“Take this light and turn it in to rage, courage, and determination. Take it and join it with other lights. And then perhaps we can meet again to set fire to the system.”
-Compañera Alejandra from the Zapatista movement
As I walked into the entrance of East Village Community School to the sounds of “Push It” and “She Bad," I knew the second annual Women of Color in Solidarity Conference would be unlike any I’d ever attended.
That week, I was overwhelmed by headlines about Starbucks conducting racial-bias trainings as an amends for racism, and I was professionally engaged in research on how racism contributes to high maternal mortality rates among Black women. To say I was walking into the conference with a little emotional baggage would be a serious understatement.
Co-founded by Cheyenne Wyzzard-Jones and Florcy Romero, Women of Color in Solidarity was established under the premise of providing self-identified women and gender non-binary people of color a weekend of workshops centered on resisting against and persisting within systems and institutions of intersectional marginalization.
I attended 8 workshops that provided me profound mental, physical, and spiritual insight about how I can improve my relationships with myself and others.
1. You are a living embodiment of your ancestors’ wildest dreams.
The first workshop I attended was Decolonization as a Form of Mental Health Practice. Led by Jana Lynne Umipig, this workshop was centered on unlearning colonized modalities of thinking in order to re-member and honor ancestral values. The process of unlearning is and should be painful, but as you re-member you uncover your personal narrative which no one can take from you.
Listed below are a few examples of colonized messages of self and communal hate that have haunted me and continue to haunt me, particularly throughout my post-secondary education and within my professional life.
My greatest take away from the session was centered upon the significance of honoring one’s ancestors, and how that recognition influences one’s sense of self-worth which ultimately influences one’s engagement with society at large.
2. If You Don’t Ask, You Won’t Receive
The workshop ‘Financial Freedom as an Act of Resistance,’ started off with the presenter, Jerin Arifa, asking each of us to brainstorm and discuss in pairs what we’d do if money and failure were not options. Of the few times I’ve been posed this question, I’m always forced to recognize how aging, economics, and fear limit creativity and optimism. As people shared their thoughts, I was not surprised that many aspirations were centered upon igniting entrepreneurial aspirations, and/or improving or assisting one’s family or community financially or with social services.
My greatest take away from this session was the significance of never leaving an informational interview without carving additional opportunities for networking. If you’re like me and let pride prevent you from asking for what you truly need, stop being ashamed to be vulnerable and ask for help. A few strategies I learned for creating such opportunities are in the following statements:
1. Thank you for your time. Is there someone else you’d suggest I meet with?
2. Are there any other organizations that I should be looking into that aren’t on my radar?
These questions provide opportunities for the person you’re meeting with to provide additional stakeholders for networking within or outside of their prospective organization.
3. Silence is Golden
At the workshop ‘Community Acupuncture,’ acupuncturist Emily Siy performed ear acupuncture on myself and four other women. This was not my first time getting acupuncture, but it was my first time receiving acupuncture in a communal setting. While workshops centered on dialogue and lectures are necessary, sometimes it’s nice to just know someone is there with you and for you, even if you don’t speak.
4. Envision Your Life
The last workshop I attended was “No Woman No Cry”: Resisting the Internalization of Toxic Masculinity as Sisters of the Diaspora.” Led by Shanée Smith and Kimberley Moore, this workshop was centered on us reflecting on aspects of our upbringing that promoted the devaluation of emotional vulnerability, which is typically associated with cisgendered men/masculinity.
As a journalist, I take pride in facilitating spheres of vulnerability for individuals to share their authentic narratives with me. However, from my romantic to interpersonal relationships, I am the most uncomfortable when I have to be emotionally vulnerable because I fear being taken advantage of or abused. The workshops and activities prior to this one had created a nonjudgmental space for me to tap into emotions that I had subconsciously or consciously buried as a means to get through my everyday life.
As the daughter of a single Black mom and a West African immigrant father, I was raised to not cry because tears symbolized weakness, and trudge through pain by repressing my feelings. Feelings were rarely discussed in the domestic sphere and crying was understood as something done in secrecy. I expressed to my group that I was striving to unlearn my tendency to not communicate my boundaries with others in order to stop internalizing feelings of resentment which ultimately harm my overall health. Another woman from Africa shared how she was raised similarly to me and how her tendency to not outwardly express sadness often resulted in her peers seeing her as cold and lacking compassion. This exchange of narratives showed me that as we reveal our truths with others, we ultimately grant them permission to do the same.
At the conclusion of this workshop we were told to artistically represent our emotional vulnerability goals. Below is my illustration:
While I may have arrived to the 2018 Women of Color in Solidarity conference as a woman burdened with many overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and in many ways am still burdened by those same thoughts and feelings, the burden I'm carrying is a bit easier to bear because I have the support of my fellow compañeras (known and unknown) and the guardianship of my ancestors above me.