MyBrownBaby Where Black Moms Matter Tue, 26 Jul 2016 20:34:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Live Unlimited: The MDA Summer Camp Is the Best Week Of the Year Tue, 26 Jul 2016 04:01:15 +0000 MyBrownBaby spent a day with The MDA Summer Camp in Georgia and learned how kids with neuromuscular illnesses live without limits.

The post Live Unlimited: The MDA Summer Camp Is the Best Week Of the Year appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

Muscular Dystrophy Association MDA Camp

I was just a kid so I didn’t know what was wrong with my Sunday School teacher, really—only that she was sick, in a wheelchair and morphing from a young, vibrant mom into a woman who was greying and increasingly immobile and incredibly sad. The grownups talked about Sister Nadia in hushed tones, especially on the special Sundays, when her husband dropped off her daughters at church to spend the day with their mom. I was nosy and I loved Sister Nadia, and so I would eventually find out what was going on: disabled from a neuromuscular illness, she was living in a nursing home, away from her man, her babies. The only time she could see her girls was at service, early Sunday morning. Love with limits—that ain’t living.

Not going to lie: Sister Nadia was on my mind last week when I made an hour-long trek to a rural town east of Atlanta to visit the Georgia MDA Summer Camp, run by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). There, nearly 100 children between ages six and 17 with limited muscle strength and mobility were wrapping up a week of activities.

But where I was prepared for sadness, there was only light and laughter and children living out loud, without limits. There were wheelchairs, yes, and some kids who were unable to move on their own, too, and still others who got tired easily and needed help walking and some who had to wear leg braces. But the barriers—they were gone. Gone.

Instead, there was pure joy.

MDA Camper

That’s a smile that was put there, in part, by MDA, which hosts nearly 75 weeklong summer camps across the country, offered at no charge to families. The camps are designed specifically to give thousands of kids with muscular dystrophy and related muscle-debilitating diseases “the best week of the year,” in an environment where they get life-changing experiences, build self-confidence and independence and make lasting friendships with kids who just, like, get it.

I was invited along with a group of dynamic bloggers to experience the energy of the camp and, let me tell you, within moments of entering the serene camp grounds, the magic was palpable. Colorful signs dotting trees encouraged passersby to enjoy the moment, believe in magic, and accept that not every day would be perfect, but there is goodness in every day.

MDA Camp Sign

The real fun was in the grand dining hall, where all the campers were assembled for breakfast. It was there that each cabin group was enjoying the most important meal of the day, sure, but also revving up for a day full of fun. Most adorable: the morning shout-outs, extended from one camper to the other. One was congratulated for catching a fish; yet another for going down the water slide 20 times; yet another still for being a “cutie patootie.” We should all wake up to this kind of encouragement!

I had the fortune of being paired with Cabin 5, an adorable gaggle of girlpies, ages six to 11. One, with the most fantastically intricate cornrows pulled into a bun atop her moonpie head, marched right up to me and asked, “Do you work for Nickelodeon?” What I wanted to say: “I wish, kid.” What I did say: “No, I’m a writer.” Turns out my camera, a Nikon, made her a tad curious about why I was hanging around. That didn’t stop her from getting on with the show: she was about to ride shotgun in a morning canoe ride down a gorgeous lake, where the sun was bouncing off the tranquil waters. Each camper was paired with her own counselor, who was responsible for assisting their young charges in each activity, plus attending to their needs—bathroom breaks, medical treatments, assistance with activities, lots of encouragement and an incredible amount of insistence that the girls do as much as possible on their own. For sure, the girls met that challenge, disappearing down the lake, their canoes zig-zagging across the water, their giggles kissing the air. No girl, by the way, was left behind: a special apparatus at the end of the dock held the canoes secure so that even the girls who were physically immobile could slide from their wheelchairs onto a special seat that safely slid them into and out of the canoes without so much as a splash of water.

Muscular Dystrophy Association Canoe

My group was full of personality, and that shone through when the girls made their way to John Allmett Studio, where they were tasked with formatting their own radio show, lending their special talents to running said show and, of course, picking deejay names. By the time they finished, the Cabin 5 Show was cued up for prank calls, jokes, gossip, weather, news about the evenings big dance, commercials about Skinny Pop popcorn, interviews, sing-alongs and Justin Bieber music, of course. The show, on a legit radio station that could be heard across several towns outside the campground, was broadcast live in the courtyard for fellow campers to hear while they participated in activities of their own. Later, after a medicine and Skittles break, the girls headed over to archery to try their hands at shooting arrows at bullseye targets and apples. Though the bows felt like they required a bit of super-human strength to pull—typical of the instrument—none of the girls was deterred from getting her Katniss Everdeen on. With just a little help—and a few arrows flying into the bushes—the arrows mostly met their mark. Kinda. Muscular Dystrophy Association Archery

The girls were adorable, but what was equally heartwarming was the love and tenderness extended by the counselors, an assortment of students, like Lauryn, a rising high school senior who thought it would be fun to work at a summer camp, and Shan, a first-year med student who wanted to tuck the experience of working with special needs kids into her skill set, and Kayla, a nurse who’d begun working at the MDA Summer Camp when she was a young nursing student. The counselors, all there as volunteers (but whose stay was covered by the MDA), consistently told me that they came back to the camp year after year, forgoing vacation and paychecks to do so, because the experience was like no other. “There’s joy here,” one counselor, a firefighter from Atlanta, told me as he helped prepare campers for pool time. “For a week, these kids are having the time of their lives, being independent and doing things they don’t get to do at home. And here, no one is looking at them or asking awkward questions. Everyone gets to be exactly who they are.”

Muscular Dystrophy Pool

Muscular Dystrophy SwimmingAnd more. My favorite time at camp was poolside—not just because it was the coolest place on the campground in such hot weather, but also because it was there where small miracles were taking place. I hadn’t a clue, but I found out rather quickly that campers loved the water most because, in many cases, no matter their physical disability, once in the water, they feel strong. One little girl who spends the majority of her waking day in a wheelchair, can get into the pool and “walk” as if her muscles and legs and feet are fully functioning. Another first-time camper, told me she wanted to come to camp “to get a break from my parents.” At home, she’s under a constant microscope, but at MDA Summer Camp, she’s encouraged to soar past limitations that, back home can sometimes hold her back. Especially in the pool. “When I get in, I feel free.”

