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Etcetera, Fashion, Uncategorized

Femininity, Style and Beauty from a middle-aged black woman’s point of view….

February 14, 2022

I am an almost 45 year old black woman obsessed with style, modernity and beautiful things.  My opinion is that buttocks out, provocative poses and taking the bedroom into the streets is inappropriate.   Call me an ”auntie,” but I also agree that bonnets on airplanes, fake eyelashes that reach the hairline and clothes that are several sizes too small are silly.  None of the above has anything to do with feminism, control over ones body or even beauty.  It’s just poor taste. Period.  Call a spade a spade.  

When did we decide as black people that we would celebrate vulgarity over elegance?  Was there some meeting I missed where we voted on the notion that black femininity would be synonymous with too much skin, cartoon characters and public displays of Karma Sutra positions paraded as sexy picture poses?  I clearly wasn’t invited to the weekend brunch meeting of the minds where we as black women decided that we wanted to be more like 90s Madonna verses Claire Huxtable.  

But whatever, every generation is entitled to determine their trends.  The beauty of being young is the privilege to make really poor fashion choices and live to tell the tale.  Hell, I wore a butterfly sequined crop top, low rise acid-washed stretch jeans and blue eye shadow to my 24th birthday party.  No, I wasn’t trying out for the Spice Girls. I was actually a 2nd year law student at Georgetown University with a signed offer to work at a major law firm in New York City.  I also had a favorite pair of BCBG neon yellow, low rise, polyester hot pants that were my favorite club attire for nearly a decade.  I remember and appreciated the hoots, stares and offers I received from men when my size 10 derrière would sidle by.  I am no stranger to sexy clothing.  I fondly remember those years.  

Circa 2001 in a Washington D.C. lounge celebrating my 24th birthday. The butterfly is infamous amongst my law school cronies. Infamy can be both good and bad…

But then I grew up.  In 2009, I was 32 when I distinctly remember the ahh-ha moment seeing then 45-year old First Lady Michelle Obama walk hand in hand with her fine, excellent and very powerful black man into the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony wearing that sublime, black, a-line Azzedine Alaia dress with modest, unrecognizable Jimmy Choo heels.  She had easy hair.  Pretty makeup.  Glowing skin. A wide genuine smile.  She was elegance personified but not stuffy or unapproachable.  In that moment, I knew who I wanted to emulate in my 30s, 40s and 50s chapters.

Last night,  I eagerly tuned into the Super Bowl 2022 halftime show to watch this much anticipated homage to Hip-Hop.  The only black woman performing was Mary J. Blige who has more hits than hits have hits.  She could singularly do a 2-hour stadium show that is a sing-along because every attendee from 80 – 16 years of age would know those anthem lyrics of power, love and redemption.   

Imagine my shock when she awkwardly appears on stage wearing head to toe white reflective sequins broken up by a crop top, bedazzled diaper-esq high waisted boy shorts, thigh-high boots plastered in even more sequins, a matching sparkling fedora and enough fake dyed hair that it reached her knee caps.  Perhaps the outfit looked awesome in person and it seems to be photographing well today online. But on live television, it did not hit the right note. It looked awkward and ill-fitting, particularly when Mary dropped it low in the open leg squat.

Mary is a gorgeous black woman.  She has a hall-of-fame life story and career that is courageous, exceptional and cross generationally interesting.  Like I said, Mary’s hits have hits.  However, I don’t even recall what she sang last night.  I don’t even care.  All I can think about is what she wore.  Why she wore it.  And where were her girls saying what I hoped they said and what I want to now say:

“Girl, YOU are Mary-J-Damn-Blige.  You’re 50+ years old and still relevant, sexy and marketable as ever.  Let them show your videos of 20 years ago where you were rocking the hell out of crop tops, glitter and hot pants.  You did that era and you did it WELL. Better than best. Mary, now is your moment to go out out on that Super Bowl stage, perform and essentially accept your Nobel Peace Prize.  Let’s call up Givenchy, Chanel, Christopher John Rogers, Louis Vuitton or Dior and have them make a costume elegant and fitting of a queen but also seriously hip-hop, edgy and so fricking interesting that Zara will be cutting, sewing and selling copies by sunup. Be imitable not impressionable.”  

That’s not what happened.   There is so much to break down.  I don’t know if Mary hand picked that white sequined diaper look or if she was talked into it by a stylist with poor judgment.  Or maybe she felt pressured by the ever present “male Hollywood daze” to dress in what men perceive as sexually interesting.  I certainly see my non-Hollywood, very normal life living peers doing that often on social media.  You know who you are….

Anyway, it’s complicated.  Many of you will disagree because we want to believe that at middle age we can still dress like a 25 year old.  We can’t.  We shouldn’t want to.  I will be hung for writing the above because it’s personal for some and because how dare I critique the only black woman on the stage (Why was there only one black woman by the way? Perhaps I would feel differently if there were various representations of black women up there performing. Are we a monolith or are we just supposed to think one-dimensional?).

You will say Mary has aged well.  She has.  So have I.  So have many. This is not a critique of what women can wear in middle-age.  This is a question about who are we and who do we want to be.  Whether you agree or not, let’s get one thing very clear.  You will be not be seeing my yellow polyester hot pants ever again.  I traded them for enduring, elegant and avant-garde modern pieces a long, long time ago.  

I said what I said.   


PS: I wish the butterfly crop hadn’t been purged or lost many years ago. If I still possessed it in my fashion archives, I would bust it out to wear with a Carolina Herrera ball gown skirt, Chanel earrings, an oversized cocktail ring, some crazy clutch and a boyfriend blazer nonchalantly thrown over my shoulders. In my opinion, that is style…
Etcetera, Uncategorized

California 2021 adventures begin now…

July 1, 2021

I write as I sit in the Miami airport waiting to board a flight to Los Angeles so we can begin our 17 day trip up and down the Pacific Coast Highway exploring California from Laguna Beach to Napa Valley and then back down to Big Sur, Pebble Beach and Monterrey. The flight was scheduled to originally leave at 2:00 pm. It is now 7:27 pm with a delayed departure time of 10:00 pm. Fingers crossed we get out of here tonight as our big #CaliforniaAdventure2021 awaits us. They say that everyone should experience the PCH at least once in their lifetime so we here we go…

You might wonder why California? Why the Pacific Coast Highway? Why Summer 2021? The only answer is that there is no time like the present and it’s a trip I have always wanted to take.

