Archive for July, 2011

The next day, Tuesday, I sat still.  My mother and I had nothing planned, so we decided to sit by the pool in Qiyana’s complex. I sat on the steps of the shallow end of the pool and  my mom sat on a lounge chair close by.  She was on the phone mostly, and I just sat quitly.  I just looked at the water.  I didn’t want to get all the way in, and I  didn’t want to get all the way out.  I just sat on the steps…


Me and Kesner’s second date was at a swimming pool.  This date was two weeks after I told him that I couldn’t date him because I was seeing someone else.  “Just friends,” I’d told him.  Two weeks later he sent me a text message after work and said: 

“do you want to get together this evening?  just friends?” 

As it turned out, the guy that I was seeing had shown flakey that day.  He was a professional swimmer who lived in my apartment building (bad idea to date the guy that lives in your building) and we were supposed to go swimming on Princeton’s campus that day after work. But he’d canceled at the last minute… 

I responded to Kesner’s text:  “sure, feel like swimming?” 

Kener met me at the Princeton pool and we swam laps.  I wore a blue and white bikini, and he had on fatigue swim shorts. He swam in his lane and I swam in mine; we swam the length of the pool back and forth doing every stroke that we could remember from gym class… and summer camp.  It was fun, I must admit. 

But we were just friends. 

It was August; August was my “natural” month.  This meant that I could swim without concern for my hair because I was wearing it in its natural afro-kinky state. I was free. 

After we swam, I went to the locker room and pulled my hair back into an afro puff pony tail.  I put on a yellow cotton sun dress and some sandals and I met Kesner in the parking lot; he had returned to his business suit.  We went to a sushi restaurant and had dinner together, it was pleasant. 

We talked about life and community…  He told me he had diabetes; he had to be careful about his diet.. We talked about his involvement with the Big Brother’s Big Sister’s Program…  I told him I was traveling to Cleveland the following weekend, he joked and said he would come along..   We had a nice time together that night,

but we were just friends.

He later told me that the swimming date was his favorite date. 

After I’d sat on the shallow steps of the pool at Qiyana’s long enough, I got up and decided to go for a walk alone.  Mom had been telling me how I needed to get out and take a long walk by myself… to scream and cry.  I thought I would give it a try.  

I drove around the corner to a hiking trail in Princeton that runs along a narrow canal.  Many people use this trail for hiking, biking and running.  I have even walked miles and miles down this trail for exercise in the past. 

The Princeton Canal Path

But on this day the purpose was not to excercise, the purpose was to scream and cry.  I was a mess.  Disheveled.  I was wearing a loose coton dress that was too big; it was hanging off of one shoulder.  And I was wearing flip flop sandals. I simply did not look like anyone who belonged out there in that moment.  I think I looked like some sort of savage crazy woman; walking down a dirt trail, snotting and crying and screaming in my loose cotton dress and flip flop sadals.   And to make it all worse, when I wasn’t screaming, I was desperately panting and breathing his name over and over: 

Kesner…   Kesner… 

I felt so vulnerable, so exposed and alone.  Kesner was my solid; I felt so safe with him and it was like I was desperately trying to call him back to me.  My pleas got lost in the air.  I couldnt find him anywhere.  I was desparate.  I wanted him back. 

Bikers and runners were passing by with strange expressions on their faces; ‘who is this crazy Black woman on our preppy Princeton trail?’  

 waling, crying, hollering.

 When I had enough I returned to Qiyana’s.  Talithea had arranged for her cousin, Marquita, to come by and wash my hair.  I didn’t care about my appearance but I knew deep down that I needed to pull it together.  I had to get myself ready for the Kappas.  The Kappas were doing a dinner for mom and I the following night and even if I couldn’t pull it together for me, I could do it for Kesner.  Kesner used to love the way that I put myself together, and I loved getting pretty for him… 

when he was alive. 

He was dead now, but I could still pull it together for him.  These were his fraternity brothers, after all.  And I was his woman.  It was time for my savage state to end,  I had to get ready for the Kappas.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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When we came back to Qiyana’s that Monday evening, I decided to get on facebook.

I wanted to create a photo album, I wanted to share pictures of Kesner and me. And to my amazement, when I signed on to facebook, LOVE was all over  my page.  I couldn’t believe it, I was so touched.  So many people left such beautiful comments and sweet messages of hope and inspiration.  People from all stages of my life.  I read every post and every message, I was immensely thankful.

That’s when it really began to sink in…

People knew about this. 

This hadn’t happened in a vacuum.  This wasn’t news that was just confined to Trenton, or to New Jersey; people knew, from across the country and over seas.

and people were saying his beautiful name: ‘ I’m so sorry to hear about you and KESNER…’  ‘may KESNER’s memory live on in your heart..’  ‘KESNER sounds like he was an incredible young man….’

