Happy Father’s Day to all of the fabulous fathers out there with a special shout-out to my father-in-law and my father Dr. Denzil D. Holness, a man who is a father and a friend! Although my father is my favorite father, I want to highlight another father today. When I saw Vincent McCant’s essay about his struggle to parent his son Jack on his Facebook page earlier this week, I knew I had to share with all of you who read this blog! With his permission, check out Vincent’s essay below…
Essay: Black Fathers, Fight for Your Right to Parent…
Very few people outside of my family and close friends know that I was embroiled in two custody battles recently, spanning a total of four plus years.
I have a 12-year-old son, who I care greatly for. He is my world and my only child.
I met his mom in the summer of 2003 at a summer concert. His mom is a creole girl from Louisiana, very attractive and the ex-girlfriend of former-heavyweight champ, Mike Tyson.
Things escalated very fast during our brief relationship and soon I was having my first child, a son. The minute I found out we were having a son, the relationship ended for a variety of reasons. Because we were not married, I chose to have a paternity test done, then I hired a lawyer. The next step was legitimizing my son through a formal custody order, with child support included.
Having a son at the age of 33 forced me to become more responsible, because at that point in my life I was living only for me. I spent wildly, partied all the time and, quite frankly, was a player.
Having a child got me back in school, more serious about life and wanting to live a different lifestyle. I was traveling back and forth overseas quite a bit on business for the first two to three years of my son’s life, only seeing him once a month. While living in Beijing, China, I decided enough was enough and left a very lucrative career with a high six-figure salary to be home more with my son. It was a tough decision, but it was necessary.
I completed my master’s degree with honors in the summer of 2006, with a focus on supply chain management and immediately began consulting for major companies like Home Depot, Coca-Cola, NCR and others. I had been an IT leader for years, who directed major software implementations involving ERP and procurement.
Fast forward to 2007, I was now a full-blown, hands-on father, spending as much time as I could with my son. He reshaped my life and gave me a new purpose and meaning. I became a better person overall because of him.
As a more responsible father, I became increasingly uneasy about his environment, his school and most of all, his performance in school. Despite living almost an hour away from him, I was very involved with his school, teachers and the PTA. Based on things I was observing and conversations that were going nowhere with his mom, I felt compelled to seek full custody.
At church one Sunday in May of 2007, I met the woman who would become my future wife in her role as an usher. Over the course of two years, we would often speak at church. My wife developed a deep bond with my son early on, a relationship that has now spanned eight years.
Fast forward to 2010, I started dating my future wife and she immediately became embroiled in the first of two custody battles with me. I would lose the first custody trial, despite being prepared and having a strong case. It was a huge blow to me and my family, but I learned a lot from that trial and decided I would change my strategy and keep fighting for my son.
My son was suffering in school, despite making the honor roll each quarter, as his test scores did not match his grades. He lacked help with his homework, his grammar suffered, his vocabulary was limited and his test scores continued to plummet through out the year.
If you hadn’t noticed, I took a brief hiatus from blogging. About three weeks ago, just before Memorial Day, my husband and I took a quick road trip to Tampa, Florida for his birthday so all of my extraneous energy was directed to that impromptu endeavor. And then the day after we returned, Memorial Day, I learned that a dear friend suddenly passed away. So it’s been difficult to collect my thoughts, much less write them or anything else down.
But here I am, back at a blank page, ready to reveal the ruminations I’ve had since my friend and soror Sherry “Elle” Richardson passed away, two weeks ago today, on her birthday.
This is how I looked when we first met. Yes, I was a geek at first 🙂
I met Sherry in 1992. I was a freshman at the University of Georgia in Athens, and she was a transfer student and sophomore. I met her along with another girl whom she had befriended before they met me. The three of us were fast friends, initially bonding over our desire to not be there at all. LOL! The three of us didn’t want to attend a white school, plain and simple. All devotees of “A Different World,” we were hungry to experience a historically black college or university, an HBCU, for ourselves. We wanted the funky marching band, the opportunity to meet our own Dwayne Wayne, Shazza Zulu or Julian Day (dependent on your taste in men), the endearing yet tough tutelage of black professors and the adventures that unfolded in dormitories teeming with people who looked like you but were from everywhere. Instead we were the minority, one of a few black faces at a school where we expected to learn but we couldn’t guarantee much else. But over time, we grew to love our historically white university and all that went with being a Georgia Bulldog in Athens at that time.
