African-American History Month: Allen Allensworth

Welcome to yet another African-American History Month post!  I have so much fun doing these, and I finally have the time to do another for you.  I pride myself on bringing you little known black history facts every February, but this one surprised even me!

Today’s black history post is on Allen Allensworth.  My California readers have probably heard of the Allensworth State Historic Park and the accompanying museum: Allensworth: A Place. A People. A History.  Did you know Allensworth set out to create a city designed specifically for African-Americans where they could live free of political and social persecution?  Allensworth, CA still stands today, and though it did not accomplish what it was meant to be, Allen Allensworth was a stellar black American indeed.

Allensworth was born a slave in 1842 Kentucky.  The youngest of 13 children, Allen was assigned as a companion to the youngest male child of the plantation master, and, alongside his new companion, was taught to read and write.  Educating a slave was a criminal act in that time, and to hide Allen’s talents, his mistress sent him off to live with a Quaker who continued his education.  Eventually, his knowledge was discovered, and Allen was immediately sent to work as a field hand.

Allen despised his slave status and considered slavery to be second class citizenry.  He knew he wanted out and constantly sought ways to do so.  When he was sold to Fred Scruggs, a horse owner and racer, Allen found that he was a talented jockey.  Scruggs noticed this, too, and moved Allen from exercise boy to jockey.  In 1862, Allensworth traveled to Louisville with his master to a horse race being held there.  It was there he met and conversed with Union soldiers of the 44th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  Upon confessing to them his desire to be a free man, the soldiers helped him conspire an escape.  They loaned Allen an infantry coat and covered his face in mud, smuggling him out of Louisville and into the Union military.  Allen served as a nursing aide for a time during the Civil War, then joined the US Navy.

It was during this post that he became chaplain for the cavalry of African-Americans serving at the time.  IT was President Grover Cleveland who finally appointed him to this position.  He maintained as chaplain for 20 years.  In addition, he used his position to emphasize the importance of education of enlisted personnel, penning two works that eventually became governing army standard manuals.  Shortly before his retirement, Allensworth was promoted to lieutenant colonel, making him the first black officer to ever receive the rank.  He retired to Los Angeles after a long career.

Despite such notorious attributes early in his life, Allensworth is most historically well-known for his founding of Allensworth in California.  A firm believer in the similar teachings of Booker T. Washington, Allensworth was quite vocal about the African-American’s responsibility to himself first.  He emphasized economic frugality (“Don’t put a five dollar hat on a five cent head”) and admonished black Americans to strive to own property and work for themselves.  The development of the Allensworth community set out to do precisely that, anchoring to be the first race community that was completely funded and built by African-Americans themselves.

Once Allensworth and his team found land to purchase (a difficult task in itself as Jim Crow was still the law of the land), expansion happened quickly.  Within a year, 35 families had moved into the town and immediately the Allensworth colony began to take on a sense of community.  The settlement had two general stores, a post office, a school and eventually even a library.  A train station stopped through, the land was fertile and fresh water was supplied through a local water works company.  Life was good.

The town’s luck began to turn when it lost its leader.  Allensworth, while visiting Monrovia for a lecture, was struck by two white boys driving recklessly on a speeding motorcycle.  The two were never apprehended and whether or not the assault was accidental or intentional was never determined.  Nevertheless, the accident resulted in Allensworth’s death, leaving a distinct lack of leadership in his new colony.  Slowly but surely, things in the town started downhill, and before long, its residents began migrating from the colony to find work.

Allen Allensworth, despite what could be considered a failed effort, exemplified the integrity he endeavored to teach.  Realizing that nothing changes without someone willing to change, he pushed forward to every goal he ever set in his efforts to establish laws and communities that benefited black Americans.  He led by example for those who lives he touched, and his efforts still stand as rules to live by for blacks living in this century.

America Comes Alive
History Net


Soapbox Spotlight: Stacy Eaton

Welcome back to another Soapbox  Spotlight!  I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed doing these.  Today, I want to introduce you to Stacy Eaton, an incredible paranormal writer that I’ve “known” for nearly two years now.  We kept trying to get something together, either on my blog or hers, and it’s been hit or miss for quite awhile.  Thankfully, I am now able to present this amazing author to you in outstanding form!

Stacy is a bestselling author who, having written dozens of books, is known most notoriously for her My Blood Runs Blue series.  She has now released two new books this past November (Second Shield and Liveon-No Evil) while working on her latest series, Garda.  Stacy attributes her expertise in crime to a full-time position as an active duty police officer (whoa!), which she discusses further later in this post.