I couldn’t help but be tickled, hearing his name was like sweet music to my ears.  Kesner placed fourth in the city council election because he didn’t have enough name recognition. People were constantly mispronouncing his name. But he was so proud of his name, a strong name for a strong man.  Our plan for the next campaign was to make sure that he had adequate name recognition in the city.  We were just getting started, his political career was just beginning…

And now here it was that he was dead and everyone knew his name, it was beautifully ironic. Tragic. Sweet. It tickled me, a little….

He was still dead, so it only tickled me a little.

A memorable moment was when Susan Taylor called.  My sorority sister, Kim, and I were sitting on Qiyana’s balcony having a conversation with my Mom.  Mom was telling us both a story, when she was interrupted by a phone call.  She looked down at her phone and said casually:  “oh, it’s Susan Taylor”.  Then she proceeded to answer her phone and say:

Susan, you heard….”

She left us on the balcony so that she could speak with Susan privately.  As soon as she left, Kim looked at me and burst out laughing, she was laughing so hard that she had tears streaming down her face. She said “Kimmy is that THE Susan Taylor?? Like from Essence??” It was.  Kim thought it was hysterical that Susan ‘heard….’    She said: “its not like your mom said, Susan let me tell you what happened.  She said ‘Susan, you heard…'” 

Incredible Susan Taylor

It was true, even Susan Taylor heard about Kesner.  His beautiful name even graced her lips.

We had good PR.  Andrea, Kristen, Dawn, Jayne, Barb…  They were all responsible for forwarding the newspaper articles about Kesner across the country; not only had people heard, but they read about how fantastic he was. It was amazing.

So I signed on facebook and I posted some pictures.  We had some beautiful shots.  The first set were from Spain Restaurant in Newark, we went to dinner with Courtney and Cory there.

A professional photographer had been dining in the restaurant and she offered to take photos of us.  She told us to ‘act natural’ and she got some nice shots.  I loved the one of him whispering in my ear the most, Courtney took that one.  It looked like he was kissing me on the cheek.

My favorite

I just stared at it, remembering our sweet romance. I decided that it would be my facebook profile picture.

I also loved the pictures of us laughing together.  I was so thankful that the photographer had captured the energy of his laughter.

I loved laughing with him…

And then there were pics that I took along the campaign trail and on election day.  And then there were pics from our Poconos trip, dinner at Mara’s, and our hike in the Trenton Marshlands.

On our hike in the Trenton Marsh Lands…

I was so thankful to have so many pictures, they told a story; they seemed classic and sad, yet beautiful.  And tragic.  I named the album:  Kesner.

Sharing the photo album on facebook lifted my spirits some.

Before I signed off, I noticed a message from Kesner’s ex girlfriend in my inbox.  The message said: “Kim, how are you doing?  This is a tough one for me.” 

I thought that was nice, nice that she would reach out.  She didn’t have to do that, we don’t know each other.  I responded, saying: “I’m not good.  I feel  like someone took a shovel and dug a hole in my chest. Thank you for reaching out to me, I’m sure this must be impacting you in the same way…”  She responded almost immediately, saying: “Kesner and I were soul mates. He would have wanted me to reach out.” 



Enough facebook for one night.  I signed off immediately.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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Now it may seem trite that in the midst of tragedy a priority was to get my clothes organized for the Links convention. This was actually very important. The Links convention was less than two weeks away and it was going to be a big week for my mom. At the time she was the sitting national vice president of the organization and she was preparing to run for national president. A lot of people were going to be paying attention to her that week and, by default, me also. Clothes were important.  Mom knew that I would not have the energy or will to get myself ‘wardrobe ready’ for the week, so she staked out Monday as the day that we would go to my apartment. She was planning to go through my closets and pick out my outfits for the assembly.

So here it was Monday morning and we were preparing to go back to Trenton. Over the weekend I’d sent a text message to DaNae and told her: ‘I need to see the baby, bring Naomi to see me on Monday.’ DaNae was my eighteen year-old AmeriCorps intern at the women center and Naomi was her 6 month old baby. If I was going to go back to my sad little lonely apartment, I needed a baby to be there. I was making very few requests during this time. I didn’t care much about anything. I wasn’t talking much. Kesner was still dead. But when I did want something (like my tree, chicken salad, or to see a baby) it came out like a very direct demand. Since I was going to be in Trenton, I demanded that DaNae come see me and that she bring Naomi and Vicki also.

DaNae and Vicki were the only two remaining employees at the women center. It was June 14th and we were preparing to shut down operations on June 30th. Our program was state funded and shortly after Governor Chris Christie won the election in NJ, our funding was eliminated from the state budget. After June 30th, 2010 the women center would no longer be the way it was;and I would have to say painful goodbyes to the remaining members of my staff and to my clients. I was planning to stay at the center through the summer to help close things out administratively;  my plan was to leave in August and head to Rutgers to start my PhD in September.

But since I had just found Kesner dead in his house, everything seemed up in the air and I didn’t feel like doing another thing.

I especially didn’t feel like doing anything hard like saying goodbye to staff and clients and shutting down the program that I had grown to love….

