All Boys Grow Differently

Reposted from Ja’Mel’s blog entry ‘All Boys Grow Differently’

My mother named me both man and woman – Ashely Ja’Mel. She used both names interchangeably. Changing her responses to me as my energy flowed between feminine and masculine, never boxing me into one category. I was her daughter and her son. Her daughter was mischievous, shy and always interested in the anatomy of women. Her son was outspoken, confident, madly in love with racing games, fast cars and women. She’d call me Ashely when I cried, abiding by social norms – boys don’t cry. She called me Ashely Ja’Mel when I was in trouble, as she realized, boy or girl, I was a child who often pushed my boundaries. Every other moment of the day she called me Ja’Mel because she knew I was the son the doctors prepared her for. My mother took to her grave the story of my birth and why it was decided to raise me as a girl. But often she told me the story of her pregnancy and showed me the ultrasounds confirming I was male. When I’d asked, “Why did you give me a boys name if I’m a girl?” she’d gently touch my face and say, “One day you will understand. One day the world will not seem so confusing. When that day comes you must stand with your head high and face the pain we are all too familiar with.”

I remember the day my mother bought me my first training bra. I cried. I didn’t understand why breast were growing from my chest. I remember in 5th grade, after a sex education talk, I came home and put paper towel in my shirt. I looked in the mirror and laughed, “that’s silly”, I thought. I opened the bathroom door, checked the hallway, stood silent to listen for anyone coming, gently closed the door back and stuffed the paper towel in my pants. *HUGE SMILE*

When SpongeBob made his first appearance on Nickelodeon in the late 90s I bought my first pair of boxers, “YES!” this feels better, unlike those constricting ‘days of the week’ panties my mother bought me. My mother wasn’t very good at expressing concern gently so when she found the boxers she sternly asked, “Do you want to be a boy?” I hid my face, ran away and cried. I didn’t know how to answer such a trivial question because mostly I felt like a boy. I played with the boys, looked at girls with the boys, envied the boys for their stylish attire. “Do I want to be a boy?” I thought, “Do I? Aren’t I?” My mother followed me to my room and held me. I don’t remember the words she spoke to me but after she let me go I was assured she’d love me no matter whom I identified as.

As an early teen society began to gender me more and more. I just wanted to fit in. I tried to be girlier. I stopped wearing t-shirts and wore tight fitting outfits with heels and a purse. I just looked like an awkward gump. I became sexually promiscuous, trying to figure out my sexuality. “Am I a lesbian?” but I never liked that word because I couldn’t find my identity as a woman. “But you do love women” I’d reassure myself. Since I could remember women have always been apart of my infatuation – The Olson Twins, Raven Simone, and looking around my room as a preteen my wall was PLASTERED with Christina Milian. There is NO doubt in my mind women are my thing! At night I’d sneak downstairs to the kitchen and steal cucumbers. I’d lay in bed with them in my pants daydreaming about penetrating my celebrity crushes.

I was fucking confused!

My mother saw the trouble in my actions and in my eyes. She’d always sit me down to tell me “You are to be whomever you are comfortable being, NOT what anyone tells you to be.” In her dying days she became very concerned about who would care for me. She’d warn me to stay away from certain family members. At the time I didn’t understand why my mother was so adamant about this.  As an adult I think I understand her concern. My mother knew I had a hard journey ahead of me. She wanted me to be happy and free to grow into whomever I choose to be. She knew my family much better than I did. She knew those most capable of raising me in her death would also be the ones who’d try to crush my spirit, convert me, the ones who wouldn’t let me grow into the man I was meant to be. “All boys grow differently”, she said in her medicated state one day. Those words have lingered in my mind, throughout my body, finally resonating in my soul on my 24th birthday. All. Boys. Grow. Differently. I am a man. Socialized to be a woman. Reborn from the struggle to find myself. All boys grow differently!

Ja’Mel Ashley is a 24-year old UW-Madison alumnus. He has started a campaign for contributions towards surgery to complete his transition.

Weekend Job Board: March 15

Network, network, network! These national organizations are looking for student interns. Connect with them and start building your professional networks. 

  • Ivo E. Philbert, Assistant Vice President, INROADS, Inc. (120 Wall Street, 31st Floor, New York, NY 10005), 212) 425-8300 EXT. 1415,
  • Joseph Worthy, Ohio Director of Youth Leadership and Organizing (431 E. 260th Street, Euclid, OH 44132) (216) 650-1961,
  • Keith D. Wright, EVP & Chief Operating Officer, Black Caucus Foundation (1720 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.,  Washington, D.C. 20036) (202) 263-2801,


State of Wisconsin Investment Board has openings for a communications intern and a business process management intern


Division of Recreational Sports is hiring for the Summer 2013 and the Fall 2013 semester. 

