Have you seen the documentary film, “Tell Them We Are Rising” that explores how historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have shaped American history, culture, and national identity? It was created by filmmaker Stanley Nelson and covers almost 170 years of history. You can watch it online on the PBS website until March 22.
Spoiler Alert: My main character Karma pledged the Beta Tau Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority at Morgan State University like yours truly. Her mother is also a Sigma (like my mom, great-grandmother, and great-aunt). Her cousins are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (like my great aunt) and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Her best friend is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity (like my grandfather, great-uncle, and cousin). Her uncle is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Her aunt is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Today, I am celebrating the power of art and fashion by featuring Tanekeya Word, one of my favorite artists who has created artwork and a personal brand that celebrate fashion, popular culture, and her life experiences. She is also a fellow Howardite (Howard University, Class of 2006). I discovered her amazing artwork and purchased several prints in 2008. Word defines herself as a Hybrid Chic Afrofuturist Visual Artist. Currently, she serves as the managing editor, creative & art director, and literature & culture editor of neonV, a biannual magazine for the contemporary peculiar woman that provides a compelling storyline of traditional and innovative content by exposing the cultural and subcultural continuums in fashion, art, beauty, and travel. Click here to learn more about Word and her incredibly stunning work.
Ananda Leeke, Kari Fulton, and Dr. Alla Tovares served as panelists for Howard University’s New Media Symposium at Founders Library on April 6, 2011. Fulton is the National Campus Climate Challenge Coordinator for the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. Dr. Alla Tovares is a Howard University Professor and author of How to Write about the Media Today. Angela Adrar, an International Strategy and Communications Consultant, served as the moderator.
Dr. Ada Vilageliu Diaz, a Howard University professor, organized the symposium for freshman students as part of her writing-intensive composition course on new media entitled: New Media Writing and Race. The symposium’s goal was to have students learn from new media/social media experts and to further understand the possibilities of new media to support social causes and to enhance leadership possibilities.
Submission #2, #2 – Papa Legba se pou jodi-a ou gran chimen (2010), a painting by Ananda Leeke — originally uploaded by anandaleeke.
My love affair with Haiti began when I enrolled in my first French class as a sophomore at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in 1979. During that year, I became fascinated with French speaking countries in the African Diaspora. Haiti’s historical legacy as the first Black republic quickly made it one of my personal favorites.
My passion for Haiti and Haitian-influenced art was deepened during my college years as a French major at Morgan State University from 1982 to 1986. Through my studies I discovered the work of Dr. Lois Mailou Jones, an artist and professor of art at Howard University. Jones’ Haitian-inspired work that included Vodun veves captivated my psyche and stayed there until I began my own studies of Vodun spirituality in the 1990s.
Meeting my Haitian American college roommate and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority sister Marie Denise (Mirabeau) Simon and her Haitian mother “Mama Freda” in 1985 helped me develop an interest in the lives of Haitian women. During one of our many conversations, Mama Freda told me about her early life in Haiti, how she studied nursing in Canada, and later moved to New York City to work as a nurse. Her stories were filled with moments when she reached into her spirit for courage and faith to live beyond any limitations people or society placed on her.
My interest in Haitian women blossomed into a full blown passion during the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China in 1995. While in Beijing, I learned about the history of Ligue Feminine d’Action Sociale or Women’s League for Social Action, the first Haitian feminist organization.
During the 1990s, I spent a lot of time learning about the Haitian love and healing goddess Erzulie, the Haitian god of the crossroads Papa Elegba, and Haitian Vodun symbols called veves. Since then, their energy has inspired my writing and art. In 2007, my debut novel Love’s Troubadours – Karma: Book One was published and included artwork on the cover and inside of the book that was inspired by Erzulie’s veve. Erzulie is also a dynamic force in the life of Love’s Troubadours’ main character. Papa Elegba makes his grand appearance in poetry and reflections included in my most recent book That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery.
