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Geechee Gal Griot


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Geechee Gals Gettin’ It – pt. 5

The Gullah Geechee culture is not only rich in history. The gifts our ancestors gave are infinite and inspire us daily but it doesn’t just stop there. No, Gullah Geechee is a living, breathing culture. What we do today continues to shape our community and narrative. From healing work, to activism, music, entrepreneurship, preservation, counseling, parenting, natural hair care and more, Gullah Geechee women continue to “Reach back and get it” and then put their thing down, flip it and reverse it 🙂 

This is the final entry in this 5-part series highlighting proud Gullah Geechee women who are honoring the entrepreneurial and revolutionary spirits of those who came before us.

Each woman was asked a series of questions ranging from how long they’ve identified as Gullah Geechee to what they believe will be key in preserving and celebrating the culture and community.

In their own words…


 

Deronda C. Washington, Geechee Gal

ggderonda2I am Charleston, SC born and RAISED!

In grade school I was truly embarrassed to be referred to as Geechee. I thought it had negative connotations–people who left verbs out of their sentences and had little-to-no education. It wasn’t until college that I felt so much pride in the Gullah Geechee cultural identity.

Gullah Geechee is a way of life. It’s the foods we eat.The words we say. The rich heritage of the islands. I love being able to sit in a room, conversing with other Gullah Geechee people and knowing others in the room have no idea what we are saying!! Lol

My passion continues to lie with women and children. I love empowering them to be the best THEM they can be. Because my husband and I recently experienced fertility issues, I want to be a voice for African American women dealing with infertility. There are few resources available to help African American women get through this–especially with the culture we are in.

I feel like I’m always juggling hats. I’m a wife, daughter, sister, friend, First Lady of a congregation, educator, business owner and mother. Ironically, I’m a different person in each of these roles because of the unique needs of everyone I serve. ggderondafamGod continues to call me to be a transparent voice for Him. I remember once saying that I was done with God putting me through trials. However, I now know that it wasn’t about me. He was giving me a testimony to help others.

98% of my clients are African American. I believe that I am always able to meet the needs of our clients because I understand their needs better than some of our “competition.”

It is crucial to make as many lasting impressions and connections through networking as possible. People may not immediately use your services, but they will remember your presence and how confident you were.

We must celebrate through acknowledging our Gullah Geechee culture as well as ensuring it’s longevity for people to have a sense of pride versus shame.

You can read Deronda’s blog, The Other Side of the Blessing & support her work at Legacy Graphic Tees !


Cheveze Daniel, Geechee Gal

ggcheveze2

I am from Greer, SC. I grew up in Lyman, SC and moved to Charleston in 2011. I don’t consider myself Gullah because I’m still learning about what that means. I will say that I enjoy all of the knowledge I’ve been receiving about the Gullah Geechee way of life since I’ve been in The Lowcountry.

I don’t think I’ll ever claim to be Gullah Geechee simply because I respect the culture too much. When I first got to Charleston, what stood out to me the most was the dialect, and the ways Gullah Geechee people interacted with one another. To me, being Gullah Geechee  literally means being the last bit of African men/women this country will know. That can’t be adopted.

I’m passionate about expression. People who know me label me an artist, a hair stylist, and a creator. Those who don’t know me label me as what they see most: a hairstylist or an artist. I identify as an open expressionist. Thankfully, I’ve found a way to sustain a living based off of my means of expression so I’m able to do it all the time. Expression is my passion.

I’m an all-natural hair stylist. I service all African textured hair & hairstyles–no chemicals or heat. I’m ultimately a visual artist. I draw/paint original artwork on canvas. I mostly use acrylic paint but I’m slowly going back into graphite. I’ve learned that I shade better using graphite mediums. I take photos; I’m a canon shooter. I’m also a wire wrapping jewelry-maker. I create unique pieces using brass, crystals and seashells from Folly Beach and Isle of Palms. I started wire wrapping once I began learning more about the city of Charleston and how sacred this land is to the melanated people. It shocked me that I’m from only two hours up the interstate, yet was never exposed to all of the history here. I started making the jewelry because I wanted to acknowledge all that I’d learned and share that acknowledgement with others. I create this jewelry to honor all of my ancestors across the shores of South Carolina. I added crystals once I became aware that all minerals have their own beneficial properties.