Let’s rewind to a conversation I had in early 2021 with my Spelman sister after one of our college classmates unexpectedly died. A beloved Morehouse man, he was 43 years old and the he kind of guy that greeted everyone with a smile. The life of the party in many circles from business, politics and entertainment. His untimely sudden death rocked my closely knit Morehouse & Spelman alumni family.

I called a mutual friend the night I received the news of his passing. We briefly caught up about family, kids and how we were surviving the pandemic. At some point, our conversation shifted to the future and she said, “We need to make every summer count.” “What would you do if you knew you only had x amount of summers left? How would you live? Where would you go?” I knew the answer. I would take several weeks to properly explore California.

I talked it over with #Hubbs relaying this morbid, but deeply clarifying, exchange and he eventually (and loosely) agreed to my lofty summer plans. We had many back and forth on where to start our journey, either south in Laguna or north in San Francisco. Our friends were subjected to heated dinner discussions on whether we should drive or fly down the coast. He is not necessarily keen on maneuvering a rental car around expansive tiny cliffs through foggy conditions. But duh…who does the legendary PCH by airports???? California has so many cities we love that we had a hard time narrowing down where to visit and agreeing on how many days the trip should take. We could do Santa Monica, Malibu and Santa Barbara. But we can’t do the PCH and not do Pebble Beach, Big Sur and Monterrey. We’re golfers after all and that is the cradle of spectacular, life changing courses! Then there is San Diego balmy breezes, Napa’s food and wine scene and San Francisco’s sophisticated living. At some point, there was a brief idea to even dip down to Palm Springs for a dessert vibe. So many places; so little time. After many weeks of research and lively banter, we finally agreed on an exciting (and ambitious) itinerary and even managed to convince a few friends to join us along the way.

5 months and days of planning later, here I sit waiting on my delayed plane to take us on our 17 day California adventure. We will visit 3 regions of the golden state where temperatures will range from 50 – 90 degrees (a packing nightmare but more on that later). We will experience the majestic mountains and the breathtaking coastline. We will play 10 rounds of golf on some of America’s greatest golf courses with fairways perched over the crashing pacific ocean and nestled between the merlot and chardonnay vineyards. We will visit three wineries with friends flying in from around the country. I have one beach day planned with my beloved girlfriends from Los Angeles. We will revisit the Napa terrace overlooking the vineyard where we got engaged 12 years ago. We will eat a 4 course meal in a Michelin star restaurant. We feast on traditional Oaxacan cuisine at one famous taco spot. We will make endless memories and enjoy enough farm-to-table meals that we shall be experts in grilled artichokes, local lettuces and ripe juicy tomatoes.

Now for all this to happen, I just need one of these damn planes to take off…

I will try to blog daily or as much I can as the #CaliforniaAdventure2021 unfolds. We have a pretty busy itinerary but I want to record the unexpected revelations in real time and what better place to do so than in this sacred place we built called Jackie Unfiltered.

xoxo..see you in Cali!

PS: I am totally in love with my new cozy and comfy travel socks. I am not ashamed to say that you will see them often! 😉

Etcetera, Fashion, Uncategorized

Black Tie Masquerade Gala Raises $1.1 Million for Harlem School of the Arts

December 2, 2019

In October 2019, I co-chaired the Black Tie Masquerade Ball for the Harlem School of the Arts, a 55 year-old performing arts school of which I sit on the board of directors and chair the development committee. We annually reach about 10,000 children and adults teaching dance, music, theater and visual arts through our classes and workshops.

As reported in the New York Times, on this night, we raised almost $1.1 million dollars to support the social justice work we do. Our school is not only about teaching piano or how to use a 3-D printer, we are using arts education to tackle systemic problems facing our community. Research shows that students who participate in the rigorous discipline of performing arts education are twice as likely to graduate college, have significantly lower truancy and drop out rates than their peers and are 78% more likely to exercise his/her right to vote one day.

Photography by Julie Skarratt Photography

I am passionate about the education we provide at Harlem School of the Arts because, as a former theater kid in high school, I know first hand the positive impact creative stimulation can have on a child’s present and future success.

Photography by Julie Skarratt Photography

Our personal philanthropy is rooted in the idea that EVERY CHILD deserves access to quality education, teachers that care about them and programs that make them feel like human beings. We are children of middle class parents. We attended public schools. We are first generation in lots of things including college educated for me. We deeply understand that our story is impossible without community organizations like the Harlem School of the Arts. While attending Spelman and Morehouse, we learned that “to whom much is given, much is required.” We are honored to serve and give back to the community of which we owe so much.

Prior to the kick-off of the evening, I organized a photo shoot on 5th Avenue outside the dinner and after-party which was held at the famous New York Plaza Hotel. Here are some of the images to document one of my favorite fashion meets philanthropy moments of 2019.

KeKe Cifferello did my makeup and Suzanne of Suzanne Millinery created this custom veiled headpiece.
A huge thank you to my dear friend Racquel Oden of JP Morgan Chase, one of honorees for the evening and a major corporate contributor of the school.
I have always admired strong, beautiful women who stand unafraid to widen their circle making room for other people’s success and boldness. We need more of this in our community.

Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.” Back in June 2019, I called Michelle and Kerri from Prom Plus NYC to help me gather Raquel Oden’s friends and family to cheer her on as she accepted her award at the Harlem School of the Arts Gala. They enthusiastically and without hesitation agreed to help pack the room with Racquel’s friends and family while also raising money to support the school. They exceeded every goal, went above and beyond and then showed up to the joint looking fly as hell. Social justice work is a team sport and true sisterhood is one of life’s treasures.

Planning a gala in New York City is a gargantuan task including choosing the venue, finding honorees, creating an ambience, working with a press team, finalizing invitations and then the ever daunting task of “fundraising.” We are lucky to have an excellent partner in Dwight Johnson Design assisting with every task and making sure that we have a room worthy of the talented children and community that we serve.

