MyBrownBaby Where Black Moms Matter Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:43:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When Diversity in the Classroom is Done Wrong Wed, 24 Aug 2016 04:01:45 +0000 An educator breaks down how diversity in the classroom only counts when the school administration knows visitors are watching.

The post When Diversity in the Classroom is Done Wrong appeared first on MyBrownBaby.


diversity in the classroom


I want you to know that adults can sometimes make some terrible decisions about what we’re doing with students in schools. I’m talking about socially and emotionally with kids in middle and high school especially. We think we’re doing it in a silo and that no one will know, but we aren’t fooling anyone, are we? Least of all the students. Particularly when it comes to diversity in the classroom.

Sometimes, we get visitors in our school buildings and we give them tours to show them what our learning looks like and how we structure the day. Sometimes, those visitors are delegates from other countries and the U.S. Department of State and the Congress suggests a school. Sometimes, they ask to visit history classes since the education system in the United States is different from their countries.

Those visitors will be from interesting and far away places like Iraq and Pakistan and the Czech Republic and Uganda and Thailand. The diversity will astound you and when they walk into the building it will be like looking at the United Nations in the flesh. It will be glorious and the cultures will be beautiful and you will smile as they walk through the halls and as they peek into the classrooms.

You may find yourself already sitting in a classroom where the delegates are about to enter, only to find that the students’ schedules have been changed to accommodate the visit and, instead of the regular education class that’s supposed to be there, you’ll notice that the high track advanced class will walk in instead because we want them to see our best and brightest. The problem, you will notice immediately, is how white that looks. It’s hard to ignore that with the diverse backdrop of the visitors and it will be stark. You will be shocked and a tad bit embarrassed that someone made this change and that students are inconvenienced because looking smart to outsiders is more important.

It isn’t what’s best for students at all.

But, it will get worse.

You will ask the teacher if she approved of this change and she will resignedly and exasperatedly tell you she was told to do this under the guise of having students doing “something worth seeing,” even though the lesson plan will be the same as the first class you watched.

It will get worse again.

You will check the demographics because you are, rightfully, alarmed at this change in student schedules. In terms of numbers, the original 2nd hour has 17 white students, one Asian, five students of two or more races, one Latino, and seven Black students. The replacement group had 29 students of whom 20 are white, one is Asian, one Latino, five Black and two students of two or more races.

This is the stuff not everyone will see and it’s behind-the-scenes work that happens when personal bias comes into play and hopes to look like true diversity. The truth is, however, that this is window dressing diversity. This is spook-by-the-door diversity in the classroom wrapped up in the Meritocracy Myth that people hope looks like they’re paying attention to color.

I want you to know that every year when looking at classroom demographics I have asked the following questions:

  • Is there equity in this classroom if it’s an advanced course?
  • Did we allow students access to this course if they have been, historically, marginalized in public education?
  • What are the reasons or assessments used to deny entrance into an advanced course?

You will come to the conclusion that moving students on the day of a visit means that schools want to look good in front of the diverse visitors.

You will know that it’s using students to look better than we look. It’s so wrong and morally reprehensible that you will feel sick to your stomach and then, it will get worse again.

You’ll find out about how much worse it can get because a white student will come to your office very upset about what just happened in her classroom. She will tell you that extra students were brought in to her advanced class. That class will have 23 white students and three students of color, but magically an additional two Black students and an Asian student will be taken from their other classes and made to sit in this class to look balanced when the diverse visitors come.

The white student will be upset to watch her friends used in this way and she will ask you why school leaders would do such a thing.

You will not know what to say.

You will ask those “added” students how they were asked to leave a classroom and sit in another one that they weren’t a part of and they will tell you that they were told: “We don’t want to leave you out and think you’d be really good at answering their questions when visitors are in the classrooms.”

They were made to feel special and like their voices mattered. Each of them thought it was because they were smart. And they are. Because they walked into that classroom, looked at one another and clearly saw the racial component that they brought to the table, and they knew. They knew.

When I asked the students what their parents said about what the principal did, they said their parents weren’t going to complain because they didn’t want any retaliation for their children.

It wasn’t an accident or a random picking or even something that should make them feel like this new access was anything other than race-based. This seemingly innocuous invitation from biased leadership is when leadership thinks it’s okay to see color BECAUSE OF THE VISITORS.

