Monday, August 28, 2017

Recall, Recollect and Remember

Recall, Recollect and Remember

I’m going to let you in on a secret, it’s a big one, so brace yourself. I try to live each day to be able to say, “I can die now.” Don’t stop reading, this is not, nor will it ever be morbid.

I am not trying to die, nor am I planning to do so in the near future. My proclamation is one of readiness, not desire. You see, I try to live each day so fully and meaningfully that I can change someone’s heart and mind so completely that they can see their true and full potential. I seek to see my life come full circle and I strive to make a difference. When I have, I say joyfully, “Whew, I can die now.”

In that moment, I am declaring that my purpose is being fulfilled.

Recently, I had one of those moments and it connected me with the spirit of one of my ancestors. If you’ve been reading these posts lately, you know that I have taken up design and sewing. I am also designing the fabric that I make the clothing from.              

A few days ago, I made a dress from fabric made from a painting my sister Myrna created. The painting is so old, that I posed for the features of the baby.

I’d made my dress and had enough fabric left to make another one, but before I did, I decided to make a top for one of my “sisters.” I could see the pattern in my mind and so I made the top without making a pattern. She marveled at my skill and I laughed and said, I have no idea where this is coming from. The top was such a success that I decided to make a longer version for my dress.

That same evening, I started on my dress, and as I did, a memory flowed in like a river. As I cut the fabric made from the image of my sister’s painting, I remembered where that design had first come from, and when I did, I remembered so much more.                          

Back when I was about 14 or 15, I sang with my church choir. We were singing for Easter and everyone had to wear white. I desperately wanted to sing, but we had no money for a new dress. My sister Myrna was between assignments, so she could not contribute financially, but she remembered that she had some white fabric and declared that we could make the dress.

Without measuring or making a pattern, Myrna not only made my dress and taught me how to hand stitch, she gave me something more. That day, on the floor of her apartment, Myrna told me that if I could think and learn and keep learning, I would never ever be poor. She said that ideas and creativity were the real wealth and that as long as I was willing to keep learning, I would never ever be destitute.

I was focused on getting that dress and being able to sing. I was focused on not having to sit on the sidelines while the choir was singing and not looking poor in the process. There were so many “nots” in my negative thinking, that I didn’t consciously hear Myrna’s powerful lesson, and until this summer, I didn’t ever attempt to make another dress.

We have a trove of buried treasure, but we have focused on the loss, the lack, the pain and the injustices of life; so much so, that we have forgotten their gifts.
We have forgotten the legacies that were left when a loved one passed away. We have forgotten their prophecies of a better time and we have failed to remember the work that they have already done on our behalf.

Memories, like the ancestors, are a powerful thing; if you call on them, they come back.

Recall, Recollect and Remember YOURSELF

Bertice Berry, PhD.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Awaken the Divine/Artist in You

Awaken the Divine in You

             If anyone had told me that I would be designing and making clothes, I would have laughed my face off.

              My children are all remarkable artists. I was deliberate with the development of their artistic genes. Where the visual arts were concerned, I felt I had been passed by. I now know that my visual artist had been lying dormant, waiting for me to slow down.

              The visual artist in me was awakened a few months back when something said, “Make a dress.” I listened and now, I am not only making dresses, I’m creating the fabric they are made from.

              Recently, I didn’t just create, I gave life to the memories of my sister who’s been gone from here for 25 years.

              My sister, Myrna Vercher, was a creative light. She was afro-centric long before it was cool, and a feminist before folks were saying the word out loud. She was my heroine. Myrna was a professional photographer at a time when black women were not allowed in the places she photographed. She was a spiritual/ intellectual/artistic being and I yearned to be like her. 

              Myrna was also a painter. I was just 2 or 3 years old, but I remember sitting outside in the sunlight so she could capture my features for the Madonna and child she’d been working on.
              “Hold still, Bess-One.” She said. I was her Bess-One, or the best one of them, she’d say whispering in my ear. My middle name is Bessie, after the singer Bessie Smith, but if you call me that I won’t answer—I just won’t.

