First African American Supermodel Lost To History

Donyale Luna made history when she became the first African American supermodel over fifty years ago. In the blog The Cut, author Keli Goff states: At the height of Luna's career The New York Times called Luna "a stunning Negro model whose face had the hauteur and feline grace of Nefertiti." Though Beverly Johnson, another African American model, is often touted as the first black model to grace the cover of Vogue, it was actually Luna who appeared on the cover eight years before. So how did such a stunning woman of color go missing from history?

Until Luna entered the scene, images that included African American supermodels were limited to Jet and Ebony, magazines outlets that catered to a black audience.  But in March of 1966, Luna took the white model monopoly by storm at only 20 years old. Because of her, other African American supermodels would soon be included on covers once dominated by white faces.

With success in modeling, Luna went on to enjoy a successful acting career. She was called a "pure diva" with Times Magazine declaring 1966 as the "Luna Year."

Luna was born as Peggy Ann Freeman on August 31, 1945 in Detroit, Michigan. As Peggy, Luna lived in an unstable home enviroment and often escaped reality through daydreaming of adventure and excitement. Things grew worse when on January 1965, when Luna was 19 years old, her mother shot and killed Luna's abusive father in self-defense. Uncertain about her lineage and even the identity of her biological father, Luna's sister described Luna as a weird child who invented wonderland stories about herself, distancing herself from her family.

The same month that Luna's mother shot her father, a sketch of Luna appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. With this sketch, Luna's career was launched and excitement over the fresh, new black model rippled through the entertainment industry. And with this appearance, Luna found her escape from her troubled home.

Although Luna can be seen as a trailblazer by proceeding African American supermodels, she may be missing from celebrated "black lists" due to her own personal struggle with her racial identity. Luna insisted that her racial background included Irish, Mexican, Indonesian, and African. She often evaded questions that targeted her racial background, and when asked by Judy Stone of The New York Times if she thought her work in Hollywood would benefit black actresses, Luna responded, "If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, groovy. It could be good--it could be bad. I couldn't care less."

It could be argued that Luna has slipped from history because her views on her racial background and indifference to the plight of black lives. However, it is important to remember that she was a little girl growing up in an abusive home. To escape, she weaved a fanciful world that cocooned her. Nevertheless, Luna was a trailblazer, opening doors for future African American supermodels that were touted and revered for more than being the "fresh, new face of the Negro." Perhaps if global media and magazines hadn't defined her as such, Luna would have been more comfortable embracing who she actually was....

On May 17, 1979, Luna died of a heroine overdose in Rome, Italy. Luna was 33 years old and left behind an 18 month-old daughter, Dream. She was young, she was caught in a whirlwind of her imagination, and she rightfully earned her place in history. 



Huda Sha'arawi, Egyptian Feminist

Huda Sha'arawi was born June 23, 1879 in Cairo, Egypt to a wealthy family. As part of her cultural tradition and due the wealth of her family, Huda grew up in a harem with little contact with the outside world. It was in the harem, with face veiled, that Huda received her formal education. At the age of 13, Huda was married to her cousin, Ali Sharawai who was in his late 40's. Ali had promised to leave his slave concubine but produced a child with his slave after his marriage to Huda. Because of this, Huda chose to live separate from her husband and forge ahead in her studies. This independence gave her opportunities to explore political activism. However, with the insistence of her family, Huda moved in with her husband. Together, they bore two children.

Even while living under such traditions, Huda and her husband were active together in Egypt's political world, becoming founding members of the Nationalist Wafd Party that fought for Egypt's independence from Great Britain.  This new movement invited women to openly participate in politics and became a turning point for Egyptian women throughout the nation.

 Huda desired that Egyptian women would come to understand that they were not created for the sexual pleasure of men, nor did they require protection as the "weaker" sex. Because of this, she created the first philanthropic society ran by women in 1908. Two year later, Huda opened a school for girls that focused on academics rather than preparing them to be wives and mothers, as had been tradition.

Years later, when Ali died, Huda began to work towards support for women's issues, founding the Egyptian Women's Union in 1923. This organization fought for increased education for girls and personal status laws.