As an artist and writer living in America, I have struggled with how I express my support for the people of Haiti as they re-imagine and reshape their country after the devastating earthquake in January 2010. My struggle played itself out in internal dialogue that found its way onto the pages of my journal. I used my journal to release what I could no longer hold inside as I stood at my own crossroads. Through this process, I reconnected with the power of Papa Elegba and discovered how I could contribute my light, energy, creativity, and love to support the sisters and brothers of Haiti. The poem below captures my journey of discovery.
Three Prayers to Papa Legba from A Daughter of the Diaspora Seeking to Re-Imagine Haiti by Ananda Leeke
I stand at the crossroads, feeling overwhelmed and lost.
I want to run, but I know change is coming.
I know I need to stay put and grounded.
I know I need to take action.
Papa Legba ouvre baye pou mwen, Agoeh!
Papa Legba, open the gate for me.
Point me in the right direction.
Papa Legba se pou jodi-a ou gran chimen
Papa Legba, forever, you have been the highway, the spiritual gateway so I might see the contradictions and opportunities along my path.
I seek your guidance.
Papa Legba, you are the voice of God.
Speak your wisdom.
I will listen.
I repeat this prayer over and over again.
It becomes my mantra as I seek to go within.
It allows me to sit with the discomfort of not having an immediate answer for a question I have been asking myself since the January 2010 earthquake.
How can I use my passion for Haiti, creativity, healing energy, and life to support Haitian sisters and brothers as they restore their souls, release the past, re-imagine, and rebuild their lives and country?
The task is mighty.
Sometimes it’s easier to just press click and make a donation.
But I am not here to seek the easy.
I am here to shine my light.
So I continue to sit with open ears and a willing heart, waiting with positive expectation for direction.
In this holding pattern, I resist the need to move on.
That’s so easy to do in America.
We have short memories.
And sometimes we forget our ancestral ties so quickly because it’s too much for our souls to bear.
But not this time.
I baptize myself in the water of Diaspora memories so I will not forget the way my heart broke as I listened to news reports, saw photos, watched videos, read Facebook posts, and followed Twitter feeds about the devastation caused by the earthquake.
I will not forget the tears I cried.
I will not forget my prayers to Erzulie for an outpouring of love from everyone in the world so that the people of Haiti would know they were not alone.
So where does all this waiting and remembering take me?
Maybe it I am attempting to stay in my head and off my feet.
I wonder as I record my thoughts in my journal and paint them on the canvas if I am holding back for fear of doing more.
I get serious with myself and force an answer to the question.
Am I hiding out in the wings creating my self-imposed crossroads because it’s easier to say I am waiting for Spirit to guide me almost a year after I uttered my first prayer to Elegba?
Perhaps I am a lazy artist dwelling in safety, exploring my psyche when my sisters and brothers of Haiti cannot afford my personal luxury.
Perhaps if I stepped out on faith and meditated on what victory would look like for the Haitian people, I’d wake up to my full self and take action.
Perhaps if I banned the word perhaps from my vocabulary, something larger outside of me would happen.
I muster the courage to stand and step out on faith
My third eye opens widely.
The visions of victory appear.
They meet me at my crossroads.
I utter the words of my prayer.
Papa Legba ouvre baye pou mwen, Agoeh.
Papa Legba se pou jodi-a ou gran chimen.
Papa Legba, you are the voice of God.
Speak your wisdom.
I will listen.
This time I move with my prayer.
Action comes one person and one step at a time.
I don’t hesitate.
I join others.
Our collective love, energy, and power fuel the change.
And little by little, I begin to see that I can press click and make a donation,
I can give my art and poetry as gifts and fundraiser donations to remind people of their oneness with Haiti and her daughters and sons.
I can volunteer my time to serve as a Heart of Haiti Ambassador and help raise awareness and financial support for Haitian artisans and their families.
I can use my voice to tell others about the Haitian people online and offline.
I can send healing love, light, and energy to the Haitian people.
And I can remain open to additional solutions that will reshape and rebuild Haiti into a nation of greatness.