When planning a major fundraiser in a place like New York City where organizations fight for space on the social calendar, one of the sticky details is figuring out how we get the right people in the room. I was grateful to call on my girls Renae Bluitt producer and founder of “In Her Shoes Blog” and Kéla Walker, storyteller and media host extraordinaire, to join us on this important night. In the day and age of major influencers, it’s tough for a non-profit school like ours with a small budget to attract relevant people. We were thankful to have Renae, Kéla and many others in the room supporting our talented students and spreading the word on why arts education is an important tool as we tackle the systemic problems facing our children and community.

Another goal as co-chair of this event was delivering our message outside the island of Manhattan and reaching people in other cities. We were blessed to have friends and family fly in from around the country to support our mission. History shows us that we are stronger together.

This is the legacy of Morehouse and Spelman College. Our ancestors smiled down on this day. Thank you for flying in from Atlanta to support this cause.
My Spelman sister LaDonna Boyd flew in from Nashville, TN. Don’t let the flyness fool you, she is a bonafide boss lady serving as the 5th Generation CEO and President of RH Boyd Publishing Corporation.

Through my work at the Apollo Theater with Jonelle Procope, I got involved in major philanthropy when I was 30 years old. This gave me a chance, early in my career, to figure out what issues matter most to me. As I learned the ins and outs of fundraising and planning events, I was also able to work with and build relationships with executives, industry leaders and community activists. Through my leadership role at Harlem School of the Arts, I now have the opportunity to build my own table and it’s important to pay it forward by creating spaces where younger people feel welcomed and seen. My go to gal pals for this are my little sisters in crime Chelsea Roberts and Chelsea Keyes, known affectionately as ”The Chels.” My heart was warmed that they agreed to join the Harlem School of the Arts Associates’ Board and buy tickets to attend the Gala. The evening (and my life in general) was and continues to be greatly impacted by their youthful energy, ideas and enthusiasm.

I could go on and on about this magical, glamorous and unforgettable New York City evening of philanthropy and fashion. After almost a year of work, it was truly wonderful to see it all come together in such a successful night. I do hope you enjoyed a sneak peak inside the gala and learning about the impact that Harlem School of the Arts delivers to our community.

As always, thank you for your support and for stopping by Jackie Unfiltered. And, as I know the question is on your mind, yes, we have already begun planning for 2020. I will let you know as soon as details are ready to share. The work continue…


Etcetera, Fashion, Uncategorized

Packing for a Beach Vacation – The Barbados Edition

July 15, 2019

If you’re stumped about what to pack for a beach vacation, if you find yourself overpacking and paying excess baggage fees at the airport and/or if you never have what you need when you finally arrive at your destination then this blog post about what I packed for a short summer beach vacation to Barbados is just for you. Over 4th of July weekend while our American friends celebrated the United States’ independence with fireworks and barbecue, the #Hubbs and I escaped to the crystal blue shores of the Carribean island of Barbados for some golf, beach time, long family meals and general rest and relaxation. Below, I dive into how I prepared for the trip, what I actually packed and a few fun facts about the picturesque island of Barbados.  

Whether it’s a beach vacation or city adventure, before I pull out a single solitary stitch of clothing, I determine my “trip character” by asking myself the question: “What story will I tell through clothing, accessories and makeup.”  For example, am I a carefree island girl wearing lots of color seeking undiscovered white sand and local flavors or a jet setting socialite looking for luxury, fine dining and picturesque swag?  If it’s a city trip, am I a well heeled tourist soaking up the culture through museums, long strolls down undiscovered streets, shopping in quaint neighborhoods and enjoying a bite to eat at a cafe while people watching? Or, am I a chic hipster searching for a specific food truck with the best tacos in town? Deciding your character forces you to hone in on the type of trip you have planned and then forces you to pack only what’s necessary. Most people overpack because they are planning the “just in case” outfits that will absolutely never happen. You don’t need stilettos on a beach vacation just as a ball gown is unnecessary for a multi-city hiking trip through Europe.

Just in case the unexpected tete-a-test does actually arise, as you will see below, you can use accessories and makeup to take a properly planned outfit from day to night. So no worries if you happen to meet the Prime Minister of Barbados at the famous Sandy Lane lounge and “she” (see what I did there ?) then invites you to a private dinner party on a yacht. You will look effortlessly chic as my no fail packing plan will make sure you are ready for whatever moment comes your way.

After I nail the character, I pack clothing and accessories around a color story.  By choosing a few hues to take with me verses every color under the rainbow, I make sure that each item I carry pairs with multiple pieces including shoes and accessory.   

Here are some examples of colors that work well together. Pick a combination that compliments your skin tone and doesn’t require you to buy a whole new wardrobe.
  • Choose a color story and only pack items within those range of colors. This includes shoes and accessories.
  • Try on everything you plan to pack to make sure it fits, is clean and has the right tone. Snap a quick picture to make getting dressed easier when you arrive.
  • Plan each outfit for day and night meaning if you have two beach days, one sightseeing day exploring the local town, one casual dinner night and two fancier nights then plan for those and take exactly what you need. Don’t just throw a bunch of items in the suitcase hoping you will have what you want to wear for each day. You will end up with too many clothes, shoes and accessories yet not enough of anything you actually need.
  • Take clothing that can be worn multiple ways meaning the caftan, shorts or maxi skirt featured below look quite chic over a bathing suit with flats but instantly become evening ready by pairing them with a gold wedge, bold jewelry and a swipe of lipstick.
  • Shoes:
    • One pair of high heels or wedge shoe that goes with everything in your suitcase. A metallic or nuetral always works.
    • One mid height shoe like a kitten heel for more casual moments and if you’re the type that must have more than one evening shoe option (everyone has their vice so no judgement here)
    • One pair of sneakers for workouts or long walks (vacation is an excellent time to fit in the #sweatysesh)
    • One pair of flats you can wear day to night and also goes with everything in the suitcase.  
    • No exceptions on more shoes!!! Shoes take up too much room!  
  • Handbags:
    • One straw or raffia bag that can go from a day on the beach to a casual stroll through town (if it’s a city adventure then instead of a beach bag, you would pack a fanny pack or tote).
    • A couple of small but bold flat clutches.  They don’t take up space and can add quite a bit of texture and color to a basic outfit.  
  • Accessories: Although my jewelry is carefully planned with each look and then packed in a jewelry roll to protect my pieces, here is where you can have some fun and pack a few extras. Accessories are space savers that pack a big punch. Statement earrings and a bold lip can transform your basic beach caftan into a glamorous evening look.
  • Travel Outfit: wear the same thing each way (change your underwear and t-shirt obvi). This saves room in your suitcase and is one less thing to think about.


