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By Tee Elle 

I had a habit of establishing myself as a crucial team-player on the job. It was usually unintentional, though. I liked finding ways to make standard processes easier because extra steps annoyed me and I liked working on different projects to break up the boredom that came with crunching monthly sales figures. But I also think an even deeper part had to do with the idea that I had something to prove. Black women are more than capable. We’re not catty and difficult on the job. We get ish done and we can run things better than the white male who earns an average of $21,001 more than we do per year. I wanted those coins. And the maximum annual bonus, too. But my work ethic told my colleagues and upper management a story that was completely different from the one I crafted. 
My last job was pretty flexible. Management allowed us to occasionally telecommute, which meant it didn’t always make sense to use our accrued vacation days because I could log in once or twice during the day, answer emails and say I technically worked. I could save my accrued hours for later. Plus our team became highly visible because we could produce quality reports with minimal turnaround. Soon marketing and sales were reaching out with special requests and I’d filter them, either doing them myself or assigning them to someone else on my team.

We were extremely busy, which wasn’t really a problem because I bored easily and I was quick. The issue was I was tired because I didn’t factor in any real downtime.
 
I found myself listening to my coworker’s tales about their Caribbean cruises and international excursions. I went home and imbibed on their flavored rums and nibbled on their fine chocolates but I didn’t have any stories to share of my own, other than that time my friends and I drove across the border into Tijuana and a member of the bar staff forced gold tequila down my throat or the time my girls and I cruised from Los Angeles through the desert at 100+ miles per hour and had to exchange the rental car by the time we arrived in Vegas. Then I realized those stories weren’t recent.
 
What I had done was taken a “mental health day” here and there, which really wasn’t one because I still worked to avoid playing catch-up when I returned to the office. But I hadn’t taken a vacation in over four years! It made me wonder how in the world everyone else could take one twice per year.

I got my answer when I went out on short-term disability to recover from surgery. I returned home the next day and had settled in my bed to binge-watch the first season of the The Wire. My cell was on my nightstand. I heard the indicator for text messaging and assumed it was another friend or family member checking to see if I needed anything. I picked it up and read it.

“Where did you save the December report?”

For the first time I didn’t reply. In fact I didn’t answer a work-related text for the following eight weeks. I learned no one really cared about my well-being and for several years, I sent the message that I didn’t care about my well-being, either.

I neglected to set appropriate boundaries and allowed my work life to invade my personal space. I showed everyone I worked with that not only was I irreplaceable, but I was also always available even when I’m resting in discomfort after major surgery.

It’s rather difficult to change the narrative once you’ve already written the words. My peers still relied on the fact that I’d always be there, that I’d eventually relent and respond to every single request once I was mobile. I did not. None of it was worth the slight raise or the bonus or my sanity. I resigned less than a year from my return to work and I have yet to return to traditional employment.
 
I recently listened to an episode of the ‘My Taught You’ podcast where host and CurlBox founder Myleik Teele interviewed InStyle magazine’s fashion and beauty editor-at-large Kahlana Barfield-Brown about her rise to her current position. Kahlana shared her story of how she once filled in for an assistant and proved herself to be more efficient during the assistant’s absence. The assistant was soon fired and Kahlana landed the role.
 
“Never take a two-week vacation,” Kahlana advised. “You’re just giving someone an opportunity to take your job.”
 
The moral of her story was to take a day at the beginning or end of a long weekend, if you must, but never stay gone long enough to give someone else the opportunity to do your job better than you can.
 
But my morals are now a little bit different and should I ever return to corporate America, I’m applying them. I can do a stellar job and simultaneously take full advantage of my time off. If the person who assumes my job for a week can do it better, she can have it. We all need a break to regroup. I’m still going to take a real vacation.

Do you have a healthy work/life balance?
                
 

Tee Elle is an east-coast storyteller hoping for her big break west. Her words have been published on xoNecole and Clutch magazine, you can also follow her on Twitter and the blog. When she’s not writing or stalking social media, find her reading a great book, binge-watching reality TV, or pretending to be the next winner of Bravo’s Top Chef.
 
Natalee Holloway - Kenneka Jenkins
Last week, I stumbled upon an episode of 'The Disappearance of Natalee Holloway.' It was part of a new, six-part documentary that follows David Holloway as he searches for new developments in the disappearance and murder of his daughter, who took a trip to Aruba upon her high school graduation. It’s also a 12-year-old case with a vested community that equally seeks answers and justice for Holloway’s demise.

