Tag Archives: Ashley Frith

What Does It Mean To Be White And Have Community?

28 Feb

Celebrating diverse Jewish community at Diana’s Passover Seder

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February 14th marked ten years of writing the Wendy Jane Soul Shake blog. What started as a singular journey to question and explore my strong desire to connect across racial lines, embrace Black arts and culture, and fight against the most overt forms of racism, while knowing some of the subverted systems of oppression, is still a journey for certain. In the last few years, thanks to video recordings, and the realization of how fragile our democracy really is, many of us white folks finally awakened to the racial violence this country was founded on, and continues to perpetuate. We also know many white folks are clinging tightly to their positions of power, privilege, and white comfort. The blog, and my journey, has taken these twists and turns right alongside this living history.

Lately, though, I think about what kinds of things I should be writing about now. Not that there isn’t enough evidence to show us that the work of, not simply being aware of racism, but of working toward a future where we are all liberated from racism, is still needed. In just the last month we learned of the killing of Amir Locke. Amir was a young Black man from Minneapolis, killed by a police officer conducting a no-knock warrant. On February 18th, the convicted police officer that “accidentally” thought her gun was a taser and killed Black teenager, Duante Wright, received the lightest prison sentence of two years for taking Duante’s life.

And not that there’s not still Black people, people of color, Indigenous people, LGBTQ folks, and folks with disabilities, fighting to get a foot in the door, raise the glass ceiling, and merely to feel they are authentically accepted and belong in the majority white work spaces they so often find themselves in. All of this still exists despite the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that every corporation, and non-profit organization hurried to initiate after the murder of George Floyd. DEI is big business now, as evidenced by the many job openings available for DEI Directors.

There is so much more of course which we need to transform, and I feel it’s important to keep documenting these times we are moving through. Yet I’m feeling I need to make some changes too–here on the blog–and in the way I move through this world. In a recent post a friend suggested I bring in other voices–perhaps interview, or be in conversation with others about racism, white body supremacy, and the work of transformation. To write about a future that is for all of us. A future where we exist side-by-side without the weight of a hierarchal oppressive system. To hear from others through their lens, and lived experience, what all of this means to them, and how they see a way to do the work we so sorely need to keep doing.

Got Community?

Which brings me to community. Right before the pandemic I interviewed for an opportunity to be trained as one of a group of Artist/Community Health Workers, who would engage and co-create an arts-based project with a selected community, considered marginalized. During the interview, I was comfortable answering questions, like, “Why are people poor? Is it because they’re lazy, don’t work hard enough?” I was able to plainly answer that I believed it was racism, and structures and laws of oppression, like redlining, urban renewal, inequality in school resources, and not people’s laziness or lack of responsibility. Then I was asked the question, and I’m paraphrasing here, “What community or communities do you consider yourself a part of?” Right away, I became uncomfortable, and blocked. I didn’t have an answer about my community.

I had only recently heard a few Black people, leaders and activists in the racial justice world, say that white people don’t have community. It often takes me quite a while for something to click, to understand the depth of what is being said. During the interview, I stammered. In my head, I thought about how growing up I felt I belonged in a more formal way to my Jewish community. Our family belonged to a local Reform Temple. I went to weekly Hebrew school and Sunday school classes, celebrated the Jewish holidays with my family and relatives, and felt a connection to the small handful of Jewish kids in my elementary school classes. We were way outnumbered by the majority of Catholic and Protestant students. On Mondays when the Christian kids left school early for Catechism class, it was just me and Chucky Handler as the two Jewish kids left in the classroom, along with Nicky DiMerali, the only Muslim kid in the class. Days like those, my sense of our connection, of belonging to each other because we were in the minority, and other, was more pronounced.

