my story unabridged
I was conceived in love, but my parents' relationship depicts the most authentic and imperfect love story ever told. Duke + Regina, a couple of lean and incredibly attractive youngsters who couldn't keep their hands off of each other. OK, well, they weren't exactly spring chickens at the time of my birth, but their love was pure, genuine, intense and tumultuous. All the qualities of a Leo/Taurus dynamic, I'll say. Their personalities and tastes are the reasons I am passionate about music, food, art, fashion, and well, Purple.
If you think I'm a cold piece you should have seen my mama in the 80's! Graduating from nursing school, she had the baddest silhouette and pioneered sexy tasteful queenship with her own sense of style. My father, Duke was the life of the party; a smooth bartender and chef from West Philly who wore speedos on the beach and had a fedora in every color to coordinate with his collection of silk dress shirts. I marvel at pictures of them. Often, I say that my parents had no business doing what they did to make me, but God surely knew what he was doing when he brought them together.
The love was genuine, but things weren’t always smooth between them. Their on again off again relationship caused my mom to face depressive episodes during her pregnancy with me. Times being hard is an understatement. She denied prenatal care and didn’t even have a baby shower. She didn’t have sonograms to monitor my development, she just carried me, ate as best as she could and hoped for the best until I was born. It was lonely, and I’m sure very cold in the fall of 1991. Homeless and sleeping on her best friend’s sofa with a growing baby in her stomach, she still nurtured me and held her belly with pride. She hoped for the life of her that I didn’t feel an ounce of the pain or sadness that she felt during her pregnancy. She didn’t even have a snowsuit to bring me home from the hospital or a crib for me to sleep in. Times were so rough, she sent my four older siblings to stay with close family members and friends while pulled herself above water.
My mother and I had a week's worth of alone time together, and my first Christmas was spent being held in her arms. She used to tell me all the time that she never wanted me to feel the depression and sadness that she felt during her pregnancy. All she wanted was for me to be happy, and she’d promised my emotional well being was primary.
Three days into my life, she informed my Dad of my arrival. He knew she was pregnant, but they hadn’t spoken in months. She said to him that she had another boy, but she was just pump faking to pacify him. My father arrived at the hospital singing praises of my three sons. Regina said “That’s your daughter, not your son” and Duke didn't believe her and had to do a pamper check. My mom describes his reaction as glowingly excited and emotional.
Day three of my life, I was dubbed Duchess, the daughter of Regina + Duke.
As much as I'd love to say our family lived a perfect happily ever after, we didn't. They were still on and off throughout my childhood, and that could be why I don't have many memories of him. They were together since 1987, they didn’t get married until October of 1997. And as fate would have it, their marriage didn’t last a full year before my father was murdered in August of 1998.
My father wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a great dad. My siblings tell me stories about him all the time; the way he celebrated our accomplishments, and embraced their friends, and encouraged their education. It’d be a disservice to his memory to conjoin his flaws as a man and husband to his strength and pride as a father.
My home environment promoted a balance of education and creativity. I took advantage of having the best of both worlds. In school, language arts, spelling, and reading were my favorite subjects, and I took my work very seriously. I used to cry over anything less than a 95%, I competed in spelling bees, and I was in the second grade on a fourth-grade reading level. Book reports were my area of expertise, especially when I got to illustrate my covers. I wrote stories and poems often, and I journaled a lot, too.
After school, I'd come home, pop in my Barbie Beyond Pink cassette tape, and go to town on Think Pink! I loved performing and singing, did it whenever I could. It made me feel free, invincible, my strongest. Anyone could tell you I was not born a vocal prodigy if anything I was a mediocre singer. But I always had a star's mentality and I dreamed of selling out venues and becoming an international sensation. So my mom made sure I got a ton of practice. She put me on any kind of stage she could find. Now, the worldwide web was not what it is today, so my mom had her ear to the pavement in seeking stages from block parties, talent competitions, and showcases through friends, newspapers, bulletin boards, even Philly's own WDAS 105.3 FM.
