Friday, July 29, 2011

Patrice Yursik of

Yesterday was blogger mania for me. Thursday evening, through my organization See Jane Write, I hosted a blogging seminar and panel discussion called So You Think You Can Blog. (Don't deny it, you know you love the name.) I'll have more on that on Monday. 

Thursday afternoon, however, I had the opportunity to participate in a Twitter chat with Patrice Yursik of Afrobella. The chat was organized and hosted by the ladies of The Social Niche and Blogalicious. Leading up to the October Blogalicious conference, they will host chats with star bloggers each Thursday at 2 p.m. EST. 

Afrobella was one of the first natural hair blogs and is now one of the top beauty blogs for women of color. 

When asked what it takes to start a successful blog, Yursik's answer was simple: "Originality, creativity, persistence and determination." When trying to decide on your niche, look to fill a void, she said. Explore the blogsphere and figure out what's missing. That said, she also stressed the importance of blogging about something that is your passion and staying true to your voice. 

And while you should have a niche, be careful not to underestimate yourself or your readers. "Yes, have a niche," she said, "but also be bigger than your niche."

In regards to social media, most bloggers know that these tools can help you build an audience for your blog and even get ideas for posts. But make sure you're not spending too much time on Twitter, Facebook, etc., Yursik warned. You must be sure to make time to actually, you know, blog! She uses Chrome Nanny to limit her time on social networking sites. Chrome Nanny allows you to block URLs at certain times in a day or limit to certain number of minutes or both. So you can block Twitter from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (OK, that's probably a bit drastic) or to a maximum of 60 minutes a day or both.

And speaking of social media, Yursik also spoke to the importance of being professional when using these tools. For example, using profanity could jeopardize your opportunity to work with brands that could be interested in you and your blog.

So what about blogger's block? We all face it. Yursik says, don't panic. One solution is to turn to guest bloggers, but be sure those writers match your vision and your voice. Also, remember, she said, "Not every post needs to be epic. Short posts can be great too."

If you're feeling discouraged because the blogging market is so over-saturated these days, don't be, she said. "There is room for your voice too!"
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The weekend is upon us, let's celebrate with some throwbacks.

Here's another one from Georgia Mae fan @artblt over on Twitter:

Erykah Badu, Baduizm (1997)

Edd said: In the late 90s, Erykah Badu was like the second coming of Billie Holiday. Artists like D'Angelo and The Roots certainly blazed the trail, but Badu provided the fuel to launch the neo-soul movement to the mainstream. Arguably, Baduizm is Badu's best work. Nearly every track was either released as a single or has since been sampled by other artists, meaning it's still influencing music today. And personally, Baduizm ranks among my all-time favorite albums. Great pick, @artblt!

Also check out:
"4 Leaf Clover"
"Next Lifetime"

Here's what's in Edward's ears:

Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle (1993)

Edd said: It's not hyperbole when I say that Doggstyle might have been the most anticipated rap release of all time. After Snoop's head turning performances on Dr. Dre's The Chronic, fans and critics alike were clamoring for a solo release. Usually with great anticipation comes great disappointment, but not this time - the rookie Dogg exceeded expectations and had fans from coast to coast singing his name. Snoop might be a caricature of himself these days, but in '93, Snoop was unstoppable.

Also check out:
"Doggy Dogg World"
"Gin and Juice"

Now, it’s your turn. Email, hit us up on Twitter @etbowser or @writeousbabe, or stop by the comments section and share your Flashback Friday album. Leave a couple of sentences describing what makes it so great. We’ll feature your album on the blog.
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Thursday, July 28, 2011

My husband is very spoiled. Even though I know I should, I don't wear anything over my hair at night -- no scarf, no wrap, no satin bonnet. To maintain my curls for second-day hair I simply pull my tresses into a high ponytail (or pineapple). He's also never seen me in rollers. So imagine his reaction when he came home one day last week and I looked like this:

I'd warned him. I told him I was going to try a twist out so I would have several plaits in my hair that evening. His response: "I didn't know that meant I was coming home to R Truth." Who is R Truth? A WWE wrestler. This guy: 

image via 

I am much cuter than that.

