A Birthday Blast: How to Celebrate Yourself Every Now and Then

(This post is meant to give thanks, shout outs, and more information about the many people who helped make Hibiscus, Honey and Jazz a success.  Click on the various hyperlinks throughout the post to learn more.  Please become a follower and share via facebook, twitter, and email using the buttons at the end of the post.  Many thanks and much appreciation in advance. Levita)

My birthday party, Hibiscus, Honey and Jazz, was amazing.  It was all I wanted it to be.  There were some very special guests like my sister Dawn who traveled all the way from Los Angeles to lend a hand and celebrate, my dear friend and godmother of my daughters, Linda, who I’ve known since my undergraduate days at University of Tennessee, and Alise, one of my other dear friends and housemates from grad school at University of Maryland.  Ms. Brooks, my 5th grade teacher from back home in Memphis, Tennessee was there in spirit through her brother, Willie and nephew, Melvin Stephen.  Then, there was one of my former students who just graduated from high school, a talented trumpeteer who I knew would appreciate the live jazz provided by the Reginald Cyntje Group.  And enjoy is what he, his parents, and the rest of the crowd did.

The gathering reflected how diverse my community has become in the decades since I left Memphis, a southern city made up of mainly black people from Memphis and white people from Memphis.  Africa and the diaspora shaped my birthday festivities in so many expressive ways.  My girl Nancy, who hails from Ghana, West Africa, delivered a beautiful hosta to me at the party.  My Liberian friend, Vera, came with a warm spirit and her sweetheart Steve.  Vera and I met years ago when she was telling a story, and she gave my daughters her CD,  Stories Under the Table, which she’s been sharing with young people all over the D.C. metropolitan area.  My South African friend, Nicole, who is like an Aunt to my daughters, came out with her beau, Joe.  Haiti was in the place by way of my colleague and friend Mary and one of my sister Ashley’s best friends, Yamiche.  My Trinidadian artist-and-neighbor-friend, Earl, graced us with his presence just one week before his annual, all-white Caribbean fete, which attracts over 300 people to his home right here in Historic Anacostia.  My dear friend Gennet, who is Jamaican by way of Toronto, Canada, custom made my hibiscus dress by way of her company Maven and helped me feel amazing in the process.  And let me not forget the night’s lead trombonist, Reginald Cyntje, whose Dominican and Virgin Island roots, with the help of the band, created a musical vibration that welcomed invited guests and lured uninvited ones.

A steady stream of uninvited guests made their way into the gallery thinking that the party was part of the Lumen 8 Finale, a neighborhood wide festival of lights, music, and art.  Some I did know from the neighborhood, others were total strangers, but that didn’t stop them from having one, two and even three plates of food, a little somethin’ to drink, and maybe even some dessert.

Some total strangers made the evening extra special.

Tamika Love Jones, a neo-soul vocalist and frequent performer at the Thursday Vibe Sessions at Tendani Art Place, brought fans of her own to join our celebration and shared the gift of song.   We can’t wait to see more of her at The Carter Barron on July 13th on the same neo-soul program as Yahzarah and Deborah Bond.

At some point in the evening, the five piece band that was hired for my party suddenly became a seven piece band when a random older man dressed in jeans and a polo shirt appeared out-of-no-where with not one, but two tambourines, and stood close enough to the band for people to wonder, Is he part of the band? and  dressed differently enough for people to wonder, Is he part of the band?  He rhythmically fit in, so much so that no one ever asked him to sit down or to leave.  In fact he felt so at home that he took a break when the band took a break, ate when they ate, and resumed playing when they started a new set.

Days after the party, I inquired, “Who was the older man with the tambourines?”

“The Tambourine Man? Dat nigga walk in every event wit tambourines!. . .MLK Superstar.”

“MLK Superstar? That’s the Tambourine Man’s name?  Is he homeless? Mentally ill? Or just exuberant?”

“Naw, he owns a convenient store. . .”

Minus The Tambourine Man, The Reginald Cyntje Group was made up of Reginald Cyntje on lead trombone, Herman Burney, Jr. on upright bass, Nasar Abadey on drums, Pete Muldoon on guitar, and Christie Dashiell on vocals.  With the exception of Reginald, I had not officially met the band members before my party.  I learned more about them while mingling with my guests.

“Is that the girl from Afro Blue?.  That is her,” my friend Jason observed.  “I’m going to my car to get my CD and have her sign it.”