But the women center hadn’t closed yet. It was Monday June 14th, Vicki and DaNae were still at work and I was still their boss. So I asked them to shut down the office and come visit me at my apartment. While my mom was busy going through my closets, I would sit with them and hold the baby. It would be the only way that I could stand being in my apartment.


The women center.

After Princeton Seminary I was planning to move home to Ohio. I loved my home church, Olivet, and it was my plan to go home and work on staff as a minister there. My Pastor at the time, Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., had always been such an important part of my life and I wanted nothing more than to work with him.

My greatest advocate in ministry…. married my parents, baptized me, ordained me, and gave me opportunity to preach. Reverend Dr. Otis Moss Junior, Pastor Emeritus of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.

We had discussed me coming home to Olivet, but as the time drew near I sensed hesitation from him. I soon realized why he wasnt making any commitments…

Dr. Moss was planning to retire.

This would change everything.  What would I do now?

At the time I was working part-time at a small faith-based non-profit in Trenton, NJ. as a case worker for women living at and below the poverty line.  And as graduation approached, I was extended the offer to become director of the program. My salary offer was less than my lowest bonus on Wall Street.  I didn’t know how I would live; but my passion for what I would be doing outweighed my perception of need, so I took the job.

I started as the director in July 2008 with the challenge of trying to figure out how to make our services meaningful for women.

I began working with a small group of women who were required to take our job-skills class, as a condition of welfare.  They didn’t want to be there so they gave me a hard time.  In order to get on the same page I needed to make it fun.I brought in a radio and several old school cd’s. I had women in my class that ranged from age 18-65 and the one thing that could connect us all was music. I started teaching the job skills class with Cameo, Soul-to-Soul or Chaka Kahn playing in the background.  Soon work became fun.

Women would be moving their shoulders to the beat and working at the same time. The music set a mood. people were having a good time in my class. I was earning their trust.

And I didn’t feel the need to teach every day. Sometimes I liked to sit and learn from the women in my class.  They shared their experiences with me and I shared mine with them.  Some days I simply allowed space for down time and casual conversation. Time to just sit around the table and share. It was cool.

My class and me

Some classes would not be structured at all; rather we would just talk about the things going on in our lives. Here the focus was not on work but family, relationships and concern about the community and connecting.

I also taught some job readiness classes in the prison system.  I did the same activities with incarcerated women that I was doing with my welfare-to-work class, and I brought my radio and cd’s with me wherever I went.

Before long, the women center was building and growing. The cornerstone of our work was imparting wisdom and hospitality. If women walked away from my classes with nothing else, they left knowing The 4 Agreements by heart:

The Four Agreements

1) Be impeccable with your word

2) dont assume

3) dont take anything personally

4) always do your best

I also made sure to affirm them constantly. I would recite the Maya Angelou poem “phenomenal Woman” – a poem I learned by heart when I was fourteen –  and as I shared it with them, I  let each woman know just how phenomenal I thought they were.

Maya Angelou – A pheonomenal woman!!

I was beginning to love my work, but I needed some help.  I began to pray for the right people to come and help me…

Julie was my first hire.  I met Julie first, she was working in the prison. She is an artsy/quirky Jewish woman from Long Island in her late 40’s. She was very blunt and had a sarcastic sense of humor. She was the GED teacher at the prison and there was always a lot of laughing and excitement coming from her classroom. Upon introducing myself to her, I learned that she’d earned her doctorate in education and that she was working as a consultant with the local community college to teach adult basic education classes in prisons. At the time, I’d developed concern for the women in my class who could not read.  Julie could help. I hired Julie to teach an adult basic education course twice/week.

Then God sent me Tina.

There was this woman in my job skills class who was head and shoulders above the rest.  Her name was Tina. Tina shared her story with us and she allowed me to interview her later.  She was very open about her life journey, and her story went something like this:

Tina is Black. She was born into poverty and molested by cousins and uncles growing up. The men in her family used to call her a ‘tease’ and tell her she had ‘bedroom eyes’ when she was just a little girl. She tried to tell her mom, but nothing happened. She had nobody to trust. In her home there were always parties and lots of alcohol around so at the age of six she started drinking. By the time she was 13 her aunt introduced her to crack. She was smoking marijuana with her aunt and her aunt laced it with crack. Tina never felt so good. So free. She never had so much energy. She felt like she was miles away from her chaotic world and she loved it. She had to have crack again and again. For her, crack was salvation.

For her crack was salvation…

She began to do whatever she needed to do to get crack. After she sold everything she could, she began to sell her body.  Each morning her goal was to make enough money to buy beer and crack to get her through the day. And even though her high was never as good as the first time, she kept going back. All the while she was having children that, once born, she would have to give to family members or to the state because she was in no position to raise them. She was powerless over her addiction.  She hated the way she was living, but her life was out of her control.  She told me:

‘The world thinks that people on drugs have no feelings, Kim, like we are less than human because of our addiction.’

Tina was still a feeling person, she was just sick.

