[FEATURE] Lessons on Self-Determination from June Jordan and Marlo Stanfield

By Amanda Parris | @amanda_parris

[Note from the Editor: An earlier version of this post was initially published on Amanda Parris’ blog “Other Kinds of Dreams” which no longer is in existence]

I was told by one of my mentors that one of the most important tasks one has to do when creating a business is guard their reputation.  I didn’t make the connection at the time, but I recently realized that I already knew that.  For better or worse, guarding my reputation has actually been of paramount importance to my own personal sense of self.  Growing up as a young Black woman in Malvern and later on the south-side Jane strip, I saw so many examples of the way that reputation could make life easier or harder.  Long before I had ever had sex, rumours circulated around the high-rises of Martha Eaton Way and York Square about my apparent looseness as insecure boys (and men) made up tall tales of adventures they had taken me on between the sheets. It was my word against there’s and the word of teenage Black girls back then and today is rarely given any weight.

As much as those experiences hurt, the most significant learning lesson came in 2005: I was in university and was beginning to develop a politicized sense of self that was excited and eager to make a difference in the world.  I was connecting to and learning from numerous artists and activists whose knowledge, passion and eloquence both inspired and intimidated me.  One of those individuals (who shall remain nameless), I foolishly put on a pedestal.  He was one of the first people I met who used their art as a political tool.   He was connected to everything that was progressive and revolutionary in the city and introduced me to numerous spaces.  He also believed in me and told me he thought I could do great things…I was floored.  Little, old, me?  Not recognizing my own value, I naively allowed him to define it for me.  In spite of his best efforts, my eyes began to open and I started to see the distinction between leadership and ego, confidence and arrogance.  I saw how his words on the stage did not match his actions in life. I saw his lack of respect for many of the young people he purported to support and I began to recognize his deep-seated aggression toward women.  I made the decision to distance myself from him – a move that simultaneously hurt him and threatened him; a combination I would soon learn creates a dangerous formula. He made the decision to ruin my reputation.

One day, he held court in front of a number of people who were artists and activists in Toronto and proceeded to tell a story he had concocted of my supposed sexual exploits with a number of men in the community.  Never mind that none of this was true, the individual, chose to tell it. And he did not describe these fictional tales of sexual exploits as a site of empowerment or informed assertion of my sexuality. No.  He called me a groupie.  He called me a ho.  He belittled the work  that I was starting to do in community as opportunism to get in the pants of men.  He expressed his disgust for me.  This alone was devastating but so was the result. Not one of the over 30 people – made up of artists and activists, supposedly progressive thinkers and doers – who were present in this moment spoke up in my defence.  No one challenged his words.  No one contested the inherent infringement he was making on my right to tell my own story. No one rode for me. Not the self-identified feminists in the group.  Not the so-called homegirls who told me about it later.  No one.

junejordan_lyndakoolish1Whew! Even thinking back on it now, it gets me heated.  This was an attack on my reputation.  And of course he targeted my sexuality and vilified it as a space without integrity, depth or beauty because that is the strategy patriarchy has informed the world to take when attacking women. June Jordan illustrates this so beautifully in her piece “Poem About My Rights.”  It remains one of my favourite poems.  Here is an excerpt:

I have been the meaning of rape  
I have been the problem everyone seeks to  
eliminate by forced  
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/  
but let this be unmistakable this poem  
is not consent I do not consent  
to my mother to my father to the teachers to  
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy  
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon  
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in  
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

The legitimate rage I felt at that time has mostly dissipated, but the more important legacy of this experience was what happened subconsciously: I became obsessed with protecting and strengthening my reputation.  From that point on, I began working at making sure that if anyone in this city tried to fabricate stories around my character again, there would be ample evidence to challenge their tales.

The desire to protect my reputation was/is largely subconscious. However, I am beginning to recognize that it informed (in part) the mass emails I send out, the facebook statuses I put up, the reason for my personal blog, the reason for Twitter – these are all platforms I can ‘control’ to tell my story so that someone else cannot tell it for me.  It is problematic to allow external perception to hold so much weight…but when the right to be self-determined has been taken from you, it becomes a space of crucial importance.  It is part of the way that I ride for myself.  Self-determination is partly personal: at the start of my journey as an artist and activist in this city – before I had done anything and was just on the verge of emerging with so much excitement, hope and idealism – someone purposefully tried to define who I was to everyone else and received no contestation on the tale he chose to spin.  Self-determination is also partly historical and communal: this experience is a microcosmic example of what oppressed people consistently experience when they are robbed of the right to name themselves and tell their own stories: until the lion learns to speak, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

It was while rewatching one of (if not the) greatest television shows of all time: The Wire that I realized the ways that I have been invested in the building of a reputation that cannot be easily fucked with.  It was a classic scene featuring one of the most ruthless characters ever created for the small screen when he realizes that his reputation has been challenged without his knowledge.  It is one of the few moments where I felt connected to the character of Marlo Stanfield (played by Jamie Hector).  It may be odd to connect this ruthless character who was unforgivably violent to my experience but Marlo is all about self-determination. “My name is my name!” He states.  He affirms that subconscious desire/need/urgency to not only name oneself but also to protect that name.  He embodies the rage that is felt when that right of self-definition is taken away without consent.  I get it.

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

So I continue…like Marlo and like June Jordan…to ride for myself and guard my reputation.

 Amanda Parris | The Ride or Die Project Co-Founder and Blog Editor

[SERIES] Diary of a Hip Hop Head: 2nd Entry – Sex n’ Head

By Jessxca Docs | @BlogThatJ

Diary of a (restless) Hip Hop Head (A day in the Life),

[This peace was inspired by Wankaego with her track Flowers off her most recent mixtape The Queen of Trill. I cosign every word to this track – https://soundcloud.com/iamwankaego/flowers]

To give head or not to give head? That is the question…

Forgive my bluntness in this one.  Side note: It’s been a minute since last I gave up my juicy pomme…. I may go the rest of the year without the “D” well…… Ok maybe not the entire year LOL. I ride for mine in every way, to me it’s never an option and automatic. I get deep and for that reason I need someone that is going to bang out for me too in all facets of life, bedroom included.

I think it sucks (pun not intended) that I can enjoy giving head but not get my kitty licked in return.  Why is eating pussy still seen as nasty/controversial/taboo for some?  Ok granted women menstruate aka bleed for about 5-7 days straight each month BUT that’s a natural ting *Jamaican accent.*


Why not take it to church and be grateful for the amazing things the womb can do?

Fun Fact: Did you know that the Vagina is self-cleaning?

Side Note: I understand for SOME it may be a preference to not want to lick the kitty blah blah blah *rolling my eyes*.

When I speak to men now and if the convo comes up that’s one of the first things I ask, “Do you eat pussy?” (as plainly as that but more sexy, imagine my sexy voice) because at the end of the day I want us both to win/be satisfied!! (69 with me so I know it’s real LOL but seriously tho).

On the flip side to this, maybe it’s an issue where a lover isn’t sure what to do and thinks they won’t be good at orally pleasing their woman and that’s OK! Learning is the fun part (devilish smile) I got you with some quick “How To” tips below.