Things changed once my sisters and I left home after high school. My family left the Temple. Also, my mother passed away from cancer when I was twenty-six. She was the glue that held together our family’s Jewish holiday celebrations. When she passed, and as our generation of kids grew up and moved away, the honoring of the holidays fell apart. Today, I am still in community with my Jewishness in a more informal way with my great friends, Diana, Marci and Ilira, and my Aunt Jane, who have over the years, included my daughters and me in their Jewish holiday celebrations. And though I don’t now belong to a synagogue or temple, I was invited to join the Racial Justice Committee at a Temple here in Providence, and am again, learning what it means to be in community there.

My mom finding community? Mrs. Handler (Chucky’s mom) (left) and my mom (right), co-chairs of Temple Israel Annual Art Show, Waterbury, CT

I don’t think I mentioned the Jewish community in the interview, but I did mention my artist and writer friends as people I am in community with. Still, I felt the tension in my body arise with the growing knowledge that I could not truthfully name much of a community that I was a part of.

I was painfully shy growing up, and often did, and still do, feel like an outsider in a group setting. When I was younger, I stayed quiet in the ballet and gymnastics classes, and larger social groups I found myself in. I was good when it was me and one friend, or within a small group of people, but for some reason, which I can finally say is most likely some form of social anxiety, I get petrified of sharing anything about myself or my opinions. While getting my morning coffee today, I was pondering all this, and said to myself, it’s part Wendy, and part white supremacy. It rhymed, and the ring of it sounded about right.

We are who we are as individuals, based on our family genes, brain chemistry, and the way we were raised. And being considered white, and growing up under the social norms and structures of white supremacy, and patriarchy, we are conditioned with what we are told are the proper manners, and ways to behave. Times have evolved. But a majority of us are still also taught that good old American dream myth of individualism, of how, if we just work hard enough, and simply pursue our passions, we can achieve whatever we desire. We are told success is having a job where you are paid a lot of money, have a house, get married, and have children, and raise them in the same way. Maybe the actual words aren’t said, but the lessons are learned through the modelling and messages we received in our homes, our schools, and our social groups, which all come from the overarching systems of white supremacy culture.

We aren’t taught the child across the street, or across in another neighborhood, is our child too. If we were, we would all work together to make sure everyone is safe, and every one is cared for and supported, and gets what they need to live and thrive in this life. We would lift one another up, and figure out what we need to fix things for the betterment of all of us.

And if you’re white and you are reading this and saying, but I have community, I will say, Not All White People. This is not personal. This is a system that is entrenched in white American society. Sure, there can be many of us who can name communities we are a part of, whether they are faith-based groups, book clubs, white-led anti-racism activist groups, running groups, parenting groups, and more. I know white people that have elder members of their families moved in with them to care for them. I see many friends who step up when a friend or a friend’s child falls ill, or faces some kind of harsh life event. Yet, even if we are working on cross-racial and cultural community building and engaging with folks that don’t look like us, are we bringing in our white norms of how this work should look? And what of our connection to other white people? Do we live in a web of interconnectedness with one another that serves the greater good of all? What I’m trying to get at is community as Dr. King called it in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

I am not an academic or social scientist, but I ask myself, and other white folks, have we been raised to truly live the words that some of us latch onto, which are attributed to people of the African diaspora: “it takes a village?”

And I wondered if we did, what then could our country look like?

And, like the first time I started hearing how white people don’t have community, I am now getting in touch with the idea of embodiment. I surprised myself, as someone who has worked in mental health for over twenty-five years, by not knowing until very recently what embodiment work meant. One of the first times I heard of the idea of working through trauma through the body was a few years ago when someone mentioned the book, The Body Keeps The Score. I started the book last year but I admit I didn’t get too far through it. I’ve had trouble focusing to read, and the book felt dry and clinical, and I found it hard to get into, valid as the work may be.

What Does It Mean To Be In Our Bodies?