I later learned that Christie was one of the lead vocalists for Afro Blue, an acapella group from Howard University who made it to the finale of the show The Sing Off.  A lot of viewers felt so strongly that Afro Blue should have won that, for them, the show lost credibility when the group didn’t walk away with the grand prize.

Obviously, uninvited and unwelcome are two very different things.  Much of what happened at my party was planned for, but many other things were not planned for.  Together these elements made for a most memorable celebration.


Shout out to my sister and co-event planner/project manager, Carla Sapp.  I came up with the theme and the idea to have a party with a jazz band in a gallery in my neighborhood, and she handled the details.  She measured the space, decided what Tendani had that we could use and what furniture we needed to create a lounge atmosphere.  She cleaned, arranged, and decorated the place with such attention to detail that even the bathroom had a table with candles and a basket of napkins on it.  Did I mention she’s also a stylist?  She and my sister Dawn helped me choose shoes and accessories for my special evening so that mommy and teacher were among the last words that came to mind when guests saw me.

Carla also helped me realize that cooking myself would be too much and turned me on to Pimento Grill, a Jamaican eatery right in southeast D.C. that ultimately catered the party.  Since Jamaica is the Spanish word for Hibiscus, this restaurant fit right into the theme of the party.  The owner Gary listened to me and together we came up with a menu of jerk shrimp skewers, jerk chicken skewers, vegetable stew roti, spinach patties, rasta pasta, virgin and spiked cucumber ginger juice, virgin and spiked sorrel, mango mousse cake, chocolate mousse cake, and rum cake.  Yummy!

Shout out to Ellis, our dear family friend, who cleaned the gallery and assembled our lounge furniture just hours before the party started.  His intoxication, I mean exuberance, made the gallery feel full at the beginning of the party when the crowd was just building.  Thank you to all the guests who, over the course of the evening, kept welcoming Ellis back into the party when, unbeknownst to them, Ellis’ exuberance had gotten him sent out of the party.

Shout out to my artist-extraordinaire-daughter, Yetunde, who seems to be a master of all things visually creative.  She did my make up.  She’s been studying youtube videos on applying makeup and investing in various makeup and tools.  She’s been practicing on herself and only the day before my party did I realize she really knows what she is doing.  While I was looking for shoes in the mall, she was in Sephora making up her face.  She did such a good job that we thought someone in the store had made up her face.  So when she begged to do my make up for the party, I gave in.  (Now if you thought I looked like a clown, ignore this whole paragraph.)

Shout out to Gennet Purcell, the beautiful lady who designed and made my birthday dress.  I admire her so much because she left her day job as an attorney and founded Maven, a designer dress company. At least once in a lifetime, a woman should have a dress made especially for her.  This was my once in a lifetime moment, and I felt incredible.

Shout out to the Reginald Cyntje Group for the jazz and Caribbean music that kept the party all the way live and that drew strangers from the other Lumen 8 Anacostia venues into Tendani Art Place.  The crowd enjoyed and appreciated you all.

Shout out to the band’s vocalist Christie Dashiell.  Hearing her mellow, mature scat brought to mind jazz greats like Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.  Check Christie out on lead vocals with Afro Blue singing Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

Shout out to Tendani for allowing us to use Tendani Art Place for this event.  Because of your openness, we’ve been able to explore what is artistically possible for our vibrant community of Historic Anacostia.

Shout out to my sisters Dawn and Ashley and my daughter Niara, for lending a hand where ever needed and, even more, for unconditional love and support.

Thanks to everyone who made my birthday celebration a very special one.  To those who came out and those who were there in spirit, Bless You!!

Shout out to the Creator for making these and all other blessings possible!

Click here for photos of the festivities!  If you have photos to add to the album, let me know!


About Levita Mondie

Through Vita's Vegan Ventures, I share my passion for and knowledge of life-affirming vegan cuisine, including Soul Food, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Ghanaian and more. Contact me at vitasveganventures@gmail.com to schedule cooking classes, demonstrations, lectures, and more. See more details at https://vitasveganventures.wordpress.com/ .
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One Response to A Birthday Blast: How to Celebrate Yourself Every Now and Then

  1. Dienna says:

    “Since Jamaica is the Spanish word for Hibiscus…”

    I didn’t know that! I learn something new every day. I have a photo that I took of a hibiscus as my current Gravatar—it’s a beautiful flower.

    Glad that the party was a success! Sounds like it was fun.

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