If you haven’t figured it out by now I’m on Team Give Head! (unless your dick is dipped in gold tee hee). It’s more fun and everybody is a winner.

Quick Tips for Kissing the Pomme:

Side note: I found this website and thought I’d share it had some dope info and tips on oral sex for women http://www.holisticwisdom.com/oral-sex-on-female-cunnilingus.htm

Words I used for vagina:

  • Peach
  • Pomme
  • Fruit of Life
  • Cookie
  • Pussy
  • Kitty
  • Cat
  • Yoni
  • Pearl

Yes I have a special name for mine. What’s yours?

Jessxca Docs | Core Writer

[SHORT STORY] Flower Girl

By Harminder Multani

We are All in Constant Growth,

Grow Freely.

            Rosa had just turned twenty years old ten days ago and was having a rough start to this new decade of her life. Although the beauty in her skin carried no flaws, on the inside she felt tired and old – stuck in a place that she just couldn’t seem to get out of. Her past was full of colourless moments, too opaque for Rosa to see the underlying light beneath their surfaces. Rosa had grown tired of this existence, and was anxious, in desperate need of a transformation that would destroy the very roots of her present mind state. And so, before going to bed on her tenth day of being twenty, Rosa took a deep breath and got a strange sensation right between her ribs, there must be more. In that moment, Rosa promised to love her self, in all ways, in every moment, and with every breath.

On her eleventh day of being twenty, Rosa woke up feeling much lighter then usual. She hopped out of bed with a new-found energy and warmth to start her day, but as Rosa undressed to take a shower all of that was gone at the sight of an unexpected transformation. Her honey brown, smooth back was turning green along her spine. Terrified with what was happening to her, Rosa went to her bed; comforted by the warm rays of the sun coming in through her window she went to sleep with hopes of waking up from this dream. On her twelfth day of being twenty, Rosa awoke again. She fretfully looked at herself and to her despair she was turning green! Her arms were now deep green leafs opening to the energy of the light. Her feet were tingling roots, waiting, just waiting to absorb the sweet water of Earth. And her hair had turned into a crown resembling the beautiful purple petals of a lotus flower. Rosa detested her new self. She looked in the mirror and saw a freak. Her human beauty, the one thing she liked about herself was destroyed. She began crying and screaming out, “I hate my life! I hate my self.”

Just as Rosa uttered those words, she began changing back to her old self. All of her old self. Her beauty was back, but so was her exhaustion and her internal scars which weighed down her very existence. Rosa looked at her self in the mirror adoringly as she saw her flesh was returned back to her old beautiful self. She looked at her lips, pink and full, her nose, a perfect button and just as she looked into her eyes she began feeling ugly again. Worse than she had felt a few moments ago when her skin was green! Rosa had no idea what was missing; she was beautiful again, the one thing that kept her going despite her darkness. She stared into her eyes and saw a deep emptiness that made her feel like she had nothing, she was nothing.

Rosa began to cry again, and this time, as the tears flowed, he emptiness in her eyes disappeared. She felt lighter and lighter, as if all of her past troubles were flowing out of her. And then, a single warm tear drop landed on her left baby toe and she began changing back into the Lotus. “No, no, no, no NO,” screamed Rosa. And as she got up to look at her self again, she looked into her eyes and saw the most subtle but refreshing beauty that she never believed existed inside of her. Rosa touched her hair and felt the softest flower petals that were now apart of her. She lengthened out her stem which took the place of her spine and she stood with confidence and self love. Rosa’s past was let out of her body through her salt water tears, and all the self blame she had for her self was used as the very water she needed to grow. Rosa loved her self, and in that moment she promised to never stop. Rosa was a Lotus. Gods perfect creation. A beautiful flower, birthed from the muddiest conditions.


Harminder Multani | 21 year old Writer, Visualist and Student from Toronto using art to grow and show the world the beauty in peace.

[EVENT] From Toronto to Baltimore, Black Lives Matter

[NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Although we stand in solidarity with this event, The Ride or Die Project is not one of the organizers of it. Please read below to get contact information for the organizers]


On Sat May 2nd, the official report of Freddie Gray’s murder will be released. The national #BlackLivesMatter chapters have issued a call to action and we are calling on all Black folks, allies, community members, supporters, activists, families, etc to take action!

Freddie Gray was only 25 when he was murdered. He was chased beaten, and arrested for “making eye contact” with Baltimore Police officers on April 12th, resulting in his voice box being crushed and his spine being severed from his body. On April 19th, he died due to spinal injuries sustained in the beating.

Baltimore has been in uprising, demanding justice for Freddie and calling for the end of police brutality and #every28hrs.

Here in Toronto, our new Chief of Police Mark Saunders has vowed to continue the racist ‘carding’ practices in Toronto, even though irrefutable facts show that this racial profiling criminalizes Black people. It is this racist logic that is often a precursor to police brutality. WE SAY NO TO CARDING

On May 2nd, join us in front of Toronto Police Headquarters to demand justice for Freddie Gray and all Black peoples who have been murdered/brutalized/harassed by police and state sanctioned violence.

SAT MAY 2ND | 5pm

We demand justice for Freddie Gray.

We demand justice for Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by police while sitting in her vehicle.

We demand justice for Jermaine Carby, killed by Peel Police in Brampton Sept 24th 2014.

We demand justice for Aiyana Jones, whom was only 7yrs old when murdered by police while in her home .

We demand justice for Mya Hall, a Black transwoman killed in Baltimore by police.

We demand an end to racist carding practices.


#BLACKLIVESMATTER #TDOT2BMORE #BLMTO #BaltimoreUprising #NoMoreCarding

*We are asking that the experiences of Black people, and particularly Black transfeminine people be centralized in this rally calling for justice for all Black peoples and victims of state sanctioned violence everywhere.


If you are in a position to do so, please bring disposable funds to donate at the rally to support grassroots activists organizing against police brutality in Baltimore.

There will be a gofundme link added shortly as another means of solidarity.

We are currently attempting to secure ASL interpretation, if you have leads, please email: blacklivesmatterto@gmail.com

Allies, please bring snacks/water/tokens for rally participants

For media requests, email blacklivesmatterto@gmail.com

Tokens will be provided upon request from organizers

We are looking for volunteers in any of the following areas:
rally set-up/takedown, legal observers, & active listeners.

[EVENT] Other Side of the Game Casting Announcement

Set in the waiting room of the Don Jail, Other Side of the Game is a meeting place between the urgent activism of the 1970’s and today’s unapologetic Hip Hop generation. At this meeting place we find the stories of women. Women who organize communities, protect loved one’s and battle institutions, living each day by a ride-or-die philosophy. The play explores the stories of several women as they sit in the waiting room of the Don Jail; hovering in the limbo between freedom and imprisonment.

Over the past 9 months, Amanda Parris has been developing the script of the play through the Hot House Program at Cahoots Theatre under the dramaturgy of Marjorie Chan. She was invited to present a reading of her new draft by the Piece of Mine Theatre Festival and the York University Black Students Alliance.

This presentation will mark the first exploration of the script by an all-female cast.

The reading will occur on Saturday, May 2nd, 5pm at Oakwood Library Theatre. Tickets can be purchased by clicking HERE.