She told me about how she was treated on the streets. She was violently raped on several occasions and the police would just pick up her naked bloody body, wrap her in a dirty blanket, and drop her off on her stoop in the projects. Her rapes were never investigated. She was treated as if she was less than human, just simply a “crack head;” never a victim. worthless. And the pain of it all kept her in her addiction.

Pause – I hope this story is breaking your heart. It broke mine. This story is not unique. it is reminiscent of the stories of so many poor Black people in America.  And not only that, but our collective understanding of who are and are not “victims” in our culture needs to change.  Drug addicts can be victims, they typically are.  Poor Black people can be victims.  Any human being can experience victimization, in the United states we are just partial to (and passionate about) the victimization of white people.  Hopefully this will change.  But I digress…

One day, as Tina was preparing to earn her daily money for beer and crack, she got in the car with a man and they drove around the corner so that she could perform tricks on him. When she took off her clothes, the man was disgusted and ordered her to get out of the car. He said; “you are nasty!” By this time Tina wasnt giving much consideration to self-care. And in that moment she was less than 100 pounds and she had eczema covering 60% of her body. But still, she had never been rejected and she was devastated. She stood on the street corner and cried and cried because someone had just called her ugly.

Drugs or no drugs, no woman wants to be called ugly.

She was so ashamed and that triggered something in her – a desire to get better. God would bless her with the means….

When I met Tina she was beautiful and healthy and very much in control. She was an inspiration to me and I decided to hire her as my assistant.  Tina was so honored and excited that I offered her a job, but soon after she accepted, she was called away to join the army. This was her life’s dream. I had to say goodbye. But even though we were not together long, Tina’s story left a print on my heart and on my work – this is why I share it.

I still needed help though, I prayed that God would send someone else.

God answered by sending Vicki. Vicki came to see me one afternoon. She was unlike the majority of the women that I had been serving. Vicki is an Italian-American single mom in her mid-forties. She came to see me for a basic one-on-one computer lesson. She had been working for the same employer for 28 years and she had just been laid off. she saw our brochure at the local unemployment office and scheduled a computer lesson with me. Fifteen minutes into the lesson she began to cry. Being laid off had really broken her. She was a single mom with no way to pay all of her bills. She was so sad.

As we continued to talk I asked her to tell me about her job search and what she had been doing to secure new employment. She opened a very detailed portfolio of all the jobs that she had applied for. She was so organized in her search, so resourceful.  I offered her a job. The title that I gave her was “Job developer.”  Her role was to usher women through the job search process, and also to develop and maintain relationships with local employers. Vicki was superb. And she was so very very loyal to me.

So then there were three: Me, Julie and Vicki. Things were beginning to pick up and more and more we were getting women walking through the door. And we began attracting a diverse group of women from within and outside of the community. We were growing.

One day a woman from the NJ parole board came to visit me and she brought another woman with her. The other woman represented a private foundation in NJ that was interested in funding reentry programs. These two women wanted to know about our involvement with women in prison because they were interested in offering us funding for a program called FORGE. FORGE stands for female offender reentry group effort, and the two of them had been traveling across the state looking for centers that could house this initiative. They were very impressed by the fact that we were already offering classes behind bars and in the matter of a few weeks, they committed to funding a new staff position: A Reentry Specialist.

This was so exciting!!!!! There was only one person that was fit for the Job: Jessie, My soul friend. Jessie is empathetic and she has a special way about her that makes people put their guard down. She is a great listener and she naturally reflects back and makes you think. That, combined with her natural concern for disenfranchised people, makes her a very special person; and for me, the ONLY person that I wanted for the role.

We continued to grow…

Around that time we were also inundated with clothing; many people began donating clothes to our center but we had no organized way to give them away. A group of college students at Rutgers were interested in volunteering with us, so I gave them the task of organizing our clothing closet. These students created what later became known as : “The Clothing Exchange;” One of our signature projects.

The Clothing Exchange

The clothing exchange would become a shopping free-for-all that took place on the first Friday of each month. We would transform our women center into a boutique and sell  clothes for $1; everything was $1.00.  It was a big success. What woman doesn’t want clothes?

Our staff and volunteers became personal shoppers and helped women find exactly what they were looking for. This also helped to bring many women together from all walks of life. Whether they were donating clothes or buying clothes, women were sharing resources and it was a beautiful thing.

In the midst of our season of growth, we were also given three americorps positions to fill. Vicki, Jessie and I hosted a series of interviews and decided on three special people: Linda, Terri and DaNae. Linda is an extremely resourceful Latina woman from the Bronx who knows a lot about a lot.

Linda, with the clipboard…

We hired her and gave her the title of “Community Advocate”. She was so proud and confident in her role. She developed a ‘street team’ comprised of mostly children and they were responsible for promoting all of our events in the community and for cultivating resources for women.

Jessie and I met Terri at the domestic violence shelter that we partnered with. Terri was a professional black woman in her late 30’s who had been previously married to an abusive minister. On Sundays he would bring her to church and smile and pretend they were perfect and during the rest of the week he kept her locked in the basement and chained to a bed. She escaped. And she had the most amazing resilience. She is a survivor. She was in transition and didn’t want full-time work, so the americorps position seemed just right for her. We hired her as the FORGE assistant and she also served as a liaison between our program and the domestic violence shelter.