We here at the Soapbox are always looking for newer and more interactive ways to bring you what you love about this blog.  So, for the first time ever, we’ve decided to give you a video interview.  Let us know how you enjoyed the new format!

It’s your stage, Stacy!

No New Year’s Resolution

This is my first blog post of 2014, and in typical Raynetta fashion, I refuse to conform!  Everyone starts the year off with resolutions to which they are dedicated for merely a few weeks or months.  And by the spring, no one remembers what they set out to do, much less whether or not they actually achieved said goals.  This feels counterproductive to me.  It is also pretty cliche to tell myself I will set goals I can actually achieve because this feels limiting and doesn’t push my compulsive perfectionism to its brink (lol).  So instead, I’ve determined that this year, I will not make resolutions, but simply dedicate myself to being more functional in one specific area: my schedule.

I wrote a previous blog about scheduling that I found to be fantastically beneficial.  I had scheduled every required activity in my life, both personal and professional, to accommodate everything and everyone.  And for the most part, it worked relatively well…until I stopped doing it.  You see, I forgot to schedule time to schedule my time!  And before I knew it, I was winging my days again, wondering when I would ever find the time to do everything I needed to do.  And last year, my priorities swelled.  I added so many life changes–a new daytime career filled with busy little toddlers, renewed acquaintances, ministry obligations, a fiance and planning a wedding, and not to mention a moody adolescent middle-schooler.  I looked at my life and wondered why I felt I had accomplished nothing all day.  And then, during a productivity seminar, I was reminded how crucial (and advantageous) scheduling had become to my life.

You can always check out that other scheduling blog, but here’s a few other things I learned this year about managing my time:

1.  Maintain your schedule.  At the end of my week, somewhere between Friday and Saturday, I added time to my schedule to plan the next week’s time.  I schedule everything from phone calls to friends and family to writing and brainstorming time on my current work-in-progress.

2.  Be flexible.  I’m adjusting to the idea that things come up–like random “crisis” texts from your girlfriends that have to be addressed now, and the sudden realization that you don’t have all the ingredients for tonight’s dinner and now you have to go to the store which totally extends the time allotted for cooking and eating.  Roll with the punches.  It always works out.

3.  Prioritize.  I’ve color coded the items on my schedule.  Pink is for mandatory appointments or responsibilities that can’t be changed or rescheduled: like my daytime work hours and my continuing education classes.  Blue is for appointments and responsibilities that can be rescheduled but must get done at some point that day or week, like my writing and studying time.  Yellow is for appointments that can be rescheduled or removed altogether if necessary, like a club meeting or friendly phone call.  Green is my free time, and I try to give myself at least an hour of it every day.

4.  Don’t forget the “menial” tasks.  Often we forget to account for little things like commutes, meal times, adequate sleep and personal hygiene in our schedules.  If you’re running around the whole day, it’s easy to forget to eat! Or you find yourself off schedule trying to fit a shower in when you planned to study.

5.  You have more time than you think.  You will quickly realize when you sit down to do this that there is more unaccounted time in your schedule than you may believe.  Once you’re faced with filling your entire day span from the time you wake up until your anticipated bedtime, you’ll find that it really is hard to be uber productive every moment of your 15-18 hour day.  The space you don’t fill?  Consider it free time and bask in the opportunity to do whatever you like.

Here’s to being more productive and efficient in 2014!  Cheers to you, and rest assured: this is totally not a resolution 🙂

Tis the Season

Christmas is my favorite time of year!  I anxiously await the first of December each year, anticipating the excitement that comes with the holiday season.  My son and I enforce more traditions at this time than we do on any other holiday–combined.  And we spend more time together as a family in these few weeks than we do at any other time.

I, unlike few other parents (lol), am willing to admit that I spoil my son mercilessly.  He is my one and only, and I don’t have to share my income with anyone else if I so choose.  Therefore, he gets the bulk of my financial attention, especially at Christmas–even when he has been so inhumanely disagreeable that I balk at the idea of him deserving anything at all.  Which brings me to the point of this post…

Christmas, for me at least, has never been about deserving.  A difficult word deserving; it means to be found worthy, to have earned some semblance of reward.  And quite frankly, I just don’t believe any one of us–no matter how sweet, thoughtful or kind–can ever be deserving of someone’s love, affection or attention.  You see, love simply can’t be earned; it is only given–freely, completely and totally.  Christmas and its subsequent gift-giving is not about whether a child was “bad or good”, as the famous holiday songs jingle.  (Hence the reason I never taught my son to believe in Santa Claus, but that’s for another day.)  Christmas is about showing love to others through our giving, and thus, you cannot earn it.  It is my expression of love to you; it only requires that you gratefully receive.

