Last Christmas, a friend of mine sent me an IM on social media with a “you’d-dig-it-the-most” preface that I’d usually pass over. For whatever reason, I opened the message, gave it a listen and was immediately drawn in. The video was of a group of coeds from Robeson County (North Carolina), wailing in song, singing truths and showering a quite different demographic with soulful melodies and, much to my surprise, there was even an ancestral hand drum.
They were Dark Water Rising, a band of Indigenous Southern artists. They weren’t just musicians. They were storytellers with melodic tunes bridging story raps, hip hop, folk and soul, and they were playing a prestigious venue they probably had never dreamed of being invited to as kids–the Governor’s Mansion for the Come Hear North Carolina series.
Singing about what it feels like to be brown, to be female, and a Native American woman like me, I was instantly entranced, proud even, and I had to share the video with my entire family as we all gathered around for our annual holiday feast. (God, those days were so normal in retrospect, and I know we all long for them immensely).
At the forefront of the band was Charly Lowry weaving history into lyrics of mighty women with brown skin and iron resiliency into a tapestry of song. (You may recognize her name from American Idol or any one of the many venues she’s lit up with her undeniable presence).
Watching her with her band I felt seen and I felt heard–the way we all should. With her distinctly Southern accent, she spoke in a way that reminded me of my Father’s family. The dialect from Robeson County carries bit of swag that the rest of the Carolinas admire and rightfully so.
She spoke of the importance of the hand drum and what inspired her song Brown Skin, explaining that the drum is typically reserved only for men, and women often stand in the back for support. But this time she held the drum. She was in the forefront. She spoke of equality. The lyrics of the song transpired during her time at UNC Chapel Hill—a time that took her away from the town in which she grew up, where people looked like and spoke like her.
For the first time she had to answer questions like “What are you? Where are you from?” Feelings of the objectification that women, (particularly minority women) experience were magnified, and as a young adult out in the world for the first time, she was being told to define herself in accordance to the questions that strangers felt entitled to have answers to. Can you relate to that? I know I can.
I began to write this blog and reached out to Charly before the Pandemic. We chatted via social media, and I first intended to publish this early March. When the pandemic hit, the world seemed to stop and it just didn’t feel like the timing was right…
And then George Floyd was murdered. I forced myself to watch the video. It ripped at my soul to see a man’s life being slowly taken and when he called for his Mother, I sobbed without restraint for the life being taken and for the world we’ve prepared for our future generations.
The time for me to be vulnerable and to acknowledge both my own experiences and others experiences is now. The time to support communities that have experienced intolerance is now. The time to learn is now. The time to share is now. The time to listen is now. And the time to be heard is now. History is unfolding. We all are being presented with the opportunity to decide which side of it we’re on.
I caught up with Charly June 3rd in the midst of tensions and protests to share with her that I had not yet submitted my blog and that I felt like now was the perfect time to do so. Despite having undergone a recent kidney transplant after 3.5 years of dialysis, she quickly returned my message and with enthusiasm, (I guess that’s what Rock Stars do). I asked her for her thoughts on recent events, and this is what she said:
–“Brown skin was written with woman and girls from my community in mind, but I want to extend the message specifically to my Black Brothers and Sisters. Continue to fight your way out of this box that society has tried to place you in ever since your ancestors stepped foot on this continent; you are more than the centuries of blood shed. Black Lives Matter”—Charly Lowry
Thank you Charly for speaking your truth and inspiring this:
Brown Skin (by Kristin Greene)
Don’t believe the lie they tell you
That your hair should be a soft yellow, hanging heavy and long
And your eyes pale
For they have never felt the tufts of strong fibers blowing in the breeze
Skin glowing with rich brown tones like the earth beneath your feet
It highlights the dark in your eyes
Eyes rich like honey that sing magical notes without speaking
Your nose like a bridge to pillowy lips speaking truths with certainty
Fist raised in solidarity above strong shoulders and ivory bones that encircle a heart that beats like the drum of your ancestors
You are their wildest dreams.