Muscular Dystrophy Friends

I’m so happy to have been given the opportunity to witness this amazing camp, and especially to have spent time with this incredible group of kids. I’m so proud of them, and proud of MDA, too, for making it its mission to give individuals—and the families who love them—strength, independence and the support to live longer and grow stronger. In addition to supporting research breakthroughs across diseases to accelerate treatments and cures, MDA takes special care to champion families with services and support across America. One of its many goals is to send 20,000 kids to camp by the year 2020.

Talk about living unlimited!

LiveUnlimited MDA

Do me a solid: help me support MDA by visiting www:// to create a personalized image you can share to social media that shows you reaching beyond your limits. We’re calling it your #LiveUnlimited moment. Whether your #LiveUnlimited moment is crossing the street independently, graduating from college, getting married, skydiving or traveling the world, join MDA to share. For every #LiveUnlimited moment shared through July 31, 2016, a generous partner will donate $5 to MDA, up to $30,000.

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Malcolm D. Lee on Barbershop, Chicago and His Love For Playing With Our Emotions Thu, 14 Apr 2016 13:22:35 +0000 Malcolm D. Lee loves him some Black folks. In his latest movie, Barbershop: the Next Cut, it shows.

The post Malcolm D. Lee on Barbershop, Chicago and His Love For Playing With Our Emotions appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

malcolm d lee barbershop

Barbershop: the Next Cut is a love story—love between a father and his son, a husband and his wife, an entrepreneur and his mentor, neighbors and their community, Black folk and our people. It’s clear the film’s director, Malcolm D. Lee, loves us, too. It’s all in the opening montage paying homage to all that’s good and Black that’s come out of Chicago—from Michael Jordan to Oprah to The Obama’s, our nation’s First Family. It’s all in the way the characters reveal our truths, whether in the midst of a belly-grabbing jonesing session or an argument thisclose to a fistfight. That love is woven all up in the music and art on the walls and the rhythm of the story, crafted by the hands of writers Tracy Oliver and Black-ish’s Kenya Barris. Barbershop: the Next Cut is Black and it is beautiful.

This, of course, is Malcolm D. Lee’s way. With two MyBrownBaby favs—The Best Man and The Best Man Holiday—in his directorial arsenal, Lee has shown himself to be a master of ensemble films that strike to the very heart of who we are culturally, emotionally, sexually and more. Which totally explains why the third installment of the comedic film series Ice Cube debuted on the big screen in 2002 and reprised in 2004 is the best one yet. In its latest iteration, Calvin (Ice Cube), struggling to keep his barbershop afloat in a crime-ridden section of Chicago’s south side, merges his business with the beauty shop owned by Angie (Regina Hall), thus ruining the sanctity of the male sanctuary. Hijinks ensue as beauty shop workers and customers square off against their male barbershop counterparts on every subject near and dear to Black hearts, from whether it’s ever okay to beat kids, to why Instagram models with fake hair and body parts stay winning to whether Barack Obama’s done enough for African Americans in his seven years in office. In the midst of it all, a marriage is falling apart, new love is blossoming, and Calvin’s son is being sucked in by the lure of gang life. It is the latter storyline, Lee says, that gives Barbershop: the Next Cut its “emotional backbone,” as Calvin and his ragtag team of hair stylists join forces to stop the gang and gun violence overrunning their community.

I absolutely loved this movie—the storyline, the acting, the comedic timing, the emotional connection, the food for thought it inspired. Then again, I expected nothing less from Lee, who is easily one of our brightest and talented storytellers yet. We’re so pleased that Lee graciously took a seat on the MyBrownBaby stoop to tell us all about Barbershop: the Next Cut, the challenges of filming it, and what’s he’s got bubbling in his filmmaker kitchen. Here, Lee on all things Barbershop. [Note: this Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.]

MyBrownBaby: How has the Barbershop series evolved?
Malcolm D. Lee: I was asked to direct the first Barbershop but I was unavailable. But after seeing both movies, I wished I could have put my stamp on the series. Low and behold, the opportunity came, but then I was a little reluctant, because it was the third of the series. I was like, what is this? Is it just a money grab? Is it timing? Is it a great time to get involved with Ice Cube? I was reluctant, but I read the script that Kenya Barris and Tracey Oliver wrote, and I felt like the script was really good, funny, smart and it had the old characters in there, some great new commerce and an opportunity to be the funniest of the bunch. I saw that there were a lot of opportunities to cast some really funny people; I didn’t want the audience to forget they were in a comedy. That being said, obviously you can’t put a movie in the south side of Chicago without talking about the gangs and gun violence that occurs there on a daily basis. It’s a horrible epidemic of violence right now, and Ice Cube said he wasn’t going to come back unless the film dealt with it for real. I was definitely on board with that and we had to treat it the right way and with respect, even though we were making a comedy. I embraced the challenge in balancing the tones. I kind of pride myself in doing ensemble movies in particular that have a mix of tones. Nicki Minaj Eve Barbershop 3

MBB: I loved the nuance in the movie: there were arguments between characters that spanned a range of subjects, and helped us an an audience celebrate the diversity of thought among black folks. It practically screamed, “we’re not a monolith.”
ML: Definitely. There are a lot of different personalities at a beauty or barbershop. It’s a communal place where, whether you’re living high on the hog, an athlete, politician, businessman, or a thief, pauper or a church kid, you’re coming to the barbershop to get groomed and everyone who meets there is from varying socioeconomics, backgrounds and thought. We all have the same texture hair and we gotta get in there and commune in some way or another.