And Lastly there was DaNae. She was quiet and sweet, a 17 year-old who had just graduated from high school.  She didn’t have work experience, but she could learn.  And she was 5 months pregnant; she was going to be a mom. And her baby – Naomi – would become our “office baby.” DaNae became Vicki’s assistant working in job development.

And there we were, a team. A machine. Me, Julie, Vicki, Jessie, Linda, Terri, DaNae and pre-natal Naomi. We became a family. We were three black women, three white women, one Latina woman and a fetus. We came from different walks of life. We represented different generations. We were diverse and thus could accommodate diverse women. It was a beautiful thing!

Amazing things were happening with the women center and it had only been 18 months since I accepted the job!! This was my calling. My life’s work. The sole reason for my being. This was it!

Our climactic moment was the day that Naomi was born.

Welcome Naomi!

We were all so excited about the coming of this baby and she was finally here!! We were a family and now we had a baby. All was well in the world.

Jessie and Naomi

Ujima Urban Women Center


That is until Governor Christie cut our funding.


It was all VERY dramatic!

As soon as I got the news about the budget cut, I sent an email to Mara, the owner of the lovely country house that I’ve been writing about. She and her husband own and operate a branding and communication strategy firm in Princeton, and in that moment I knew that she could be an invaluable resource to us. My mom is always saying that “a good leader knows what they don’t know.” I knew that I needed a communication strategy and I didn’t know how to do it. Mara responded immediately. The next morning I was on a 6AM conference call with her and her husband and the two of them walked me through the steps of developing a strategy to “SAVE THE CENTER”. Our strategy included communication with key supporters, a lobbying campaign with state legislators, an aggressive grant writing strategy, a media campaign, a client letter writing initiative, a Tee-shirt campaign, AND an effort to engage national celebrities like Oprah and Mary J. Blige.

We tried Oprah’s Angel Network….

…and Mary J’s FFAWN Foundation

Our entire strategy centered around the tag line: Prevention is Cheaper than Incarceration.  At the rate that New Jersey spends per prisoner/per year, we argued that if we just kept three women out of prison then our program has paid for itself.  Mara and Pete advised that we needed to make a financial argument that would resonate with taxpayers.”Prevention is Cheaper than incarceration..”  That became our slogan.

“9-5 Beats 10-Life”

My staff was fully on board and they were helping me as much as they could. Jessie and I applied to many funders,we developed a promotional video, wrote letters to Oprah, developed orange protest tee-shirts, wrote op-ed’s, lobbied with legislators and tried to garner support from key constituents in the community.

Programs for At-Risk Women on NJ Gov’s Chopping Block

Nothing was working.

When it appeared that this was really out of our hands, Jessie and I took the staff to the country house. we had a day long retreat there and we focused on transitioning and next steps. The retreat was our goodbye.

…but I was not going out without a fight.

My last stand was at that conference at Rutgers on June 9th. I sat on that panel in my orange protest Tee-shirt and made one more plea on behalf of our sweet little center. I was down to just two staff members at this point, and I traveled to the conference alone. But I gave one final argument for why we should not be zeroed out. We were different. We were special. We prioritized hospitality. We treated women like human beings. We were gracious and welcoming. We created a safe place for women to open up and share their stories. We were sensitive, diverse and culturally competent.

We were special.

As I sat on the conference panel and I told our story to the audience, I fought back tears. The most important thing I had ever done was ending.

Why God, Why!?!     Why was this happening???!!!???

And then I came home that afternoon and I found Kesner dead.




So there it was, June 14th. Kesner was dead and I didn’t care about anything anymore. I had no more fight left in me. When mom and I walked in my apartment my white sparkle gown was out and hanging in the same place where I’d left it. I was planning to wear it to the Kappa Ball that weekend and I was at home trying it on while Kesner was at home dying. I looked at the dress with disgust and sat down on my couch miserably.

Vicki and DaNae showed up with a bottle of wine and some sandwiches. And most importantly they brought the baby. I held sweet Naomi in my lap as we talked. They told  me that my boss at the non-profit had been questioning them about my whereabouts – but no one had called me directly to see how I was doing.  Upon overhearing this, mom said: ‘they don’t care about you. And they’re supposed to be ministers! Hypocrites! That’s it – I’m taking you home to Ohio with me.’ She was disgusted at their lack of concern.  I was too.  The program was fabulous but the host agency leadership left a lot to be desired.

Vicki and Danae were disgusted with them also. By this time we were all tired of working for the agency, there was too much messiness. And we had bumped heads ideologically on several occasions. Vicki and DaNae jumped on the bandwagon with mom and made plans to collect my belongings from the office and bring them to me. I was not returning to work, it was decided. After the funeral I was going home to Cleveland with my mom.

Mom began to organize my clothes for the Links convention and for the rest of the summer. She worked in my bedroom while I sat and held the baby. I didn’t care about my clothes, whatever she chose would be fine. Nothing mattered.