My culture plays a role in my entrepreneurship as a hairstylist in more ways than one. I service ggcheveze3African people with natural hair and I use all herbal products–handmade by myself or other Black herbalist. As an artist, I depict Black cultural experiences only. From women doing each other’s hair, reading or cooking, to men doing their daughters’ hair and meditating. Black culture is all I draw.

The best advice I have for Black women entrepreneurs is the best advice that I was ever given.  First: Always have an ear. Listen to everything. There may be many odds against you; you’re black, you’re young, you’re a woman. Always be aware of who you’re around and who you have your business around. Be picky. Be strategic. Trust yourself. It’s always gonna be scary if you’re actually growing. Second: Don’t be discouraged by being “the ant in the room,” i.e. we tend to do well when we’re in a room around familiar faces, familiar energy and when we feel invited, wanted and known.  In order to grow, you must acknowledge those who have more knowledge than you or are further in their career than you are without feeling ggchevezelike anything is being taken from you. When around those who are “bigger” than you, admire who they are but don’t feel insignificant. Secondly: Know how to be just as substantial in a room full of people who are “bigger” than you. Make sure you’re still listening. Absorb knowledge but don’t be a leach. One day you’ll be standing in that SAME room with those SAME people and you’ll be one of them. This means you’ve absorbed. Most importantly, you’ve GROWN. Don’t ever be afraid to feel out of place–to be the ant. Actually, that may be the best advice in anything. I keep that close to me.

I feel like there has to be a way to inform people of the culture and why preserving this culture is important. How you and your loved ones will benefit from this culture, you know? Lastly, there needs to be a monitoring system to make sure that people are actually applying what they’ve learned about their culture to their everyday lives without feeling controlled or any one person being controlling. I believe this is the foundation for  the many steps it takes to celebrate the traditions of any culture.

Visit Natural Hair Destiny to book an appointment with Cheveze!


Thank you for following/sharing this special series and celebrating these incredible Gullah Geechee women!

Stay tuned for more stories and projects as we continue to define, for ourselves, what it means to be Gullah Geechee and Proud!


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Geechee Gals Gettin’ It – pt. 4

The Gullah Geechee culture is not only rich in history. The gifts our ancestors gave are infinite and inspire us daily but it doesn’t just stop there. No, Gullah Geechee is a living, breathing culture. What we do today continues to shape our community and narrative. From healing work, to activism, music, entrepreneurship, preservation, counseling, parenting, natural hair care and more, Gullah Geechee women continue to “Reach back and get it” and then put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. 🙂

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing a short series highlighting 14 proud Gullah Geechee women who are honoring the entrepreneurial and revolutionary spirits of those who came before us.

Each woman was asked a series of questions ranging from how long they’ve identified as Gullah Geechee to what they believe will be key in preserving and celebrating the culture and community.

In their own words…


Shaniqua Davenport Coaxum, Geechee Gal

I was born in Fort Jackson, SC (military) but raised in Beaufort, SC by way of Burton, SC ggshaniqua3and later St. Helena Island. Honestly, I started to identify as Gullah Geechee at the age of 8, when my mother moved our family across the bridge from Burton to St. Helena Island, SC. My siblings and I went to Penn Center‘s Afterschool Program for Cultural Enrichment for years. I attended until 9th grade.  I started to to claim the culture because I knew we were unique as far as traditions, work ethic, the way we ate and cooked–but I really didn’t understand until I got older.

To me Gullah Geechee is a unique culture and way of life; speaking, cooking, eating, and work ethic.

I am passionate about my business and and about educating my clients. Not only do I teach them how to care for their hair; but I educate them about our culture and who we are. So many of them have never heard the words “Gullah Geechee” but will go to Charleston or Hilton Head to eat and enjoy our cultural dishes without knowing anything about the origin.

ggshaniquaI am a licensed cosmetologist and owner of Naturelle Beaute’ by Shaniqua in Charlotte, NC. I believe that I’ve been called to counsel and educate, and I do this whenever I stand behind my chair. I am also a wife and an expectant mother!