  • Fitness Consultant: Fitness Consultants staff the weight room and cardio areas at the SERF, the NAT and the CRSC. They help participants with equipment usage, perform general supervision of fitness areas and keep the equipment clean. They must complete mandatory job training, CPR and First Aid certification. If interested, fill out an application by using the link below. For more information, contact Ellen Dixon at ellendixon@recsports.wisc.eduDeadline: April 8
  • ID Checker/Towel Room Attendant:  ID Checkers are the first representative of Rec Sports that patrons see as they walk through the door. As ID Checker, you will be responsible for verifying each patron’s membership and providing superb customer service.  The ideal employee is personable, professional, and is able to work both individually and as a part of a team. No prior experience with ID Checking is necessary. 
  • Custodial Crew Member: The Custodial Crew at Rec Sports is responsible for keeping our facilities clean while also providing customer service. Although we do have a full time maintenance crew, our student custodial staff is a helping hand when maintenance is not in the building. A normal shift involves sweeping, disinfecting and restocking supplies throughout the building. No prior experience is necessary.


The Summer Affirmative Action Internship Program is looking for students interested in interning in Madison as a Specialty Activity Helper; these internship are paid.   The area(s) of study best suited for these intern positions are:  Journalism & Communication – Communication Arts, Education – Physical Education & Recreation, Health Care – Developmentally Disabled, Liberal Arts/Science – Communicative Psychology. Recruitment will be continuing until the needs of the agencies have been met November 2012 through May 2013.

Job Description: Provides a greater level of treatment and help to improve the quality of live for residents, especially those who are so medically fragile and cannot participate in outdoor activities during cold weather months.  A great majority of this program is outdoors.  Each trip involves lifting people into and out of wheelchairs – greater staffing makes this possible.

Knowledge/Skills Required – Must have a diverse interest in recreational activity as evidenced by personal involvement, e.g. leisure activity, swimming, outdoor activity, active and passive activities.

Access the application and position details here:


University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is hiring a Diversity Director: The Diversity Director reports to the Dean of Students and is responsible for the overall administration of the staff, budgets and programs of the American Intercultural Center (AIC), consistent with the stated goals and mission of the Center.  In addition to administrative responsibilities, the Director works directly with multicultural students and student organizations to promote student satisfaction, involvement and success. This position works closely with a team of other Student Affairs and campus leaders to continually evaluate and improve the University’s efforts to recruit, retain and graduate multicultural/disadvantaged students. The Director promotes awareness of multicultural issues on campus and provides leadership in institution-wide efforts to enhance the campus climate. Application details here: Deadline: April 5


“Women as Architects for Change,” on Friday, March 22, at Grainger Hall from 8:30 a.m. to noon:  The National Diversity Council hosts symposiums for and by women in regions across the country with the purpose of bringing women together from public, private and non-profit sectors to network, co-train with colleagues, and mentor one another in leadership growth. The panelists include:

  • Anne H. Carter, Director of Corporate Diversity and Inclusion for Alliant Energy;
  • Attorney Daphne Webb, a Partner at Stafford Rosenbaum, LLP;
  • Rukmini Banerjee Vice President of Customer Operations CUNA Mutual;
  • Michele Stanton, Senior Vice President of IT Management and Control at QBE North America;
  • Cassandra Alston, Executive Director, Global Workforce Diversity & Inclusion Johnson Controls;
  • Lori Berquam, UW-Madison Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students.

Discussion Topics:

  • I’m a Woman. I’m Invincible. (The Pursuit of Work-Life Balance)
  • Becoming a Person of Influence
  • Cross-Cultural Leadership: Women Bridging the Racial Divide
  • Personal Branding: Accessorizing Your Assets
  • Top 5 Career Unwritten Rules
  • “M” is for Mentoring – Let’s Pay it Forward

You’ll find a full description of the symposium, guest speakers and agenda, at Creating Community. Please register today – space is limited — at:

Book Selections: Race & Place

 The MSC is continuing our new tradition of hosting an annual spring symposium on “Race And” to encourage dialogue and action around the intersection of racial identity and other social justice issues. The two-day symposium, to be held from March 14-15, 2013, will serve as a capstone to our 2012-13 IJET programming around “Race & Place: Movement, Space, Land, and Power.”  As a reflection of this year’s Social Justice Speakers and Trainers Series, we offer a list of books and other media written or used by our speakers and presenters.


The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence within Activist Communities (South End Press): To effectively resist violence out there–in the prison system, on militarized borders, or during other clear encounters with “the system”–we must challenge how it is reproduced right where we live. It’s one thing when the perpetrator is the police, the state, or someone we don’t know. It’s quite another when that person is someone we call friend, lover, mentor, trusted ally. Co-edited by Ching-in Chen.


Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy (by Rinku Sen): Stir It Up is a primer on best practices in community organizing. Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and the publisher of She is a leading figure in the racial justice movement and combines journalism and activism to create social change. Rinku has positioned ARC as a national home for media, research and activism on these issues.


Talking the Walk: A Communications Guide for Racial Justice (Hunter Cutting & Makani Themba-Nixon):  Learn how to discuss and spin issues of race and racial justice and build capacity in conducting media work, reframing public debates, and interrupting media stereotypes. Used as a resource to guide Rachel Kuo’s Race and Messaging Workshop (Session III B). All workshop participants will receive a free copy.

Price-Spratlen_Book CoverRage

Reconstructing Rage: Transformative Reentry in the Era of Mass Incarceration (Dr. Townsand Price-Spratlen): An ethnography of how a grassroots, reentry organization has nurtured sustained resistance and built community capacity with former felons. Dr. Townsand Price-Spratlen is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Ohio State University and will be presenting in the symposium’s Closing Plenary on Race & Incarceration. 

between-race-empire-african-americans-cubans-before-cuban-brock-lisa-fuertes-digna-paperback-cover-artBetween Race & Empire: African-Americans and Cubans before the Cuban Revolution (Dr. Lisa Brock): This collection traces the relations between Cubans and African-Americans from the abolitionist era to the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Dr. Lisa Brock is the Academic Director of Kalamazoo College’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. At the symposium, she will be giving a talk entitled Badges, Passes, and un-Docs, Oh My!: Desire & Hate in the Making of the “Other[ed]” Modern World examining Slave Badges in 1840s South Carolina, South African Passes during apartheid, and Mexican Undocumented Workers today as existentially impossible and cruel examples of power that separate the “working body” from the “cultural/racial/political being.” 

Additional book and media lists for Race & Place:

Event: 7th Annual Line Breaks Festival

For a full event schedule go to: 

Linebreaks 2013 POSTER

Performance arts scholars of the First Wave Hip-Hop Theater Ensemble will present their solo, duo and ensemble works as part of the 7th Annual Line Breaks Festival in Lathrop Hall, 1050 University Avenue, from Wednesday, March 13 through Wednesday, March 20. The nightly performances from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. are open to the public. 

The free week-long festival is presented by UW-Madison’s Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI) and will end with a production from guest artist DawN Crandell, who hails from New York. Crandell is a dancer, choreographer, theatre artist, poet, grassroots cultural activist and educator, who has performed at multiple venues throughout New York City as well as stages in the UK since moving there. Her solo show, “Xenophobedelica” has been called “Powerful and compelling…chaotic and hilarious” by The Public Reviews, a UK-based theater review organization.  Crandell’s show is an autobiographical story of her life-long struggle with identity as a queer, black multi-ethnic feminist, which fuses poetry, movement, storytelling burlesque and audience participation with Crandell’s life-long love of Prince. Crandell’s production will run on the two final nights of the festival, Tuesday, March 19 and Wednesday, March 20. 

Crandell also will host a series of special Guest Artist workshops on Monday, March 18:

  • 1:20-3:00 pm, Improvisation/Composition Workshop with DawN Crandell (Lathrop Studio 549) 
  • 3:30-5:10 pm, Hip Hop Theatre Workshop with Baba Israel (Lathrop Studio 510) 

And on Wednesday, March 20:

  • 1:20-3:00 pm, Improvisation/Composition Workshop with DawN Crandell (Lathrop Studio 549) 
  • 3:30-5:10 pm, Hip Hop Theatre Workshop with Baba Israel (Lathrop Studio 510) 

The annual Line Breaks Festival also provides an opportunity to bring the visions of the student artists of the First Wave program to fruition on stage. Among each performers’ exploration into identity and social issues is the critical aim of healing. Each night of the festival has a break for talkback sessions with the performers from the first hour’s shows.

Beginning the festival on Wednesday, March 13, is the traditional introduction of the newest First Wave Scholars, the sixth cohort. The ensemble production “Welcome Mat at Capacity” will open the first night of the Festival. Then UW-Madison sophomore Natalie Cook will present her solo production, “Some May Think Light Isn’t Heavy.” The narrative tells of a young woman’s journey to find God and demand a removal of the curse she was born with to feel the pain of every person and experience she encounters. Also on opening night UW-Madison senior Gethsemane Herron’s piece “Witness” will delve into misogyny’s history, through myths of nymphs and goddesses, antebellum shadows and modern day beliefs held by a uniting thread: rape.

The Thursday, March 14, schedule is filled with more premier works from students ranging from their sophomore to senior year. UW-Madison senior dåko’ta Alcantara-Camacho’s one-person production “Buried Beneath: Bombs and Lattes,” which will weave poetry, traditional chant, historical analysis and cultural experiences to tell dåko’ta’s queer life story, troubled by their catholic nåna and war veteran påpa. An encore performance of this show will be held on Friday night as well. Following Thursday’s break is an encore of UW-Madison sophomore Natalie Cook’s solo production, “Some May Think Light Isn’t Heavy.” The narrative tells of a young woman’s journey to find God and demand a removal of the curse she was born with to feel the pain of every person and experience she encounters. Closing the night will be an encore performance “Welcome Mat at Capacity” by the newest cohort of the First Wave scholarship program, the sixth cohort.

