Too Thrifty Chicks


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To Memphis, With Love

Dear Memphis,

I have spent many hours talking about what I don’t like about you, detailing the ways you make me feel like I have image3stepped back in time or like I am a unicorn living in a city that cannot make space for me. Yet, I haven’t taken as much time to give you love; to thank you for the beautiful things you have added to my life. When I needed a place to manifest new things in my life, you welcomed me. You have produced daughters and sons who have invited me into their homes and circles, plying me image5with alcohol, laughs, hugs and fire pits. Daily I see the potential of your beauty manifested in your people; folks who love you fiercely but challenge you to be better. When I walk down your streets, I am reminded of so many of the reasons why I research the things I do. The vacant lots, boarded up windows, and underdevelopment are by design. You, my dear, were set up to fail while the surrounding suburbs were created to be the meccas in which the “good” folks could find refuge. But you have not failed. You have and are producing greatness, even in the face of many stumbling blocks. And for that, I will always be rooting for you. On your streets and in your buildings, my thoughts and hopes have ricocheted what I thought were hollow cries, but you heard me. In you, I have rekindled my love for silence and solitude. Like Santiago I have struggled image7with figuring out what I want the universe to conspire to make happen. And you have give me the space, the time, and the resources to do that as I have felt and expressed every emotion one feels when you’re on a roller coaster love affair. So, today, I honor you for the beauty you have given me: new friends, new dreams, and new perspectives. Thank you, Memphis, for being part of my life’s journey. Whenever I look around and want to hate you, you send me a small reminder–in a person, in a mural, in a sunset over the Mississippi River, on a dance floor on Beale Street–that there are so many reasons to love you. It is not easy to love you. Sometimes it feels like a struggle to wake up and choose you every day. But you are now a part of me and I a part of you.

With Love,


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Can This Be Life?

As some of you may know, in my regular life I’m a news reporter. I rarely  share information about my work, but today I feel compelled to do so.

Though most days are pretty routine — press conferences, city and community meetings, etc. — some days I cover stories that just won’t leave me alone.

On Friday, I sat in Connecticut Superior Court and watched a 20-year-old man named Branden be sentenced to 20 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm, a lesser charge than murder, for killing another young man, Tyrell, about three years ago. He’ll likely do about 12 years, and then three years of probation.

Covering court cases can be exciting for a reporter. We’re nosey and covering courts provides all kinds of juicy bits of information and a fascinating window into the minds and lives of people.  A day in court also gives you a front row seat to the American justice system, which is valuable in a time where a lot of people are talking about it, but have never actually experienced it. It also allows you the rush of re-telling a story that people are going to want to read/hear. (I mean, most of y’all probably listened to the “Serial” podcast, so I’m sure you get it.)

But covering Branden’s sentencing was agony for me. And while my boss was hyped because telling the story of Branden’s sentencing qualifies as a “good” news day for us, it was hell on this reporter.

A Tale of Two Brown Boys

Branden was 18-years-old when he committed the crime he pleaded guilty to Friday; he’s now 20. Tyrell was the same age Branden is now, when he was shot and killed. If he’s “lucky” Branden will be 32 when he completes his sentence. If not, he will be 40. My first revelation? This is one hell of a school-to-prison pipeline.

With Branden’s family sitting on one side, and Tyrell’s family on the other, the tension was barely contained. At one point the marshals became visibly agitated when raised voices could be heard outside the courtroom doors. Various family members on both sides stormed out the courtroom throughout the sentencing.

I’ve not been in a courtroom a lot in my 13 years as a reporter, but I have covered a few cases. This one made me profoundly sad about the future because it reminded me of how often lives in America are wasted in this way. A young man lost his life. The young man convicted of killing him is losing his life. And in a way all the people connected to them lose their lives just a little bit too. Why do such things happen?

A Fly on The Wall

I was struck by how many women were in court Friday in support of a man, not just for the case that I’d come to cover, but also for the handful of other cases that the judge presided over. Given that court was supposed to start at 10 a.m. and it was now almost 11 a.m. I wondered about their lives and what they might have been missing.

