In continuing with our #BlackMuslimWriters campaign, we spotlight writer and poet Shaheda Richardson. She shares a sampling of her captivating writing with us and some of her background as well.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
SR: My name is Shaheda Richardson. I have studied English Literature at North Carolina Central University. Throughout my life I have been avid reader, and an advocate for literacy. I currently write for my own blog ‘Reading The Diaspora’ and am working on a book of short stories, and a novel.
Q: Why do you believe writing is so important in our current climate and why is telling your story necessary?
SR: As creative people, we have the unique ability to defy what may confine us, and advance humanity through the efforts of our minds, and our pens. Throughout our history, African Americans have used artistic expression to expand our culture beyond the oppressive circumstances we have been subjected to. We have written our stories, and our poems, and our songs in defiance of that which has sought to stifle us. Writing has expanded our voice, experience, and influence beyond the chains of chattel slavery, the subjugation of repressive laws, and this current climate of resurrected bigotry. Those of us who belong to both the family of African-descended people in the United States, and the global family of those who proclaim “There is No God but Allah”, have a unique opportunity. I would consider it a personal responsibility.
We must expand our voices further in this climate of growing racism and xenophobia. I cannot alter history with my words, but I can shift attitudes, and appeal to the best of what is within us. This is as our tradition, to speak to, and for those oppressed among us. As Muslims, it is a divine command from God, as African Americans, it is our legacy, and repayment for the sacrifices of our ancestors. As writers, we can use our talents to illuminate what is most beautiful about us, as well as the challenges we seek to overcome. This is our power, it is what dignifies us, and what advances the whole of us into greater enlightenment.
A sampling of Shaheda’s work:
For Nabra Hassenen (2017)
For Abeer Qassim Hamza Al-Janabi (2006)
For Rekia Boyd (2012)
For Mary Turner (1917)
Do Not teach your daughters how to run away,
Or look over their shoulders,
Do not teach them to watch their backs, or peak through fingers
Order them to Raise their gaze, About-face, and Square off
Do not to speak softly
Deafen them with your screams
Learn to Grow fangs, and Hiss
Shapeshift into dragons, and Exhale fire
File your nails into claws,
Circle predators & Transform them into your prey
Do not tremble or shiver
Be a Tremor, and Fracture everything in your path
Bring a gun to a fist fight
Keep them in your cross-hairs, and Stay trigger-happy
Do not seek cover & wait for help
Switch the lights off,
Unlock every door
& Wait for them in the dark
Keep your blades sharp & slash Mister’s neck if you need to
Sprinkle salt in the wound
Mark your territory with their blood
Wait for daylight, and Crucify them on their crosses
Find their matches, and Set them ablaze
Watch the smoke rise, and Wait for the rest to arrive
Listen to Shaheda Richardson read her powerful poem, Undefined Girls.
My Other Mother
“When a kid walks into a room, your child, or anybody else’s child, does your face light up?” -Toni Morrison
I recognize that light. It filled the smile that greeted me on countless days of my childhood. I was greeted with that same smile the last time I saw her, before she passed away. Between talk of her diagnosis, and treatment, it was still there.
I am forever grateful for Sister Sabra, and the relationship that my mother shared with her. To have witnessed what a genuine bond between women looks, and feels like, and have it trickle down to me, was transcendent.
I traded places between her house, and my own after school, on weekends, and during the summer. Her home was a constant destination. Her home was our second home, she was my second home. Sabra was statuesque, like my mother, and all woman. Beautiful, interesting, and full of wisdom, she had an air of glamour that was tempered by modesty. Her home was my first school. She named it Harambee (Swahili for working together), and it was the greatest daycare in the world. She may as well have been my first doctor. With the confidence of a physician, she prescribed Golden Seal, and Echinacea when we were sick, and soothed my little sister’s bee sting with snuff collected from a neighbor. She could have rubbed water on a cut, and I would have been convinced that it was a healing ointment.
