Sistah Summerfest 2003
                June 6-8, 2003
An Event for Womyn of all Ages,
                               Lifestyles and Persuasions



Choice of Weapons FemmeNoir Events Contact Coffee Klatch The Village

Pat Parker
Twenty Years . . .
The Women Gather
Since I Do Not Dare
An Ideal Partner
The Greatest of These
In The Spirit
You Were Loved
You Are Not Alone
Choose Your Label
Peace On Earth
This Life I Live
Eros, Pathos
Choice of Weapons
On My Own


A Choice of Weapons

My mother once recounted a story about visiting with a neighbor in our building and that neighbor asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  My mother said she was astonished to hear me say I wanted to be a nun and further astonished to hear I knew what nuns did.   It was always my intention to go back to the old neighborhood to see if there was a convent near where we lived.  I cannot recall if a Catholic Church existed in that neighborhood nor can I find a listing for one now. 

I did consider this admirable vocation at one time in my life but, it was too late, I was not chaste and I did not feel I could be chaste.  I did consider joining a lay order of Franciscans and again, the subject of being chaste came up and I again was not ready to take that on.  I don’t know why.  When I tally the number of years I’ve spent on this earth, more than half of those years have been spent chaste. 

I have always been a contemplative observer and deeply spiritual.  I chose to be baptized Catholic and not Methodist primarily because the Catholic Church venerated the woman who brought Jesus into the world and many of the saints in the church are women.  I have never been fond of anything that was too patriarchal or too misogynist; albeit many of the priests and bishops in the Catholic Church today are patriarchal misogynists yet, the history shows women do have a place of honor within the Catholic Church.   Now, yes, I know they have some serious human rights violations in their “need to work this off karma log.”  And, yes, they did sell tickets to purgatory; that is if you were rich enough to purchase one.   And yes, in short, they ain’t perfect.  My interest was in the women of the church, the women who could talk of their personal experiences, the stigmata, overcoming adversity, all of these things I found very interesting and written well, by women. 

I did try to find a good church home while in Chicago.  I visited several churches in what I've come to call the looking for God in all the wrong places period in my life.  What I found were congregations who were back biting one another, performing end runs on some ministers or deacons, or judging each other because they chose the wrong color of clothing to wear.  Women folk judged the men who wore the wrong color tie – “that boy must have some sugar in his shoes to wear a tie like that.”  Maybe the tie was given to him by one of your sisters in the church and he felt he should wear it one Sunday – perhaps – you don’t know, you never asked him.  “She trying to get the minister wearing all that red and lipstick and rouge.”  Could she have been in a hurry or maybe she was depressed and feeling blue and wore colors to lift her spirits – you don’t know, you never asked her. 

One Palm Sunday, from his pulpit, a minister stepped up and quietly asked the congregation if they knew what happened the previous week.  This was my first time visiting this particular church so I was not privy to the happenings of the previous week.  He went on to talk about the prostitute that walked into the church and quietly sat down.  He went on about the congregations’ judgment of the woman.  Then, he made a profound statement I will always remember “as ye judge so shall ye be judged in like measure.”  He went on to say that no one in that church had a right to judge anyone else because all are guilty of sin.  He put the period on the end of his sentence by talking about the man on the cross with Jesus and how he was forgiven – then he paused a long pause and then he said "let me just throw out a number here: one minute and thirty-five seconds before his death." 

After visiting approximately 45 to 50 churches in a period of two or three years, I gave up looking for a good church home.  I did not want to be in the company of folks, so self righteous, they started believing their own press and there was no talking to them.  My relationship with the church was further strained around the period when AIDS was killing so many men and the church stood by, idly and condemned these men.  I never saw more compassion than I saw when these men the church condemned open their homes, their kitchens and their pocketbooks to help one another.  The tears I shed from their show of love to one another were tears of joy.  When you have done these things to the least of these, my children, you have also done them unto me.  It did not matter then who did it, as long as someone did it. 

Like the minister said, one minute and thirty-five seconds before the thief‘s death, he was forgiven.  One minute before the thief‘s death, he was forgiven.  Fifty-five seconds before the thief‘s death, he was forgiven.  Who am I to judge anybody when twenty seconds before the thief‘s death, he was forgiven.  The bottom line for me has always been love, love, love – the greatest of these is love.

Me, wanting to be a nun?  I guess I have always been the contemplative sort, always analyzing, probing, and wanting to know why.  I always looked first for the superficial meaning, then the spiritual meaning, and finally I looked at the symbolism, to find the purpose.  This had a profound effect on my choice of vocation.  No, I gave up on the nun thing, but I did want to be an archaeologist.  Then, I thought again, and I wanted to be an anthropologist.  I thought this was an even cooler vocation since it involved the study of people and, as a sideline, I could study the artifacts as I went along.  Then, I was introduced to the photographs of Gordon Parks and a series of photos he took while at the Farm Security Administration.   The photo essay was on the life of Ella Watson.   I was mesmerized by his photographs, particularly the image of Ms. Watson standing, broom in one hand and mop in the other, in front of the United States flag.  Even the black & white image showed the distinct separation of black and white in the flag.  When I learned Gordon Parks was a Black man, I set out to learn everything I could about him.  I took in his every word, every image I could find and later, every film he ever made.  I also realized I saw a lot of myself in Mr. Parks.  His photographs made me think, I was drawn into them, and I also loved his words:

My experiences had left me scarred and angry at times, but now I was bringing my hopes back to the shadowy ghetto, to see if they would take root in the asphalt of the city streets, would sprout in the smoke and soot, grow in barren days and nights-and at last know fruition. If so, the hunger, hardship and disillusion would have served me well. My mother had freed me from the curse of inferiority long before she had died by not letting me take refuge in the excuse that I had been born black. She had given me ambition and purpose, and set the course I had since traveled...I didn’t know what lay ahead of me, but I believed in myself. My deepest instincts told me I would not perish. Poverty and bigotry would still be around but at last I could fight them on even terms. The important thing was the choice of weapons with which to fight them most effectively.

-Gordon Parks, A Choice of Weapons

By the time I entered college, my chosen vocation was set – I wanted to be a photojournalist.  Through the urging of two wonderful instructors in high school, Ms. Patterson my writing instructor and Mr. Johnson my photography instructor, I enrolled at Columbia College to pursue a new form of anthropology/archaeology.  Later I wondered, was there a place for me as a Black lesbian woman?

In my desperate search to find role models similar to Gordon Parks I found few Black lesbian writers, no Black lesbian photographers, no Black lesbian filmmakers, and no Black lesbians in music.  Where were they?  Did they exist? 

I remember, in my quest for Black lesbian authors, going into a women’s bookstore on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  As I walked into the store, I made a mental note of the woman standing behind the counter.  She was White, looked like your typical run-of-the-mil feminist with short-cropped hair and she was engaging in a rather animated conversation with another average run-of-the-mil feminist looking White woman.   I immediately thought I was in the wrong place if I wanted to find books by Black lesbians.  Since her attention was diverted, I immediately sought to find the lesbian book section.  I walked over and as I looked through the titles I started picking up books and looking at the back covers to see if any of the women were Black.  Becoming frustrated, I started looking for names of women that appeared to be Black names (whatever that could be).  Still disappointed, I walked away with a miserable feeling of hopelessness.  Even the books in this store reflected our minority status. 

The woman behind the counter, no longer engaged in conversation, stepped over to me and asked if she could help me find something.  Realizing I had no other choice but ask if she had any books by Black lesbian authors, the contemplative observer noticed a visible shock backwards in her body before she had a chance to put herself in check.  The body language screamed she probably knew more about White lesbian writers than Black lesbian writers. 

When she got herself together, she gleefully walked me back over to the lesbian section of the book store and pulled one book from the shelf, the book was Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde.  She seemed quite proud to hold this one, single, solitary book as she offered it to me.  I took the book, looked at the back cover, cradled the book in my arms and asked “do you have more?”  That was not the question she wanted to hear.  Nervously, she piled through the books.  She was sure there were more books by Audre Lorde – she didn’t think about anyone else, just Audre – disappointed, she rose saying they were probably sold out.  I did catch a glimpse of another book that said “Say Jesus and Come to Me” and thought that might be a Black writer, but while this woman was annoying me, I couldn’t pull the book to see.  Actually, I wanted out of the store.  Later I would learn the book I saw was by Ann Allen Shockley, a Black lesbian and the woman in the store obviously did not know she was Black. 

This particular scenario played out over and over again in my life.  From one Black female bookseller who demanded I leave her story for requesting a book by Barbara Smith.  The only question she asked was not why I would want a book by Barbara Smith, no, her question simply was “who is Barbara Smith?”  I responded “she is a Black lesbian feminist author.”  That was enough for her to call me trash, call the book trash and every other conceivable thing she could think of to say.  One brother actually told me he ran a family bookstore and didn’t carry “nothing like that here.”  Family bookstore?  Claude McKay, James Baldwin, both gay in your family bookstore but you don’t carry books written by lesbians.  You carry Soul On Ice where sisters were first used to carry out the crime of rape before Eldridge graduated to the real object of his violent desires:  White women – but they were women just the same.  Didn’t I feel special in that family bookstore. 

It is said no one can understand the love or bond between a mother and her child.  So it is with God.  We can watch a mother do things for her children we who have no children cannot understand.  So it is with God -- whoever God is for you – male, female, Goddess, whatever.  No one can understand the power, the love or the bond between the creator and what the creator has created.  Many artists can speak to this.  My choice of weapon became FemmeNoir.

In 1998, I realized had it not been for Christine Tripp, I would not have known about the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, Unity Fellowship Church, Uloah, Nia, Venus Magazine or other GLBT organizations and publications.  Through Christine, I learned about BLK, Black Lace, Blackfire, Kuumba, and Black Dates all magazines published by Alan Bell1 who, I might add, gave me good and sound advice that helped me to do what I am doing now.  I thank God for Christine Tripp.  Though she and I danced back and forth on many issues, agreeing to disagree, she listened to me and never once treated me as if I was some green thing with limited experience and/or knowledge that could bring nothing new to the table.  She pushed and encouraged me through the whole process, right up to her last days. 

I know what it’s like to walk into a club and be asked the same stupid question over and over again: "do you know this is a party for lesbians?"   I know what it’s like to bite my tongue to the point of swallowing copious amounts of blood just to keep from responding “no shit Sherlock.”  I know what it’s like to walk into a room full of Black lesbians and be treated like a leper because I have permed hair, wear skirts and/or dresses and not look like – whatever that look is – a typical lesbian.  I have lived through going out and meeting another lesbian sister who worked with me.  Watched her come to me looking for favors because I was both a lesbian and a manager and she wanted me to help her to get more hours or a better position.  I know what it’s like for sister lesbian to make a mess of things, get herself bumped out of her job and see the letter, pressed firmly into my hands by my boss, where sister lesbian states she was fired because “I’m a lesbian.”  I know what it’s like to be found out at work because of sister lesbian and then have my good paper chase unravel on an unproductive employee (a straight sister who worked in my department) as she realized she now had a way around her pending dismissal – sexual harassment. 

FemmeNoir is here for women who are or were like me.  I had the shorthairs and the inquisitive personality to go out to bookstores and look for books about lesbians of color.  Sometimes I almost felt compelled or led to do this.  I did not understand why I did it then, but I do now.  I am a contemplative observer and saw how people treated me when I went in to ask for information.  I understand how the same experience could be devastating for someone else who might be out there looking as I was.  I saw how people looked at me and studied me and though their words and actions did not betray what they felt, I knew it was there.  I know others who may be sensitive to these kinds of things who may not be strong enough to handle such an experience.  I know what it’s like to look for positive information on lesbians of color and not know where to turn, where to look, who to ask, or who to talk to.  Thank God for Christine Tripp.  I know all too well the experience and feelings of loneliness.  I understand hopelessness and the feeling of being a black girl considering suicide when the rainbow ain’t been seen enuf – heck, I couldn’t even find the thing. 

FemmeNoir is for those women who were like me, not interested in the clubs but would like a poetry reading or two every now and then.  For those women who are tired of the word lesbian being used in conjunction with some news story about some woman being arrested for killing her lesbian lover.  For those women who are looking for positive role models in literature, music, film, photography, and even – yes, even the church.  You may never have known the names of some of the women in the Leaders & Legends section, but now you do and you can go out and ask for Penny Mickelbury’s book and have them order the book for you.  You don’t have to look for the nonexistent Black Lesbian section of the bookstore – you can call her by name.  Yes, there are other lesbians in the world besides Ellen DeGeneres, K.D. Lang, Melissa Etheridge, and Rosie O’Donnell. 

Now you know the way my blood beats.  I have contemplated FemmeNoir for many years and now, it has become, like Gordon Parks, my Choice of Weapon against bigotry, homophobia, prejudice and ignorance.  Like W. Eugene Smith, with great pain I capture my Walk Through Paradise Garden as I reemerge from a painful silence I’ve kept for far too long.  Here you will find the music, the films, the documentaries, the photographs, the performances of lesbians of color and you will also see we are all very different and yet, so much alike.  Here you will find no truer words that the title of George Fraser's book "Success Runs in Our Race."  Success runs in our community.  Success dwells within us.

Not all of the women who visit FemmeNoir are out or lesbian.  Some are just as I was and FemmeNoir provides them a place to come, when they do not dare go out in a world that may or may not be accepting of them and they may or may not be ready right now.  Some of them have husbands and children, some just have the children, some are recently divorced, some are mothers of lesbians (like mine), some are sisters and daughters of lesbians, and others have finally found a place where they can discover themselves more fully and freely – all of them visitors to FemmeNoir.  Welcome and Hi Mom. 

1Alan Bell took his first editing credit on his junior high school newspaper. Since then, he has edited Gaysweek, New York's first lesbian and gay weekly newspaper; Kujisource, a black AIDS newsletter; and several magazines for the black lesbian and gay community, most notably BLK and Blackfire. For six years, he was film critic for the Los Angeles Sentinel, a mainstream black weekly. His film criticism has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Alan is a graduate of UCLA, the University of the State of New York and is ABD in sociology at New York University




Gordon Parks
A Choice of Weapons

Photo Essay
For the FSA

Image: caption follows

Ella Watson. LC-USF34-013407-C
(Click Images To
View Larger)

Image: caption follows

Ella Watson. LC-USF34-013408-C
(Click Images To
View Larger)

Image: caption follows

Ella Watson's adopted daughter. LC-USF34-013423-C

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Home altar on Ella Watson's dresser top. LC-USF34-013445-C

Gordon Parks Biography

Half Past Autumn

Gordon Parks

W. Eugene Smith

Walk Through Paradise Garden
W Eugene Smith

Spanish Village" (1850),
by W. Eugene Smith (in LIFE April 9, 1951)


Roy DeCarava

Woman Smiling
Roy DeCarava
Woman Smiling
© Roy DeCarava

Langston Hughes

Roy DeCarava
Langston Hughes
© Roy DeCarava


The Art of A.D. Odom



















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