But my twists were not neat and cute like those I've seen on other naturalistas such as Mae from Natural Chica:

image via

After co-washing my hair and combing through Jane Carter Solution Curl Defining Cream, I didn't carefully part my tresses; I just sort of haphazardly grabbed sections of my hair and twisted them. In the end I had about 10 twists. I did this four hours before I went to sleep to make sure my hair wasn't still wet by bedtime. That night (and at the gym the following morning) I kept my twists covered with a scarf. 

Here is the result:

My cousin/BFF whose hair is very similar to mine tried this and said her hair didn't look any different from usual. That wasn't the case for me. Though I'm not sure if the photo above conveys this, I found that the twists did change my curl pattern a bit (making my curls looser) and, therefore, gave me a slightly different look from my usual wash-and-go. Having to only undo my twists the next morning also saved a lot of time getting ready for the day, which I loved.  

This picture was taken early that morning. As the day progressed, my hair became more voluminous, which I didn't mind, but also very frizzy, which I did mind. That morning I applied a blend of oils to my hair but that didn't seem to prevent that afternoon frizz. So now I'm in search of the right product to use on my hair after I untwist it. Any suggestions? 
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Here's a challenge - name the greatest female R&B group of all time.

The obvious answer is  Destiny's Child. Beyonce n' dem have sold more than 60 million records worldwide - 702, Jade, Xscape and Brownstone ain't topping that.

But when it comes to album quality, even the mighty DC has to bow to the initials SWV.

Shame on you if you've forgotten the dominance of the Sisters With Voices. You're lucky I'm here to remind you.

In the early 90s, Tamara "Taj" Johnson, Leanne "Lelee" Lyons, and Cheryl "Coko" Gamble (with her creepy 10-inch fingernails) shopped their demo to major record labels around the U.S. in hopes of stardom. Their work landed in the lap of legendary producer Teddy Riley, who helped them sign with RCA Records. On October 27, 1992, (one day before my b'day), the group's aptly-named debut, It's About Time hit the masses and stars were born.

Wikipedia claims It's About Time has sold 12.5 million units worldwide. Eh, that seems a bit steep but I do know the album rests at triple platinum in the U.S. alone. You can't deny that success.

Regardless of sales, you know an album is good when more than half its contents wind up on the radio in some form. By my count, It's About Time and the follow-up EP The Remixes produced EIGHT singles:

- The hyperactive "I'm So Into You"
- "Weak" which dominated ever inner-city talent show for the next 10 years
- The underrated duet "Always On My Mind"
- The controversial "Downtown," which encouraged Hobbits to explore their ladies' Middle Earth, if you feel me
- "Anything," which wound up on the Above The Rim Soundtrack AND later was remixed with the Wu-Tang Clan 
"Right Here," and its AMAZING remix, which famously sampled Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." It may be considered blasphemous, but I still prefer SWV's remix over MJ's original.

Nearly all those songs cracked the R&B chart's top 10. Meanwhile, "Weak" climbed all the way to No. 1 on the pop charts and "Right Here/Human Nature" peaked at No. 2.

Following the trail blazed by Mary J. Blige, SWV's hip-hop flavored R&B caught fire and dominated the airwaves for nearly two years.

Coko gathered her girls and her gruesome fake nails in 1996 in another attempt to claw their way to the top. The Platinum-selling New Beginning was released that spring, with "You're The One" leading the way. Add "You're The One" to the list of songs I can't listen to even today - my hometown radio station played that song ENDLESSLY and the video is still burned into my retinas. But it certainly wasn't a bad track, rolling all the way to No. 5 on the pop charts. I was a much bigger fan of the tender "Use Your Heart," one of the first tracks produced by The Neptunes. Thankfully Pharrell kept his squeaky falsetto at home.

One year later, the ladies returned for Release Some Tension. And best of all, Coko finally released those 12-inch long Lee Press-On Nails!

Release Some Tension received mixed reviews at the time, mainly because it was overloaded with guest rappers, but I think it still holds up well today. The lead single "Someone" featuring Diddy only reach No. 19 on the charts - a decent showing but not up to the ladies' standards. The slow jam "Rain" didn't do much better, but is much more fondly remembered.

The album also featured the Redman-assisted "Lose My Cool," which got radio play in my town, and of course the freaky "Can We," from the Booty Call Soundtrack - one of the first big achievements from the Missy Elliott/Timbaland camp. Despite its hit-or-miss reputation, the album went gold.

