Why I Deleted Instagram

Who doesn’t have an Instagram account in 2016? Even dogs, cats and babies have Instagram accounts. Some people just have an Instagram account so that they can look at other people’s Instagram accounts and others are avid, selfie posting users with millions and thousands of followers. I created an Instagram account in 2013 during college. I figured since every one else had one, why shouldn’t I? That was the problem right there. I saw everyone else doing it, so I thought I needed to do it too. Instantly, I thought because I had created the account that I needed to start taking tons of photos to fill the white space.

Over time, my Instagram went through lots of changes as I transitioned and began defining my image and who I wanted to be. In college, it was all about looking cute, sexy, smart and fun. After college, it was about self-discovery, travel, adventure and modesty. Tons of photos were deleted after I began wearing hijab last year and over the last three years, my bio changed about a hundred times. However, recently I began to feel different about social media as a whole. Snapchat was another thing that came along to later be un-installed, re-installed and un-installed again. I still have the account, but I pick and choose when I want to use it. I began to feel different about sharing elements of my life in general on a social platform. I just simply wanted to…live.

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Let’s be honest, apps like Instagram and Snapchat are highly characterized by vanity and borderline narcissism. Likes are the food for many people’s starvation for attention. The more likes, the better you look and feel. I never had over 350 followers, which didn’t bother me because I didn’t care to have a bunch of strangers looking at me. Most of the people who followed me knew me personally. However still, I began to feel like the whole thing was pointless. The time it takes to take the perfect photo, crop it perfectly, edit it perfectly, caption it perfectly started feeling shallow and like a waste of precious time because it wasn’t being posted only for me. It was for others to see and approve.

Don’t get me wrong, Instagram has other uses than allowing people to be totally narcissistic and vain. It’s a good way to promote business and get noticed (whether you are talented or not). It’s a good way to promote brands and gain worldwide recognition for whatever it is that you do well (or don’t do well). People consume Instagram for entertainment, edutainment, comedy, gathering ideas, finding trends and keeping up with the people that they admire. Others just want to show the world how good they look, how well they dress and how nice they live. Whatever the case may be for others, this month I decided that it was no longer for me. I deleted it for good and I feel much better.

Yay me!

Copyright 2016 Myjaedah Ballard

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My One Year Hijabiversary! 

 The end of the month of January 2016 marks one year since I became a hijabi.

What Does This Mean?

The word ‘hijab‘ is an Arabic word for ‘veil’ or ‘covering’. It is best known as a headscarf that is symbolic of Muslim identity for women of the Islamic faith. The hijab and various other types of head coverings are also worn by women of Christian faith (i.e. Amish, Mormons, Quakers, Nuns, etc.). ‘Hijabi‘ is a term coined for women who wear the hijab on a regular basis. I have been a hijabi for about a year now, and as my “hijabiversary” approaches, I think that it’s important to shed light on my decision to wear the hijab.

To many people that I know, my wearing the hijab came as something sudden. I never discussed my decision to wear it with many people. Sometimes people assume that when you make a drastic decision, it comes from the influence of someone else. However, for me that wasn’t the case at all. Embracing the hijab was a decision that was made solely on my own, and I think people should know that. Discussing the hijab opens up a bigger discussion about being Muslim, but that is an entirely separate topic for another day. However, I will discuss some of my early influences that ultimately helped me decide to wear hijab.

Early Influences

My late grandmother Malikah (may God rest her soul), was one of the first women in my family who I witnessed wearing a head covering. She introduced Islam into my family many years ago, and was more influenced by the Nation of Islam than traditional Islam. She was highly influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X, who towards the end of his life, fully accepted and began practicing traditional Islam.

Back in the day, my grandmother and great aunt used to wear turbans and headwraps as an expression of both their African and Muslim pride. This practice was also passed down to my mother and aunties. Although I am the first woman in my family to embrace the traditional style of hijab for the sole purpose of Islam, it was these influences that gave me confidence in covering my hair and showed me that it can be beautiful.

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My Grandmother Malikah (front left) and my Great Aunt Fatima (front right) wearing headwraps in the late 1970s.

