I am honored to welcome back a talented, beautiful person.  She is a Emmy Award Winner, a Photographer, a Producer, a Writer, and videographer. She is an inspiration and a rock for many people, including myself. My best friend and sister, Bianca Rhodes. Thank you my sister!!

Why I Smile

A lot of people are shocked at my optimism and the consistent smile on my face. My optimism comes from a lot of things. I come from a Mother that always stays on the bright side of the road. She is a Principal at a middle school. I don’t know if you remember how Middle School was, it definitely was a tough time. I had a mouth full of braces and an oblong body, mostly legs, wore a lot of boys clothes, because that was what fit, girls’ pants weren’t long enough. Every day, she has to look into the eyes of Youth who may have all kinds of problems at home, and give them hope. She also has an infectious smile, so that helps too. My Grandmother Bertha Lee Fondren, also, was a woman full of laughter and smiles. She always said, if I wasn’t laughing I would be crying. I later found out there was a lot of pain behind all of that, but she knew she had to be hopeful for her family. It was hope that got her to Minnesota and she knew that being Black came with so much. Therefore, give them light despite all the darkness. That is what she was, God rest her soul.

Another part of my smile is from when I almost lost my life to my Epilepsy. For those who don’t quite know, Epilepsy is a seizure disorder. I was diagnosed when I was in college. I had two grand mal seizures, which is when your entire body shakes and your brain shuts down. All of your muscles become very weak after, all of them. It feels like you ran a full sprint, for hours. But that wasn’t the worse part, I had, what is called a Steven’s Johnson reaction to a medication called Dilantin. Steven’s Johnson is when your immune system becomes very weak, your gums, virtually melt, you have hives all over your body, and your throat almost closes. I had to be put on a steroid to keep my throat open while I slept. I remember the nurse saying, “If you feel your mouth filling up with saliva, you need to wake up and swallow.” Really? Okay. A lot of Doctors hadn’t seen the reaction before, so residency Doctors would come in and look down my throat. I felt like an experiment. It had caused temporary blindness while I was trying to go back to college. I was on a bus and my vision became foggy, then looked like a piece of opaque glass. I had to count the stops so I knew when to get off. And at the same time, not panic in front a bus full or people. I quickly had to be taken off Dilantin and try a few different drugs to keep me from having seizures. Every week for a month or so, I would have to come to North Memorial to be poked, to check the levels of the medication in my blood. My Mother’s smile dimmed, I lost friends, some family were even mad that I was sick. I was always one of the strong, and the strong cannot get sick. My boyfriend of 7 years, at the time, told me he was going into the military…so I felt abandoned at the most vulnerable time in my life. It was a whole lot, but here is what it taught me. Honey, do you know how far you came???

Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily grind, working, dealing with stress, fighting depression and anxiety, just to make it through…we forget our most vulnerable moments. My smile is my armor, not necessarily as a defense, but to show the world that I am still here! The cruel world tried to dim my spirit and take my life, yet I smile. It is a sign of my resiliency. It is something that my beautiful Ancestors gave me. There’s this picture of my Grandma and my Grandfather and she is smiling as big and as happy as ever. Put that into perspective, she was smiling during Jim Crow, she was smiling during the time of the Civil Rights Moment. She was smiling when it was so hard to even think of what it is like to be Black and free. Always remember how far you came. Use it as fuel to push you past your current pain and hurt. Sometimes a smile isn’t a mask, but a sword against sadness.  

Bianca Rhodes-Crown Lens Media Group/LeMae Photography/Saint Paul Neighborhood Network

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