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#SoWhatNow #SWN17

-photographer unknown--

Women serving women is all I've ever known. I was born of one mother and to one sister but I have a plethora of both. Out the womb. These women I've grown up knowing and looking to as mothers and sisters have raised me, poured into me, uplifted me, comforted me, checked me on my shit, and reminded me how CAPABLE and dope I am when I've been too blind to see or remember myself. These women are the keepers of the parts of me that my hands are too small to hold at once, and they give them back to me right when I need them.

It is this tradition that I have taken into my time as a formal classroom educator and what shores me in my current role as a mental health professional. It is from this tradition that my care, concern, and passion for the wellness of Black women and girls that a seed was planted to figure out a way or many ways to support those of us who are the mascot for global oppression. And so ideas for and a commitment to "Black Girl" programming began to flood me. Circumstances, and perhaps the slow grace of 'perfect' timing, took over and relegated my ideas to a business plan that began drafting itself a decade ago. The commitment remained and showed itself in seemingly small but impactful ways with the students who enriched my teaching years.

The impact lived in breathed through text messages, brunch dates, hugs on the street, parent updates, social media reaches, shared projects, birthday party invites, and inclusion in traditional American rites of passage like prom send-offs and graduation celebrations. At these various stages and in these physical spaces those children and their families always looked to me for what was next. Parents would say, "You haven't seen (insert child's name) in a while, let me know when you want her." The girls would say, "I miss you! When are we going out again?" And then I'd respond, never wanting to impose, but available when needed.

As the years passed and these individual reaches occurred, a group of students I'd taught graduated from high school. And then those who went off to college struggled emotionally, academically, financially, etc. My heart broke watching it happen, offering supportive listening and words of encouragement to those I remained connected to and never feeling like it was enough. Two years later, another group of students I'd taught 6 years ago have graduated from high school. With parents asking how I'd commemorate this transition, girls reaching out to make dates because "I need your wisdom before I go to school", and my heart too invested to not step up, quick action was necessary in a short window.

That's the backstory or at least what I'm able to articulate because I'm really just too FULL to even properly express the breadth of emotions that have even lead me to this post.

Yesterday the call was answered.

Sisterhood moved from noun to verb. Young women showed up, on a Saturday in the summer, and voluntarily sat at the feet of women known and unknown to them. Their trust in the call put out was all that was needed, and they arrived without expectation to receive far more than they knew possible and eager for more. Some arrived late and apologetic, some left early not wanting to leave. The women called on arrived with schedules of their own, and like the young ladies, remained in the space through 3 downpours, 2 meal times, their own children, and close to the start of whole new day. There were hugs when tribe recognized tribe in each other, despite gaps in age. There were tears when questions were many and what remained was gratitude that SOMEONE either had an answer or was simply there to acknowledge the truth. There was gentle and loving correction for misguided notions and half-formulate ideas. There were GUTSY admissions and STRONG affirmations of some of the most self-aware young women I've ever met. There were poignant questions and fearless sharing as a conscious acknowledgement of the creation of safe space. It was the formation and strengthening of sisters, aunties, other mothers, and daughters in spirit.

There were provisions, packaged in colorful bright gift bags that were chose to speak to everything from the experience/s of growing up a Black girl in this society to an introduction to managing finances. There were t-shirts that salute their current experience and place in the world. There was food and drink. All of that was courtesy of contributions from people who went to college and remember what it was like, or believe in supporting girls and women, believe in the the power of the village in the lives of children, who've appreciated my work over the years, know my heart, or just support--and trust--my specific effort to stand in the gap. In hindsight, it stands out that the 1st round of girls didn't even open and explore their bag of provisions. They didn't come for the things and left grateful for having their spirits fed. The 2nd round got to explore the bag of provisions as kind of the conversation starter, to show them the concept of what it means to stand UP for your sisters, including those who are strangers, and to spark the conversations that specifically address the matters on their hearts and meet their needs as THEY saw them. SO MUCH happened yesterday, there's no way to run it all down. And in honor of what was shared in that sacred space, I don't know that it should be shared too specifically.

Here, this morning, many of you are waiting to see something, anything, that speaks to what happened in the space we sat in, largely sponsored by you. And even with all the word count already typed, I am really too verklempt to adequately capture the breadth of what happened at the 1st gathering of #SoWhatNow #SWN17 and I hope that my feeling of fullness is enough to satisfy your curiosity as to the success of the event for now.