After dropping a Christmas album at the end of the year, the ladies split up to pursue solo careers. Lead singer Coko quickly hopped back into the studio, dropping guest vocals on the Men In Black theme song and even a track with LSG (!) before releasing Hot Coko in 1999.

I remember loving that album at the time, but sadly I can't recall much about it. I do remember the lead single "Sunshine" (mainly because the unattended kids playing near waterfalls freaked me out) and the album cut "Try-Na Come Home," which currently resides on my iPod. Coko also released "Triflin" alongside Eve, but that was a typical, late 90s "my man sucks" track. I'll pass

After her foray into the secular world didn't pan out, Coko focused on gospel, releasing Grateful in 2006, A Coko Christmas in '08 and The Winner In Me in 2009. Grateful and The Winner In Me both enjoyed solid success on the gospel charts. "Endow Me" is probably my favorite track from her gospel catalogue. It features Faith Evans, Lil Mo and Fantasia - it's like a gospel posse cut. I almost expected Busta Rhymes to jump on board.

The remaining Sisters with Voices may have bowed out of the music scene, but they still pop up occasionally. A few years back Taj appeared on the TV One reality show "I Married A Baller" with her husband, former NFL running back Eddie George. She also showed up in a season of Survivor.

Lelee has taken to the blogosphere, writing about how horrible R&B has become. Hmmm, wonder where she got that idea?

Should They Come Back?: There have been rumors of a comeback for years now and the ladies are reportedly working with Jazze Phae (boo) and Kwame (yay!). I loved Release Some Tension but admittedly it was an anticlimactic end to a stellar career. I'm confident the ladies could pull together one last album to cement their legacy. It might be too late for SWV to convince the young crowd that they're the greatest female R&B group ever, but those of us who remember their glory days know better.

Just promise me, Coko, keep the Super Shredder fingernails at home this time.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

image from

Years ago, back when I was a full-time reporter, I was on an elevator at work with two white colleagues when one started to gush about how gorgeous she thought my hair was. I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. Then she said, "Can I touch it?" This colleague was not a close friend, at all, but I reluctantly said yes and then as she fondled my tresses she started carrying on about how soft my hair was, as if this was a great shock to her.

When we got off the elevator my other colleague was furious. "I can't believe she just did that!" he exclaimed. "Doesn't she know you should never ask to touch a black person's hair?"

Apparently she did not. But are all black women offended by this question and is this really a race issue at all?

Yesterday, CNN addressed this topic in the story 'Can I touch it?' The fascination with natural, African-American hair

One woman interviewed said she had no problem with strangers asking to touch her hair as long as they ask first. And I feel her on that. Too many times I've been at the grocery store or church and felt a strange person's hand in my head. 

But here's the thing: most of the time, those people were black. Lately, the people most interested in touching my hair are black women with relaxed hair who are curious about the texture of African-American hair in its natural state. 

So could this be more about curiosity and less about race? Renee Martin, who runs the blog Womanist Musings, says no. She's quoted in the CNN feature saying:

"I think it's the idea that they have the right to possess black women and they will take any excuse they can to jump over the border, whether it's policing our behavior or policing our hair," Martin said. "I think it's about ownership of black bodies more than it has to actually do with hair."  

At least one other blogger seems to share Martin's feelings on this matter:

Blogger Los Angelista explained her response to a woman's incredulous "Are you serious, I can't touch your hair?" by writing that no she couldn't, "Because my black ancestors may have been your ancestors' property, and had to smile while they got touched in ways they didn't want to, but I am not YOUR property and never will be so you'd best move your hand away from me."

Honestly, I do get upset when a white person asks to touch my hair, but not because I think they see me as a piece of property (unless they touch my hair without permission, but that will piss me off regardless of what color you are). 

I think what bothers me is being treated as if I'm alien in some way just because my hair is different from white hair. There is this implication that white hair is the standard, the norm, and that mine is peculiar and, therefore, needs to be examined. 

But again, since black people often make me feel just as other-worldly with their never-ending questions about my curly coif, is it unfair to make this about race?