Today I read this poem out loud several times after reading journalist Lisa Armstrong’s article about Haitian women who have mobilized themselves to fight for protection and justice for their Haitian sisters after the earthquake in the January issue of Essence Magazine. The poem and article helped me acknowledge to myself that I want to travel to Haiti to see and learn firsthand how I can help Haitian women and children on a long-term basis. Traveling to Haiti as a Heart of Haiti Ambassador with Fair Winds Trading founder Willa Shalit is one way I can begin the process of making a long-term commitment to serving women and children in Haiti. That’s why I have decided to submit my name as a candidate for the Heart of Haiti Ambassador trip to Haiti.
Yesterday, I had a branding and marketing conversation with my literary mentor and brothalove Ethelbert Miller. Ethelbert is a native New Yorker who dances through life as a man of many talents: husband, father, poet, literacy activist, and founder of the Afro-American Resource Center at Howard University. Like me, he is also a Howardite! I affectionately call him E-bert!
I spent most of the time listening to E-bert share his insights on ways to define, expand, and market my “Ananda Leeke” brand. Parts of the conversation were uncomfortable. Why? Well, E-bert was telling me the TRUTH … I didn’t want to hear it because it meant I would have to do MORE WORK! I resisted a lot of what he had to say, but managed to remain somewhat open. E-bert gave me a lot to think about. He also reminded me I would find my way using my spiritual path. His words “using my spiritual path” stuck with me. They followed me into my evening yoga and meditation practice. The end result was a clearing… an opening to E-bert’s questions and insights.
This morning I sat in meditation and focused on strengthening my inner foundation with deep breathing, mantra chanting, and a mudra practice focused on the root chakra. Guess what happened? I was able to be still and hear my inner voice repeat a short and sweet phrase: Yoga + Creativity + Internet Geek = Ananda Leeke. BOO–YAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! I knew the phrase was a rebranding gift from the universe! What a blessing!
So the Ananda Leeke official marketing brand is now: Yoga + Creativity + Internet Geek = Ananda Leeke.
What do you think?
As E-bert says, “my marketing brand is my gimmick!” You know the thing that will get folks’ attention.
I also have a new and improved short bio: Yoga + Creativity + Internet Geek = Ananda Leeke. Leeke is a lawyer turned “Jill of many trades”: innerpreneur, author, artist, coach, and yoga teacher. Her mission is “Empowering U2BU through creativity coaching, Reiki, self-care, social media, volunteerism, and yoga.”
Visit www.anandaleeke.com to see more of my new changes. Check out my bio too. I still have to add a lot of content to the site in April and May. For now, I am satisfied with the blessings. And I know there are more to come. So get ready for new surprises on AnandaLeeke.com!
Today I am celebrating poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller, the “godfather of poetry” in D.C. I met Ethelbert in the early 90s at Howard University’s Afro-American Studies Resource Center. Ethelbert has been the Director of the Center since its inception in 1974. During our first meeting, Ethelbert became my literary mentor and brothalove friend. Since then, Ethelbert has played a major role in my literary work. That’s why I had to write a poem about him for my new book That Which Awakens Me (available on Amazon.com – http://tiny.cc/7uFsg). See the poem below. By the way, I call Ethelbert “E-bert.”
FYI – Yesterday, Ethelbert sent me a Twitter message about his February 11th interview on NPR’s Speaking of Faith. The show’s theme is “Black and Universal.” It is rich and juicy! I think the interview will give you an opportunity to really learn about Ethelbert is as a person and how he thinks. Click here to listen to the interview: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2010/black-and-universal.
Peace, Creativity, Compassion, and Gratitude for E-bert’s Passion for Poetry and Black folks,
Excerpt from That Which Awakens Me
Copyright 2009 by Madelyn C. Leeke
Inspired by E. Ethelbert Miller’s City as Memory: Lyrical City
Writing Workshop held at Busboys and Poets on May 3, 2009.
Toni told me I had to go and meet Ethelbert if I wanted to
take my poetry to the next level.
Every couple of weeks, she reiterated her recommendation.
Before I made the call, I walked to Vertigo Books on Dupont
Circle and read some of Ethelbert’s poetry.
His words felt like jazz improvisation that could easily be
featured on one of WPFW’s radio shows.