Testing the Waters

Deciding to wear hijab wasn’t easy for me in the beginning, especially since I don’t have any women in family who wear it, and initially, I didn’t have friends who wore it either. I first started testing it out in the summer of 2014 by wearing a hijab to the mosque for Friday prayers and any time I visited the mosque during Ramadan. Other than those times, I was still wearing my hair uncovered on a regular basis.

The biggest challenge was wearing it at work. During this time I was working as a photojournalist, which involves a lot of face to face communication with others. I thought that since I didn’t begin my job wearing hijab, I couldn’t just start wearing it all of a sudden because it would seem strange. Although some of my coworkers knew that I was Muslim, I was somewhat worried about what management and people out in the field would think or say if i started wearing it and I wasn’t ready to deal with any type of backlash about it.

Required Consistency

Over the months, I continued to pray and ask God for guidance and strength about if I should wear hijab. I spent a lot of time reading online forums and watching YouTube videos about hijab and women’s decisions to wear it or remain uncovered. I remember scheduling lunch with one of the first Muslim sisters I became friends with just to discuss the hijab. I remember sitting across the table from her at the back of Barnes & Noble, discussing her decision to become a hijabi in high school.

Tahmina is from a Bengali, Muslim family so assumed it was something imposed on her by her parents, but she assured me that it was her choice. I asked her to show me how she wrapped her hijab, so we went into the bathroom for a tutorial. She first showed me how she secured her hair underneath with a bun and an under scarf, and then how to wear the hijab over it. First, put the scarf on your head, make one side longer than the other, take the long side, then wrap it over your head, and secure it with pins on the other side. After that, I had it down.

Some days I felt that I had made up my mind that hijab was not for me. Then other days, I would practice wearing it in the mirror or shop around for new scarves. I knew that I looked beautiful in hijab, but I was on the fence because I knew that wearing the hijab isn’t a part time thing. You can’t wear it one day and then decide the next day that you want to flaunt your hairstyle. I knew that wearing hijab was a solid commitment that required consistency.

Final Decision

I remember one morning after leaving work, I was driving and praying out loud. This was during the time when I was becoming deeper into my Muslim faith and I was seeking a lot of guidance. I still had a lot of battles I was fighting within myself and my environment. I had decided then that soon enough I would wear the hijab consistently, but I just needed a little more time.

My decision to wear hijab wasn’t only for myself, it was deeper than that. Number one, I wanted to do it for God’s pleasure. Secondly, wearing hijab would allow me to take a step further and fully embrace Islam and become a better person by doing so. From that point, I began mentally preparing myself to become a hijabi.

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Selfies wearing a turban headwrap, taken December 2014

Turban Times

In December of 2014, I began regularly covering my hair in public by wearing turban headwrap styles when I wasn’t at work. Since it was pretty cold, I would just wear winter hats on the job. Wearing a turban in public wasn’t so odd because it wasn’t like I had never wrapped my hair before. With me being of African descent, people wouldn’t know if I was just expressing some African style or just having a bad hair day.

Only I knew that I was preparing myself to cover my head in public, long-term. Wearing a turban is still an option for me on some days. Many Muslim women wear turban styles as an alternative, which some Muslims dispute is not the same as hijab. Either way, it is up to the woman to decide how she chooses to present herself.

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Selfie taken wearing a black turban, December 2014

Fully Embracing Hijab

At the end of January 2015, I knew that I’d soon be leaving my job because I would be preparing to relocate to California. Almost immediately after I resigned, I began to fully embrace the hijab. I knew that between that point and when arrived in California I could begin my new journey as a hijabi. At first, when I began wearing hijab out in public, I was a bit self conscious because I knew that people who were used to seeing me without it would notice the changes.

Living on the southeast side of Wichita, Kansas, I remember being the only hijabi I would ever see in my area. Most Muslims in Wichita live on the northeast side of town, near the Islamic Center or the University. It is mostly in those areas where you would see women wearing the hijab. I felt self conscious not because I was ashamed of being Muslim, but I wasn’t ready to engage in any conversations about my Muslim identity. To my surprise, not many people whom I came into contact with said anything. It was my own family who had the biggest reaction to my hijab. However, now I think that just about everyone has grown to accept it and has gotten used to it.