I am a “carry-on only” type of gal unless I am going away for more than seven days like next month for our 2-week European adventure through Portugal and Italy. For many of you reading this, the “carry-on only” will seem impossible. My answer is that you are packing too much stuff! If you follow the rules above carefully planning what you actually need and only take what you plan then everything will fit nicely into a regulation sized carry-on bag.

Now that you have the ground rules, the photos below regarding what I packed for Barbados should make a lot of sense.  My color story for this beachy vibe are shades of blue, oranges and green with graphic black & white.

The scarf below ties all my colors together and will serve as a turban, maybe a scarf croptop or tied on a purse for a punch of color and print.

My heeled shoe is the gold Michael by Michael Kors Wedge.  

The flat shoe is a my go to warm weather sandal that I picked up in Greece a few years back.  It’s comfortable and cane be dressed up or down.

 The travel outfit is a pair of olive linen pants paired with a gingham men’s button down and a Tory Sport track jacket. The sneakers here are my new Gucci trainers and they go with everything I packed.  We aptly named them #DirtyGucci. The gingham shirt will look chic paired with one of my bathing suits on a cool night watching the sunset while the track jacket is perfect flung over the shoulders for an air conditioned restaurant. Again, pack items that are multi-purpose.

 I had originally planned to pack a lucite kitten heel sandal from Zara but took them out last minute once #Hubbs told me that this trip will be a little more casual. I’m saving this orange gingham dress look for next month in Portugal & Italy.  

This look will serve as the basis for my packing to Portugal and Italy next month.

I try on each outfit making sure it works and then snap a picture so I know what dress goes with what shoe and accessory once I arrive at my destination.  This makes getting dressed easy during the trip and forces you to not just “throw” another item in the suitcase just because.  No extras just for extras sake.  I say that because I always pack one to two extra looks just in case I find myself feeling a different vibe that day/night or if an unexpected opportunity arises.  

This was an extra look that I didn’t actually wear. I left this particular necklace at home once I deciding that my “lips clutch” and turquoise necklace from above would work just as well.

During most trips, I wear a day and night outfit.  I love dressing for dinner. It’s an old fashioned tradition that I enjoy.

I was the most “dressed” person in the restaurant that night and could care less living by the motto #overdressedandunderbothered!

 Since this was a beach vacation, most of my day outfits are bikini/coverup looks.  

Caftans are so versatile. I can wear this striped Tory Burch Classic caftan for day with my gold flats and a wide brim sun hat or throw on my gold wedges, bangles and bright lip for a nighttime moment.

However, just in case we venture out into the market or city for an afternoon.  I packed a casual day look as well.  

“Dress like you’re going somewhere better later.”

  • Where to Stay?
    • Hands down, the best (and most expensive) resort on the island is the famous Sandy Lane. If you want to treat yourself then save your coins and book a room. The property is gorgeous and the staff and service is exceptional. It’s an experience you will remember forever.
    • Another living option is a private villa which is where we stayed on this trip. The private home was beautifully appointed and conveniently located on a beautiful and fairly quiet beach. However, I didn’t necessarily care for the food prepared by the chef. Many dishes were overcooked or not seasoned well. This is the risk when staying at a villa. However, this option is more affordable than a hotel when traveling with a group and allows for good family bonding time.
  • Where to eat?
    • Our best meal during the trip was at Cin Cin by the Sea. The pan seared market fish was flaky, fresh and the most memorable meal I have eaten all summer.
    • Another island favorite is The Cliff restaurant with its stunning decor and romantic feels.
    • A fast food Bajan haunt is Chefette known for their roti and fried fish. A Chefette is conveniently located before you enter security at the airport so grab you a sandwich to enjoy before leaving Barbados.
    • Oisten’s Friday Night Fish Fry is a must go, eat and see. We didn’t make it this trip because we were across the island but if you can find time to experience this Bajan tradition then definitely do it! Who doesn’t love an outdoor cookout that turns into a party?
  • What to do?
    • Beach: The Bajan beaches are well known for their pristine sand and turquoise blue Carribean water. Some areas are rocky so bring your rubber water shoes if you plan to swim like a dolphin.
    • Golf: We played two rounds of golf at the Sandy Lane Country Club. They have two different 18 hole picturesque courses. If you want to play the famous Green Monkey then you need a room at Sandy Lane.

Since we launched Jackie Unfiltered, I have wanted to write about travel discussing packing tips, destinations and travel dos and dont’s.  However, I never find the time to either write before and after.  The lead up to every adventure is hectic and the get back to real life takes serious effort.  So we’re trying something new here.  Write as I go. Update it as I live my life.  I’m using Jackie Unfiltered as my real life “Instagram” or “Facebook.”   What do you think? Help us improve with your comments and suggestions below.

Visit the beautiful island of Barbados as you will not be disappointed by the beauty of the Bajan hospitality.  Enjoy your summer and, as always, thank you for stopping by Jackie Unfiltered. 


Etcetera, Fashion, Uncategorized

Podcast conversation on Personal Style, Grief and a Good Tailor

June 15, 2019

Thank you Shirley McAlpine for including me in your “She’s Got Drive” Podcast. We talked about everything from personal style to living a full life while managing grief.

I believe that “style” is something that starts on the inside and then manifests itself on the outside. A woman needs a deep understanding of herself, her lifestyle and what image she wants to portray. Also, each of us should have an excellent tailor on speed dial cause he/she can make a paper bag look like couture. ☎️✂️?



Click this link to hear our podcast conversation:

Etcetera, Uncategorized

Cheating Time with My Last Parent: An essay about grief, elder care and loss

April 23, 2019

Updated April 23, 2019 — one year ago today on April 23, 2018, my father was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given only two weeks – two months to live. The following essay dives into the last 71 days of my father’s life and my emotions surrounding elder care, death and love. While the ending is indeed sad, it is ultimately a story of hope and survival. I hope that by sharing that you are inspired to deal with and then overcome whatever is in your path. Our best days lie ahead.