It will not be important to see color when I ask about the number of students of color in high track classes. When I do it then, I am “always bringing race into it,” but when they engage in this sort of thing, they act like they’re doing me some kind of favor because I’m always asking that we consider the racist foundations and institutional racism on which this system is built.

The last time I wrote about such disparities in how we honor students and the equity that we have to challenge, people got upset about it. Then, I was “making our school look bad” and “being negative” instead of saying all the great things we do. Then, I was told “everybody isn’t ready for this conversation.” And yet it’s 2016. When will you be ready? Do you have a time frame where I might be able to point out systemic racism and biased policies and the covert rules of discipline that disproportionately affect Black students? When it is okay for me to tell you how hard this job is as a Black woman and I notice and call people out for practices and beliefs that harm children?

Let me know when a good time is for that.

Because while you have hurt feelings over me shining a light on it, kids are dying. Children are being murdered out on the street because we have yet to dismantle what Brown v. Board of education sought to remedy. And when children are not in school, it’s because they’ve noticed how we’ve used them as pawns to make ourselves look better. Lick your wounds instead of tending to the gaping holes and broken bones of children. Make yourself feel better while you tear down children.

We can just wait for a better time to tell you all this.

* * *

Kelly Wickham Hurst is the founder and CEO of Being Black at School, an initiative to empower parents raising Black children in schools that are safe for them. She is the married mother of six who recently left a 23-year career in public school systems. Find more of Kelly’s writing at

Support Being Black at School by joining the movement here and donating here.

The post When Diversity in the Classroom is Done Wrong appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

]]> 1
In Defense Of Public School: It Is What We Parents Make It Mon, 22 Aug 2016 04:17:34 +0000 Are there crappy public schools? Of course. But not all of them are broken. Public schools are what we parents make them. And I’m glad we opened our eyes.

The post In Defense Of Public School: It Is What We Parents Make It appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

Public School_MyBrownBaby.JPG

I’m from New York, and though I am by no means from a family that had an abundance of cash, I spent quite a bit of time as an adult around people with money, privilege, and access, which means I’m quite fluent in snob—can see it coming five miles away, hear it all up and in between the lines, feel its hot sting sear like fire.

Occasionally, shamefully, I employ it, too. Sometimes when a snob gets on my nerves. Definitely when it comes to my getting what my girls need and deserve.

Such was the case when my husband and I moved our family from New Jersey, where we were zoned for one of the best school districts in one of the best education states in the union, to Georgia, notorious for being average, at best, when it comes to its schools. We knew from the second we decided to move here that we would move Heaven and Earth to keep our kids out of public school.

And for our first two years here, we did just that—sent our girls to an expensive Montessori school, turning our nose up at the public school in our neighborhood. Test scores played a part in the decision. So did the trailer park some two miles from our house. And honestly, we’re African American northerners living in a conservative southern state where bumper stickers with Confederate flags seem to far outnumber those that read, “My Kid Is On the Honor Roll.” Sending my smart, chocolate, Yankee girls into what we thought would be a backwoods, Deliverance-styled educational experience wasn’t an option. Like, at all.

But you know what? That Montessori school that I thought would save my kids from educational mediocrity (which in our house equals education disaster), had issues. Our hefty tuition check and my work as room mom and on the PTA board didn’t stop my kid from being bullied, the teacher from sucking or the administration from being woefully unresponsive to my concerns. And when I started searching around for alternatives, a few of my friends insisted I look into my neighborhood school.

We did. And we were amazed by what we found.

No, the test scores weren’t the best in our area; they fell on average about 15 points below the schools across town. And the numbers of kids getting free lunch, in special education, and speaking English as a second language were high for our standards.

But when we visited the public school, we got a much different picture from the one painted by statistics we gleaned from the internet; the stats hid the gem. Classes were racially, ethnically and economically diverse; the school wasn’t some drab, dreary, gray affair but a bright, warm place that felt like kids could be happy there; teachers, staff and principal were friendly and accommodating and eager to show us that they could hang with our girls; and everyone welcomed me to become a part of the fabric of their vibrant school.

A few months later, our girls were sitting in their desks with public school teachers who were willing to give them work that challenged them, kept them excited, and was creative. They were fast-tracked into the school’s gifted program, where they could get extra academic attention. I worked as the room mom in both classes, volunteered in the library, made nice with the administration and happily helped my babies foster class friendships outside the school.

