You’ve Got “It.” I promise.

“There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes that role must pay a price.”- Shirley Chisholm

When I was 6, my mother took me to a little *dojo on Farmers Boulevard with no awning.  Prior to it being a dojo, it was a hair salon. As soon as I walked through the door I felt at home.  It’s amazing, the things from your childhood you can remember. My Sensei was a lean man but not “skinny.”  I remember him peering over me.  He leaned down in front of me.  He opened his palm and there was a quarter in his hand. He said, “If you can get this quarter out of my hand, you can keep it.”  I said, “That’s it?” He smiled and opened his palm. I tried 3 times to get the quarter and I couldn’t. I was embarrassed and I tugged at my mother’s hand to give her the hint that this wasn’t the right place for me. Back to dancing school it would be. Sensei rubbed his hand over his bald head and smiled that big white smile again. He said, “Shaun, is it?”  I said, “Yes sir.”  He said, “Try it again.  If you get it, you do not have to start in my beginner’s class. You can start in Intermediate and catch up with the big kids.”  I lit up! Determined now, with the stakes a little higher, I tried again. On the first shot I grabbed that quarter.  Now I had the big smile.  He said, “See you in class.”

Eavesdropping, I heard him telling my mom that I have “it.” He said martial art is a matter of will more than skill.   He gave my mom a *gi in my size and he told her that I would get a little “banged up” but he saw a fighter in my eyes.  I loved that stinky, smelly, sweaty dojo.  Sensei eventually had to switch to another location in Valley Stream.  It was definitely an upgrade.  Later, my 10 month old sister died and I took a break.  I couldn’t focus anymore.  It seemed as though the fighter in my eyes died with her.  When I was 9, my uncle opened his own self defense studio.  I followed my uncle and joined the “Common Sense School of Self Defense.”  My friends from the block went there.  It was mixed martial arts.  We called it the “gumbo” of martial arts because we learned everything.  I hated meditation.  It was too quiet.  There were too many thoughts in my head for me to be alone with them.  I would wait patiently for the end of class when we would bring out the mats and *spar.  I suited up, put my mouth piece in and I would fight like my life depended on it.  My uncle would match you up by skill not gender or even weight class.  I would often be paired up with my next door neighbor, Kiyanna.  She was a good match.  There was never a winner.  We knew one another well and we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  We played tennis and rode bikes and went skating together too. We were friends.  I preferred to be paired with the guys because I loved to win.  I had a point to prove. You could be easy on me if you wanted to because I’m a girl but after you got popped in the face a couple of times with my roundhouse kick, you’d start fighting.  They started to treat me like an equal.  They would begin to ask to fight me.  I had the will to win and I often did.

One day when I was 13, I got too cocky and my uncle was doing some padded drills with me.  He punched me right in the face because I kept dropping my hands.  I felt my nose sting and my eyes begin to water.  The glove split my lip. I was pissed.  More than pissed, I was embarrassed.  I quit (for about two weeks but it felt longer to me.) Once again, my will was diminished.

I’m 30 now.  I always revisited Martial Arts.  Progressive Martial Arts in Fresh Meadows in high school and then I went to Extreme in Valley Stream a few years back but I don’t train anymore.  I started working out again a few months ago. I joined a popular gym that has childcare. I always get into this groove and then I get bored and irritated running stationary, biking stationary, and lifting stationary.  I get tired of not going anywhere.  Today when I went to the gym, I brought my gloves.  I pounded that bag and I let out all the shit that piles up inside of me.  I sweat out the venom that you bite others with unintentionally when you have no outlet.  I felt good and I physically reminded myself that I am a fighter and I have been since I grabbed that quarter when I was 6. Life is about will.  Something (or in some cases someone) has to motivate you to be better than average.  You have to WANT to fight or you will just crumble and lay on the mat being pummeled.  Get up and learn something new, focus on what makes you happy, or you will always be stationary and docile.  Fight!

“When someone breaks your skin, you break their bones.”

-Uncle Ric


By: Shaun Nickens


*A Dojo is a place for training and learning.  It is a Japanese term.  You may also hear it referred to as a Temple.

*Gi= Karate uniform

*Spar=fight in short sessions

Inspiring Documentaries I’ve Watched Over the Past 8 Days

Documentaries I’ve seen In the Past 8 Days:

  1. Food Inc. (2008) Robert Kenner 1hr 34mins
  2. Living On One Dollar (2013) Sean Leonard, Zach Ingrasci, Chris Temple. 56 mins.
  3. A Story about Living Small. (2013) 62 mins. Christopher Smith, Daryl Gibson, and others.
  4. Gideon’s Army. (2013) 1 hr 36 mins Directed by Dawn Porter.
  5. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. (2010) 1 hr 37 mins. Directors: Joe Cross, Kurt Engfehr.
  6. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011) 1 hr 20 mins Director: Constance A. Marks

I’m addicted!  I’m addicted to life!  I’m addicted to the events, struggles, challenges, insecurities, fears, and achievements of people.  I absolutely love that they have the balls to bleed (figuratively of course) on camera.  Some of these really weren’t that nail biting or gripping from beginning to end but there were definitely some powerful moments!  So, I’m going to tell you what I thought those moments were.

