Tui and La

Tui and La, your moon and ocean, have always circled each other in an eternal dance. They balance each other. Push and Pull. Life and Death. Good and Evil. Yin and Yang.” -Koh, The Face Stealer

Avatar the Last Airbender is hands down my favorite cartoon of all time. The first episode aired when I was in the 4th grade, and the show concluded when I was in 8th grade. I religiously watched the new episodes when they first aired, and watched reruns during the off seasons. It is such a good storyline, and anyone that knows me knows that I’m a die hard Avatar fan. In school when we had Book Fairs, I bought anything and everything Avatar. And even as an adult, I still try to watch the whole series from beginning to end every other year. I’m not exaggerating when I say that growing up watching this show made me a better person and helped shape me into the person I am today.

I bet some of y’all who aren’t Avatar the Last Airbender enthusiasts are probably thinking, Calm down, bitch. It ain’t that serious. Let me explain. The fact that this is such an inspirational and well written show is one thing, but also taking into consideration that it aired and came out when I was at an age and time in my life where I was the most impressionable is another thing. When you mesh those two aspects together, you get a die hard fan. I was always a Nickelodeon kid growing up, so this show appealed to me already. But by episode #3, “The Southern Air Temple”, when Aang found Monk Gyatso’s skeleton surrounded by skeletons of Fire Nation soldiers, I was completely sold that this show was gonna be the shit. I could tell this wouldn’t be a regular kid’s cartoon.

Talking about the 4 elements – water, earth, fire, air – has always been something I was interested in. It gives me horoscope vibes, which is something I’m a fan of as well. It has a very spiritual aspect to it, and I loved how they represented each nation by showing their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing each nation’s history and backstory made the show that more interesting. It gave the storyline a sense of “We is greater than I,” when you learned how each nation was responding to the war. Especially a war that has been going on for a century at that.

The Water Tribe’s people are strong-willed. Even though the Southern Water Tribe was small, they still played their part in helping end the war by gathering all men that were of age, leaving Sokka to be the “man” of the tribe. In the show, they explain why the Southern Water Tribe is so scarce. After the air nomads were wiped out, all water benders from the Southern Water Tribe were imprisoned, leaving the village small and benderless. Then a couple decades later after rebuilding, all the men of the tribe headed off to battle. This left the Southern Water Tribe very vulnerable – leaving behind the women, elderly, and children. That is why family and loyalty are very important to Sokka and Katara.

The Northern Water Tribe was grand, stuck to it’s old traditions, and was way more developed than the Southern Tribe. The Northern Water Tribe is gorgeous. Their city is basically a winter wonderland. As beautiful as it is, the Northern Water Tribe values their traditions and elders. Katara, a forward thinker and the only water bender from the Southern Tribe, found it impossible to conform to the Northern Tribe’s ways of living. She was unaware that being female meant that she could not learn how to bend for self defense. Her only option was to become a healer like the other girls / women in the Northern Water Tribe. Because of Katara, the Northern Tribe started to loosen its grip on their old ways. In the show, they described the Northern Water Tribe as a nation that has kind of “minded their business” and stayed out of the war for as long as possible, and only entered it because they housed the Avatar while he mastered water bending.

The Earth Kingdom of Ba Sing Se wants to be the Northern Water Tribe so bad. In the way that the Northern Water Tribe was not included in the war / was unproblematic in a sense. But, Ba Sing Se is anything but that. The people and refugees that enter Ba Sing Se are expected to forget the life outside of the walls. Within those walls, the war does not exist. It is not spoken of. It is prohibited. This great Earth Kingdom is just a facade. Inside those walls, you see systematic oppression at its finest. Though Ba Sing Se is corrupt, those that come from Earth territories are tough as nails. Just like earth, they are rugged, strong, and grounded. Each member of Team Avatar represents their nation so well. And Toph does not disappoint. She is a hard worker, has a tough exterior, and blunt.