After attending a women's conference in Europe, Huda returned to Egypt. After stepping off the rain into the crowd, Huda lifted her hands to her face and removed her veil. In that crowd, a ripple of shock and silence fell before an eruption of cheers. Women applauded and removed their own veils. Over the next ten years, more and more Egyptian women refused to wear the veil. By the time she died in 1947, Huda had changed the culture of Egypt for women and girls, forever inspiring new generations to advocate for equality.

For more on Huda, you may purchase her memoirs here.


Madame C.J. Walker, On Her Own Ground


Madame C.J. Walker was a strong black woman born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisianan. Walker was originally named Sarah Breedlove. Born only a few years after the end of the Civil War and living during Jim Crow and Black Code Laws, Madame Walker would grow up to be an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, political activist, and become one of the first African American women to be a self-made millionaire.

Sarah Breedlove was the first free-born child of her family, born on the same plantation where her parents had been enslaved. As a child, Sarah worked beside her parents in a Louisianan cotton field. By seven years old, her parents had died. At fourteen, she married to escape cruelty and abuse. At seventeen, she had her daughter and only child. At twenty, Sarah’s husband died. Life came quickly, hard, and unrelenting.

In order to find a new home and life for herself and her daughter, Sarah moved to St. Louis where her brothers had established themselves as barbers. For nearly the next two decades, she worked to provide for her daughter as a wash woman. The pay was miserable, barely providing for her daughter’s education. With education being of an utmost importance to her, even while working long, hard hours, Walker managed to take night classes and provide education not only for her daughter, but for herself, as well.

In the 1890’s, Walker developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair. It is interesting to note, that Walker credited her hair-saving formula to prayer. She prayed to God to save her hair. For three nights, she dreamed that a big African man visited her and told her the ingredients to mix into her formula. With her hair growing back, demand for her formula increased and she sold the product door-to-door.

Madame C.J. Walker Company

By 1910, Madam C.J. Walker built her company headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Already building a name and making money, she donated $1,000 (nearly $20,000 today) to build a black YMCA in the city. She began to make black newspapers featuring her story. People were amazed that a black woman would not only have the means to donate that amount of money, but would be willing to give back to her community. To the black community, she was a hero...and inspiration...and role model.

The Indianapolis factory manufactured Walker’s hair products and cosemetics, but was also known to train sales beauticians—providing them with education and skills. These beauticians would become known as “Walker Agents” and were well known in black communities throughout the United States. Communities looked at Walker Agents as symbols of “cleanliness and loveliness.”


In 1916, Walker moved to New York where she began to work as a social and political activist. Having developed a platform and fame, she understood that she had the power to make a difference for others. In doing so, she became a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Her work encircled educational scholarships, homes for the elderly, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also founded the National Conference on Lynching in an attempt to raise awareness and abolish the violent act.

Madame C.J. Walker died on May 25, 1919, at the age of 51 at her home, Villa Lewaro. When she died, she was the sole owner of her business, valued at more than one million.

In her words:

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations…I have built my own factory on my own ground.”
                    ~Madame C.J. Walker

She said these words to the face of Booker T. Washington who continually dismissed her and would refuse to let her speak at a conference. But after these words, he made sure to invite her back as a key note speaker.

On her own ground, indeed.

For more, you can read this biography written by her Great-Great-Granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles.


The Reality of Wanderlust

I don’t have the opportunity to travel very often. My ability to learn more about the world around me and the vast subcultures of the United States comes from my thirst to educate myself. I read. I listen. I watch. I find I have questions, so I read, listen, and watch some more. The times that I do get to travel, I often come home with a brain buzzing with so much information, so many questions, that I am jittery and overwhelmed. I have lots of thoughts...ideas...research....desire to share what I am experiencing.

Perhaps, it’s a good thing I don’t travel too often. Maybe I would take it all for granted? Maybe I would soak in the environment for my own personal pleasure and enjoyment? Perhaps I’d walk away unbothered? But I doubt it.

This year’s trip to the Deep South of the United States gave me the opportunity to listen to Michelle Obama read her book “Becoming” and fill me with so much embarrassment that I had not fully grasped how good the Obama family was and is when it mattered most.