The work ethic and entrepreneurial skills of my ancestors definitely plays a role in how I handle business. My advice to other women is to stay true to yourself and your brand. Never compete with the next business owner–what’s yours is yours. Customers will come and come and go but loyal clients will be there until the end.

I think to preserve the culture we  need to create a group of people who are passionate about the Gullah Geechee culture and community. We should utilize technology and social media. This would bring awareness and eventually help our culture evolve beyond the corridor. Many of us natives no longer live in The Lowcountry but love sharing and celebrating our Gullah Geechee traditions in our various cities.

Check out Shaniqua’s work: Naturelle Beaute’ by Shaniqua !


Tamika Middleton, Geechee Gal

I’m from St. Helena Island, Seaside to be exact 🙂 I have always identified as Gullah ggtamika3Geechee. I think maybe it was growing up on St. Helena, spending so much time at Penn Center, having your parents (Ron and Natalie Daise) come do presentations at St. Helena Elementary. I was always clear that I was Gullah Geechee, and that it meant something (even if I didn’t always think that “something” was positive).

Gullah Geechee means ancestral legacy and connection. It means standing in a lineage of resistance and resilience; Gullah Geechee means an indomitable people with an indomitable spirit. It means good food, and family, and Blackness, and land, and culture. Gullah Geechee is self and home.

I am passionate about Black people, and specifically Black women and children. I am passionate about preserving Black legacies of healing and resistance. I am passionate about liberation, and about us all acknowledging how necessary Black liberation is to all liberation.

I wear a lot of hats! I am the Organizing Director for the Atlanta chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. I am a doula and an apprentice midwife. I am a nonprofit consultant, though I like to think of myself as a social movements consultant, because I prefer to consult with organizations that are doing really important work towards liberation. I am an organizer to my core, through and through. I know my purpose is tied into that, because no matter how often I try to step away, I find myself doing it, instinctually. I know I’ve been called to be a healer–specifically in the Gullah Geechee tradition. My ancestors told me this in a dream. So we’ll see where that leads me. Along those lines, I coordinate an organization called Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, and we provide a space to talk about the necessity of healing and wellness as a part of social movement work and for addressing collective trauma. I’m a wife and a mama. I’m an unschooler, and I do a lot of thinking, talking, writing, building around self-directed education, and alternative educational models as libratory praxis. I’m working with a dope group of folks on opening the Anna Julia Cooper Learning and Liberation Center in the spring of 2017. I write sometimes, too, when I can get out of my own way. I have a novel in me somewhere. And I perform with a bomb ass Black women performance group called NALO Arts Collective.

ggtamikaI think all of this makes me terribly unsuited for capitalism! lol. Anything I do to earn money is always in the service of Black people. And I tend to lean more toward bartering, sliding scale services, that sort of model. I operate in a way that’s a bit Marxist, in that “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability” sort of way, such that I rarely turn anyone away for doula services or consulting services; I always try to find a way to offer them something, or find someone who can provide them what they need. It’s not the best way to run a business in a capitalistic society, but I always find that my needs are met, because my work is also a way I build community.

I think the advice I would have for other entrepreneurs is to stay true to yourself, stay true to your mission, and stay grounded and connected. It’s the only way to move through the world. And also, find yourself some dope Black women to keep you up. At the same time, for Black women, especially, don’t let people feel entitled to your labor. Despite the fact that I try to show up to the best of my ability, and most folks really appreciate that, there will always be folks who don’t appreciate it, because they feel entitled to it. To paraphrase Zora Neale Hurston, Black women are the mules of the world. People will take your work, eat off of it, THRIVE off of it, and render you invisible. DON’T LET THEM.