Written by Amanda Parris

Dramaturgy by Marjorie Chan


FADUMA MOHAMED – Nicole/Akilah


KYAUNA CLARKE – Shevonne/Beverly


NAJLA EDWARDS – Devonte/Khalil 


SASHOYA SIMPSON – Winston/Elder/Guard/Police Officer/Guidance Counselor


[MEMOIR] Ride or Die

By Sasky Louison

[TRIGGER WARNING: This post touches on experiences of sexual assault]

Love. I can utter the words but that is just about it. I am scared of it. As a matter of fact, I hate it. I want to stay as far away from it as possible. I do not want to feel it. I do not want to know it. You see, when I love someone, I love them. Simple. I trust them. I believe them. I fight for them. I fight alongside them but never with them. We have a problem? Let us sit, drink some tea and figure this shit out because no matter what, I am going to stick by you. Yup. Ride or die!

Ever since I was a little girl I had been trying to find Love and by 20 years old, I was done with it. Some people tell me that Love is love. Love can never be anything else but beautiful and kind and patient and blah blah blah. They say it is people who misuse it and ill-treat it and use it to hurt others. “Well then,” I say. “When you’re in Rome you have to do as the Romans so I have to take love for what it means to the people I am around and it is not kind or patient or none of that crap.”

I kid you not! When I was 18, I swear to God I had found it. I did not go looking for it. It just came to me. Just like that. I was on a trip with my church to go meet other church members in a neighbouring Caribbean Island. Going on the trip had never crossed my mind until my mother began to persuade me to go. She thought the experience would be good for me. I was moving to that said island in a month to attend college and I had never been there before. The plus for my mother was that I would be around Christian people. Frankly, I preferred to save my money. I would be leaving in a month anyway but to make my mother happy I went.

We were camping at a school. I went to my dorm, said hello to some people and went for a walk, taking in the smell of the island. That was when I saw him. He was sitting with some of his friends. He was tall, brown skinned, cool looking and handsome. They all said hello. I said hello. He smiled a perfect smile. I forgot how to smile but managed to quickly do something with my face that resembled one. He began to walk towards me. My heart pace quickened. Jesus! Was that Love?

Of course I played hard to get! I had never had a boyfriend. I did not know what being someone’s girlfriend meant. Well, in the movies they kissed and made out a lot. That was the most I knew. But he and I would go on walks and talk about teenage stuff; obnoxious parents, bratty siblings, going to college…stuff like that. We never ran out of things to say and I always looked forward to seeing him again although I hid my excitement.

When I left to go back home, he burned me a CD with music he got from LimeWire and told me to listen to it when I got home.

I could hardly wait but my parents were ridiculously strict and their CD player was for gospel music only. Still I took a risk. Maybe, just maybe they would not mind. I put in my CD. The first song on the CD was Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer.

That did it. I was in love. That did it for my Dad too. He took out the Devil CD from his Jesus CD player and broke it right in front of me. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched him stomp on my CD to ensure that it had broken into so many bits there was absolutely no way to listen to such filth ever again. I soon realized that I had better things to do with my time and tears. There was a boy, no a man, waiting to kiss me on another Caribbean Island. He wanted to kiss me beneath the milky twilight and lead me out on the moonlit floor and lift his open hand to strike up the band and make the fireflies dance silver moon’s sparkling… and kiss me some more.” I dried my tears and walked away. I had a plane to catch in two weeks.

My hands sweat, my heart raced, my stomach knotted as I dialed his number to let him know that I was back on the island. We met at college and every day after that so he could walk me home. I lived with my aunty who lived close by to the college. Two weeks later, he kissed me. Not beneath the milky twilight but under the coconut tree in my aunty’s yard. She was not home that afternoon.

Kisses turned into touches, touches into more touches. He got his driver’s license. We went to the beach every day after school. We laughed a lot. He taught me how to surf and bought me surf clothes. I called him Dude. He called me Dudette. I was so happy. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. Six months later, we went all the way. We were in amazement that the human body could feel “so good.” We wanted to feel “so good” all of the time so we did it every chance we got which was not often because his parents watched him and I like hawks. Sometimes during church service, I would pretend to go to the bathroom, then he would follow and we would hurry up do it before the sermon ended. I loved going to church then. Lots of church hymns brings back such fond memories so when you see me smiling at church, trust me, it is not because I am saved.

Summer was approaching and I had to go back home. I had no money. That meant 3 whole months without him. We promised to speak as often as we could and I promised to come back to him as soon as I could. But at home, I had my own problems.

I was molested by extended family members from the time I was 7 years old. I knew they were all waiting for me to come home. They had never listened when I told them that I did not like the way they were touching me. I had gotten used to the fact that that was my life and when it was happening to create beautiful stories in my head of ponies and butterflies and being a movie star. I could not tell my parents. They would beat the daylights out of me like they did anyway.

I was having so much fun at college with my new boyfriend that I had forgotten my problems at home. My boyfriend did not know. I was so great at blocking it that in my mind it had never happened.

When I got home, I avoided those family members as often as I could. My boyfriend and new life had given me a reason to fight. I stayed busy and around lots of people. I ran away every time they came close.

One night, another family member, who I would never have previously dreamed would be one that I should run from, came to spend the night. He was a photographer. He asked me if I would like some photos free of charge. Of course! I did not have a camera and did not know the last time I had taken photos since cameras at the time were so expensive.

The photos were innocent at first with me posing around the house. I began to get tired of all the photos but he laughed and asked me what I thought real models went through. He told me to open one button of my blouse and then it was another button, then it was to let my bra strap fall then he touched me on my breasts and told me that I had caused him to get horny.

He was my blood relative. He had never before tried anything like that. I felt ashamed and guilty at the same time. It was my fault. I had caused this. For the life of me, I could not stand up to him, to my family before him and say firmly, “No!” Say firmly, “Stop it!” I lived my whole life in fear. Fear that I would not be accepted by the people around me. I was laughed at all the time. I got embarrassed so easily. I avoided awkward, conversations and it was embarassing and awkward to say, “I do not like it when you touch me like that.”

When I was younger, I felt like I had nothing much going for me. My relatives were good looking guys that everyone else liked. I was accepted into things because they were related to me. Once, this popular girl in secondary school who would have never spoken to me otherwise, gave me a letter for one of them right in front of a lot of people. She was nice to me and I felt good.

Who would listen to me if I said my older family members molested me? Only children got molested by big, hard back men. Not 18 year olds like me and not by older pervert relatives, one of whom was only a few months older than I was.

When I left again for college, things had changed for me. I was angry. I hated myself. I hated my life. I did not understand why my relative touching me affected me in the way that it did. Maybe it was because I never expected him to do that to me. Maybe it was because I now had a boyfriend and I could not tell him my deepest, darkest secret. Maybe I was more aware because my boyfriend had shown me a new way. A new life. How life was really supposed to be.