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A selfie I took with my nephew Khalil last spring, 2015

Wardrobe Transformation 

Wearing hijab isn’t only about covering your hair. Hijab is part of a complete package that represents who you are as a person. It is your outer presence as well as your inner qualities, your speech, behavior, and most importantly your closeness to God. In Islam, there is an Arabic term called ‘awrah‘, which is any part of the body, for both men and women, that should not be visible to the public.

For Muslim women, the goal of hijab is modesty and drawing attention to your inner attributes and characteristics, not your physical assets. So with my decision to wear hijab also came a wardrobe transformation. Short shorts, tight skirts, dresses, halter tops, and other revealing clothing was no longer something that I wanted to wear, because I understood that these were not acceptable for Muslimahs. I have donated and given away probably over 100 pieces of clothing during this transformation.

“Social Media Reset”

Something that also came with wearing the hijab was what I call a “social media reset”. It makes little sense to walk around wearing hijab and dressing modestly and having loads of pictures online that portray the opposite. This is an inconsistency. So I slowly began removing photos from my Instagram and other online profiles that were “un-Muslimah like”.

This was a slow process because I had attachments to a lot of my photos, especially those with lots of likes, but then I remembered that this was the entire purpose of wearing hijab. It was no longer about showing off my beauty and seeking the attention or approval of others, it was about my relationship with Allah and maintaining a heightened sense of modesty.

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Some of my first selfies taken after becoming a hijabi, January 2015

Hiding Your Hair?

I have had people ask me, “So what’s so bad about showing your hair anyway?” Well actually, there’s nothing bad about showing my hair. That is a misconception. However, we must acknowledge the fact that a woman’s beauty is centered around her hair and outer appearance. Our hair is referred to as our “crown and glory”. This is why we have hair salons in abundance and the hair industry is a billion dollar business.

Women (and men) love for their hair to look nice and many  people go through great lengths to achieve certain looks. In many cases, our hair determines our level of attractiveness to the opposite sex. Therefore, by choosing to cover my hair in the presence of a man, I am forcing him to look beyond my outer beauty and further into who I am as a person.

Pleasing God, Not People

By wearing hijab and dressing modestly, Muslim women aim to please God, not society. But at the same time, we still have a right to express ourselves by accessorizing and wearing nice things. Our concerns are less about the judgment of others because God’s judgment is what truly matters. Wearing the hijab has taught me that there is a big difference between looking pretty and looking sexy, dressing modestly and dressing to impress others. It has also taught me that when we aim to put God first, our decisions become much different.

Noticeable Changes

Since I began wearing the hijab, I haven’t been approached by men asking me for my number or out on dates. To some women, this may seem like bad thing. However, in Islam, women do not date for various reasons. Why men no longer do this may be for a number of reasons (could be fear), however, I’m happy with the fact that they know that I’m not just someone that they can come up to and make advances at. In the past, I may have felt like something was wrong with me or maybe men didn’t find me attractive, however, now that is not of a concern for me.

I have experienced an overall heightened level of respect from both sexes. Because I can’t read minds, I can’t explain exactly why. I am aware that everyone has their own individual opinions about Muslims. Some people’s attitudes towards Muslims can be described as fearful, cautious or wary, and some can be described with solidarity, respect and understanding. Either way, I’ve found that many people are eager to learn more about Islam and when they see a hijabi, they see an opportunity to ask questions, which is a blessing for us to share our knowledge.

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A group photo with friends at Torrey Pines State Beach, San Diego, CA.

After relocating to San Diego, CA., I learned that the Muslim population is much more widespread, and bumping into other hijabis in any part of town is a normal thing. The solidarity with Muslims in this city is recognizable and I no longer feel any bit of insecurity about going out in hijab. I guess this is also because people here don’t know me and the ones who do, met me as a hijabi. Even after going back to Wichita last spring for a short visit, my new found confidence came home with me. I was no longer self-conscious or worried about what anyone else was thinking about me wearing the hijab. I knew that I was doing what was best for me, that’s why no one else’s opinion mattered.