The court system seems to have no respect for their time. It was my job as a reporter, and that of the people who work for the court system, to be at court on Friday. We could have been there all day, and it wouldn’t much matter. But I suspect that these women had other places to be — other places they’d rather be. I don’t know so much if justice is blind, but when it comes to court, she is surely slow.

I also wondered how they were connected to these men. Why was it worth it to them to be present for their sentencing? Most of the women looked to be grandmothers, mothers, wives, girlfriends and sisters. They also were all black women. How did they get here?

More practically, what job did they take off from to be at court? If they have children, who was keeping them? If they brought a child with them to court, how where they going to keep the child entertained and quiet? And for what? Just a short glimpse of a loved one. And surely that one is loved, and dear, at least to the person who came all that way, and spent all that time, to bear witness to this next phase of this process.

I watched with what felt like morbid curiosity, as the judge told the attorney of one handcuffed 18-year-old manchild that he would not honor a request that would keep him in juvenile detention. Instead he would be transferred to the adult detention center because he was soon turning 19. A woman who appeared to be his mother started to sniffle. The 18-year-old made a point to make eye contact with the teary-eyed woman and a younger woman who was with her before the marshal shut the door of the room he had been escorted to, presumably to be returned to lock-up.

Then it occurred to me that if you believe the man that you love is innocent of the crime for which he has been convicted, you will be there with bond money. You will help him get a lawyer and a suit for court. You will sit through his trial, and of course, be there for his sentencing.

Maybe you know why he committed the crime and it’s more complicated than, “He’s a bad man and he does bad things.” Maybe you’re a parent, and no matter how wayward the child, you are always hoping your kid will pull it together. I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

But to me it was almost like these women were being punished for being connected to these men. Guilty by association. I realized that to have a loved one in the court system, whether you’ve ever committed a crime or not, is to be doomed to serve time with them, especially if you have any hopes of staying active in their lives. And while some people might mock these women for their commitment to these men, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for them.

Breaking The Cycle?

As the prosecutor described the crime that Branden committed — the crime, not the charge — I vaguely heard a girl sitting behind me say under her breath of the prosecutor, “You lying.” I later heard a young man from Tyrell’s family’s side of the room whisper loud enough for Branden’s family to hear, “Ol’ scary nigga.” I watched as both sides sent side-ways glances at one another, and thought to myself that Branden’s sentencing won’t be the end of this. And if it’s not, it won’t be because somebody didn’t try to end it. It won’t be because nobody tried to be a voice of reason.

Tyrell’s father, Eddie, was the only older black man at court today who wasn’t wearing a badge. He has been vocal since his son was shot and killed. But on Friday he volunteered to be quiet. Not because he didn’t have anything to say, but because he felt the same tension that everyone was feeling in the courtroom. It was the type of tension that might have been relieved with a lot of cuss words and a brawl back in the day, but today would likely have ended in a hail of bullets given half a chance. Eddie’s choice to be silent is the kind you make when you realize the value of growing old, and live long enough to be wise.

Eddie is a man who knows what it’s like to miss being a part of his children’s lives because he’s been to jail. He said that though Branden faces a lot of prison time, there’s still hope for him and he wants to be a part of that hope. He offered his contact information with hopes that at some point Branden will consent to keep in touch and meet from time-to-time.

Eddie is a man who knows he isn’t a perfect father, and knows that in Tyrell, he hadn’t raised a perfect son. But nobody is perfect. Eddie’s eyes kept searching for those of his 12-year-old son, Xavier, while we talked. Xavier had tears in his eyes at the sentencing, and afterwards stood alone looking out over the city, refusing to be consoled. Eddie told me after court that he kept quiet because he didn’t want to further upset Branden’s family or his own. But he also wasn’t surprised by their reaction.

While I was impressed with Eddie’s olive branch to Branden, and his consideration toward Branden’s family, it was his daughter, Omuni, who impacted me most. At 35, she’s my age and the oldest of a fairly good sized sibling network. She spoke eloquently about how an environment that harbors violence — the very environment that Tyrell, Branden and her younger brothers lived in — only begets more violence. Quite frankly she nearly brought me to tears.

