Prince, Mom and Me


I think it’s fair to say that back in the early 80s, there were two kinds of people: Michael Jackson fans and Prince fans.

MTS_Aligeth-1066879-MJYellowVest04 prince

In my youthful mind, MJ was nice, sweet and safe, and so I rejected him.  Prince, on the other hand, better symbolized my teenage rebellion.  Prior to Purple Rain, Prince was considered an outsider, a sexual deviant and a “freak.”  People thought he was both gay and a sexual predator of women.

My mom could’ve have easily banned him from my musical playlist.  But she didn’t.  She didn’t bat an eyelash while I sang “Erotic City” and “Soft and Wet” at the top of my lungs, not knowing what the hell I was singing about.  One time she asked me to get off couch and do some chores and I told her, with the most sincerity, that I could not because I was busy “visualizing” the video for “17 Days.”

She also could’ve protested when I covered literally every wall in my bedroom with Rolling Stone and Right On! magazine covers.  Or when I decided to put the infamous poster of him in the shower on the ceiling right above my bed.


Instead, Mom gave me the room to let my musical tastes and, hence, my imagination run free.  She didn’t suppress my sexual curiosity or make me feel badly for having desires.

The ultimate test of her parental patience and loyalty came in the form of a concert featuring Prince, The Time and Prince’s proteges, Vanity 6.  I beggggged my mom to take me.  Instead of outright rejecting my request, Mom decided to play hardball.  “I’ll take you to the Prince concert, if you win me tickets to see Chaka Khan,” she bargained.

You know what happened, right?  I spent that night dialing the radio station like a crazy person until I was the right caller.  Mission: Accomplished.  I was going to see My Boy in person.  I was 12 years old.


The night of February 13th was bitter, cold and snowy but you couldn’t tell me nothing as Mom and I made our way to the D.C. Armory, which was basically a giant warehouse with some chairs.  She allowed me to run toward the stage during the performances and I had to check in with her between acts.  Vanity 6 came out on stage in a full set of lingerie.  Prince humped the bed during his performance of  “Do Me, Baby.”  It was no place for a child.  What I lacked in direct adult supervision, I gained in confidence and navigational skills.  I roamed the armory like a champ and, from the floor, waved my arms in the direction of my mother so that she could see that I was OK.  In retrospect, I don’t know what either of us was thinking.

Mom was my Road Dawg a year later when I begggged her to take me to see “Purple Rain” at a movie theater in Georgetown.  This time she didn’t play any games.  She eagerly bought the tickets and did The Bird right along with me in the aisle.

I wore a pair of lavender high top Chucks nearly everyday in the 10th grade.   I spent what little money I earned on albums, posters, and buttons.   Over time, this independence spread into other areas of my life, including my hairstyles, my resistance to all things “girly girl,” my hatred for the Washington Redskins despite growing up in Northern Virginia, and my desire to go to college out of state.  Through it all, my mom supported me and provided transportation when needed, and gave me money whenever she could.

Prince, of course, was more than a celebrity crush for me.  My obsession with him really mirrors my journey of self discovery.  In Prince, I found an individual who dared to break boundaries, who was original, and who spoke his own truth.  He sharpened my critical thinking skills and his inspiration can be found in my teaching pedagogy, my managerial skills and my decision to shop at thrift stores.  Perhaps only Michael Corleone has a greater influence.

I am grateful to my mother for nurturing this relationship, and subsequently, for nurturing my personal growth.  She will forever be the Tricky to my Christopher Tracy.

This movie is ridiculously underrated.
This movie is ridiculously underrated.

In memoriam of Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958-2016.




“Straight Outta Lotion” (Part 3)

On the fourth day of our Barcelona trip,  Rob reluctantly broke some news to me.  His travel sized tube of cocoa butter lotion was now empty.  He was out and needed to get more.  I panicked.  “Are you sure?” I stammered and started moving things around the bedroom, perhaps in search of an overlooked bottle somewhere.  “Maybe we can get by another day?”

