“Confidence comes from creating something and knowing what I’m supposed to be doing and feeling like I’m good at what I’m supposed to be doing.” – Issa Rae (a Black woman who be knowing)
Hey Nooooowww! I hope everyone is staying safe, still physically distancing (I don’t care that it’s getting hot outside. Nope, I don’t care! I don’t care!) and taking some time to discover some hidden talents and redefining yourselves.
I am so damn grateful to be able to say that Black Women Be Knowing is hitting the 18-month mark of its existence on June 1st!. That may not sound like a big deal but it’s a BIG DAMN DEAL (insert hand claps)! This has been a journey- one of consistency, community building and content creating.
To process this milestone, I sat down with my homegirl, Nzingha Tea, another inspiring Black woman who be knowing to discuss what it means to be a creator, what inspires her and how we can continue to support one another in order to uplift the culture and to create the world that we wanna live in.
As always, read, listen, comment, discuss, share, subscribe and follow on IG!
Watch, yes, watch the conversation at this link:
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
BWBK: I’m here with Nzingha Tea, my baby, because Nzingha is my homegirl from way back. I try to interview people that I know so I’m not out here pretending like I’m a fan. I really have been a fan forever so it’s only right that our paths would cross in this regard.
Nzingha: Yes, yes.
BWBK: So you know how this goes: You’re gonna describe yourself in 5 words because everyone has to do it.
Nzingha: Five words, so I thought about this… committed, curious, observant, a little quirky and flexible.
BWBK: OK, so I definitely see the quirky and I definitely see the curious. I also see commitment but I thought you would’ve immediately said creative. Cause when I thought about doing this episode, I thought about your platform which we’ll talk about later but you’ve always been creative.
For those of you who don’t know, Nzingha and I know each other from our teaching days. We taught 11th grade English together for a year. And you’ve always been a creative person [even in the educational space] so I’m just shocked that didn’t come up.
Nzingha: First, I’m thankful just to be talking to you in this format because I listen to all your podcasts and you always got me cracking up. I’m just so proud of you and thankful that you’re doing this work.
BWBK: Thank you, likewise…so we’re gonna go backwards to go forward. What’s your definition of/what does it mean to be a creator?
Nzingha: Good question. First of all, I would say, we’re all creators… Years ago, some folks and I were concerned about some things that were happening in the neighborhood. We organized and tried to figure out how we would respond. We contacted folks, communicated, and did some actions. But it came to this point where we were just artists and artists united.
We were writers, organizers, activists and poets but essentially we were creating, encouraging life, encouraging a certain sense of engagement. That’s what I see as a creator. Someone who is really intent on bringing life into the world. What can we do to nurture and cultivate a sense of life and creativity?
BWBK: I love that you started off saying that we’re all creators. Some people are not comfortable with calling themselves creators. Just because you write some poems, you may not want to call yourself a poet or if you paint a picture every now and then you may not consider yourself a painter or an artist.
I think I also struggle with that at times. But I think the way you hit the nail on the head was around the word ‘intent’. My intent as a person who is now owning the name of a creator is to document Black women and our genius. As I continued to put out content with that purpose in mind, I started to feel more like a creator. Before, I felt like I was sort of floating and now I feel like my purpose is to [highlight] Black woman genius.
That was a really beautiful definition. So tell us about little Nzingha Tea. What was your upbringing like? Who/what inspired you?
Nzingha: I wanted to add that the reason why we’re all creators is cause we’re all observing and keeping notes of some sort- whether that’s a comment or taking a picture of something that struck your eye, writing a letter or composing something- these are all acts of creation.
BWBK: That makes perfect sense. So to get back to little Nzingha and your family upbringing…I’ve been around your family and you all are very family-oriented. I know your mom is very influential in your life and she inspired you so can you talk a little bit about that?
Nzingha: I would say that growing up in Harlem, Uptown, the BX, certain parts of Brooklyn or “Old Brooklyn” and Queens is this idea that you are raised by the village. And that village shows up in the sense that you know everything in the neighborhood- what corner to turn, what time to go up Dead Man’s Hill, what time not to go.
As far as family, I have a pretty large family- four brothers and two sisters and we’ve shown up as a kind of village for each other. As far as who I am now, I want to be committed to cultivating a communal aspect, a communal mentality, a village of sorts while still recognizing that I’m still an independent person, an independent thinker.
BWBK: I love the idea of the village. I wanna go back to your mom. Because she is a staple figure in your family and in your life, how did she help you to cultivate that creativity and [how did] she support/help nurse that?
