The Yellow Dress (What D.C. Taught Me)

ellise

Who would have thought a city I first visited as a fifth grader to perform in our elementary choir for American Sings with the Director, Ms. Natalie Brown, would turn out to be a place that showed me more about my Blackness 16+ years later?

Welp! It happened. Last week I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and it BLEW. MY. MIND. *picks up fragments off desk*

AAM

I’m no photographer by any means (I used to mess with the camera back in the day) but I had to capture this photo like a true tourist. What I did not know is that I was going to enter a world that would teach me more about my history than I had ever learned in a classroom. *side eye to the public school district curriculum*

Upon entering the doors to this beautiful building design with the essence of Black Queens and Kings in mind, I found a lot of people who looked just like me! Tall, short, skinny, fat, dark, light, happy, tired, amazed, and “ret-ta-go”. I saw all of the complexities of Black people waiting near restrooms, elevators, escalators, and exits excited to experience the things this awesome place had to offer. As I explored each floor I was full of emotion! I saw historical events come to life as they etched into my heart, mind, body, and soul. I peered through glass that housed images, articles, artifacts, and stories that I had limited or no knowledge of. I WAS SHOOK. Because of the demand to see what was housed in this building, I made sure to get 1:00 p.m. tickets for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday. How? I have no idea. I clicked on the website until I could not click anymore. The end… of this paragraph. Continue reading please!

As my eyes widened and wandered, I maneuvered around the living art which was the bodies of other Black women, men, and children trying to grasp all the knowledge they could. I saw elders fact-check information with one another, trying to recall dates and shaking their heads in agreement as they reminisced on the times they experienced before it was placed behind the glass cases of the museum. This was most enjoyable. Why? Because it was amazing to see these individuals find joy within the pain they experienced, finally showcased in a place that no longer hid the past of Blacks. This was our space and we welcomed everyone to experience it. I saw Whites, Asians, Indians, and more stroll past exhibits and take a moment to read and even reach out to someone for clarification. As I watched this unfold, my hope was that those who did not identify as Black left this space differently than when they arrived. I also hoped that Blacks learned more about themselves that would provoke them to further their education about ancestors and sparking the desire to document their stories.

It was not until I reached the top floor that the wind was knocked out of my chest. I reached for my camera phone to document a moment that motivated me to continue to push forward with Fatness Fiction. 

ella-fitzgerald-9296210-1-402Ella Fitzgerald, Source: www.biography.com

What is the first thing you notice about the picture above? I will tell you what I noticed. Not just a Jazz icon with a voice smoother than warm butter on a southern Sunday afternoon. Not just a woman who had a place in entertainment that could not be duplicated or imitated. I see a full face. A face like mine. Brown. Round. Full. Beautiful? Yes, beautiful.

ella fit main

The showcase I stood in front of showed off a bright dress with spaghetti straps and it looked as if it stops right at the knees. This dress wrapped a velvet mannequin that was not slender like the ones found on fashion week runways. It was a body like mine. Wide. It was made for a woman that has never worn a size “0” or walked around with the ability to find clothing at every store. How could this be? How could a woman with a unforgettable voice, fame, and frame have a space in history among all the other slender dresses hanging around in this museum? Because she was more than her size. She broke a barrier that has limited women in many ways, while also freeing them.

I stood in awe as people passed me. Nothing else mattered in this space. This piece spoke to me and said to continue breaking the mold. To help other women learn to break the mold as well. I saw myself in this showcase. ALL of myself. My Blackness. My Womanliness. My size. I saw all three of those intersecting identities frozen as a moment in time and surrounded by glass. We were finally immortal and going nowhere! Before I walked away, I saw yellow.

Yellow. The color I continued to see whenever I prayed to God about Fatness Fiction. Ms. Ella knew I was coming. She wanted me to see this, so she left behind a yellow note.

+Magically Yours,

Ellise

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