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It's a Tribe Thing Really!

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

When I was growing up, Maman used to say pretty often " Dis moi qui sont tes amis, je te dirais qui tu es."

It was one of those sayings and lessons meant to define my teenage years.

A lesson I am revisiting in my adult life: "Tell me who your friends are I will tell you who you are".

It's easier to see the genius in this simple saying when striving for excellence in whatever you aim to accomplish and I am seeing it today with a lot more clarity.

What's making me reflect on Maman's 'adage' is the fact that I have been nominated for the second year in a row as BEC Awards Best Author and that I have a second nomination, Best Literary Arts that surprised me just as much as the first one did.

BEC Stands for Black Excellence of Chattanooga, and one of the very special people who has made it her mission to celebrate Black Excellence in Chattanooga is Shay McCowan of the Chattanooga Business Elite.

Last year I was very shocked by my first nomination because the news came to me weeks after I had lost my dad and I wasn't paying much attention to anything going on around me. My dad passed away in August 2021, the same month I lost my oldest brother just a few years prior.

In March of 2021, I published my first poetry collection, on mental health and nature therapy, inspired by my grief journey from losing my brother and some very close relatives,

I was already dealing with so much when the loss of my dad came as the biggest mental battle I could ever face.

One thing that the first nomination accomplished for me in 2021, is to help me realize that whatever good I was contributing to my community wasn't going unnoticed; at a time when I felt lost, this somehow redirected me, giving me a renewed sense of purpose, which is a very powerful tool in coping with grief.

Unless you have experienced living in a foreign country for an extended period of time, it is hard to imagine how powerful it is to be accepted and welcome by the people in a place you didn't think could feel like home. Somehow a nomination felt like being welcomed into a village or tribe and being told " you belong here too".

It took that first one for me to undeniably "find my tribe" and that's what is leading me to write vulnerably today.

Tribes function with intentions and are on assignments even if the foundations of the assignment are unspoken. There are rhythms and patterns that make a tribe work, and the members are somehow kept in sync by the activities that define the tribe.

For me, writing, poetry, arts, and serving my community became the engines that helped me through my grief while somehow positioning me in a tribe of kind and very brilliant people.

The first BEC nomination that I received last year was like a consolation, to be recognized as Best Author at a time when I was dealing with my biggest emotional loss was "God sent" in redirecting my attention. I am honored to have been nominated again this year as Best Author.

This second nomination as Best Literary Arts is like an Affirmation. To be 'affirmed' as a member of a tribe made of people that I highly respect and admire is quite gratifying, hence the reason why I am reflecting on the value of (quality) friendships.

The people who are the BEC Literary Arts nominees are people who are part of my private life and who are also my public partners in "creative shenanigans".

Since I am a woman obsessed with flowers, I decided that I would share a little about what they mean to me, because I can not celebrate the two nominations I received this year ( Best Authors & Best Literary Arts) without celebrating them.

Not everyone can say that the people in their private daily lives are also phenomenal, impactful, people in the community.

For simplicity, I could call them my sisters and brothers but the truth is that they are my confidants, my teachers, my role models, my "sharpeners", my prayer partners, my keepers

( they can be very protective) and so much more.

It's obvious that I am not the only one who recognizes them as amazing humans.

So without oversharing what they mean to me here's a little Introduction of the "Best Literary Arts nominees."

Andreya Toney

performing poetess aka " the voice " (this should tell you something)

You can find her Facebook and Instagram at " I Am Dreya3000"

Behind us in the picture is her husband, DJCorleonetone (on Instagram) who is also a Best DJ nominee this year.

( I am telling you, Excellence here is a tribe thing)

Arche Twitty

poet, stage actor, wordsmith, and film poet (Google The Pop-Up Project's "the Light We Share")

Follow him on Facebook and/or subscribe to his YouTube.

In private he is a protective big brother, more often than he realizes, he acts like a protective father who is always passing on a lot of wisdom and insights. He is the best friend with the maturity to tell you some hard truths in ways that leave you empowered to do better.