Nzingha: There’s two things I would mention about my mom- she’s a midwife and she’s been a midwife activist for at least 30-35 years. She made it a point to stay in touch, whether that was with neighbors, with parents. She’d be in the kitchen talking on the phone… you know that was her way, just always in connection. That’s the reason why I like Black Women Be Knowing because there is something really special about the back and forth in our conversations/ your conversations with other Black women.
My mom [also] helps me realize the impossible. She helps me to have faith that the impossible is possible. It helps to push me and to believe that anything is possible.
BWBK: I think too, when you’re creating shit, people don’t understand that if this is not the way you make your bread and butter, if this is not something that you’ve been able to profit from, you do need people to encourage you to believe that what you do is worth [something]. [Oftentimes] we attach the worth of what we do to revenue. So when you say that [your mom] made you believe that the impossible is possible, you need that to fuel you so that you can remain consistent in creating.
You’ll start to think, “I’m pouring out my soul; I’m really putting a lot of work into the craft/ into whatever I strongly believe in that I think should be put out in the world and sometimes that shit don’t translate over to dollars. You have to make sure you have someone encouraging you to stay in it. So that’s huge.
Nzingha: My mom called her work, “a labor of love.” I was just thinking about us 2,000 years ago. What would my task be? In the animal kingdom, every person or animal had its task. It’s usually one of survival but I’m going on a tangent…
BWBK: But I think to a certain extent, that’s the interesting thing about creating. It is reflective of survival at least for Black people (to me) and some of it is just wanting to be. There’s this interesting dichotomy of “I’m out here trying to tell you motherfuckers about the struggle” and then there’s “But I’m just enjoying these flowers.”
And you, Nzingha, have moments where you do that [in your work.] You’re just taking a walk in nature and shit is chill. Meanwhile, I’m always on the struggle bus and in a rage (at least in my earlier work). A lot of like, “WTF, White people, y’all annoying!” And then you have these moments where you’re just walking in the rain and enjoying that [which I love.]
So to transition, what inspires you to create? My frustrations are what inspires me a lot of the time, like whatever fuck shit White folks are doing usually gives me a lot to think about but you don’t do that.
Nzingha: Thank you for the question. I just came out of a workshop by Jacqueline Johnson- it was a workshop for poets. But I actually meant to reference the occasion poem which came out of a virtual reading by Nikki Finney and it’s from one of her latest books called Love Child. So maybe someone’s graduating or someone’s transitioning or an event is going on in the world. Events or moments can inspire me to write something.
Other things are feelings like sadness which can be a stimulus for creating so it’s not always a negative thing. I’m a pretty observant person- I think I notice too many things and that usually sends me on some kind of train of thought…I’m also inspired by the community like you Khalya and other friends in my life, family and other points of literature. I believe that we are a product of the experiences, and the reading and the food and the art. Our inspiration is our world, whether good or bad.
BWBK: I love that you said food and art. I’m also really observant but I don’t always know how to capitalize on what I see/notice. But I’m also really interested in how people write about sensory details. That’s fuckin’ dope. I sometimes think, You got all of that out of a flower? But then there’s times when I will smell a certain type of soap and associate that with a man and I wonder, how do you take that and expand on it? I wanna be more intentional [about that]. Even when you said food, that is associated with your childhood, certain restaurants may be associated with someone you dated and it may be a place you love or a place you try to avoid. So how do you capture that?
I think I don’t sit with my feelings long enough. Sometimes I’ll acknowledge them and just let it go. I think a lot of shit can be created from that if I sit with that and let [those feelings] talk to me- [I need to sit] in conversation with that [more often].
Nzingha: I think what’s been helpful for me is to jot a little note down. We have our phones, a pile of little paper, a notepad. Even if it doesn’t become a poem or a video, it’s you just jogging your mind to go back to that memory.
It’s interesting because one of my aunts keeps coming back into my mental space often and I think it’s because I’ve been doing more cooking. She was a big cook- did a lot of big events and a great family cook. I remember she would always say “Clean as you go.” Essentially, every time I’m cooking, I’m thinking of her. I haven’t created a piece about that but I know that one day I will.
BWBK: That’s dope because you brought up your aunt and that’s gonna transition me into another question. Our work is inspired by Black women and our work is for Black women- that’s our primary audience. If anyone wants to join and be nosy, that’s cool too but this is not FOR you.
You started to touch upon this by talking about your aunt and your mom and even citing me which I think is amazing. Who are some of the Black women you wish to emulate and why?
Nzingha: One person is an organizer and activist for under-resourced women. She’s an activist in New Orleans- Shana griffin. When I met her about 15 years ago, I was taken aback because she’s a very captivating person but in a humble way. She takes me back to my childhood as someone who is reflecting so much of myself. One of the ways I believe inspiration happens is when someone voices in some ways, some things you’ve either been thinking about or wondering about.