On April 18, 2018, I received the phone call from Chicago that I knew was coming: “My father did not have long to live.”   Ironically, it was a bright, beautiful Spring day where I lived in New York City. I stood in the kitchen watching the sunlight stream through the windows as I listened to my father tell me that his doctors have found lesions on his pancreas and liver. We are never prepared to see our loved ones die. However, this call was not a pure shock because over the last year I watched my dad’s health steadily decline.

Thanksgiving 2017: Dad sitting in his favorite chair overlooking his beloved Paradise Lake. We would set up his hospice bed in the exact same location 6 months later…

Turning back the clock a mere 12 months to April 2017 when I turned 40 years’ old, Dad was doing reasonably well considering his ongoing health problems with kidney disease, diabetes, cholesterol and obesity (so many in my father’s generation suffer from preventable diseases that these illnesses are regrettably normalized in today’s society).  My darling husband threw an epic 40th birthday in Miami, Florida to celebrate this milestone birthday.   Over the 4-day party, my father shared in every aspect of the fun including walking out to the beach to hang in a cabana, enjoying several cocktails and delivering a father-daughter speech that left no dry eye in the room during the masquerade fete.

My father surrounded by my girlfriends at the pool during my 40th birthday festivities in Miami. How did his heart hold up? ?

In June 2017 on Father’s Day, a few months following the birthday party in Miami, my husband and I surprised Daddy and my step-mom in Chicago with dinner, a stay at a fancy hotel and really just our presence. Although we had a great time on that short trip, I took note of Dad’s slower gait and that he couldn’t walk more than a short city block.

Taken June 2017 following Father’s Day brunch on Chicago’s famous Oak Street.

In August 2017, just 2 months following Father’s Day, Dad endured another long hospital stay where doctor’s thought he had caught pneumonia. Around that same time, I was booked on a short trip to Paris with friends and also had my annual Martha’s Vineyard family vacation scheduled. For years, my dad’s health had been declining so the ever present question when caring for an elder is always, “Do I stay or do I go?” There is no right or wrong answer here. No matter what path you choose, there is anger, guilt and the underlying question, “Have I done enough?”

Paris August 2017: I almost didn’t make this trip as I worried about my father laying in a Chicago hospital.

I imagine that many children who leave their childhood home to grow and then make a life away feel this angst. One of my favorite sayings is that, “even the best decisions have unintended bad consequences.” When I graduated from Georgetown Law School in 2003, I decided not to return to Chicago but rather practice law in New York City. As a 25 year old, New York was vibrant, full of new opportunities and exciting (happy to share party stories another day). However, I balanced this city life with the very real obligation I felt to remain present with my father in Chicago.   

As the years passed, my father’s heath steadily declined. He was constantly in and out of the hospital or sick for one reason or another.  I often dropped everything jumping on a plane to Chicago to be by his side.  When I didn’t make the trip, I felt the guilt that I could not be in two places at once.   By the time my father was diagnosed with “the big C” in August 2017, these conflicting emotions of both the very real obligation to care for my elderly father, the existential guilt that what I was doing was never enough and the constant worrying about a situation of which I had no control had begun to take its toll on me mentally and physically. How could it not?

As summer 2017 wound down, my father finally came home after a lengthy hospital stay. While he was happy to be back home, he had lost a lot of strength. My father’s wife took September and October off from work to help care for Dad. Thank god for that woman. I truly believe my mother who now lives in heaven hand picked my father’s last wife from a poppy field of daisies to love him and provide me with a little breathing room to grow and mature.

Pictured is my father and his wife. We snapped this pic Thanksgiving 2017 outside our family’s lakeside home in Vandalia, Michigan.

Once dad survived the August 2017 hospital stay, my inner voice whispered that his time was running out so I vowed to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with him, talking, soaking up his stories and grabbing a few extra memories.  For Thanksgiving, I visited our childhood lake house in rural Michigan for the first time in years.  Dad drove me around the country dirt roads as I snapped hundreds of pictures while he told stories of his youth like racing to vacation bible school on his bike to spend time with the pretty girls.  I say frequently on social media, “To thine own self be true.”  My father always appreciated beautiful women. He would curse up a storm when you told him to stop calling the ladies “baby” and “sugar.”  My father would do anything for the people he loved but he was a “crotechy” old man very set in his ways. Nonetheless, on this Thanksgiving trip, he played along as I took hours of video and asked a million questions. He never complained and seemed to enjoy the conversation. Although the cancer diagnosis was 5 months in the future, I think a piece of his soul knew that the end was near so he was pleased I wanted to soak up the family history.  The trip to Michigan that brisk sunny Thanksgiving was awesome in every way; but even then, I knew we were cheating time.

Dad and I standing outside the vacation home his grandmother purchased in the 1940s which was quite a feat for a black women of that era.

Up until Christmas Day 2017, while my father was spry, talkative and his ol’ cranky, lovable self, we can now see looking back that the cancer was stealing his spark. He played along with the holiday fanfare but complained of being tired and never got out of his bathrobe Christmas Day, spending most of the holiday on the sofa. Even still, he desperately wanted to have a cocktail or Bloody Mary on Christmas Eve with my husband as he hadn’t had a drink since before that August hospital stay. My stepmother and I adamantly refused because the alcohol aggravated his kidneys. Looking back, we should have just let him have the damn drink!  Who knew he only had 6 months left to live?

Christmas Eve Dinner 2017 in Chicago’s famed Polo Restaurant.

Just 4 short months later, on April 18, 2018, I received the phone call where my father said to me from his hospital room, “My time is running out. The doctors have found lesions and masses on my pancreas and liver. Jacqueline (he never once called me Jackie), I’m too frail and unhealthy for any additional measures.” The doctors and nurses asked him where his family was and my stepmother called me. She didn’t have to say, “it’s time.” I could hear it in her voice.

I finished a few errands, packed a bag, left my New York City house super clean (that was strangely important to me at the time) and made the trip to Chicago O’Hare International airport. As I already told you above, it’s a flight I have made more times than I can count since leaving home for Spelman College at 18 years old.