As the CNN report notes, some white women who responded to Martin's post "Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo" shared stories of their own hair being touched in countries populated by people of color. They chalked it up to natural curiosity and accused Martin of being too sensitive.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive too. But until I figure this all out, whether you're black, white, or blue, and unless we share blood or a bed, keep your hands out of my head.   
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Monday, July 25, 2011

That's me (far right) with two of the lovely ladies I bonded with this summer through the natural hair group
Birmingham Natural Beauties. 

"The loneliest woman in the world is the woman without a close woman friend." 
- Toni Morrison

Summer is quickly coming to an end, for me at least. I’m a teacher and soon my days will once again be filled with trying to convince 15-year-olds that Nathaniel Hawthorne is cool and 13-year-olds that semi-colons are fun.

But I don’t approach the end of summer with sorrow. Instead I approach it with pride. I set out to accomplish a lot in June and July and while I can’t check off every item on My Summer Manifesto, I can say I did something truly significant: I built community with other women in my city and beyond.

I’ve said it before, I believe in sisterhood. Say what you want about cat fights, gossip girls, and our tendency to envy and compete with one another. But I feel a kinship with every girl and woman on this planet. It’s something I can’t explain, but it’s something I’m certain is God-given. It’s my calling.

This summer I’ve worked to build relationships and community with other women in a myriad of ways. I became very involved in my city's natural hair community, helping to spread the word about local meetups, attending the gatherings, and becoming great friends with the women I met at the events. We may have met because of hair, but soon learned we had so much more in common and now we're exercising together, planning movie nights, and more. 

In June, I attended the skirt! Creative Conference and had a life changing experience as I learned from and bonded with dozens of women who share my passion for writing. I came home with handfuls of business cards so I could keep in touch with my new friends. To show how committed I was to the skirt! community I challenged myself to post to my blog every day for a year (I’m on day 44 so I still have a long way to go).  I’ve also stayed connected with my skirt! sisters via Twitter.

And speaking of Twitter, social media has been yet another way I’ve worked to build community, communicating with amazing women across the country via tweetsblog postsYouTube videos and more. I’ve taken steps to build on those virtual relationships by attending local tweet ups so I can actually meet some of these women in person and hug their necks, as we say in the South. Because I believe social media truly has the power to make our lives richer I even joined the Alabama Social Media Association to help spread the gospel of gadgets.

And when it comes to the true Gospel, I’ve been busy building community through my church as well. And considering my church has 15,000 members, this was no easy task. But this summer I led a small group and through it – as we discussed weekly sermons and how we could apply them to our lives, and even took on a community service project together --  formed friendships I am certain will be long lasting and purposeful.

I also made an effort to spend some quality time with old friends meeting a few high school pals for Mexican food, meeting a cousin for Mexican food, and meeting colleagues for Mexican food. And I promise I wasn’t just using them as an excuse to get my hands on a chimichanga.

This summer I didn’t write a book or becoming an Internet sensation with my blog, but as a true believer in sisterhood, I spent the summer practicing what I preach. 

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I've recently become a huge fan of the site Hello Giggles. In fact, it's safe to say it's my new Internet obsession. One of the writers and co-founders has a regular video feature in which she discusses her five favorite things of the week. I'm not funny like she is, but she always asks for folks to make a video talking about their favorite things of the week and so my Flip camera and I decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately I was sick when I did this and after watching the video the hubs said I looked like RVD in a pot factory (for those of you not addicted to wrestling like Edd, RVD is a wrestler notorious for his love of Mary Jane.) 

I promise,  I am not high, nor did I drink a gallon of Black Velvet to knock out my cold. But that NyQuil is some strong stuff, baby. 

Enjoy my 5 favorite things of the week - and I promise one of those things is not illegal drugs. 

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Singer-songwriter Nikki Jean got her start as part of Philly indie/hip hop group Nouveau Riche.  In 2008 she toured with Kanye West on his Glow In The Dark Tour. She has collaborated with Lupe Fiasco, Carole King, and Bob Dylan. She released her debut album Pennies in a Jar. Enjoy!

Progressive Soul Monday: Opening Minds and eradicating foolery, coonery, and buffoonery one Monday at a time®

-- Desiree

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Just a sampling of her impeccable talent, here are a few of my favorite Amy Winehouse songs. 