In other words, our public school ended up being quite a jewel. Not a perfect jewel. But a jewel nonetheless—one that we would have never embraced had we not showed up, pitched in and squeezed out every ounce of opportunity there for the taking.

Are there crappy public schools? Of course there are. But not all of them are broken. Not every test is horrible. Not every teacher is phoning it in. Not every rich district is better than the not-so-rich districts. And, despite the prevailing notion of people who gentrify the ‘hoods with their mini vans and Starbucks lattes, not every family who doesn’t look like, speak like or come from the same background and circumstances as yours is educationally-challenged and blissfully ignorant about their kids’ grades, test scores and ability to achieve. The non-snob in me knows this deep down in my gut.

Public schools are what we parents make them.

And I’m glad we opened our eyes to this.

The post In Defense Of Public School: It Is What We Parents Make It appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

]]> 1
Postpartum Progress: Changing the Game for Black Moms Tue, 16 Aug 2016 15:06:22 +0000 Postpartum Progress developed a checklist to help Black moms with Postpartum Depression.

The post Postpartum Progress: Changing the Game for Black Moms appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

postpartum progress


Nine years ago, when I birthed my first child, Postpartum Progress was a resource when I was in desperate need of help. See, Isaiah was an unexpected pregnancy and came with all of the flotsam you’d expect from a 20-year-old trying to learn how to be a mother. Though I eventually learned the basics of what any mother needs to know to care for her baby—diaper-changing, feeding, bathing and such—I was blindsided by an increased discomfort around mothering my child. I anticipated that I would feel slighted; after all, I was young, inexperienced and completely unready to be a parent when Isaiah came along. Humans judge other humans, and especially ourselves. What I didn’t anticipate, though, was my intense crying spurts and feelings of hopelessness, and the extreme panic I experienced when he cried.

I was suffering with postpartum depression.

I went untreated for so long that my depression morphed into psychosis. Though I had access to care and my family acted quickly once they realized something was wrong, many Black women don’t have the resources and support they need to identify their symptoms and get help.

We know that Black women get postpartum depression and anxiety. We also know that we are more likely to be misdiagnosed or disregarded, or we lack access to quality care. This travesty is made worse by the fact that Black women also face far more marginalizing factors in their environment than white mothers. That combination is a toxic brew that drowns out Black mothers in maternal mental health conversations. Postpartum Progress is seeking to change the game.

The team at Postpartum Progress is seeking to address this gap in care (health disparity) by creating tools of empowerment for Black mothers and mothers of African descent. Last week Postpartum Progress announced a new checklist for Black moms, designed to highlight the disparities and get us the critical information and support we need as we get down to the important work of raising our babies.

“Our checklist was developed with feedback from clinical experts and patient input in order to empower Black women who are seeking support around their experiences with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The checklist is designed to:

  • Empower mothers to help themselves.
  • Facilitate conversations that can be difficult for mothers to start with their doctors and other care providers.
  • Reinforce the variety of recognized, evidence-based symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders to both mothers and clinicians.
  • Reinforce the variety of recognized, evidence-based risk factors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders to both mothers and clinicians.
  • Help clinicians get a clearer picture of how to best assist their patients.

The work of Postpartum Progress and other organizations that are shining a light on maternal health issues with women of color in mind is game- changing work that will improve and save lives. Get the Black and African Diaspora Checklist here.

The post Postpartum Progress: Changing the Game for Black Moms appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

]]> 0
Introducing Jasmine Banks, MyBrownBaby’s New Managing Editor Tue, 16 Aug 2016 05:17:03 +0000 Jasmine Banks, veteran blogger and writer, will steer the day-to-day operations of

The post Introducing Jasmine Banks, MyBrownBaby’s New Managing Editor appeared first on MyBrownBaby.


Yooooooooooooooo! MyBrownBaby is coming back, and this time, I’ve got a squad with me.

That’s right, after almost six months on the grind, penning books for Cookie Johnson (“Believing In Magic,” out September 20) and Taraji P. Henson (“Around the Way Girl,” out October 11), and founding my new children’s book imprint, Denene Millner Books, I’m finally able to get back to what I love: filling, the parenting website dedicated to humans who are loving, raising, want to make and/or are concerned about brown babies, with dope stories about our collective parenting journey. Joining me is my friend/boo/all-around-badass Jasmine Banks, who has been named managing editor of our space.

