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"Dreams For My Fractured Family,”

by Alexus Rhone

I sit in a storytelling class privately mocking the personal narratives about faithful grandfathers and pie-baking grandmas. I do this not because I'm mean, but because I'm jealous. I want a different story - THAT story. As I prep for "29 Years For 13 Seconds: On Women, Religion, Social Services & the rest of that #$%!" I reflect on all the ways we inherit family histories that don't always burst with pride. Oftentimes we either rewrite the story or tuck it underneath the piles of stuff in our junk drawer (that cluttered compartment in your kitchen that sticks when you try to open it; it's where you keep Elmer's glue, scissors, toothpicks and scratch paper for the dominoes game). It's a challenge to look at, let alone tell, the whole story about dads with multiple baby mamas, single grandmothers (on both sides), absent grandfathers, negative bank balances. Oh, and Jesus. want love to not just win, but to reign! Then I look back and I'm disillusioned. Still, I believe everything works out - eventually. That's why I take the naked truth and clothed it in story. It's much easier to digest. 


In the same way babies come into the world naked and then we clothe them, my stories are born from truth that is initially naked. When my oldest nephew was staying with his dad's older cousin (the woman who raised his dad) I wrote my nephew a letter detailing the naked truth about our fractured family. Even though we can't undo our family ties, my dreams are that we choose to love better, to make sure that laughter, forgiveness, faithfulness and new beginnings are weaved into the fibers of the quilt that tells our family's story. Here's hoping we never forsake the truth, but rather listen to and receive it as it is - clothed in story - for no one likes a naked truth.

Do Some Lives Matter Less Than Others?

That’s the question we ask when we look around at the things and situations that get “face-time”: do some lives matter less than others? We see decision-makers deciding that some lives deserve more spotlight, or greater access to the consciences of the population, while other lives deserve, at best, to be ignored and, at worst, to be demonized. That demonized group is our audience - the ones the gatekeepers say will never amount to anything. At Unshackled Publishing, we really do love that demonized, misunderstood group, and appreciate the opportunity to offer to them a reflection of their reality - stories about the inner-city context and redemption. Redemption stories.


At Unshackled Publishing, we cannot escape the model set by Jesus who, in word and deed, cared a lot about those lives that were ignored or dismissed as insignificant. Whenever people challenge the fiscal possibilities of a publishing imprint that publishes books for non-reading teens/pre-teens, we smile sweetly and plow forward anyhow. After all, we’re aiming for treasures found deeper than in one’s pockets; we’re aiming for hearts. And when our stories are, first, read by non-readers, and then digested to the point of penetrating their hearts, we win - all of us. Our mission is to get our readers to openly declare not only that “my life matters,” but “ALL lives matter!” So, we keep moving forward, trusting that everything is working out better than we know and to a greater degree than we could ever imagine.

“Pellegrino, Apricot Chips and Feelings of Worthlessness,” by Alexus Rhone

It’s amazing how little things can come along and make me feel SOOO small! While prepping to teach a creative writing class I remembered an author who wrote a compelling narrative about her faith journey and I wanted to share an excerpt from her book. But when I pulled up her website, the first thing that popped up was a picture of her “literary kit” - a bottle of Pellegrino and a bag of apricot chips. That’s the diet of the literati, I guess. My students and I, however, prefer Pringles and sour pickle juice. When one of my friends called that the diet of the “illiterati,” I almost became front page news; I was ready to get my hands dirty...seriously! Then I remembered that would be very bad for my wallet - not being paid for missing class AND having to post bail.


Some things you’ve just gotta let go. But it’s hard to handle those disrespectful slights that come more often than we like from people who are close to us. If my academic degrees, my world-travels, and endless introspection fails to insulate me from the pain of taking to heart a slight (innocent though it may be) against my person (especially calling me “illiterate,” which is kinda like saying something bad about my mama), I know a younger person who is still evolving would be very disturbed by the same. Worse, many of them would fail to count the costs of what it means to react to such disrespect. However, I believe time and growth will ensure they’ll get it eventually, and - prayerfully - without too much damage: physical, emotional or legal documentation.

“Musings on XLIX,” by Alexus Rhone

I’ve only dated two football players in my life - one in high school and one in college. One was white and one was black. Both were country boys and both of ‘em were named “Bubba.” I thought about them this morning as I read all the football comments on Facebook. Specifically I thought about how Trek in Backseats and Bleachers: A High School Love Story talked about her best friend’s fascination with the “2-3-4 brothas” - guys with 2-digits on a jersey, 3-Greek letters on their chest, or who roll on 4-wheels, and how, as a woman, that was never my thing, but as a writer I knew that detail would create interesting possibilities towards character development. 


At any rate, thanks, brothas, for playing with heart and giving so many of us reasons to cheer (or cuss) - I’m talking about all the players for all the teams this season. You done good! Counting down to #SuperbowlXLIX...

“Don't Give Up on the 'Rough-draft',”

by Alexus Rhone

It’s exhausting to watch our children act, behave, live beneath their capabilities. One of my favorite lines from The Cosby Show’s Claire Huxtable was when, exasperated by yet another one of her children’s failure, she says, “We planted roses, but we keep getting weeds!” I LOVE that! It so clearly communicates the differences between what we intend and what we witness. How does love, devotion and discipline lead to failing grades and disrespectful conduct? Teachers teach, parents parent, preachers preach - all of us acting to secure the sanctity of the village - yet the lives of our children don’t reflect our efforts (and there is TONS of good preaching, teaching and parenting happening!!!). 


One of my former students was acting out SOOO badly one day that I was tempted to toss her to the wind. I was exhausted trying to model affirmation and acceptance to her, especially since she was the only one of my students acting out - consistently! Then it occurred to me that maybe what I was looking at was simply a “rough-draft,” a story/a life with incredible possibilities. That perspective helped me to extend grace, grace and more grace to her, trusting that the “Ultimate Editor” of all our lives was still yet writing her story. I may have been looking at a rough-draft, but I trusted that she was en route to becoming a masterpiece. For that reason, I refused to give up!


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