MBB: Talk to me about the relationship between the fathers and the sons. We just don’t see this kind of interaction in any form, shape or fashion outside of some very limited spaces.
ML: Certainly we hear all these stories about absentee fathers. I have a Black father, I am a black father who is involved in my children’s lives and my dad was involved in my life, and I wanted to highlight that. In the movie, despite that Calvin’s kid was coming from a two-parent home that was working-to-middle class, he was still tempted by the lure of the gang. That’s what happens when kids come of age: they start to tune their parents out. They start to value their friends and schoolmates opinions over their parents because they’re coming into their manhood and they want to express themselves and be validated not as mommy and daddy’s kid but their own person. That’s where we find Jalen (Michael Rainey, Jr.) in that crossroad, despite having an involved dad, being lured by the gang. It’s calvin’s job to help keep him on the straight and narrow as much as he can.

It’s funny, when I read the script, it reminded me of John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood, which is probably THE movie that inspired me to feel like if I have a story to tell I can tell my story. It was so unique but it had universal themes to it, and I knew I could tell a story like that. So when I was reading this script, we used Boyz in the Hood, which has a very different effect on me as a father than it did as a kid. I talked to Singleton about it and Cube, too. And I said listen, you are now in the Furious Styles role. This relationship between your son and you is the emotional spine of this movie. It’s the backbone. And that has to work more than anything else. And so I looked at that and I also employed Stanley Clark to be the composer on this movie; we’ve done six movies together and he did Boyz In the Hood and that was a very ethereal and impactful score that he composed and I wanted that same kind of tone and feeling for this. So I think it works to a large degree.

malcolm d lee barbershop ice cubeMBB: It was beautiful. It’s important that we see those kinds of stories . We get so caught up in this idea that 70 percent of us are being raised in a single parent household, without understanding the nuance of it all. That doesn’t mean Black fathers aren’t involved with their children; it means they don’t all live in the same house with the mothers. Because we never get to see this interaction and care and love and attention that fathers are paying their sons, we buy into the stereotype. We just think that Black fathers and boys are running amok and that’s simply not all that we see in our everyday lives.

ML: Yes. The other thing is, I remember when we were shooting the scene where Calvin is cutting his son’s hair and the way it was written was a little bit different from the way it ended up, but Jalen says, “I love you” to his Dad and it’s like a great moment and they hug. But I remember questioning whether it should be there? And Cube, to his credit, said “Absolutely, it’s a hug! We need to see that.” And I said, “You know what? You’re absolutely right. We do need to see that.” I was at a screening in D.C. and a friend of mine said, “Man, you did it again. You tried to get us to cry again.” I wasn’t trying to do that, but I did want to show a sincere moment in Black life in America. The love between this Black father and his son is a beautiful moment that needs to be seen. Black folk need to emote at the movies like everybody else.

“The love between this Black father and his son is a beautiful moment that needs to be seen. ” — @malcolmdlee on @barbershopmovie”

MBB: Speaking of Black folk emoting, I told my kids, “That movie made me proud to be Black.” I walked away from that screening thinking, “Dammit, if somebody gave me the option of being something other than me, I would always choose us.” Between the montage of all the great things coming out of Chicago in the beginning and end, to the overall message of taking pride in one’s neighborhood to Black folks hearing Luther and losing their minds, it all felt familiar. It was Black as hell.

ML: It is black as hell! I often feel the same way: despite some of the things that I have to endure as a Black man, I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I’m happy being who and what I am.

MBB And that just came out so beautifully in the movie, in every word, every scene, it made clear that, “Yes, we’re scared here, but this is home and we don’t want to leave. ‘Kudos to you. It was beautiful. What’s next on the horizon?

ML: Well, I just shot a pilot for Fox and I’m hoping that we get that picked up. I’m going to be doing an episode of Gina Prince Bythewood’s show she’s doing with Sanaa Lathan, called Shots Fired, and there are a couple movies I’m juggling. But also, I’m spending a lot of time working with the American Black Film Festival and McDonald’s with a contest they have mentoring young filmmakers to encourage them to tell their stories. This contest is about making a 60- to 90-second short film that tells us how you are active in your community. There’ll be three finalists and we’ll announce the winner at the ABFF that’s in it’s 20th year, in Miami this summer. The deadline for submissions is this Friday; you can still get the info at

Barbershop: The Next Cut opens in theaters this weekend.
Go to for theaters and showtimes in your area. 

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Introducing My New Black Children’s Book Imprint, Denene Millner Books! Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:50:24 +0000 Denene Millner Books is a new imprint for black children's books that will explore the beauty and humanity of African American kids.

The post Introducing My New Black Children’s Book Imprint, Denene Millner Books! appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

Denene Millner Books Black Children's Books

Introducing Denene Millner Books, my new line of black children’s books!

Oh, I know, I know—I’m not right. I disappear from blogging for a couple of months without nary a word outside of the occasional social media post, and then I come back like KABOOM, LOOK WHO STEPPED IN THE ROOM! But I have a good reason: I’ve been writing and planning and plotting, and up to all kinds of good. While I was away, I was penning two celeb memoirs—one for Cookie Johnson, wife of Earvin “Magic Johnson,” the other for The Truth, The Legend, Taraji P. Henson. I was thinking up new ways to love on this here MyBrownBaby. And yes, I was putting the final touches on the introduction of Denene Millner Books, my new children’s book imprint, in partnership with the incredible Agate Publishing.

I’m so excited about this new venture, I barely know what to do with myself!

It’s no secret how I feel about Black children’s books: I write them, I collect them, I think they’re incredibly valuable and important, and I love them. I love them so hard. Always have, but that love became so much more urgent when I got pregnant with my girlpies and wanted desperately to surround them with music, art and books that reflect who they are—who we are. The essence of the beauty of us. Finding children’s books featuring Black characters was a challenge back then—1999, so long ago. They were there, sure, but always in short supply. I looked high and low and found some, though: I discovered books by authors Walter Dean Meyers, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Ezra Jack Keats and Vera B. Williams, and eventually added some incredible favorites to the collection, including Nikki Giovanni’s “The Sun Is So Quiet,”Black Children's Books_Denene Millner Books Faith Ringgold’s “Tar Beach,” Debbie Allen’s “Dancing In the Wings,” Jacqueline Woodson’s “We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past.” What I’ve always loved about those specific books is their ability to shine a light on our babies and their everyday lives. There’s no focus on Civil Rights icons. No big-ups for famous jazz singers or sports figures. No nods to slavery. The stories are just good ol’ fashioned tales about the every day lives of little human beings with brown skin.