It teased me to the point of curiosity.
So I took the plunge and called Ethelbert.
The first thing I noticed when he answered the phone was a
genuine kindness in his voice.
My ears heard the welcoming tone of a long lost friend.
Hints of New York City appeared in the middle of his soft
The rhythm of his conversation opened my heart and invited
My first visit with Ethelbert happened on a sunny day.
I think it was springtime in 1994.
I had just published my second chap book of poetry and was
We met in his office located in Founders Library on the campus
of Howard University.
His desk was filled with paper and books.
I think we might have even had some tea.
Our conversation was just that … a conversation.
It included shared interests, questions, stories, laughter, pauses,
and comfortable silences.
It traveled down Georgia Avenue, waved at the Wonder Bread
Factory, found itself on 4th Street, got dizzy going around
Anna J. Cooper Circle, and came all the way back up to
Georgia Avenue before parking itself in front of the School of
Before I left, I mustered the courage to ask him to review my
His smile offered a generous grin as he extended his hand to
receive a copy of my lavender chap book of poetry.
We hugged and agreed to meet again.
That afternoon as I walked across Howard’s campus to Soul
Vegetarian Café, I realized I had just received my first taste of
Ethelbert’s mind and humor.
And it was delicious.
Ethelbert left me a message on my answering machine.
It was the kind you wanted to keep forever.
It started with one of his trademark phrases, at least the ones
he used with me.
“Hey Love. This is Ethelbert. I read your work and would like to
talk with you about it.”
I quickly called him back and scheduled an appointment.
This meeting was different from the last one.
I can’t remember what the weather was like, how his office
looked, or whether we had tea.
All I can remember is he talked and I barely listened.
When he opened my chapbook and attempted to review each
poem, I could only focus on the red pen marks that decorated
most of the pages.
Although Ethelbert was kind in his delivery, I was naïve and
unprepared to receive his comments and suggestions as the
D.C. godfather of poetry.
They stung me and left an open wound.
If I had been by myself I probably would have started singing
the blues like Billie Holiday about how my creative heart lost
its virginity before it is was ready.
It took me a minute to digest and accept Ethelbert’s comments
I purposely stayed away from his delicious mind and humor
They were a dangerous combination.
At one point, I felt comfortable calling him to say hello, but
when he asked me what I was working on, I gave him a vague
response because I didn’t want him to know about or review
my work ever again.
One day I found the courage to read Ethelbert’s feedback.
It forced me to unpeel layers of myself and dig a little deeper
to find my own voice.
I was at work early one morning.
From my office window, I could see autumn leaves falling
from trees in Dupont Circle Park.
D.C. traffic was moving at its normal pace.
It kept me company as I logged onto my computer.
My AOL account announced loudly, ”You’ve got mail!”
It was a message from firstname.lastname@example.org.
By this time, Ethelbert had become E-bert in my world.
My eyebrows raised themselves up and past my forehead as I
read his request for a poem that would be included in a poetry
anthology he was editing for Black Classic Press.
As I sipped green tea from my Starbucks cup, I wondered,
“Why did he write me?”
Maybe he made a mistake.
Turns out it was no mistake.
E-bert wanted an original poem by moi.
My creative heart was no longer naïve.
So I sent one I had just written about my grandfather dying
with no expectation of publication.
When E-bert wrote back and said my poem was fine, I couldn’t
believe my eyes.
I called him to make sure he was really serious.
Something happened inside me when I heard him say, “Hey
love, your work is beautiful. Keep writing.”
It took me a few years to figure it out.
It was an act of someone noticing my maturation as a writer
who travels inside herself daily to fi nd her voice in each
It was a gift my creative heart needed to receive.
I am in the midst of doing some research on my next novel Love’s Troubadours – Symon: Book Two. It tells the story of Symon Allure, an African American man who spends his freshman year of college at Morehouse College (www.morehouse.edu) and later transfers to Howard University (www.howard.edu). During one of my recent online research sessions, I discovered a wonderful series of women’s heart health events that Morehouse School of Medicine (www.msm.edu) is sponsoring in February. See the information below.