              She took me to New York, and bought me a copy of The Science of the Mind for my birthday; I was just 12.

              In our family, Myrna was an enigma, a weirdo, Cousin Marilyn from the TV show The Munsters. She was strange, but she was also my light.

              So when I sat down to create a new dress, something said, “Do us.” I looked up and saw the painting of the Madonna and child. I had posed for the features of the baby Jesus, and Myrna used her own for the mother, Mary. My family was poor, so I have no baby or even childhood pictures. I have her one surviving painting. I have her stories, her light, and her wisdom and now, I have her creativity.

There is an artist in all of us. There is divinity in all of us. Wake up.

Now, more than ever, I love you.

We need We

Bertice Berry, PhD.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Leading with Wellness

Leading with Wellness

              Lately, I have been troubled about the state of our nation, but a wise teacher by the name of Michael White, (who also happens to be my rector) reminded me that the state of our nation is in our own hands.
              What if, Michael posed, the wellness of the world is tied to the wellness of the world’s servant leaders? Not the presidents and kings; not queens or Prime Ministers, but every day people taking up the charge of their everyday lives?

              Recently, at my graduate Alma mater, Kent State, I asked a group of student leaders what negative thought, person or aspect of themselves would they be willing to stop chasing.

One young leader immediately raised his hand. Earlier in our workshop, this same young leader had disclosed that he just didn’t have time for some of the things I’d suggested for personal wellness. He said that he had no time to meditate, read or unplug; he was too busy doing the work of a leader.

Tears came to my eyes as I told him that a leader who is not willing to take care of their own self should not attempt to lead others.

I was crying because I was also speaking to my own self.

When his hand flew up in response to the question of what they’d be willing to give up, I prepared myself for more tears, and I got them.

“I will give up the idealized version of myself that makes me think I don’t deserve to be a leader.”

I dropped the mic and simply said, “Me too.”

BE you, be well, be a Leader

Bertice Berry, PhD.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

If You Ain't Dead You Ain't Done

If You Ain’t Dead, You Ain’t Done

              I know that I’ve been a bit quiet on these blogs lately. I’ve been busy. A few months back, I was trying to figure out something for a book I’ve been working on. The novel, Beauty Thieves is about a woman who discovers that there is more to life than we can see. Meredith Brown; a sociologist turned talk-show host (you have to write what you know,) uncovers an ancient truth; that there are beings who lure you into giving away your most valued asset—your light.

              My brilliant editor, Janet Hill, suggested that I bring in a character like the ones I’d used in Redemption Song and When Love Calls. These characters spoke from the beyond and told the story from that vantage point.

              When I read Janet’s notes, I could see that this was an obvious solution, but I had been too close to see it. 

              Armed with the knowledge of what to do, I had to figure out how. I walked about for days trying to unravel my puzzle. Folks who know me will tell you that when I’m trying to figure out one thing, I work on something else. It’s usually something I’m good at, like solitaire.

              This time though, I decided that I needed something completely new, so I told myself that I should make a dress. I’m laughing as I write this, because until that moment, I hadn’t even repaired my own socks. I knew I needed a pattern, but I didn’t have one, so I’d have to make that too.

              I made the pattern, then cut out the dress and I sat and sewed a completely new garment by hand and when I put it on I was amazed. It was beautiful and it fit me perfectly; better than anything I had ever bought.

The next night I made another dress and another and another. Somewhere in the sewing, I decided that I wanted to design my own fabric and I did that too, and then somewhere in that sewing, I got the answer I was looking for. I used the main character’s mother as the voice from beyond. In this book however, she does not tell the story—she breaks through and speaks directly to the reader.

              In the midst of all of that sewing, I remembered my mother’s diaries; the ones I found after she passed away. She had been writing to me the last two years of her life. In those diaries, she told me what I needed to know now.