It is that which will be the focus of Denene Millner Books. My imprint is a love letter to children of color who deserve to see their beauty and humanity in the most remarkable form of entertainment on the planet: books. I’m so grateful that Agate Publishing and its fearless leader, Doug Seibold, opened the door, committing not only to fulfilling my dream of writing and editing books for African American children and young people, but also to embracing my vision of books that consider the everyday wonders of their lives.

The first offering from Denene Millner Books will be “Early Sunday Morning,” a children’s picture book written by moi and illustrated by award-winning illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton. “Early Sunday Morning” will be the first of four books published next year.

Of course, you’ll be able to read all about my new imprint and the books we’ll be publishing right here on MyBrownBaby. And I’ll be offering up some exciting opportunities for authentic connections with our books and authors as we step forward into the sun, ready to celebrate the beauty and humanity of brown babies.

Can you stand it?!

Let’s go!

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For Your Pregnancy Checklist: Genetic Carrier Screening Mon, 21 Dec 2015 16:36:09 +0000 I didn't have the option when I started my family. But if you're thinking about pregnancy or in the throes of it, Horizon genetic carrier screening should be on your checklist.

The post For Your Pregnancy Checklist: Genetic Carrier Screening appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

new mom_African AmericanBy DENENE MILLNER

I found the papers when I was 12 in a metal box tucked under my parents’ bed. I wasn’t supposed to be snooping all through their personal belongings; my mother had put a lock on her door, presumably to keep my brother and I from dipping into her stash of moon pies and using her pricy, smelly lotions, and discovering her and my dad’s copy of The Joy of Sex. But kids are experts at getting into stuff and finding the hidden, and that little flimsy lock was no match for the wits of a curious preteen and her big brother. If we wanted to see it, it was going to get seen.

But this? This I wasn’t ready for.


My fingers trembled as I brought the paper closer to my face as if the words would magically morph into something wholly different if I just stared at them a little harder, a little longer, a little bit more closely to my 20/20s. But the words just wouldn’t change.

And then, suddenly, it felt like someone had fired buckshot into my chest. The shock was almost unbearable: My mom and dad weren’t my mom and dad. My brother? Not my brother, either. None of them by blood, anyway.

To this day, I can’t tell you how I got those papers back into the metal box, how I pushed that metal back under their bed, how I convinced my legs to carry me out of their room and shut the door and lock it back and act like I’d never seen those papers.

How I managed to keep their secret my secret for all those years.

For years more than 20 years I refused to acknowledge my adoption or tell my parents I knew they’d adopted me. At first it was because I was scared they’d be mad at me for snooping, but as I grew older, that morphed into my need to protect their privacy. Maybe they didn’t want to explain to everyone coming and going why they didn’t have biological babies together, or where they found me, or why my birth parents gave me up. Maybe, I reasoned, my mom and dad feared I would search for the people who abandoned me on the stoop of that New York City orphanage that I would find them and, in turn, reject the two people who didn’t give me blood, but who truly gave me life. Genetic Carrier Testing Infographic

I couldn’t do that to them. To me. To us. Though my birth parents deserve praise for birthing me and having the courage to love me enough to give me away, my parents get the glory for raising me, educating me, supporting me, disciplining me, and loving me beyond measure and doing it with an enormous amount of grace and wisdom. Despite the odds. With little money. And no help. Just them.

And love.

No, there was no need to find the birth parents; it didn’t even occur to me to do so. Not until, that is, I became pregnant with my first baby.

Not knowing, you see, wreaked havoc on my health history, which, because I don’t know who my birth parents are, is basically non-existent. From the time I’ve been old enough to go to the doctor on my own, I’ve been forced to leave the family history part of the stacks of first-visit papers blank, which always leads to a really awkward opening conversation with my doctors, who realize pretty early on that they’ll have to treat whatever is ailing me without the extremely valuable family health history‑tools they need to figure out what might be causing my health problems. I haven’t a clue if cancer runs in my family, or diabetes, or weight problems hypertension, stroke, gout. I don’t know if I carry autosomal recessive or X-linked genes that could pass down into my children and their children and their children, too. You name it, it could be lurking, waiting to claim me or someone in my blood-line, and I will have no clue until it taps me or them on the shoulder and goes to work on my system.

This was most glaring while I was pregnant; neither of my ob-gyns had the valuable information they needed to help me figure out health risks for my pregnancy and, more important, my children. They knew Nick’s family’s health and were able to keep an eye out for specific Chiles family issues. But my side of it was the big unknown you might as well have crossed an “X” across my paperwork.

And this disturbed me greatly.

I couldn’t change this in time enough for my pregnancies, and while I still have no interest in finding out who my birth parents are (wouldn’t be able to anyway, seeing as she/he/they left me on a stoop in the middle of Manhattan) I do wish that the government would change laws to at least allow adopted kids access to their health history, even if their adoption records are sealed tighter than Ft. Knox. And it is incredible that, today, there are ways to screen for fairly common genetic conditions, yielding the critical information parents and their doctors need to make informed decisions about their babies’ health even before they’re born.

My story doesn’t need to and shouldn’t be your story if you know who your birth parents are and you’re looking to get pregnant or are pregnant. For sure, all you have to do to gather up your family health history is to start asking questions. Ask your mother and father who has/had what in their family; hit up your aunties and uncles at the next family reunion; quiz your cousins at the next barbeque. Your “play” aunties might even have some info—might know what your granddaddy’s brother might have had when he passed on. Then take that information and write it down.