Embodiment practices use the body as a tool for healing through self-awareness, mindfulness, connection, self-regulation, finding balance, and creating self-acceptance. The work of Embodiment or Somatic therapies believes the way for us to heal our trauma, and to settle our bodies out of the reactionary, fight or flight mode, is through working with our bodies to metabolize the trauma. Yes, it serves the individual. Yet it also serves the collective “us.” When we are embodied, we are present and can interrelate with others, and better serve the moment, have the challenging conversation, and work to make the changes and transformations we seek to see in this world.

Embodiment work, I know is a current buzz topic, and, yet I believe in the work. The way I felt my body respond during that interview when I became uncomfortable because I couldn’t find myself in community, showed me one example of how learning how to be aware and then settle my body in the moment could have opened me up to respond instead of react, and to show up as my authentic, imperfect self.

Another time the seeds of knowledge of embodiment were planted, was when sitting with musician/educator, and Director of Racial Equity and Belonging at the non-profit, Community Music Works, Ashley Frith. I always look forward to meeting up with Ashley, who I collaborate with in my work in mental health, and her work in also using her art as a tool for healing. In our informal planning meetings where we develop content for her artist residencies for patients and staff at the psychiatric hospital I work for, Ashley has said how we so often are not “in our bodies” and how in her work she tries to help people be in their bodies. I would nod my head, hearing this on a surface level, like, I know what you mean…being present, being in the moment, mindfulness…and would even think about how I know I run away from my body, but the real acknowledging or knowing of the depth of what she meant, I did not truly know.

I got deeper into my introduction to embodiment work when reading and doing all of the experiential somatic/body exercises in Resmaa Menakem’s book. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathways to Mending our Hearts and Bodies. Resmaa, aside from being an author, is also a psychotherapist specializing in the effects of trauma on the human body and relationships in Black families and Black society. He calls his current ant-racism embodiment work, somatic abolitionism.

For keeping up my learning, I now follow Resmaa on social media (look for him on twitter and IG). Also, Ashley informed me about The Embody Lab, “an online hub for embodiment education, connection, and healing, for global transformation.” I just attended their online Embodied Social Justice Summit last weekend. The five-day free summit was packed with many speakers from the field, including a highly,can’t be put in words, impactful session with Resmaa Menakem and the Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams. Only able to attend on the weekend because of work ,I did still get to hear many people speak, some of whom led us through experiential body work. I was also actually able to see the many faces attending on-screen, and to engage in a breakout session during one of the talks. The Summit was educational, inspiring, and overwhelmingly enriching. I feel like I finally get more what embodiment is about, and want to go deeper into the work in service of social justice. At the summit, even though it was online, I felt a sense of community.

I believe I have a very unsettled body, and one that avoids conflict–again, part Wendy, part white supremacy. I believe that embodiment will help me be able to be present instead of reactionary in the midst of the work I am doing with others, in service of the collective transformation necessary to see a better future for all of us. Part of white supremacy culture, too, and part of human nature, can be thinking we can have a quick fix, or we keep searching for something outside of us to ready us for growth, and we can keep waiting for ourselves to be perfect at something before we take action. This sentiment was actually voiced by a Latinx man who was a part of the Summit breakout session I was in. He said that “white people are always waiting to be perfect…and then they don’t act..” He expressed his frustration with this, which led him to currently withdraw some, from the years of activism work he had been a part of. In getting more involved with embodiment work, I vow to myself to not wait to be perfect.

The Building Blocks Of Community

Another recent opportunity to come out of my Wendy and white supremacy conditioned body, and to enter into new communities focused on transforming our future through anti-racism work, was a five-session online Beloved Community group with author, activist, non-profit leader, political leader, and speaker, Shay Stewart-Bouley. Shay is the author of the blog, Black Girl in Maine, which chronicles her life as a Black woman living in the very white state, as well as her experiences with racism, doing anti-racism work, and now includes other writers on race, too.

In her desire to have white people deepen their anti-racism work beyond talking about it, and reading all the right books, Shay created the Beloved Community as a forum for people–everyone was invited, regardless of race or ethnicity–to come together to share our stories of race, share what obstacles come up for us in doing anti-racism work, and to promote us taking concrete actions in service of bringing about equity, true inclusion, accountability, and racial justice in our communities–whether that is with family, friends, our workplaces, our schools, our local businesses, or our neighborhoods.