Also check out: "Back to Black"
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The last thing I wanted to hear today was this. From

Singer Amy Winehouse, 27, has been found dead at her north London home.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed that a 27-year-old woman had died in Camden and that the cause of death was as yet unexplained.

London Ambulance Service said it had been called to the flat at 1554 BST and sent two vehicles but the woman died.

The troubled singer had a long battle with drink and drugs which overshadowed her recent musical career. She pulled out of a comeback tour last month.

Amy's troubles have been well documented, including by me on this very blog. But instead of filling this space with "I told you so" nonsense and bad "Rehab" jokes like others are doing, I mourn for what could have been.

I'll never forget reading a Mary J. Blige interview about five years ago. In it, she predicted that Amy's live instruments and vintage voice would rejuvenate the struggling R&B industry. Mary was confident that Amy would set a new standard - and so was I.

So yeah, while it's sad that my last memory of her is watching her fall all over herself in that Belgrade performance last month, my heart truly weeps for the potential that was wasted. Amy will likely become an even bigger star now that she's gone (like 2Pac, Biggie, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, etc.) but I wish she could have reshaped the musical landscape while she was here among us.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Are the Summer’s Eve “All Hail the V” ads racist? That’s the question Clutch magazine posed to readers earlier this week regarding a recent series of commercials featuring talking vaginas —one Black, one Latina, and one white—all speaking in a rather stereotypical manner. Take a look for yourself. 

Initially I was too disturbed by the idea of talking vaginas and the realization that I can make my hand look like one to even focus on the race issue. (No, I'm not afraid of lady parts, I just don't want to see any body part, other than the mouth, talking.) I think Summer's Eve had good intentions -- trying to celebrate the female body in a positive way and trying to ensure that all women felt represented -- but the blatant use of stereotypes overshadows that. When the black vagina said she was going to hit the club I flipped and when the Latina vagina said "Boo" I was done.

What do you think? 
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Not since the lunar moon landing has there been such a monumental day.

Today is the 50th birthday of the greatest R&B artist ever...

Keith Sweat! The guy doesn't look a day over 19. He may have enough candles on his cake to burn down the entire Sweat Hotel but with age comes experience - experience in making bangin' music.

I'm officially recognizing today as Keith Sweat Day. Throw on your best blazer and give my boy some love! He's been making hits for half a century - even y'all can't hate on that.

I'll be accepting cash donations on his behalf.

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Posted by in , ,  on 6:30 AM 2 comments
It's Friday! Here are two great albums to kick off your weekend. 

@artblt shared this classic via Twitter:

The Roots, Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995)

Edd said: I love hip hop, but I wouldn't dare call 90 percent of hip-hop artists "musicians." The Roots are the exception to the rule.The Philadelphia-bred band is renowned for their jazzy approach to hip hop, using live instruments instead of rapping over canned, synthesized beats. Do You Want More?!!!??!, their major-label debut, is often mentioned as one of hip hop's all time greatest albums - thanks to eclectic instrumentation and the vastly underrated wordplay of lyricist Black Thought.

Also check out:
"Silent Treatment"
"Distortion to Static"

Here's what's on Javacia's playlist:

Paula Cole, This Fire (1996)

Jai said: Even if you only listen to rap and R&B, chances are you know at least one Paula Cole song. Her hit “I Don’t Want to Wait” was ubiquitous in the late 90s thanks to it being the theme song of the show “Dawson’s Creek.” That song, however, doesn’t truly represent Cole’s unique and edgy sound. From the ironic “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” to the sensuous “Feelin’ Love,” This Fire is one of the few albums I own that I can slide into my CD player and not skip a single track.

Also check out:
"I Don't Want to Wait"

Now, it’s your turn. Email, hit us up on Twitter @etbowser or @writeousbabe, or stop by the comments section and share your Flashback Friday album. Leave a couple of sentences describing what makes it so great. We’ll feature your album on the blog.
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

This week we have not one, not two, but three Birmingbelles of the Week. Next week on Thursday, July 28, my organization See Jane Write (a networking group for women writers of Birmingham) will host So You Think You Can Blog, a panel discussion on blogging featuring some of the best female bloggers of the city. The three outstanding women who will be on our panel and this week’s Birmingbelle’s of the Week are: Rachel Callahan, Jennifer West, and Laura Kate Whitney.