In addition, you should be talking to your doctor about genetic screening. While genetic screening tests are pretty new, the need has been around for a long time. Carriers of autosomal recessive and X-linked genetic conditions like Cystic Fibrosis, Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Fragile X are usually healthy and symptom free and don’t know they’re a carrier until they have an affected child. It’s actually common for people to be carriers of 4-5 genetic conditions, but most people don’t realize this until they have an affected child. Some of these conditions aren’t detectable at birth and are not discovered until the child is older. Check out the accompanying infographic that focuses on educating women about their genetic testing options while they are trying to conceive.

I didn’t have this option. You do. Please, don’t take it for granted.

This is a sponsored post. However, all opinions, of course, are my own.

The post For Your Pregnancy Checklist: Genetic Carrier Screening appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

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Mater Mea: Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby Shares the Joy of Black Motherhood On The Most Gorgeous Site! Wed, 11 Nov 2015 17:03:55 +0000 The Black parenting site, mater mea, celebrates Denene Millner, celebrity memoirist and founder of MyBrownBaby, in its latest issue.

The post Mater Mea: Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby Shares the Joy of Black Motherhood On The Most Gorgeous Site! appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

Denene Millner and daughters_mater mea

Hey, darlings! I know it’s been a minute since I’ve posted; I’m off in Writer Land, penning celebrity memoirs for some amazing folk who, this time next year, will blow your mind with their powerful stories. Know that I’m missing on y’all something fierce, and I’ll be back to writing regularly here on MyBrownBaby when I can come up for air. In the meantime, though, I’m so very proud to share with the MyBrownBaby crew this amazing feature of me, Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby, and my family in the latest edition of mater mea!

I’ve made no secret of my love for mater mea, this delicious site that mixes art, words and intelligent thought to highlight the beauty, challenges, complexities and fierceness of Black motherhood. I love the stories and how they dig down to the meat of what it means to be a Black woman juggling work and family; the photography, with its rich, lush aesthetic, makes the compelling profiles sing.

And now, MyBrownBaby is a part of the mater mea narrative! My profile, penned by Dara Mathis and accompanied by gorgeous pics shot by Tim Redman, highlights my work as a New York Times bestselling author and the creator of MyBrownBaby, and also digs into my thoughts on beauty, raising fierce girls and my experience blending families. Anthonia Akitunde, founder and editor-in-chief of mater mea, graciously agreed to allow me to excerpt a piece of my profile here on MyBrownBaby, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety over on mater mea and share it widely in your own networks.

Denene Millner and family_mater mea


My kids are goofy as hell! They’re funny! Nothing makes me happier than waking up late on a Saturday morning. My kids come in and they just start dancing and laughing and tickling my feet, sticking their finger in their dad’s ears, and laying down in the bed with us, laughing and giggling, and having a good time. That is what memories are made of.

I like to think that our memories are something that they’ll carry forward when they have their own kids. The ability to sit down at a table and have dinner with each other every night, to go to a football game, to have fun and share a funnel cake and get the powder all over ourselves and laugh about it. That’s what life is made of: enjoying each other’s company.

That’s what I love most about motherhood: Enjoying the humanness of our family, creating a space for two amazing human beings I helped create, leading them on this journey toward womanhood, and arming them with all the things they need to make a good life.

Nothing makes me more pumped than trying to figure out ways that I can do that for them, because I love them. I would stop breathing air this next second if it meant my daughters would be spared or that they would have a good life. That’s [another] part of motherhood that I love: The idea that you could love someone so big, so wide, so deeply—it’s just astounding to me. It really is.

* * *

mater mea logo

This photo and quote was reprinted with permission from mater mea.

The post Mater Mea: Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby Shares the Joy of Black Motherhood On The Most Gorgeous Site! appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

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A MyBrownBaby Weekend: Jem and the Holograms Fri, 23 Oct 2015 04:35:14 +0000 Who can argue with Jem and the Holograms, a movie that encourages tween and teen girls to take off the mask and be their authentic selves?

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The girlpies and I saw the trailer for Jem and the Holograms during the previews for Dope, a coming-of-age flick about a brilliant Black boy forced to walk the line between being the smart, quirky, slightly cornball kid that he is and the hip, dangerous dunce everyone else expects him to be. We were excited about Dope, but that Jem trailer had us feigning for something more: a teen movie that speaks directly to the tricky, sticky world girls navigate as they figure out how to be who they truly are, even when it seems everyone else is looking for them to fit into an entirely different mold. And isn’t this the standard for tween and teenage girls—the struggle to… be?

Jem and the Holograms is a take on the cartoon show of the same name from the 80s. I was too old to watch and glom into it back then, but its popularity was palpable and, judging by the fact that it’s now a movie, apparently full of adaptable themes. The movie launches the show’s premise into 2015: Jerrica, a singer, becomes a reluctant rock star with a secret identity after a YouTube video of her performing goes viral. She forms a band with her sisters Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), but is forced by an evil record company to go solo, leaving her sisters behind.

There appear to be a number of running themes I’m happy for my daughters to hear again and again: the importance of family, the value of embracing a talent, even and especially when doing so is scary, the weight that comes with being the hero. There’s some outrageous fun, too, with Synergy, a droid created by Jerrica’s deceased dad, which beams heartwarming holograms of a young Jem being schooled on love, happiness and following one’s passions by her loving father.

I can’t imagine that my girlpies, particularly the Taylor Swift-loving, YouTube video obsessed, TV show hostess with the mostest Totally Lila, won’t totally fall in love with Jem and the Holograms and take to painting her face in sparkly hot pink stripes just because. I see it coming. I’m cool with it, too, if the movie inspires her to keep on being her authentic self. I’ve got a couple of hot dates with Totally Lila this weekend: we’ll be in the house at the Atlanta Taylor Swift concert on Saturday, and on Sunday, we’ll top off the weekend with a primo seat at the movies to check out Jem. Yup!

Jem and the Holograms opens today in theaters nationwide. Check out the trailer up top. Buy your Jem and the Holograms tickets here.

