One Day It’ll All Make Sense….I Hope…
REST IN PEACE, ERICA KENNEDY
Considering the type of voyeuristic society in which we reside, one in which Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest allow people to document even the most trivial, mundane, and downright banal daily occurrences, I live a rather private life. Sure, I’m on most of the aforementioned social media networks, but I choose what to discus carefully, never revealing too much about my private life. I’ll chat about books, fashion, TV, films, music, race, culture, language, family, and food, but I’m not one to speak on my love life in a public forum (my relationship feels all the more precious when I hold it dear in my heart, rather than parading it in front of the public), nor do even offer too many details regarding my family (even my tweets about my son tend to be vague and increasingly infrequent). I’ve never done so with the intention of appearing mysterious or aloof — and, truth be told, I have been advised to share more so as to seem more “approachable.” But there are just details of my live that I don’t want to divulge, and I’m not willing to sacrifice my beliefs in order to win a few more followers on Twitter. I realize how naive this statement will seem, but I’ve always felt that my work should speak for itself, that I shouldn’t have to resort to “look at me!” forms of self-aggrandizement and utilize the smoke-and-mirrors tactics on which so many pseudo cyber “influencers” rely. And I can say, without hesitation, that I’ve never been one to particularly give a fuck what others think about me. I can’t and won’t live my life for them. If I feel like opening up, I will. If not, I won’t. It really is that simple.
But this all just a segue to the real point of this piece….See, today, I feel like venting, like pouring all my thoughts and my heart into a string of words that will hopefully manage to convey how I feel right now — devastated, shredded, deflated, confused, and so very sad.
Yesterday, I learned that writer Erica Kennedy (@ericajk) passed away — on Twitter of all places. It was the most uncanny experience, scrolling through tweets about new shoes and brunches, tweets about utter fuckin’ rubbish, and then finding one tweet saying “R.I.P. Erica Kennedy.” As soon as I read those words, my heart sank. How could it be true? I thought. No way. That didn’t happen. No fuckin’ way. And then, as more information trickled in, shock became acceptance and then, of course, came the wave of gut-wrenching sadness.
I won’t claim to have been intimately acquainted with Erica. We didn’t spend nights together drinking and laughing and crying. We didn’t have coffee or brunch dates. And I also won’t mention shaking her hand at some random event as if this somehow meant we’d made a profound connection within a 10-minute timespan. Sure, our paths crossed often (mainly on cyberspace) but our exchanges were rare. Still, those times when we did interact, Erica inspired me. In a society where so many women seem to treasure vilifying other females, Erica believed in uplifting them, in creating strong communities of powerful female storytellers, in mentoring young writing talent (without these neophytes ever having to request her help).
To say she was a role model would be an understatement. Back when I was in college, I’d read VIBE and scan the pages for female writers. In that era, there were even less women in the male-dominated world of hip-hop journalism than there are today, which says a lot. And yet there was Erica Kennedy’s byline, proof positive that a woman could succeed in that testosterone-filled realm. I’d read her pieces and think, “Wow, I wanna be like her.” She made me believe that I could write for VIBE — and I did. In fact, not only did I write for VIBE for countless years, but I was an editor there under Mimi Valdes (another amazing woman to whom I am eternally indebted) — and I credit trail-blazing women like Erica Kennedy for making that possible.
As Erica’s career progressed, my admiration for her continued to soar. As a writer of color (and I speak from experience here), it was quite a challenge to move from writing for urban magazines to mainstream women’s magazines (like In Style, Elle, Vogue, etc.). Many of these mags had predominantly white staffs, and editors often looked at VIBE and its counterparts as pure rubbish, the equivalent of a school newspaper. I doubt many of those editors even bothered to read the pieces in VIBE during that era, many of which were poignant, thoughtful, and infused with a visceral quality. In fact, most editors took the clips potential writers sent them and tossed them in a wastebasket or filed them away in some neglected cabinet. But even in a climate that was pretty hostile toward “urban” journalists (and not particularly welcoming to people of color in general), Erica Kennedy managed to break down all those barriers and have her work published in In Style. I remember seeing her byline in a 2001 issue of In Style and thinking, “Wow, you’re really doing it, girl.” By the time she published Bling in 2004, I thought there was no feat Erica couldn’t tackle.
Without Erica Kennedy, my career wouldn’t have been possible. Without her, I may never have worked at In Style or VIBE or Complex or GIANT. I may never have had my work appear in Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, alongside some of the most well-respected male writers in the biz. Without her as a role model, as an inspiration, I may never have started blogging or writing a book.
And so, while I can’t in any way compare my sense of mourning to those within her inner circle (my prayers are with you all), I can say that my heart aches knowing she’s no longer with us. It makes me even sadder to know I’ll never have the chance to break bread with her, to go beyond bylines and cyber messages, to really get to know each other as people and not just as writers.
Erica, you were so loved — not just by your family and your friends, but by countless women, like myself, who looked to you as a beacon of light, a symbol of triumph in a chauvinistic and race-obsessed culture, a fearless talent with a gift for literary expression. I hope you knew that. And I hope that you’re at peace, my sister.
To all those reading this, please don’t allow Erica’s life, her work, and her legacy to be reduced to 140-character tweets that fade into oblivion in a matter of seconds. Keep her legacy alive. Give thanks for her having been on this planet. Remember.