This year’s trip into the bayou revealed to me how much the environment is quickly changing and affecting all parts of the United States and the world. From the creole man of color that serenaded me with “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” in the Quarter who remarked about the unnaturally high waters of the mighty Mississippi and his faith that the Army Corps of Engineers would keep them safe (though they had already failed this man tragically before).

This year’s trip didn’t find me on a plantation renovated by a white, wealthy lawyer who restored it to tell only the stories of the slaves that had lived and died there. However, it still had me thinking of their words, their lives, the shame of the United States’ historic past that still often goes untold in its full truth. The signs are still throughout the French Quarter and along Esplanade Avenue marking the places that were once slave pens and auction houses (signs that are relatively new to the city).

This year’s trip didn’t have me sitting in Jackson Square listening to a stranger tell me how beautiful and powerful I am--her eyes shining with truth and light--her voice full of conviction and truth. Yet, her words still followed me, reminding me that I have yet to embrace the potential she saw in me.

This year’s trip had me walking through the shops with the mind of a soon-to-be-teacher spotting children’s books that I wanted for the classroom I would one day have. Maybe that was me acknowledging that stranger’s words of potential, power, and future?

This year’s trip had me watching the flood waters from the bayou up through the entire drive home to Indiana. With each road sign marking the name of a flooded city and town, I pulled up information on my phone, startled to know that these areas had been flooded for seven long months. The fields that were not under water were pocked with patches of wildflowers and weeds, unplowed and planted, unable to produce enough of a crop to bother planting. The changing climate, the monstrous weather, the flooding and rushing currents were visible first hand.

I have a lot to process and think about.

I have a lot to research and learning.

I have a lot to say.

But mostly, I have a reason to keep teaching, writing, and creating. We need truth now more than ever. Our entire nation and world are in need.

So stay tuned.


I See The Light In You

I see the light in you.

That simple namaste expression breathes life. It levels us all from our various roles and ties us together collectively as humankind. We all have struggles, fears, dreams, addictions, trauma, bills to pay...

The list never ends.

So much weighs us down as we plod through our days in the hopes that a mere second of it may result in unexpected kindness. We smile and wave at the stranger that passes us driving on the road. We feel a tender twinge in our stomachs when we spy the elderly couple splitting a hamburger with a plastic butter knife in the greasy diner. Our spirits are renewed when we can sit in the company of good conversation with our hands wrapped around a hot mug of coffee. We are all trying to find the light. The light in ourselves. The light in others. And if we are patient enough, the light in those that don't like us.

The thief of light hides within the shadows of that long list up above. The thief of light lets the full weight of the list pull us down into darkness. It is successful in "othering" ourselves or others that walk different lives, look different, or harbor differing ideologies than ourselves. When we are overwhelmed with the weight, we lose our ability to find empathy not only for others, but for ourselves. We grow angry and frustrated. We attempt to funnel that frustration into a worthy cause, and inadvertently end up hurting others instead. Without empathy and light, we walk blind and wounded, creating unhealthy atmospheres wherever we go, trying to prove that we are right and good. The thing is, and always was, we were light...we were the start.

I often find hope in Tony Bourdain. He traveled the world with the weight of his own life and the world resting on his shoulders. You can look at a photo of him and see that life wasn't always kind, or that he didn't always see kindness in the world, but he traveled far in search of that smidgen of light and kindness, writing in the vein of human empathy whereever he found it. At one point, he adequately summed up the search when he wrote:

"Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go."

By seeing the light in the world and those that inhabit it, Tony revealed to me that to see the light is to be humbled, made low, no arrogance and self-importance, but to know there is much to learn from others. And then, in even more poignant words that are balm to my sole, he left the world behind with these words:

"As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life —and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” 

The list is never going to go away, but instead, will likely grow longer and heavier as we age. Life is never going to be void of hurt, especially as we choose to seek out the light. I have not quite figured out how to cope and fight for my own joy while trying so hard to bring joy to others. There is a deep desire within me to ensure that the people I know realize how important they are, how capable they are, how strong I see them. I mess up a lot. I overstep and can be overtly critical in my haste to bring peace and change to a tense atmosphere. I can't force light into people's lives. That's the painful truth I have to accept. I can be light...take it with me...and some may see it, some may not.

