[Queen] Walking In Dignity

When my father named me, he spoke my destiny into existence. The name is taken from the Nigerian Yoruba tribe. Funmi means to help people, and Folayan means to walk in dignity. Some may disagree, but this is the meaning my daddy intended: to help people walk with dignity.

You may not think that the meaning of a name could influence a life, but even without knowing it, I have tried to achieve the meaning of mine.

Learning to appreciate a name like Funmi Folayan was no easy task. Childhood taunts had me resenting my name (and my father) for most of my early years.

I recall Daddy trying to comfort me. He told me that one day, I would cherish my name and be happy I owned it. That made me livid—I thought he didn't consider the ridicule I had to endure. How could I ever learn to appreciate a name that left me crying?

"Follow Me Funmi!" "Funmi Follow-Me-Yan!" "Fool Me Funmi!" I heard it all. And every new school year I was embarrassed when teachers attempted to pronounce my name.

I grew some tough skin to deal with it. I became angry. I tried to fight anyone who made fun of my name. Although I was learning to accept it, I didn't like my name and certainly didn't appreciate it. My anger multiplied after my father passed away and wasn't there to remind me that my name was something I was destined to do.

Then, I began to understand that I couldn't help people walk in dignity if I was not even proud of my name. I had to begin my own walk toward dignity first.

I began to notice a persistent call to embrace sisterhood, but didn't know how to connect with it. I recognized a huge gap in my female relationships that didn't seem to exist with my mother and her friends. When those women came together, much was accomplished. Whether feeding each other or rearing children together, they had an underlying bond that was slowly diminishing with my generation.

Many of the women I knew didn't trust other women; they didn't discipline other women's children and didn't support each other. I found it difficult to trust women. So, how then could I have a calling to bring women together?

After much prayer, I started an organization called Sisters Increasing Positive Progression Inc. to bring professional, progressive women together for a common goal. We'd meet once a month and strategize ways to support our children and celebrate the arts.

SIPPI did great work our first year. We sponsored "The Vagina Monologues," supported the Jim Hill Players in their production of "The Colored Museum" and assisted with the JFP Chick Ball. We partnered with other Jackson-based organizations. I was proud of the sisters, but it was a roller coaster.

The meetings got smaller the second year. From 10 to 15 women initially at the SIPPI meetings, I was lucky to have two women. I canceled meetings. It was distressing, and I retreated to that safe place deep within where I didn't really believe SIPPI would work in the first place.

When women asked for meetings again, they developed into Sister Sessions where we would just talk—about children and jobs, husbands and girlfriends, community efforts, events, whatever. We gathered to encourage and build together. Those two hours were our exhale sessions.

Then I got pregnant, and the sessions stopped again.

SIPPI has been a thorn in my side. I have felt let down, confused and frustrated. Now I realize that I was focused on what SIPPI was not doing, instead of on what we were doing.

The Sister Sessions have born friendships. I have learned things that I will carry proudly for the rest of my life. Most importantly, I've learned that when the Creator has work for you, it doesn't stop when people don't show up. It sticks in your heart and soul and pesters you until you take action.

A good friend reminded me: "Faith and fear cannot occupy the same place at the same time. Faith is not the absence of fear; it's going on in spite of the fear." My fears of being unsupported have been a hindrance to the work I was born to do.

SIPPI came to me in a dream after I prayed for the Creator to show me my purpose. I needed a clear idea of what He wanted me to contribute. I received it and hit the ground running, but lost steam because I allowed distractions to move me from the path.

My father was my earthly angel for 13 years of my life. The Creator gave him a message for me. Knowing that he'd only have a short time to make that message real, my father summed it up in two words and attached it to me in a name. I know many aren't fortunate to have such a clear sign, but if we pay attention, the signs are there.

We all have a purpose. Even though winds may blow us off course—that's their job—with faith we can stand steadfast and return to our path.

My road has been rough and the weather stormy, but I have been sheltered. I have struggled and have been afraid. But I know my purpose: I was born to help people walk in dignity. Whether I do that via SIPPI or a JFP column or my blog or having cocktails with friends, I am committed to that purpose. I wish the same for you.

Funmi Franklin, aka Queen, is a word lover and poet. She's a reality-show fanatic and is awaiting an opportunity to star in her own show to be titled, "The Queen & I."


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