I was a mediocre solo act, but my family band was tight! Our roles changed depending on the cover but more often than not, my brother JEllis was the lead singer, Sunshine and I were the background. We sang a lot of oldies, Motown, Smokey Robinson, Boys II Men, Gladys Knight, all the good stuff! Though I was born the fairer sex, I had to work ten times harder than they did. Vocally, JEllis was stronger than I, which landed him more YES in auditions I was told NO. I practiced and sang until my vocal cords hurt, and danced until my feet were blistered. Because it was clear to me then that being pretty meant nothing when standing next to a man, who’s obviously deemed more qualified than you. It was debilitating to my confidence that my talent was barely recognized. It gave me an inferior complex at an early age. I became withdrawn and spent a lot of time alone honing my craft of writing, dancing, and singing.
My mom was the only one in my fan club, so I didn't know I wasn't good until I was rejected. My mama had me reaching and singing songs that were older than me, introduced me to notable female artists like Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Phyllis Hyman, Mariah Carey. That gave me confidence in interpreting and translating lyrics. I understood how to have passion and meaning in words, so much so that I remixed "A Natural Woman" to "A Natural Princess". Clearly, I've had a keen self-awareness since single digits, bro.
On the flipside of Queen anthems, Duke's favorite artist was Prince, and I listened to him whenever I wanted to become closer to my father or wanted to have a dance break. My earliest memories of studying lyrics came from reading Prince songs as poetry.
Pre-Teen + Self Image
It was around my pubescent years when my father’s death began affecting and afflicting me because childhood innocence didn’t allow me to process what it meant to be shot six times in the back while interfering with a domestic dispute. The more exposure I had to the truth of my family history, the more jaded I became. I became angry with the world, with God, with the truth. My artistic expression became a means of grief. I wrote about my anger, sadness, and the fact that I didn't even have a chance to learn how to love my father.
School stopped mattering to me, B's and C's became satisfactory. I had confidence but it wavered. My mom told me from birth that I was a princess, but because I was bullied a lot by my peers, I became insecure in my talents and overall existence. So I meandered through life with a chip on my shoulder, not trusting people or 'the system'. My brothers and I were transferred to parochial school and all hell broke loose. LOL Really, I commonly refer to as a gift and a curse. That’s where I met my teacher who later became my mentor, Mrs. Maria Burrell. She taught my class from the sixth grade through eighth grade. Mrs. Burrell was special to me because she took the time to let me vent about my coming of age crisis by allowing me to keep a binder in the back of the classroom, where I was allowed to excuse myself (even in the middle of class) to write my pain, fears, and frustrations. This kept me from lashing out on other students and kept me out of detention. My attitude didn’t change, I still hated the world, but my life was saved because I had an outlet.
Mrs. Burrell’s nurturing countered the agenda of ‘the system’. For the time she was my teacher, she helped to broaden my horizons and cultivated my talent. She had me reading my poetry at the school Black History Month assemblies, and brought me books from home to read to further my education. She truly helped me to form a solid sense of who I was, even though I wasn’t aware that I was searching for answers. She stayed in my life even throughout high school, college, and beyond.
She's about the best thing that came from being at that school. Though I was being raised as a Baptist Christian, I was being inundated with the principles of Catholicism. I thought God hated me for taking my father away, and I didn't know what to believe was the "correct" way of living. So I formed my own moral code: "The Lord knows my heart”, pretty much saying to hell with this preacher says, and what that pastor believes. I saw them all in the hypocritical light they shined on the world around us.
I was a good girl but I was worldly as hell in high school. I rolled my kilt above my knees and got a boyfriend freshman year. I was always in trouble for my attitude, because they as in the teachers, were always saying something slick to try my patience. They abused their authority and didn't consider the feelings of students.
A nun told me once "When I say jump, you say how high." and I responded, "No. When you say jump, I'll say you first." She turned beet red and ordered me to the dean's office, which of course, nearly landed me an in house suspension. When I was sent to the disciplinarian's office, he was irritated with me, but before he could call my mom to inform her, I bargained with him. The deal was if he'd except a freshly baked carrot cake from scratch, I wouldn't cause any more problems. And it worked. Well, he still called my mom, but the detention was wiped from my record and he loved the cake. It's safe to say my cake has been causing and solving problems for a while now. 😈
I took my education seriously, but I didn’t go above and beyond like I used to in my childhood. My social circle changed every year, but I maintained the same best friend. Popularity mattered to a lot of my peers, but I didn’t even care enough to fit in with others, or if they liked me, I just wanted to BE. You know, mind my business and live life.
High school was a lot of pressure for me as the youngest in my family, and I wanted to finish on a high note. Most would think that’s the reason to slack off, but for me, it was the exact opposite. I had to put on for my namesake.