Spoiler Alert!!!!!!! 

Gideon’s Army is about Public Defenders and their personal and professional struggles.  It follows Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick who are young, urban, and driven. I really liked Travis who dressed professionally, absorbed himself in his work and fought hard for his clients whether he thought they were guilty or not.  He was committed to the job and he sacrificed time, sleep and a personal life to perform at his best.  His apartment was right next to the office!  The film delves a little into his “daddy issues” of abandonment and how he makes the attempt to resolve those issues. Brandy was a little more emotional. That disturbed me (talking to the TV the entire film) because it made her seem like the stereotypical woman who was too sensitive to toughen up for the tasks assigned. However, the film concludes with Brandy’s courtroom skills.  I had to bite my tongue and set aside all pre judgments. The emotion she had behind her work that I thought would cripple her actually helped her to win.  Brandy’s defense and her closing argument and her relationship with the defendant were touching and surprising because public defenders in the south handle over 100 cases at one time. They’re exhausted and they are like assembly line workers.  I loved it and I learned a lot. What bothered me to my core was the fact that they were BROKE!  There is a scene where Brandy is putting 3.00 of gas in her car to last her for the next two days!  These are lawyers and professionals but they are still living the “broke college life” at 30.  I felt for her because how many of us are already in our line of work but drowning in college loan debt and squeezing into small spaces?  How many of us are living check to check?  How many of us are still coming back from the recession and do not know if it is over yet?  Would you be able to do your job effectively and honorably with that kind of weight on your shoulders? 

For more information on this award winning documentary you can see the following link:

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead was great simply because it can be oversimplified.  If I break down the entire film, it is about poor habits, poor decisions, and addiction.  It shows what happens to the human body/our temple when we over indulge.  I love food but I have always been off and on in terms of discipline when it comes to diet and exercise. I have also always struggled with my skin off and on. This film convinced me that the coined phrase “you are what you eat” is very true.  When I am cooking at home, exercising, drinking water, removing toxins (i.e. alcohol, sugars, etc), and getting somewhat adequate levels of sleep…I FEEL AND LOOK BETTER.  It’s very simple.  The man in the film was able to come off of his medications and lose a lot of unhealthy weight in 60 days with a juice fast. I hate fads and I am not a bandwagon jumper.  I go to my local juice bar occasionally and I also get my teas and natural deodorant from them but it’s expensive. I will definitely try juicing at home NOT EVERYDAY but as a supplement.  The processed, genetically engineered foods that are making us artificial energy addicts are also making us susceptible to illness. MY FAVORITE PART of the film is when he is using animation to explain the juice fast and its effect on the body.  He shows the example of a child who scrapes his knee.  Knees are bleeding and they have bandages on them.  He shows the child tempted to remove the bandages and pick at the wounds or scabs.  He says, “The wound will heal as long as I get out of my own way.”  I thought that was really powerful.  How many times do we prevent our own healing because we are obsessed with whether or not we are going to be healed?  How many times do we try to expedite processes that need to happen organically?  All you need to do is move out of the way and let your body heal itself, fight off disease itself, and sustain itself.

For more information on this great documentary please see the following link:

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey was a tiny bit creepy. There have been recent child molestation allegations but if you can get passed that, it’s an inspiring story.  Kevin Clash made his first puppet when he was 10 after watching Sesame Street over and over again. He put on shows for the neighborhood kids his mother used to babysit. By the time he graduated high school, he was off to New York to work with Jim Henson, his idol. You see this man who is chronically shy but comes to life in the puppets he creates. This is kind of a zero to hero story because he doesn’t encounter much adversity.  People take him in with open arms and mentor him. The important thing to remember is he embraced every opportunity and he surpassed his expectations.  We all remember people trampling one another in shopping malls to find Tickle Me Elmo’s.  I remember how popular Elmo was even when I was in 7th and 8th grade.  This is a success story. He was a young guy from Baltimore with two loving parents who had a dream and went for it.  He was determined and he was diligent and it paid off.  He visualized what he wanted until it manifested but in the meantime he was aggressively moving towards his goals. The film took me down memory lane and made me want to head to Michaels craft store and make a puppet!

Click the link for more information:


By: Shaun Nickens

We Wear the Mask

We Wear the Mask
By: Paul Lawrence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile,  but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!


