I’ve been crafting things with the Happy Black Girl in mind long before I ever knew that’s what I was doing. Sometimes I would enlist the help of friends, other times I went it alone. But always with a particular aesthetic in mind.
While not an artist in the traditional sense, I often have ideas that I can’t shake, so I’ll try and figure out an easy way to manifest them. As luck would have it, I’ve always had a diverse cadre of kind friends and associates who are usually more than willing to lend a hand if I can’t get it right though.
Back in the day I used to host a weekly radio show called “Move on UP”. Early on I decided I wanted to make Move on Up stickers to post up all over town. That’s when my girl Christine delaHofer took time to design Lydia for me. Tell me she ain’t on some HBG steez?! It was this effort and kindness from Chris that inspired me to figure out how to eventually make my own stickers. Which I do ALL the time now!
A few years ago I decided to host a Wu-Tang Tribute and I just knew I had to have Wu-Cookies involved. I bought plastic shapes and tried to modify them, but y’all know they came out raggedy. Then I decided to ask not one, but two friends if they might be able to help. What I got in return was priceless!!!! When the weather is right and my sugar cookie recipe is on point I sometimes make batches for unsuspecting hip hop heads. It’s my way of paying the wu love forward. Bong Bong!
Another thing I can’t seem to stop doing is designing buttons. Sure, you can buy music inspired buttons just about anywhere, but it’s so much more fun to make your own. I did these with assistance from friends with both graphic design skills and in house button makers!
I say all this because I recently had a conversation with a friend that left me wondering. Mostly about how I ask for help, when I ask and what (if anything) I give in return. The person in question is not just a friend. He’s more than that. He’s someone I respect and love and up to this point someone I felt I didn’t take advantage of. He’s also an exceptionally dope artist & over the years I’ve leaned on him, much in the same way that I have others with generous skill sets. That is to say, when I have an idea I can’t execute, I sometimes ask him to assist.
Because I don’t ordinarily ask people for regular everyday stuff I’m bad at keeping track of what I owe people. I’m not just saying that either. When it’s in the context of art, it honestly gets tricky. Sometimes I barter services, sometimes I pay, but most often it’s rarely an issue cuz I only deal with people who love me. That has everything to do with what I’m about to say next.
When I ask someone for something related to art, it’s because I trust and love them. Like for real fareal. When my friend politely told me that I only ever call him when I want something I had to revisit what exactly it is that I ask of folks. In the end, all I can remember needing was art related. Wait, that’s not true. I needed way more than that, especially this summer, but I never felt comfortable asking him for anything other than help with a poem or my heart. I guess in a way I wasn’t ready to take a full leap and ask for all the other things I needed help with, in retrospect I’m grateful for that much.
To think that I may have treated someone like my own personal bank bothers me. I think about this often over the last few weeks. But what bothers me even more is that old boy kept track of what I asked for and waited to say something. Once or twice I can dig, but if what he says is true he should of said something long before now. I mean c’mon? Who wants to be a beggin Benny? Not me YO! I wish I could say that I have a list of stuff he’s asked of me recently, but on the real…I just never thought to keep a running tally of what we do for another because we’re friends, and that fact remains unchanged.
What I’ve decided is this. I don’t like asking for help. I never have. Even as a little girl. In fact, I hate it! The one area in my life where I don’t get weird about it is this area. The area of being creative and learning from the give. I don’t feel like I used my friend, but so long as he feels that way it’s valid, and to me that is not okay. I don’t know how to fix that, but I do know the lesson has taught me a great many things.
Needless to say this post is designed to express that yes, I am fully aware that I ask much of those I love. But… I do know that I give as much as I can in return and I learn from the experiences by leaps and bounds. Because of that give and take I now currently have more artistic skill sets than I ever dared to imagine. I owe that to those who took the time to deal with my ask’s and wants and needs as if they were their own. People like Bradley Fitzhenry & Ome Lopez, who taught me to DJ or Tim Hernandez, who taught me how to stand on a stage and command attention. All those things are of value in more than one way to me and I use those skills ALL the time. I can’t imagine who I’d be if I would of been afraid to ask them for help…
We learn by asking. It’s how we build. All I think about is building. In the future, while trying to do just that, I promise not to ask for more of folks than I’d ever be willing to give in return. I can only hope that’s enough and that if I get outta pocket y’all let me know.
Devoya Mayo is Co-Creator of The Happy Black Girl
Get To Know An HBG is her favorite column to write.
You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org