Throughout our online meet-ups, I held the paradox in my body and mind about being anxious about messing up and saying something ignorant and imperfect, and knowing that I was fully okay with messing up, because that is part of the process, and journey. It’s not about me. It’s about transforming white supremacy culture through community building. While the Wendy DNA that’s meshed with the white supremacy gets in the way in group settings like our Beloved Community, I truly experienced growth by being a part of it. Shay provided the container, and served as facilitator of our monthly meetings with fifteen white woman and one white man, ranging in age from, I believe, our 30’s through 70’s, many living in Maine, and the New England area.

In the Beloved Community I got to hear from everyone else about their lived experiences, how they came to this work, what they are up to now, and the progress and setbacks and challenges they face when doing the work, or block themselves from doing the work. Whether we want to call our blocks fear, or something else, it really is about unlearning our entrenched white supremacy ways of being.

I got to share about my experiences too. During the next-to-last session, Shay also gave us each a “buddy” from the Beloved Community to talk to outside of group. This was great, as I got to talk to a woman where we shared about actual things we are working on in terms of racial justice, supported one another with feedback and ideas, and were vulnerable and honest about who we are as we do this work. We plan, as Shay hopes for all of us in the group, to continue talking beyond the scope of our Beloved Community, which ended last week. I have deep gratitude for Shay and her work, and for convening all of us together in service of moving racial justice work forward, with truth, grace, and accountability.

Let’s Talk!

I am learning about what community means, and what it means to build community. I am working on unlearning the untrenched ways of white supremacy culture which hinder building safe, inclusive, loving communities.

I would love to hear your thoughts about community. What it means to you. What communities you belong to. How you build community. How you use community building to work toward racial justice.

I am highly grateful for this community here–to you who read the blog, who interact with me, and one another, here on the blog, on other social media platforms where the blog is shared, and of course, in live conversation off of social media, I thank you for helping me to realize what community is.

Wendy Jane Soul Shake 2020 Year in Review

28 Dec

Dr. Fauci John Lewis
Dr. Fauci, John Lewis Street Art, NYC, August 2020

Every year at this time I write a year-end recap of the blog, and the times we are in. But how in the heck am I supposed to summarize this year? Nevertheless, I’ll try.

I began the 2020 WJSS blog with February’s post, Tell Me The Truth: Exploring The Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations with Shay Stewart-Bouley and Debby Irving, The afore-mentioned title was a public discussion at a Connecticut community center, between, Shay Stewart-Bouley, racial justice and equity non-profit executive director, writer, activist, and author of the blog, Black Girl in Maine, and Debby Irving, racial justice educator and activist, and author of the book, Waking Up White. I have followed both women for some years now, and it was good to hear them continuing to grow and share their dialogue on what it takes to stay open and honest in cross-racial conversations and friendships. There we sat, hundreds of us, elbow-to-elbow, in rows of folding chairs, taken in by their talk. How could we have known that within a month, our country would be thrown into lockdown over a global pandemic–the Covid-19 virus–and that such large gatherings would be prohibited, and that our facial expressions would soon be hidden under masks?

But racism doesn’t stop due to a virus, and in April and May I wrote Let Us Not Forget Racism In The Time Of Covid-19, and Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors: What Reality Are We Running From. In these posts, I drew attention to the reports of how the virus was impacting Black and Brown and Indigenous individuals and communities, at a much higher rate than white people and their communities, due to our country’s history of racism–both bigotry, and systemic. This history and the policies and laws born out of it, created inadequate and less accessible healthcare for Black and Brown communities. In addition, we have seen how some Black people seeking care for Covid symptoms have been mistrusted, and dismissed, and their treatment mishandled, which even resulted in some cases, in death. Also, noted, was the higher number of essential workers of color who don’t have the luxury to work remotely, thereby creating risk of exposure for themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods.

In Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors..., I held up a mirror to how I believe it’s racist when white people call the virus a hoax, and government’s way of trying to control us, and hurt our economy. Knowing how the virus has a lesser impact on white communities–even though there are countless, white people dying from it, too–having a belief in a conspiracy theory and government control is harmful to Black, Brown and Indigenous people. To put these communities at risk because of your selfish wish to have a haircut, is simply racist. I wished instead that we could be thinking of how instead of going back to what we were, to the way things were–to wishing you could go back and hide in the comfort of Starbucks and your gym routine–that we could be forging a new way of being, and caring for ourselves, and others.

At the same time these conspiracy theories were roiling, the signaling of a renewed racial justice movement rumbled beneath the surface with the release of the video in early May, showing the February killing of Ahmaud Arbery by two white neighbors, while Ahmaud was out for a jog.

And, then, on May 25, 2020, Minneapolis resident, George Floyd, was murdered by police officer, Derek Chauvin, following the arrest of Mr. Floyd for possibly passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill at a convenience store. The world watched the horrid act of the officer pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, of Mr. Floyd’s pleading for his life, and calling out for his mother in his last moments of life. We know this because of the bravery of seventeen year-old, Darnella Frazier, who was in the crowd of onlookers yelling to Chauvin, and other officers present, for Chauvin to get off of George Floyd, to no avail. Ms. Frazier’s video showed the world the truth and horror of what happened to George Floyd that day. It held up a mirror to our country to say, especially to white people, we can no longer say this is not happening. We can no longer say, “he should have complied.” We can no longer say, “the officers are just doing their job, and defending their own safety.”

Shortly after this national tragedy that reverberated around the world, there was a new wave of uprisings–a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, this time with many more white people finally waking up, and now, joining in the call for racial justice. I was inspired by what I was witnessing around me, in particular, the young Black leaders, many still in their teens, leading their own city’s marches, using their voices, loud and strong, to let us know we are truly at a time of racial reckoning in this country. In response to these feelings, I wrote, Youth-Led Protest, Falling Into The (Donut) Hole of Trying To Enlighten Those Inflicted With Blindness To Their Racism And A Big Thank You To The Artists Who Do The Spiritual Lifting.

BLM March in tribute to George Floyd, Providence, RI, June 2020

While I was hopeful and inspired about the fight for racial justice being rebirthed, The Falling Into The (Donut) Hole part of the title of that post (and I might be famous for writing the world’s longest blog titles) referred to the extreme anger I also felt when seeing social media posts, and hearing conversations by some co-workers of mine. Their comments showed they still weren’t getting it, and at this point, it is a willful not getting it, as far as I’m concerned. Posts about “riots” and “looting” and “destroying their own neighborhoods.” Posts with the meme that says something like, “…if you don’t want trouble with the police, then don’t do things that are illegal.” I engaged with some of these posts because they are racist. And while I didn’t want to project, and I am no white savior, I thought if it was hard for me to look these co-workers in the eye and work alongside of them, I imagined the harm it would also be causing for my co-workers who are Black. I did my, try every angle of presenting facts, trying, with kindness to ask for, to look for an empathetic bone in the offenders’ bodies, all the while knowing I wasn’t going to change their point of view. I took action, but shortly after this time, decided I would not engage any more with these social media posts, and would put my energy to better use.

During this time of feeling sadness, anger, and a will to keep fighting for what is right, I was grateful, and stay grateful for the artists of our time, who always hold up a mirror to what is happening, and who show us what love looks like. The artists in my city of Providence, Rhode Island–Black artists, Latinx artists, Indigenous artists, Asian Artists, white artists, came together to create protest posters, and gorgeous street murals. They showed us what solidarity, and hope, and resilience looks like.