              I have finally finished the book, and I have learned a lot more as well.

If you ain’t dead you ain’t done and as Miss Hattie Mae Brown says, “When you live a life that leaves a memory; dead ain’t done either.”

Be you, Be well, be better than you are today.
Bertice Berry, PhD.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Coming Together As One


Coming Together as ONE

In our adult forum Sunday school class, we've been experiencing a series called Servant Leadership. Each week, members and friends of Christ Church Episcopal share how they express their spirituality in everyday life.

This past Sunday, a cool and brilliant man named Ted presented. He said that he'd been feeling a tad old and irrelevant and needed to find more meaning and purpose for his life. Ted signed up to help the relocated refugees who recently arrived here in Savannah from Aleppo.

Ted shared some of their stories. They were tragic, but they were also very, very hopeful.

Ted told us that he'd be going to Ecuador in a few weeks to teach those who teach English. He was sad to leave and wanted to make sure someone else picked up where he left off.

He told us about a refugee family whose father was traveling two and a half hours each way for his job at a car wash. Still, he was very grateful for the work and even more grateful to be here with his wife and two young daughters.

Then Ted shared the father's real work, his passion and calling. Before this beautiful man came to the U.S he was a clothing designer. He made amazing wedding gowns with custom embroidery. He tailored immaculate men's suits and also did upholstery.

Ted said if we knew anyone who could hire him in his line of work, it would be great. He also asked if we knew anyone who had a TV.

I started calling folks right then and there. I contacted my friend Linda, of Linda Porter Designs who makes amazing clothing and interiors. Linda told me that she would love to hire him but business had been a little slow.

Then she said, "Wait, someone helped me." She said that if she couldn't make clothes, she didn't know what she'd do. Linda said that she would step out in faith and I told her that I would walk with her. I contacted friends who said they would take business to her and that they would also spread the word.

Then it happened, we all met up and the amazing tailor brought his wife and a friend along.

This story is already long so let me get right to the good---a few doors down from Linda's shop is my favorite upholsterer, Hai of Savannah Quality Upholstery. He desperately needed help and said he would hire the father while Linda hired the mom. (Yes, I know they have names, I'm leaving their names out deliberately folks.)

Anyway, Hai and his team also offered transportation since he knew how difficult our bus system can be.

"Someone helped me too," Hai, who is from Vietnam said.

We chatted through Google translate and thanked God/Allah and we thanked each other.

I remembered the TV that was in the back of my car and then we thanked our ancestors.

Here's the thing, we all need somebody to lean on. We can wallow in the madness of the day, or we can do as Ted did and seek our place and purpose in it.

Here in Savannah there were 30 more families scheduled to come. They have been blocked but I will continue to pray for them and for refugees everywhere.
And I will work until there is no more work to be done.

Be You, Be well, Be Doing Something

Monday, February 6, 2017

When Purpose Collides with Destiny


Okay boys and girls I am often moved by life and God's love; yesterday, I was blown away.

In our adult forum at Christ Church Episcopal, one of our members shared how he applies spirituality in his everyday life.

The series is on Servant Leadership and Ted Eldridge surely fits the bill.

Ted started by saying that he was getting older and had begun to feel irrelevant. So he began to seek Purpose.

There is a beautiful Arabic proverb that says, “When a person seeks their purpose, the Universe conspires to answer.”
Ted called and got an answer. He volunteers with refugee families here in Savannah but will soon be leaving for Ecuador to teach those who teach English through a program with Harvard University.

Ted wanted to share his work, with the hopes that others would join in.

He had me at Servant Leadership.

He shared stories of several families; their challenges and joys. Then he told us about a recent refugee family whose father travels for two and a half hours every day to work at a car wash. Ted said this father is very grateful for the work and so happy to be here.

Then Ted shared pictures of his real work and my heart ached.

This man who washes cars is a master tailor and embroidery genius.