Friday night’s performance will open with the full-length versions of a previously-debuted production are Asia Elliot. Elliot’s one woman show “Working Class” navigates through the teenage years of young woman who divides her time between high school and a series of late-night jobs at the bar below her apartment. After the talkback, UW-Madison senior dåko’ta Alcantara-Camacho will perform an encore of his one-person production “Buried Beneath: Bombs and Lattes.” The evening will close with a performance by the First Wave Touring Ensemble, an audition based sub-group within the program whose productions travel across the country and internationally, entitled “Kingdom Bequeath.” 

To further merge spoken word and dance, on Saturday, March 16, the festival will include a special series of B-Girl workshops by GIRLilla TACTICS in Lathrop Studio B101:

  • 11:30am-12:30pm, Bgirl Figet Freedom Workshop, 
  • 12:45-1:45pm, BGirl Macca Workshop, 
  • 2:00-3:00pm, BGirl Peppa Workshop. 

On Saturday evening, March 16, UW-Madison junior Nakila Robinson will perform the full-length version of her one-woman show “Little Big Woman.” The narrative investigates a woman’s body and how that body has conversations with sexuality, race and normative images of American women. Then the premier work of UW-Madison junior Dominique Ricks “Crosswalk,” will tell the story of a young man walking a thin line between scholarship and homicide. The production shows the protagonist struggling to maintain his promising future as it begins to feel like the streets of Louisiana have a voice that only black men can hear. The evening will end with an encore of Asia Elliot’s one woman show “Working Class.

Sunday night’s opening performance will feature UW-Madison junior Richard Jones, Jr., and senior Rebekah Blocker collaborating in a two-person show. “Parenting Preacher’s Kids” tells the story of a pastor’s son and a minister’s daughter, who find out they are going to have a baby. Following the two-person production is a one woman-show by senior Erika Dickerson-Despenza. As the founder of UW-Madison’s only women of color theatre organization, The For Colored Girls Project, Dickerson is no amateur to theater production, her mixed-medium production “Cult of Blk Bodies” chronicles the contradiction of womyn’s bodies as sites of consciousness development and exile, as assets and liabilities in the Black church and the world at large. Sunday night ends with an encore performance of the First Wave Touring Ensemble’s “Kingdom Bequeath”

Monday, March 18, will be a night of encore performances of Dominique Ricks’ “Crosswalk,” Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s “Cult of Blk Bodies,” Gethsemane Herron’s “Witness,” and Nakila Robinson’s “Little Big Woman.” 

On Tuesday, March 19, the festival begins with two theater productions that mix dancing with storytelling. First is UW-Madison senior Eric Lima whose one-man show “Don’t Just Stand There” depicts a young man’s sense of restlessness in being painfully aware that his footsteps continue a family narrative including immigration and social mobility. Next is a solo piece by senior Niko Tumamak, who staged a solo debut at the 2010 Line Breaks Festival. Tumamak’s production, “The Sh*t We Go Through” is a visual and sonic experience that follows the transformation of a minority student protagonist who in the past retaliated for racism directed toward him for dating a Caucasian girlfriend. Following the mid-break talkback is the closing performance from guest artist Dawn Crandell.

The final night of the festival, Wednesday, March 20, will open with an encore of Crandell’s production followed by two sessions of mixed movement warm-ups with the artist Crandell and music by MC/beatboxer Baba Israel. 

For more information and a full listing and locations of LineBreaks performances, go to

Founded by UW Madison’s Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives and a program in the Office of the Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, the First Wave Hip-Hop Learning Community and Theater Ensemble is a groundbreaking collective of spoken word poets, emcees, dancers, singers, actors, and activists from across the United States, brought together as scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Using the pedagogy of traditional spoken word, movement and performance, the students use these principles of linguistics, writing, communications, social and political awareness as an additional learning framework for their major areas of study across the university. Under the artistic direction of Prof. Christopher Walker, the Touring Ensemble is a select group of First Wave students, chosen by audition, to tour and perform nationally and internationally. Since the formation of the program, the ensemble has performed in England, Mexico, Panama, and Jamaica as well as across the USA including featured performances on Broadway. First Wave is an emerging leader on the hip-hop theater scene, pushing the boundaries of poetry, dance, and theater. For more on the program go to: 

For more information on Linebreaks, contact at Danez Smith at (651)-247-1445, or 

For more information on First Wave and other diversity initiatives, contact Valeria Davis at (608) 890-3079 or