For now, I sip my coffee and reflect on Tony's words and the hurt he knew and the light he was. I can remind myself that I have much to learn, and to be slow to respond to others in arrogant ways. My size will be small, searching for more knowledge and understanding in others. I will remember that life will not be easy, it will leave its marks, it will hurt, but it will beautiful. And I can choose to know there is light in me and choose to see the light in others.




What The Slave Ship Would Be Today

Like most Americans, I woke up this morning and learned about the terrorist attack in New Zealand before I had a chance to brush my teeth and make a pot of coffee. I read the headline with a vague sense of sadness, but with an overwhelming tide of shame for not being surprised...for not being alarmed. What kind of world is that? When even before our coffee, and even before we have searched for our socks and shoes, we can read a headline of violence and human loss and struggle to find our compassion...

Because it is not new. 

I put my phone aside and sent my children off to school. I even lay down for a little bit and fell asleep once again. I forgot about the news and the pain and the men and women heartbroken on the other side of the world. I got up and started by Humanities papers, choosing the topic with the most appalling title: Slave Ship, painted by J.M.W. Turner.

The image filled my screen and I blinked. It took me a moment to even spot the slave ship in the painting. Instead, my eyes followed a path of destruction, forcing me to see the dark hands sticking out of the waves...hands shackled and tied with rope. Seagulls were descending upon the dead and dying...and my stomach turned. The headline about the carnage in New Zealand came rushing back to my memory.

I walked away from the screen and poured a cup of the blackest coffee I could manage. I was going to need it.

"Relevance of Work in Our Modern Age"

That's what I needed to think about and write on. It might seem silly, but all of a sudden, I was imagining what Turner would paint today in-lieu of a slave ship. What path would he walk us through and force us to see today? What pain and horror at the hands of unbridled power and authority would he map out?

What has the Slave Ship become today?

In the reds and golds of a violent sky, would he paint a white terrorist in the background of his canvas? Would he take the time to walk us through the dead Muslim bodies in their house of worship, their hands no longer lifted for help, but lifeless on the tile floor? Would Turner paint church clergy in the background of his canvas, fading from view as they clutched their Holy Bibles like shields...leaving a wake of LGBQT youth dead...some by their own hands...victims of deep depression and a sense of shame that stole their identities and self-value from their hearts? Or would Turner paint the hallways of our schools, littered with wounded and dead teenagers; elementary halls with dead kindergartners in the arms of their murdered teachers? Maybe he would even be so bold to paint the president of our nation standing in the far distance at a podium, a path of hate in his wake and American values turned muddy with hate? Turner could paint ICE agents walking away, leaving broken families behind them...separation and the loss of all hope.

I didn't write any of that. I don't want to assume what Turner would paint in 2019. I don't want to pretend his sympathies for the enslaved would carry over to the oppressed and growing violence of today. But it's what I saw. It's what I would paint...

It's what has become true in our "Modern Age"....


The Master of Time...and Coffee

On the TV, Jack Hartman is singing and grooving as he sings the alphabet. If you aren't familiar with this insanity, then you don't have a pre-k or Kindergartner in your life. Mine is currently dancing like mad in her a tangled mess.

Beside me on the table is an empty plate and fork with what crumbs remain from a slice of cake. If I were to be completely honest with you, I would admit that there's a second plate because my daughter didn't finish her own slice and gave it to me. But I'm admitting nothing.

This is the afternoon in the Cooper home. There's a half-crocheted afghan, dishes in the sink, dirty clothes piling in the wash room, and more than a few places on the floor that are screaming for the attention of a broom. Yet, I don't have time for any of that right now. Right now, I'm sipping coffee and digesting one *or two* slices of cake and celebrating.







And 36 years old. 

A mom of three.

A wife of one. 