My family’s practices, or traditions if you will, reinforce that concept, even down to the gifts we give.  What I’m looking for on Christmas morning is that ginormous grin that spans my family’s face that lets me know I got it right.  And whether I ever receive anything Christmas morning or not, seeing my family huddled under the tree, satisfied and happy, is what warms my heart.  It consequently makes me tremendously happy, even if that happiness is momentary.  It’s a small glimmer of hope in an unbelieving world, and no matter what you believe, hope is a concept we all desperately need.

Yes, Christmas has been commercialized and stripped of its true meaning.  We all know this: we’ve seen the Grinch steal the Whos’ packages and watched speechless as Linus stands in the spotlight on a stage with his little blanket.  We’ve repeated this process every year, and maybe only on a small level does it ever really sink in.  We get caught up in the Black Friday sales, which don’t even start on Friday anymore, and we’re scrambling for that new hot toy or electronic something that our child(ren) just must have or Christmas is a total bust.  But really, at the root of it, all that scramble and hustle and bustle is about one thing: love.  Because if you didn’t love the person who asked for it, as redundant and selfish and stupid as the gift feels or sounds, you wouldn’t be out there every Thanksgiving hunting and scraping and fighting to satisfy those meaningless requests.

There’s something about the spirit of Christmas that seems to set everything in my world right.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m still very aware of those who go without every year, those who are cold and hungry, those children spending the holidays in foster care with state-assigned “parents” who care nothing for them.  I see the hurt in the world, more than ever during this season.  The great thing though is that the Christmas spirit, if you allow it to, it fills you up to be the change, the hope, that someone is dying for.  Maybe those someones live in your house.  Or maybe those someones are the little children you sponsor at Good Cause or Salvation Army.  It doesn’t matter to whom you give that love, so long as you give it.

It’s more than a little cliche to close this post with a call to action, to inspire you to reflect and ponder on these “deep and moving” things.  I will ask you to do nothing of the sort.  All I ask is that you embrace whatever traditions you observe–even if there are none–and share these moments daily with those you love.  We all know too well that so many are gone too soon (RIP Paul Walker), and every second is much too precious to waste.

So Merry Christmas, my dedicated readers, and go spread the love!

RJS Book Review: Leaping Out on Faith

RJS Book Review

It’s been a while since I did a book review, and I’m changing up the style a bit.  The suns were fun and really great, but I found with a rating system of one through five suns that I wasn’t always able to accurately reflect how I felt about a particular work.  In moving to a grading system (A+ through F), I can be much more precise about what does and does not work for me about a book and/or movie.  So buckle up and enjoy because here we go again!
I’ve reviewed short story collections before, but I tend to avoid them.  Primarily because short stories are hard to write successfully.  (I should know; I still write them.)  The criteria is broad, but essentially there’s only one rule: tell the story quickly enough that the reader can finish it in one sitting.  Do you know how difficult it is to grip a reader in ten pages or less?  You can say too much and end up with a novella or say too little and the work falls flat.  They say novel writing is an acquired skill; well, short story writing is a gift, the pinnacle of the art.  A short story must not only capture your attention, but it must move you.  It should leave you contemplating something by its end.  This is not easily accomplished.
So it was with grave apprehension that I set out to read Leaping Out on Faith by Rochelle Campbell.  The work is a compilation of four short stories, each about women in various stages of life facing major crossroad decisions.  “The Green Years” introduces us to Sarah, a high school freshman grappling with a broken heart.  The language is simple, and Sarah thinks the way a high schooler would, a credit to the author who captured the adolescent mind brilliantly in this story.  But perhaps it was why I found it so difficult to identify with the young girl.  Now in my thirties, high school feels so far away and its problems so trivial.
Sally, however, turned out to be a woman I remember from days long past.  There is nothing in the world like waking up in your fairy tale only to find that your nightmarish past has caught up with you.  In “Chambray Curtains Blowing in the Wind”, the action plays out quickly and believably as Sally fights for her life and self-control.  “Knocking at the Door” reveals a nameless heroine, but probably the most thought-provoking piece in the collection.  As the stranger raps incessantly at the door, flashbacks of a love estranged plagues our heroine’s mind–and heart as she decides whether or not she should answer.  Salera from “All God’s Men” must determine if love can truly outweigh religious and cultural differences, a question many women at some time or another must have answered.

Ms. Campbell reveals not only her versatility in this work, as each setting is diverse and vivid, but also demonstrates her ability to draw the reader in with life situations that unwittingly cause us to question our own intentions and motives.  Each tale the author weaves could easily be a situation in which any of us could find ourselves.  We may not have made their decisions, but we have certainly thought those same thoughts.  We have struggled with the same pain, and we have answered the same questions.