Vicki and DaNae left, and mom and I were preparing to leave, when we got a text from Kesner’s brother. Mom had been communicating with him all weekend about different details leading up to the funeral. We had been trying to reach Kesner’s mom also, but nobody was answering her phone. His brother said that he wanted to stop by my apartment and see me. He wanted to make sure that I had some input into the funeral. I was so honored by that. He came by and asked me about any Scriptures that Kesner and I read together and any songs that we sang. None of the Scriptures that we read seemed appropriate for a funeral, but I did suggest two songs: ‘Just as I am without one plea’, and ‘Pass me Not O Gentle Savior’.

Kesner’s brother and I agreed on those two songs. He also showed me an obituary that had my name listed in it as Kesner’s girlfriend. And he said they were putting together a slide show of pictures and he asked me for any pictures that I may want to include. I had lots of pictures and I let him upload some, and I told him that I would email some more to him later that night.

There were also two things that I wanted from him: my tree and a painting. By this time we had connected with Mara. She said ‘yes’ we could plant Hope (my tree) at her house and she had picked out just the right spot for Hope. Now I just needed to get permission to dig Hope up from kesner’s backyard. I asked his brother for my tree and at first he said no, he wanted it.

But then he thought about what he was saying and he changed his mind (Kesner’s fraternity brother was already planning to dig up the tree  for me anyway…)

I also asked about a painting. Kesner was an oil painter and he had a collection of original pieces around his house. There was one in particular that I wanted. It was the only painting that he created while we were together. I felt it captured the energy of our love. It was striking and had a vibrant splattering of red in it. I loved it from the minute I saw it. I told Kesner how much I loved it. It was my favorite. He hung it in his bedroom. I wanted that painting so badly. I would treasure it forever.

His brother said no, he wanted it.

He wanted to keep all of Kesner’s paintings.

I decided not to press my luck then. He had agreed to deliver my tree to Mara’s and in that moment the tree was my priority. I haven’t given up on the painting, maybe one day…

Before he left, mom and I asked how he was doing; so much weight had fallen on him to plan everything and we were concerned. He said he was fine. I think he needed that stuff to keep him busy. But he did mention the fact that they had found all that medicine in Kesner’s house. High blood pressure medication and insulin needles… ‘it looks like he wasn’t taking his medication….

NO!! – I thought.

They’re wrong.

I wished people would stop with this nonsense. Kesner would never let this happen intentionally…

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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We were fifteen minutes from departure when the familiar gold Lexus pulled up the stone driveway.  Felicia went out to greet the driver and passenger:

Our sisters were here from Maryland,  Gloria and Kristen.

Gloria and Mom are not really sisters but they were roommates in college and in grad school.  They met on the campus of Hampton University (formerly Hampton Institute) in 1969.   Gloria had come to Virginia all the way from Indiana and she didn’t like it.  She arrived early and spent the first night in the dorm alone.  By morning she was ready to pack her things and head back to Indiana.  She called her parents from the one telephone on the dorm hall and it was settled, they were making arrangements for her to come home.

An hour  later a beaming social butterfly walked through the door with a bright kool-aid smile and said:

Hey Sack!!

Her roommate had arrived.  Mom plopped her stuff down on the bed and said: “What are we doing in here?  Let’s walk around the campus and see who’s out!” Mom had been at Hampton all summer in a pre-freshman summer program; she felt like she knew a few things.

The pair spent the next eight hours walking around the campus and socializing.  They had a ball and soon Gloria abandoned those thoughts of going home.  When they finally made it back to the dorm that night, somebody rushed up to them and frantically said: “Are you Gloria?  Your parents have been calling the dorm phone all afternoon looking for you; they got you a plane ticket home!” Gloria had to call them back and let them know that she changed her mind; she was staying at Hampton with her new friend, Margot.

Gloria and Mom

Gloria and Mom have lived parallel lives since then, and they have a very special bond; they are truly sisters.  Beyond going to college and grad school together, they pledged Delta together, they got married at the same time, had babies at the same time, got divorced at the same time.  And several years ago, Gloria’s daughter lost her fiancé in a tragic accident.

Gloria lives in Maryland and she had been trying to get to us in New Jersey all weekend.  She decided that she would come up for the day on Sunday and she would bring Kristen.

Kristen is more than a friend to me, she is my sister.  We grew up together in New York City..

Me and Kristen

Kristen and I both went to Spelman College and we met there three weeks prior to graduation.  She is from South Carolina and I am from Ohio and both of us were planning to move to New York after Spelman.

We graduated in the class of 2002, eight months after 9/11 and in the midst of the Enron corporate scandal.  Because of the changing climate, there were not as many people hired to wall street jobs as there had been in past years.  Both Kristen and I were looking for roommates but neither of us had friends that were heading to the Northeast.  We were introduced by a mutual friend and we agreed to live together.