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Racist Selfie Mocking Black Child Makes Me Remember Why I Never Hired White Sitters Tue, 06 Oct 2015 04:01:52 +0000 In the latest edition of “Saying Stupid Shit On Facebook Will Get You Dragged by Black Twitter, Fired From Your Job and Lead To a...

The post Racist Selfie Mocking Black Child Makes Me Remember Why I Never Hired White Sitters appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

Racist Selfie Mocking Black ChildIn the latest edition of “Saying Stupid Shit On Facebook Will Get You Dragged by Black Twitter, Fired From Your Job and Lead To a Life Of Ruin,” a white guy who posted a picture of his co-worker’s 3-year-old Black son, inspiring a thread of racist slavery jokes about the toddler, is now out of  a job and trying to salvage his edges from a vicious internet snatching.

To be clear, Gerod Roth, who went by the name Garis Hilton on Facebook, deserved what he had coming. Without the knowledge or consent of Sydney Shelton, his Polaris Marketing Group coworker, Roth posted that picture of Shelton’s son, Cayden Jace, and, for two weeks, left it there with a grip of foul jokes up and down the thread, including “Help feed this poor child today,” “I didn’t know you were a slave owner,” “Kunta… kunta kinte,” “But Massuh, I dindu nuttin,” and even a cover of a Little Black Sambo book. Roth later chimed in, calling the toddler “feral.” As in a wild animal.

Sheldon didn’t find out about the exploitation of her son until concerned Facebook users shared the image and thread with the hopes of finding Cayden’s parents. According to Colorlines, two weeks had passed by before the mother realized her child was being exploited on the internet by her fellow employee, who had nary a problem working everyday with Sheldon and kee-keeing with her son, even as he and his friends made fun of the toddler online.

That is some nasty, shady, disgustingly foul mess right there—enough, I know, to have made even the most sane, rational Black mama want to wait for him out in the parking lot with a posse and maybe a choice bat or two. Luckily for Roth, Cayden’s mother has sense. She reserved her anger and instead focused on changing the narrative blazing across search engines—a narrative that describes her son as everything but what he is: a beautiful, smart, sweet, funny Black boy who deserves the respect and protection we afford to children.

“I just want people to understand that Cayden is the absolute opposite of what they said of that picture,” she told Colorlines. “He’s the smartest kid. He’s got such a big personality.”

With the help of an online friend and advocate, she also started the hashtag #HisNameIsCayden so that rather than training attention on Roth, she could shine a light on her heart and joy. The hashtag was accompanied by a passionate Facebook post and a grip of gorgeous pics of her and her son.


Sheldon’s job also threw its support behind the mother and her son by firing the hell out of Roth, and releasing a passionate Twitter statement of its own, praising Sheldon and her baby. Michael De Grassa Pinto, the company’s president, wrote:

This morning I was disgusted to learn that one of my former employees made several racially charged comments on his personal Facebook page. Even worse, the comments were directed toward the son of another employee. It breaks my heart that Sydney and her adorable son Cayden were subjected to such hateful, ignorant and despicable behavior. Cayden visits my office almost every afternoon after daycare, he’s sat at my dinner table and I consider him a part of the PMG family. The atrocious lies, slander and racism he and his mother have been forced to endure are wholly intolerable. Myself and the entire PMG family in no way condones this kind of behavior and would never willingly associate with anyone who does. It has no place in this world. PMG has terminated the employee responsible and will ensure that none of the business that we associate with will ever do business with him again.

I couldn’t be more proud of the way Cayden’s mom handled the situation, or her company for having her back and saying, under no uncertain terms, is what Roth did acceptable. But I promise you, the story dug up all kinds of reservations I had when the girlpies were little and I was all new and leary about leaving them in the care of others and I was on what seemed like an endless search for a sitter. The truth is, I didn’t trust the idea of having a white nanny watching my Black daughters. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to trust that a white woman (or man) could and would know how to do the basics, like lotion their skin after a bath every time, or style their kinky hair without breaking it or having them leave the house looking like they were wearing a bird’s nest on the top of their heads, or know how to talk to them about the beauty of a Donny Hathaway song or a Stevie Wonder lyric or the chocolate in a juicy Kadir Nelson illustration.

Mostly, though, I was scared to death that a white Nanny would do exactly what Roth did behind Sheldon’s back: mock and encourage racist behavior directed at my children, or, worse, slay my children’s self-esteem with sideways comments about things they can’t change and that I’ve vowed to spend their lifetimes teaching them how to love: their skin, their hair, their Black bodies, their culture, their family, their souls. It was just best for everyone involved that I hire a sitter who could, shall I say, hit the ground running with knowing how to handle the racial aspects of caring for Black children, and stick to letting my children around white adults I liked, trusted, vetted and spent an incredible amount of time around to be sure we wouldn’t have the equivalent of a racist selfie mocking black child moment.

Yes, I know this sounds unfair. Some may even consider me intolerant. But I’m human and Black and wise enough to know the limitations of others and especially my own: had Roth or someone like him done that to one of my babies, you would not be writing nice things about me. You’d be raising my bail.

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Fit: One Woman’s Journey Getting Her Body Ready For a Baby Of Her Own Mon, 28 Sep 2015 04:01:20 +0000 Dreams of motherhood seem elusive for this woman, who is getting her body—and mind—ready for a baby she's having a time trying to conceive.

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Getting Her Body Ready For a Baby


Of course now that it’s almost too late, it’s all I can possibly think of. I want to finally arrive at that place where I’ve never been, but where I know for certain I belong. I want there to be a space for me without question or concessions made. I want to fit.

It’s been more than four years since I’ve changed my diet, not in a craze or some bandwagon that everyone’s jumping on. I’ve reduced the intake of meats, sugars, refined grains, and even cow’s milk. I grew up on a tall glass every night before bed for strong teeth and bones, and now it’s all about the almond variety. It’s olive and coconut oil, and no frying, just baking, sautéing, or grilling. It’s less juice and water, water, water, even though I know I don’t drink enough of it, but I try.