In season 1 episode 16, “The Deserter,” the great firebending master, Jeong Jeong, thinks of his bending as a curse. This is a different viewpoint we get from someone in the Fire Nation. Before this, every firebender we were introduced to has been proud and cocky. Jeong Jeong states that fire only brings destruction. And we as viewers are meant to feel negative feelings towards the Fire Nation. But as the series goes on, we begin to see that fire is like a “little heartbeat”, and only in the wrong hands is when people should fear it. In the 3rd season we get a glimpse into the Fire Nation world. Even members of Team Avatar have their reservations about entering the Fire Nation and how they view its people. By the 3rd season, we are introduced to a few characters from the Fire Nation. Some are very die hard Ozai supporters, but a lot of them are regular people.

And that’s something that Aang really struggled with when he was deciding Ozai’s fate. His Air nomad beliefs were telling him that even though Ozai is a horrible person, at the end of the day he is still a human being. I admire Aang’s way of thinking, and I think if I were to choose to be from any nation, I believe the Air nomads would fit me best. They are detached, free spirits, that value life. The monks really seemed to preach about forgiveness and being content and happy with yourself.

I really like the spiritual aspect of Avatar. The concept of “past lives,” has always intrigued me. I feel like I strive to be spiritual and wise, and just the thought of having someone guide you from your own shared past is pretty cool. It’s interesting to see how each Avatar handled their role in their lifetime. From Avatar Kyoshi, to Avatar Roku, to Aang – completely different personalities, but have the same duty and shared past. I loved when Aang would take trips to the Spirit World, because he always discovered some new piece of information, or got visions of the future. I really feel like there are people from the other side that are trying to guide us, whether that be loved ones that passed away, or our own past lives.

A reoccurring theme in Avatar the Last Airbender is struggle. Every character in the show has battled their own demons, outside forces, problems that weren’t even inherently theirs to begin with, etc. And that’s what made this show so real. Seeing every character’s struggle to be a better them. From characters feeling incompetent, hopeless, fearful, proud, shameful, disgraced, to hopeful, content, proud, and accomplished.

Redemption is another theme we see in the show. I joke all the time that I strive to be as wise and level headed as Iroh, but I’m still at my Prince Zuko phase of life – where I’m just trying to find my own way and make my own path. Oh, and also being a grumpy asshole at times. Being the Firelord’s son has always had Zuko conflicted. We see that at a young age, Zuko has always been the empathetic and more compassionate in comparison to his psychopath little sister, Azula. Zuko has always struggled with what’s right and what’s wrong. But he has always had Iroh to guide him and be the positive “father figure” rolemodel in his life.

Talks about true evil versus good and war also seemed way too real. There’s a lot of similarities in Avatar the Last Airbender and even The Legend of Korra that I can see translated in modern day American history. It’s pretty creepy. I feel like I can write so many different pieces about Avatar, so this post will just graze the surface of why I love it so much. And now that it’s on Netflix, I feel like so many people have rewatched it and fell inlove with the series all over again.

This show has meant so much to me since I was in 4th grade. And since forever I always wanted to get Tui and La tattooed. I debated on getting Tui and La, the 2 dragons, the lotus game chip, the 4 elements, even the big glowly black and purple cosmic Aang that carried actual Aang into the Avatar state. At one point, I thought about it so hard that I didn’t even want the tattoo anymore because I exhausted myself searching hashtags of other people’s tattoos. But finally, I said “fuck it,” and for my 25th birthday I decided that this indecisive girl was going to commit to something for life!

Tui and La, the moon and ocean spirits, gave up their immortal lives to live amongst the humans in the physical world. They took on the appearance of koi fish. It is when Aang is meditating and focusing on these koi fish that he enters the Spirit World. Commander Zhao’s plans to capture and kill the Moon spirit puts enemies and friends on the same team. Here is when we see that Iroh has no problem choosing between good and bad even though he is Fire Nation. Iroh speaks about balance, and how everyone, not just the Fire Nation, needs the moon. Without it, the whole world would fall out of balance, and it would cause havoc on the world.

