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How Mildred D. Taylor’s stories can teach us how to be hopeful throughout hardships

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When I was in seventh grade, my English class was assigned to read a book titled Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. I can’t remember the exact moment I learned about racism in school, but reading this book was an eye-opener. To this day, I can still recall two vivid scenes from the book: Cassie Logan describing the worn-out textbooks meant for Black students and her Papa’s leg being crushed by a wagon during a racist ambush.

Mildred D. Taylor began writing about the Logan family in 1975 with her first novella, Song of the Trees. Her historical works are about the hardships faced by African-American families living in the Deep South. Taylor was not the first author to narrate such moving stories. Yet, to me, she stood out for the sense of hope and resilience she breathes into her characters.

Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but moved north with her family when she was just three months old. Despite not having a Southern upbringing, she insisted that the region held pleasant memories for her as her family’s home. They eventually settled in Toledo, Ohio as her father did not want her and her sister to grow up in the racially segregated society of the South that he lived in. When Taylor started school, she was the only black child in her class. Yearly trips to Mississippi and firsthand stories from family gatherings helped her become familiar with the South. Taylor would eventually use some of the stories for her novels.

Taylor attended the University of Toledo where she majored in English and minored in History. By age 19, she had written her first novel, Dark People, Dark World. Sadly, due to revision disagreements with a publisher, the novel was never published. After graduation, Taylor joined the Peace Corps and taught in Arizona and Ethiopia. She then attended the University of Colorado School of Journalism, where she worked with university officials and fellow students to curate a Black Studies program. It’s inspiring how Taylor maintained the respect from her roots and encouraged for others to do the same in education.

In addition to all those accomplishments, Taylor kept writing. In 1973, Taylor entered a contest funded by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. “I tried writing [a story] from a boy’s point of view because the story was based on my father’s life, but that didn’t work,” Taylor said in a 2006 interview with the American Library Association. “So I decided to retell it from the girl’s point of view. It won that honor and got my foot in the door.”

The story was eventually published as Song of the Trees, and won first prize in the contest’s African-American category. It was also listed as an outstanding book of the year in the New York Times.

In 1977, she also won the Newberry Medal for the sequel to Song of the Trees, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and several other literary recognitions.

“I wanted to show a different kind of black world from the one so often seen,” she said of her characters, the Logan family. “[Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry] will always be the most special book I have written.”

Black stories are often heavily centered around trauma. There’s a common assumption that Blacknes and suffering go hand in hand. While the Logans are a disadvantaged family, what we learn from them is their ability to make the most out of situations. Cassie and her brothers are a strong unit who have a solid relationship with their parents and appreciate who they are surrounded by. If anything, Taylor has shown us the importance of family dynamics in the face of constant trauma.

In an interview with The Brown Bookshelf, Taylor commented on the backlash of parents who felt her work was too painful for children to read. “As much as it hurts me to write words of pain, I know that they must be written, for they are truthful words about the time I write,” she said.

Sometimes, even if it can be uncomfortable, writing about pain is necessary. It can help others become more attentive to voices that are often silenced. What I find heartbreakingly relatable is that the Logan children instantly learned that they were living in a different world than their white peers. How Taylor writes about pain from Cassie’s perspective lets readers know that children are never too young to start understanding the world around them.

In the same interview, Taylor discussed receiving letters from students like myself who read her books as required reading. The students, however, said the books weren’t just about history. Rather, they are about the values they wished were more a part of their world today.

In Taylor’s words, “[It] is so uplifting to find there are still those who read my books and not only feel a greater understanding about our past, but feel the relevancy of that past to apply to the great turmoil of today’s world.”

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5 pop artists from Europe that are changing the game

Pop music is infectious. Don’t get bogged down by anyone who says it’s too generic for their taste. The sounds are constantly evolving, though most pop songs these days still manage to have those catchy choruses you seem to hum at random moments (looking at you, K-Pop!) Right now, I’m enjoying the added twists that European artists are adding to the mainstream. If you’re feeling bored with the American pop scene or just need some fresh sounds to your playlist, here’s five artists from across the pond you absolutely need to know better.

1. Charli XCX

Charlie XCX
[Image description: a gif of Charlie XCX wearing a pink jumper]
Charli is sort of a big name already – remember that big hit a few years ago with Icona Pop called “I Love It” or her feature on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy?” Or how she recruited pieces of Hollywood’s eye candies for her “Boys” music video last summer? Charli has established herself as a major songwriter and collaborator since her early hazy electropop days, and now she seems to drop the best pop bangers whenever she feels like it. She’s all about starting the party and having a good time.

Check out: Focus, Roll With Me, Femmebot (ft. Dorian Electra and Mykki Blanco)


It’s pronounced exactly how you see it and is a play on his surname, Emenike. Along with his chart-topping duet with Zara Larsson, “Never Forget You,” MNEK has written for some of the most buzzed about names in pop including Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue and the queen herself, Beyoncé! His debut solo album just dropped full of infectious dancehall R&B that includes his own writing and production credits. Try not to pull a muscle dancing from song after song!