April 20, 2017 in my childhood Chicago suburban home. Although we didn’t have the final diagnosis yet, we all knew the likely outcome. The plane ride from Chicago to New York City was tough. I remembered a TSA gate agent saying to me, “stop crying, it will be okay.”

A few agonizing and gut wrenching days later on April 23, 2018, the surgeon walked into a small and unattractive hospital waiting room to tell us that my father had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  Our hearts collectively broke and shattered into a million little pieces.  Within 48 hours, I stood in the corner of his hospital room silently sobbing, unable to catch my breath as the oncologist told my dad he only had 2 week to 2 months to live.  Just as the doctors warned, Dad declined quickly but he squeezed a hell-of-a-lot living out of the next 71 days: visits with best friends who flew in from all over the country, an impromptu family barbecue, house-calls with middle school classmates, long and deep conversations with all his close family members and even moving to his beloved lake house in Michigan on “Paradise Lake.”

May 2017 during an impromptu barbecue with Dad’s friends. We had just brought him home for hospice care. All day I kept the tears at bay trying to keep his spirits lifted.
Surrounded by my stepmother and my mother’s girlfriends. Although my mother had died 21 years prior, their sisterhood endures as these amazing women came running to care for my father once they heard of his terminal illness.

The last time I saw Dad alive was in June 2018 for Father’s Day, we were lucky enough to take his final boat ride on “the lake” as our family and friends affectionally call it. It’s the same small lake I learned to swim around 3 years old and the same lake he first jumped in at 4 years old.

A sweet moment between my father and his wife. I know my mother was smiling down at us. Proud that we continued living. Warmed that life did’t pass us by.

My dad’s best friend Dave halted his yard work and graciously chauffeured us through Paradise Lake’s calm waters and those secret nooks and crannies holding so many memories for us all.  Our hearts were full even though we knew our time with Victor Hugo Howell, Sr. was nearly done. In a way, on that boat, as the sun peeked through the weeping willows and the wind whipped my hair back and forth, I could feel God’s caress on each of our souls.

Later that day after the boat ride, despite the fact he could no longer even leave the hospice bed to use the restroom or hardly even sit up for long, Dad was determined to ride in the car to take me to the airport. As I hugged him through the window in the airport’s departure lane, I sobbed because I knew our “cheating days” were over. My guess was that he knew this as well but, nonetheless, his final words as I kissed him one last time were, “Don’t cry baby. I’m not giving up. I’m still fighting.” He passed away a few weeks later on July 3, 2018.

For 21 years following the accident when my 49 year old mother choked to death in 1997, I had the honor and privilege to stand by my father’s side. We supported each other, loved each other and shared the pain of losing my mother. My father was fiery, funny, loving, brash at times, and as the elders would say, “a Chicago South-Side playa” through and through. But my father’s most noble quality was that when he made you a promise, you can, as he would say, “take it the bank.”

As I have tried to explain in this essay, I spent the last year of Daddy’s life trying to say “I love you” with both my words and actions. Trying to spend the time with him creating memories and letting him know he’s not alone. I have always said that when the day comes for my Dad to go home with his God, I want no regrets. Knowing all of this, the 71 days of saying good-bye from diagnosis to death was gut wrenchingly hard.  Cancer is an ugly disease.  We watched it slowly steal everything from him.  As he fought the tumors ripping through his body, I knew that one of my jobs was to give him the assurance that it’s okay to leave. I needed to make sure he knew that I would be okay. It was my job to let him know that I was so thankful that he also took care of me the last 21 years. That even when we fought like old married people, we always had each other’s backs. My father gave me the greatest gift you can ever give a person. He believed in me. In those final 71 days of his life, my goal was to pour that support back into him.

My husband snapped this picture on the North Shore of Long Island not long after we received the diagnosis. I look at this beautiful image and can feel the sadness deep in my soul.

I write this story not for your sympathy but to say elder care is hard. At only 42 years of age, I have seen two sides of death.  I experienced the shock of a parent dying suddenly when my mother passed.  And now, at middle-age, I watched my father literally melt away for years before my very eyes. Neither is easier. One rips the bandaid off taking skin with it that never fully heals and one is like having your heart painfully eaten bit by bit. I tell you my story in hopes that it might help someone else out there struggling.  There is this cloak of silence around death, dying, mortality, anxiety, mental health, grief, loss, hospice, estate planning and so on. I’m ripping the cape off the elephant in the room so that maybe it might inspire just one more person to keep going. Keep hoping. Keep living. Keep searching for the light through the darkness.

Once my father was diagnosed, I stopped writing and posting on For 5 months, I didn’t write. So much time passed that I considering letting the whole damn blog go. After everything that’s happened, what will I write? How do I properly emerge from the shadows and back into this happy space I created with Sikia about “Fashion, Food, & Fitness?”  Where do I even begin? The Jackie in the images below is profoundly different from the Jackie I knew on April 17, 2017. She is flawed but wiser because, once again, she allowed herself the privilege to feel the pain of being broken open. With this unimaginable pain, she also had the chance to re-learn that she is kind, blessed to be loved by many and courageous enough to begin again.

So today, as I board a plane back to NYC to experience Spring and all it’s possibilities, I have decided that instead of worrying about where and what to write, I will just start because I know that my best storytelling is yet to come. How can I tell? Because even after all the dark days where I thought I would lose everything that make me Jackie, I find myself once again in the light….still standing.


I snapped this pic April 18, 2017 just moments before my father called and said, “My time is running out.”
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Kerry Washington’s stellar performance in the broadway Play “American Son”

December 20, 2018

Last weekend, #Hubbs and I saw the broadway play “American Son” starring Kerry Washington which was co-produced by my dear friend Lu-Shawn M. Benbow-Thompson. This poignant story dives into the present-day complexities of an interracial marriage and the challenges parents face raising young black men in an urban community where tensions exists between police and minorities. The topic is relevant and heavy but the 4-actor cast also does a great job of creating lighter moments and giving the audience chances to laugh, exhale and say, “yeah, that’s messed up but true.”