One day I broke down and told him everything. What happened to me from the time I was 7. He began to cry and told me that he would be there for me. Ride or die right? He wanted me to tell my parents but I told him that I could not do that. He did not understand why. I tried to explain to him that it would create too much trouble. He got upset. He began to question how truthful I was being to him. He asked me if I liked it when my relatives touched me. Of course I did not! How dare he? He told me how much he missed me and how sexually deprived he was when I was not around. He was sure I felt the same way too. How could I not like it when my relative touched me, knowing I had not had sex in such a long time? I explained to my boyfriend that I make love to him because I loved him. I want to be as close to him all the time. I did not love my relative in that way. I did not like it.

Things changed. My boyfriend and I did not laugh as much. We had sex but he would leave as soon as he was done. Before he would stay and we would talk and laugh about nothing in particular. The gleam in his eyes went dark. He was angry all the time. One time we were arguing and he called me a bitch. I slapped him and he left. We broke up time and time again.

I loved my boyfriend with every damn thing inside of me but things were not the same. I did not feel like he loved me anymore. I felt like he was punishing me for my family members abusing me. We could not ride our love anymore. It died. We broke up for good.

I was angry at my first boyfriend for years after that but looking back, I understand now how he could not fathom why I did not want to tell anyone what my extended family did to me. Why I did not want them to pay. He was too sheltered, too young to understand the magnitude of the problem I had. I myself did not understand it either. I did not understand the magnitude of my problem. At the time, it was my way of life. If you saw me with my relatives, we laughed and talked like nothing dark was happening behind closed doors. I remembered when I took my boyfriend to a family reunion. Some of my relatives had come to the island. I hugged them and told them it was good to see them. My boyfriend just stood, with his hands in his pockets watching me and just simply shaking his head. He just did not get it. This was my normal. I was good at pretending that nothing ever happened. It was so much easier to forget the past and move on. I was living on another island, never to return. By that time I had my own apartment. They could never come over to my place to do things to me. So it really did not make any sense to address this dark secret.

That first year with my boyfriend was my first and only experience of true, untainted love and pure, carefree happiness. Our parents did not like the idea that we were so close but we stuck with other. What could my parents do anyway? They were on another island. One time my boyfriend held my hand and told me how no one could ever stop him from loving me. He, my dude was ride or die for me. I, his dudette, was ride or die for him too. But we were too naïve to understand that the ride could only go so far until the gas ran out. Sometimes, like now as I am writing this, I swear I miss him. He did love me. He just could not understand me. I loved me too. I just could not understand me either.



[FEATURE] For Cleo: Set it Off’s Ultimate Ride-or-Die

By Amanda Parris | @amanda_parris

[ALERT: This article contains TONS of spoilers for the movie Set it Off. You have officially been warned!]

“What are you looking at? I’m a bitch with a gun!” – Cleo

Whew! I just finished re-watching Set it Off for the umpteenth time and I am now wiping away tears as the end credits go up just like I did the first time. That Brandy, Tamia, Gladys and Chaka Khan “Missing You” cue gets me every time. I decided to return to the film for two reasons:

  1. Set it Off director F. Gary Gray is returning to the big screen this year with the release of Straight Outta Compton, the highly anticipated N.W.A. bio-pic (which increased anticipation with the drop of one of the best trailers I’ve seen in a LONG time). So, I thought this would be a good time to revisit what I believe is one of his classic works.
  2. On May 16th, HBO will be releasing Bessie, a biopic of the late great blues singer Bessie Smith who will be played by Queen Latifah. If the trailer and sneak peek character spots are anything to go by, this looks like it will be one of the most layered and powerful roles Queen Latifah has ever portrayed and so I thought this would be a good time to revisit one of the most classic characters she has ever brought to the big screen: Cleopatra Simms aka Cleo.

I’ll just lay my cards on the table from the jump: Set it Off is one of my favorite films of all time. I have a mental middle finger permanently saved for all the critics who gave it a 63% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a fist ready to rise in the air with a strong head nod to all the audience members who gave it a 90% approval rating.

tumblr_mr91exCW3G1sx5drgo1_500Set it Off is a 1996 film that puts a twist on the classic heist film. Written by Takashi Bufford and Kate Lanier, it follows four friends: Stony (Jada Pinkett – not yet Smith), Cleo (Queen Latifah), Frankie (Vivica A. Fox) and Tisean aka T.T. (Kimberly Elise) who all grew up in the same projects and are dealing with economic realities that place real and tangible limitations on their abilities to dream, live and move. The stakes for each of them rise as various circumstances disrupt even their tenuous strategies of survival and they begin to think outside of the system that has led to their suffering. Their plan B? They start robbing banks.

I remember excitedly talking with my best friend about which characters we were most like. Neither of us had seen the movie (we were in middle school and were not allowed), but we used the trailers and the sneak peeks embedded in the music videos from songs on the soundtrack as reference points revelling in all the options of Black femininity that we had at our disposal. I remember years later finally being able to watch Set it Off as a teenager when it played one afternoon on television. I bawled my eyes out and was unable to recover for the rest of the day as I replayed the tragic final moments over and over in my mind. I finally watched the uncensored version when I bought the DVD as an adult and I remember feeling as though it was the first time I had ever seen the film. I was so INVOLVED in all of it. My heart was pounding in the car chase scenes in a way that it had never pounded in a car chase scene before. I felt like I was in that car with them and immediately started tripping as I realized how the limitations in the ways that I get to see myself on screen have affected my ability to connect to scenes in movies.   Set it Off was the first (and perhaps only) film I had/have ever seen with a car chase scene featuring only Black women as the protagonists and I have never felt the same way about any car chase scene since.

Historically I connected the most with Stony but in the past few years each time I rewatch the film my attention has been captured almost entirely by the hilarious, passionate and fiercely loyal character of Cleo (rumour has it that Jada originally wanted to play Cleo because she saw her role as the juiciest). Now if you recall, at this time Queen Latifah was still mostly known through her rap music career where she rocked majestic turbans/crowns/headwraps and oozed Black pride. Her acting star was also beginning to rise through small guest roles in films such as Juice and House Party 2 as well as television shows such as Fresh Prince. Most significantly, in 1993 she became the lead in the hugely popular sitcom Living Single playing the level-headed editor and publisher Khadijah James (remember that Thursday night line-up in the 90’s on Fox? Martin, Living Single and New York Undercover were on back-to-back-to-back)

When Queen Latifah appeared for her first scene as Cleo in Set it Off though, there was no sign of the Afrocentric regalia she adorned in her rap career or the casual professionalism of her small-screen character. In fact, Cleo came out looking like the missing member of Bone Thugs N’ Harmony with a blow-dried afro, dark shades and a blunt. Cleo from the start carved her own distinct path in the film, constructing through her humour, anger, fierce loyalty and deep emotion a compelling and moving portrayal of a woman living by a ride-or-die philosophy.

