COLORED: An Unexpected Family Reunion

From the outside, the Carpenters Building looks dreary and unloved — like its been long forgotten in the bustle of Tacoma’s never ending coming-of-age story. With dated paint and cloudy (or covered) windows, the building is easy to miss in the grit of the city

The site became a source of intrigue, though, when the word “COLORED” was painted along a concrete wall. No explanation, no context. Just the word and two dates; one for the preview, and one for the hard open.

The more I heard about “COLORED,” the more I wanted to know, and see. Christopher Jordan, a City Arts 2016 Artist of the Year, did a wonderful job building anticipation and excitement as he worked tirelessly with artists — local and otherwise — to create something Tacoma has never experienced. From the short, tantalizing video ad to the growing roster of artists and performers, as well as the sneak peeks posted online, it became obvious this was going to be not just another art show, but an event.

What excited me most? The unapologetic Blackness of it all.

Though being Black comes with a vast and varying richness not found in every community, it has also long been an ordeal. The collective traumas and truths of being Black, which have lead us to where we are as a diaspora and as individuals, can sometimes give us tunnel vision; we focus on overcoming and moving forward, often forgetting to take time to celebrate ourselves, each other, and our culture. COLORED, though, takes the time and makes the space for us to do just that, to celebrate us and our wholeness as a people.

To walk into this exhibit is to walk into the lives of Black folks. The art filling the room is as varied as the people who created the pieces, and each one brings new or redoubled emotions. The shabby-chic feel of the Carpenters hall — with the dim lighting and stale air — elicits the feeling of walking into the well kept attic of an old relative. The space feels like home and history. And centered in the middle of it all, the stage (a piece of art all by itself) which allows a spot for everyone to come together to experience the show as a collective. Even when there was no one performing, patrons gathered around the stage as they ate, drank, and discussed.

Throughout the the evening, I ran into people I had not seen in years, and people I saw just the day before. People who live down the street, and folks who moved away from Tacoma years ago. There were babies, elders, and every age in between. Then, after our stomachs were full, our cups empty, and our imaginations piqued, the DJs began spinning their art and we danced. And in that space, among friends and strangers, I watched as we all became family.

As we Juju’d on that beat, got in Formation, did the Electric, the Wobble, formed a Soul Train line, and stepped (in the name of love, of course), I felt like I was at my Auntie’s house, and everyone was my favorite cousin. I didn’t feel the need to explain anything — not the art on the walls, not the tears brimming in my eyes, not the food on my plate, nor the slang in my sentences. I felt excited and comfortable to be there, to be Black, to be myself… to just be. And as I looked around and saw nothing but smiles throughout the room, I think others were riding that same vibe.

Christopher Jordan did not just curate art, he curated our minds and our culture. COLORED is by far the most authentic art experience I have ever had, and you would be a fool to miss it (no matter what color you are).

Photo: Christopher P. Jordan

COLORED is an experimental exhibition pairing the artworks and poems of Black creators from the US and Caribbean in dialog across space and time.

Check the Facebook event page for details on time and location.

Use the the hashtag #COLORED2017 for an ongoing experience.

Prior to the show, download one of the apps below, and be sure to have a fully charged battery.

Negative Me Free — Apple
Negative Image — Google Play

 This post was written for and originally posted on the Destiny City Discourse blog; it has been reposted here with permission.

Deferred Dreams

As a young girl, I was always dreaming of what I would be when I grew up–an actor, a teacher, a writer, a tap-dancing waitress (yes, really). When we are young, we are often filled with ambitious desires and an innocence that allows us to believe we can achieve them all. The reality is, life has a way of forcing us to narrow our goals into a college major and a career. And though this reality may be satisfying, it is important to recognize, and in some ways mourn, the dreams that did not come to fruition.

A friend recently reminded me of a poem I first read as a teenager, and had not read since college:

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

There were times I would read Harlem by Langston Hughes and wonder for hours about the question being posed. What does happen to a dream deferred? Well, depending on the dream, and the day, the answer to that question could be just about anything.

Sometimes a dream fades away on its own, with age and changing interests. Those dreams, like tap-dancing while serving patrons, tend to crust and sugar over, leaving us with remnants of something that still allows us comfort and a smile. But what about the dreams that are taken from us by something outside of ourselves? What about when a dream is deferred because someone thinks it’s stupid, or because of family responsibilities, injury, or trauma? Those are the dreams, I’ve found, which tend to fester, stink, and sag; the ones you end up thinking about when you are sitting in class or at work, wondering if you are in the right place.