Another person is Aishah Shahidah Simmons who’s an activist around child sexual abuse. She does amazing work around loving with accountability. Spirit McIntyre, they identify as gender non-confirming. These three persons have just helped me to push and just keep pushing.
I am essentially born and raised, a nappy Black girl, and I claim that and I really do look forward to claiming so many other aspects of me. I also wanna push this idea that we as Black women, for those who do not conform to the binary that has been placed around gender, can do whatever WHATEVER looks like and stay open to possibilities.
BWBK: I was about to finish your sentence. As you were talking, all I kept hearing was what you said about your mother and possibilities… I remember me and my daughter came to your house to celebrate one of the days of Kwanzaa. It was me, you, Tashal and Kaori. And you made some shrimp and some kind of salad with apples in it and I was like, “Oh we getting cute!”
I just remember everything you were doing having ritual around it. You would always say, “We’re gonna go around and say nice things.” I remember going to one of your birthday parties for you and your twin sister, Nefertiti. It’s always rooted in saying [positive] words, coming together in a circle and wishing you real verbal blessings [beyond] Happy Birthday and I really appreciated that as your friend. That’s something I had never seen in terms of building community especially among Black women.
I believe in community but I also believe that you can come together for some of the wrong reasons. You can come together out of gossip or through a common enemy and sometimes I felt that my past friendships with other Black women were not rooted in spiritual well-being and not looking at our whole selves. It wasn’t rooted in creating a ritual space which as I got older, realized was something that I needed. That really helped to build my creativity because those spaces where women spoke that way helped to invoke creativity. I’m so glad you introduced those things into my life.
So you mentioned Shana griffin and she’s from New Orleans. You’ve done some work there and you have traveled a bit- West Africa and New Orleans which are epicenters of Blackness. How have these places sparked your interest in particular projects or just sparked your creativity?
Nzingha: Mmhmmm. I would say many of the opportunities, being in New Orleans doing different kinds of volunteer work… It just emphasizes the importance of service. That’s been a big lesson. But it’s a tricky thing because when talking about griffin, Simmons and McIntyre- these are people who have given life to the work consistently and repeatedly and as an artist and organizer, how much do you give?
That’s a question that we’ve been asking: How do we create the situation or create the world we want to live in, in a way where we’re not the sacrificial lamb?
BWBK: There’s a lot of conversation around rest and that being its own form of rebellion. I think it’s called The Nap Ministry but it’s all about taking naps and resting because we’re in this big capitalist machine that just wants to exploit you for your labor so taking naps is almost revolutionary.
I also find that when you’re not resting or [you’re] giving too much, your creativity just goes out the fucking window. If I haven’t slept well, I’m not in the mood to create anything.
I wanted to ask about some of the challenges that get in the way of you creating. Because people see the end product but don’t always see the process. And this is a labor of love but it’s labor nonetheless. And you wanna make sure you are capturing people’s best selves, (not fictitious selves) but their most elevated selves. So what are some of the things that prevent you from creating?
Nzingha: That’s a good question cause I’ve been thinking about that and sometimes what prevents people is being concerned about other people and what they think and feel. When I get into a moment, I start thinking, Did this come off well? Did this not come off well? Well, what do you think? It’s important to be able to stand on that decision, to stand on that choice. I’m trying not to get too caught up basically [in others’ opinions].
BWBK: That’s a good point because we have metrics. We have these platforms like Soundcloud that show your views/your stats. And say a particular blog did really well- what I try not to do is look at that and say, “I should do more of that.” No. I created that because that is what was important to me at that moment and I don’t want to continue to do that because now it feels like I’m trying to pander.
For example, the fuckboy episode did really well but I’m not gonna keep talking about fuckboys cause that’s not my life. That’s an aspect of my life that I think many women have dealt with but I’m not going to [revolve] my platform around it. But we see reactions, comments, likes, shares and that can potentially be dangerous by possibly making us create things that go against [our purpose].
Another thing is time. I work full-time and part-time; I have two children; one small one and one big one in college. I do think that you make time for the things that you wanna make time for but you’re still human. You sometimes really do intend to get that podcast rolling or that blog poppin by a deadline that you created. But it’s hard to stay consistent cause you gotta cook, eat, get ready for work. There are other obligations that do prevent you from creating.
Nzingha: I also want to think about how I create or how I encourage people to create in a space of darkness. I think that connects to the original ways that production happens- that creation happens. I took a workshop and we were reading a book about a South African woman who gave birth in the woods. And it seemed like she knew she would have to do it that way, away from everyone and by herself. I can’t remember if it was fiction or nonfiction. But I wanna be connected to community but I also wanna keep a practice [alone.]