It was she who forced her brothers and sister, to focus on her, and not Branden’s family as they were escorted out of the courtroom. It was she who talked to the ones that had angry tears in their eyes, and it was she who took young Xavier to her bosom and hugged him, even as he refused to let the tears fall.

And what of Branden? He chose not to say anything on his own behalf at his sentencing. But I certainly don’t judge him for that. Maybe he just didn’t have anything to say. I can only imagine the riot of thoughts ricochetting through his head. Even if he can serve the 12 years without incident, it’s still more than a decade of his life, locked away from his family, his friends, his young son.

Maybe he is preparing for the hard road ahead that the judge laid out before him. He’s going to prison with no work experience and no high school diploma. If he can in fact find a way to turn his prison bid into something positive, he’ll still find life just as hard as it was when he left thanks to his felony record. It also made me wonder about plea deals and whether a person who does not have a basic education can comprehend what they are doing when they agree to one.

Because I’m a reporter, I felt a sort of ineptitude in getting all sides of the story. I had hoped to speak to Branden’s family to see what sense they made of all of this, but because of the tension, they were ushered out of the courthouse before I could talk to them.

I don’t know what I expected to feel after witnessing all this. But I left with a profound sense of hurt for both families. They are inextricably bound together by this tragedy, and I wonder can they set aside their hurt and their anger at the circumstances, at the system and at each other for this not to turn into New Haven’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys. (Ironically, Branden’s defense attorney referenced the simmering feud between the two families as “Montague-Capulet,” though I wonder how many of either family has read much Shakespeare.)

But I think my last question is my most profound and disturbing: If the families can’t see past it all, who among them will be the next Tyrell and Branden?

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I Turned 30 in Big Sur!

This year, I decided to do something different: I spent my birthday alone. Initially, some of my wonderful friends IMG_1039were planning a birthday weekend for me, but so many mishaps were happening, I took that as a sign to do a solo trip. I am so glad I did! Last year Nikisha from Urban Bush Babes shared these photos from her wedding. I fell in love with the natural beauty, and when I thought of somewhere relatively affordable to visit, Big Sur was an immediate thought.

I flew into San Francisco and drove down the coast. Y’all. Highway 1 is as beautiful as everyone says it is. Totally worth the drive. I rented a cute apartment on Airbnb, spent two days hiking, treated myself to a yummy seafood dinner, and generally relaxed. After 3.5 days in the Big Sur area, I spent 3 days with old friends and new friends in San Francisco.

It was a beautiful trip. Sometimes, you just have to do something solo to remind yourself that you are worth celebrating; that the effort you put into celebrating yourself is worth it. Anyway, here are some of my favorite photos from Big Sur. It was really hard to narrow them down!

IMG_1111 IMG_1095  IMG_1052 IMG_1044

IMG_1234 IMG_1221 IMG_1349 IMG_1322


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Use Those Photos: DIY Cards

I take photos. Lots of photos. Seriously, I have about 30,000 photos.

What do most of us do with our photos these days? Post them on Facebook and Instagram. We might print them out and tuck them away into photo albums. But aside from that, what else can we do?

This year, in lieu of traditional holiday cards, I used some of my favorite photos to create cards for a few people. In a small way, this was an opportunity to give something I love and am proud of to some people I care about deeply. I was super happy with the end results! Not as cheap as buying a box of generic holiday cards, but not as expensive as buying single cards for each person. Total cost for this project (including photos, 30 cards, and markers): $60.

I ordered a variety of cards from Photographer’s Edge. When I first received them, I was worried that the card stock was not thick enough. However, once I added the photos, it was perfect. I’ll likely use them again for other projects.


  • Printed Photos (I printed mine in matte to avoid finger prints)
  • Scissors
  • Pre-cut frame cards
  • Markers/Pens

IMG_8047 IMG_8051 IMG_8049

You would think choosing the “right” photographs would be hard when you have so many, but it wasn’t. I looked at photos and often times instantly knew who should receive it. I did not send cards to everyone. I sent them to people who had been on my mind, who inspired me this year, who were coming out of challenging times.