But we both knew the truth: that little 2.1 ounce bottle was not equipped to handle an ashy black man for a full seven days, anyway.  Where were we going to find a suitable product in Spain?  In one of those farmacia’s we kept passing by?  Doubtful.

It didn’t look good.

On one of our morning jaunts to the local neighborhood cafe, out of the corner of my eye I spotted something familiar in the window of one of the local shops.  I gasped and pointed.  “Rob, look!”

Not only was there a bottle of lotion but also jars of hair conditioner and creamy moisturizers on full display for the world to see.  Intrigued and even a little giddy, we stepped inside.

To our great surprise and wonderment, there were whole walls of Palmers and Aveeno. Racks and racks of coconut oil and shea butter.  Motions No Lye Silkening Shine Relaxer System.  In the back of the shop, we saw brown skinned people laughing, listening to music and getting their hair done. It was like we had stumbled across the Wizarding World of Black Hair Care and Body Creams in Spain.  Or perhaps we accidentally came upon a portal that transported us from Barcelona direct to 125th and Lenox Avenue in Harlem.

Rob grabbed not one but two bottles of lotion, while I made a mental note that the store also sold the butter creme moisturizer that I was looking for.

Filled with excitement that la ciudad could be so generous to us, we walked by the next day.  But our new discovery wasn’t there.  Instead we were confronted with a closed gate.  Where were the posters advertising the latest shampoos and hair coloring treatments?  What about all of the people who looked like us?  Body balm, gone.  Murray’s dressing pomade, bye bye.  Cocoa butter lotion, adios.  It was like we had imagined the whole thing.

Where did the Jergens go???

But how does a store just shut down in 24 hours?  Was it a pop up business of some kind?  Back in the States, my mom, ever the Dumbledore for all things related to beauty supplies, conjectured, “I think it was God the whole time.  God knew that if Rob stayed ashy, your trip would’ve been ruined. That shop was put there just for you.  It doesn’t really exist.  Be thankful.”


Misadventures in Barcelona (part two)

Previously in Barcelona . . . Jabari came to Spain with only socks and sandals.  We walked a few miles throughout the city in search of authentic sneakers.  #nofakes  

Let’s go to sleep in Paris
Wake up in Tokyo
Have a dream in New Orleans
Fall in love in Chicago

~”Paris, Tokyo,” Lupe Fiasco

I have a very hazy memory of traveling with my family, including my crew of cousins, to Jackson, New Jersey, probably a three hour drive from our home in Northern Virginia.  Our ultimate destination was Great Adventure theme park.  I barely remember the park, but I do remember the drive, the humidity and the low budget motel.  It was probably the highlight of my youth.

As a typical working-class kid, my vacations were limited to theme parks (Great Adventures! King’s Dominion!) and family reunions in the South.  The idea of traveling out of the country was never an option, at least not in any concrete way.  When I was in college, I never ever considered Study Abroad, and I did not obtain an official passport until 2015.

My husband and I were fully aware of the import of taking our children out of the country.  This would be one of those times when we felt like we had finally Made It. A straight up Huxtable move.  Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about something similar when he describes why he took his son to Paris:

“What I wanted was to put as much distance between you and that blinding fear as possible.  I wanted you to see different people living by different rules” (pp. 126-127).

Before we left for Barcelona, my husband and I had The Talk with our kids.

“You might get stared at.”

“Don’t get mad if people try to touch your hair.”

“People might mistake you for Kobe.”

We felt it necessary to have this candid conversation for two primary reasons: 1) both kids have social anxiety, and we wanted to prepare them for possible uncomfortable social situations; and 2) I had heard stories from several black students about their racialized experiences abroad, including being called “negro” or being mistaken for prostitutes.

As fate would have it, our kids were disappointed.  Despite their eager anticipation, they experienced no outward racial discrimination or even double takes.  “Que guapo!” one of the waitresess beamed when she saw Jabari’s hair up close.  Her eyes got even wider when she saw Zoe’s tangled curls in all of their glory.