How to preserve and celebrate the culture? I think the answer to that question lies in that word “evolution”. There are people who want to make us into ghosts. The world would see Gullah Geechee Culture as a dead or static culture. But we are here. And we are alive. And WE ARE THE CULTURE (despite what some folks would have you think). We have to remember that we are the culture, and the culture is what, who, where we are. We are the ancestors; they are us. We honor the ancestors, the traditions, but we acknowledge that the traditions are alive. We talk to the ones that come after us. My kids are born and raisedggtamika2 in Atlanta, but they will never not know they are Gullah Geechee. So we connect with each other, we build with each other, we commune with each other, we learn the traditions, we pass them on, and we talk about who we are today. There’s a DOPE thread of Gullah Geechee hip hop artists and musicians on Facebook. How do we inherently make hip hop something different because of who we are? As we leave the Corridor, what is it that we take with us? Who have we become? I have an interview project in my head to talk to Gullah Geechee folks under 45. Because really, no-one talks to us, except to put us on display, to have us perform. No-one talks to us as though we are actual, living, breathing, loving people. So I’d like to do that.


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Geechee Gals Gettin’ It – pt. 3

The Gullah Geechee culture is not only rich in history. The gifts our ancestors gave are infinite and inspire us daily but it doesn’t just stop there. No, Gullah Geechee is a living, breathing culture. What we do today continues to shape our community and narrative. From healing work, to activism, music, entrepreneurship, preservation, counseling, parenting, natural hair care and more, Gullah Geechee women continue to “Reach back and get it” and then put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. 🙂
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing a short series highlighting 14 proud Gullah Geechee women who are honoring the entrepreneurial and revolutionary spirits of those who came before us.
Each woman was asked a series of questions ranging from how long they’ve identified as Gullah Geechee to what they believe will be key in preserving and celebrating the culture and community.
In their own words…

