‘Don’t Come Down From the Chinaberry Tree:’ A story of empowerment
BY MARCY NORTHRUP PALMERI, Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG — Having earned a master’s degree in addiction counseling, advising women on the cycles of abuse and experiencing domestic violence firsthand, Rasheedah Sharif brings forth three decades of experience and a level of compassion that attracts people from all walks of life.
Sharif is originally from New Jersey, but calls the Tampa Bay area her home. Among the many hats worn by this woman are author, artist, educator and motivational speaker. As an author, she reaches countless women through her book, “Don’t Come Down From the Chinaberry Tree,” which provides the readers with insight and a peek into her earlier life while guiding them toward a place in their own existence where they can find balance and inner strength.
At 16 years old, the character in her book named Rose planned a pregnancy hoping to change the direction in which her life was headed. She and her 18- year-old boyfriend began a new adventure, but not the sort she had hoped for. The cycle of abuse began as he isolated her from family and friends, more children followed and so did the mental and ultimately physical abuse.
The father of Rose’s children used them as leverage against her, torturing her soul. Finally after hitting rock bottom she decided enough was enough and broke the chain of violence. Rose got the authorities involved, and a little at a time began healing spiritually and emotionally.
Rose is the name Sharif chose for the main character because as a child, amid the commotion in her own home, she would often peer out her bedroom window and see a woman selling roses. One day the woman knocked on her door and brought her several of the beautiful, fragrant flowers.
Before that day, Sharif had not smiled for a very long time. She assumed the kind woman must have heard her screaming during the violent acts that often took place in her house and wanted to help in the only way she knew how. She said they built a distant relationship and the name Rose is symbolic and meaningful to her and has a special place in her life, and now in her book.
When things got rough during Sharif’s childhood she would climb the chinaberry tree in her grandmother’s yard. The tree would offer her solace, comfort and safety. “I’d feel so content, so loved when I was up in that tree,” said Sharif.
“Don’t Come Down From the Chinaberry Tree” is a series of 11 short stories based upon her life experiences. Sharif feels her book leads readers to think about their own lives. “Every teen or woman can find themselves in the stories to some degree,” she said.
Her book promotes discussion and offers encouragement in the face of adversity. The message is one of strength as the main character overcomes the seemingly inescapable situation.
“My book is an excellent tool to identify problems, to inspire and motivate teens and adults to make changes in their lives. I recommend that those in abusive situations talk to someone who can give insight or do it anonymously over the phone. Don’t feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty. Tear down the walls,” Sharif stated.
She went on to say that while teaching high school, students felt comfortable enough with her to reveal what had happen to them. “Oftentimes kids will act out on the surface, but inside they are wounded and bruised. They sometimes think if they talked about it they will be judged and I want to break down that barrier,” explained Sharif.
Sharif offers classes on Thursdays from 11:15-12:15 p.m. at the Gulfport Recreation Center. Her classes focus on empowerment through color as she reviews 15 key topics. In this class you will learn the spiritual aspects of the color spectrum with art.
“Don’t Come Down From the Chinaberry Tree,” is available through barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com for $15. Sharif is one of the featured authors at the Black Authors and Business Showcase Sat., Aug. 9 at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.