Each of the primary characters in Set it Off are clearly painted with a specific background that contextualizes their decision to participate in armed robbery. tumblr_mi69kw5RSX1qzbykto1_1280In the short film Setting it Straight: The Making of Set it Off, Kate Lanier, the co-writer of the screenplay states that they had to write in a motivation for robbery that is not necessary for men in a typical bank heist film in order to make this storyline credible and real. In an interview conducted 15 years after the release of the film, Takashi Bufford reveals that this was a priority set by the studio and one that he felt was overdone and “resulted in a couple of themes being in the movie that I felt were superfluous.” For better or for worse these story lines set a structural pattern for the film and the way that the audience is moved to engage, invest and mourn with and for each character. Frankie is unfairly fired from her job as a bank teller and her lack of opportunity combined with (legitimate) bitterness for the way she is treated and desire to reclaim a pride that was shattered creates the necessary ingredients leading to her decision. Tisean’s financial woes working for Luther’s janitorial services are deepened in relation to her friends who work at the same place because she is a mother who has to pay for childcare. When Children’s Protective Services take her son away she is forced to find a way to prove that she is fit to take care of him and this assessment includes having the financial capacity to pay for childcare. Stony’s story is the central heartbeat of the film as we see her work without limit to not only provide for her younger brother but also to pay for his schooling so that she can get him out of the hood. His brutal wrongful murder by the police is the trigger that shifts her from easily dismissing the idea of robbing banks to throwing in her lot in with the group. The writers are calculated and deliberate in creating the necessary stakes to rationalize each woman’s distinct reasons for making their decision – except in the case of Cleo.

Relative to the other characters, Cleo’s back-story is not rooted in a particular trigger that forces her to consider what would previously have been easily dismissed. This absence of a trigger makes her the character that we are left to assume is automatically the most attuned to the idea because it already fits into her journey. Cleo is the one who initially suggests a bank heist, she is the one who is the most consistently excited about it and at the gun range she is the most at ease. Indeed when the police begin their investigation into the bank robberies, she is the easiest suspect in the crew to consider because of her already existing record in car theft. Cleo is working in the same dead-end janitorial service as the others, subject to the same verbal abuse of their supervisor Luther and dreams on the rooftop of a decent wage with her friends. But unlike Stony who (at least initially) wants that money for her brother and then later to get out of the hood or Tisean who wants that money to regain custody and take care of her son, Cleo’s desire for the dollar is less focused and more hazy than the others. She wants to get out of the hood with the crew, she wants a different life but is not sure of where she will go or what this different life will consist of. The only thing that is clear is her desire for respect and the goods that will help her gain it. A scene at a parking lot shows Cleo embarrassed when a dude from the hood (a small cameo played by the director F. Gary Gray) pulls up in his Cadillac laughing at her old ride (that she has apparently been fixing since the 7th grade). As a result it is no surprise that when they score their first hit, Cleo immediately celebrates by leaving the job where she is treated with no respect, souping up her ride and buying her girlfriend Ursula sexy lingerie. Cleo’s escape is living the Hip Hop version of the American dream.

tumblr_mf1drdJk371ql0ho1o1_500With her cornrows, baggy pants, fresh white tees, love of Cadillacs and hydraulics, history of car theft and ease with guns Cleo’s masculinity is rooted in a very West Coast Hip Hop thug life (as defined and documented in 90’s rap music). As a stud/AG/butch queer woman, Cleo’s sexuality is cemented in the film as she is paired with Ursula, a beautiful femme woman who showers her with attention. Their relationship (the only depiction of a serious committed and long-term relationship in the film) is not a debate or a site of controversy and it is in that space of normalcy that it is the most transformative and powerful. It was the first queer relationship between Black women that I had ever seen on screen and it is unfortunate that one of the individuals in the relationship was literally silent the entire time. Ursula only has eyes and words for Cleo and pointedly dismisses or ignores her friends who attempt at various times to greet her and start conversation but promptly give side-eye’s when the invitation is not reciprocated. This clear separation may be indicative of the fact that this film makes the relationships between the friends primary and as such Ursula (and Keith in the case of Stony) both take a back-seat to the homegirls (Ursula still should have had some lines especially since Keith in contrast was the man who “has an answer for everything”) As the “speaker” in the relationship, Cleo makes the decisions and seemingly also takes on the role of the provider; another clue for her desire to have loot. tumblr_n201nqYIXl1s2estro1_500Her decision to make lingerie one of the first things that she purchases with her newly acquired money (and for which she is thanked with a sexy lapdance on top of her car while she drinks a 40 and smokes a spliff – a scene clearly inspired by a number of 90’s rap videos) is indicative of the type of role she wants to take up.

As the resident West Coast Hip Hop thug of the film, Cleo is given no trigger for her decision because it is determined that no trigger is necessary. In films that feature men and particularly Black men who are classified as thugs, there often is deemed no need for a contextualizing trigger to understand their descent into criminality because it is apparently expected or normal. Although Cleo is a woman, her closeness to masculinity and to a very particular Hip Hop masculinity apparently means that no specific reason is necessary. This absence is one that I mourn in the film because I feel like Cleo deserved more, she deserved a back-story and she deserved context.  The writers Takashi Bufford and Kate Lanier choose instead to portray Cleo as the one who without any prodding romanticizes and is excited by the prospect of crime and needs zero convincing to join the heist. Indeed, she is the one that first suggests it.  As I think of this I recall Ava Duvernay’s statement at the recent 2015 Black Girls Rock awards:

“When a Black woman makes a film it’s not an interpretation of Black womanhood it is a reflection!”- Ava Duvernay

Who would Cleo have been if she had been written by a Black woman and directed by a Black woman? Would I be left with the same questions, the same feeling of absence? Perhaps due to studio priorities it would have been the same. But I wonder….

The contrast painted between Stony and Cleo emerges poignantly and somewhat heartbreakingly in a key scene where they have a heart to heart conversation while taking a break at work following a severe fight. The moment illustrates the distinctions in their dreaming:

“Stony, you can go to suburbia and start a new life. But we ain’t nothin’ but hood rats. Now I can live with that. You can’t. The hood is where I belong. I mean what am I gonna do in Hollywood or One Thousand Oaks or some shit?” – Cleo

Despite her inability to dream with Stony, which ultimately may be the reason the film concludes the way that it does, Cleo does know how to ride with and for her. Refreshingly this is a film that focuses on friendship between women. tumblr_nd3fkhQbJR1svt5w5o1_500Although all of the core characters illustrate various ways that they are there for each other, Cleo is consistently the most immediately ready to ride and is always ready to play the role of the defender of the crew. Right after Stevie’s murder, Cleo viciously stares down the detective who attempts to approach Stony. She similarly is the first to rise up in outrage and defense when Child Protection Services arrives at the hospital to take Tisean’s son. She also pointedly refuses to pimp out Frankie to Black Sam (Dr. Dre) in order to get guns when he expresses interest clearly drawing the line for what she will and will not do/accept (a small but key moment that in some ways distinguishes her masculinity from that of the West Coast Hip Hop thug masculinity defined by 90’s rap music). When the second robbery is almost botched after their getaway car is blocked, Cleo is the one who thinks fast and crashes through the bank with a newly acquired ride. It’s not part of the plan, the getaway is not smooth at all, and they are screaming throughout the entire escape but it is Cleo who is literally ready to ride through walls and malls to get her homegirls out.