It was within the cozy confines of Harambee daycare, that I developed a peculiar, but wonderfully satisfying habit of stripping down, and hiding between the cushions of her couch just before my mother arrived to collect me. I couldn’t explain why I did this, I’m sure there is child psychologist that can truly unravel it. What I do know is how I felt. Fully aware of how naughty it was, I was assured that I would be only lightly, and lovingly reprimanded. I felt safe, and cozy between those cushions, and in her care. Fast forward to me as a teen. On a morning after babysitting Ngozi, her daughter, she walked into the room as I was changing, and let out a big laugh when I desperately rushed to cover up. “That’s nothing I’ve never seen before” she assured. I was slightly miffed, as most teens would be, but I laugh now at the accuracy of her statement.
When I think of her, I think of the soft sunlight behind clouds. The smell of incense, and well-seasoned food. I think of this song:
When you wake up in the morning, and open your eyes
What do you do, what do you say? Do you thank Allah for another day?
Without Him, there would be no tall trees, oceans, mountains, or trees
Without Him, there would be no you and me, to feel his breeze
This was part of her song. She sung it to us, and when we learned it, we sung it with her, and with each other. When I sing it to myself now, I hear her voice in my head. Each refrain, each change in key. The ‘A’ in ‘day’ was held for about four seconds long, and in a pitch that makes my voice crack, but she sang it perfectly. That song is a simple yet heartfelt reminder of who she was, and a lasting reminder of the type of people she encouraged us to be.
I cannot pass a homeless shelter, or a women’s shelter without thinking of her. I remember one instance in the same way one remembers a dream, with the sensory details most vivid. We were waiting in the dark. In her parked van, the smell of gas, and jerk chicken filling the trapped air inside. She parked at a building that had no sign, or markers to indicate its purpose. I know that we had to make this one stop before she dropped me off, but I was unaware of the reason. Growing impatient, finally the light from the cracked door sliced the night, and a woman’s silhouette approached the rear of the van. Sister Sabra quietly handed over the large aluminum pans in the backseat, the food leftover from catering that day. This exchange only made sense to me when I passed that building some years later, and realized it was a Women’s shelter. It was indeed a nondescript square, concrete building with few windows, an imposing rear door, and a secured entrance. A building hiding in plain sight that by design, provoked no curiosity or concern by those passing. It became a personal landmark to me.
I can recall, even more vividly, the unkempt men, with grungy clothing that lined the outside of the shelter in downtown Durham. They were not intimidating, or scary to Sister Sabra, and so they became less so to me. We breezed in and out of that shelter, with food, and warm greetings in tow. This day was for service, organized to bring attention to the plights of the drug, homeless, and the AIDS-affected. I mimicked her warm gestures, and the care she took with each person she served, until they became my own. I recognize that I have a certain ease with the displaced of society that I know is me reflecting what I saw in her.
This is the blessing of having a ‘second’ mother, to fortify everything you learn from your first. If you are blessed, as I was, you get two worlds to grow in, two hearts to love you, four arms to hold you up, to let you go, and to return to. I hold her in my memories, and within my prayers, and as there is a special place in my heart for her, there is a special place for those like her with our Creator. Those who give some of themselves away, with their time, money, and energy, with their smiles, in the cloak of darkness with no fanfare, or applause. They make no distinction between those who have, and have not. According to Islamic tradition, there is a great reward for those who endure the type of Cancer she passed away from. We have no doubt, that neither what we give, nor the trials that we are given, deplete us. What we perceive as darkness yields light. I know nothing of what she may have left behind in material wealth, but I do know that what she left me was immeasurable. I pray that the light she gave, will be returned back to her and multiplied without limit. I hope that after reading this, whether you knew her or not, you take some of that light and remember to share it freely with your children, loved ones, and strangers. If nothing else, let this be proof that the charity and kindness you give, even that of a humble smile, has the power to illuminate a life, long after you have departed your own.
“Every good deed is charity. Verily, it is a good deed to meet your brother with a cheerful face, and to pour what is left from your bucket into the vessel of your brother.”
Shaheda seems to be the queen of short poignant poetry. Here’s one final poem from her that I just love.
If you’re as enthralled by Shaheda as I am, make sure you follow her on social media to see more of her work.
Shaheda on Instagram
Her blog: Reading the Diaspora