Kyndra Joi, Geechee Gal
ggkyndra1A Village raised me! Huger Street, Eastside, West Ashley, Silver hill and George Legare aka George lagree. My childhood was full of Geechee wonder, surrounded by my elders, spirituality and culture! And I didn’t even know it! With all of this combined, I am and still evolving to be the best me and a stronger Gullah Warrior Ooman.
Growing up in Charleston, we were called Geechee all of our lives. However, understanding what that meant was something different. It was only when music called me back to my true identity. I began singing with Ann Caldwell and the Magnolia singers in high school where I sang the bassline. I learned more about the culture, the language and realized what I had been speaking all along wasn’t “bad English”, it was Gullah. Since 1996 when I realized the uniqueness of my sound, my voice and my spirit, I have been nothing but a Proud Gullah Girl. Now I have my famlee interested in our history and culture and in turn, we have become a closer unit. #KnowThyself
Once you understand the history of our Gullah Geechee ancestors, their intuition, their genius to adapt, cultivate and thrive, a sense of pride swells within you. To have an identity, language and culture so unique and so similar to our Afrikan brothers and sisters, it just fills my spirit. When I went to Senegal, Ghana and Cote de voire and ate the same meals that my famlee eats on a daily basis, it just blew my mind. I am a direct descendant of the coast of West Afrika. I am a Gullah Warrior Woman. I am proud to speak my language, tell our story and pass on traditions so our ancestors nor our Gullah Geechee culture will never be forgotten. I am because They are!
My life now was shaped and molded by how I was raised in Charleston. Growing up, I was passionate about my famlee, music, history and community. When I realized that my community was what I read and studied in books i.e. underground railroads and slave markets, my life changed. When I realized that women caring and treating each other respectfully and children minding their elders became a rarity when I left home for college, my life changed again! My passion now is Lighting the Village. I develop curriculums and facilitate wellness workshops for communities and organizations that cultivate wholeness within mind, body and spirit; individually and collectively! I share my culture, my memories, my joys and my pains in my workshops and allow what the ancestors left for me in my village to shine through to give light to multiple generations.
I recently told one of the women from my church who helped  raise me that they all should be locked up because the way they raised us was illegal. Lol! She laughed. I continued to tell her that the rest of the world doesn’t operate like this and they set us up! Lol! To be able to share that same intentional love with others that I experienced growing up and all throughout high school is the Lighting of the Village I am speaking of. This is my passion!
ggkyndra3My closet is full of hats! First Tier; I am Recording Artist, Kyndra Joi, where my music is affectionately known as “Gullah Soul”. I have taken a brief hiatus from the recording scene to do more cultural music and music collaborations. I am the Founder and Director of my nonprofit, I Am My Sister. This nonprofit assists women of color in cultivating wholeness and obtaining balance within self-first through wellness workshops and mentorship. This organization is dear to my heart because the ultimate goal is to assist women in freeing themselves from that mental and societal bondage that has been placed on them. When we are free, we are able to stand upright in our places and the be the strength and protectors of our communities and families that we have been created to be.
Next, my second business is called, Light the Village, LLC. This organization facilitates wellness workshops catered to your organizational needs in regards to mental health from a holistic perspective, Cultural Seminars (Gullah Geechee workshops) and Speaking Engagements. This is the opportunity I get to facilitate Gullah Geechee Seminars on music, women, history and culture.
I am a LMSW (licensed master social worker), Certified Belief Therapist, Herbalist, Curriculum developer, Sister, Daughter, Friend and Mentor.
With all that being said, I truly believe that my calling is teaching in love. I assist in teaching women and children how to cultivate wholeness within themselves. With my own experience and working in the social work/clinical field for 16 years, persons who have a sense of identity are less likely to participate in a negligent activity. They find a sense of pride and purpose and operate within that realm. Imagine if all of our communities were to operate in this realm!! The thought blows my mind.
My culture plays a big role in my entrepreneurship because it keeps me in the perspective that I am making strides and moves for the next generation. With this mindset, it’s never about just me. Its about how we can get communities of color to sustain themselves, how can we insert the feminine energy back into our current realm, how can we get children to actually know who they are, who their ancestors are and show respect within that.
With my nonprofit, I have had the opportunities to do bigger community events and involve everyone in the famlee within these neighborhoods programs. My perspective is this: if our ancestors and elders didn’t do it for us, where would we be? Now I am in the position to make things happen and create opportunities for women and children to know who they are and how to operate freely within that. I know that I can do this solely on what was instilled in me, the role models that were before me daily and the village that said, We are a Famlee, despite not being related by blood.   I know whose shoulders I stand on and I do not take the responsibility lightly. When they see me coming they say, there goes that Gullah Gal and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
ggkyndra2My advice that I give to the Queens is just do it! There are always going to be the what if’s, the naysayers, the financial concerns, but just do it. Develop your plan, get a team of at least 2 people and make it do what it do. Ask questions, find a mentor, have a steady self-care plan and then go at it again! Just imagine, if our ancestors didn’t do it, where would be? We are responsible for the generation behind us. They are because We Are!
 I feel that our generation has no choice but to preserve our culture and pass the tradition. For those of us who understand the importance of our existence, we should have famlee circles to create an open space for us to talk about our culture and be free to ask questions; especially since it’s not taught in our schools. However, on the community level, I have collaborated with others who want to know more about the culture and created programming from levels of music, culinary and education to share with the masses. On the individual level, I just finished writing a children’s book, “Princess Kai, Tales of a Gullah Girl.” I develop programming where I go into schools, libraries and organizations to facilitate workshops and creative cultural programming. It is my personal responsibility to educate communities and nurture the culture that gave me my identity. Celebrate the culture daily wherever you go. If you don’t live in the Gullah Geechee corridor, rep it wherever you are! For many years, people were ashamed to be associated as Gullah Geechee because many believed it had a negative connotation. Now everywhere I go people are asking, where are you from? I tell them with all my 32’s showing, “I from Charleston, Imma a Gullah Gal” which often then sparks a conversation.
 My vision is to create a conglomerate within Gullah business owners so that we wherever we are, we can be represented all over the world. It can be a like a tourist, culinary, education, music, dance and community company where all the money would remain in the communities to rebuild, educate and preserve Gullah Geechee culture. We must start teaching our children who they are because if not, our culture will fade.
Connect with Kyndra!
Invite Kyndra to do a Wellness Workshop or Gullah Geechee Seminar
Email:lightthevillage@gmail.com
Wanna be a part or learn more about her nonprofit, I Am My Sister?  Check out
Website: I Am My Sister
Or
Email: iamsnola@gmail.com