A Note from Mel

Make the connection…

An Open Letter to Ms. Kelley Williams-Bolar January 28, 2011

An Open Letter to Ms. Kelley Williams-Bolar


January 28, 2011, 11:33 a.m. 


Good Morning, Sis,


I hope this letter finds you in brighter garbs and rid of those thick black and white stripes. I hope it finds you rid of their intent.

I watched you yesterday morning on CNN, your hair tied on top of your head. A cornrow unbraided, released into a curl over your kitchen. I know you, sis. What they tried to do to you. Steal your color. Your dreams for your babies. I saw purple coming from your eyes. You knew what they were trying to do. You knew they didn’t want their money back…or you teaching in their schools. Plainly, tempered, you said it how you saw it.

I, on the other hand, was rolling my neck at the TV screen: Puhlease. Example made. Time served. Sister’s disenfranchised. Goals blighted. The kids see it and will never forget. Will be extremely cognizant of their PLACE in this country. Another sad, tragic story. Agh.

That was me; not you. You were me, still. We know the things we will do for our children. Folks can say or rule how they want. Those are our babies. Our love knows no zones or quotas.

I am writing you today, one criminal mother to another. We know these school systems give us some and keep the rest. But, of course, Sis, that has nothing to do with me and you.

Yours in the light and struggle,

Melanie Henderson


Thoughts on ‘82 November 24, 2009

Filed under: Art & Children,Art & Culture,Art - The Process — anotefrommel @ 6:49 pm

Thoughts on ‘82


The year I was born, my grandmother hummed so many bridges between jazz and blues under the weight of thick black eyeliner and the blue shadow of U Street days. The younger music got muffled under laps of the rosary.


In between the first and second job and 3 square meals for me and my older brother, my mom lit our house’s yellowing panels with new crooners (and squealers): Miki Howard, Taja Seville. My mother’s blues was Phyllis Hyman. I learned the mood of a color both exuberant and dark as the bottom of the Anacostia River. There was always blues-influenced GoGo, but blue is not what I remembered about GoGo. It was the gray corners, the thick, white plastic buckets, the green, red or ash-colored milk crates, the sticks (and sometimes, they were just thick twigs), a brother all piled on the corner near Woody’s or somewhere in Chinatown. The blues was there, but it seems only Chuck knew it.


My encounters were brief until I slowly sought new encounters with old voices, instruments, Miles, Billie, Coltrane. They were distant Aunts and Uncles who I had heard of but never knew, kin whose blues wasn’t mine. When I first heard a recording of Hathaway singing, For All We Know, the startling tears let me know Janet Jackson hadn’t been doing her job though Pleasure Principle and Nasty were still the jams. The Cosby Show intros and outros sang to me sometimes when I was busier following the swing of little Rudy’s thick fuzzy ponytail and digging Denise’s shoulder-baring tops.


Somehow blues, jazz became a mechanism for writing, a guiding rhythm for what I perceived as poetry. I didn’t recognize any blues or jazz in my own, but others recognized it in poems about caviar and cognac or Kim Jong Il. The fact that it was felt made me want to up my game, dig more blue-ly. I can’t funk with the ancestors lightly.


What kind of sorrow is worthy of consumption, bedtime whistles from saxes? I didn’t know. Still don’t. There’s something missing and there when I write, when we write. It’s there heavy at the bellies of our fingertips, in the arch of phalanges like faith, a belief in darling remnants or blue-black angels.


– Melanie Henderson


Trust and Music September 22, 2009

Someone whom I trust, dearly, shared a song with me a few weeks ago. The song was “Be Real Black for Me” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. If you’ve heard this song, you already know how genuine and sincere the lyrics are. But Flack and Hathaway deliver it magically. I had never heard this song before except in Scarface’s sampling of it in “My Block.”


I was happy to learn there was an entire CD of Flack and Hathaway duets, so I bought it with the quickness.  There’s so much variety in it, a devastatingly bluesy treatment of I (Who Have Nothing), originally by Ben E. King, an almost taunting rendition of You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling, originally by the Righteous Brothers, a song from their church roots, Come Ye Disconsolate, and piano solo, Mood.  The self-titled Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway is probably the best purchase I’ve made all year and it hasn’t gotten old yet. I play it every morning like kneeling for a prayer. I walk differently, speak differently all day because of it. I play it when my son and I are driving home. He especially likes to sing the grand finish of Be Real Black for Me in his strongest, most joyful 2 year-old voice. I love it when he chimes in to duet with me.



January 8, 2009

Filed under: Art & Children,Art - The Process,Artist Moms — anotefrommel @ 4:43 pm
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Dark Stars over DC


Eyes fall

Lash-skirted lids

Cheeks catch dark shadows

Of a goodbye

A final witnessed breath


Steal his love away

It slips out of a quiet house

Heavy knees, coward feet

Press pedal of an    unloaded—

An unloaded vehicle,

Deficient of all his belongings.


© 2009, Melanie Henderson


Lorde, mothers and sons. October 15, 2008

I’ve heard it said before (that being a mother changes you). I just never understood how so or how much until I became one one December afternoon in 2006. Those who know me and my baby boy know that he arrived about 8 months after this on a temperate July evening. But, I was a mom almost immediately; Not because I was bearing him, but because I almost immediately began to internalize what being a mom entailed for me and my baby. At first, an absolute and complete state of puzzlement encapsulated me for no longer than two days; Immediately after, a constant peace set in, a knowing from a place I could not name or locate.

Almost 15 months later after his physical arrival to this place, this constancy has remained, sort of like an axis on which my life as a mother spins steadily, however, fast or slow.

Some constants: my overwhelming determination to preserve, protect, educate, enjoy the Black male I bore. The feeling which benefits from, but gains no essential value from knowledge/the mind, can only be described as fierce.

Fiercely, I love him. Fiercely, I protect him. Fiercely, there are no conditions.

I know the day will come where protector will no longer be my role. Many things, he will have to learn on his own. Some things are not in my power to teach him. However, I am empowered by Audre Lorde ‘s essay, Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response in Sister Outsider :

“I wish to raise a Black man who will not be destroyed by, nor settle for those corruptions called power by the white fathers who mean his destruction as surely as they mean mine. I wish to raise a Black man who will rcognize that the legitimate objects of his hostility are not women, but the particulars of a structure that programs him to fear and despise women as well as his own Black self. For me (Audre Lorde), this task begins with teaching my son that I do not exist to do his feeling for him.”

I do not exist to do his feeling for him. First I think of course not. But then I think how not? An immediate conflict of feelings. A feeling to embrace, a feeling to develop until his manhood, a feeling to let diminish for his benefit.

This journey, the practice of diminishing in tandem with large ties, bonds, care, is just beginning for my son and I. This life comes through us (mothers) and has nothing to do with the mind.
So much we teach them. But how much more they teach us. How joyful and painstaking is this road.

Lord, Lorde , have mercy. Give me the strength to bear his smiles.