Before his life and country were ripped apart, he created beautiful wedding gowns and made exquisite men’s suits.

Still, he is very grateful to be here.

 So right there in the class, I contacted my friend Linda Porter of Linda Porter Designs and Interiors. When I told her the story, Linda asked what she could do. She said that if she couldn't make clothes she wouldn't be able to breathe.

Long story short, Linda said that even though business was a little slow, she would act in faith and love and hire him.

I cried then and am crying now.

Lately, for some reason, folks are falling into two camps; there are those who will do, and then there are others who wait until the doing is done so they have something to critique.

Which are you?

I’ve reached out to other friends here in Savannah and asked if they would take their design and tailoring needs to Linda and they have responded beautifully.
One friend even offered to create a much needed web site.

Here’s the thing, we are all connected. We need each other.

Ted needed these families and this work and I needed Ted. The beautiful family needed Linda and Linda needed all of those new customers.

Faith does not wait until the way is seen, it creates the way.

Be you, be love, be Faith.
Bertice Berry, PhD.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The People You Meet

The People We Meet

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Bertice. I'm a sociologist, author, lecturer, mother and grandmother. I am a woman of science and faith. I believe that we are all a product of everyone and everything we come in contact with. The more folks we come in contact with, the more we evolve.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to share what I’ll be calling, The People We Meet.

Throughout this journey called life, I have met some rather amazing folks. I may have just seen them once, but their words and ways have touched me deeply and have helped to remind me of who I am and who I want to be.

Yesterday, I met one of them. Her name was Ellen. I’d gone to the local Westin to celebrate my sister/friend Brynn’s birthday.

Ellen was assigned to give me the world’s best manipedi, but I believe that she was really there to be a light on my pathway.

We talked about the waste of water and how as a girl in China, she and her sister had to haul buckets of water uphill. She told me that even now, she can’t stand to see water run without a purpose. I laughed because my children refer to water that’s been running over 3 seconds as “Mom’s precious water.”

She and her family have done very well and I learned that she is also a rather brilliant and self-taught artist.

She made me feel welcomed and beautiful and strong and I felt connected to her.

Here’s the thing, Purpose connects you at the soul level, so much so that you can feel like you’ve known a stranger, your entire life.

Take note of the folks you meet.

What can you learn?
What can you remember?
How do you connect?
Be you, be well, be connected.

Bertice Berry, PhD.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Standing up to Injustice


Standing Up to Injustice

Just two days ago, I was stunned when someone shared a video of a local Council Woman being up-skirted by fellow councilmen.

Hold on because this is going to make you mad, but take heart because it gets much better.

Councilwoman Debbie Johnson of Port Wentworth, Georgia is a beautiful and courageous woman. She does her job with dignity and pride. Everyone loves her and folks who are not even in her district seek her counsel.

The men who serve with her decided that enough was enough so when she wasn't looking they took pictures UP HER SKIRT and then passed them around at a local restaurant during happy hour and even posted them on line.

For months Councilwoman Johnson was attending meetings with these same men; the ones who were smiling in her face and laughing behind her back.

When one man was sent the picture, he stood up and reported the behavior, but nothing was done.

If you go to Youtube and search for Debbie Johnson, Port Wentworth, you will see the actual interrogation video of council members and the mayor laughing and saying,
"She must have wanted us to take the picture, she didn't have on no underwear," and "I think that's how she must get off."

What was done to her was despicable, but it got worse; Councilwoman Johnson was accused of harassing the men.

SHE was investigated.

When we spoke to Debbie, she said that her self-esteem was destroyed.

My daughter Fatima, my sisters Erika Harnett, Kelly Stelle, Linda Wilder Bryan and a group of friends and folks from our local Pant Suit Nation watched this in tears and outrage and decided something needed to be done.

We started on line with a private group called Solidarity with Debbie Johnson to discuss what we should do and quickly determined that we needed to let her know that she was not alone.