It’s been about two years since my last obstacle course race, lugging cinder blocks and climbing walls, and crawling through mud, and jumping over flames. I’ve kept up a routine of riding a bicycle and periodically jogging in the park. I dip in and out of martial arts classes to jog my memory of a jab-cross-hook followed by a swift knee to the ribs. The body doesn’t forget when you’ve rolled endlessly on a mat going from mount to guard to hip throw and back again. All manner of submissions comes flowing back to your hands and elbows and shoulders and ankles even if you don’t remember all the names. Some things you just feel.

I feel strong when my heart races after sets of jump rope or sprints up and down stairs or burpees in my living room. All these things I work on to build stamina and endurance, and maybe some killer glutes, are all part of a plan. There’s things I need to make ready beforehand so that when I get there, everything will be right. After all the work and the practice, there are the tests. The weight is in perfect balance for height and frame. The blood is rich from that good nutrition and conscientious swallowing of Vitafol Ultra every day.

Then there are other tests of things I can’t control. Genetic mapping, clear Fallopian tubes, ovulation cycle, follicle growth, egg maturation. There’s no way to prepare for these other than handing over the arm with the good vein for blood draw, and sliding down to edge of the bed, placing my feet in the stirrups, and bracing for the probe covered with a latex sheath tipped with lubricant searching, checking to see what’s happening in there.

I’ve done the work to be fit. My legs look good in short shorts, my shoulders sing under spaghetti straps, the belly is not quite a six-pack, but it’s flat. I can hold a conversation during my two-mile jog, and I can stand on my head without using the wall anymore. But maybe too much time has passed, and maybe I’m to old now to fit into that place where I’ve never been but I know I belong. I’m supposed to live there with all my rights and privileges; my badges of honor clear for everyone to see. But maybe I waited too long to choose. Maybe I was waiting to be chosen. Maybe I never thought it would come to this. Sitting in a room, waiting for my name to be called. Swallowing a series of pills starting on day three of my cycle, going in starting on day twelve to check for follicle size with an individually sealed trigger shot tucked in purse in case that day is the day. Leaning back with the paper sheet wrapped around my waist looking at the black and white screen, hiding the tear slipping down one side of my face. There’s no work to be done here, besides the obvious. At this point, the act takes on a different tone. It’s love, it’s always been love, but now there’s a veil of desperation that I’m reaching through like we’re on two sides of a canyon, arms outstretched, leaning, pulling, longing with every inch to finally fit together in that place we have never been, but where we both know we belong.

I’ve written your name down on small Post-It squares. I write quick notes, saying random things that you might want to know and I always sign them, Love Mommy. I say your name but only to myself, only when I’m alone, and never too loud. No one knows it but us. It’s our secret, our prayer, the only place in the whole world where we fit.

* * *

Danielle B. lives in Forest Hills, New York. SALT is her first novel.

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A Day With HIV: A Black Mom Shares Her Story Of Diagnosis and Survival Mon, 21 Sep 2015 04:01:16 +0000 In honor of A Day With HIV, Masonia Traylor, a Black mom of two, talks diagnosis, survival and concrete ways to strike down barriers for HIV-infected moms.

The post A Day With HIV: A Black Mom Shares Her Story Of Diagnosis and Survival appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

A Day With HIVFor Masonia Traylor, contracting HIV wasn’t supposed to happen. She had been, after all, the most responsible one of her high school friends—the one who kept aspirin and spare pants and candy in her locker in case one of her girls got her period, and who always had a listening ear for those who faced abuse at home and a shoulder to cry on for those who had boyfriend problems. It was Masonia, too, who encouraged her friends to take their health seriously, particularly their sexual health, persuading them to follow in her footsteps and get tested annually for HIV to make sure that they hadn’t contracted the disease or passed it along to their partners. So nurturing and responsible was she that Masonia’s friends called her “grandma.”

But being a grandma to everyone else couldn’t protect Masonia from a potential killer. Indeed, during a routine annual gynecological visit, she found out the devastating news: she was HIV positive.

She was 23 years old.

Two weeks later, she found out she was pregnant with her second child.

“After all of that preaching, I ended up being the one who ended up positive,” Masonia told in an exclusive interview as part of the annual awareness campaign, A Day With HIV. “Getting tested wasn’t enough prevention. Nor was monogamy. I ended up putting my life in someone else’s hands by not knowing my partner’s status.

“I was numb. I was in disbelief that I was positive,” she added. “I kept saying, ‘I’m not sick, I don’t have symptoms. I wanted a third and fifth opinion, a twelfth and a twentieth, too. But it was real. And every day, it was like I was going to a funeral. I kept asking myself, what did I do so bad to deserve this. Is it because I didn’t forgive people for hurting me? Was I supposed to be a virgin until I got married? Maybe I’m being punished for having sex at an early age.”

Of course, Masonia’s reasoning was illogical. She got the virus that causes AIDS because she unwittingly had unprotected sex with someone who was infected—simple as that. And she would have to walk through fire and fight her way through a web of racism, poverty, ineffectual policy and emotional distress to fight the disease not only for herself, but her then-unborn daughter.

First, she had to overcome the desire to abort her baby. “I didn’t want her to go through the mental, emotional and physical distress I was going through,” she said. Then, when she did decide to go through with the pregnancy, she had to fight the devastating effects that came with overloading her system with AZT, a powerful anti-viral drug that made her so sick, she almost stopped taking it—a move that, surely, could have led to her daughter contracting the disease.

In the meantime, she was forced to figure out how to afford rent, utilities, food for both her and her young son, and healthcare costs for both her management of her HIV (the AZT medication alone cost almost $2,000 per month) and her high-risk pregnancy on a part-time pharmacist’s salary of about $900 per month. She was, quite literally, drowning. Sick as she was, she tried to secure extra hours at work, applied for and got food stamps and did hair on the side to make ends meet. Because she was part-time, she got no maternity leave, and when she was finally able to recover enough to make it back to her job, they’d given it to someone else.