Hijabi Joys

I have found real joy in wearing the hijab and embracing a heightened sense of modesty. Mixing and matching scarves with different outfits is a true test of fashionability. With a collection of scarves of various colors, patterns and fabrics, there is always a number of combinations to choose from. Every girl loves to accessorize, so adding hijab into the equation makes it more fun. I’m always looking for new scarves to add to my collection. You can never have too many hijabs!

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Based on some of the questions that I have been asked, many people tend to think that Muslim women wear the hijab 24/7. Below I have created a chart that may better help anyone with questions to understand when the hijab is worn.

Disclaimer: This may not apply to all hijabis.

HIJAB NEEDED NO HIJAB NEEDED
In the presence of men who aren’t family Around family or husband
Around husband’s male family In the shower
While inside of the mosque While sleeping
While praying Any other time that isn’t listed to the left

If you have additional questions about the hijab or Islam, you can find more information from credible online sources such as al-islam.org and whyislam.org or visit your local Islamic center.

Copyright 2016 Myjaedah Ballard

Wisdom Within The Trees

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Tree from Linwood Park, Wichita, Kan. Photo credit: Myjaedah Ballard

This morning, I fell into deep thought about trees. It’s a bit random, I know. It all started after I broke down to tears because I was having a rough morning in combination with everything that had gone wrong within the last 24 hours. I was waiting on my Lyft driver, who called me while I was boohooing on the phone. The driver told me he was behind me, so I turned around with tears streaming down my face. I got inside of the car and he offered me a Dum Dum to cheer me up (yay). I was headed downtown and suddenly, as we drove by multiple palm trees, redwoods and other types of trees, I became fixated on them. I began contemplating about their outer and inner strength.

Trees are extremely strong organisms. The average tree can withstand various types of weather. In harsh conditions, some bend, some curve, and some may lose a few branches and leaves, but takes a lot of force for them to fall down completely. If you really think about it, trees go though a lot. Dogs urinate on them, birds peck at them, humans chop off their branches or sometimes chop them completely down, the wind blows them all around and in bad weather, they get pelted by rain and hail or even struck by lightning. Yet still, the majority of them manage to remain standing and maintain their beauty.

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San Diego Palm Trees Photo credit: Myjaedah Ballard

As I was thinking about this, I also began thinking about the various reasons why the Creator may have created trees. They are literally so important to us, our ecosystem and survival on earth. Different trees have different properties, healing abilities and uses for both humans and animals. But also, if you think about it, trees are also symbolic in a number of ways. They have ancient symbolism of growth, protection and strength. What fascinates me is how trees can live for hundreds of years and go through so many changes within their lifespan. They are perfect models for getting through life.

We can learn a lot from trees, not only environmental truths, but intrapersonal and universal truths as well. Unlike trees, humans are emotional beings. We face a bit of bad weather and we feel like it’s the end of the world, but trees have struggles too, we just don’t hear about them. They don’t go ranting on social media or start taking it out on other people (or other trees). Seriously though, today I was inspired by trees, but in a different way. We can learn a lot things from nature. The hidden messages within nature have always remained, but it is only when we truly pay attention that we can discover them.

Copyright 2016 Myjaedah Ballard

Beautiful Rainbows Hover Over San Diego

While I was out and about today, I saw a double rainbow over San Diego County. Without hesitation, I pulled out my iPhone and started snapping photos. In the midst of El Niño, it was nice to see a bright, beautiful rainbow after consecutive days of nonstop rain, wind and flooding throughout Southern California. It looked like I wasn’t too far from one end of the rainbow. I was SO tempted to drive towards it and see if I could reach, but it was raining so I decided to just snap the photos and carry on. A perfect opportunity wasted, but still brightened up my day!