Callahan not only writes the creative musings you’ll find at Grasping for Objectivity, but she is also the woman behind Alabama Bloggers, which she started to help bloggers network and share ideas both through the website and monthly social events. Callahan was recently selected as a BlogHer Voice of the Year honoree.

What do you love about Birmingham?
I love its sense of family, its kindness of neighbors, its unwavering commitment to faith, and most of all, I love all of the lifelong roots of relationships that I have planted here.  Also, I love that it is one of the top social media cities in the nation!

What would you change about Birmingham?
I would love to see our urban downtown areas flourish and become a place that is brimming over with culture like Chattanooga’s and Atlanta's downtowns.  We are definitely getting there, but we still have a long way to go.

What are you doing, be it big or small, to make Birmingham a better place? 
I try to highlight the awesome parts of Birmingham on both my local and national blogs to help local people see the beauty and non-local people desire to come visit - or even move here! I want to do what I can to make the image of our city more accurate.  Also, I am continuing work on tornado relief projects. I am working on organizing a Blogger Relief Day, and I am also excited that my fundraising post, A Tornado Story, just got awarded as a Voices of the Year Honoree by BlogherI will be attending the conference in San Diego in three weeks, and I am looking for ways to use the recognition that the post received and will be receiving to help further the awareness of the needs of the tornado survivors in our state.

Photo by Angela Karen
West launched her blog, The Jen West Quest, on March 30, 2010 and, believe it or not, she’s posted something every day since. Because of her blog West garnered a chance to work with Health magazine and even an appearance on The Rachael Ray Show.

What do you love about Birmingham?
Birmingham is a great place to live for many reasons. It’s not too busy or overcrowded, yet it has all of the benefits of a larger city such as a solid creative community and hot pockets of social happenings.  Our community has also started to really embrace a healthier way of living with the development of several local parks, farmers markets and restaurants offering local food selections. 

What would you change about Birmingham?
This is a hard question to answer since Birmingham has already changed so much, and is continuing to change in so many positive ways.  I guess the one thing I would like to see more of is participation from the outside communities in some of the wonderful programs and events going on in the city.  There is still a fear in some people’s minds about “going downtown”, which is mostly unfounded.  Interest sparks activity, and activity sparks change.  

What are you doing, be it big or small, to make Birmingham a better place? 
I try to eat at local establishments (as opposed to chain restaurants) and buy my gifts and specialty items at places like Naked Art when possible.  It is definitely important to support these independently owned businesses.  I also like to write about health and fitness when applicable on my blog, especially when it’s an activity that anyone can do without having a gym membership.  There are so many places in town that you can run, walk or workout for free outdoors that we all should be taking advantage of!

Whitney started to make a name for herself in Birmingham just a few months after arriving in the city thanks to her blog, Magic City Manifesto.  Whitney’s mission is to find the magic in the Magic City and celebrate the hidden gems of Birmingham. Her blog has led to opportunities for her to work with B-Metro Magazine and got the attention of skirt! magazine. 

What do you love about Birmingham?
I love Birmingham’s hills and curves.  I love her spirit and fiery history.  I adore the skyline, the surplus of green spaces, the people and their stories.  I love Birmingham for who she’s been and who she has the potential to become.

What would you change about Birmingham? 
If I could rip away the tarnish that seems to remain from Birmingham’s past, I would.  This city has a lot of scars for her young age.  But, just like someone once said about our 80-year old bungalow in the 35212, “it’s the patina that makes her so unique and livable.”

What are you doing, be it big or small, to make Birmingham a better place? 
From the moment we arrived in Birmingham I’ve had one main priority – to create and support a community where my sons can grow and flourish.  By looking for the best in Birmingham, her magic, I’m doing my part to ensure that others see the city (and its people) at her best.

Interested in attending So You Think You Can Blog? Click here to sign up for this free event. 
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I always know when the question is coming. With family it’s just after the first lull in conversation. With old friends it’s right after they realize it’s been more than five years since they watched me say “I do” at the altar. With people I’ve just met it comes after they learn that, despite my baby face, I’m 30 (gasp!). The question everyone can’t wait to ask, of course, is “When are you going to have kids?”