“I lost so much of my joy and happiness and being in fear of possibly dying or getting sick or being afraid,” she said. “I didn’t have any love to give anyone. I was sleep deprived after having the baby. I went through post partum, but no one knew. I hated myself. I was disappointed in myself for making the decisions I’d made. I felt like there was nothing else that could happen to me other than cancer, and even that I thought wasn’t as bad as this. I could beat cancer. But this…”

It was this experience that helped her understand the barriers women in general and women of color in particular face when they’re pregnant and HIV positive. “Why would you be concerned about getting care for your HIV when your basic needs aren’t being met?” she asked. “If you can’t get help at the food stamp office because you miss a phone call for an interview, and it takes weeks for them to get back to you, and you have to go search for free baskets of food and you don’t want to tell people you’re struggling because of your status and you’re afraid because you’re not educated about the disease,” you’re shutting down. You break down emotionally, mentally, spiritually and then the physical thing comes, and that’s how your child is born HIV positive. The barriers are real, and HIV is just the icing on the cake.”

It took Masonia two years to get to the point where she could forgive—and learn to love—herself through the Masonia Traylordisease. “Eventually, I learned that HIV is something anyone can get,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. And then I started looking at it from a standpoint of an epidemic— one that affects a population of unheard voices, particularly heterosexual women.”

Now, Masonia is a passionate advocate on behalf of Black women and the communities in which they live—a “grandma” very much in the vein of the fierce advocate she was in high school, supporting and preaching to her friends. On A Day With HIV, she’ll be working on national policy she hopes will help knock down the barriers surrounding perinatal transmission—much like those she faced while she was pregnant. She’s also quite outspoken about holding Black men, in particular, accountable for being what she calls “the protectors” of our community. If they’re having unprotected sex and refusing to find out their status, she says, they’re harming Black women, their children—indeed, all of us.

“Whether they’re gay, straight or bisexual, they are the protectors of us women. In order for us to be childbearing women and give birth, we have to be in contact with Black men. They have to help us protect the next generation.”

* * *

Thank God for Masonia Traylor—for her health, for her babies, for her experience, for her advocacy on behalf of us. We at MyBrownBaby salute her and all of the fearless advocates who bravely share their experiences to not only heal themselves, but to save our lives.

To read more about A Day with HIV or to participate in the campaign, follow along and post a picture in support of those affected by HIV on the following social media channels:


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A Day with HIV is presented by POSITIVELY AWARE, the most widely-read HIV treatment journal in the U.S., published by the non-profit AIDS service organization, Test Positive Aware Network. This year’s campaign is being conducted in partnership with Let’s Stop HIV Together, an HIV awareness and anti-stigma program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This post was made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

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Saying No To Your Child: It’s a GOOD Thing—and They’ll Thank You For It Mon, 14 Sep 2015 04:01:50 +0000 When did saying no to your child become a bad thing? Writer Lori Tharps asks the questions and gives the perfect answer: just say no.

The post Saying No To Your Child: It’s a GOOD Thing—and They’ll Thank You For It appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

Saying No To Your Child


A few weeks ago, I took my four-year-old daughter to ballet class. When we got there, it was clear one of the students — let’s call her Becky — did not feel like doing ballet that day. Becky spent the first 15 minutes of class doing everything but dancing. The teacher’s response was to simply ignore her. Becky just got louder.

Becky’s mom observed all of this with only haphazard attempts at getting Becky to behave. First, she offered Becky a cookie if she behaved. Then she promised to take Becky toy shopping if she behaved. Finally, and only after Becky threw one of her pink sneakers at her mom, hitting her squarely in the face, did Becky’s mom screw up the courage to say no: “No, Becky, you cannot throw shoes at your mother.”

She took Becky home and the rest of us finished watching our children stumble through ballet class.

Later that day I was recounting the story to my friend and I found myself wondering when saying “no” became such a big deal? Why did Becky’s mom need a sneaker upside her head before she could say no to her daughter? I say no to my three kids all the time.

Here are some things I say no to on a regular basis:

  1. No console video games
  2. No cable
  3. No social media
  4. No allowance
  5. No caffeinated soda
  6. No sugary cereals for breakfast
  7. No headphones or electronics of any kind at the dining table
  8. No TV during the week during the school year
  9. No cellphones that cost the same as your parent’s cellphone
  10. No using the phrase, “I’m bored.”

I’m not a Tiger Mom, but I do roar!

A few years ago, author Amy Chua came under fire for her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” where she too confessed to saying no to a lot of things many Western parents consider normal. No play dates, no sleepovers, no grades lower than an “A” on report cards. Chua defended her parenting choices by saying she was raising her daughters the same way her parents raised her.

While I wholly disagree with most of Chua’s parenting ideals, I do think she touched on a critical issue in that American parents are far too concerned with making their children “happy” instead of making them smart or successful. I think saying “no” to my kids will help them be smart, successful, safe, useful, respectful, humble and happy.

But back to my draconian list of no-no’s in our home.

We’ve never had cable or video games in the house because I think those things distract children from all of the other things that require their time like homework, music lessons, sports, playing outside and chores. And speaking of chores, I have never understood why anyone would pay their kids for helping to keep the house they inhabit — and frequently mess up — clean. Quite frankly, they should be paying me for cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry.

If my kids need money they know they can always ask, but they’re also pretty clever at finding ways to make money on their own. My older son cuts the neighbor’s grass. My younger son comes with me whenever I do a book signing and I pay him for acting as my set up and clean up crew.

Luckily, my kids don’t complain much about all of the “no’s” in their life because it’s all they have ever known. Truth be told, it also makes my life easier as a parent.

By just saying no to things like Facebook and TV during the week for example, I’m freed up from constant media monitoring and having to implement schedules for TV time or video game time. It’s a win-win — my kids are happy and I’m happy.

Little Becky thrashing around on the floor? I’m guessing, not so happy.

Lori L. Tharps is the co-author of “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” and the novel, “Substitute Me.” She blogs at This piece was reposted from Philly Parenting, with permission from the author.

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