A few of the final products


….and if you’re worried about whether or not you need to use photos from a fancy DSLR camera, the answer is no. A few of the photos I used were from my iPhone! Also, places like Walgreens and CVS now let you print your photos directly from Facebook or Instagram.

If you create your own cards, tag us in a post so we can see!

Happy Creating!


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Home and Heritage

My cousin's tractor. Dec 2014

My cousin’s tractor. Dec 2014

To say I grew up in the country is an understatement. Hide-and-seek in hay bales, barefoot running up and down the dirt road, feeding slop to hogs that would be slaughtered. Yep. All of of that. I can’t say that I appreciated it all–especially by the time I was a teenager and later a country girl trying to function in an urban world–but I owe much of my love of nature, of simplicity, and of community to my upbringing.

While I was home, I visited my two great aunts, both of whom are 80+.

“Shanté, are you married yet?” said one.

“No ma’am. I am not in a rush,” I said.

“No need to be. You don’t need no husband. You doing alright just by yourself!” said the other.

“Yeah you ain’t got no worries. You get a husband, they worry you!”

We laughed, and I smiled at the thought that my feminist leanings started here.

Aunt Bernice and me.

Aunt Bernice and me.

We talked about family members (how is so and so?), and my travels, (“you’ve seen the world, haven’t you?”). They told me some stories about the past, and we mused about what we could use in the present. One thing that stood out to me that resonates with my academic research and personal interests was how they talked about community, integration, and race relations. The school district tried to force black students to leave their high school to integrate the white school, but they stood their ground.

“[My cousin} told me that one day he met a white man up the road and the white man said, ‘if they do this integration, these streets will run with blood, and [my cousin] said, ‘one thing about it, they won’t know if it’s black blood or white blood.'”

Aunt Albertine and me.

Aunt Albertine and me.

Talking to my great aunts inspired me. Clearly, I come from a line of fighters. of feminists. of caretakers. My great aunts have lived through many transitions in their personal lives and our national history. Their minds are still sharp….and one of them still drives! They have fed me, corrected (aka punished) me, and have been part of the “village” that undergirds my success. I left home feeling proud to be part of their lineage; to be doing many things they have never done but are happy I have experienced.

Sometimes the best way to start a New Year is to sit at the feet of those who came before us. I’m looking forward to spending more time talking with my aunts this year. Can’t wait to learn more about their lives and our national history from their perspectives!



A Celebration of Life: Minnie Mae Turns 80!


My 8th grade history teacher once assigned the task of interviewing a family member and writing up a history of that person’s life and I chose my maternal grandmother, Minnie Mae Jones Jeffers, better known as “Sis”. I was living with her and my late grandfather because my mom and dad were still active duty Army and one was in Korea and the other was in Kuwait.

My grandmother told me what it was like being the baby girl of a large family; what it was like to grow up farming tobacco; and what it was like to get married real young, start a family in the country and move that family to the big city of Philadelphia. It was the first awareness that I had of my grandmother as more than just my grandmother. I am pretty sure it also was the first time that I was aware that I had the power to tell other people’s stories. My grandmother still talks about that assignment and for many years, until I borrowed it back, she kept the pages I wrote among her keepsakes.

Fast forward some 20 years, to Johannesburg, South Africa, January 2014…

I believe that Reese and I are great friends because we recognize that the Universe has connected us in very specials ways. As she wrote in a previous post, last year we were in South Africa celebrating her birthday on Jan. 2, when her beloved grandmother, Helen Marie, passed away on Jan. 3. Oddly enough, my G-ma celebrated her 79th birthday,  a day later.  If we knew then, what we know now, those three events — life, death, life — should have been a harbinger for things to come, or at least a lens for viewing life. Ultimately, those events have been a reminder that things can be great, rough and then great again.