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Rainbows in San Diego County on Jan. 7, 2016 photo cred: Myjaedah Ballard

Copyright 2016 Myjaedah Ballard

Interesting Reads of 2014-2015

img-booksThroughout this busy year it has been a challenge for me to settle down and read books. Part of being a writer includes reading, a lot of it. You must read your own work and most importantly the work of others. Reading shapes and enhances your writing and allows you to build on your writing styles and creativity. I have a long list of books on my to-read list, however, I struggle to find time to read them and when I finally find time, it’s a matter of deciding to use that time for reading.

When I was in college, most of my reading was focused on textbooks and because I did so much studying, I wasn’t interested in reading any other books in my free time. I read so much that literally the last thing that I wanted to do was pick up a book. I preferred to go out or watch TV and movies. After graduation, I had a lot more free time and I decided that I would dedicate some time towards reading. The first book that I read was ‘Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace’ by Angel Kyodo Williams. The book focuses on Buddhist principles, many of which I discovered can be found in Islam. At the time of reading I had not yet fully submitted to the Will of God, but I have always been and still am open to universal truths and righteous teachings of different religions. 

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‘Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearless and Grace’, originally published in 2000.

In ‘Being Black’, Williams explains how Buddhist principles can be applied to offsetting the challenges faced by Black people in America. She shares her personal story about her journey to Buddhism by shedding light on some of her life events leading up to when she was introduced to the religion. Williams shares how she was able to overcome her internal and external challenges and fears by channeling her “warrior-spirit”. She explains how the Black community can be empowered and experience a transformation within our lives by doing the same in addition to proper management our emotions. Williams breaks down concepts and principles taught by the Buddha such as wisdom, ethics and awareness, and gives guidelines and illustrations on training our minds and physical bodies to conquer the negative and achieve the positive. Williams describes how Buddhist principles can be used and combined to achieve long lasting happiness. The book highlights universal truths and principles that can empower a community and enhance the life of any human being.

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‘The Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt’, originally published in 1984.

In addition to ‘Being Black’ I also read ‘Selections from the Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, a selection of the oldest sacred text in the world retranslated by Maulana Karenga. I read the Husia because I have always had an interest in ancient Africa, Egypt and other early civilizations. I learned about the Husia while listening to a lecture about ancient Africa. If you are interested in ancient Egypt, then you will enjoy this book as it introduces the concept of Maat (truth, justice, righteousness) and other concepts such balance, equality, order, wisdom, integrity, respect, self-control, charity, morality and other human virtues. The text goes in depth and introduces high priests and priestesses, prophets, pharaohs, rulers, stewards, scribes, chief officials and their roles and their respective teachings. Many know it as common knowledge that the ancient Egyptians were a polytheistic people, yet the text does make note of a Divine Creator and features a Book of Prayers and Sacred Praises. Many aspects of ancient Egyptian beliefs are still a mystery to me, however  I found the selections to be interesting. If you are interested in learning more about this sacred text, there is a PDF version that can be found online.

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‘The Ankh: African Origin of Electromagnetism’, originally published in 1993.

I read ‘The Ankh: African Origin of Electromagnetism’ by Nur Ankh Amen after browsing for books to learn  more about the ankh. The book takes an ancient African scientific perspective on the origins of electromagnetism while challenging the claims on technological advancements of Western scientists. The book, though thin, was fascinating and provided exclusive evidence in proving that the ankh was far more than just an ancient symbol, but was also used as a powerful tool. The text provides illustrations and diagrams which reveal how the shape of the ankh, when wrapped in coils has electromagnetic properties. Being someone who didn’t do so great in physics, I still found the book to be comprehensive. This book revealed the African origins of many early technological advancements, which were never mentioned in all of my years of education. It was definitely an interesting read. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about electromagnetism or ancient technologies.

I strongly believe that before you follow any religion or method of thought, you should read it’s respective text(s) and try to understand it as much as possible. I believe the same is true before you draw any conclusions or make any opinionated statements about a religion or method of thought. For the first time ever, I read the Holy Qur’an front to back. It was Ramadan of 2014 and I was getting deeper into Islam. It was one of my most important reads to date. Although I had read the English translation of it, I still I found myself looking up words and referring to the interpretation (tafseer) within each chapter for deeper understanding.