So, as an #EmpoweredBlackGirl, how do you know you are following the right dream(s)? How do you make sure your dream is not deferred by anyone, or anything, including yourself?

  • Take Your Time
    Just because everyone else is settling into something, doesn’t mean there’s pressure on you to quickly do the same. Take the time to be deliberate in learning about what interests you.
  • Try New Things 
    Staying open to new people, places, and experiences will allow you to see all of the creative ways dreams are turned into something bigger.
  • Make Time For Hobbies
    A good way to achieve a dream is by finding a way to make it a hobby. If you get your dream job as a doctor, there is no reason you can’t take piano lessons in your off-hours. Hobbies will keep you in touch with the parts of your well-being that are easily overlooked.
  • Spend Time Alone
    Knowing what entertains, motivates, and keeps you satisfied is important. When you are out of touch with yourself, you can be easily swayed and led astray from your intended destination. Alone time not only allows you to reset, it gives you the space to explore what it is you enjoy, and what it means to be authentic and true to your dreams.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over
    Whether it is a new school, major, career, or city, you can make the choice to start over at any point in your life. Do not let yourself fall into the habit of thinking you only get one shot at living your most fulfilling life. It may be more complicated than it would have been at one point, but is never too late to start over and try your hand at something different.
  • Trust Yourself
    You often know what is best for you. It is not a bad idea to reach out for the advice and opinions of those you respect, but do not depend on others to make the big decisions for you. It is you, after all, who is most likely to face the benefits and/or consequences of your choices; any gains or losses will be easier to accept when you know they are coming from something you were genuinely invested in and wanted to pursue.

This post was originally shared on the Empowering Black Girls site, and was reposted here with permission.

I Was Drugged, Abducted, and Raped, and Tacoma Police Did Nothing to Help


Early in the hours of March 6, 2011, a Tacoma Police officer (whose name, I later learned, is Steven Storwick) arrived at the front door of my Hilltop home. Not too long before, I had escaped an apartment where I’d been taken after being drugged by two men at a local bar.

The officer, with nothing in his hand to take notes, stared at me with skeptical eyes as I told him I had been drugged and sexually assaulted. He asked me to tell him what happened.

“I was at a bar,” I started.

“How much did you have to drink?”

I searched my mind for a moment, “3, maybe 4, drinks throughout the night.” I began to tell him how I felt fine until the first sips of my final drink, which was a drink purchased by the men who would later abduct me.

The officer questioned my judgement on letting these strangers buy me a drink. I explained to him, though they paid for the drink, we were sitting at the bar and I watched the bartender make the drink before she handed it directly to me.

“So, when could they have drugged you, then?” He snapped as if he just caught me in a lie.

“I turned my head for a while when I was talking to someone else at the bar, I suppose it was then.”

I went on to tell him about the moment I realized I was drugged; I told him I was alert and fine one moment and, almost instantly, I was falling asleep on my drink. It was nearly impossible for me to keep my eyes open, I explained to the officer, and as I was attempting to leave the bar I began to lose consciousness.

“How did you get to this apartment?”

“I can’t remember,” I answered. “I can only remember being outside of the bar and the two men holding me upright. I was trying to tell them I needed to go home. Then, the next thing I remember is being offered another drink while standing in some kitchen.”

“Did you drink it?”

I shook my head, “I don’t think so.”

“Then what happened?”

“Then, I remember waking up on the couch with both of them kissing me and pulling on my clothes.”

Storwick waited for me to go on.

“Should I just go to the hospital now?” I asked, not feeling strong enough to go into detail about the assault.

For some reason, my question irked him and he raised his voice, “Why would you go to the hospital, is there something you’re not telling me?”

I was confused as to why he was yelling at me, and I told him, “I just told you I was drugged and assaulted.”

“How do you know you were drugged?” He was still bothered and loud.

Before the officer began to interview me, I had asked my friend, who picked me up after I’d gotten out of the apartment, to leave the room to save her from hearing the more vulgar details. However, as the officer continued to raise his voice, she reentered the room.

After a bit of awkward tension, my friend asked, “Should I take her to the hospital?”

Storwick snapped, “I really don’t think it’ll do you much good to go to the hospital. They won’t find any evidence.”

I finally had enough, “Can you leave my house now? You’re not helping me.”