The “eternal dance” that entranced Aang, as he slowly saw the two fish turn into yin and yang, stuck with me. That season finale was so powerful to 4th grade me, and watching the series to this day still gives me chills. For my 25th birthday, I decided to gift myself Tui and La for life! Hoping that it reminds me everyday that life is a balance. Also for my 25th birthday, 1 of my best friends made me an Avatar Aang amigurumi! I’ve been suggesting to her for a long time to try to make an Aang one, and she surprised me with it, and it’s even better than I imagined.

For those that know me, it’s not even a surprise that my first tattoo ever had to be dedicated to Avatar the Last Airbender. ☯️

ProjectGiveBack

As Ebony’s 2 year commitment for “Teach For America,” was coming to an end, she debated on what to do next. She started the program after graduating from Georgetown in 2017, and Teach For America randomly placed her in Houston, Texas. The program gives a teacher the opportunity to work in low-income schools for a minimum of two years. After that two year commitment, an education grant is given where the reciever can further their education by getting their Master’s, PhD, etc, or use the money to pay off loans.

Getting her foot into the teaching world was so random – or so she thought. Initially in Georgetown, they threw her in a teaching role to teach STEM to kids. After all, she loves kids and enjoyed science, so she rolled with it. Ebony even wanted to be a teacher when she was younger, among other things. She recalls her big tent that opened up to reassemble a classroom and playing “teacher” with her cousin, Asia, in the livingroom.

“I want to be a teacher!” She had said. Actually, it was between teacher, doctor, or hairdresser, to be exact. When she was told that teachers don’t make that much financially, Ebony scratched that dream and headed onto the next, as young children often do. But yet here she was, almost 2 decades later, taking on that same dream. After graduating from Georgetown and committing to 2 years with Teach For America, Ebony found herself packing her bags in D.C. and heading to Houston, Texas. She even called up our 8th grade teacher to ask for some advice and tips on how to take on the teacher role.

After teaching a total of 2 years with middle schoolers, 1 year teaching 7th grade and the other year teaching 8th grade, Ebony realized something. She realized she loves working with kids. She enjoys getting to talk to middle school-aged children and have deep conversations with them. And she has a yearning to help those kids that need her. But, she realized she didn’t want to teach anymore.

Being a teacher in Texas opened up a path for Ebony to realize what she really wanted to do. She wanted to get into social work to help middle school-aged children. Why? Because she noticed that she enjoyed taking on the “school counselor” role more than teaching infront of 30 students. She interned as a school counselor but came to find out that the teacher, school counselor, administrator roles are too closely intertwined. She wants that separation of roles. Ebony wanted to be the listener, the helper, the resource giver, just not the teacher. And by first being a teacher, she saw parts of the education system that she believes needs some work.

Ebony wants to find a way to bring social work and school together. She hopes to be that bridge because she sees a lot in the education system that is broken. She believes that schools perpetuate the criminal justice system by having certain policies and protocols when there is an incident. Zero-tolerence policies make certain incidents go straight to the police instead of handling it within the school. This is where Ebony thinks “we need more than just school and education.”

Ebony gives the example of a student coming to school with a knife. If this child is caught with the knife, zero-tolerence policies will get law enforcement involved and give them a set consequence regardless of what the reason for carrying is. This child’s commute to school might have them pass through a rough neighborhood, and for their own protection they carry a knife to feel safe. This child would get the same consequence as a child who brought a knife to fight someone at school. Instead of knowing the back story, and coming up with a solution, Ebony feels like these policies just punish rather than help. Instead of giving consequences to children who didn’t have violent motives, consequently schools should ask “what can we do to prevent this? Buddy systems? Add school bus routes? What can we do to help?”

“I would want to work with schools to lessen their relationship with the criminal justice system, as well as work with kids who are involved in the criminal justice system,” Ebony said. “Sometimes when they have a record, they are not able to get into college, or not able to get a job.”

Being surrounded by middle school-aged children for 2 years made Ebony notice what a vital time it is in their lives. Not only does she have experience with this age group, but she knows that this is the age where the students are aware of their emotional and mental well-being, but still moldable. Ebony explains that when students get to high school, they’re already beginning to be set in their ways. Providing help and resources to children as early as possible is her main goal.