Big deal. I have this handled. It doesn't matter that to arrive at this moment, I had to complete a three hour orientation that required essay questions of complete honesty *unlike the cake*. It forced me to set realistic goals and fill out an in-depth time management chart. It asked me how often I did laundry and how many hours I spent on laundry. It wanted to know how many days a week I care of my children and how many hours I spend caring for my children. How often do I cook meals a week and how many hours for I spend doing that? How often do I read? How many hours do I dedicate to sitting in a car and waiting at stoplights?All of these questions were answered with questions like how often I will study, how many hours I will spend on exams, how long I think I will dedicate to reading materials?

When it was complete, a red banner flashed across the screen letting me know that there were not enough hours in a week for what I needed to complete. I guess the red banner was supposed to alert me to some great terror or mistake....cause a tremble of fear to go through me and second guess going to school. But, bruh, that red banner was there BEFORE I enrolled in school.

I laughed out loud.

I'm a mother. A woman. The master of time manipulation and queen of doing many, many, many things at once.

I can do this. I got this. I'm a freaking witch!

Clearly the person who designed this time management chart was a man. And to him, I send my sincerest apologies that dishes, laundry, parenting, working, and being a full time student requires a red banner of alarm.

PS: My apologies for the feelings of any man reading this who feel personally attacked and undervalued. Here. Have a slice of cake. 

~Master Time Manipulator

A New Voice That Only A Few Hear...'Cause Alexa Does Not

It’s been a long time since I used my voice on the internet. There’s the debilitating fear that I possess now. I work in a school. I’m going to school to be a teacher (of some sort). And I am wildly unpopular. Why risk it all by being loud mouthed anymore?

But it’s more than that...

I deconstructed. I shed my religion and slowly replaced it with authentic faith.

I’m going to hold you up right there and very seriously look you in the eyes and tell you how dog-gone hard that transition is and was. Imagine standing on what you think is the threshold of hell. Someone tells you that whatever you do next will either push you into the eternal flames of torment…or bring you freedom.

It ain’t easy.

I sobbed all the way through it.

But once I had those shackles cut off my soul, I started screaming. Oh, so loud. A screamed like a Banshee (which is amazing and not at all the thing of nightmares). I mourned. I laid the wounds all the way open. Some folks, with the best of intentions, came by with bags of salt and poured it in. But in either case, I had a voice. A really, freaking loud voice. I rarely let it be silent, as it had been silent and “acceptable” for far too long.

Whoops. And there went my friends. But don't feel bad. I now have this group that I call the "Breakfast Club." We all did the same thing. We changed. We fell out. We got left standing on the line and the captains of dodge ball really didn't want us on their teams. So...we...became awesome instead (or something like it).

However, it’s been a few years now. I am tired of shouting. I am worn out from fighting the “bad guys” that are simply stuck in a dark place that I was in. I didn’t lose my voice. I just learned that I need to find a better way of using it. Facebook and Twitter posts is not cutting it anymore.


Here I am.

Back here.

Slitting my wrist and letting the life’s blood of my soul pour out the thoughts, the secrets, the fears and thoughts of a 36 year old woman, lover, mother, and human that’s stronger, but still shaking in her boots.

But I’m going to be honest….

I am feeling my age.

For the last ten minutes, I have been demanding Alexus to play specific songs for me, but SHE WILL NOT. I understood the refusal at first, because I was calling her “Siri.” And then it was “Alexa”…(WAIT. No. That is actually the correct name). Obviously, you can see the problem here. I don’t know her name…I speak to her like I do when I am calling for my youngest child: I go through every name in the house before I growl out the correct name, cursing my brain and tongue. But the point is…

I want to blog.

I have so much to say.

I have words that are softer now.

Wiser, maybe?

Less angry, for sure (If Alexa would play my darn songs correctly!).

But I am also scared.

I want to talk about why I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore. About parenting…but not in that invasive way that exploits my children and their privacy. My childhood pain? That’s not very interesting, actually. Deconstruction? Living my faith without a church community? Being the black sheep in a red, Christian town?

I’m not actually a black sheep. I smile too much. I like to please people too much? Maybe I should talk about that flaw?

Just give me a while to get Alexa/Alexus to start listening to me…and then the motivation will being to flow.


So stay tuned for my slightly softer voice.

I'm working on it.