In fact, the kids adapted quite easily to this foreign place.  Once when we stepped into the foyer of our apartment building, Jabari took a deep breath and then exhaled, “It just smells like Europe here!”  After maybe two days, he told us that he had started to do some serious reflection and wondered aloud about the amount of food waste in the U.S. and our overall capitalistic system.  (Let’s see how long that business major lasts, I thought to myself).

On the way up to Parc Guell
On the way up to Parc Guell

Indeed, it was completely worth every penny to provide this opportunity for our children.  On our last day, I put my arm around Zoe and said, “You’re going to move to the UK when you get older, huh?”  She grinned and nodded.

“Well, thanks for telling me now,” I laughed.  “This gives me time to prepare.  I’ll be sure to visit you often.”

“It’s very expensive, you know,” she shot back.

I think this trip may have been too successful.

Those Vans sneakers were bought in Spain
Those Vans sneakers were bought in Spain

Misadventures in Barcelona (part one)


“I Left My Shoes in Los Angeles”

After a six hour plane ride to New York City followed by a 7 hour flight, my family and I arrived in Barcelona around 7am the next day.  Exhausted and bleary eyed, we bumbled through the airport and made our way to the local bus stop outside.  That’s when it hit us: we were in a different country with limited knowledge of the language and no real idea of how to get to our host apartment in the Poble Sec neighborhood. As directed, we took the bus to Placa Espanya and had to walk an additional quarter mile to our new home.

This entire time it was pouring down raining. I mean, non-stop.  Puddles everywhere.  And it was cold.  I looked down at his feet and noticed that Jabari was still wearing his Stance socks and Nike slide on sandals.  “Son, don’t you want to change?  Are you Ok walking around like that?”  Stoically, he nodded and mumbled a response, so I didn’t think anything more of it, figuring this must be some kind of trend at his college.

Placa Espanya, credit: Zoe Miles

But Rob gave me the scoop later: J left his sneakers back home.  Those Nike sandals on his feet were the only shoes that he had.  Forget Las Ramblas and La Sagrada Familia. We were on a mission to find a pair of size 13 athletic shoes in Spain.

Ever the navigator, Rob identified 24 Segons aka The Basketball Store a few blocks away from our apartment.  Feeling more confident in our ability to navigate the neighborhood, we trekked on over.  Cerrado.  We were puzzled.  After all, it was Sunday, and the weekend is a major day for capitalist exchanges back in the States.

Undeterred, we returned on Monday–right in the middle of the day!  Surely, the store would be open for customers then.  We saw lights and an employee inside.  Jabari put his hand on the door handle, but the clerk shooed us away.  The hell???  He pointed to the store hours on the glass door. And that was our introduction to the Spanish siesta.   Lo siento, los Americanos!  Come back later!

So we turned our attention to the infamous Parc Guell, a park designed by Antonio Gaudi, and then we headed south and took a leisurely stroll through the Gracia neighborhood (one of our favorites), stopping once for churros and hot chocolate (yum!) and then again for tapas.  We walked up steep inclines, across the rocky landscape in the park, and then back down major hills into the city.  Overall, it was probably a good two miles, maybe more.

Throughout the city, we noticed groups of dark-skinned street vendors, most likely Senegalese immigrants, who hung out at the various metro stops and other touristy areas with their faux handbags and shoes.  vendors

As we walked by one particular group, a guy sized up Jabari and called out to him in a cool American accent: “What size you wear, man?”  The guy had a blanket full of knock off sneakers.  “Just $20.”

J paused for a minute, clearly conflicted about his options.  Ultimately, he decided that getting off-brand Yeezy’s just wasn’t worth the risk.  Apparently, he was trying to avoid the inevitable deep depression that comes with procuring rip-offs on the black market (no pun intended).  Adidas before Falso.  Street cred before Good fakes.  Mental health before undermining capitalism.  Sorry, bro.  The search continued.

R.I.P. Phife Dawg
Long Live A Tribe Called Quest