In public, he would get you shouting and clapping as his words and delivery are sharp, intelligent, and magnetic. I call him Sensei because there is always something to learn when watching him perform or when casually listening to him.

Carla P Elliot, the one and only "Phenomenal C"

Performing Poetess. Disability Awareness Advocate.

The first time I heard her and Marsha Mills perform at an event was over 4 years ago and back then I made a mental note that I would love both of them to be a part of my life. It's insane to now share platforms with Carla and Marsha. Carla makes me think a lot of the aunts that I miss having around. She is bold, radiant, and nurturing, she is Soul Food. Her words on stage and in private would make you feel like you can soar.

(Left photo Kenneth Glatt & Phenomeal C. Vision & Verses at the Hunter Museum May 12, 2022. Phenonemal C , N'nako Kande at the Selfie Spot April 8, 2022, RNC poetry event kicking off National Poetry Month)

Eric Hubbard

The friend that I nicknamed " black man joy" due to his energy that you can feel across the room.

Whether it's a mic in his hands or just the sound of laughter, this is a wordsmith that makes you pay attention when you catch him in action considering that he is almost untraceable on social media. I will update you once he launches his Youtube channel and Instagram.

(Talking of paying attention doesn't he look royal in his Nakivoire African prints shirt?! I sent this photo of Eric to a producer friend of mine in Abidjan and he thought Eric looked just like someone from Ivory Coast.)

(Eric Hubbard Chattanooga Hip Hop Summit events. Hunter Museum on October 13, 2022)

Erika Roberts "E" for us, "Velvet Poetry" for the stage

Poet. Creative Strategist. Show Curator. Film poet & creative strategist (Google the Pop-Up Project's "The Light We Share")

I think of her more as the Poetry Matriarch. Some call her the OG.

In private she is my nurturing best friend and big sister with the wisdom and affection of a grandmother. I call us (her and our friend Nikki) the "three musketeerettes" I have recently added poetry to our nickname because this month (October 2022), Nikki braved her fears and started sharing poetry at Open Mics. That's why I see "E" as the Poetry Matriarch and now we are the "Three Musketeerettes of Poetry." ( I am well aware that the word 'musketeerettes' doesn't exist but you have to get used to it, and to the fact that I love making up word.)

Erika Roberts is the one I credit for first putting a mic in my hands and inspiring me to take advantage of the fact that I am bilingual to perform both in French and in English.

In February of this year, she asked me to perform three poems in French for one of her events " Vin Rouge and Chocolat Noir" and this was my official point of no return.

It wasn't the first time that she put the mic in my hands but it was the first time I accepted to write and perform exclusively for an event.

Erika got me to pick the mic and Marsha Mills made sure the mic stayed in my hands by offering multiple opportunities to serve the community with poetry. Arche Twitty got me to value and own my gifts.

( Erika Roberts, at the Chattanooga Hip Hop Summit at the Hunter Museum. October 13, 2022)

Kanika Jamila

Kanika Jamila

Poet. Author. Philanthropist. Founder of Black Fridays.

Brilliant leader.

I first met her at an event that I decorated and staged for Erika Roberts and I was so impressed when I heard her speak. It was the way she was both sharp and so uplifting to every woman around her.

When we found ourselves at an event this past Friday, October 21, 2022, the very first thing she said were congratulatory words in regard to the BEC nominations.

She is the friend who would get any Virgo vibe in you to show up (inside joke)I am not a Virgo but she is convinced my skill sets are Virgo (shrugs) maybe I act Virgo ish but Virgo or not I love doing events with her.

(Kankia Jamila. N'nako Kande Rhyme N Chatt Throwback Open Mic Poetry October 21,2022)

(Left and Right photo Bridging the Gap Cooking event N'nako Kande, Kanika Jamila, Beatrice Kennebrew. Middle photo: Beatice Kennebrew and Kanika Jamila reading greeting cards with my art and my poetry collection Potions &Passions)

Marsha Mills the Poetic Diva

Performing poetess,

President of the Rhyme N Chatt Interactive Poetry (Facebook link)

As far as I know, RNC is the only Non-For profit poetry organization in the city and one truly committed to changing lives "one rhyme at a time".

Marsha Mills is among the most giving, serving, passionate, honest and brilliant women ever.

I consider her to be my poetic Godmother, nurturing, supportive, protective, and encouraging, with a very special way of pushing people to do more. Our friendship started the day after I had lost my best friend of 20 years. She called me out of nowhere and said

" You may not remember me, we met last year when you decorated the stage for ...." " Can you...?" and since that day I haven't been able to say no to anything she asks me to do because she is worst than me.

I get told often that I have some "crazy" ideas, creatively speaking and Marsha is worst in that sense. Our creativity and our passion make us push ourselves and every time we succeed at something we go for more creative stunts.

She will test and make you confirm that " with God all things are possible". We accomplished so much together this year. We shared so many special moments that would make us tired to stand on our feet, only to sit down to talk about another brilliant idea we have.

(Kyree's sister Angel signing our story, Kyree J Brown, N'nako Kande, Carlos, Marsha Mills sharing " I love my crown" a poem written by Marsha inspired by a book by local author Tia Hunt. October 22, 2022. Story Trail in celebration of Chambliss Children Home 150 Anniversary)

Our conversations often go like this:

" We don't have a lot of time! We don't have a lot of help! I know that's a lot of work! But if we do this....and we do...." Then hours or days later they are followed by " I am so excited! It worked out!" " I am so tired! But oh that was so nice...Oh but I was thinking about..." and that's the part where you shake your head and think "here we go again" and then you smile because our shenanigans are dope!

It is hard to admit it publicly but I think we are both addicted to creating and I am not sure anymore who is enabling whom, what I do know is that we are stuck with each other because we really do LOVE what we are doing for the community through poetry.

(Jacqueline Atkerson, Marsha Mills. Throwback Open Mic Poetry. October 21,2022)

Because apples don't fall far from the tree it's no surprise really that Marsha Mills' son, Swayvvo ( On Instagram) is a BEC awards winner and consecutive nominee as Best Musician and Best Music Artist.

He is an accomplished and inspiring young artist but also a really good human which is probably a greater accomplishment for anyone in the industry.

So this is a part of my tribe...and I am not biased because for them to be BEC Best, others think highly of them as well...

(Side note, don't you love the Nakivoire headwraps on the photos below? I was not even there that day as I was flying to Paris, France that night. These photos are from Marsha Mills taken at the Shades Of Poetry during The Chattanooga Festival of Black Arts and Ideas. The last selfie was taken during a Mother & Son Show where Swayyvo and his mom shared how poetry birthed the saxophone.)

Now that I have introduced to you some of my favorite humans and the people who made the BEC Best Literary Arts for the upcoming Awards on January 28, 2023 ( my birthday weekend), I get to introduce myself ...

(Marsha Mills. Eric Roberts. Nikki Lake. N'nako Kande)

N'nako Kande

Performing poetess. Bilingual poetess. Author. Artisan. Illustrator. Artist. Photographer. Decorator..."Shenaniganer" (Ah) ( I know the word doesn't exist but it should because that's the most fitting one)

Kande is a last name from Guinea. My family is really Kante but a minor name change got inspired along the way, way before my birth. Kantes are Mandingue ( think Kunta Kinte)

I was born in Ivory Coast but my paternal family is from Guinea.

I am a descendant of griots ( I am the niece of Mory Kante) and I suppose I am finally following in my ancestors' footsteps by publicly sharing my love for poetry and culture.

(We will skip the part where I am supposed to be able to explain how I found myself in Chattanooga.)

One thing about being from a culture that still respects tribal orders in some parts of the continent is that one recognizes that tribes have a purpose and each tribe is unique and plays a role in the harmony of the community at large.

In a tribe, you get to pass on knowledge and reinforce the skills of your members.

Iron sharpens iron and though most of the knowledge is passed on orally, there is a reverence for the elders and a hope to see the younger generation preserve and expand what is passed on to them.

I started writing poetry ( in French) when I was 13 thirteen years old and discovered then how impactful poetry could be when I penned a poem for my aunt who had lost her only child, my cousin Eva, by suicide.

Hanging out with my Chattanooga friends who are poets gave me the courage to finally share my poetry publicly.

I published my first children's book Little Corey and Cousin Nia in 2015 but it wasn't until 2021 that I published my first poetry collection, Mind On Flowers: Poems & Photographs.

This year, 2022 I combined two of my childhood passions, poetry, and drawing, after deciding to get back to drawing as a form of (art) therapy. I stopped drawing when I was a teenager while daydreaming of one day becoming an artist.

In addition to reacquainting myself with a sketchbook, I decided to finally acquaint myself with a paintbrush, something I owe to a conversation with Marsha Mills. In June of this year, she asked me if and how come I wasn't a August-September my childhood dream of painting and one day selling my art had become a reality...

I am always stretching myself creatively and I am honored to be part of a tribe that allows me to be myself and gives me a safe space to grow.

This is my tribe, also known as the BEC 2023 Best Literary Arts nominees ( Big Smile)

"Dis moi qui tes amis sont, je te dirais qui tu es. "

"Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are"

I sure hope "Kind & Brilliant" is what is said of them, except that they are not just "mes amis" they are "ma famille."


Little Corey & Cousin Nia published September 12, 2015
from a Tropical Foodie published May 11, 2017
2021 Poetry Anthology published November 19, 2021
The Self- Love Blessing published May 4, 2022

Memories of other fulfilling shenanigans include:

(2) Book signings at Barnes & Noble

Podcats, Magazines & TV features.

Dr. Oz feature.

A letter from First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama in April 2016.

2022 Stage poetry performances

Decorating stages and designing costumes for events with Nakivoire's African prints

Check the Akwaba poem about celebrating your ancestry and the costume I designed with authentic Indigo from Guinea & hand sewn Cowry shells.

Zoom and in-person literary and cultural sessions with middle and high schoolers and so much more...

You can subscribe to my YouTube Channel N'nako Goodhealthqueen for poetry and events videos.

I have two main intentions in this heartfelt message.

The truth is that I am not writing about the nominations. I am intentionally using the nominations to pass a bigger message. I am opening up about the value of art, writing, and poetry, as a form of therapy to deal with trauma and I am praising the benefits of surrounding yourself with quality people who are making a difference.

* Maman is French for Mom

Mes amis is French for My friends

Ma famille is French for My family

** Shade Of Poetry is one of Erika Roberts' amazing visions in partnership with the Festival of Black Arts and Ideas. I decorated the stage for the first one and that's where I initially met Marsha Mills. When Marsha contacted me the following year asking for help with decorating she reached out, (" total coincidence"), right after I lost a high school friend who had been a big part of my life for over 20 years.

***All the photos are properties of Nakivoire or Rhyme N Chatt and can not be reused without permission.

Thank You for reading. I hope that this read left you with something positive and inspiring. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Whether you are in the Chattanooga area or not you can visit Rhyme N Chatt to learn more about ways to contribute and support.

Visit the Nakivoire SHOP or contact us for Nakivoire goods, bookings, or other inquiries.

Follow the blog for more cultural stories and shenanigans.

Voting for the upcoming BEC Awards starts November 1st, 2022

UPDATE: Here's the voting link

Vote #2 & #41 Best Author and Best Literary Arts N'nako Kande'.

Thank You once again to those who nominated me. Thank you for your votes.

To my BEC family: Thank You for giving this African girl so far away from home, a place to call home while teaching me to turn pain into power. I am so proud of y'all!

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