We are all busy with preparing for Washington and someone said it was inconvenient, that maybe we should wait until we got back.

Someone else---maybe it was me, said "This crap ain't convenient for her, but she keeps doing her job. So everyone stopped what they were doing and said, "Okay, what do I need to do, I'm there."

We met with her that same day---y'all, we tracked her down-- and greeted her with a bouquet of roses and other gifts.

We told her that we were proud of her and grateful for her courage in the face of such indignity.

Councilwoman Johnson melted in our arms. She cried and said she'd felt so alone.
She'd been harassed and humiliated and she said "They wanted to take my power away and they knew how to hurt me."

She said she'd been body shamed, called every fat and ugly name you could imagine and she had to continue to face these people who were allowed to get off because up-skirting wasn't illegal here.

The men had claimed that she wasn't wearing underwear. So when Debbie said, of course she was the prosecutor, a woman, told her nothing could be done because she was wearing them.
NO, I'm not making this up.

We got on the phone with our Atlanta sisters to see what could be done.
They researched and worked and long story short we got action.
We all met for a catered meal, met with Debbie and were interviewed by our local press---y'all know we called them. Then we discussed what we'd do that night at the city council meeting.

Fifty of us showed up in matching Solidarity with Debbie Johnson shirts---made overnight, and greeted everyone kindly. When it was time for the pledge of allegiance, the mayor thought we might remain seated so he looked directly at us and informed us that we would need to stand.

We did and yelled out the words with pride reminding them that we wanted JUSTICE FOR ALL.

Several local residents and even a fellow council member spoke insisting that the mayor resign. He said he would not and named names of those who supported him in other districts. One of the speakers informed him that she'd be going after them also.

Then a councilman spoke and said that he knew how she felt. He said that the civil war was fought simply because people couldn't get along and that as an African American man, he knew that if it had been a white woman and black men, those black men would be under the jail. Then he told her to move on and be happy.

Almost simultaneously we began to chant, 
"I't's not about race, it's not about race."

When the meeting was over, the mayor took off and everyone surrounded Councilwoman Johnson and applauded her. Her birthday is this weekend, so we sang "Happy Birthday," as well.

She cried, but this time, the tears were tears of joy.

Together, we cried, we laughed, we ate, we acted and together we changed hearts and minds. Local residents came up to us and thanked us for standing with Debbie and for being so joyful. They thanked us for encouraging her.

As Debbie got in a crowed vehicle for a week long conference with these same men in Atlanta we told her not to fear, because another group of friends would greet her up there.

She laughed and said, "I love y'all."

What was done to her was horrible, but she is not alone and neither are you.

Stand strong, we are connected.

BE you, be well, be knowing that you are loved.

Bertice B. Berry, PhD.

Link to the video

Friday, January 13, 2017

Back to the Beginning

I’m back in the town where I grew up; not my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. That’s where I was born; but I grew up; came of age, became the “me” that I’m still becoming in Jacksonville, Florida.

I came to JU with a prayer and determination.

Jacksonville University was an alignment of the stars. My teacher’s friend applied for me and the school accepted me even though I could not pay. Someone in the music department knew a rich dude who was looking for a student like me.

So, off to college I went. I knew no one and with the exception of choir trips, had not been away from home.

I was greeted by other JU students who introduced me to more. Then I got the magic; I was invited to think critically about everything.

I worked hard and kept dreaming, but this new world with little money was tough, so my senator from Delaware stepped in. 

He called every day for two weeks to let me know that he was proud of me and that he would help my family if I stayed focused on my dream.

Senator Biden came through and I kept going.

I worked hard and harder and graduated with honors; when no one from my family could afford to show up, the entire cleaning and cafeteria staff came to “Represent.”

My world is big because my village is big-hearted.

Being here in this place where I got the notion to have a notion, I am moved, encouraged, uplifted and ready to be the change that enabled me to change.

Be you, be well, be changing.
Bertice Berry, PhD.