Teaching children with behavioral problems and having to refer them to social workers and other forms of help, made Ebony want to follow up on these children. She always wondered if they’re okay and wants to be there for them emotionally. It was then she knew that the teaching route wasn’t the path for her. Instead, teaching led her to a career choice that would make her feel more fufilled. Being a social worker for middle school-aged children.

Her options after her 2 year obligation for Teach For America were to either continue teaching or go down a different path. Ebony decided to use the grant money to further her education and go back to school for social work. The school year ended, and Ebony started taking classes at the University of Houston. And then, COVID-19 hit.

All of Ebony’s classes switched to online, and she found herself back in California to be near her loved ones. Sheltering in Place gave Ebony a lot of time to rekindle some of her old hobbies. In middle school, we had “exploratory.” We got to pick different classes every quarter – from karate, to card making, to theater, to cooking class. We got 4 classes to pick out of the year. In 6th grade, Ebony took the knitting class, which lasted a semester instead of a quarter. She quickly fell inlove with it, and in 7th grade found herself in the Knitting 2 class, which also lasted a semester. But she didn’t stop there, in 8th grade she took Crocheting for another half a year. She preferred crocheting over knitting because it was quicker and she could work faster.

When Ebony moved to Houston, she crocheted here and there, but very occasionally. Now with Shelter in Place, and back home in California, Ebony was looking for something to do to be productive. Her cousin, Asia, started crocheting during Shelter in Place and was posting all of her cute outfits that she made. From tops, to shirts, to swimsuits, Asia was making and modeling her products. Ebony got inspired to start crocheting again, and tried to making her own clothing as well.

Ebony started to crochet tops for herself, and they came out “alright.” She didn’t really like following the shirt pattern, because it required 100% focus. However, she did like the idea of crocheting blankets because it’s something she can do mindlessly. She made a blanket and gave it to her mom. Her niece really liked it and wanted one for herself, so Ebony gifted her a blanket as a graduation present.

Soon, Ebony had ideas of selling her crocheted blankets and giving a portion of the proceeds to an organization to give back to her community. But, she was very hesitant to make her blankets for sale public because she feared no one would be interested. On top of that, she wanted to give back but didn’t really want to give the profits to an organization and not know where the money would be going to. She wanted to know exactly where the funds were headed.

That’s why Ebony decided to start her own scholarship, “ProjectGiveBack.” This scholarship will be given out to Black women, high school seniors pursuing college. 40% of each blanket sale will be put into this fund, until Ebony distributes it out sometime before the start of the new school year of 2021. This way, she knows exactly where and to who her funds are going to.

Part of the reason why Ebony made this scholarship for Black women only is because of a class she’s taking. It’s her Women’s Issues class where a lot of their discussions focus on intersectionality, and how being a woman and being Black further oppresses black women. Especially with all the civil unrest going on in America right now, Ebony believes Black women aren’t getting as much attention when it comes to racism and police brutality. So she wanted to create a space where Black women feel acknowledged and supported.

With her teacher background, Ebony definately wants to highlight Black women who are going to college and continuing their education. Black women are one of the growing populations of college educated people in the United States, and Ebony wants to celebrate that. She truly believes in the importance of education and how higher education can bring about social change as well as social mobility. By setting up her her own scholarship, she has control over who recieves the money and knows exactly who it’s helping. She wants Black women to feel included and like they have something “just for us.”