Here’s what you need to know about Jasmine: she’s a mom of three absolutely adorable brown babies; she’s passionate about the power and beauty of Black motherhood and raising Black children; she loves the beauty of OUR stories; she blogs at on that social justice tip and also works for Postpartum Progress, fighting stigma in maternal mental health, and; she’s fierce, passionate, funny as hell and full of great ideas for how we can build MyBrownBaby 3000. Word to Three Stacks.

(She’s also a master at shenanigans. Exhibit A: the pic of us up top is at BlogHer16, just after she stole Amber Dorsey’s cellphone and filled it with selfies of the two of us. I was just along for the ride. Ahem.)

Jasmine will be overseeing the day-to-day operations of MyBrownBaby, fielding pitches, recruiting contributors and helping me implement strategy for giving MyBrownBaby more action! More excitement! More everythang! POW!

I’ll continue to serve as the editor-in-chief of this here space, and occasionally writing about my girlpies, motherhood and a bit more about Denene, the woman—the latter of which will be new and fresh and a much-welcomed addition to the intelligent, thought-provoking Black parenting coverage you’ve come to love and respect here on MyBrownBaby.

We’re excited about what’s in store, yo.

Want to contribute to MyBrownBaby? Writers, come out with your skills up! MyBrownBaby is constantly on the lookout for new writers with fresh story perspectives. No, you don’t have to be Toni Morrison to be a part of the awesome. But you should definitely pitch your best ideas. What are we looking for? Stories about your family, the intersection of parenting and race, coming-of-age as a person of color in America, pop culture and politics with a parenting bent, your favorite recipes, interesting analysis of current events as it relates to parenting, videos and, of course, contact info for Brazilian race car driver Raphael Matos. Alla that. Bring. It.

In the meantime, put your feet up, “like” the MyBrownBaby Facebook page, follow MyBrownBaby on TwitterInstagramPinterest (Denene Millner) and Google +, and, most importantly, subscribe via RSS or show your inbox some love by having MyBrownBaby delivered right to your inbox so that you won’t miss a single, solitary, delicious word from MyBrownBaby.

And say hey to my boo, Jasmine. She’s gonna kill it.




The post Introducing Jasmine Banks, MyBrownBaby’s New Managing Editor appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

]]> 9
Check Out My ‘Birthing While Black’ Story On The Birth Hour Podcast Fri, 29 Jul 2016 04:24:40 +0000 The Birth Hour opened its podcast to MyBrownBaby, where I chronicled the night my first baby was born and the gritty aftermath.

The post Check Out My ‘Birthing While Black’ Story On The Birth Hour Podcast appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

black birth stories

I’ve pulled no punches about my birthing experience with my first baby, Mari, as chronicled in the popular MyBrownBaby post, Birthing While Black. It’s gotten a lot of attention over the years, and I do hope that it has added to the canon of information the birthing community leans on to help not only highlight Black birth stories but bring change in a system that seems more inclined to leave us and our babies hanging rather than improve our birth outcomes.

I’m so pleased to share that my “birthing while Black” story is featured on The Birth Hour,  an audio podcast on which women share their childbirth stories. The host, Bryn Huntpalmer, graciously invited me to share my journey—a raw, honest, beautiful accounting of the night my Mari was born and the chaos that ensued in the days that followed. Here’s a piece of Bryn’s introduction:

Today’s birth story features Denene Millner, who is sharing her experience giving birth to her daughter at a teaching hospital in Harlem, NY. Denene had a doctor that she loved, the support of her husband and made plans ahead of time for what she thought would be a great hospital birth experience. Unfortunately, she was treated like a second class citizen for the majority of her time at the hospital. In this episode, she shares her story and discusses some of the issues that many black women face when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth in America.

Sadly, Denene’s experience was not a unique one as this is a common thread among the maternal healthcare system in the U.S. Too many Black mothers are not only being treated poorly but are dying from preventable causes.

You can listen to Giving Birth in America as a Black Woman here. I also encourage you to subscribe to The Birth Hour and, of course, share the podcast with your people.

Thank you, Bryn!

The Birth Hour logo_final

The post Check Out My ‘Birthing While Black’ Story On The Birth Hour Podcast appeared first on MyBrownBaby.

]]> 0
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.

This post was sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. All experiences and opinions are my own.

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

]]> 3
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. 

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

]]> 0
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!

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

]]> 18
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.

]]> 1
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.

]]> 2