I would have liked a subtitle.  It would have assisted with knowing this book was a short story compilation rather than a novel.  I could have done without “The Green Years”, and ultimately, it may have been better not to lead with this story.  And I wanted more stories, a longer work.  It is clear Ms. Campbell possesses the know-how; I simply wanted maybe two or three more stories to fill the compilation out more.
I was pleasantly surprised by Leaping Out on Faith, and I’m glad I stepped out on mine to read it.  I’m sure you will be, too.
Grade: B-

What’s In a Name?

Today, I’m thinking about my name.  I’m not sure I like it.  For the longest time, I kept wanting to change it, to be something or someone else.  Interestingly enough, I got that opportunity when I wrote Barely Breathing.  I changed my name to Micah Michele, and then all felt right in the world–until family members kept telling me they couldn’t find the book.  I had to remind them I wrote under a different name, and then the repeated question was why?  When I got ready to publish The Grim, I thought I’d do it again.  Maybe not write under Micah Michele but fashion myself an even newer name that everyone was bound to love and remember.  It would be much better than Raynetta Stocks, and I’d live in infamy.
As good writers do, I asked for feedback.  I sent my family and friends several pseudonym options via email and said, “Which do you like best?”  This focus group turned out to be an exercise in disaster because no more than two people liked the same name, and of course, that exhausting question continued to repeat, “Why aren’t you writing under your own name?”
Honestly, I was so infuriated by the question primarily because…well, I didn’t have a legitimate answer.  I didn’t know why I wanted to change my name or what I thought I would accomplish by doing so.  I wanted my name in lights–so long as it wasn’t my real name.  And very quickly, that became a relatively ridiculous notion.
Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  I’m sorry, William, but I must beg to differ.  Our names have meanings, and if we bother to connect to those meanings, we’ll find something very beautiful indeed.  Take “Raynetta”, for example.  I looked it up and found that my name means “Law Unto Itself”.  Well, hotdog!  Here I was thinking my grandmother just made it up because my parents couldn’t agree on the two names they had picked out, and all the while God was whispering in my grandma’s ear: “Name her Raynetta.”  The explanation went on to describe very strong, accurate, and surprisingly positive characteristics about myself: a finisher, tolerant toward humanity, warmhearted, compassionate and empathetic, bold and independent, a freedom seeker.  I am all these things; they are the attributes I’ve struggled for the last three decades to see in myself every time I look into the mirror.
I can’t say that everyone lives up to their name, especially if they are never told what it means, but innately, I believe our names become the foundation of what we grow to be.  A prophecy, if you will, of the person our parents pray we become.  It’s the place we start from, the place we blossom from.  Yes, you could call a rose by a different name, and yes, it would still smell sweet–but that rose gained notoriety by its name not its smell.  Were it not called a rose, wouldn’t it be more difficult to recognize in conversation?  To search for on the internet?  To request in the floral shop?  Your name is your first definition.  It’s your first glimpse at your purpose.
How can I see any other name in lights besides my own?  If Micah Michele were plastered on a Times Square billboard, would something resonate in me?  By any other name, would my work be less good?  Perhaps not. But in some ways, attempting to rename myself simply disowns me from the dream I pursue.  Because if I ever achieved greatness with a pseudonym, that person would not be me.  I would not recognize her–and neither would the world.

Pages From My Diary

Pages From My Diary

I’ve been gone for awhile.  The writing process can be a bit solitary for most writers, and sometimes, you just gotta shut down and disappear for awhile in order for the muses to descend.  It happens.  I don’t deny, however, that I’ve missed you.  And in the time I’ve been away, I’ve found there was a lot I’ve been wanting to say.
This new blog series is not at all about my work.  It’s not about books I’ve read.  It’s not even about movies made from books.  This series is about me.  I’m going to be vulnerable, I’m going to be open, I’m going to be honest–even to my detriment, as those instances arise.  I want you to know me.  Because my work is a reflection of who I am.  And you can’t possibly understand that without my revealing a bit of myself to you.
My blog began as a place where I could share the many things I love about aesthetic entertainment, but in the time I’ve spent with you, it has become a medium to really connect and give you a piece of the writer, the person I am truly, and not so much the persona that comes with being an author and storyteller.  Being an independent author has it’s perks, but I don’t want to pretend.  As Sparkle so famously said, I want to give you something you can feel.
So, as always, I invite you to embark on another journey with me.  It’ll be fun; didn’t you know I’m a riot?
You can always find my diary entries on the sidebar under “Labels”.  Click “Pages From My Diary”, and happy reading.