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Facebook commenter Susan Willis Updegraff writes, “Watched an update on the Natalee Holloway murder. The lengths to which her father has gone to find her remains is extraordinary and so tragic. All we can do is never go to Aruba for any reason. They don't deserve any benefits from U.S. tourists.”

Carole Ann Pigman, who describes Holloway as a “beautiful” young lady with such a “promising life,” pleas to dismiss her usual pastime of Sunday afternoon football to pray for the family of the 'smart, young woman who only traveled to the island to celebrate the beginning of a Pre-med education.'

But Crystal Constance Bey makes another point. She says, “They can investigate a missing person in another country but won't investigate all the missing black women here in America.”

It makes me wonder if Kenneka Jenkins – the 19-year-old woman who attended a party at the Crowne Plaza in Chicago just a few weeks ago, and whose lifeless body was found in the hotel’s freezer – family would receive the same level of attention.

Brittney Chardae brilliantly tweets:

 
While watching the Natalee Holloway documentary, I too, realized I hadn’t heard or seen anything new on television or social media so I googled Jenkins. The only recent news I could find is information on her public funeral, which is scheduled for Saturday. The facts leading up to her death are still a mystery.

I perform the same search on Facebook and visit the major media pages. There, against my better judgment, I click on the comments and subject myself to pure vitriol.

Jennifer Russell Peters attacks Jenkins' mom's parenting skills. “What a loving caring mom. First, she lets her daughter leave the house at 1130 and has no clue she's missing and now she's turning her daughter's funeral into a circus.”

“Mama looking for a payout?” adds Rori DeLaurentis, “[Jenkins] was drunk and walked into a freezer and passed out. It was her own fault! Tell Mama to get a job and stop causing commotion. It's annoying.”

The responses continue with freezer and Ringling Brothers jokes, dead horse memes and unnecessarily lame attempts to minimize and dismiss Jenkins.

The blatant lack of sympathy and pure disrespect for a black body and her family is appalling. It’s also rather interesting, read contradictory and hypocritical, how those who are the most vocal in victim-blaming and parent-shaming simply refuse to acknowledge the glaring similarities in both cases.

Like Holloway, Jenkins was celebrating a milestone, too: a friend’s birthday. They both partied with friends outside of home, and disappeared. The friends can’t exactly account for the missing women’s whereabouts after a certain point. The chronology of Holloway’s final hours is also sketchy. Rumors continuously interfere with the facts of her case and both cases seem to involve some level of foul play.

But the stark contrasts are that one victim is white while the other one is black, the public views one superior to the other and what’s considered untimely and tragic for Holloway is inevitable and deserving for Jenkins. It only reminds us that race often does influence law enforcement’s decisions, equality and justice for all is a myth, and to non-people of color, black girl magic is more dust than glitter.

Given the current racial climate, perhaps the infamous Facebook Live video showing Jenkins’ friends and a glimpse of Jenkins inside of their hotel room didn’t help any of the participants. It was hard for an empathetic viewer to watch and there seemed to be no real purpose for the footage. Unless it actually was recorded as a clue or some sort of alibi. There’s a bit of profanity, obvious underage drinking and some blunt-passing. It’s totally unfair but people judge us, even us.

Still by no means does it give anyone permission to deem a young black woman’s life as disposable. Her background or current lifestyle or image isn’t a valuation of her worth nor is it a definite indicator of a bleak future. I grew up in a rural community where most youth bypass college for the real world. When I was 18, I attended a nightclub that served alcoholic beverages, and I arrived home at 4 a.m. the morning after my birthday and I cursed and drank the night before too. The elders in my family didn’t know where I went and unless they read this piece, they still won’t know. But I still received a degree from a well-renowned university and within four years. The fact that Holloway partied hours before her death doesn’t preclude her potential but Jenkins is punished partly because four million viewers can easily witness part of her evening and mainly because she’s black. Never mind that Jenkins’ potential to become a doctor or nurse could’ve grown to easily surpass Holloway’s. We’ll never know that because neither is here to prove it.

But one's story continues to live on over a decade later while the other is killed in two weeks. Jenkins and all of our magical young black women deserve the same respect and recognition as Natalee Holloway and all of the young white women whose lives are unexpectedly cut short. This is why we mustn’t allow Kenneka Jenkins’ name to be tarnished and dismissed by those who feel any mention of it is a waste of precious breath. It’s up to us to be her vested community that continues to scream her name until she and her family receives due justice.