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‘The Holy Quran’

What I realized while reading the Holy Qur’an is that a lot of the text can’t be read and immediately comprehended with full understanding. You must take into account that these verses were revealed by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about 1,400 years ago and there are historical events that have to be taken into account. In addition, you have to be careful when reading the English translation as it was originally revealed in Arabic. Arabic is an ancient language in which words tend to have multiple/complex meanings and deep connotations. A translation can only do so much to express those meanings with the words that are available in that language. This is why many Muslims learn Arabic so that they can not only learn the Qur’an in the original language that it was revealed in, but so they can also recite it in its original tongue.

Many verses of the Qur’an can easily be and often are taken out of context and interpreted literally when they are allegorical and vice versa. There are verses within the text that warn its readers to be wary of doing so. I won’t elaborate too much about the Qur’an in this post because if I do, it can take over the entire page. Another reason is because I believe that it is something that one must read on his/her own before he/she can understand anything that refers to or makes note of its verses. However, I will say that it was an enlightening experience and I read it for a second time this past Ramadan of 2015. I recommend it to be read (with interpretation) by any and everyone whether Muslim or non-Muslim because it possesses wisdom and that is valuable to all.

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‘Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis’, originally published in 2003

I picked up ‘Slave: My True Story’ while attending the 2014 Black Arts Festival in Wichita, KS. I had never heard about it before, but I soon learned that it is a global best-seller and the co-author Mende Nazer, who the story features, became a recognized human rights activist after its publishing. The story tells of how Mende Nazer, a Sudanese native, was captured by Arabs who raided her village near the Nuba Mountains and sold her and other children into slavery in 1993. Nader was a only young girl when she was captured and forced to live as a house slave for wealthy Arabs in Khartoum, Sudan during the remainder of her childhood and early adulthood.

The story gives details of the torment, sexual abuse, maltreatment, and dehumanizing experiences Nazer faced while in slavery and how after years of suffering, she managed to finally escape and seek asylum in London. The story of Mende Nazer sheds light on the bigger issue of modern day slavery which is ongoing today in many parts of the world. It is a call to action for world leaders and eye opener for those who are oblivious to the facts about how slavery can and continues to destroy families and lives.

In addition to the books I’ve wrote about, I am currently reading ‘The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography’ by Sidney Portier. So far it has been interesting learning about his life and his rise to fame in Hollywood. There are literally so many more books that I want to read and the list is so long that it’s overwhelming. I haven’t even scratched the surface with my reading and in the midst of adjusting to my recent move to California and rigorously job searching, I have to find more time to start checking titles off of my list.

Copyright 2016 Myjaedah Ballard

Is the Black Lives Matter Movement Effective? (Opinion)

24096D1200000578-2875325-image-m-14_1418707907742Despite the spike in protests and boycotts across America in recent years, the occurrence of police shootings and violence against people of color is ongoing. Every other day there’s a new hashtag created for another black life taken at the hands of police. The reality is that black people are still being gunned down, beaten and mysteriously turning up dead inside of jail cells. Therefore, it is necessary to ask ourselves if the Black Lives Matter movement is effective in convincing America’s officials and justice departments that Black lives matter.

A History of Movements

When we think of the previous social justice movements with respect to Black people, we are reminded of our historical fight for rights America. We think of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Pan-African Movement the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army and various other civil rights and civil liberties organizations, coalitions and committees established throughout history. We have always needed some type of movement that reminds America that Black people are human, they have rights and their lives matter. These type of movements also have a historical presence within former and present European colonies abroad. In between the rise and fall of these different movements, the struggle for equality has always remained. From the abolition of slavery up until our present day, Black people have been fighting to be seen as equals among their fellow countrymen.

“Black Power simply means: Look at me, I’m here. I have dignity. I have pride. I have roots. I insist, I demand that I participate in those decisions that affect my life and the lives of my children. It means that I am somebody.”

– Whitney M. Young

Black Lives Matter was created in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrice Cullers started Black Lives Matter as a call to action for Black people and a response to anti-Black racism in society. Initially started as an online campaign, the organization gained momentum via social media websites like Twitter where the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began taking over timelines. Through social networking, people began organizing and taking action in the streets in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald and the long list of other lives taken by law enforcement. After demanding the attention of the public, police, mainstream media, corporations, celebrities and politicians, Black Lives Matter has become nationally recognized and has gained support from around the world.

