Finding Beauty in a Hard Place

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Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.”
― Tupac Shakur, The Rose That Grew from Concrete

Remain open to beauty, and you notice it exists everywhere, often lingering conspicuously in those hard places, sitting among boarded up houses, broken glass and buried dreams.

Like so many hip-hop greats, Tupac Shakur shared profound lessons with us, but his poem, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” about beauty in unexpected places, resonates so deeply with my spirit. These lines about that unlikely blooming rose echo most loudly: “Funny by keeping it’s dreams; Pac wrote, “it learned to breathe fresh air.”

I am sure we were quite a sight yesterday; me wearing 3 inch stilettos, a vibrant dress, while holding my daughter Naima; Shannon-Eli, blog co-editor with Timberland boots, electric blue eyeshadow, and Keston, my husband and blog multimedia director, photographing us against colorful murals, epic in scope.

Artistic beauty pouring out from an unlikely place, along Greenmount Avenue, a street in Baltimore synonymous with crack and poverty, vulgarity and despair. I felt my body loosen as the sun lightly enveloped my arms and legs; for the first time in months I walked through this street I often drive by and saw it anew.

One feels a different sense of a place when walking, a kind of connection with the people who inhabit the space; you come to share an experience, if only for a moment.

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There is beauty in taking time to see what you would otherwise ignore, jumping out of your comfort zone, and discovering when you move out of your own way, you soar.

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As we headed back to the car, an older man passing by curiously asked how our photo shoot went; “we looked beautiful,” he said earlier as Shannon and I posed and laughed with one another. “What were we doing it all for?” he wanted to know. Shannon told him it was for our blog, Live In Color, and to visit us online; he said he would check us out, with an easy smile, and I believe he will. Connecting with another human being and bringing the light of art, there is authentic beauty.

Live In Color – Emelda

All photos taken by Keston De Coteau, multimedia director for Live In Color blog, filmmaker, photographer and founder of Keystone Productions

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – A Farewell Letter to Baltimore

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Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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During the week of her 33rd birthday, a dozen people were murdered, and 35 people were shot on the streets of Baltimore. Fed up with the pains of poverty, drugs and crime,
co-editor Shannon-Eli Braxton says goodbye to her hometown.

 

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Cover of City Paper, July 3, 2013

Dear Baltimore,

You will always be my birthplace, but never again my home. Thank you for your tough love. I am tough enough now. The rats and the murals, the projects and the suburbs, the buildings built by slaves, and the land once called “Free” is not free at all.

I try so hard to keep my eyes to myself as instructed in the Qur’an, and to protect myself from the horrors of people so fat and diseased they can no longer walk, so skinny that the bones in their faces are protruding from use of heroin, meth or crack. Or poverty and a depression so deep that many cannot understand why we act the way we act. Everywhere, all day long, this is what I see. Hype off of alcohol, in these pissy, stank ass streets, people still sing and rap.

That’s what we’ve got Bmore, we will always have music, spoken word and our rap. Remember that.

Fifteen years ago on the anniversary of the murder of Tupac Shakur, Jada Pinkett (before the hyphen Smith), gave an interview to 92Q Jams. I’ll never forget her tearing up while talking about her love for Pac. Nor will I ever forget these words: “If you want to be successful, get the hell up outta Baltimore.”

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Photo credit: Essence Magazine, Sept. 2012

Fourteen years after that, she graced the cover of Essence Magazine in a long, clingy, gold dress. The dress and her elegance being an antithesis to the street corner where she posed. I scanned the image and got mad. I felt betrayed that she did not INSIST the picture be taken in Baltimore. “Damn, Jada is like all we got,” I thought to myself. She never makes public appearances here, no speeches to encourage the lost or steadily grinding people she left behind, the LEAST she could do was represent her hometown (the place who gave her so much spice) in a freakin’ photo.

But that was last year, and this year I’m in a totally different mental space. After being assaulted verbally and physically, emotionally and spiritually by the people in this town, I no longer feel the love I thought awaited me when I moved “back home” in 2008.

Honestly, I see Baltimore as a sinking ship. In 2008, I thought that I could save the Titanic, but now I realize that the best thing to do is get off the boat before it goes down.

Sure, there are areas in Baltimore that are thriving. Where gentrification and the cost of living prevent many natives from even visiting. Yes, there is free theater and artsy events happening almost everyday, faithfully playing just like the band that never stopped playing on that infamous sinking ship.

Do you think your music career is going to take off here, or your fashion line is gonna make it big? I have bad news for you. Though you might be very popular on this stage, this here ship, is going down.

I’ve heard many black pastors say this town is cursed. I’m sure it has to do with the massacre of the indigenous people, the 400 year tortuous enslavement of Africans, blood shed on the grounds of civil war, hate soaked lynchings in the suburbs, and the disbursement of crack cocaine and guns in the city.

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Photo credit: Shannon-Eli Braxton
A Home in East Balt. County

Yes, I do have faith, but I also have common sense. I was raised around prayer warriors determined that “the prayers of the righteous shall prevail.” I’ve seen it all. From outside holy water baptisms to casket-led rallies for peace. And guess what, things continue to get worse. Don’t bother quoting statistics on unemployment and crime. Who cares how many people have been “saved” at your church.

What I’m talking about is the poor quality of life in this area, where even the sky is sad. Have you noticed that it’s been crying week after week, after week?Everyday there are dark clouds like the dark circles now formed under my eyes. Spend a day in JAI Medical Center downtown, right down the street from the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital. When you get out of the clinic, the first thing you will want to do is take a long shower, the next thing you will want to do is move.

Goodbye, Baltimore. I will tell others how strong you are. I am leaving for good because I want to live my life where the air is fresh, and the people reflect the beauty of their surroundings. No matter where you are, live while you’re alive. Find a place that aligns with your soul, gather the wind beneath your wings and soar.

Live in Color – Shannon