Providence artists create street murals for downtown business district, June 2020

This also became a time to reflect on what it means to be white, and to see how our whiteness and white supremacy operates and how we have been programmed to believe what we believe about ourselves, and about those who we “other.’ With Some Of Us White People, I attempted to imagine all the various ways we white people were feeling, thinking, and behaving in the wake of the George Floyd killing, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the June killing of Rayshard Brooks by a police officer in Atlanta, and the call for justice to charge the police officers responsible for the killing of Breonna Taylor.

All the books on race we were buying, the films we were watching, the conversations we were having, the marches we were attending, the t-shirts we were sporting, all in the name of trying to catch up and educate ourselves, and finally start to learn and believe a portion of the things that Black people in this country have been trying to tell us for centuries, and to do something about it. All the ways we gingerly, or not so gingerly, asked Black people how to help, or, ask if they were okay, when on a daily basis, we heard the refrain of many Black people saying, “I am not okay.”

At this time, I got to write two articles for local, Motif Magazine, Be Of Service, 5 Do’s and Don’t’s for White People Taking Anti-Racist Action and A Surge In Activism, Activist Groups Help White People Show Up The Right Way. Motif, like many individuals, businesses, arts spaces and journalism outlets, was also looking to give attention to the current fight for racial justice. It was my friend, Christopher Johnson, who encouraged me to write the articles. Christopher, who is Black, is a poet, and playwright. His most recent work, Invoice For Emotional Labor, centers on the idea that he shouldn’t have to educate white people about racism, but in his experiential, cutting words, he does just that. While I have been to readings of the work-in-progress, I can’t wait to see this play performed in its entirety.

I have not mentioned much here about the in-between spaces of dealing with this year, and haven’t ever gotten too much into my personal life here beyond my experiences with dealing with matters of race. But I alluded to it in How To Hang In There: Today Baratunde Thurston’s Podcast, How To Citizen, Helped. In this piece, I spoke about knowing how we all have our burden to bear in life, and in this year, in particular, as we deal with a global pandemic, a call for our country to face its true history, and deal with our racial reckoning, reparations, and healing.

This year has impacted each and every one of us in all kinds of ways. I know some of you might be feeling the burden of being a parent who all of a sudden has to become an assistant teacher while your young child does their online schooling, and, figure out how to work from home at the same time. That teachers are working extremely hard to teach simultaneously in the classroom, and online, and worry, too, about exposure to the virus for themselves, and their students. That some of you are feeling isolated by working remotely. That some of you are trying to pay your bills as a small business owner, when your business isn’t able to operate at full capacity, or at all. That some of you are out of work. That some of you are trying to stay connected and care for an elderly parent with visiting restrictions in place, and that some of you worry about exposing immune-compromised loved ones. Some of you have to work in grocery stores, in public transportation, and other businesses with high volumes of person-to-person contact, and have never had a break. That some of you have lost some one you loved, or multiple people that you loved. That some of you work in hospitals–nurses, doctors, housekeepers, dietary workers–and are seeing far too much of death, and experiencing trauma and stress from all that you are witnessing while working countless days, hours, months, trying to save lives, and maintain a safe hospital environment.

And in all of this I am reminded of the words of local community activist, Pilar McCloud. In this post, Pilar spoke of how many people in the Black community have always had to struggle and work through adversities and obstacles due to bigotry, and systems of racism. She sees how this pandemic is just another thing for Black people to work through, and finds it interesting how more white people are finally getting to see what struggle feels like, with the pandemic, and their new awakening to racial injustice.

As for me, I work as an Activities Therapist at a psychiatric hospital, and run groups with patients on an Adult Intensive Treatment inpatient unit. Because of that, I have stayed working full-time in person, and while it is not dealing with the same kind of intense stress and trauma of working in a medical hospital, it has felt stressful at times to me, and I know it has to my co-workers. I am grateful I still have a full-time job that gives me structure, provides me with a daily purpose, and ensures that I can continue to have an income. I love working with our patients. I have amazing, compassionate, co-workers, and we pull one another up, mostly with humor, especially at the times we need to laugh, so we don’t cry.

