She was unassuming and quiet, until cognitive dissonance crept in so she asked clarifying questions as much for her as for others. She challenged the group to think about our thoughts and the implication of them, making us wonder more about this 17-year-old writing prodigy. At least I did. So at the end of the meeting I asked my own questions. A master of deflection, Nichole asked me a bunch of questions and made me laugh at her corny jokes. I took her home from the meeting in my 1980 Chevy Caprice Classic. I was 19 and it was 1988. And now 22 years later, Nichole continues to challenge me, not from the basis of deflection but from a heart that brims with true love.
In the beginning she really didn’t want any attention because of her family life. Orphaned by 13 by the death of her parents, her grandparents raised her on a once glorious block in Detroit’s North End. Poverty plagued the family, but Nichole was determined to see her way out. She began writing to make her grandparents proud, but writing became a salvation, rescuing her from pain and poverty and personal attention. She wanted others to see the writing, to talk about the writing so they wouldn’t have to see or talk about her. But I saw her, the longing eyes, the hesitant hugging arms and a lot of mouth about stuff that was entertaining but not very personal. I couldn’t ignore this. So I pried and slowly she let me in. I don’t remember when she let me in but I’ve been in deep ever since. Nikkul, as I call her (also shortened to Nik), said she saw my sincerity, and I saw hers too, even if she was trying to hide it. I knew she was supposed to be my friend.
Our foundation was firm from Sidney Poitier movie marathons and popcorn, eating ethnic foods and talking all night long, taking writing classes and making connections at conferences, and just hanging. Even when her writing took her to the Cincinnati Inquirer, St. Petersburg Times and The New York Times, she has always been able to touch me. In 1997 when I became zealous for the Lord and my zeal had my friends wondering if I had lost my mind, Nik openly challenged me to find out what was really going on. She was loving and learning and never dismissive of my views. She didn’t agree, but she didn’t dismiss me. From that day and the first day we met, Nikkul taught me a valuable lesson in action: challenge people’s thinking and still think highly of them. This is unconditional love. This is how Nichole loves. This is what Nichole taught me.
As Christians, Nik and I both seek daily to walk out our faith and be examples for others, but she inspires me. She always engages others, whether white, black, Latino or Asian, Christian, Buddhist, atheist or Muslim. Nik is an example for me of grace and compassion; she has them even when she doesn’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, she can be a little feisty but her grace and compassion always quench her flames, even when she doesn’t want them to. So before I write, before I speak, before I think, I think of God’s word to speak the truth with grace and love, and I remember my best friend Nichole Michelle Nikkul Nik Christian, the unassuming precocious girl who let me love her through womanhood and the woman who has taught me how to love. Nikkul is my supernatural sister and she is my shero.
You can get Nichole’s t-shirts at www.livelitecreate.com.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith