"If Mama Afrika could speak, do you know what she would say to Black Men?"
That’s the question that was on Malena Amusa’s mind when she dropped to her knees to pray after the Goerge Floyd killing. As he screamed out ‘Mama,’ the 36-year-old writer from St. Louis felt that he was crying out to his most ancient ancestor as well. His cry was a holy invocation to the motherland herself, begging her to deliver him from this strange land and return him back to the source. Malena's book answers Floyd’s call and offers soulful prayers directly from Mama Afrika! Both poem and affirmative prayer, Son of My Shore boldly speaks life into the hearts of all Black Men of the Diaspora, letting them know they are covered by the great ancestors and never alone.
The writing and realization of this book revealed an endurance of the soul. In the midst of a pandemic, civil unrest, and a personal breaking down, Malena pushed through to feel, process, write, and publish in 2 weeks: a divine purging.
It was Thursday. Noon in Hawaii, 5pm in St. Louis, MO. Malena agreed to chat with me while she had her daughter; an enthusiastic toddler whose diplomacy had boundaries. The baby was hungry and wasn't concerned with Mama's interview. So I worked to keep things as brief as possible.
"What is the meaning of life?" I asked.
"I think the meaning of life is the constant pursuit of God's calling in our life." Malena continued:
"There is a reason you and I were born. It wasn't by accident. So to me, life is about unearthing that reason. some call it purpose. but being who you were called to be is not purpose. it's the essence of life itself. How we fulfill it or run and hide from it is what makes up our life. That calling is a subtle beat in your heart rather than the intellectual process of constructing a purpose. That calling doesn't need a name. It's who we are."
Listening to Malena, I could relate. I had known the feeling of doing that which I would do. I also had known the feeling of NOT doing that which I would do. I know that feeling of confusion, angst, anxiety, restlessness...a feeling that is always quieted the moment I decide to trust myself and continue doing what I love, no matter what others may be thinking or doing. Rules and restrictions mean nothing when I know what I must do.
" I think it encapsulates what we're all striving for: meaning and relevance. We all want our life to mean something, so that has to be at the root of what life is... I believe." Malena sat back and relaxed so that her spirit could talk as well. From 4600 miles away, I could clearly imagine her smiling and leaning back, signaling to her baby girl that everything was ok and food would be coming shortly.
"Does this mean that fulfillment is passive?" I asked. "Are we just living and fulfilling our calling by not blocking/running? Or is there more to it than that?"
"For me, fulfillment has meant answering the call. That call for me has been dance and writing. Around the age of 30 I realized that I simply couldn't function properly without doing one of these things daily. I could forgo yoga, painting, and sewing... all the other talents that I had. But when I stopped dancing or writing, that's when my temper would flare or my mood would dip. That's when the wheels of my life would screech and grind against everything else. In doing those things to which I am truly called, I have found fulfillment. It's not passive but active. I had to accept the call and move through the call to find that happy place. That meant that I had to dance and write every day.
"As I grow, I realize this calling has evolved to including mothering. Raising my daughter is something I feel truly called to do. I can't imagine my life without that sacred responsibility. But again, it's not passive. I have to will myself into the role daily. I always feel fulfilled at the end of the day."
A sacred responsibility seems to reach deeper than what is normally referred to as "discipline." In order to accept the sacred responsibility of heeding the call on one's life, we must first be honest with ourselves about who we really are and what we really do. Then, do those things every day. Discipline often refers to doing things conscientiously, whether you want to or not, but just because we can do something doesn't mean it's our call. Nevertheless, being good at something that comes easy to us and feels good doesn't absolve us from the daily active practice at our craft. For example, when I'm not writing or singing, there's this low level of angst...a feeling that I should be doing something else. That "something else" is writing or singing, but I still must prepare and practice these things in order to develop them in a way that would bring fulfillment.
"That's it!" She exclaimed, "That low level angst...some people call it depression but many times it's just your soul telling you to keep being you."
Every call is different. Some people lean towards the arts. Some towards other kinds of work. Malena gave an example of her friend. "I have a girlfriend in the corporate world and she loves it! She's kicking tail and taking names. In her own right, she is an artist, using her creative instinct to dodge racism while still rising up the ladder. At the same time, she could never do what I do with dance or writing. But we are both where we want to be.
"The question I always ask myself is: is what I'm doing helping people, starting with myself? Is my helping ethical and just? If that answer is yes, then I tend to go pretty easy on myself and just let whatever I'm doing or being unfold. I know God will order my steps as long as I can be accountable to those few questions."
"What about when we lose our way or become overwhelmed with the angst and forget who we are?" I asked.
"Sometimes when we are totally out of touch with our God calling, we have to sort of ride that out too." Malena offered. "It's like being in a bad relationship.. .sometimes you have to experience the bad to know that which you truly need going forward. So yes, I tend to think that whatever situation I'm in, it's by design and I have tremendous potential to still realize and be myself within the situation.
"That's something I learned from the elders too... to not just jump around looking for that happy place. But to take life as it comes and be true to yourself in that moment. Rather than holding onto ideas and notions of yourself, just live it and figure yourself out day by day."
Endurance of the Soul
"I had a lot of ironic moments while writing Son of My Shore. It's an encouraging prayer book for Black Men. Yet when I was writing it, I was completely hopeless. Sleep deprived. Exhausted. Attacked by headaches; even dizzy from staring into the computer. Here I am telling Black Men how amazing they are and I was feeling like crap. At a certain point I started to doubt myself. Like: who am I to try and uplift a whole sect of people when I can't even uplift myself!? That doubt almost railroaded this project. But then I started reading excerpts to my fiancée and he would jump up and clap his hands! The prayers made him feel so good. I knew that this work was worth sacrificing my wellness to see him and potentially countless brothers get that spring back in their step.
"As soon as I published the book, my energy flooded back into my body. So I'm glad I held out and kept the faith. Had I given up, I would have never received the abundant love and reception I'm currently getting. Although the book almost burnt me out, it proved just the thing to restore me. It's what we produce that we'll eventually feed on....so every artist must always create because that energy is gong to come back to you always.
"But yes, the process was absolutely horrendous. The editing, re-writing and formatting all with a baby on my hands... I wouldn't wish that on my enemies!
What kept me going, again, was that call...
I figured God would not have blessed me with the words to write if I wasn't supposed to share them... So I compared the pain of writing with the pain of never producing that book and I figured that regret would have been so much more awful than the struggle to finish."
By now, the baby was not having any more of this interview so Malena kindly let me know that we had about 3 minutes to wrap it up. She left me with these words:
"If every cell in the black body could speak and remind the black man of his great place in destiny, then that would sum up my book. It has the rhythm with which we sing to our men, it has the pulse that we transmit our love to them, and it has the blood ties of African rootedness that we share with our brothers. Each prayer is this love shared through God's promise for our life. And that promise is that none of our labor, none of our tears, and none of our lives will be lived in vain."
I thanked Malena for her sage words and asked if her daughter had anything she'd like to add to the conversation. Malena replied:
"LOLOL! Yes, she said, "mommy, food please!"
Dr. Cathryn D. Blue is a social psychologist, writer, singer, and contributor too Kahnma.com