One year later…

When I was telling Reese, whom my G-ma affectionately calls “Sunshine”, my plans to head to Philadelphia to celebrate her 80th birthday, I could tell by her texts that she was dealing with something. She finally told me that in fact, she was thinking on losing her own grandmother last year. I immediately felt like an insensitive heel. Here I was preparing to celebrate my grandmother’s life and had forgot that Reese is still mourning her grandmother’s death. How do we talk about this?

What I remember saying to Reese is that I thought it was interesting that because of the special connection we share, her grandmother’s death is bookended by celebrations of  life: her own and my grandmother’s. Life can be funny like that.

My G-ma is my last living grandparent and I don’t know how many more years we have together. If she has her way it will be at least 20 more because she told me her goal is to “make 100!”

That’s not a bad goal for a black woman born in the Jim Crow South, who managed to raise eight kids (who have given her an army of grandchildren and great-grandchildren); buy two houses, in two different states and still own them; survived two strokes; and the death of her husband of more than 50 years, almost 12 years ago.

She may not be able to walk a mile, but she can still shake a tailfeather. So at her 80th birthday party, I asked my grandmother three questions and her responses are in italics:

  • What is her secret to reaching 80? “I always try to be nice….and I guess, I just kept on praying, kept on praying.”
  • What’s the best piece of advice she ever received? “Always listen to the old people when they tell you how to do something and always do your best to do it. Oh, and good food! (she said chuckling) GOOD FOOD!”
  • What is the best piece of advice she ever gave? “Try to be nice and love people like you would want them to love you.”

My grandmother has done her best by those things, especially the food part, all my life, but they haven’t protected her from tragedy. Since my grandpop died, she lost her youngest daughter to cancer, buried two grand sons and a brother who has been her nearest and most dependable neighbor and friend for more than 20 years.

She has watched one of her older sisters deal with Alzheimer’s, only to discover that her oldest daughter now grapples with the ravages of the disease. What Langston Hughes wrote in his poem  “Mother to Son,” is what Reese’s grandmother, Helen-Marie, and my grandmother, Minnie Mae, knew and know:  “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” but it is worth the small kindnesses you show to others, it’s worth the prayers and it’s worth the love.

Happy Birthday Granny Sis and well done Ms. Helen Marie. Well done!

– Ricks


Lessons Between Life and Death

My maternal grandmother died on this day a year ago. This day, which happens to be the day after my birthday. I

October 2014

October 2014

woke up at 4am this morning thinking about where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. I was in South Africa. My sister sent me a message on January 3rd: “Has anyone told you that mama died?” My heart sunk. I had just celebrated my birthday in this beautiful country. My grandma died?

I journaled more than I slept that night, trying to process my feelings about it all: about her death, about her life, about being halfway around the world, about my siblings seemingly offering care to each other that I was not part of. The next day, my South African friends took us to meet their families. One of the people we met was a grandmother, who was

Ricks and me with Tumi's Grandmother

Ricks and me with Tumi’s Grandmother

beautiful and kind. We met her in her kitchen where she sits most of the day. It reminded me of my own grandmother.

This post isn’t about death. Today, I am somber, but I can’t say that I am sad. My grandmother lived a full life. The fullness of her life is the reason why I, too, can live a full life. Her sacrifices and commitments are the reason why I can be where I am now: in the middle of a solo vacation.  They are the reason why I am close to being a freshly minted “PhD.” They are the reason I am who I am.

This post is really about living. I was born January 2nd. My grandmother died January 3rd. For the rest of my days, my birthday will be followed by death. As morbid as that sounds, I woke up this morning thinking about how challenging but encouraging that is. For the rest of my life, when I wake up on January 3rd, I will remember that I am indeed living; that I am (hopefully) thriving. For the rest of my days, life and death will be just a

Christmas 2007

Christmas 2007

day away. That doesn’t scare me. It inspires me to keep on living and doing. No matter how much we want to prepare for death, we’re never fully prepared. Yet, each day we’re living, we can continue with the will to make it worth it.

Helen Marie, look at you. Still teaching me things. I’m forever grateful.

Rest on, mama. We’re still making the most of living down here. <3 <3 <3



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