Now I must go back and retrieve my own tag line as a reminder that there is always work to be done. More work to be done for and with these young women, and more work to be done to prepare for those who will surely follow. I call forth the words used as a reminder for me to pay attention to me, but also as a reminder for YOU to remind me to pay attention to me so that I may do what I am here to do. Join me as I ask, once again that you...

Watch me move.


Rewards of Heavy Lifting

Side by side we sat on the sofa at my mother’s house. After 2 years our relationship was at a point where we were troubleshooting how to keep us together. Learning code might have been easier.

So we sat next to each other at my mother’s house because one of our ‘village’ elders was in town and my mother had recommended that we seek counsel. He was a divorced, single father of two young sons and I was a single, adult college student. We were best friends and all the time we spent together built quite the cozy nest beneath us without us realizing until we noticed we were looking at each other through eyes of the googly sort. It confused us and riled us up, surprised us and comforted us. It took some time to figure out what to do with this thing that had developed between us, including some angry rants and some attempts at sabotage, before wondering why there was space between us and decided to close it. Literally. After a weekend at his apartment, preparing to return home to start the week, he stopped me and asked, “Why do you keep leaving? You don’t have to leave; I want you here.”

That beautifully unexpected moment from a man I’d later discover struggled with decision-making was the beginning of a conversation that would eventually become a proposal. I think the discovery I was being asked to never leave was more monumental than being asked to be his wife and, subsequently, the other mother to his boys. I cried real tears of joy and got my things as soon as time would allow.

Two years later we were being referred to community elders to offer insight on the best ways to get and stay together. My side-eye game kicked in at the ‘get’ part because we’d already passed that stage. We were being told we’d done it all wrong and needed to press rewind, to moonwalk our way right out of our current set-up and dismantle the band. The man I loved looked like wisdom had rained down on him from the heavens and I knew he was feeling the suggestion that we stay together but take up separate residences until we worked through our stuff. He drank whatever liquid substance substituted for Kool Aid because we didn’t drink that at my mother’s house.

At the time, I was clear that if we put physical distance between us we were destined for doom. If we couldn’t figure out how to stay together while together, how would we ever figure it out apart? I didn’t trust it. More than that, I probably didn’t really trust him, or me, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d explain this to people who loved us. It never crossed my mind that there was no cause for these specifics to even be a point of discussion for anyone else because it was none of their business. I was afraid of not looking the part and convinced myself that my insistence that we remain under the same roof was about us fighting for what we had, seeing the separation as throwing in the towel.

Some months later I graduated from school and from our relationship. It was a few more months after that before I left his apartment because our friendship kept creating these awkward spaces that we named compassion. The physical space gave me time to search for an apartment and put furniture on layaway and have pillow talk with my best friend turned ex fiancé about how amicable breakups meant more humane separations. Oh the ways humans kid themselves.

That relationship ended 9 years ago. I’ve been in another relationship for nearly 6 years and over the course of this 1, I’ve had a chance to grow in perspective. I now have the good sense to know that there are as many ways to do relationships as there are relationships. It is insane that any of us believe that 2 very different people could come together to live and love in the same way as 2 other very different people. I don’t know what writer penned the rules for relationships and marriage but someone gave some Christian HIM great power over all of us. As my significant other and I continue to work through what Us looks like we’ve had some difficult conversations about our true to life needs.

It may seem trivial but discussing one partner’s disdain for sharing a bed in a construct that expects that people typically sleep side by side is not easy. Snoring is disrespectful and I’m not here for it. It has led to conversations about options from sleeping in separate rooms, perhaps on separate floors to even separate locations. But this exploration is symbolic of all the difficult deliberations we have unflinchingly tackled. The learning outcome—forgive me, I’m a former teacher—is that we must be bold enough to use a magnifying glass to search for the ways we’ll fight to hold onto what’s important to us.

We realize that we could require a home with 2 kitchens to support different blood type diets or be open to living in separate states for career moves or abandon the U.S. altogether to add layers to our quality of life. We know that we may have to add grandparents’ quarters to our childless home to accommodate the people who made us, and to be open to other considerations the average couple guards against because it looks too nontraditional. And nontraditional is the virtual unknown. These considerations are not easy and the conversations usually aren’t fun to have, but we love being together enough to endure some discomfort sponsored by the collective before one or both of our individual needs or goals overtakes us. We have decided that only we will dictate the terms of our relationship, which means we cannot and will not ever be molded in your image. Or yours.

Watch us move.