Four years ago, I moved from Los Angeles, California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to pursue doctoral studies. It was a shock. It was cold way too many months out of the year, and highly segregated when it came to where people lived, worked and socialized. Living daily in a city that is constantly assaulted by police brutality, racism, patriarchy, homophobia, reproductive oppression and high ass unemployment rates (this is not unique to Milwaukee, but in fact, sadly, happens throughout the United States) will make a sista easily build a wall around her. Not just any wall, but a wall so high and so thick nothing can penetrate through it, or climb over it. And everyday, my wall grows thicker and higher; a survival skill no doubt. I lost some of my sunshiny demeanor, and became indifferent to how I moved about. I felt powerless in shaping my life and was depressed. And everyday I thought about running away somewhere warm, with plenty of African heritage people, where we witness and experience liberation. This dreaming saved me.
Some may dismiss this dream of mine as a utopia — a place where we manifest our own destiny free of heteropatriarchy, restrictions on female sensuality, violence and forced isolation. I believe it is the future, one we must dream together to ignite.
I got a glimpse of what the future can hold a few weeks ago.
For four days, I was at a retreat in beautiful, sunny, warm Sonoma County, California. The air was filled with the smell of lavender and rosemary. The scenery was breathtaking. Every morning as I walked from my cabin to the meeting room I saw green lushness that spread all around me. I was covered in peace and held by a sea of Green Mountains. I felt protected and safe enough to let my guard down.
For the first time, in a long time, I felt myself open to possibility, to love, to exploring different ways of understanding myself and spirit. And (drum roll please) there were other Black women there looking for and wanting to co-create sacred spaces where Black women can grow in love. There were sistas there that I could continue to dream with. At this brief retreat, this dream manifested into beautiful realities: from jumping rope together, to gathering together organically, to breaking bread together, and embracing one another.
It was exactly what I needed, and I’m sure, what most of the other sistas needed, too. Because we do need each other. And to acknowledge that is a revolutionary act. As we move closer to one another, letting our guards down (however much we feel safe to do), seeing the god in ourselves reflected in the other, loving one another and being close to nature, we begin to create and (re)claim tools necessary for our liberation.
As I continue to walk about this earth, reflecting and wondering, I have encountered people along the way that have provided energy, support, an inspirational word, all of which have gotten me through to my next step. I offer some tools that have proved beneficial to me in my journey, and hopefully will be the lift that you may need as well…
- Dream: Both individually and collectively. This world we live in is not enough, and if we are to build a better future, where society, people and attitudes are transformed, then we can begin by envisioning what that looks and feels like for us. Doing this in a group is profound as our dreams start to manifest because we have each other to affirm each other’s dreams, and build upon those dreams as well.
- Journal: Writing is a way to clear your thinking. Write about what you are feeling, even when you may not understand it fully. Getting it out on paper allows you to release it from your body. Often times, we hold on to stuff, and it has a way of manifesting itself physically. What we hold on to may be making us sick or in a constant fog. Write it out and release it. Repeat as needed.
- Share: The support I received came about because I shared how I was feeling with other people who could hold my story. In return, they shared with me and gave me perspective, and in many cases, a listening ear (which was invaluable). As Black women, we are often taught to hold everything in and just deal with it. This is not only unfair, but it is unhealthy. Share your story where comfortable. None of us have to live in isolation, or silence.
- Take breaks: Like literally, take a break every now and then from whatever you are doing. Again, as Black women, especially poor and working class, we have been socialized to believe that our work is inextricably tied to our self-worth. This is the thinking of a capitalist, patriarchal society that has historically devalued Black women as nothing more than laborers. Take back your health by taking breaks that work for you and your schedule. Whether that’s taking a study break to go for a short walk around the block, or meditating at your desk for five minutes, or in the bathroom or outside if you don’t have a desk. Stand up, stretch, breathe, and repeat.
- Connect: Getting together with people that are supportive, nurturing and loving has saved me many a day from falling into a deep abyss of self-loathing. They are my support system, which is essential since I am away from all of my family. And getting with folks who share similar goals, visions and values as you is both affirming and uplifting. Who in your community can be a support to you?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I invite you to add to the list in the comments section so that we can learn from one another as we reclaim our health and well being. The point is to be mindful of how you go about your day, and to constantly check in with yourself so that you don’t lose sight of what’s most important…your health and well being.
It has been a couple of weeks since the retreat. I keep in touch with many of the women I made connections with, and I often visualize about the peace I felt and the beauty I witnessed while there. I continue to dream, individually and collectively, as a way to feed my spirit and the spirit of others, and slowly my wall is falling down.
Charmaine spends her time dancing and daydreaming about love, self-care and what it would be like to have an Ooloi in her life. When not doing that, she is a fourth year doctoral student and Program Manager at the Reproductive Justice Collective. She loves reading Afro-futuristic novels, and pissing narrow minded people off with her talk of intersectional liberation.