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Evelyn C. Fortson

African American Author of Women's Fiction

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Essence 2024 was a trip, both good and bad. It was wonderful seeing so many Black people together enjoying themselves. Most of the people you passed in the street would smile, speak, or acknowledge your presence in some way, although others held their noses high in the air and diverted their eyes as they glided by. This was my first time at the Essence Festival, and getting into the convention center felt a bit chaotic. The young woman at the door helped me to download my admission ticket, and once inside, there was no map or schedule of events that I saw, so I followed the herd and stood in line to receive free bags and products. After an hour or so, I left the convention center, never to return. I admit that I did not check the Essence website for a schedule because when I did so weeks earlier, the site was not updated. I mistakenly thought a schedule would be available on-site. 

However, my trip to New Orleans was full of tours and things I had not been able to do on prior trips.  But, back to the Essence Festival. I had tickets for all three nights of the concert. The first night was a celebration of Hip Hop, which I missed because of the storm that rolled through the city that night. I attended the other two nights. I cannot speak on the Hip Hop night other than to say that Hip Hop as it stands today is not a cultural representation of African Americans. The tradition of traveling storytellers, poets, and musicians of the griots from which hip hop derived has long been corrupted. Most commercially successful hip-hop artists portray Blacks as sexually promiscuous and materialistic. Hip-hop has become a one-dimensional art form with predictable messaging that has young women walking around with half their ass-cheeks hanging out as they imitate female recording artists. While our young men are willing to rob, kill, and throw away their lives in pursuit of an unrealistic lifestyle depicted in ridiculous videos.

Essence’s motto for 2024 was “We Love Us.”  So, in that spirit, and because I love us enough to tell us the truth, we have to open our eyes to the truth. Record Producers, Social Media, Mainstream Media, Publishing Industries, etc., should not be the ones telling us what our culture is. Essence, please be mindful of the artists you book and ensure they align with your messaging of “We Love Us.” Victoria Monet sang about “Licking a D_ and having a Supersonic P_ _ and moments later told the women to love themselves as her dancers wore shorts that didn’t cover the lower half of their ass.  Usher’s performance, with the large cross hanging in the background, stained glass windows, a gospel choir, and an exotic dancer, felt demonic.

I left Essence Festival wondering what was celebrated. I went there looking for a unifying cord that would give me hope—hope that we have not lost our way, hope that we could stop assimilating and show up as ourselves.

Let us not forget the definition of culture, which is the art and other demonstrations of a people's intellectual achievement.

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I grew up in the Florence/Graham area of unincorporated Los Angeles, California. The area is just under 3.6 square miles and is surrounded by Watts, South Gate, and Huntington Park. My parents came to the area in the 1960s from the South during the great migration, like most of the other Black families in the area. Whites were moving out as Blacks moved in. The neighborhood was comprised of working-class folks who struggled to make ends meet. They worked hard, hung out with friends and family on weekends, and went to church on Sundays. Growing up in a predominantly Black neighborhood where kids played outside and used their imagination to entertain themselves has given me fond memories. We played games outside until we had to run home before the streetlights came on and got in trouble for following the crowd when we should have known better.


The Florence/Graham area today looks nothing like where I grew up. Almost everything about it is different. A few Black families remain, but now the neighborhood is mostly Hispanic. The last time I drove past my childhood home, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. It felt like the newcomers had invaded the spaces where my memories lived and physically removed evidence that my family, neighbors, and I were ever there. The landscape had changed, and I didn’t like the change. I didn’t like the crowded streets, with parked cars on both sides and cars hanging out of driveways. I didn’t like the Mexican market that had replaced the Jewish market or the street vendors pushing their carts down the street. I didn’t like that I couldn’t see myself with my mom, dad, and siblings in the front yard, mowing the grass and pulling weeds on a Saturday morning. It took me a minute to realize that what I really didn’t like was that the people who made it anywhere we were home were gone. My childhood was gone. The house I grew up in was still in the same place but was home to someone else. My home was not a physical place anymore, and perhaps it never was. The sound of my mother’s voice and the crazy stuff my father said and did will forever be with me. I only have to be still and remember them to go back home. The neighborhood where I rode my bike around, trick-or-treated in, played in the vacant field on the corner, and fought kids in the alley in the back of our house is no longer my neighborhood. I don’t live there anymore, and it doesn't exist as it once did, but in my heart, it always will, and I can go there whenever I want.


My upcoming book, “Rolling In The Deep,” is a journey through time and emotions. It is set in my beloved neighborhood, spanning the years from 1964 to 2010, and reflecting on its evolving landscape. The heart of the book focuses on love and its many forms, which are intricately woven around a mystery and a touch of the supernatural. Writing this book has been a joy, and I am eager to share it with you, hoping that you will find it as captivating as I do.


"Rolling In The Deep," to be published this summer.

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What a shocking statement, but what is more shocking to me is that a twenty-something African American young person made this declaration in mixed company, as my mother would say. The young woman prepped the classroom for what was to come by saying, “You’re not going to like this, but…Black kids don’t wanna learn.” A young African American male roughly around the same age backed her up by uttering, “Speak on it,” as she continued to explain why she felt that way. What she said after that, I couldn’t say because I think I must have stroked out for a moment. I remember initially saying, “Only you could say something like that.” I wanted it to be crystal clear to the class that the only reason her ass hole was still intact was because she was Black (I’m kidding---not kidding 😊).


Anyway, after I came back to myself, I raised my hand, and my response when called was, “Perhaps the Black kids in school with her had become disillusioned with the education system. A system that lied to them and expected them to fail.” I also went on to tell her how dangerous it was to make broad, general statements about a race of people.


Instead of telling you how sad her statement made me, I want to do something different with this topic. I want to ask you a few questions.


1.      What was your initial thought when you read the blog title?

2.      Do you agree or disagree with the statement?

3.      Are you surprised that a young person feels this way?

4.      Are there topics that should not be discussed in mixed company?

 

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