The officer promptly stood up and left as if he were waiting for me to say those words since he first got dispatched.

Feeling shamed and shattered, I was admitted to a local psychiatric ward. I was stripped of my “street clothes” and most other personal affects. The rubber-soled hospital issue socks dried out and hurt my feet as I walked around from therapy sessions to support groups and to meals.

When I was discharged a few days later I was hallow and raw, teetering between wanting to find, and kill, the men who raped me and deciding to try to forget anything had ever happened.

With the support of some family and friends, I met with a sexual assault advocate–who offered to come with me to the police station–and on March 14, I reported the assault once more to another Tacoma Police officer.

Officer Bundy was respectful and responsive; he asked me questions and took notes. He was patient with me as I struggled to get through all the specific details of the assault, encouraging me to take my time and offering me the option to take a break if I needed.

Near the end, Officer Bundy asked me, “Is there any particular reason you waited until today to report this assault?”

I explained how that was certainly not the case. I told him how, on the night of the assault, another officer showed up, treated me poorly, and was basically unwilling to take my statement. I told him how the officer responded with indifference and that I ultimately had to ask him to leave my house.

“You know,” Bundy said with a real seriousness in his voice. “A lot of people talk about that ‘thin blue line,’ but this officer needs to know he did something wrong.” He went on to tell me about how he had made bad decisions early on in his career and how important it is this officer learn from this situation, otherwise he would continue the same behavior.

I left the police station feeling optimistic both the assault and the officer’s conduct would be investigated.

In between making a second report and hearing from the prosecuting attorney’s office I spent more time in a psychiatric hospital. As things dragged on, and days began to run together, my despair continued to worsen.

It was not long after leaving the hospital I received a letter from the attorney’s office confirming what I was hoping would not be the case: there was not enough evidence to prosecute. As I read I realized, until that moment, I’d still felt some hope I would receive justice, and as I re-read the letter, I went from feeling ruined to feeling entirely demolished. I spiraled further into the dark cycle of of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

After that, things continued south. I could no longer perform at work, I was behind on bills, and my admissions to the hospital became more frequent, and lasted for longer periods of time. I stopped interacting with friends and doing the things I enjoyed; fearful of people with bad intentions–including the police–I became reclusive.

Over the next three years, I was in the hospital more than I was employed. When I was able to function, I spent much of my time on Facebook, keeping tabs on the two men who raped me. As I saw their lives move forward, seemingly unaltered, I remained hopeless.

Thoughts of the officer crowded my mind, too; he was out there somewhere, I’d obsess, doing the same thing to other victims. I wondered if he got in any trouble for how he’d treated me. I wondered, since I was never given his name (neither by him, nor by anyone aware of his actions), if they ever figured out who to reprimand. I wondered why no one thought it was important to keep me informed.

Most of all, though, I worried: If I see this officer again, will I recognize him? What if something else happens and he shows up again, will I know it’s him?

There came a time, after many hospital stays, hours of therapy, a PTSD diagnosis, and some rearranging of my life, where I managed to come out standing on the other side. It had taken years, but I was finally in a place where I was able to look back on what was done to me without falling apart.

After a public records request, I received the police report and immediately noticed inconsistencies.

The two most disturbing things I noticed, however, were these:

  • There was no apparent attempt made by detectives to make contact with/interview the second suspect, “Francisco,” whose full name was given to the detective after I identified him through Jered’s Facebook photos.
  •  By reading the detective’s report, I found out the fist officer, Steven Storwick, falsified his report.

I could see how poorly the case was investigated, and I wondered how, or if, they handled the matter of Storwick’s misconduct. As I tried to find information on the complaint, I was given vague and incomplete answers from a Lieutenant in the Internal Affairs Section. I was told information on the complaint could not be found because the records had been expunged. When I asked again, I was told I likely did not get informed of a resolution because I did not file a formal complaint against the officer.

In between these infuriating interactions with the IA division, I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation with an ACLU representative. Our talk led me to make the decision to use a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get more information on how my case was handled.

In June of 2015, after a couple months of waiting, I received notice records responsive to my request were available for pick-up.

Combing through the documents, I saw more clearly how Tacoma PD worked hard to get rid of a problem created by two criminals and one of their own officers, rather than just do a proper investigation, which could have potentially led to some justice.

In the file folder I received, there was:

In July, after seeing nothing had been done about the way this officer treated me, I decided I would (re)file a complaint against him. I wanted to be sure it was acknowledged a wrong was done to me.