BWBK: I like that you said that because one of the reasons I love Black Women Be Knowing is that it forces me to be consistent. I try to come out with something at least once a month because I need to be constantly pouring into this space. When you create these platforms, you feel like you have to nurture it, you have to grow it and grow it in terms of documenting whatever was important to you at that moment. I intend to go back to these moments and listen to our voices talking about whatever the fuck we felt like talking about that day.
Last question: If you could collaborate with any artist, blogger, visual artist, activist, dead or alive who would that be?
Nzingha: The person is still with us and I know her as Mama Vanessa Brown. She is a leader in the Navajo community out in Arizona. My mom did some work out there at one of their birth clinics so our family was able to get connected to Mama Vanessa. She was very active in Navajo/Indigenous work coming out of the 60s.
My sister, a childhood friend and I went out there and we learned how to make earrings. The Indigenous communities are the same as our own communities here in Harlem. We are constantly forgotten about. Another friend in Northern California is just doing what she can to get masks and pass them out to the homeless and we have an understanding that when things get bad, it tends to get worse for [our] communities.
Dred Scott Keyes did these lovely compositions on 99.5 public radio. He did a mix with music by Ma Rainey and Nina Simone and it was really beautiful.
Mama Ayanna-Ade, who has transitioned, was also a midwife, my godmother and my mom’s best friend. She was also very generous and was always learning. She was adamant about recycling and I remember her getting medical supplies to Cuba.
BWBK: Sometimes it’s easy to say that you would like to collaborate with famous/popular people whether they are singers, writers, etc. I think there is something to be said about getting together and creating with people who aren’t famous yet. I think about James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson and the different theatre companies they were in before making it and you find out all of these great Black actors/entertainers all hung out together [when they were young.]
That’s who I want to collaborate with- the creators of now who will go on to make their mark. It’s like the Harlem Renaissance and all of these writers and artists who hung out together and created salons with all this dopeness to [engage in conversations and exchange ideas]. They also were bullshitting and partying cause they [were] having a good time too. I’m not opposed to that because partying can also lend to creativity. I want to incubate [something like] that and have a bunch of dope ass people to collaborate with because that can just be a really cool piece of history.
One person I really appreciate and would like to collaborate with is Dr. Yaba Blay. I love Professional Black Girl as a platform. I watched the New York and New Orleans seasons. You can also tell she’s a lover of Black women and our stories and [ensuring that we are] telling those stories. The way you said we’re all creators is the way she says we’re all worthy of telling our stories. She’s very observant and she values the hair braider on the stoop and the woman frying the catfish because they are all important people in the community. So that’s someone I’d like to collaborate with.
Let’s get into your platform, Twin Cafe, or This Week in Sisterhood (Twish). What is it? What can we look forward to seeing?
Nzingha: I feel like there will be a lot of different things to see. Through Twin Cafe, we are encouraging people to take a coffee break. The coffee break is a metaphor, basically asking Black people to take a break every now and then. Take a walk around the block; take a walk around your neighborhood. Sit on your stoop and chat with your friends. Twin Cafe is a virtual space and we hope to do some pop-ups.
The website and our newsletter are opportunities to stay in touch and stay connected. So Twish or This Week in Sisterhood is a place to share, put forth and reflect for Black women and Black and Brown folks who do not necessarily conform to the gender binary. As well as those people who are concerned about the personal, social and political concerns of Black and Brown folks, particularly Black and Brown women.
There are plenty of opportunities for people to record something that [they’re] reading and share with us. I encourage people to keep reflecting and to connect to one another.
BWBK: One of the things that I like about the way you engage in your platform, and it goes back to the things you mentioned earlier, is the way you bring the community in. I’m very particular about focusing on who I’m in conversation with and I encourage people to comment but with [your platform] it really feels like a co-created space. You’re the owner and curator of it but it definitely feels more like a [community] exchange. It feels more accessible for everyone to be involved.
Nzingha: I’m thankful and grateful to be in your life and in the lives of so many equally brilliant folk. If the television chooses not to highlight these voices here, let’s continue to push our platforms.
BWBK: We do need to continue to promote each other’s platforms cause we all we got. For me, it’s definitely about finding ways to collaborate and connect. We just wanna keep talking about what’s important to us… So where can we find you?
Nzingha: You can find us at www.Twin.cafe, twin.cafe/ourletters, FB: facebook.com/twishxtwin.
BWBK: Thank you so much bae. I appreciate this.
Nzingha: Thank you, Khalya.
Black women be creating the spaces we need.
Black women be uplifting the spaces we create.
Black women be birthing love projects.
And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.