to conclude that I would have been among those greats had I been born prior to the 70’s. Again, by the time I came of age to lift my voice and sing the plea for social justice I was under the impression that all of the injustices had been resolved. I was entirely incorrect – or misled, depending on perspective. 

In one of Angela Davis’s recent speeches, she shared a perspective that clearly defines how America bamboozled many of us who were not reared in her southern regions into believing that slavery has ended. She suggested that we become more aware of the difference between closure and continuation. You see, as a young one, institutionalized education taught its pupils about the Jim Crow era as if had been brought to closure. We were made to believe that since people were no longer forced to provide free labor in cotton fields, no longer getting hosed down at sit-ins and protests, or no longer getting mauled by ferocious police dogs, that those days were long since behind us. And of course, there was the media who portrayed such incidents involving police brutality (that is up until the horrific Rodney King beating) as acts that were largely due to gang affiliation and knuckle headed behavior. I didn’t learn of the true nature of the infestation of drugs by the government, the war on drugs, COINTEL  PRO,  the three strikes rule, or the ignorance supporting police brutality until recent years (thank you Ava Duvernay). Up until then, unless you were reared by parents intent upon exposing the truth of the hatred behind such racists acts, my peers and I raised in the west side of the country were made to believe that mass incarceration was a means of protecting the people from crime. True, “criminals”  caught up in the system  may not have been treated fairly, but our misguided perspective had us believing that none of it would have occurred had they not been engaged in thuggish, uncivilized behavior. Unbeknownst to us, the ever evolving prison industrial complex was merely a continuations of an evolved form of slavery perpetuated by supremacist who refuse to have their culture watered down and “browned” to nonexistence. 

Fast forward to today, things have come full circle. Not only have the same injustices that were occurring in the 50’s and 60’s seemingly resurfaced, but I am also discovering that they were never truly resolved to begin with. I have learned that oppression comes in many different forms, many faces, and a multitude of layers. I have also learned that judgement of any kind breeds repression,  repression breeds fear, and fear gives rise to hatred. This is a vicious cycle that can only be remedied with love. Curiosity over the past several years has led me to discover a great deal more about a system of proclaimed supremacy that has plagued not only my community, but communities all over the world. This is the same system of supremacy that my brothers and sisters used to speak about in effort to educate those of us who were not hip to such a dark reality. Bear in mind I had not yet been exposed to the painful impact of African American men who became entangled in cyclical interrelation of drugs, incarceration, and unemployment. I had no idea how the construct of poverty in our communities had been (and still is) intentionally designed. I was clueless as to how violence and crime had been my people’s last resort attempt to overcome powerlessness; to have some sort of control over their ability to provide for their families. Before that exposure, as  far as I was concerned, the onus was on them. Their belief in the existence of a broken system that impeded their path to progress was merely a figment of their imagination. I remember clearly dismissing their grievances, considering them to be excuses for their inability to conquer laziness, to rise above limiting conditions created by personal conditions. Of course, the moment I knew better, I went back to those same brothers and sisters to apologize for what turned out to be my own ignorance.

Having recently read the book titled The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, which speaks about the great migration, I completely understand from where this ignorance stems: the great migration of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. I am fully aware that the greatest intention behind our parents’ and grandparents’ effort to flee the southern regions of this country had much to do with protecting their children from the horrendous laws of oppression that had been born of the Jim Crow era. For that, I will gladly take this moment to express the utmost gratitude to my parents for making that choice and shielding me from a world inhibited by overt racism. It is a parents duty to protect their children from the ills of the world. For some that means limiting exposure to such realities, while for others it meant showering their young with painful truths in preparation for what they would likely encounter when they became young men and women. In my eyes, there exists a bit of empowerment in both of these approaches – one more so than the other, but I am not judging – especially when executed in love.

Contrarily, I have also come to know that there is always a cost to be paid when opting to protect loved ones from the truth. Those who were shielded will eventually experience an enormous sense of disappointment, pain, and heartbreak upon discovering the falsities behind the assumptions, perceptions, and expectations carried for a certain period of time. I know this from experience. Besides the benefits of living in a diverse city like Pasadena, California, where racism was not something regularly encountered, if at all, I often wonder if under exposure to such a reality is what is making it rather difficult for me to stomach the violence persisted by previously disguised supremacy in this country. Based on what we were taught in schools, we had won the battle for civil rights. I now know that that is far from true. In fact, we have actually regressed as a society in respect to human rights – let alone cultural justice. And now, after all these years, I have opened up to the possibility that I was not born in the wrong era. I recognize that there is still much work to be done. Which means there still exists before me an opportunity to contribute to evolution, to stand for my people, and to stand for what’s right. We are living in a country, a society, a world where supremacy and repression refuses to die. It continues to evolve and reinvent itself itself through systems like unequal pay; like lopsided opportunities in education and employment; like drug infestation in inner cities; and like the prison industrial complex. 

My favorite saying in this moment in time is, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” Barak Obama, the first African American president is a great example of the change (or concession, depending on perspective) some of us always hoped to achieve as a nation. But the state of social injustice and unrest that came about as a result of his presidential appointment goes to show that there are many of us who don’t, and never will, adapt to change.  The fact that we are still counting firsts (first {insert your culture here} American, first woman, first transgender, first gay…) in respect to achievements is shameful. Though we are a very young country, I am sure many people will concur, with disappointment and discouragement, that we simply can not get a handle on the notion that “right is right,” regardless of preference, nation, class, creed, or geographical location.

In closing, I would like to state another motivation for starting this project. I am extremely curious about young leaders like Fred Hampton (Black Panther, civil rights activist – 21 years old), Joshua Wong (student activist – 17 years old), Tupac Skakur (iconic rapper and civil rights advocate – 21 years old), Malala  (advocate for girls education -15 years old), and Jazz Jennings (advocate for transgender rights -14 years old). I want to not only discover what it is that makes them courageous enough to stand at such a young age, I would also like to learn what it is that makes them so compelled to put action behind their beliefs. I am extremely curious about from where do such extraordinary beliefs stem, especially after only living on this earth for such a short period of time. I intend to use this as a platform to help define such qualities and characteristics of bravery so that we all may be inspired, or possibly even compelled to do our part. Truthfully, I am interested in knowing whether or not these young people have reached a place of authenticity, a space of internal freedom that empowers them to go against the grain and to be unapologetic about voicing what they believe to be right or unfair. I want to uncover the spark that moves them to overcome the fear of harm and injury much sooner than those of us who have been tainted by such fears. Or, I wonder if it is really a matter of divine designation.

I am so curious about the passion of the young because their bravery is invigorating. As much as I hate to admit it, many of us in the past two generations (in my community, this dates back since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X) have sat on our hands, turned the other cheek, and raised an eyebrow many of the injustices rooted in racism without any action. We have all been aware that we have lacked leaders, but none of us have risen to step into those roles. Yet, we settled on maintaining a mindset that “at least we didn’t have to go through what our mothers, fathers, and grandparents had to endure…at least we are free.” I know this, because I, too, was guilty of holding this perspective. Okay, sure there is the violent conditioning of our leaders being killed each time we try to fight for justice and humanity. But today, that is no longer an excuse. We have younger people nowadays who are willing to put themselves, and their lives, on the line to stand for what’s right. I am amazed, I am inspired, and often envious (if I am allowed to be vulnerable) of the audacity that has resurfaced among courageous young people who choose to use their voices, their gifts, and their talents for the sake of liberating themselves, and their people, from oppression.  So much so, that the I feel compelled to blow the dust off an old dream, and get “out here in these streets.” If they can do it, I can do it. If I can do it, YOU can do it. Together, WE can do it. 

I have always been conscious, spiritually attuned, and well up to date on the climate of social conditionings. Woke is my state of mind. Hence the reason I am always inquiring, reading, listening to, and observing the voices and actions of my wiser elders. Again, being an introvert who has extrovert tendencies from time to time, most would never know this about me. Out of my recent stint with depression came my vow to live unapologetically from here on out. I have made a promise of my own to cast aside the trivial and “rhyze” to a higher level wokeness in order to affect a greater amount of change. I do this not to prove my perspectives to anyone, but rather to make a contribution to forward movement through TheRhyze! I once heard a man say, “only the baby that cries when it is hungry gets fed.”  

In light of this promise, I hope to succeed in paying homage to the legendary leaders of our past who have accomplished remarkable feats around the world. I’d also like to give thanks to those few who walked to the beat of their own drum in the past two or three generations. And lastly, I would like to shed light on the brave souls who are doing the work today to change the trajectory of mankind in their own perspective nations. With that said, I would like to remind us all that we must come together if we are going to affect change. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” No longer can we remain content standing for the injustices in one space of oppression while neglecting others. IT ALL MATTERS!  This means that you – yes, I am talking to you specifically – can never be truly free until we are all free. So until then, let us continue to show the reality of our struggle through our art, our music, our movies, our poetry, essays, and short stories. Keep fighting. Keep growing. Keep pressing. Let’s keep stop dreaming and begin creating a new reality one heart at a time.

 

Peace and Love y’all.

“Art is born of restraint and lost in freedom.”

 

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