Check out: Colour (ft. Hailee Steinfeld), Tongue, Paradise

3. Christine and the Queens

Christine and the Queens
[Image description: a gif of Christine and the Queens] Via Apple Music.
French performer Héloïse Letissier sings and dances under the name Christine and the Queens. Along with her personal dance crew, you’ll find Letissier grooving to the style of theatrical inspired visuals in their performances. In 2016, she had the biggest selling debut album in the United Kingdom. With her recent release, Chris, she embraces an edgy alter ego under the same name. Her catalog of music holds a range of funky pop songs about gender roles and embracing sexuality.

Check out: Girlfriend (ft. Dâm-Funk), iT, Half Ladies


Scotland-born but Los Angeles-based producer Sophie has crafted experimental pop collaborations with Charli XCX, Vince Staples and Madonna. Her small presence on social media and rare interviews may seem mysterious, but she doesn’t consider herself to be anonymous. In an interview with Teen Vogue, she stated she’s always been honest in the work she puts out. That honesty shone through last October in her video for “It’s Okay To Cry” when for the first time, she performed her own vocals and showed her face on-camera. For many viewers, it also helped us realize Sophie’s identity as a transgender pop star.

Check out: Ponyboy, LEMONADE, VYZEE

5. Raye

If you’re a fan of the hot house-pop and Afrobeats sound today, you’ll love Raye. Atop these sizzling beats lie her air light vocals crooning lyrics that have been described as confident yet vulnerable. Raye’s success has shown through in reaching No. 3 in the U.K. charts last year and features on two Top 20 charting songs in 2016. Plus, she’s collaborated with Charli XCX twice, so that should give you an idea of how fun her music is!

Check out: Decline (ft. Mr. Eazi), Friends, Crew (ft. Kojo Funds and RAY BLK)

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Nappily Ever After highlighted how I shape my life around my hair – and it’s not healthy

You’ve probably heard all about the Netflix Original film Nappily Ever After by now, but it’s more than a story about grabbing the shears when life gets tough.

In the film, Sanaa Lathan plays Violet, a career woman who is all about image. Thanks to her mother, Violet is taught early on that she needs to be proper at all times – starting with perfecting her hair through hot comb treatments.

I received my first perm at 11 years old and shortly after, the flat iron became my best friend. Like Violet once did, I spent most of my teen years avoiding pools for fear my hair would poof out like a Chia Pet’s. Being out in the heat and breaking a sweat was out of the question too, which is a difficult thing to do living in Texas.

I started to believe my curly hair was too much of a hassle. I never once left for school without having it straightened. Now that I look back, I wouldn’t call it self-hatred, but more of a desperation to conform to feminine and Westernized beauty standards.

For black women, femininity and respectability tend to go hand-in-hand. We’re known to manage our hair textures through chemical treatments like relaxers, or hair additions like extensions and wigs. These neat makeovers can come at a cost. What does “neat” really mean anyway? Apparently, anything that covers up our natural curls and kinks.

One question that’s been raised is why do black women go to extreme lengths for beauty? Like Violet’s love interest asked throughout the film, why not just embrace what makes us natural?

This was explored in Good Hair, a documentary directed by comedian Chris Rock. After his daughter raised a concern about not having “good hair,” Rock trekked through hair salons across America to find out what the term meant.

As a review pointed out, Rock never fully explained the cultural relevance and reasoning. There was a mention of the Westernized racial stigmas, but it seemed more like an insinuation that black women got hair treatments because they wanted to be white.

Three years ago, I decided to bleach my hair. Going blonde was something I hoped would bring some color into my life. I was told it was a daring choice. In Nappily Ever After, Violet also went blonde with a weave and was suddenly perceived as a wild girl by another romantic interest.

I obviously didn’t want to “look white” when I went blonde, and I doubt Violet did either. But there’s a glaring correlation between how widely accepted blonde hair is and how the rest of the world shapes its beauty standards around lightness.

On top of bleaching my hair, I also had it shaved into a pixie cut. I was a little nervous, but I wanted a break from the flat iron and thought short hair would be more manageable. I honestly wasn’t too worried about my peers’ reactions because I felt comfortable in my skin.

Good hair is described as long and silky smooth. Which means that short hair is the antithesis to femininity. As one character in the film said, men like long hair. My old hairstylist once told me she wore a wig at home because her husband hated her natural hair!

Are short lengths doomed to be associated with masculinity forever? Too short of a trim can even raise red flags about sexual orientation as if it’s an insult to be anything other than straight. I also think about some of the girls on America’s Next Top Model who cried because of their short haired makeovers – remember Cassandra?

And I understood their tearful reactions to an extent. Society has taught women that we essentially are our hair. Beauty has been marketed to us for so long that our hair has become our personal security blanket.

Overall, Violet’s story made me sad. However, at least she got her happy ending by wholly embracing change. I still feel hopeful for women who also want to break out of normalized standards. Let’s put more energy into accepting that everyone is different – whether you want extensions down to your back or to rock the bald look – be your own definition of beauty!

I’m happy to say I haven’t picked up the flat iron in almost a year. Although I still sort of damage my hair by dyeing it wild colors (which I’m stopping soon!), I’m always happy to let the curls fly loose. On lazier days, I’ll tie it back into a bun. Whatever hairstyle I choose ultimately doesn’t change the person I am. It’s been said a million times, but we’re more than what’s on the outside.

Now I don’t freak out at the sight of rain clouds. They’re just part of nature – as our hair is too.