Sustain

Sitting down near the sacred space I had crafted, waiting for participants to arrive, I was asked something that I’ve been trying to unpack ever since.

“Who are you to being this work?”

Capricorn Mercury quick surveyed the situation, attempting to see if it was simply just a curiosity or implied something else.I could have responded from a place of clout, which is can go both ways. Social justice clout could say “how do you not know about my work?!” and it can also say “I don’t owe you an answer to that.”

“I’m someone who’s on their healing journey and offering what has worked for me to community.”

My decentralized, or less ego driven response made space for the person to feel affirmed and want to come back to another experience when they had time and to bring their partner. In the past year alone, I’ve participated, led or curated close to thirty events, experiences and opportunities for others on their path. Conferences, circles, cyphers and everything in between. All from the same place I uttered out loud to this person who stumbled upon my event.

This question and my response have forced me to investigate some of my tender spots when it comes to how I show up. I have a deep complex about taking up too much space (Jupiter in Leo, childhood trauma). As an extroverted person, I view facilitation as a means to deliberately practice how to step back. This extended space is one that has been a journey in an over itself to take.

But in the revelation that was being asked who I was while I about to ask equally probing questions to folks that are arriving, I flashed back to five years ago when I was a student at City College. I had been politicized and activated around the seizure of the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center. I was introduced to another landscape on my campus, and the other groups who had been organizing in that space. The last meeting I had participated in in the room right before the administration shut it down was a gathering of Black and brown women who wanted to continue the work to have improved services for survivors on the campus.

A lack of community accountability protocols in the communities I was trying to sustain when I was in college triggered another level of my healing process that I have only just been able to recognize. I said it out loud for the first time during the most recent Free University - NYC and Decolonize this Place collaboration. There were CUNY students from Brooklyn College who were trying to hold their campus accountable to the harmful speech by a professor in the wake of the Kavanaugh trail. In the smaller strategy breakouts, I named the need to connect with alumni such as much myself who had similar struggles.

Then they named the same harmful folks in community at City College five years go by name and how they’re still around and I was reminded why I no longer consider myself an “organizer.” I’ve also stepped back when after naming that there were perpetrators of harm in the movements spaces I was a part of on campus, myself and other aligned folks were told that these folks were “too important to the work” and that we “didn’t have time” to set up a protocol, which ended up being a viral call out led by the survivors they had harmed. We were told to wait to have moderated conversations around what we now know to be community accountability and that burned me more than knowing that some folks wanted to just “get it done” as means to being seen. No transformative justice was experienced.

During this same strategy session, I shared how a generation of us had navigated this before, and because of that flashpoint with the center, either doubled down on their reproductive justice, community organizing, and/or healing work. That fire that fed our flames to “do the work” was not sustainable, and I named that those who represent our interests know this. I implored them to be sustainable and intentional by taking time to care for themselves. I did the work in myself to hold myself accountable to be able to take up all the space I needed to begin my healing process. I tended to my own fire.  

Witnessing this, you would think that I would continue to push and implore folks to have protocols and structures for everything, not just the harmful moments. It actually brought forth the opposite. I have completely walked away from communities, projects and initiatives that I once lead or co-lead because we were on a path of prioritizing moving through whatever difficult moment as opposed to taking our time to unpack it all. I’ve participated in that sense of urgency and am responsible for how that influenced the work, as if I am helping to steer something, I am responsible for the energy that I bring to that space. It is the same energetic responsibility that I constantly check in with myself around when I receive invitations to hold space for various interconnected communities here in New York. I have been blessed to be affirmed by the members of the ecosystem of radical organizers, artists, caregivers, healers, educators, and overall magicians here on Lenape land. Majority life cycles of Black, Indigenous, People of Color across the universe of genders, lack thereof, and back again. Some White folks that practice solidarity as a verb too. Yet, the degrees of separation in this landscape are so small sometimes that it scares me to even speak on it. These same pleasurable overlaps that I’ve named that I am grateful to be in community with can also cause pain for myself and others within the same spaces. The overlaps get more complex from there.

I love my communities enough to say what I’m about to say and am open to having a dialogue on what follows in this essay as mirror to the full circle moment I experienced five years later:

Insular, self serving and not self-growing communities, that facilitate spaces of gatekeeping and silence are not going to help us survive the climate change doomsday clock. But there’s also a changing climate within communities of color who are healing, politicizing, organizing, and creating around these same points of tension.

Community accountability is not setting up a dinner to talk under false pretenses when you actually want to call the person out in a harmful, deceiving, way. Community accountability requires folks who are trained in those processes of rebuilding trust and holding space to facilitate these moments, more than once, and consistently. We push and understand the necessity of consistency when it comes to consensual sex, but I’m imploring us to remember consent when we interact with one another in our intimate, but non sexual spaces. The organizing meetings. The rallies. The dancefloors. The sites of worship.

Abolition is about not seizing this #MeToo flashpoint to push for additional militarization, police and ICE raids to prevent “invasions” or the need to send perpetrators of harm in our communities to jail without understand how members of those same armed forces have caused additional trauma in already traumatic situations.  Abolition of these sites of power, whether it’s Rikers or our elected officials, is a step towards harm reduction as it can lead to community policing. Abolition also requires that we don’t become carceal with how we struggle in being in relation. It’s not just saying “surrender” and “don’t operate from a space of ego” but actively communicating how you would like to be seen and being honest with that revelation as often as possible. There’s a lot of harm reduction that can happen at this and additional intersections if we are willing to walk those paths.

Support is not sharing only sharing the work of folks who have a perceived and embodied level of clout in an attempt to be “put on.” Support is also not expressing it through envy and performing as if you do not know someone just because of whatever you’re growing through. Support is about allowing yourself to show up for others in community in the ways in which they have explicitly named. It’s about reciprocity. If you don’t know how to support someone’s work - products, events, labor, experiences, fundraisers etc. - just ask them. Simple but not plain because the impact of being seen for the work that you’ve been doing when you thought “nobody” was looking is powerful.

“If we can accept emotional labour ethically we can value it for the important, world-changing work that it is. We can begin to take seriously how much this labour, so often unacknowledged, actually keeps our relationships, communities, movements, and selves alive.” - Clementine Morrigan

Moving towards a sustainable future, both in wellness and in planetary health, asks us to develop structures of being in right relation with each other. That requires the humility needed to name where we’ve cause harm, pain and disappointment BEFORE pointing at outside structures. The revolution starts at home but if you don’t know your home base (you, your ancestors, your Earth) - what are you doing? What are you avoiding, or trying to breeze through in the name of making it to the next level? Have you navigated your own legacies of resilience by acknowledging the less than stellar moments?

Ntozake Shange, our recently gained ancestor, said “when I die, I will not be guilty of having left a generation of girls behind thinking that anyone can tend to their emotional health other than themselves.” As an ancestor in training coping with the data of what world my seventh descendant can experience, I refuse to be guilty of leaving a generation of folks behind that think that they have to live lives dictated by harmful either/or perspectives and the cherry picking of social justice cultures. For empathetic hearts who’ve considered organizing, raging, crying and rallying when the world seems impossible - be sure to consider your healing and sustaining it.

JW: I’m curious, what would you tell your own younger self? This is 40-plus years after "for colored girls." What would you tell that young girl hanging out in New York and in the Bay Area?

NS: I would tell her not to be so cowered by convention for so long.”

Thank you Ntozake.


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