Are you familiar with the Kenneka Jenkins story?

Tee Elle is an east-coast storyteller hoping for her big break west. Her words have been published on xoNecole and Clutch magazine, but you can also follow her on Twitter (@pencilandchalk) and the blog at pencilandchalk.com. When she’s not writing or stalking social media, you can find her dreaming of LA, reading a great book, binge-watching reality TV, or pretending to be the next winner of Bravo’s Top Chef.

By Tee Elle
“I like your weave.”
I was midstride towards the register when the cashier greeted me, not with a “Did you find everything okay?” but with a flippant statement that was based purely on assumption rather than fact: The hair that tickled the middle of my back as lightly as a lover’s hand couldn’t have grown out of my scalp. “This is not a weave,” I retorted, appalled.

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It wasn’t that I actually turned my nose up at fake hair. I neither viewed it as “ghetto and ratchet” like those who automatically judge vivid and towering updos nor “distracting” to my peers like principals and senior managers who often use it as discriminatory grounds for suspensions and terminations. Braids and weaves aren’t indicators of incapability.

But I did feel it was unnecessary except in the cases of extreme hair loss. I didn’t fully understand why anyone would willingly cover the hair that’s growing out of her own head with something that often didn’t look real.

Of course this judgment came from someone who never quite mastered doing her own hair. My roller sets always looked like I did them myself, as in “Um, who did your hair?” instead of “Oooh, who did your hair!” When I moved 200+ miles away from my trusted stylist, my hair’s health severely declined. I decided to go natural without realizing the transition process would require more maintenance than a relaxed one, and my hair went from bad to worse. Recently I found myself back in a hair predicament, this time in the form of the dreaded in-between stage where it’s too short to slick into a pony but too long to be considered edgy. My hair has refused to grow at the speed it once did when it was maintained by a professional, and I’ve worn the same part-on-the-left-side look for nearly four years. Needless to say, I was ready for something else.

One day I received a picture text from my cousin.

“Who dis?” I thought, staring at the long, jet black, crinkled, faux locs on the screen. I grew so intrigued by the look that I dragged another cousin who was familiar with box braids to a nearby beauty outlet and we picked up some hair based off of a YouTube video tutorial.

At home, my cousin sectioned my hair into 399 tiny plaits and crocheted a loc adjacent to each one. The problem arose when it was time to work the individual plait into its adjoining loc: It wouldn’t slide in as effortlessly as the young woman in the video made it seem. When the latch of the crochet needle wasn’t scraping my scalp, it was poking through the loc, snagging it.

“Maybe it’s the needle,” I suggested. We got a new one. Same result.
“Nah, the plait is still too fat,” my cousin countered.

So I unraveled all 399 with the intent to divide them into 798 pieces, but something told me to test a few. It still didn’t work, so I Googled a few more videos, determined to keep the locs. The next night my cousin and I followed the cornrow method, and I endured the scalp-digging a second time. Part of me wanted to yell, “Forget it!” But what was the alternative? To apply relaxer to a raw and wounded scalp?

Oddly the pain was more bearable than the intense itching that I experienced at night. I was so unprepared. No one warned me that the hair would launch an aggressive assault on my scalp whenever I was near sleep like a six-alarm fire.

Yet, surprisingly, I grew to like the results – all 18 voluminous inches. I liked the way the tendrils framed my face, the way they snatched my edges, and the way they draped my head when I moved them around. By the fourth or fifth day – after some mango and lime oil and rosemary spray to quell the scalp burn – I loved them.
I was glamorous.
I was empowered.
I was transformed.
I was converted.
I was free.
 I finally got it. The decision to enhance our hair really isn’t based on laziness or some desire to be someone else. It isn’t always about insecurity or shame, either. It’s about discovery, ease, independence, and versatility. And in my case, the intent was to add as much hair as reasonably possible. I wasn’t going to leave any question as to whether my hair was real or not; it was going to be fairly obvious.

Last week I noticed my 6-year old cousin periodically glancing at me in the middle of Walmart

"Is that your hair?" she asked curiously, to which I proudly replied, "Nope, it's fake.”

 What are your thoughts? Yay or Nay to fake hair

Tee Elle is an east-coast storyteller hoping for her big break west. Her words have been published on xoNecole and Clutch magazine, you can also follow her on Twitter and the blog. When she’s not writing or stalking social media, find her reading a great book, binge-watching reality TV, or pretending to be the next winner of Bravo’s Top Chef.