I always hated sunglasses. I always thought they were for people who were hiding. That’s okay. Isn’t there a point when we all need to be hidden? When the world expects you to keep churning, where can you seek sanctuary?
Where can you feel safe when you feel like your soul is rotting?

How do you find God’s arms on earth while you’re slapboxing with Jesus?

How do you break through a glass ceiling when your knees are bucking and your feet are bleeding? 

What is your mask? What do you use to shield the world from the flaws that make you human? Are you trying to breathe and trying to shout but someone or something is holding your head under water? Someone has placed a big black garbage bag over your head in the middle of your climactic monologue. Now the scene is ruined.

We wear the masks.
We hide and repair.
We return as survivors not victims.
Warriors wear masks.
No shame.
No fear.
We wear the masks.

By: Shaun Nickens

Women’s History Month

A True Woman


I can make you laugh harder than the rain falls.

I can give you the kind of loving that makes you reject all of your calls

And be absent from work.

I’m not interested in your wallet

I want the will of your being and the substance from your very soul.

I want the honor of growing old.

I’ll tell you my age.

I’ll tell you the exact year and the precise time I was born.

Wisdom is my badge proudly worn.

I can fry up some good food and meander through your stomach to your heart.

I can order an auto part or change a tire and be on my way without waiting for AAA.

You can beat me to the mirror in the morning.

I know who I am and I know what I look like.

I am a woman not a “bitch.”

I’m not a part of some monolithic group suffering from “that time of the month.”

I only really shop if there is a need for it or if it fits “just right.”

Please don’t interrupt me while I’m watching the game or the fight.

I am not a harlot or the downfall of mankind because of “original sin.”

I was just being a leader, his rib, his backbone, aiding his decision.

Sometimes I cry but you do too.

That doesn’t make me weaker than you.

My strength is measured in resilience and my ability to absorb other people’s pain.

I am a woman

A true woman

I am not ashamed.

By:Shaun Nickens

*This was going to be an Art Saves Lives submission but the deadline was changed.

On the Couch (Literary therapy)

So don’t tell anyone but sometimes I interview myself. I do not interview myself as myself but as someone else. You may call it borderline schizophrenia. However, I am not being a different version of me but I act as if I’m Oprah, Tyra, Tyler or Asha. I imagine what their questions would be.  I imagine what they would want to know about the history of my life, my success so to speak.  They ask me (well I ask me) how I feel about my process.  They tell me about my net worth. I tell them about coinstar machines, bottle returns, Ramen noodles and Wal-Mart shopping sprees. They ask me which one of my luxury cars is my favorite. I tell them that the Maserati Gran Cabrio Sport is my “A to B” “run around car.”

I really miss my first car.

It was a 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix.  My mom got it for me. She paid $1000 cash for it.  It was from a neighbor who only drove it from time to time.

They’ll ask me if my heart has ever been broken and I’ll tell them, “too many times to mention.”

but since I mentioned it …

I never appreciated shorty who broke up with me by forcing me to break up with myself.   Although it was very clever.  It was…

Well I guess that wasn’t heartbreak.  That was just stupidity. Sorry scratch that.

Next question please.

They’ll ask me if there is anyone I want to attribute my success to.  I’ll want to be unique but I have to say God.  Then I’ll say, “There’s way too many to mention.”  So I’ll thank Love, Failure, Resilience, Ego, and Reparation.

Then I’ll thank all the human manifestations of those named and if they’re smart (and I know they are), then they’ll know who they are.

They’ll ask me if there is anything I want to change about myself and I’ll say there’s

“Way too many things to mention.”

The biggest thing…the biggest thing that I want to change is the fact that there is anything that I would change at all. Then they kind of look at me like I said something profound.

Then the awkward part comes because they cut to a commercial or if it’s a written publication they writer just describes the scenery or my mannerisms and artistically wraps up the interview.  They try to wrap it up.  That is something I have always struggled with.  I’m clear on the beginning.  I worry or ponder about the middle but the ending always just lingers on…

By: Shaun Nickens

Update! Site changes thus far…

Hi SYMACMU family!

-The poetry category was renamed ” A Woman and A Wordsmith.”

-The humor and venting section was renamed “The Daily Dump.”  It highlights my feelings about random events, narratives, and rants!  I encourage comments and feedback. All comments have to be approved by the administrator prior to being published.  So if you do not see your post uploaded right away, that doesn’t mean it won’t go up.  I have to sift through the spam! 😉

-The category “Girl Bye” was deleted and archived in the “30 Day Writing Challenge” category.

There are more changes to come !  I am still looking for Illustrators, graphic designers and photographers so please comment below with links where I can see your work or Tweet me @shutyamouthnow.