It was a challenging time for me because I felt so suppressed in a world where I wasn’t encouraged to be myself. My identity was stifled, and I was receiving shitty treatment on both ends of the spectrum. Discrimination came from my peers who looked like me who called me weird for not being interested in the same run of the mill bullshit, and the faculty and staff demonized things I felt to be natural like nudity and sex. From every direction, I was being told that I was a sin against God, imperfect, flawed.
But that didn’t stop me from embracing my truest desires, even if it was in the comfort of my sacred space. I went along and got along for all four years. I was on the step team and the yearbook committee. One of my proudest high school accomplishments was climbing the ranks in the yearbook club and having my writing published in the major spreads. I wanted to go to college to be a teacher, English for secondary education, but that dream was deferred after three semesters of undergrad.
I matriculated to Shippensburg University, AKA the only school out of seven who accepted me. I would hazard a guess that it had something to do with my combined SAT score of 900, but I decided at the time I wouldn’t let a number define me. I took up English, with a concentration in creative writing. My time on campus was fun, but those who knew me then could attest to the loner I was.
My idea of fun was to mind my business and eat Chick-Fil-A at the student center while reading a book, or relaxing in a study room at the library with my double chocolate chip frappuccino from Starbucks. My editing experience continued through my friends who brought their essays and assignments to me for proofreading. I was the fine ass nerd who partied only when her work got done, and when I partied, it was usually hard. I drank cheap vodka, got sick, regretted it, and did it again for the next big event.
I was active in the school’s ethnic activity boards, but after the first two semesters, it started feeling too contrived. Fitting in at Shippensburg was a hit or miss. I was too black for the white crowd and too white for the black crowd. It wasn’t enough that I knew who I was and wanted to mind my business. lol My need for separation was perceived as superiority. Socially I was stagnant, creatively, I suffered, and academically I was unfulfilled.
My passion for learning hit a hard standstill when my professors weren’t understanding or seeing my vision. I was failing assignments, and clashing with my professors. I was continuously being told "you don't understand the assignment" and that my writing was too colorful. One office hours visit almost came to blows--this of course was way before my enlightened days! lol But instead of fighting and arguing with them, I stopped giving a shit altogether.
As God's grace would have it, my mother came to family and friends day at SHIP during the fall semester of my Sophomore year and could sense that I wasn’t truly happy. She gave me one of those stern and concerned looks, one only a mother can give her baby, and uttered the words that saved my soul and saved my life. She hadn't stepped foot into my apartment for five minutes before she said, “Baby if you’re not happy here you can come home”. The very next day I submitted my withdrawal papers and reserved a Uhaul truck to move out after my final exam.
Transferring to Temple University wasn’t easy, as my first application —the one with the $65 fee— was rejected. Go figure. My final GPA at Shippensburg would have landed me on academic probation had I remained enrolled.
But my rejection was a blessing in disguise because it gave me time to decide on a major. To study anything other than communications would have been blasphemous. I just had to figure out how I could apply that degree to my world outside of school. I enrolled in a few online communication courses at Community College of Philadelphia for the spring and summer semesters to not only increase my GPA, but also my chances of being accepted to Temple. During that time I decided to get back into my passions of modeling, photography, and music. I came up with a plan to help me refocus. I started freelancing as a writer and editor and was hired for odd jobs within my network.
July 2012, end of summer session two, I attended their Transfer Tuesday open interviews and I wasn’t leaving without my 'Congratulations' letter. They accepted me, and I didn’t have to blow up the school, everyone won! Especially them, they get to claim me as their owl. My education at Temple gave me something that I never had before, and that was a healthy marriage between my creative and academic endeavors. It wasn't so much about a grade point average as much as it was about my passion. I wasn't passionate about school since I was a child, and learning the technical side of my interests is what I needed. I picked up a DSLR for the first time, I produced media and hosted shows, I was behind the mixing board of an actual recording studio, not the makeshift ones my brother and I assembled during our childhood years,
Meeting with advisors wasn't about picking classes as much as it was about what the hell you wanted to do with your life. found out that I could go to LA to finish my degree at Temple, and work in the industry, and that's just what I set out to do. I graduated in December 2014 and was on the road to Los Angeles in January 2015. The guy I was dating at the time, and almost got married to, was supposed to make the LA move with me, and when he backed out, I had to break things off. I trusted my heart to take me the right direction my entire life, and so far it hasn't led me astray.