All Articles Tagged "Erica Kennedy"
We all know of talented women who have graced the stage and the studio and became great legends in the process. Women such as Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Etta James and Lena Horne have all been indexed in our minds and talented, untouchable women who made their mark because of their talent, beauty and charisma. And for each of those women, we know that there is a great number of women who found their home in entertainment, but didn’t emerge as a household name. It’s about time that we pay tribute to some of these women.
The Grammy-nominated songstress, Syreeta was discovered by Brian Holland, and did a great deal of collaborations with dozens of famous artists and producers, including her title producer and ex-husband, Stevie Wonder. She also sang background for the Supremes, Diana Ross, Deniece Williams and Minnie Riperton. Always having an active hand in the success of others’ songs and albums, the artist never acquired the following that some of her colleagues did. During the summer of 2004, following a two year struggle with congestive heart failure, she died from complications related to cancer.
I hadn’t heard of writer Erica Kennedy, but I’d seen her title Bling on the shelf at Barnes & Noble a few times. Still, having only heard her name in reference to her June passing, I was taken by the number of requiems penned by fellow woman-writers in her honor, most of whom had never met her face to face. The memories were similar in that each written memoriam agreed that Kennedy was mentor to many and a connector of women who, in some fashion, had demonstrated promise in the realm of writing and publishing. All agreed that she was witty and sharp, but most of all, Erica Kennedy was remembered as an encourager.
This made me wonder about the legacies we leave. This was not the first time, however. During Whitney Houston’s funeral in February, a friend tweeted, “Who will speak at your funeral, and what will they say?”
In late-March, a co-worker of mine passed unexpectedly. In the days after the staff received word of the terrible news, we moved around each other in the halls, pressing our lips together and raising our cheeks in contrived acknowledgement and grief. As I placed my lunch in the break room refrigerator the following week, I had to push a Diet Pepsi out of the way. I wondered if it belonged to my deceased co-worker, a man whose penchant for the drinks became the stuff of office folklore. Did he have any food left in the fridge or freezer? I thought about how this simple sign of life turned into a striking reminder of how frail and fleeting our moments can be.
My officemates and I were rows deep in the sanctuary of a catholic church the following Monday, offering support to the grieving family and to each other at the funeral. Throughout the church were emblems of the departed’s life outside of the office: the youth athletic teams he coached (both current players and alumni), old friends, co-workers from past professional lives, and members of a tight-knit family, all of whom had faces flushed with shock and sorrow, all of whom spoke highly of their coach, colleague, and loved one. I thought about how much this said about his legacy.
The question of legacy hit home once again when, in the wee hours of July 20, twelve moviegoers were killed in the theatre tragedy in Aurora, Colo. Among them was Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist whose social media prowess prompted her to post an essay about narrowly missing the gunfire at a Toronto mall the month prior to attending the fateful midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. The message she shared with her blog readers: “…every moment we have to live our [lives] is a blessing.”
It seems that we work hard to be somebody in this world, to be seen, to be “important,” as if our titles and toys mean anything really. What we can learn from all of this is that what matters are our connections, real and digital — reaching out to others, using our stories for good, and being an encourager and a mentor. It’s about using our platforms and positions for good and not just for gain. It’s a cliché because it’s true: you can’t take it (the spoils, the toys, the titles) with you. Whether online or in real life, our connections are lasting relics of our spirits. What remains are memories of your encouragement, your belief and your passion for someone and something other than yourself.
Readers, what do you hope is part of your legacy? Who will speak at your funeral, and what will they say?
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When I was looking at Madame Noire over the weekend, I was shocked to see the news that Erica Kennedy had passed away. I instantly recognized her gorgeous face and was hit with memories of blog posts I’d read of hers, and like most people, instinctively wondered, what happened? I tend to get sort of obsessed with death in a weird way, as though I have to read every possible article I can to soak up whatever last bit of knowledge I can of the deceased, and with Erica I was no different, searching the Internet for cues to a question no one had explicitly answered: what happened.
I began to piece together news from some sources, drawing conclusions about what being “found” dead in her apartment meant, with anecdotal stories like those from her friend, Bassey, who writes openly about her bout with mental illness. When it came to Erica, she wrote in a strikingly open post, “I would come to learn that Erica and I had far more in common tha[n] I would have liked. I’m not here to tell her story because she was fiercely guarded and private,” and later adds that Erica recommended alternative medications for her. The inference that Erica may have succumb to a mental illness of her own and consequently taken her own life was there, but it’s a liberty one has to be careful in taking when speaking on things or people which they do not know.
It’s funny because I’d instantly thought about writing an article along the lines of, you never know what a person is going through, but I stopped because I knew I was being assumptive and no matter what I had pieced together from the blogosphere, I still didn’t really know what Erica had been through or what the circumstances of her death were and I realized I needed to leave that alone. Interestingly, on Essence, the magazines’s executive editor has connected the dots in the same way I had in my mind but didn’t dare relate as fact, writing:
“As of this writing, no official cause of death had been released, although the word on social media seemed to link it to her depression. I don’t know if Erica sought help, but if the buzz is confirmed, I do know this: We as Black women have to stop holding it in and start letting it out. Tell somebody. Find somebody to listen. Don’t be afraid. We have to stop pretending everything is okay, like Superwomen on steroids, and start admitting that we can get vulnerable. And sad. And low. And that’s okay.”
The article uses an understandable news hook to speak to a much larger issue black women are dealing with, but as remarks in the comment section show, the message has been lost on the assumptive nature of the prose. Meanwhile on XO Jane, commenters are responding to Bassey’s article, almost demanding that those closest to Erica expose the mental illness the court of public opinion now believes she has, insinuating that keeping her battle private only adds to the stigma of mental illness in our community. While I do agree with that sentiment in a lot of ways, Erica’s battle with depression or whatever other condition she may have had is no one else’s business to out.
When you think about Erica being a writer and the amount of personal information she’d disclosed in her 42 years on this earth, I think it’s safe to say that if she wanted the world to know about her struggles, she would have shared it with us, much like her feminist ideals. I think it’s also a bit naive on people’s parts to not realize that a lot of the stigma surrounding depression and suicide comes from observers who have no idea what it’s like to live that life. Many see suicide as a selfish decision, or even a weak one, and depression as a dramatic mood swing when it is so much more. While there could be a lesson in her life and death if she were known to suffer from any of these conditions, she had and still does not have any responsibility to be that symbol, no more than a homosexual has to come out of the closet and openly declare his sexual orientation. I’m also sure that if it were to be made known that either of these conditions led to Erica’s passing, her reputation and her legacy would change unnecessarily. Like a celebrity has no obligation to share their personal lives with the public, the loved ones of those who have passed on owe us no explanation just to satisfy our curious minds.
Amber Euros wrote an excellent response on the XO Jane posting, encompassing all that is wrong with the way in which we approach unexpected an unexplained deaths. She said:
“I am sharing what I have recently begun sharing with my friends which is: Stop asking me what happened to her. She died. I’m sad. End of story. Can you not understand my sadness without knowing why she is no longer here? Does it make it less sad to know how or why? Is my sadness only justified if her death fits your mental makeshift maslow’s hierarchy of sadness?
WHY is her DEATH not sufficient enough reason to be sad? WHY is her impact on me and the others lives she touch not sufficient enough reason for someone to share their story on how she allowed them to be more open about their own truths?
What age do we live in that the DEATH of a friend does not suffice as reason enough to feel an outpouring of emotions, be they sadness, anger, confusion or otherwise?”
The age we live in is one where we think we are entitled to know everything about everyone (thank you Internet and Social Media) and it’s high time we changed that and started to honor the words we say about someone when they have died: rest in peace.
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