Cleo also plays the role of the one to call people out and force them to make the difficult decision. tumblr_nd3fl8bVF31svt5w5o1_1280When Tisean is about to break down at the hospital she grabs her, stares in her eyes and states unequivocally: “Fuck this shit. You know what you got to do.” In one of the last scenes as Stony tries to dissuade the crew from targeting Downton Federal Bank following her romantic date with her Prince Charming Keith Weston (played by the always smooth – almost too smooth – Blair Underwood), Cleo immediately calls her out: “What the fuck is that? What you gon’ play us? For that buppy in the bank?”

Can we also take a moment to just big up her screwface? From defiantly starting down police detectives to Children Protection Services, several scenes are dedicated to amazing close-ups on Queen Latifah’s intense and furious stare. When called to participate in a line-up for Luther’s murder, Cleo focuses her glare through the glass, intimidating fiercely with zero chill (check this article’s feature image for evidence). In Setting it Straight, they remind us of the context of Set it Off which came out a few years after the Rodney King Riots when tensions between Black communities and the LAPD were at an all time high.  Much of the rage and distrust that was felt by an entire generation is captured in Cleo’s gaze during those moments. She’s not lying when she tells the crew later:

“Them motherfuckers were all over me. But I represented.” – Cleo

Cleo’s boldness to stare not only at the white female witness but also the white male detective and his Black female partner, to look back at those who hold her freedom in their grasp, is reminiscent of the oppositional gaze bell hooks once wrote of:

“All attempts to repress our/black people’s right to gaze had produced in us an overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze.” – bell hooks

Cleo’s final act of loyalty to the crew and what cements her as one of the most classic ride-or-die characters of all time arrives in one of the heartbreaking final scenes. Stuck in a tunnel with helicopters waiting on either side she convinces Stony and Frankie to get out of the car and run with the money telling them she’ll catch up with them later. There is a heavy pause as what she is saying sinks in. They don’t bother to work out a meeting point, because they already know there won’t be one; Cleo is not suggesting a plan to reunite but rather is offering her homegirls an opportunity to escape. Her self-sacrifice makes sense in the limited context we are given for her character. Returning to that key moment when she and Stony squash their beef at work and Stony attempts to talk to her about her goals and future Cleo in very few lines lets us know – there isn’t much out there available for her to dream on.  The film exemplifies the ways that the system, the world creates limited space for young working class Black women. However this becomes even more extreme when this Black woman is not only queer and has a gender presentation that is not only masculine but is specifically rooted in the masculinity of that West Coast Hip Hop young Black male.

Cleo’s final ride is in some ways a desperate push for survival, she still looks around frantically trying to find a way out amidst the cop cars and hovering helicopters. But when she realizes there is none, she holds back the sob, lights up a cigarette and makes the final decision to ride out, taking the final stand for the respect she is owed with guns blazing.  Her brutal death hit me differently this time around as I took in the way the bullets rang out long after her gun was gone from her hand and the literal “threat” of her was eviscerated. Still the police continued shooting. The price she paid for her oppositional gaze.

Although I feel her character could have benefited from more context and more background and I know that Queen Latifah would have shone if given the chance to immerse in more layers, Cleo is undoubtedly one of the most classic portrayals of a ride-or-die to ever grace the silver screen. Once again, a middle finger to the haters.


Amanda Parris | The Ride or Die Project Co-Founder and Blog Editor

[POETRY] Deserve Love

By Jayne Dough

[TRIGGER WARNING: This poem alludes to a scene of rape]


Back then, i thought everyone deserves love. i was a fool.



(i whispered, but u heard me)


i—what do you want for lunch?

u—whatever. soup.

i—chicken noodle or beef barley?

u—beef barley.

i—will you wash the dishes after?

u—yeah. you wash the cutlery.

All the time I’m thinking…



(until my voice gave out)


i—what do you want to watch?

u—i don’t care. come here. lie beside me. i want to hold you.

i—like this? is this ok? are you comfortable?

u—closer. where’s the remote?

All the time thinkin’…


That Night: why won’t he pull out? why won’t he pull out? why won’t he pull out? why won’t he pull out?

(u didn’t)


Back then, i thought everyone deserves love. took me 2yrs to figure out

u didn’t

Jayne Dough is a pseudonym adopted to honor the Toronto woman, Jane Doe, who bravely sued the police for mishandling her rape case. Although we don’t know her name, Jane Doe helped a generation of women in the city of Toronto. Jayne Dough writes as one of the many unnamed women who have endured and supported a cycle of abuse. Now coming from a place of security and peace, she wants to be outspoken about her experience. Much gratitude to The Ride or Die Project for creating a platform that embraces the intricate complexity of these issues. Much love.

[SHORT STORY] My Very First Boyfriend

By Sasky Louison

I was five years old when I had my first boyfriend. He too was five and no, I was not easy. Let’s get that straight from the beginning. I was not easy and never ended up being easy and so what if I was easy! I can do whatever I want with my vagina. It is my vagina and I love it! However, I was young and stupid and had every right to be. I was five for goodness sake and although there are many child prodigies bouncing around in the society at large, I was a late bloomer so I was never one of those kids.

My breasts never grew as fast as my friends, I always got jokes about five minutes after everyone, I sat my drivers theory test four times before I passed and I just found out that humans have two lungs and not one, hence why lungs is plural and not singular…

You can take a break to ponder on how slow I am…

I don’t know. I think it’s my brain. It works a bit slower than normal folk in everything…especially relationships.

Imagine, a 28-year old spending her spare time sitting in a coffee shop, pretending to read a biology book (that’s how I found out about the lung thingy) eavesdropping on first time date conversations, and laughing in her head. Try it sometime. Oh! It’s atrocious! When you really think of the conversations people have on first dates, it is just simply pathetic. It is also embarrassing if you have to hear yourself and funny if you are like me who have given up on relationships altogether.

Like why? Why must we make this so difficult? Why can’t we just procreate like beasts of the wild and go on living without falling in love and pledging your life to someone forever, knowing that forever is never?

So! Here I am sipping on my hot chocolate because I hate coffee, listening to this guy tell this girl about his dog called Rover, (he’s definitely not getting a second date) when it hit me! Not like a ton of bricks but more like the light bulb turning on in your head, an ah-ha moment thingy.

I noticed a pattern in all my relationships and it was then I realised that Simon (my boyfriend when I was 18) was not my first boyfriend! OMG! I had many boyfriends before that but because we never kissed or made out, we were never an “item.” But we were! And I kept making the same mistake over and over without realizing it.

Aaron was actually my first boyfriend as far as I could remember. At the time I did not even know he was my boyfriend but our relationship ended in a huge quarrel so he must have been! Right?

He sat next to me in Stage One. Stage One is equivalent to Kindergarten in North America but in St. Lucia where I grew up we called it Stage One. Makes sense huh? Stage one, first learning stage in life blah blah blah. You get the point.

Anyway. I was a little black girl and he was a little white boy from England. I did not understand the male species then (well still up to this day, I do not understand them). To me, men are just creatures with penises and balls and as they get older they get fur on their chest and face and elsewhere (wink wink). They all have hidden agendas and I never notice until it is too late…because I’m a late bloomer.

This nincompoop (my first boyfriend) started talking to me because of my eraser. It was actually my mothers and it was a typing eraser. You know back in the day people had typewriters and there was no delete button so you just erased the mistake and typed over it.