So with that goal in mind, Ebony decided to sell her crocheted blankets for real! She told all of 5 people (her parents included) that she was going to start selling her blankets and starting her own scholarship. For the longest time, Ebony debated how she was going to reveal her idea. She wanted to make atleast 10 blankets for inventory before dropping the big news. But then she started getting self conscious. Will anyone even buy? What if it flops? She initially wanted to have an Etsy page where she would post the remaining products that didn’t sell. She waited, she prayed about it, she came up with more ideas. All her planning went out the window and she just posted her post on social media after praying and having an influx of ideas. She took it as a sign. She didn’t have a goal. She was content with “let me put this out and see what happens,” mentality. She posted her post – pictures of her with her beautifully crocheted blankets with the caption that followed:

So I have been super nervous to post this but God told me to have faith so here it goes πŸ€·πŸ½β€β™€οΈ 😊…

I have decided to use my love for crocheting to give back to my community: college degree-seeking black girls πŸ‘©πŸ½β€πŸ«. I will be selling custom, handcrafted, super comfy, blankets and…the best part is…40% of the profits will go towards college scholarships for Black girlsπŸ‘ΈπŸΎ. I believe achieving a higher education can provide kids with unmatched opportunities, insights, and experiences and I hate that money is one of the many obstacles in our way. So, while you are cuddled up in your blanket, rest assured knowing that you are also helping a young Black girl’s dreams come true. Message me if interested in purchasing a blanket (the last three images are for sale) or placing a custom order. Baby blanket prices starting at $80 & regular size throw blankets starting at $100 (plus shipping &handling)

Stay tuned for more products, scholarship details, and opportunities to directly donate to the scholarship fundπŸ‘©πŸ½β€πŸŽ“πŸ‘©πŸΎβ€πŸŽ“πŸ‘©πŸΏβ€πŸŽ“

She clicked the “post” button and went on a run with her mom at Lake Merced. Ebony’s Instagram notifications were set to “off,” and she didn’t have the Facebook app installed. Little did she know her posts were blowing up. When she finally looked at her phone, she was shocked by the mass texts she was getting. All of her friends were texting her about her blankets. She had no idea and didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did!

In the first 48 hours of dropping her posts on social media, Ebony had about 10-20 custom orders and sold out on all the pre-made items. She was so grateful for the responses and support she was receiving. She initially planned on giving the scholarship to one winner, but she received so many orders that she plans to give to atleast 2 Black female high school seniors who are about to go to college. She wants to post the women who win the scholarships so buyers can put a face to who they helped and where their money went to.

Ebony stresses that in no way is this scholarship going to be something that a college student can live off of for a semester, but more so, a little extra spending money. She wants it to act as a crutch, where a Black woman in college doesn’t have to worry about some bills, doesn’t have to pick up that second job, and doesn’t have to miss out on the college experience.

Whoever wins this scholarship will have to answer the essay question, “How do you give back / how will you give back?” And in no way is this money restricted to any particular thing. Ebony wants this money to be used for whatever the winner’s desires are. Whether that be paying for books, going towards rent, but even using it on the full college experience. What does she mean by that? She has had her fair share of silly college stories. One of which, includes her and her friends renting a car to drive to a liquor store to meet 50 Cent. She wants these young Black women to experience the college life to the fullest. And they might be crazy silly ideas now, but those memories last. And usually those fun and unforgettable nights costs money. Especially for those going to college away from home – she wants to ensure that you have some type of safety net to fall back on.

Ebony is excited to see what the future holds for her small business. Right now, she is taking all order through social media only, and you can place your order by DM-ing @smileitsebony. Maybe “ProjectGiveBack” will expand to selling other items, she’ll maybe have other crocheters join in on the project, or she may just have a direct link where someone can donate straight to the scholarship. Right now, her ideas are running wild and she’s so open to all the possibilities.

Ebony has been coping with everything that’s happening in the country with crocheting. She doesn’t want this hobby to stop after the pandemic is over. She balances out her mental health with staying busy, following activist accounts, but also mental wellness pages. In the midst of chaos, Ebony’s scholarship is a breath of fresh air. Some people support for the cause of helping a Black woman continue her education, and some people buy for the product. Either way, Ebony is content with either reason, because she knows at the end of the day that money is supporting a Black woman getting an education.

“ProjectGiveBack” is definitely in it’s infant stage, but she is hoping it is something that can get bigger and evolve. And if it does, she’ll be giving back to her community and those around her.

“I identify as a Black woman, and I wanted to address those Black women who are out there, who have done the work already, they’re in college already,” Ebony said. “I want to ensure that they’ll have one less thing to worry about.”