Kristen and I are polar opposites.  I am impulsive and she is contemplative and methodical.  When we looked for apartments I wanted to make decisions based on feeling and energy while she had a list of requirements that needed to be met.  Thankfully we found a place that we could both agree on.

Over the course of our sister-friendship, Kristen has taught me two important lessons:  how to slow down and how to have a good time.

Kristen is slow.  It takes her a long time to do most things. But slow is not always bad.  Kristen is also slow to anger; she’s slow to wrath; slow to judge; slow to jealousy. She is a calm and patient person with a flexible approach to living life.  Her attitude and flexibility have been blessings to me.

Kristen also knows how to have a good time.  Prior to moving to New York and meeting Kristen I was a boring college co-ed.  Most of my Saturday nights were spent in the living room of my apartment engaged in passionate debates with my close-knit circle of friends.  We would vehemently argue over who has it harder in America: black men or black women.   However living with Kristen taught me how to let my hair down and not take myelf so seriously.  Kristen and I had fun. We partied.  We partied in different area codes.  We kicked it. And in the process Kristen became my sister.


Kristen had been trying to get to me ever since she heard the news about Kesner.  It worked out that she would come with Gloria.  When she came in the house she gave me a hug and said,  “I made a treat for you: Haystacks.”

A Haystack is a homemade candy that consists of Chinese noodles, melted butterscotch chips, and peanuts (optional).  That’s it.  Haystacks are Kristen’s specialty and they are my favorite snack that she makes.

A haystack

Kristen was so sweet to bring me my treat. But I didn’t want any.  I didn’t want anything that tasted good.  I would only eat Felicia’s chicken salad and only when I was desperately hungry.

Kesner was still dead. 

Mom asked Kristen and Gloria to meet us at the country house and then the four of us would drive to our next comfortable place:  Qiyana’s condo.

Mom got in the car with Gloria, and I got in the car with Kristen.

We didn’t talk much in the car on the way to Qiyana’s. What was there to say? Kesner was dead.  The radio was set on a gospel station.  The frequency was low and there was a lot of static.  But we kept it on the station and drove from Hopewell to Princeton in silence – static gospel playing in the background.

Qiyana lived in a comfortable two bedroom/ two bathroom condo in Princeton.  Her condo had an open concept with a balcony.  Her living room had an over-stuffed L-shape couch that faced a 62 inch flat screen television with surround sound.  And her development had tennis courts, a resort style swimming pool, a fully equipped gym with racquet ball courts, and locker rooms with saunas.  There were also a bunch of man-made lakes with benches, gazebos and walking paths along the way.  I had decided that I would live comfortably forever and Qiyana’s was the second comfortable place where I would stay.  I was glad to be anywhere but home, I didn’t want to go back to my apartment.  It was all too sad.

When we got to Qiyana’s I settled into the corner of her  couch and sat there for five or six hours.   I wasn’t moving. There was commotion in the house though; and deep inside, I was glad that Kristen and Gloria were there.  They couldn’t tell though, my face was blank and expressionless.  I was silent and miserable looking.

My line sister Katrina stopped by and so did my dean of pledges, Latriece.  Latriece came by with a rotisserie chicken, with which Felicia could make chicken salad.  We had a cool Delta moment.  Mom and Gloria, who were line sisters at Hampton, started singing the Delta Sweetheart Song in two-part harmony.  It was beautiful and brought a little peace into the painful moment.

Around that time, Talithea and Felicia arrived with a bushel of live crabs.  Mom and Gloria were going to take us all out but when Gloria saw the crabs she said:

“We’re not going anywhere!”

Felica and Talithea steamed the crabs right there in the apartment and they also made clams and steamed shrimp.  Mom and Gloria were happy.  Mom is from Virgina and grew up eating crabs and Gloria has an annual seafood party were Crabs are the hot item.  They didn’t think we had whole crabs in New Jersey but people forget our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

Real crabs for real crab eaters

They spread newspapers over Qiyana’s dining room table and the five of them: Gloria, Kristen, Mom, Talithea and Felicia sat around the table and ate.  Mom and Gloria told stories about their friendship.  Gloria talked about how bossy mom is and how she made her become a Delta and she made her become a Link…  They talked about the dynamics of having a forty-year-old friendship in a way that was particularly inspiring to Talithea and Felicia.

While they ate, Qiyana and I went for a walk outside in the rain and we sat and talked under one of the Gazebos.  Qiyana was going to go away for a few days.  She was going to the beach in Maryland with her best friend, Pierre.  All of this had been a little heavy for her and I think she needed to get away.  She would be back for the funeral.  In the meantime she gave her condo over to Mom and me for as long as we needed to be there.  I was thankful.

That evening we said goodbye to Kristen and Gloria; they got back on the road around 6PM to return to Maryland.  Kristen would be back for the funeral.

Later that evening, as Mom and I settled into bed, mom said:

 “I know you don’t want to, but we need to go to your apartment tomorrow…  I need to get your clothes organized for the Links Convention.”

I thought to myself :  “Right…  The Links Convention.”