As Kerry Washington explained in the “talk back”  after her heart wrenching and stellar performance, this play will likely be one of the important scripts in the theatrical canon. It deals with hard topics such as race, white privilege, racism, stereotypes, police brutality and fear just to name a few. We rarely meaningfully discuss any of this in mixed company meaning black and brown people talking to white people. However, this fictional family opens up the door of discussion. As we have learned from history, without a national conversation, social change is almost impossible.

I woke up the Sunday after the play thinking that it’s almost ironic (and a little sad) that “American Son,” gives voices to the same “double consciousness” that in 1903 W.E.B. DuBoise, famously writes about in “Souls of Black Folk:”

It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of other, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, [meaning feeling like both ] an American [and] a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body… The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-consciousness…to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging, [he does not want to lose his black self.] He [also] does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of White Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity roughly closed in his face.” —

American Son has a limited run in this form meaning it will close January 27, 2019.  WE ALL need to see this performance. We should see it with our children, our parents, our friends and our significant others. We should see it with our white friends, our black friends, our Hispanic friends, our African friends and so on.  Once we see it, we should talk about the way it made us feel: sad, isolated, misunderstood, celebrated and even tormented. Because in these difficult discussions, we will find some truth and understanding. American history teaches us that with understanding, we find progress.

Click HERE to PURCHASE tickets!


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Social Media helps to Expand the Black Experience in America

December 14, 2018

Last weekend, #Hubbs and I attended an annual Holiday Party at the famous University Club on 5th Avenue in New York City.    This image is by far my favorite one one of the night!

Black people are often not seen like this. Our experience is marginalized into a small “one size fits all” box.  The game changing thing about social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and whatever is hot in the streets right now is that it democratizes media meaning it gives each of us the chance to shape our story through pictures and words. To demonstrate the breadth of who and what we are, the places we show up and the triumphs, joys and struggles we go through and overcome. 

This image is not only beautiful because the people are “hashtag extra fancy” in their black tie regalia.  But it’s particularly wonderful because these black couples stand under portraits of men who probably never considered our unlikely stories.  This picture reminds me of Justice Thurgood Marshall’s quote:

None of us got here where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.  We got here because somebody — a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns — bent down and helped us pick up our boots.

Happy Holidays everyone. May we all find time to spend moments with people who have or continue to impact our lives in positive ways.  

Etcetera, Uncategorized

Mental Health is a critical part of Self-Care

November 26, 2018

I recently relearned that no one will look out for you better than you.  Self-care is more complex than workouts and spa visits.  It’s also about taking care of our mental health and making sure our emotions, needs and fears are recognized and attended to.   Because my father recently died in July, last week’s Thanksgiving Holiday was obviously tough for me emotionally, particularly because it was the very first holiday without either of my parents alive.  What made it even worse was that I didn’t have the courage to put my foot down about what would make it easier on me.  I allowed others to dictate the holiday verses being “self-less” and saying, “No, your plan, while best for you, doesn’t work for me given my unique set of circumstances”  I can only be mad at myself.  As Oprah says, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”  

Here’s to seeing ourselves from this point forward and making sure that our emotional needs are met first and foremost.  Remember what they said, “put your oxygen mask on first.”  I will never make that mistake again.



Etcetera, Fashion, Uncategorized

What are you doing for others?

September 24, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr. once challenged us by asking,  “Life’s most persistent question is what are you doing for others?”  At 41 years old with more blessings than I can measure, I want to answer this question with clarity which is why I am spend so much of my free time working on behalf of charitable organizations.  Specifically, we financially support programs providing education to young people of color who live in underserved communities.  Both my husband and I attended public schools, and because of quality free education, robust after-school programs and caring adults that saw something special in us at a young age, we were exposed to opportunities and able to achieve success that exceeds the boundaries of our dreams.  We believe that every child in the United States, regardless of their parents’ income bracket, should have the same access to quality education and enrichment experiences.  We should not leave children and communities behind simply because they are poor.  It’s more than a passion project for our family, we deeply feel the obligation to give back what we have received.

For that reason, in 2017, I accepted the offer to join the board of directors of the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) school located in Harlem New York.  For more than 5 decades, HSA has impacted over 55,000 young peoples’ lives through teaching dance, theater, music and visual art.  We provide a safe, loving environment where kids are inspired to strive for excellence through exposure to the arts.  Our school is a world class New York City cultural institution where over 55,000 kids have learned to appreciate the arts.  The long list of accomplished alumni speaks volumes about our success.  Our goal is not only encouraging kids to become professional artists but to create the next generation of innovators and thinkers who appreciate the value of the arts


The annual HSA Masquerade Gala is coming up on October 22.  I am co-chairing this year so I have spent most of September in meetings and sending emails to plan the event and raise money.  While it is a lot of work, I find it fullfilling in unimaginable ways.  I want the kids who attend HSA to have every single opportunity that I did growing up in the Chicago suburbs and participating in the speech and theater program at my public high school.  I want our kids to receive stellar training so they have the option to choose their highest and best use path in life.


If you would like to attend our Masquerade Gala scheduled for October 22 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, click HERE.  If you can’t attend but would like to financially support our efforts, click HERE.  In advance, thank you and remember Dr. King’s challenge question: “What are you doing for others?”


Ironically, during New York Fashion Week earlier this month, a stranger boldly asked me, “How would your parents feel about you wasting all the money they spent on your formal education and law degree?”  To be clear and concise with my answer: I think my mother would be pissed that you dared to ask such a dumb questions but both would answer without any hesitation, “We are damn proud  of Jacqueline and the life she has created for herself in one of the most competive cities on the planet. The real question is, ‘how do you feel about your story.’”  Aw thanks mom and dad, I’m blushing and thanks for setting them on the path of righteousness!



PS:  The outfit below by Michael Kors and vintage statement jewelry by my fave designer LuLu Frost took me from day-to-night a few weeks ago.  After my HSA business meetings in midtown manhattan, I snuck into the law firm’s bathroom, replaced my striped top with a crop top and leather jacket and then deepened my makeup with some black Tom Ford shadow from the pallete Titanium Smoke and applied a darker lipstick.  In about 10 minutes, I was refreshed and ready for a busy NYC night on the town.