A short time after submitting the complaint, I ran into the Tacoma Police Chief, Don Ramsdell, at a City Council meeting. I asked him about the complaint process. The process, he explained, could take anywhere from weeks to months. He explained there is an investigation of the complaint, a review of the investigation, a resolution is made, and eventually it is sent to a higher-up for approval. After it’s approved, a resolution letter is sent out to the complainant.

I asked Chief Ramsdell if, during the course of this investigation, people who witnessed the incident should expect to be interviewed.

“Yes,” he told me.

He then took down my name and phone number and promised he would have someone follow up with me in the next day or two.

The next day I received a voicemail from Lt. Ed Wade from the IA Section. He informed me the review of my complaint was complete, and a resolution letter had been sent to me earlier that day.

Not only was I surprised how quickly the investigation wrapped up (about 10 days), I was surprised they did not even try to go through the motions of talking to any witnesses, including myself, before coming to a final decision.

After a week of waiting, the letter had still not shown up in the mail. I went to the police station and demanded they give me a copy of the letter immediately. Within the hour, an electronic version of the resolution letter was sent to my email stating that, though they couldn’t find record of my complaint, it was surely investigated and handled properly, and because of that they would not be investigating my current complaint.

It has been over a month since I was told the letter was sent to me and I still have not received it.

As of this writing, I have sought help from the TPD complaint system, two Tacoma City Council members, a victim advocate service, and two lawyers. They have either been unwilling or unable to help. I am sharing this story publicly in hopes others may come forward with their stories. Officers like Steven Storwick should not be allowed to continue to “serve” the community after breaking trust in such a way. Officers like him should not be allowed to freely continue their broken and traumatizing police practices in our communities. The Tacoma Police Department has an obligation to protect and serve the people. It is an obligation they have failed to meet on numerous occasions, and since they are unable to police themselves, it is up to the citizens, as it has always been, to bear witness to each other’s stories and hold the police accountable for their actions, as well as their inaction.

#NotJustUVA: It Was Linfield College, Too

Twitter is seeing hundreds of current and former students of color sharing stories and thoughts about racial discrimination experienced while working toward a degree. The #NotJustUVA feed was started in response to the brutal beating and arrest of University of Virginia student, Martese Johnson, and it is helping to widen the lens allowing us all to see how common it is for students from diverse backgrounds to be harassed by white peers, faculty/staff, and community members. I attended a private liberal arts college in McMinnville, Ore., and at no time, before or since, have I felt more aware of the fact that my skin is brown. While trying to balance being a full-time student with two jobs, I also had to learn to navigate being one of few Black students on a campus where I often encountered people who would readily, sometimes giddily, admit to having never attended school with a Black person before. This made for many awkward, hurtful, and occasionally scary situations. While looking at the available public data, I learned, for the whole of my time at Linfield College (2005-2010), there was never more than 30 Black students on campus–and I often felt like there weren’t even that many of us considering I could easily go a week (or longer) without passing another Black student on campus. Reading the #NotJustUVA tweets brought back a lot of memories, and I decided to tweet an experience of my own:

Screenshot 2015-03-22 22.13.33

Unfortunately, that was neither the first nor last time I was reminded of my skin color. Here are five memorable encounters I want to share.

1. Mistaken Identity

For the first few months of my freshman year I was constantly mistaken for a student named Lisa. It was not a simple, “Oh, gee, I though you were my friend. You two look alike!” There were multiple times I faked my way through conversations with Lisa’s classmates and friends, worried all the time that I would offend them if I interrupted their obliviousness to tell them I’m not the “Lisa” they’re looking for.

I felt worse for Lisa than myself. After all, these were her friends. These were the people she’d gone to school with for the past two or so years. During the course of these conversations, not one realized they were not addressing a young woman they considered their friend.

2. Black History Month

Also in my freshman year, I was contacted by a student who wrote for the campus newspaper. She’d gotten my name from some (well-meaning) person who thought I could help her with her story. I wanted to say no, but I thought I’d give it a chance.

As I listened to this budding Fox News anchor ask me about my Black History Month traditions, as if BHM is some extraordinarily special time in a Black person’s world, I (admittedly) lied and gave her a couple fluff stories about visiting an annual museum exhibit with my mom and watching movies related to Black life with my family. Again, it was less confrontational to just go along with it.

