CHRIS LIGHTY PT. 1

I could write a book about my friendship with Chris Lighty, god rest his soul. Today I write about how much I wish he was here right now. We had many moments like the one depicted here. Chris, hard at work, and me, like a monkey on his back, burying my face into his pristine blue chambray.

No matter how busy he was, and he was a busy man, Chris always made time for me and opened his office door to his odd little friend. He was strong, steadfast, and loyal to the core. I've said it many a time and will continue to do so: Chris Lighty was my Rock of Gibraltar, the wind in my sails, my shelter from the storm. After getting some disappointing news last night, I would normally be in his office today, crying on his shoulder, looking to him for encouragement and guidance. But he's not here.

Having Chris in my corner made me stand taller, walk stronger, move sharper. Without him there is a hole in my heart that is at times temporarily filled by the love of others, at others echoes loudly and cruelly like a cold ferocious wind through a empty canyon. Today is one of those days.

I can barely write this because my vision is blurred by hot bitter tears and I keep clutching at my heart as if I could grab your hand again and pull you back to me. I miss you, Chris. I will never stop loving you and honoring our friendship. 

DISTANCE WITH ELEGANCE

Years ago I had an issue with a close friend who had done something to hurt my feelings. When I confronted her about it I began, as I always do in situations like these, by telling her how much I loved her and appreciated her friendship then went into the details of the incident. It was the first time we'd ever had such a discussion and she was clearly stymied. She said "Sophia, I'm not used to having conversations like this with my friends." 

Wow, I thought, you're a grownass woman and you're not used to frank and open discussions with your friends about how you interact and how you might upset one another? I can't think of a meaningful relationship I have in which that hasn't occurred. I told my incredibly wise friend Alex Hayden about the communication, that I was disappointed by my friend's response but not enough to forego the friendship altogether. Her response to me was these three words: distance with elegance.

That simple phrase has been so helpful to me in the years since. I take my friendships very seriously and invest no small amount of time and energy therein. However, sometimes there are people whom I like and care about, but not enough to do the work that it requires to foster a deep friendship. They remain in my life, but not in my house, literally and figuratively. I see and speak with them from time to time and it's lovely when I do, but I maintain distance. With elegance.

JOAN MORGAN

Joan and her inimitably wonderful selfies. Here, showing off her new Nars lipsticks.

Joan and her inimitably wonderful selfies. Here, showing off her new Nars lipsticks.

It's important to me to acknowledge my "faculty"--those whom I find myself quoting, as they are clearly important to me. Today I want to honor my friendship with Joan Morgan. I met Joan in the early 90s when we were on some women in hip hop panel. We hit it off right away and she has remained a crucial presence in my life. 

Joan is an award-winning feminist author and a doctoral student in NYU’s American Studies program. She published the groundbreaking book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost in 1999. Her book has been used in college coursework across the country and she is regarded internationally as an expert on the topics of hip-hop and gender.

The bio is modest. Joan is a fearless thinker and intellectual innovator. She coined the phrase "hip hop feminist" and "black girl magic" back in the early 90s. She is my go to when it comes to issues about black and Caribbean Americans. She was the first to draw my attention to the distinction and sometimes collision therein. 

Joan is also astonishingly beautiful: she has large luminous eyes that express a dizzying range of emotions, cheekbones that could slice bread, a bosom that inspires clenvy in me (cleavage envy), and banging ass calves that show you that she's walked and ran and danced and kicked her way with elan through this life. And then there's the cropped hair, which only highlights her beauty and ferocity. 

I took Joan on her first trip to Cali to write a piece on Hieroglyphics and while we were there a couple German (read WHITE) guys on an elevator at the Mondrian asked if they could touch her hair. I'd never heard of such a thing. She's taught me everything I know about the trials, tribulations, and beauty of black women's hair.

Joan taught me a lot about what ride or die friends do for each other. She was there when I met my ex, had both children, left my ex, became single, fell in love again, and became single again. We have danced, cooked, laughed, learned, cried, divorced, and raised our children together. She has supported all my efforts and assured me when my course was unsteady as well as pointing out my missteps. Here are just a few highlights of our time together:

As soon as she told me she was pregnant I thought "shit, now I've gotta have a baby!" Joan also inspired me to buy a home. By the time she was 37 she had already owned two Brooklyn brownstones and a huge house on a hill in Kingston.

Post-divorce and fully in the swing of being single, I told Joan that I'd managed to finagle my schedule to entertain four different men in the past week. I said "God works in mysterious ways." To which she replied "God don't have shit to do with that, Soph. That's just your pimp game." And when I was at my most anti-commitment player phase she said "Well, Soph. I think that's it. You've officially become a man. Now you just have to grow testicles."

We have also shared profound heartache. It was Joan who called to tell me that our dear friend, Chris Lighty (RIP), had passed. Our friendship had previously been in a fallow season, but the grieving reunited us and was, perhaps, his parting gift to us. 

This past February I was at Harvard with Joey Bada$$ when someone told me there was a woman outside who wanted to meet me. I figured it was a friend playing a trick on me. It was Christina Qui, a brilliant Harvard student, who recognized me from a video in which I talked about my friendship with Joan. She studied with Joan and was so moved by our obvious bond that she felt compelled to meet me and this past September had me come speak at Harvard.

You see, the thing about friendship is that it keeps giving, but it must be carefully and lovingly fostered. Like everything that's worth anything, friendship takes work. As Candide would say "Il faut cultiver son jardin." Today I say thank you, Joan for over a quarter century of cultivating our garden. I love you like the sun loves the moon.

REDMAN AND ME

Redman and I in '91. Notice the hat swap.

Redman and I in '91. Notice the hat swap.

Me and Reggie this past weekend at the Roots Picnic.

Me and Reggie this past weekend at the Roots Picnic.

I have known and loved Redman truly madly deeply for 25 years. The first time we met he was rocking a big gold bracelet that I made fun of. We became fast friends and he called me his little sister. We spent countless hours talking, laughing, watching movies. When he was out late in the city, he would come to my tiny studio on 14th and 7th and yell "SOPHIE!" from the street at all hours of the night. He would stay over to avoid the drive back to LI. He would come straight in and climb up into my tiny second loft bed that he barely fit into. We would talk to each other from across the room until we fell asleep. He was my occasional roommate. He considered my place his second home and I gave him a set of keys. Home is where the heart is and Redman is my heart.

LOYALTY

 

"THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUR CHARACTER IF OPPORTUNITY CONTROLS YOUR LOYALTY"

One of the most important traits in a friend, colleague, family member, or partner is loyalty. When I was working at Paul Simon, my boss (god rest his soul) had left some extremely sensitive financial documents on the copier. Paul's manager stormed into our office and asked who'd done it. My boss wasn't there at the time and I said it was me. When my boss returned he told Paul's manager it was, in fact him. I was completely willing to take the hit for him. From that day, he knew I was a loyal soldier, as did Paul's manager. Learn to be loyal and stand by and up for your people.