My first stop was a broadway “meet & greet” with the “cast & crew” of the new play American Son starring Kerry Washington & Stephen Pasquale.  Congrats to my dear friend Lu-Shawn Thompson (far left below) for signing on as an above-the-line producer of this Braodway’s next smash hit! If you want to buy advance tickets for this “sure to be award winning production,” click HERE.

My next stop of the night was a swanky anniversary party at a private club in midtown with friends and the #Hubbs.  I cranked up the outfit even further by removing the leather jacket and grabbing the gucci clutch I had tucked away in my day bag (a tip I learned from my girl Reneé at Billy Hendrix).  We finally ended the evening with dinner al fresco at our favorite late night eatery, Avra Madison Estiatorio, a hot spot in Midtown across the street from Barney’s NY serving deliciously fresh Greek food.  We love the easy-going but glamourous European vibe.  Their kitchen is open until 11 pm and the bar until midnight.

Etcetera, Fashion, Fitness, Uncategorized

Life Owes You Nothing!

September 22, 2018

One of my biggest pet peeves is entitled behavior.  It’s frustrating when I overhear people of all ages speaking as if someone took something from them… a man, a woman, a job, an opportunity, happiness, health…. hell, even a damn donut ? .  Nobody owes you anything.  If it was meant for you, you would have it. If you want something, make the sacrifices and compromises, then work for it.  But in the end, expect nothing and be grateful for everything.  THAT is a life well lived, your “best life” or whatever phrasing is hot in the streets today. 

Xoxo and thanks for tuning in for #JackiesCoffeeTalk

PS:  The “donut” reference is really about the sustained sacrifice and discipline a healthy lifestyle requires.  Folks love to complain about wanting, but not having, a svelte body, abdominal muscles they can see and bikini dreams.  But most don’t want to put in the work of eating healthy and working out frequently.  If you feel like life “owes” you donuts everyday then fine, I won’t judge you one bit.  But also don’t “cry me a river” when your pants don’t fit or when you don’t feel awesome in your new dress.  You made the choice and every choice, even good ones, have consequences.  You choose donuts, which is A-OK with me.   Just don’t expect better cholesterol and diabetes numbers.  #RealTalk If you can’t handle the truth, find another blog to follow cause I can’t sugar coat it for you anymore.  Like anything else worth having, health is wealth and requires major work and sacrifice.  Nobody is taking donuts from you and you don’t deserve them because you had a bad day.  Whew.  I feel immensely better because I got that off my chest!

Etcetera, Fitness, Jackie's Healthy Habits, Uncategorized

20 Daily Habits of Happy & Successful People (printable)

January 11, 2018

With an unstructured day, I can sometimes feel anxious and unproductive. Once the anxiety starts, it seems almost impossible to pull myself out of the funk. The “Daily Habits” listed below are part of my plan to help break this cycle. want to spend more time learning new things everyday, impacting my personal ecosystem and actively working on being a better me. Similarly, I plan to reduce the time noodling on the internet, playing games on my Ipad or Phone and just plain wasting precious minutes.  According to time management experts and clinicians, this “Daily Habit” checklist will increase productivity and, more importantly, induce happy feelings.

Once I dove into this whole concept of the “Daily Habits,” the pieces of the puzzle began to click. After 20 years of focusing on health & wellness, I have now learned that “self-care” is really the small things we do everyday and NOT the huge overhauls of diet and exercise (no “new year, new you” mess please).  Achieving fitness and body goals are done through consistent daily rituals that reinforce plans and set up success. For example, “Jackie’s Healthy Habits” that I wrote about in 2017 are based on this concept:

Jackie Unfiltered's Healthy Habits | www.JackieUnfiltered.comDrinking enough water everyday to avoid dehydration and overeating

  • Keeping a vibrant fruit bowl on the countertop to encourage healthy eating
  • Stocking the pantry with raw nuts vs. processed junk food, chips and sugary snacks

Click HERE to read in detail about the “Healthy Habits” that I swear by to maintain a whole foods’ diet and active lifestyle.

Not a day goes by that I am not thinking about my movement and the foods I consume. I live an 80/20 lifestyle meaning I drink my green smoothies, avoid processed and high fat foods and break a sweat 80% of the time while relaxing these standards the other 20%.  I feel as if I am in the best shape of my life and hope to spread this message of self-care to the world (that’s a #WrittenGoal by the way)! Even when I eat poorly, I am conscious and correct it the next day with high nutrient foods and additional exercise. Just like “Jackie’s Healthy Habits” have created permanent wellness techniques, this list for daily productivity will help me achieve small wins in every aspect of my life from family to business. “Daily Habits” checklist is just the next step in my intentional life. I have always sought to live a meaningful life. One that feeds my soul and those around me.  I want to use my skills, talents and passions to be of service to my community. Last year, I started using the “Productivity Journal” which I wrote about HERE. I identify and then complete the most important task of the day which helps me battle my lifelong struggle with procrastination. have also tried to be more present in friends’ lives meaning picking up the phone and calling or sending a simple text, “Checking on you. Are you good?” In September 2017, I began to use the word “No” as a complete sentence. My “YES” must mean something.  To do that, I can’t say yes to everyone and everything.  In fact, as far back as 1997 when my mother passed away, I instinctively began to clean house of people who were negative, not kind and just no good for me. I remember it being hard back when I was 20 years old. At 40, it’s so easy that I shock myself at times. If I smell one whiff of disingenuous or bad behavior, I step allll the way back! However, like saying “NO,” putting those people who do not feed your soul at a distance is a muscle that must be flexed. This “Daily Habits Checklist” is just the next step in “intentional living.”

it’s important to note that I don’t intend for this “Daily Habits List” to act as a barometer of whether we are succeeding or “winning” in life.  For example, failure to make one’s bed certainly doesn’t equate to failure in life.  That’s extreme!  However, studies show that making the bed is a small accomplishment that sets the tone for the remainder of the day.   I merely want us to use this list as another tool to vibrate on a higher level. It should especially serve as a guide on those days (like today for me) when we wake up feeling blah and anxious. It is not meant to grade how much effort we put into living, it is a daily list to help center and focus our thoughts, energy and time.

As always, thank you for stopping by Jackie Unfiltered. Cheers to personal growth and ALWAYS reaching for more!