On Everyday Icons
Last week, I learned that two people who meant a lot to me died: Thought-leader Ayesha K. Faines and Veterinary Doctor Julie R. Butler, D. V. M.
Ayesha was unapologetic in her intellect and fabulous in her presenting. A fierce orator, she spoke with a conviction that made an instant convert of any disbeliever. And in an era of fake news, her rhetoric was always impenetrably backed up with the research. She was Black Girl Magic personified, a representation of secure womanhood and all that's wondrous and mystical about this world.
5 years ago, when I left my law job and was in the throes of figuring out my life, I stumbled upon Women Love Power, an interactive educational platform created by Ayesha for self-discovery and empowerment. I immediately explored the site's premier feature — the 13 Feminine Seduction Archetypes quiz — to learn the unique way I, as a woman, captivate or "fascinate". The quiz, like Ayesha, was thorough, diving deep into how the seven contemporary feminine archetypes live and interact within us. It's purpose: to provide us with greater consciousness about our way of moving in the world and build a stronger sense of self.
I mean, the detail of Ayesha's courses was beyond. With Women Love Power, Ayesha created an entire institution for women (and all humans really) to learn more about themselves through an exploration of history, psychology and ancient spirituality. I take the Archetype quiz regularly and score as "The Sophisticate" every time. I've often wondered if the instructional results report showing a score of 92% The Lover and 82% The Sage was actually an excerpt from Ayesha's own results. Because for me, she was the most fascinating and alluring woman of my time. I was drawn to her self-assuredness, her curiosity, her intelligence. Her shared anecdotes of her evolution through adulthood and the fact that she, like me, attended an Ivy League University only to adopt a much less formal path in life made me feel like she was an older sister positioned to show me the way. I never got the chance to know Ayesha intimately, only through mutual friends and through what she shared authentically online, but she was a tremendous mentor to me. And like any little sister would, I miss her dearly.
Ayesha in dialogue. A true powerhouse.
This week, I'm embarking on a cross-continental journey, my fifth or sixth in the past three years (I've lost count). In the process of planning these things, I often find myself down an administrative rabbit hole, trying to figure out how to do the things I want in life without bureaucracy stomping all over my dreams. For instance, despite the many documents I have for Lily's import and export across borders, for this next leg of travel we'll be doing, I worry that some of her current documents won't be recognized. So to be safe, I've spent the past week booking appointments to get her some fresh documents.
For this particular matter, the Long Island veterinary office I spoke with told me they'd be happy to assist, but of course, upon research of my own (nosing about in the USDA certified vet database), none of the vets at that office have the required accreditations to actually do the job (life tip: in bureaucracies, assume incompetency. most people have no idea what they're doing...even when it's their job). So despite their eagerness to help, I had no choice but to hustle and find a new vet to do the paperwork in exactly T-2 days. Which...wasn't stressful at all (lies).
A part of me wanted to think the database wasn't properly updated, and maybe this Long Island vet was actually certified and could do the job. So just to confirm the database's accuracy I thought, "let me look up Dr. Butler and make sure she's listed. She did all of Lily's paperwork 3 years ago and is definitely USDA accredited." So I started going down the list of accredited vets in New York County, but the database kept jumping in the surname list, from "Bur" to "Can." I refreshed the page and made ure I was looking in the right place. Still, no Butler listing. On one hand, this could be my wishful thinking manifesting — the database was defective! But deep down, I knew the database was up-to-date, so it seemed Dr. Butler wasn't accredited anymore. But her losing her accreditation was just so...unlikely. I muttered sarcastically to myself "Wtf. Did she die or something?" I dropped her name into Google.
Dr. Julie R. Butler D.V.M. in her element
The first search result: A New York Times article.
Dr. Julie Butler, Vet Who Cared for Harlem and Its Pets, Dies at 62.
And then a second headline.
COVID-19 takes the life of a Harlem veterinarian
I saw red.
We've long known that pandemics disproportionately claim the lives of Black and Brown bodies globally. I've had three of my own family members taken from this awful virus. But already knowing that truth doesn't make hearing it again hurt any less. So then I cried.
When I first moved to London, I can't even explain how stressful it was getting Lily into the U.K. There was an insane list of items to complete. Some not to be completed in less than 21 days prior to our move, some within 10 days of our move, some within 72 hours but not less than 24 hours of our move. Documents had to be overnighted to embassies. Flights had to be planned with pinpoint precision so that a potential one-hour flight delay didn't suddenly invalidate all our documents. None of it would've been possible without the loving kindness and expertise of Dr. Butler. Meaning, I probably wouldn't be the budding London-grown artist I am now without Dr. Butler guidance on getting my #1 companion to London with me. Dr. Butler knew the stakes of one "t" uncrossed or one "i" undotted. Lily being taken away from me at customs. Us being placed on a return flight at the border. But because of Dr. Butler, Lily and I made it to London safely and successfully. Because of Dr. Butler, I was able to start the next chapter in the pursuit of my purpose.
I'll also say this: For a very long time, I thought having a dog was only for white people. Seriously. The only families I saw with a dog growing up were white, both in my day-to-day life and also in the media. And all the comedians I liked only ever made dog-jokes about white people. How white people loved kissing their dogs on the mouth and so on.
Now that I've had Lily a few years —and knowing the impact that she's had on my daily mental health and well-being— it saddens me to think of other little Black kids growing up thinking the same thing. I get really happy whenever I see a Black or Brown families with fur babies, I do understand the taboos and history concerning dogs in some communities of color, but I do wish the benefits of having a pet was something more widely discussed in Black communities. But this is why Dr. Julie Butler was (and continues to be) such a hero. Not only because she got my little Lily to London, but because she lived her life as a beacon of Black joy. A Black woman choosing the uncommon path, and pursuing it boldly because it was what she loved. For little Black boys and girls everywhere who may think some of life's simpler pleasures aren't for them, a trailblazing Dr. Butler is everything. An Ayesha K. Faines is everything. The examples these women have set through a life dedicated to claiming their own joy is everything.
I am still struggling with the reality that these two women are now gone from this Earth — Dr. Butler at 62, and Ayesha at a mere 35. But I find solace in knowing that in their lifetime, they fulfilled their purpose, and in the process, endowed us with the tools to continue the work.
That their loss is felt by so many, even those who didn't know them intimately, is a testament to their legacy. And that legacy is for all people. But for Black women especially, Ayesha K Faines and Dr. Julie Butler remind us of the power in prioritizing our joy. In indulging in our own happiness. Living beautifully, bountifully and boldly. Just because.
You won't ever catch me kissing Lily on the mouth though. White people can keep that.
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