A New Age Black Liberation Movement

To some, BLM is a new age Black liberation movement. Young people with a passion for change have dedicated to it and you can even see its presence on college campuses across the United States. Mainstream media has referred to it as “the new civil rights movement”. It has proven to have both social and political influence. In 2015, the topic of whether Black lives matter has been up for questioning in both Democratic and Republic presidential debates. BLM has also faced criticism and some of those associated have been targeted and scrutinized for their roles within in the movement. However, there is no doubt that BLM has done its share of work in creating a platform for much needed discussions about what it means to be Black in America and the dynamic of policing in Black neighborhoods.

“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation.”

– BlackLivesMatter.com

Patterns of Injustice

With the recent deaths of Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Samuel Dubose, Jamar Clark, Leroy Browning, and Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones who were both “accidentally” shot and killed by police less than a week ago, the total count of officer involved deaths continue to climb as the year comes to a close. Hashtags for the deceased have become all too common on Twitter and with the ‘film the police’ movement in place, we are able to see shocking visuals of these executions take place on video. We respond by channeling our outrage into protests and boycotts. Members of Black Lives Matter, civil rights organizations and concerned citizens speak out at public forums, engage in conversations with city officials and express outrage through mainstream media. Yet with all of the efforts put forth to demand justice and accountability for the lives taken, we continue to see headlines that read, “No Charges Filed in the death of…”, “Officer Acquitted…”, “Officer Will Not Face Criminal Charges…” and it’s nothing less than infuriating.

On Monday, an Ohio grand jury decided not to indict the two officers who were involved in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice which occurred last year in Cleveland. Despite video evidence showing that the officers only allowed two seconds for Tamir to respond to their orders to drop his toy gun before they fatally shot him outside a recreation center with other children nearby, the grand jury saw nothing criminal in their actions. A federal review of the case is ongoing. Tamir was believed to be much older because of his size and was seen as a threat by officers. Being seen as a threat is often the threshold for justifying Black death, whether adult or child, armed or unarmed. The issue of who and what is a threat seems to be a bigger part of the problem when it comes to policing.

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Protesters stand in front of police outside the Ferguson police station, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. protesting the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. (AP Photo/The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)

Ongoing Crisis

As of last year, I have become mentally and emotionally exhausted by the reoccurrence of officer involved shootings and deaths. At this point, it’s difficult to keep track of the names. I AM TIRED. People are still dying and officers are seldom held accountable. When I question if BLM is effective, I am not questioning the efforts or work put in by the organization or the movement. The question is being asked rhetorically as I express my concerns about the ongoing crisis of police violence with respect to the efforts and work put in by the movement.

When protesters are protesting outside of police stations and often times face to face with police, staring them in their eyes and shouting out the injustices of their departments, why do they continue to commit more? When their fellow policemen are put in the hot seat and some are disciplined (usually suspended with pay or put on desk duty) for taking the lives of unarmed citizens, why are more people being killed? Why aren’t police chiefs and commissioners doing more to ensure that the officers within their departments are going into the field with regard for Black lives AND the ability to access situations that involve unarmed/mentally ill suspects? These types of problems are built into the structure of the justice system and need to be fixed, immediately.

Black Lives Matter is Necessary

Again, the purpose of this blog post isn’t meant to erase or downplay the existence of BLM because there is no doubt that we NEED BLM as an organization and a movement. We have to continue reminding America and the rest of the world that Black lives matter. Our ancestors had to do it and sadly, so do we. Our collective movements throughout history have shown that there is power in protest, organizing and open discussions. Moving forward, we must continue our collective efforts and turn up the heat on our mayors, city officials and the 2016 presidential candidates. We need those in power to dedicate time and effort towards reforming a system that continues to fail. We need guaranteed accountability and the longer it takes to get it, Black lives will continue to be minimized.