If college was a trip and it was, then Sherry was my travel agent. We had so many adventures together! A sheltered preacher’s daughter, I longed to party a la Ariel in “Footloose,” and Sherry was the perfect partner in partying. We practiced dancing in the mirror before we could “shake what your mama gave ya” in parties at Memorial Hall, where most on-campus parties were held! And if we felt like it, we ventured to Atlanta and partied in clubs all over town too. Our belief was it we weren’t dripping sweat when we left a party then we hadn’t partied.
But Sherry wasn’t all about partying though. We both wanted to establish ourselves as leaders on that colossal campus. One of the ways that we concocted to do so was to pledge a sorority. We noticed that most of the black women who seemed to be leaders were members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, plus they won all of the step shows and looked good doing so. Since she was a year ahead of me, Sherry was ready to pledge, but as a freshman, I wasn’t quite ready or qualified. Sherry decided that one of the ways that she could get the attention of the Deltas was to take part in the Miss Black University of Georgia pageant, which was sponsored by the sorority. Not only did she take part, she won the competition! I’m sure you can guess what happened after that. And when I was ready to pledge the following year, 1995, she successfully advocated for me to become a member of our illustrious sorority.
Partying in Atlanta after we graduated from college…I got better with time fortunately…
After she graduated in 1995 and I graduated in 1996, we kept in touch. In fact, I introduced her to many of childhood friends who promptly loved her as much as I did. In fact, some of these friends hung out with her without me at times. One of our first adventures as brand new adults was a girls trip we took to Jamaica in 1997. It was such a heady experience to travel with your girls on your own dime! The four of us belted out our rendition of TLC’s “Creep” over and over and over again at a karaoke spot one night. I remember shutting down a “hole in the wall” club another night. One day, we watched a brave friend jump from the cliff at Rick’s Cafe in Negril. We called the trip the “Girl Dems Sugar,” a song by Beenie Man that we heard repeatedly wherever we went on the island. And since Sherry was a film producer by profession, she filmed our adventures in a beautiful video that I have to figure out a way to see now since no one has a VCR anymore.
On the Metro in D.C. on Inauguration Day (don’t ask me why I have on pink and green?!)
Speaking of a VCR, fast forward years later, in 2009, several of us caravanned from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. to see the inauguration of President Obama. It was amazing that Sherry, one of my first friends at an institution where I feared I would be lost as a minority, and I witnessed the inauguration of the first black president of this country together. We bought thermal underwear, hand warmers and more to brave the bone-chilling temperatures on the mall that memorable day and shed it all to stun at the Southern Ball that night.
At the Southern Ball, one of several balls that President Obama and First Lady Obama stopped by…
And then in September 2012, we were back in Jamaica again as one of our friends, a childhood friend who now claimed Sherry as one of her besties, was getting married on the island. We were roommates, and it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up in a way that is sometimes hard to do as adults with jobs and other responsibilities. As we were there for a wedding, we discussed what love and marriage meant for us and pondered what that would look like for us as women nearing 40 years old.
At my book release party in 2012…
That next year, 2013, I helped Sherry celebrate her 40th birthday at a Hawaiian luau-themed party she had a her home. A month later, she came to my Southern tea-themed bridal shower followed by my wedding in August of that same year. As college students who lived down the hall from another one another, we saw each other every day. Naturally, as single women staking our claim in our chosen professions following college graduation, we didn’t see each other every day anymore. But we saw each other pretty regularly when our extended group of girls got together to explore the city from brunches, Memorial Day picnics, sisterhood retreats (which she created) at various homes and destinations, the “Sex and the City” movie premiere and more.
But I must admit, when I got married, I cocooned myself in newlywed bonding and didn’t avail myself to random hanging as much as I once did. I noticed the same pattern among friends who had gotten married before I did so I realized it was normal although not always advisable for maintaining friendships. When I heard the news of Sherry’s passing, I realized it had been quite some time since I had seen my friend…I only hope that Sherry knew how much I treasured my friendship with her over the years although recent life events dictated my time.
At a friend’s bridal shower…
Although I am a committed Christian, I cannot pretend that I have an inkling as to why God chose to call my friend away from this earthly realm. Since her homegoing, as I’ve walked throughout my house or driven somewhere, found myself saying, “Imagine Sherry is no longer here?” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve experienced the passing of friends, family members and church family, but it doesn’t make it easier or predictable. These experiences only emphasize that life is truly a transitory state. We should savor all that this life, though temporal, has to offer, but most importantly, we have to be saved or become a Christian to go to Heaven, which lasts for eternity.