My answers vary, depending on my mood. “We want to wait until we’ve saved more money and bought a house,” I often say. Sometimes I’m more honest and explain that I’m not sure I want kids, but I only broach this topic when I’m prepared to defend accusations of hating God, hating my husband, and being a terrorist.                

My husband (whom I love very much, I promise) always tries to calm me when I’m ranting about how I’m sick and tired of people’s overwhelming concern about the future of my reproductive organs. He says people don’t mean any harm. They’re just trying to make conversation and simply don’t know what to say.

So I decided to help these poor folks out and compile a list of 10 small talk appropriate questions you can ask me that are sure to spark conversation and have nothing to do with my uterus. And The Hairpin, one of my favorite websites, decided to publish my list. Click here to check it out. 

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Believe it or not kiddies, the year is half over. Over the course of six months, we've been treated to some pretty good music - excluding the BET Awards, of course.

The best news is that there's more goodness to come: new material from Jay-Z and Kayne West, Nas, Common, Monica and Mary J. Blige are all sure to please. And even Kelly Rowland, Drake and Lil Wayne have the potential to turn heads, but let's just say I'm "cautiously optimistic" when it comes to that lot.

But instead of daydreaming about the future, let's celebrate the present. Here are the top five releases of 2011 - so far. It'll be interesting to see how these albums hold up by the time our annual Georgia Mae Top 10 Album Review rolls around in December.

Without further ado:

Honorable mention:
Kendrick Lamar, Section 80

At the behest of a few of my friends, I just tracked this album down a little over a week ago. Since I haven't had a chance to totally absorb it I didn't think it was fair to rank it just yet. Still, it would be a great disservice to exclude it from the bunch. K. Dot has the manic flow of Lil Wayne, the sensibilities of Common and the wordplay of Nas. Did I mention that he's 24 years old? If more young artists were this talented I wouldn't complain so much.

5. Pusha T, Fear of God (mixtape - download it free here)

I'm a huge fan of the rap duo Clipse, and when Pusha decided to link up with Kanye and go solo I was ecstatic. If this mixtape is a precursor of things to come, Pusha's future is mighty bright. To the untrained ear, Push seems to dwell too much on drug tales, but listen closely and you'll learn that slangin' isn't as glamorous as the Rick Rosses of the world tell you. Pusha's witty wordplay makes me hungry for a real album - hopefully this year.

4. Kelly Price, Kelly
Read our review here

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Kelly, both the artist and the album. Her (very) long-awaited fifth album injects soul back in to cold, hollow husk that is R&B. It's like when the Tin Man got his heart from the Wizard of Oz - the feeling was always there, it was just overlooked. Thanks to Kelly's robust, powerful voice and soul-searching lyrics, we won't soon overlook R&B again.

3. Big K.R.I.T., Return of 4Eva (mixtape - download it free here)

Some foolish people have christened that whiny B.o.b. the second coming of OutKast. Playa please, that crown belongs to Big K.R.I.T. Return of 4Eva is a portrait of Southern living - the highs and lows of family and fame and the struggles of a racially charged environment. And for the brainless, there is plenty of talk about rims and strippers too. It's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik for a new generation.

2. Bad Meets Evil, Hell: The Sequel

Read our review here

The album I thought we'd never see didn't quite live up to our impossibly huge expectations but it was far from a disappointment. Eminem and Royce da 5'9 spit with such speed and ferocity you'd think their lives were at stake. For Royce, that might be true - he took the opportunity to emerge from rap's underground and prove to the world just how good he is, often leaving Em in the dust. But even when Eminem is on cruise control he's one of rap's elite. When it comes to hip hop releases, Hell: The Sequel is leading the pack.

1. Marsha Ambrosius, Late Nights, Early Mornings

Read our review here

I said back in March that Marsha had already blessed us with the year's best album. And thus far, no one has proved me wrong. Marsha found the one thing that had been missing in today's R&B - pure, unadulterated emotion - and piled it onto every track on the set. Joy, pain, sadness and sexuality smolder from each song, making her music authentic and relatable. And it's doesn't hurt that her vocals are nearly flawless. Yep, still album of the year.

What are you favorite albums this year? And what are you looking forward to?
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