Copyright 2015 Myjaedah Ballard

Trials and Triumphs of 2015

This is my first official blog post and as 2015 is wrapping up, I feel it’s important that I reflect on this year with special attention to my personal challenges, triumphs and life events that have shaped my perspective moving into 2016. 

I will start by saying that 2015 has been an undeniably blessed year. So much has taken place and it feels like time has been traveling at high speed ever since I graduated from college in May of 2014. The two main highlights of my year include 1) a spiritual awakening that actually began during the summer of 2014, but fully manifested this year and 2) moving away from the only place I’ve known as home.

Spiritual Awakening

When I say ‘spiritual awakening’, it is based on the concept of letting go of bad habits that I was holding onto from adolescence and embarking on a journey that has brought me closer to my Creator. This journey has required full submission to the Will of God, which in my case, is best defined as Islam. I won’t go deep into the turn of events right now, but I will say that I have always been a Muslim. I just hadn’t always carried myself as such nor had I always understood exactly what it meant. This spiritual awakening has given me much needed clarity and understanding of my purpose in life, which has helped me refine the person I am today.

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My early days as a hijabi

Even with my initial struggles with learning Islamic principles, etiquette and terminology on my own, getting acquainted with my local mosque and community members, wavering with my choice of wearing hijab and subconsciously processing the social outlook on Muslims, I felt that I had accepted and prepared myself for all of the challenges I could possibly face. However, in recent events of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Islamophobia has resurfaced at a level comparable to that after 9/11. Hateful rhetoric is being tossed around in politics and mainstream media has painted a picture of all Muslims with one brush, thus creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred. I know now that my initial struggles weren’t really struggles. They were small tests of faith that were preparation for the bigger challenges that the Muslim community is facing today.

Dreams Unfulfilled 

In addition to my challenges and triumphs concerning my spirituality and religious identity, I also faced career-related challenges in 2015. Upon graduating college in spring of 2014, I felt extremely blessed to accept a photojournalist position with an ABC News affiliate in my hometown. It was rewarding to graduate with a professional job and I felt accomplished amongst my family and peers. While the job was both challenging and rewarding, it wasn’t fulfilling for various reasons and after nine months, I made the brave decision to resign and move to California to pursue other opportunities.

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Filming for KAKE-TV, April 2014

Small City Struggles

I have struggled with the disadvantages of living in a small town ever since I was a little girl. I used to envy the big city dwellers in the movies who seemed like they had the world at their feet. Buzzing cities, bright lights, big attractions, celebrity sightings all seemed like a dream. And California was a like dream within a dream because…palm trees, beaches and sunny weather. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I was entirely convinced that I was missing out. Each time I stepped outside of Kansas it was like I was embarking on an adventure into a new world. Whenever I had the opportunity to travel to big cities like Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and San Diego, coming home was nearly depressing. I began to research job opportunities that were available in the bigger cities and they just weren’t comparable to what Wichita was offering.

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Downtown Wichita, KS, photo cred. Myjaedah Ballard

It’s not like I’m trying to bash Wichita as a city because there are some really great people living and thriving there who will tell you that it’s the best city ever. Wichita is unique in its own way and some big city people even go there to experience the perks of small city living, but for me it was always a goal to venture out. Once an opportunity presented itself for me to move to California, I knew I had to take it. It was tough to leave my parents, my family and the people I grew to know well, but I believed that California would provide me with adventures and opportunities that Wichita couldn’t offer me. In addition, I just wanted to be away from a lot of the things I had associated myself with in the past, meet new people, see new things and breathe new air.

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An overview of San Diego, photo cred. Myjaedah Ballard

Hope for the Future

After moving to San Diego and experiencing California firsthand, it’s true that there are great opportunities within many fields of my interests, and although I have yet to catch my big break, I am hopeful that something will happen soon. People told me it would be tough to find work in California, and it is. And I don’t think the fact that I wear the hijab is helping me woo employers at interviews, but I look at it as just another trial and a test of faith. Despite not finding my dream job yet, I can say that I am happy and hopeful that I will have more triumphs in 2016. I’m sure there will be new challenges as well.

Copyright 2015 Myjaedah Ballard