Well, I always liked to be different from everyone. I liked things a bit more stylish and expensive so I took my mothers typing eraser to use at school while everyone used their boring (and ghetto) white and blue erasers.

My eraser was a soft pink and it looked similar to a pencil. Where the point of the pencil would be is where the rubber was and you could sharpen it. The eraser also had a brush at the top that could be used to dust off the eraser debris thingy. I erased with style and purpose. Oh how I loved it!

Aaron saw my eraser and decided to befriend me. He said “I like your eraser. Can I borrow it?” And because Jesus said we should share and be nice to the less fortunate, I said “Sure!” And we became friends. Just like that.

I was a nice girl. I watched as he purposely made mistakes just to use my eraser.

“It’s my mothers.” I said to him after a while.

“Really?” he responded. “My mother has erasers like that too. She has a pink and a blue and a red and brown and a green…” He went on to name all the colors in the world.

Now forgive me but I was impressed!!! All these colors? Damn! I realized that I love a man with more than one eraser! And then he did it. He made me an offer I just could not refuse. He asked “Why don’t you give me your eraser and I bring nicer colours for you?”

I liked my nice soft pink colour but I could not help and become enamored with the possibility of all the variety of colours I could have! My classmates would think I was rich! So I exclaimed “Sure! Keep the eraser and bring the others for me the next day!”

Well, it was a scam! The next day he forgot. The day after that he forgot again. The day after that he forgot again. The day after that he forgot again. The day after that…you guessed it: he forgot again! By then I was fuming because I was had become the common girl; erasing my work with a cheap ass ghetto eraser.

Two weeks later I was certain that I had been fooled so I went to my big sister and told her what he did to me and that “I wanted my eraser back right now!” I wanted her to beat him up for me.

She went to speak to him after school but the little fucker!!! It was the first time I heard lies spew from a creature with a penis and balls and soon to have fur. Someone had to hold my little five year old body back. He told my sister that he didn’t understand why I kept losing my stuff. I screamed “WHAT???!!!” I was dumbfounded.

The little asswipe told my sister, that he brought many erasers for me and I kept losing them. He said he brought me a pink and a blue and a red and brown and a green and he went on to name all the colors in the world. I screamed “That’s not true!” Oh, but the little pygalgia had convinced my sister and she told me that I should “be more responsible and take care of my things!” I screamed at him saying “I hate you!” And he said
“OK. OK. I will bring one more for you. If you lose it again that is your fault.” And you know what? I believed him! I believed the con artist!

You should know that he never brought it and in class I began to imagine him getting all his homework wrong and I am the only one who can help him and he looks up at me in despair, begging, pleading for help but I look at him with my death look, and I hiss to him “No! You stole my eraser and I hate you!”

All my relationships ended a little something like this but it was never over something as complex as my eraser but rather over simple stuff like my virginity, and my heart, and my supposed to be best friend, and deepest secrets etc.

It would always end with me imagining my ex-boyfriends being in despair, sometimes hanging from the edge of a cliff, begging me to save them but I do what Scar did in the Lion King. I tell them “No! You lied to me!” And I scratch their fingers to watch them fall. Or “No! You broke my heart!” And I scratch their fingers to watch them fall. Or, “No! You took my virginity and then tried to get with my best friend. Or “No! You said you’d call and never did.” Or “No! You told everyone my secrets.” Or “No! You should have told me you were gay!” Or “No! No! No! No!!!” And then, I scratch their fingers and watch them fall while Kenny Rogers, The Gambler plays in the background and I walk away in slow motion.



[MUSIC] The B-Girl Joint Selecta Pt. 1 – Primavera (Spring) Love

By Nylda Gallardo-Lopez aka Lady Noyz | @ladynoyz

Full Playlist

Individual Tracks:

Me and my Girlfriend- Tupac

Kinda live -Guilty Simpson

My other gun – Neyo

You Never Know- Immortal Technique ft Jean Grae

Say how i feel – Rhiann Benson ft Slum Village & Dwele

Transitional joint – Elzhi

Paragraphs of love – Ghostface Killah

Promise in love – Dj Mitsu ft. Jose James

We must be in love – J Dilla ft Pharoahe Monch

Mr. Mister- J Davey

Odio- Romeo Santos ft. Drake

Never Been In Love- Talib Kweli

Play- Goapele ft Los Rakas

Hot thing/In the mood- Talib Kweli

Abrazame – Los Rakas ft Favola  (Uproot Andy remix)

I Got You – Platinum Pied Pipers ft Tiombe Lockhart

Really Love- D’Angelo

Love Thirst- Jean Grae

Can’t Nobody- Nas

Hey Luv – Mobb Deep ft 112

Vixen- Miguel

S.a.r.a.h.- Elzhi

No One Will- Cody Chesnutt


Lady NoyzNylda Gallardo-Lopez aka Lady Noyz | Core Writer

[FEATURE] Everything Beyonce’s Last Album Taught Me About Sex…Post Baby

By Paulina O’Kieffe | @paulina_okieffe

Ladies if you love your man show him you the flyest

Grind up on him girl show him how you ride it

Beyonce, Countdown

Sex is a beautiful, physical and spiritual experience. Energies can be transferred between partners, life can be created and in my experience it cures everything from breakups to blue balls and even migraines. Before I had my 2 kids my sex life was amazing. I had the energy to perform for long periods of times, experiment with different positions, toys, techniques, places and…well you get the picture.

However at 25 I got pregnant with my daughter and my sex game changed up completely. Pregnant sex was pretty good for a little while, but then the belly gets in the way, and it can get really uncomfortable. If you have a complicated pregnancy like I did with my son last year in which sex isn’t allowed (how I survived I don’t know to this day), that can put an even bigger strain on your sex game.

Post pregnancy sex can be difficult to get back into right away, emotionally, psychologically and physically. On the one hand if you are a Ride or Die like myself (or just really love sex) you are no doubt eager to get back into it to please your partner, or even just please yourself. On the other hand you are so exhausted from adjusting to the array of inevitable physical, emotional and mental changes plus now you have a human being to care for. As a result, post baby sex can quickly turn into a short listed number of moves performed as quickly as possible to get to the finish line fast enough so you can fit it in somewhere between midnight feeds and play dates.

I began to think that this was it. I had two children, my body had courageously fought the war but had been clearly left with scars and had been worn down and sex would never be what it was again. For a long time I didn’t even see myself as sexy. I was just a mom and wife who had a duty to fulfill her husbands needs sometimes and get myself off when I needed to (which was rare since my libido seemed to have taken a permanent vacation).

Not feeling like myself since the baby are we gonna even make it?

Beyonce, Mine

Then like a silent prayer that had been answered, I received the latest Beyonce album for my birthday (including all the videos that went with the songs). Now I am far from a groupie but I love me some Beyonce. To me she was good as an artist before, but this new Beyonce was everything I needed in that moment. The sexual energy emanating off that album was incredible and she spoke to many of the issues women face when trying to get back in the sex game after being married or in a long-term relationship and having a baby together. PartitionI watched all the videos, but there was one video that stuck out for me in particular, Partition.