So that’s all I have except to say I will miss and love her forever. And I thank God I knew her…
In honor of mothers on Mother’s Day, I want to introduce you to 12-year-old Alena Pitts and her mother Wynter Pitts who co-wrote the new book Hello Stars, the first book in the Lena in the Spotlight series from Faithgirlz! Below is the synopsis of the book.
Young Lena Daniels never thought she’d get the chance star in a movie. Headstrong and determined, she has her life planned out to the minute. But when her best friends, Savannah and Emma, tell her about an audition for a part co-starring her favorite singer, she knows there’s nothing else in the world she’d rather do. And now that she’s gotten her wish, Lena finds that being in the spotlight is harder than it sounds. She got everything she never wanted! Her face turns up everywhere she goes, and everything in her life is flipped upside down. Lena wonders if this is a dream come true or a horrible nightmare. Even a visit from her best friends during filming turns into a disaster. With her little sisters—Ansley, Ashton, and Amber—and her mischievous pup, Austin, constantly at her side, Lena must face the challenges of everyday life while chasing her dreams of being a model and actress on the big screen. Lena tackles tough choices, learns the value of perseverance, and keeps her hopes high. She knows her faith and family will keep her feet on the ground and her eyes on the stars.
As an author for Faithgirlz, which is offered through Zonderkidz, the children’s division of Zondervan, Alena is the youngest, African-American female author with a major book publisher! You may already be familiar with Alena, who portrayed Danielle Jordan in the 2015 hit film War Room! Below is my interview with Alena & her mother Wynter…
1. How does it feel to be the youngest, African- American female author to be represented by a major book publisher?
Alena: Kind of surreal still. Like it hasn’t really hit me. So it’s crazy. I’m just grateful that it happened to me! And then I’m like, ‘Thank you God!’
And how did you get a book deal for Hello Stars?
Alena: So, my mom was like, ‘Hey Alena, do you want to write a book together?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ My mom was like, ‘That would be so fun!’ I really didn’t think that was going to happen, but she was like, ‘Let’s just pray about it.’ So I prayed about it not really expecting anything to happen. So like two weeks later, we got an e-mail from Zondervan asking if we wanted to write a book for them. So I was like, ‘Wow, this must be God’s plan!’ (Laughter)
Wynter: It literally happened just like that! It was just this random thought I had one day, and I just looked at her and said, ‘It would be so fun if we wrote a book together.’ And that was it. And then, a few weeks later, we got an e-mail from Faithgirlz saying they wanted to talk to us about the project. It was so bizarre. Because of my ministry with girls, I had done some Faithgirlz product giveaways and helped them promote some things so I had a relationship with the publicist there. Since then, I found out the publicist mentioned our names to their team over the last year or so, but I didn’t know anyone else on the team!
2. I understand that Lena’s story is based on what has happened in your life as you starred in War Room.
Alena: Well, the book is about Lena Daniels, and my nickname is Lena. That was where I got her name from. And the book was about how she wanted to be in control, and she had her whole life planned out until God was like, ‘No, you’re going to be in a movie and then, you’re going to do this for me. And none of this stuff you have planned for yourself is going to happen.’ And she was like, ‘Wow, I can’t be in control.’ But she found out over time that going with God’s plan is way better than anything she ever dreamed of and that’s kind of like my life.
I had my whole life planned out, my job and what I wanted to do when I grow up. But then I got an audition for a movie. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy!’ And I had to learn to give it all to God! And let Him be in control. So the story line is based on my entire life. And a lot of the funny things that happen in the story are actually real.
So you had your whole life planned out already at 12 years old?
Alena: Yes. My original plan was to do a couple of things. One of my plans was to go to law school and become a lawyer because I love to debate and stuff. But then I figured out how long law school was! Then I was like, ‘Nah!’ Then, I was like, I guess I will be a singer and learn to play some instruments. I still kind of pursue that. But another part of me was like I want to be a professional volleyball player which I still want to do. But based on my life, anything is possible, and you don’t have to stick with one thing your entire life. That’s really boring.