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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It was time to go.  It was sunday morning and Pete and Mara were on their way back from Scotland.  It was time to return their lovely country home to them.  We decided that we would leave the house by noon.

There was a lot of scurrying around in the morning. Klay and Gayle were collecting their things, Qiyana was going to drop them off at the train station.  Talithea had to get home to her family.  And Mom and Felicia were cleaning up; Felicia had returned that morning to help clean up and get us packed to leave.

While all of this was happening, I was sitting miserably on the couch in the living room doing absolutley nothing.  Nobody expected much from me. I hadn’t moved or spoken much. Instead I just sat blankly on the couch.

I didnt care about much.   …and Kesner was still dead.

but in that moment I did make one decision:

I had to get my tree, Hope. 

It used to be our tree, Mine and Kesner’s.  We bought it one Monday afternoon from Home Depot:  We had gone to see my friend, Joy, preach her senior sermon at Princeton.  She preached about surrender, she was excellent.  afterwards we went to a diner for lunch and then drove past Home Depot when Kesner said: 

“lets plant a tree.”  

What a good idea, I thought.  I love symbolism.  I began to imagine this tree growing and growing as a symbol of our love and the life we were building together.  

“what kind of tree should we get?” I asked.  “we’ll know it when we see it.” he replied. 

Home Depot had been completely cleared out the weekend before, it was April and it was unseasonably warm.  people were planting. The only trees left were fruit trees; apple trees and pear trees. 

A fruit tree,  perfect!   – we thought 

We were going to bear fruit together; a fruit tree seemed like the perfect symbol. we bought a baby apple tree. I immediately began to fantasize about our children eating apples from our tree one day….  I was excited.  

Kesner told me to name it.  I named it Hope. 

Kesner planted Hope in his back yard.  Hope was so  cute and skinny at the time.  We used to sit on his deck and look at Hope.  And speak to Hope when we walked by.  We even prayed over Hope.  Hope was our growing baby.

Hope - when we first planted her in Kesner's yard

Kesner planted Hope in a strange spot, however.   Hope was right next to stone path.  And Hope didnt have a lot of direct sun light because Kesner had this massive other tree that hovered over Hope and created a lot of shade.  I asked him why he chose that spot and he said that Ce-Ce dug a hole there on the morning before he gave her back to her owners. 

Ce-Ce is a sweet dog that followed Kesner home one night when he was going door-to-door on the campaign trail.  He took her in and got her shots and fed her and adopted her for a few months, but he never stopped looking for her owners.  Her owners finally connected with Kesner and one week after we started dating seriously, Kesner had to give Ce-Ce back. It was sad. I always held out a little hope that Ce-Ce would find her way back to Kesner’s house, but she never did.  So I didnt argue with him when he wanted to plant Hope in the hole that Ce-Ce dug.  

The tree’s name was Hope, after all.  Hope would grow against all odds. 

But Hope wasn’t growing.  By now Hope had become completely overtaken by the shade of that massive other tree and I didnt think the concrete path would allow much room for Hope’s roots to spread out.  Plus, now that Kesner was dead, what would happen to his house?  They would sell it , I suppose.

I had to get my tree. 

I made a decision.  I wanted Hope,  and I wanted to replant Hope at Pete and Mara’s country house. Hope would be safe there.  They would take good care.  Hope would have all of the sunlight that it needed.  AND this was the last place that Kesner and I were together… 

I wrote a letter to Mara.

I don’t remember exactly what I said in the letter, but I know I told her about Kesner. I also apologized for two cracked wine glasses, the orchid that had been stripped of its pedals and a cracked clay pot outside of the back door.  And I asked if I could plant Hope at their house.  I think I also mentioned that Plaque on the wall: Bidden or not bidden, God is Present.  Even though I was  pissed, I knew that God was present.  I also thanked them for their beautiful home and I let them know that it was even more special to me now.

When I was finished writing the note, I went back to doing nothing.  I just sat on the couch while mom and Felicia got us organized to leave.  The couch was the last place that Kesner held me tight.  We spooned on that couch on the last evening that we were together.  

we had been arguing all afternoon. Towards the end of the argument,  I was lying on the couch pouting, crying and being miserable, and he just wanted the argument to be over.  He finally said: “can I climb in there with you?”  and i said “ok.”   He climbed behind me and held me tight and said “I’m sorry for whatever I did to upset you.”  and I said “Im sorry for judging you and calling you mean.”  he gave me three kisses on my shoulder and arm,  and he held me there…  that was our last night together. 

So I didn’t want to leave the couch.  ….but we were getting close to departure.  I began to cry.  Felicia saw me and she stopped everything and came over to the couch and held me in her arms like a child.  (Tears are welling in my eyes now as i type this).  My friend, Felicia, held me close and allowed me to cry aloud in her arms.  That takes so much maturity and love.  I sobbed and sobbed, and she held me until the moment passed.

Thank you Felicia. 

When the moment finally passed and I prepared to say my goodbyes to the country house, I looked around and I made one more decision:

I would definitely live comfortably for the rest of my life.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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