This song and accompanying video had all the messages I needed to hear at that moment. It said: you can be sexy after marriage or in a long-term relationship. It said: You can be sexy again post baby. It told me: You will get back to that flexible, energizer bunny lasting, multiple position having, sexual being you thought was long gone. Sex was redefined for me and seeing those visuals really pushed me to rethink about sex post baby and all the negativity I had been feeling.

I do it like it’s my profession. I gotta make a confession. I’m proud of all this space. When you put it in your face.

Beyonce, Rocket

For those of you who are feeling the same way, whether you had your baby 2 months ago or 2 years ago just remember that your body image does NOT define your sex appeal. You can be sexy as hell even with post partum scars, stretch marks and pooches. It is all about the attitude and how you exude your sexiness. The media would love to make women believe that sexiness comes from the physical, but really it is about the way you carry yourself.

So please do any combination of the following (without any shame) on your journey to get back to an amazing sex life

  1. Do whatever it is you used to do that made you feel like you are a sex goddess and know that just because your body shifted itself a bit to help you give life to another human being doesn’t mean you are not that same sex goddess (even if it never shifts back)
  1. Take the pressure off yourself. No one is asking you to go from birthing a baby to twerking on a d*ck. You should not be literally dying from riding on your man. Take your time and ease into things. Everyday it will get easier, you will get more flexible, last longer, it won’t be as painful, hey you might even conquer some new kama sutra territory you didn’t even know you could reach. Just be patient.
  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. I was (maybe still am when I catch myself slipping) notoriously guilty of this. Going on Instagram or Facebook comparing yourself to other women who have kids and seemed to shrink back down to size the next day or worse those who never had kids yet, is really unhealthy and will set you back. And even if their bodies are in “better” shape doesn’t mean they can ride it like you can – looks and talent are two different things!
  1. Have fun. Don’t turn sex into another thing on your to do list. When you have a baby or multiple babies you can easily unconsciously look at sex like it’s a chore, instead of what it really is: a stress relieving, partner reconnecting, life giving necessity. So don’t deprive yourself. Get it in when you can. Alternate between quickies and longer sessions (when ready). Enjoy every moment and try not to go through your whole to do list in your head…while you are getting some head.

No one ever told me that my sex life would change up so drastically after having a baby (if they did I might not have gotten pregnant till I was like 40!) It has definitely put a strain on my relationship with my partner at times; it has definitely messed with my self esteem at times; and it definitely has been a constant reminder of my physical limitations (and maybe a little that my age is showing and who wants to be reminded of that…ugh). But it has also taught me about loving myself flaws and all, and seeing that my partner does to. It has taught me that I am a sensual and sexual being even when my body isn’t up to the media standards of hot. It has definitely taught me that if I can come back from two pregnancies than my sex life will have some serious longevity to it that stretches way beyond when the physical features I used to think solely defined my sex appeal fade.

Paulina O’Kieffe | Core Writer 











[POETRY] Constellation

By Nikki Coco

Out of millions


Shining brilliantly

A luminescent ball of energy

Mimicking rays of sunshine

A force to be reckoned with by far

Ceaselessly penetrating one’s electromagnetic field

The push and pull of forces alike

Despite multiple galaxies

Nothing can keep them apart

External forces refrain

A sturdy love


Piercing eyes meshing

Allowing entry into souls

One consciousness

They are mere reflections of each other

When one shines, the other shines

They shine together

Amid a constellation of many

Two radiant stars collide

Like kaleidoscopic elements

Blending into a composite

Of everything that was

And will be

A consummate love


Out of many, one

imageNikki Coco is a Greater Toronto Area resident. A self-proclaimed ardent lover, when she’s not busy writing, or taking care of her babies, you’ll likely catch her in search of Zen by way of dancing the night away, reading voraciously, or scoping out the latest in news, the arts, and cultural criticism via social media. You can find her on Twitter: @artculturemusic.

[EVENT] Salute to the Soldiers of Love: A Day for the Ride-or-Die

On Saturday, May 2nd, The Ride or Die Project in partnership with Piece of Mine Festival, York United Black Students Alliance and Nia Centre for the Arts is putting on a event that Salutes the Soldiers of Love. This day is dedicated to those who constantly ride for others and for this day we want you to focus on riding for yourself – putting yourself first and central. So we have put together a day that will help you do that culminating in a reading of the play that started The Ride or Die Project: Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris.

We want you to dance, to breathe, to reflect, to create, to heal, to laugh and to be inspired. All workshops will take place at Nia Centre for the Arts and the film screening* and play reading will take place at Oakwood Library Theatre.

The workshops on this day are free for anyone who has ever shared their story with The Ride or Die Project or volunteered their time to support the movement. For all other folks, it is pay what you can (PWYC) for each workshop. The money will go directly to the facilitators who are all volunteering their time.  Unfortunately there is a cost associated with the play reading, but this is simply because we have to pay the actors, director and writer.  Apologies, but we hope that you can still come 🙂

*Note: the film screening is being put on by our partner for this event, The Piece of Mine Festival.





Yoga with Nisha Ahuja

Location: Nia Centre for the Arts

Cost: PWYC


10993_10102376465910550_7181739852721208831_nRelease + Refresh: Writing and Self Care Board Creation Session with Paulina O’Kieffe

Location: Nia Centre for the Arts

Cost: PWYC



ladynoyz4Hip Hop Dance with Lady Noyz

Location: Nia Centre for the Arts

Cost: PWYC



clarissaClearing Energetic Blocks and Past Failures with Clarissa Chandler

Location: Nia Centre for the Arts

Cost: PWYC


chevyFilm: From Slaveships to Relationships

Location: Oakwood Public Library

Cost: $15 General Admission (includes the play reading)


_osotg-pomf_flyer05_02Play Reading: Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris

Location: Oakwood Public Library Theatre

Cost: $15 General Admission (includes the film screening)




Nia Centre for the Arts: 524 Oakwood Avenue, Toronto, ON (closest major intersection: Oakwood and Vaughan)

Oakwood Public Library Theatre: 341 Oakwood Ave, Toronto, ON (closest major intersection: Oakwood and Rogers)

To register for the workshops, please e-mail therideordieproject@gmail.com with the name of the workshop(s) that you would like to attend or let us know if you would like to join us for the entire day.

This event is brought to you by The Ride or Die Project, The Piece of Mine Festival, York University Black Students Alliance (YUBSA), and Nia Centre for the Arts. Much thanks to the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council for their generous support of Other Side of the Game.

**Feature image art work by Quentin Vercetty

[POETRY] Any Given Sunday

By Halima Mohamed

I would turn to her for advice: therapeutic sessions

Be Infatuated by the warmth and light she embodies

As she passes by

Walks by

Struts by

I see her.

As a revolutionary

Speaking when told not to

She is the epitome of strength

Manifesting Knowledge with no expiration date

This woman. My sister

Is everything and more.

She symbolizes belief and faith like Rosa Parks

Her speech makes you shiver with passion

When I see her

a smile forms upon my face

This woman, My sister

Brings the energy to everyplace

I swear by the name of this woman, my sister

I will ride out

Any Given Sunday

haliHalima Mohamed. I don’t know what I am saying half the time but instead I know what I am feeling. For the love of expression.