3. So Hello Stars is just the first book in the Lena in the Spotlight series. What can your readers expect in the future books in the series?
Alena: Expect more surprises, more plot twists.
Wynter: Lena continues to grow in her faith and in learning to let go of her plans.
Alena: Yeah because she doesn’t fully learn to let go in the first book! So she goes along on that journey in all three books.
4. You portrayed Danielle Jordan in War Room? How did you get to audition for that role?
Alena: My aunt [Priscilla C. Shirer] was one of the main characters in the movie, and she asked me if if I wanted to audition because they were looking for a little girl to play the part of Danielle. I was like, ‘Sure, I would love to do that.’ But I really didn’t think I would get it. But I kept auditioning and auditioning, and it came down to me and this other little girl. I was like, ‘Wow, this could actually be real. This could actually be what I do in the future.’ I just kept praying about it, and I got a call and I was asked to be in the movie. I was like, ‘Goodness. Sure!’
5. What was it like being on set every day with the Kendrick Brothers, a the Christian brothers who produced the film?
Alena: I like to say it was like church. In the morning, we had prayers. It was different than a normal movie set. And it was a lot better than a normal movie set. And then throughout the day, we would stop and pray if something went wrong. And it was really fun because there were a lot of kids there who were a part of the movie like the double-dutchers.
(Check out behind-the-scenes footage of the double-dutch scenes from “War Room” below)
Where was War Room filmed?
Alena: It was filmed in Charlotte, North Carolina.
And now you want to be an actress?
Alena: I wouldn’t say that. But like I was saying before, if another opportunity comes up, I would definitely say yes to something I felt had God had for me. But I wouldn’t say I would be an actress for the rest of my life.
Wynter: I just encourage her and tell her that when God lays things on her heart or brings things to her just like auditioning for “War Room” to just say yes to it. Even in writing the book. I want her to say yes to the opportunities that God brings her way.
6. As a co-writer for Hello Stars, how did you contribute to the book?
Wynter: Well, Alena would write the outline and the plot, and she would sent it to me. And then I would help to stretch it out. I would add words and make the story longer.
7. Other than the book Hello Stars, is there something from the War Room experience that the both of you took away that stays with you today.
Wynter: For me, just the whole point of the movie is that prayer works. And not just saying, ‘Lord, give me this, give me that.’ But when we have a heart that really wants to serve God and wants to see Him glorified in our lives, when we commit that to prayer, He is able to do amazing things!
Alena: Yes, prayer works and prayer is possible. When I was younger, before the movie, I really didn’t think prayer was something for me. I thought it was for older people because they always had testimonies about everything that happened. But I never heard a little kid talk about the power of prayer so I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s not for me yet.’ I will wait until I get older. But then during the movie, I started to pray, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is something that happens for everyone.’ God doesn’t just listen to older people. I like to say that God’s favorite people are little kids! And I will keep saying that until I get older. (Laughter)
Below is a video of Wynter and her daughter Alena talking about Hello Stars.
About the Author: Alena Pitts is a young actress and model from Dallas, Texas. As the oldest of four girls, Alena first cut her teeth in acting through making home videos and dramas with her sisters, using their entire home as their recording studio. She has a natural love for all things creative which falls right in line with her gifts and talents. The Kendrick Brothers’ War Room marks Alena’s professional acting debut. With only school theater on her young resume, Alena jumped at a chance to audition for the role of Danielle Jordan. In addition to school and acting, Alena models and is a frequent contributor for the magazine For Girls Like You.
About the Co-Author: Wynter Pitts is the founder of For Girls Like You magazine and the author of For Girls Like You: A Devotional for Tweens and You’re God’s Girl. The mother of four girls, Wynter’s mission is to empower and equip girls to walk boldly into becoming who God has created them to be and to provide parents with the resources and support needed to raise strong Christ followers. In addition to publishing the quarterly magazine, Wynter is a frequent blogger, a contributor for LifeWay’s ParentLifeMagazine, and a public speaker. She is also the niece of Dr. Tony Evans. Wynter, her husband, Jonathan, and their four daughters (ages 6-12), reside in Dallas, Texas.
Thanks to Alena and Wynter, I’m giving away a free copy of Hello Stars to the first person who emails the answers to these questions: What star from a ’80s to ’90s sitcom starred in a Kendrick Brothers film? What was the name of the sitcom? And what was the name of the film? Email your answer to me at email@example.com.