3. Sunburn

Before I switched to a writing major, I was planning to be an elementary school teacher. One requirement was to volunteer at the pre-K program on campus.

One afternoon, as I doled out milk and Goldfish crackers, I noticed the eyes of a 4-year-old, Joey, following me. A little confused since I’d already given him snack, I circled back around to him and asked if he needed anything else.

He was quiet for a moment before asking, “Why are you so tan?”

Joey now had the attention of all adults in the room. Getting my cue to explain he continued, “My mom said if I stay in the sun too long I’d burn. Is that what happened to you?”

I could feel myself being emotional as I explained to him that I am a different color because people come in all colors. I explained to him that just as his mommy and daddy have the same color skin as him, I have the same color skin as my parents.

He quickly accepted my explanation, and went on with snack. Meanwhile, I was left slightly reeling from the realization I was probably the first Black person that child had been around.

4. Black People Can’t Float

I was sitting in a friend’s room when girl from down the hall sought me out.

“Jamika, can you swim?”

Apparently, a few of the girls were discussing whether or not Black people were physically able to swim, and though I explained I was a fairly decent swimmer because I took swim lessons as a child, I was given all kinds of “science” to explain how the darkness and weight of a Black person’s pigment makes it impossible for us to swim, or even float.

I excused myself from the conversation quickly, but not soon enough.

5. Because of Kanye West

I was in a sticky fraternity basement playing beer pong. I was partnered up with one of the brothers, while my friend was partnered with one of her sorority sisters, Laura. The ball flew through the air and bounced off a cup. I ran to scoop up the ball, but Laura reached it just before me.

To celebrate, she looked me in the face and said, “Nigga, please!”

From the audible gasp of our friends at the table and the, no doubt, incensed look on my face, she knew she’d crossed a line and immediately back-peddled to her spot behind the table.

When no one said anything she tried blaming it on rap music, “Damn Kanye West and his music. It’s so catchy.” I watched her look to the white people around her for support, neither were willing to offer any.

I finally broke the silence, “Let’s just finish this game so I can go.”

Names of people involved have been changed.

#NotJustUVASojourner on Twitter

Black Brunch Tacoma

Today, I participated in a demonstration called Black Brunch Tacoma. This is a form of direct action that started in Oakland, CA, last year and is about “reclaiming a space and demanding that Black voices cease to be ignored.”

I joined about 7 others and we hit up a few places on 6th Ave. We were in and out of each place in about 5 minutes. It is amazing the responses you will get when people believe, with everything they have, that they have more of a right than you to be in a certain space.

As we spoke of honoring our brothers and sisters, we were met with looks of compassion and some of curiosity, but the looks I want to highlight were the ones fueled by hate.

At Legendary Doughnuts, there was a man who grew angry with his children for paying more attention to us than their doughnuts. Not only was he using harsh tones trying to get them to focus on their sweets, but he began shouting at us, “That’s enough!” In the time it took him to get so riled up, we were already headed out the door.

We then went to another establishment, Dirty Oscar’s Annex (DOA), where the staff tried to drown us out with music and patrons shouted obscenities and told us to leave–and that’s the abridged version. Again, these people turned to their anger and hatred in just minutes. For some it only took seconds.

About to walk into DOA.

On our way to DOA.

You may wonder why I chose to point out these negatives, instead of focusing on the good things that happened throughout. And it’s because people think this stuff doesn’t happen, that these racist ideologies no longer run pervasively through our sweet, progressive Tacoma.

Until more people start to stand up and call others out on their racism things cannot, will not, get better, and Tacoma cannot be the progressive city people like to boast about. It doesn’t matter how many people clap for us as we leave, if they won’t acknowledge there’s a problem then the problem can’t be addressed; if White Guy Bill isn’t willing to step in and tell White Guy Bob, “Enough,” then the problem isn’t going to get any better. If POC Lisa and POC Jane sit around with their hands in their laps and their voices mute while all POC are being killed and harassed, how does the problem get solved?

Today only reaffirmed that my voice must stay loud even when it wavers. There is a purpose to my fight, our fight, and I will continue to plant my feet and state that Black lives matter no matter who tries shouting over me.

This is only the beginning. Ignorance won’t stop us. Hate won’t stop us. Rain won’t stop us. We’ll be back out brunching again soon, Tacoma.

**Video clips are posted below; click here for more from today’s #blackbrunch.**


Legendary Doughnuts:

Dirty Oscars Annex (DOA):

Bluebeard Coffee: