I don't quite remember when I fell in love with tea but I do remember the most special moments of me drinking tea. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my biological mother for four months. I had just met her months earlier and it was awkward for both of us. She and her ex-husband lived a very quiet life in Boulder, Colorado. He was a professor at one of the universities and she was a housewife. After years of drug addiction and being in and out of jail, she deserved the break. I was homeless so she and her husband agreed to let me come live with them. Each evening my mother and I would find a spot in the living room with a cup of tea and a book.

Now, years later, I'm a self proclaimed tea expert. I start each day with a wonderful English Breakfast tea to get me going. As the day progresses, who knows what wonderful tea I will crown queen. But for sure, I have at least three cups of tea a day. And yes, when I can, I have tea everyday at about 3:00 P. M. I love to invite my friends over for tea and cupcakes and so far everyone thinks it’s a delightful experience. I am always in search of the best blend of tea. Yes, I’m a tea snob, I prefer loose tea but I do like some bags also. I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. Some bags can be quite nice. And yes again, any Diva knows, what you drink your tea out of is very important.

Tea for me is a way of life. It's wellness for the mind body and spirit. Here, I will explore every expect of tea possible, with a high concentration on wellness. I will review the best teas, the best places to have tea, the best ways to brew tea, the best tea accessories, what tea goes best with what foods, and the list goes on and on. I plan to share my passion for tea with you. And I've been told, nothing I do is ever boring so be prepared to go on this tea journey with me.

RLT Collection Tea Ball Frosted Clear Beads!

Mint Medley by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

About This Tea:

Until recently I had never drank Peppermint Tea made with loose leaves. And Honestly, I will probably never go back. The freshness of loose Peppermint Tea cannot be denied. When I open the can of Mint Medley, From The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, I feel as if I stepped into a garden of peppermint leaves. It is a perfect blend of organic peppermint and spearmint leaves grown in the US.

Mint Medley has become a favorite and I find myself reaching for this tea tin almost everyday. It is great for on-going nausea. The health benefits and endless. It relieves muscle aches, headaches, migraines, stress. And now that it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I have a mean cough, I'm sure it will help to relieve some of this congestion in my chest. Mint Medley has been in my tea cup more than any tea as of late. It has really helped with my winter cough, congestion related to this bout of pneumonia. You can read my full review on The Persimmon Tree Tea Company Mint Teas.

RLT Collection AIDS Awareness Tea Ball!

Welcome to my world of books! As an pre-teen books changed my world. I fell in love with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and the more I read the more I wanted to read. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It spoke to my own degradation and gave me hope for a better tomorrow. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

I love to read! Inside a book I escape into someone else's life. There is something wonderful about turning to the next page of a wonderful story. Something intoxicating about the smell of the book and the story it brings to life. Reading brings me joy, and these days with my health in the balance, I find solace in my books.

I spent hours in my bedroom sequestered with the door closed reading the classics from the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes, Larsen, Hurston, Wright and Baldwin. Books became my escape and my salvation. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

Reading is the one thing that the pain of my life could never take away from me. It was the thing that helped to make it better. And even today, living with AIDS, books continue to be the safest place for me. It’s the one thing that belongs to me that AIDS cannot take away from me.The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS.

The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS. I have read hundreds of books from many different genres and I will pick the best of my reads over the years. I warn you, it will not be exclusively white or black, male or female, fiction or non fiction, it will be all of them.

I’m so excited and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to be a part of this venture. We already have 110 Book Club Members. You can email me @ RLTReads@raelewisthornton.com. The Twitter hashtag is #RLTReads. We can make this book club as wonderful as we want to make it. Who says that Oprah has to have the only ownership to a wonderful book club?

This Month We are Reading In My Fathers House by E Lynn Harris

Read along and join our discussion July 19th at 7 pm CST

For more Tea with Rae "Vlogs" Click here to visit her youtube channel

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sorority Sisters and The Politics of Respectability!

Sorority Sisters brought back deep wounded issues for me. Issues of respectability that sat center stage after my honorary membership in Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc., was rescinded, May 1, 2012 after 12 years as a member, over some tweets that I made.
Watching the Social Media craze around VH1's new reality show. I remembered like yesterday my telephone conversation with the national president of Delta, (at the time) Cynthia McIntyre-Bulter when she informed me that I was no longer a member of Delta Sigma Theta.

When I asked, "What about Soror Rose McKinney, who was the focus of my tweets and how she spoke to me over the phone?" Cynthia didn't bother to answer my question, she kept the focus on my behavior and  replied, "There were some past national presidents that were livid. It was the vulgarity of it all."

She sent a message to me loud and clear, how I was treated in private by another sorority sister did not carry the weight of my public response to her treatment. Respectability was more important than hurt feelings. It reminded me of a deeply rooted philosophy in the African-American community "Black folks don't air our dirty laundry in public." The women on Sorority Sisters not only aired their dirty laundry, they broke all the written and unwritten rules of protocol. With decorum at the top of the list, that is, how you act in public reflects the entire sisterhood. 

At Delta National Convention
 I was proud to be a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. I was inducted as a honorary member on my life time achievement to help improve the human condition. All my work as an AIDS Activist was being recognized by the sorority and this made me feel proud.

As a black woman, it was one of the highest honors you could receive from women of your own race. In all four of the black sororities, the list of honorary members reads like a who's who in black America. To be included amongst such distinction, because of the work that I had done and continue to do, and then excluded over my behavior, hurt as deeply as the love I felt being inducted into the sisterhood.  

I will recap quickly, but you can watch the video. Rose McKinney the executive director called and asked me to take pictures off my website that had been up for 3 years, of me and other honorary members wearing our ceremonial robs. Our robes are not private, but the national office reserves the right to publish. I agreed right away to take them down. Rose asked me when, I told her that I just gotten off a airplane to go speak and didn't have my computer with me. I promised to take them down as soon as I could. She however, continued to push me on  that point. And when I couldn't give her an exact time she then started hollering at me to take them down NOW. I hung up on her. I was not going to allow her to disrespect me when I  had been nothing but respectful to her. And she then called me back to back  to back and when I didn't answer, she then texted and told me again to take the pictures down, of which I had already agreed.  I was so hurt by this lack of respect and her badgering me like I was a child. I vented on Twitter.

So I just hung up the telephone on the National Executive Director of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Nobody disrespects me!!

She was talking to me like I was a bitch on the street and not an honorary member, WOW

She would have NEVER talked to Ruby Dee this way. I guess I'm not big enough as a honorary member.

When I was asked into Delta I thought it was the best thing ever. But in recent yrs. I hv gotten treated with so much disrespect from national.

My feelings are so hurt. Sisterhood shouldn't hurt!!! #DST she really was talkin to me like I was 5 yrs. old.

 I then tweeted, after I received tons of tweets and private messages from soror's that I shouldn't be talking about this matter publicly.

Don't NO One else DM me about what's appropriate or not appropriate for me Tweet about Delta. I do what the fuck I want to

I'm a grown ass woman and NO one is paying my bills but me. Where were you last wk when I was sick with $10.38 in the bank.

That night  Cynthia McIntyre-Bulter  called me after receiving emails and calls about my tweets from other members of Delta sigma Theta. She and I had a heart to heart and I believed the issue to be resolved. I agreed to remove the tweets, which I did. Also, by the time I spoke with Cynthia that night, the pictures had been removed from my website.

In our conversation that night, I felt like I was being admonished, so the last thing I asked Cynthia, "Soror, am I being put out of Delta over this?" She said, "No one is putting you out of Delta," with  a chuckle. "I'm going to ask that you don't tweet about it anyone or talk about it in public." I complied with her request.

 Fourteen months later, I received a called from Cynthia informing me that my membership had been rescind because of my tweets. Later that day I made a video explaining that my membership had been rescinded. Once it went viral, all hell broke loose. To date, there have been over 84,000 views and people still have an opinion, one way or the other. In the following two years, if I even mention my relationship with Delta on Social Media, I am "put in my place" by Delta's quickly. They still feel me being vocal bout my personal experience is talking about Delta business.

Just like  Sorority Sisters I was the talk of Twitter. Soror's took sides. On the private Facebook pages Delta's asked questions like, Did they know what type of woman she was before we inducted her into our sisterhood ? Duh, everyone knows that I curse like a sailor, even in my speaking engagements. But cursing was fine when I was promoting Delta's HIV/ADS service projects and speaking all over the country for them changing and impacting lives.

Delta's who I thought were friends, unfollowed me on Twitter and stopped talking to me altogether. The national leadership totally cut me off as if I were dead.  I felt isolated and thrown anyway.

Ironically, Shanna McCormick, one of the Delta's on the VH1 show Sorority Sisters, who I was friends with prior to her becoming a Delta attacked me on Twitter. Our history goes back to when she was the chair of Keep A Child Alive on her college campus, I was a featured speaker. After that, she and I remained friends. While she was pledging Delta, she looked to me  for encouragement, which I gladly gave.

But one night on Twitter our friendship halted that quickly. She told me that, "I embarrassed Delta by making the video." She went on a rant that hurt me deeply. Now, two years later she's on a  reality show that makes my tweets look like small potatoes in the area of respectability, compared to the drama on Sorority Sisters. *blank stare*

The night Sorority Sisters aired #BlackTwitter had a lot to say. Members of the Divine Nine (black sorority's and fraternities) had even more to say. The verdict, Sorority Sister's is both an embarrassment and misrepresentation of black sorority life.

 I saw the Divine Nine at it's best that night. Before the show had ended, they had tweeted the names of all the sponsors of Sorority Sisters and went to work. By the next day, Honda, Carmex, SelmaMovie, Coco Cola, Crayola, and JBL had withdrawn their sponsorship from the show. I commend them for their activism. It shows what African-Americans can do when we come together around an issue. 

Many high profile people in the Divine Nine have spoken against Sorority Sisters. Interestingly, K. Michelle a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, also a cast member of Love and Hip Hop another reality show on VH1 expressed her outrage over Sorority Sisters. She argues, when you represent your organization, there is a standard of behavior. This is true, women are screened by this standard prior to acceptance, as well as, their service to the community. While K. Michelle wants to compartmentalize, Love and Hip Hop is no better than Sorority Sisters, but no one will dare say it because she has taken the respectability position when it comes to the sorority.

The fact of the matter, there is code that all Delta's should live by while wearing or not wearing their symbols. Looking back, I often wonder why they asked me to be a member knowing my reputation of candor and transparency. While I met the criteria as an honorary member in all aspects of my life, I do curse like a sailor publicly thereby breaking a code of decorum. And  then I ask, why did Delta allow me to speak at Delta events talking shit to college students and women alike breaking that same code? What benefit did Delta have with their association with me and when did I become collateral damage that needed to be dealt with?

Yes, Respectability Politics among African-Americans, extends beyond sorority life. It is a way of life informed by the belief that African-Americans already have to work twice as hard to get where we want to be, we don't need any more strikes against us. This means we are to never give White America a reason to think less of us. This has been the main critique against some of these reality shows that feature African-Americans; black people are acting like fools for the whole world to see.

We can see recently how Respectability Politics played itself out in the Ferguson case, that people are divided around justice for Michael Brown because it was alleged that he was involved in a robbery just minutes before he was gunned down. As if to say, demanding justice for an unarmed teenager is ok just as long as he meets the standard of respectability.

Just last week Delta Sigma Theta Sorority asked it's members to not wear paraphernalia while protesting. Ironically, protesting in the woman's suffrage march in Washington, D. C. was one of the first acts of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1913. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority also asked its member to not display sorority symbols in protest, but rescinded after Zeta Phi Beta Sorority encouraged their members to be proud Zeta's, while protesting for justice.

The Politics of Respectability dates back to Post Reconstruction. This paradigm influenced the standard of the nine black fraternities and sororities in this country. Especially the sororities. After slavery, black people spent a lot of time trying to prove to white America that they were not only equals to them, but they could also be good Americans. How blacks dressed to how they worshiped was scrutinized by other blacks. Historian Tera W. Hunter outlines that very point in her book , To Joy My Freedom, a study on black washer women in Atlanta in 1896 during the Atlanta Exposition.

While Respectability Politics has flourished among the black middle and upper class, it has not been accepted by all blacks, both then and now. Trying to be better white people was unappealing to some. Many in the late 19th and early 20th century held onto black culture through worship and how they dressed. Harvard Professor, Evelyn Higginbotham argues in her book on Black Baptist women, Righteous Discontent, that Respectability Politics created tension among middle class and poor blacks in the late 1800's. In recent times, there was some backlash when Bill Cosby wrote his respectability book, Come On People. Nikki Giovanni also an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta articulates Respectability  Politics about Cosby best. You can watch HERE

I out line these issues in my book, The Politics of Respectability which addresses Respectability Politics in my own life  from my mother to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.  By the first generation of college educated blacks in the late 1800's, uplift through education and morality was a prominent theme among African-Americans. Black middle class church women led the Respectability movement. Mary Church Terrell the  president of the National Association of Colored Women and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority articulates respectability this way, "I must not neglect to mention  another duty which the association owes the race...The duty of setting a high moral standard and living up to it develops us in a particular way. " Respectability Politics seems to have a permanent pace in black America 134 years later.

So here we are in 2014 with Respectability Politics center stage once again. Black greeks ask, "How dare Mona Scott Young, (a black woman and creator of Sorority Sister's) and VH1 air such buffoonery?" How dare she discredit who we are and what we are about; scholarship and service. (BTW, she is also the creator of Love and Hip Hop and Basketball Wives.)

Non greeks are asking why didn't black greeks lead the protest against other reality shows they portray black people negatively? Did it only matter because black sororities were the target? Do you only care how black elites are portrayed or do we all matter? Will you now extend the boycott of sponsors and Mona Scott Young to the other shows on VH1 that degrade black people?

I'm sure that Sorority Sisters would have met our approval had there had been no vulgarity; if no one had called another a bitch? Or if the women had acted like grown women, instead of the college rivalry we do see among theses four sororities on college campuses. Yet at the same time, I think it's easy to boycott the bad, but do we really support the good? I remember a reality show on BET called Harlem Heights. It was a wonderful show following the lives of four black millennia's, one of them was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. The show was canceled after the first season. I wonder what would have happened if  all of her soror's would have tuned in. I know that I supported her. Or, at the other end, if the cast would have acted like the casts on other reality shows would it still be airing?

I think we must also ask questions such as, who are these women on the show? Aren't they a part of the Divine Nine? Aren't they sorority sisters? Delta Sigma Theta had five women on the show and the other sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sigma Gamma Rho and Zeta Phi Beta had one each. Others are supposed to be added as the season goes. Don't we all matter in the same way?

Do we punish them for airing their dirty laundry in pubic while doing it in the name of their individual sororities, like I was punished for airing the sororities dirty laundry in public or do we try to understand who they are?

 In the era of reality shows, did these women see this as a good thing? That is, showing who they really are in public. I have found that transparency scares people, especially when it has a moral value assigned to it. The fact of the matter, we all know women like the ones on Sorority Sisters in each of the black sororities and some even in their own chapters.

If this is true, is shame actually driving the protest.  Is shame the elephant in the room that makes us uncomfortable with women being who they are, instead of who they out to be? Well, the cat is out of the bag, you can pretend all day long, but there are "common" ordinary women in black sororities? I argue in my book that we are all shaped by our social location. One that is established long before we enter into sisterhood. I know that I was. My mother cursed like a sailor, and her habit became my habit and 27 years of education didn't altar that behavior one bit. Who we are should be enough.

While I saw the chaos and disrespect of each other on Sorority Sisters, I also saw a single mother, struggling to get on her feet so that her daughter could come live with her; a women who achieved a personal goal of 70 pound weight lost, two entrepreneurs, a woman following a dream to be a dancer and another a professional photographer.  I wonder if anyone else saw that, or were they blinded by the vulgarity of it all? Truth be told, these women are us and I will bet that there are some black women who can relate to each of them.

 What really struck me was the tears of two women. I heard one say that things are so bad for her, that most day's she's trying to figure out where her next meal is coming from. I sure understand that. For real, for real.  Another woman is dealing with issues of self-esteem, having grown up in a home where the expectation for her was to be nothing and do nothing. I know what thats like; having low self worth and  over compensating to get approval. Our social location informs our behavior and our decisions.

At a Delta Convention with other honorary members
Now, I watched Sorority Sisters on YouTube after the fact. I don't have cable and when I did, I didn't watch reality shows. I half watched one season of Atlanta Housewives because a good friend was an associate producer . I watched an episode of Basketball Wives because a friend insisted, and was appalled when one woman hit another over the head with a bottle. And I half watched the first season of Housewives of Beverly Hills. I decided then that I cannot participate in the madness of people hurting each other, either emotionally or physically. This is not what it means to be human.

Honestly, I found Sorority Sister's like most reality shows, it was entertaining in the way reality shows are made of, lots of drama. The show received 1.3 million views. Vh1 says it was the number one non-sport show among women in that time slot. People watched the dog and pony show and tons of people are waiting on next week, I can bet my life on it.

The day I was inducted into Delta!
The cast of Sorority Sisters are in fact members of these sororities and they were taught the same thing as their other sisters.  Everyone's protocol book is a how to be a proper lady. Women in black sororities do see themselves as "different"  as "other" as "better" and  truth be told, while we show solidarity in public, in private  we are taught that even our sorority is better then the others. That we have qualities they do not.

These values are embedded in each member, including the women on Sorority Sisters. So what went all wrong?  Basically, people are who they are. There are women who would have never considered to do this show, and then there are those who did. The fact of the matter, while our sororities reach for conformity, we are not a monolithic people,  we come in all shapes and sizes. physically, emotionally and mentally, Sorority Sisters only verified that fact.

 I wonder then if the "commonness" of these women on the show is the real issue?  Or maybe, the problem is, being "common" and showing that you are "common" for the world to see are two very different things. 

At the end of the day, Mona Scott Young had an idea for a show. These are the women that were chosen and each of them belong to the Divine Nine, just like I once did. I continue to go back to this quote that I put in my book from Delta Sigma Theta's past national president Lillian P. Benbow-1971-1975. I think it speaks volumes.

"When I look at you, I see myself. If my eyes are unable to see you my sister, it is because my own vision is blurred. And if that be so, then it is I who need you either because I do not understand who you are, my sister, or because I need you to help me understand who I am."

The day I was kicked out of Delta!
I wonder what disciplinary action will be taken against these women for showing their ass in public, especially the women of Delta Sigma Theta. I mean, I did get kicked out because of my tweets, which is mild in comparison to this reality show. I mean it was the vulgarity of it all that cause an uproar over  Sorority Sisters.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Reflecting on Essence at 20 Years!

This time 20 years ago, I was the talk of Black America. My cover story in the December issue of Essence magazine had hit the new stands. Essence had dared to put a woman on the cover of their magazine that was not a celebrity or a super model, but a typical young black women, living with AIDS.

I was every young black woman who thought that she was doing everything right in her dating life. Despite of the fact that I had grown up in a physically, emotionally and sexually abusive household, I had managed to escape, drugs and alcohol. I had gone to college. I had a professional career.

I had done everything I thought to do as a young woman living in the 80's. I never had a one night. I never had sex on the first date, but I was in search of the right man to live my fairy tail life, for the rest of my life. You know, a career, a husband, a house and 2.5 kids, that's two kids and a dog. With dating came sex. There were very few virgins in the 80's. This was the era of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing and Diana Ross, "Love Hangover." Sexually Transmitted diseases were not on the radar. The first cases of AIDS were primarily white, gay and male. Even as late as 1987 Cosmopolitan magazine told women if they only had "heterosexual sex," they could not get HIV.  For the most part, the rule for young women of my generation was to not get pregnant out of wedlock and embarrass your mother. We saw "protection" as birth control pills.

Until 1991 when Magic Johnson announced that he was infected with HIV most of us in Black America only saw HIV/AIDS through the eyes of our gay relative on one end and our drug addict cousin on the other.  Or the television version, white, gay, male that looked like death was knocking at their door. Even then, we thought Magic was an exception to the rule. Many dismissed him as a "special case." Rich, good looking, and famous, we concluded that he probably had enough sex for a hundred men, thats how he became infected. Since most of us don't have that kind of sex, HIV was out of our reach, so we thought.

Then came me and the Essence cover story.  I had only been speaking for about six months when Susan Taylor asked me to be on the cover and tell my story. At the time, I had been infected with HIV since 1983, but I didn't learn about my status until I donated blood December 1986.

So when I appeared on the cover of Essence, I had actually known my HIV status for 7 years.  But for the most part I had basically kept my status a secret. Other than the men I dated, those first seven years I only told 5 people. When I made a transition to AIDS in 1992, I started to disclose to my friends. Then on a fluke, about a year later or should I say in God's purpose and plan, I started speaking locally in Chicago high schools. Then I met Susan. It all happened so quickly.  I had no idea the impact my story would have on the lives of others or on me; or that it would place me in the national arena and change my life forever.

In retrospect, it was our density, mine and Essence magazine. Even among Essence staff there was a debate over my cover story. It was pure audacity at the time. I thank God for His perfect plan and for giving both me and Susan Taylor the, editor and chief of Essence  the courage to follow that little voice inside of us, that said "this feels right. "For years women have told me the impact my story had on their life. Women still bring that magazine to speaking engagements for autographs.

There were other controversies around the cover story. Many AIDS Activist were angry with me because of the title., "Im Young, I'm Young free, I'm Dying of AIDS." Declaring that I was dying on the cover of a national magazine they said, made HIV/AIDS dark and hopeless. But honestly, AIDS was that dark back then and to give some pep talk contrary to the current situation would have been a lie. I was proud and not deterred by criticism.

Twenty years later, my Essence cover story has become one of the most iconic articles of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and I humbled.

I am equally thankful that I lived to see the 20th anniversary of this cover story. I thank God for my doctor who never gave up on me when  medications barley kept you alive. She was always looking for next; And no matter how complicated the next treatment was or how sick it made me I did it.

 I am also grateful for the continued relationship with Essence magazine. You can check out the 20th anniversary feature story on me in the December 2014 issue. You can also watch my video interview with Essence HERE

If you missed the December issue featuring me at the newsstands, you can read it HERE

Foot Note: In Celebration of the 20th anniversary... RLT Collection is 20% off! Coupon Code RLT20 And take a peak at the 20 Collection  that I designed in honor. Fab Bracelet designs all in red. SHOP HERE
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