But our patients are in emotional distress. The pandemic has exacerbated their depression, their anxiety, their paranoia, their mania, their feelings of isolation, and their psychosis. Trying to get our patients, who share a common milieu space, when they are at various levels of awareness, psychosis, and, or paranoia, to wear their masks, and to social distance, is trying, to say the least. To keep constant vigilance of possible patient and staff exposure, and get updates on actual staff and patients who have contracted the virus, especially on one’s own unit or area, is unsettling. To try to support people suffering more during this global pandemic, while we ourselves are suffering, can also be challenging.

In another capacity at work, I am the Coordinator of the hospital’s Healing Arts program. Started by my former supervisor, Barbara Ostrove, who was director of our Occupational Therapy Department, I, along with support primarily, from fellow staff member, Occupational Therapist, and artist, Laura White Carpenter, write grants, and develop and coordinate arts programming for our patients and staff in the form of artist residencies, exhibitions, and special events, all utilizing the arts to promote wellness and healing, and to humanize the hospital experience, and environment. This fall, we were supposed to have one of our past resident artists, violist, Ashley Frith, do an artist residency, but that was not to be with the virus. We are trying to hold off a bit for her to be able to come in person to connect with our patients in an interactive group format, as well as to offer some relief for our staff through performance and conversation. If that is not possible, we will have to think of possibly doing a live or recorded video residency, something we are hoping to avoid, as we feel it’s not the same experience. We may create an entirely different kind of residency experience all together. We shall see.

Still in the early months of the pandemic, I tried to be all heroic, and Laura and I did sidewalk chalk art murals outside our hospital’s entrance–brightly-hued florals and hearts, with words of thanks–which were greatly appreciated by staff. I was lucky to connect with local artists, Jacques Bidon and Nafis White, who so thoughtfully made beautiful handmade prints and thank you card sets that they distributed to three local hospitals’ essenttial workers. At our hospital, we received 100 print sets which we were able to distribute to our entire housekeeping staff, to our Patient Assessment Services (emergency room) staff, and to the staff taking care of our geriatric and dementia patients on our Senior Specialty unit. I also was able to procure a grant of three Amazon music loaded tablets for our inpatient units to use from the non-profit organization, Musicians On Call. We see how much music helps our patients to feel calm, connected, and energized, and so we were grateful to be granted the tablets.

Artists, Nafis White and Jacques Bidon and their Care Print packages for essential workers

Yet, after this initial burst of energy to use the arts to help us get through this time, I came to a standstill. These days I often feel like I’m this high functioning depressed person, just getting by each day, and not delivering the kind of care and attention I should be to our patients. I cannot bring myself to come up with another arts thing to give to patients and staff. It’s a Catch-22. This is exactly the time the arts can help us, and it is what I preach. I see how many artists, locally, and nation-wide are still showing up, and making the best of these times, and lifting us up with their work, yet I am unable to move myself to action.

Laura, Healing Arts Program, Chalk Art honoring our fellow frontline workers
me, Chalk Art for our fellow frontline workers, May 2020
The truth, May 2020

I say all this, not to get off-topic, or to get attention or sympathy. I say this because it is real, with this time we are in, and each and every one of us, I know, has their own story of how this time is impacting them, and how they are managing. I also acknowledge that feeling ungrounded with all that is going on has made me feel scattered, unable to commit and follow through at times when it has come to continuing the daily, long-term work of fighting to break down racism and the racist systems we live in. I touch upon these themes in the Baratunde Thurston post, even though I haven’t ended up following through to continue to listen to his podcast beyond another episode or two. I hope that you are able to acknowledge how you are feeling and are able to share that with someone, and I invite you to please feel free to share here below, how you have been managing during this year of Covid-19, and this time of a critical call for us to finally face our dire need for racial reckoning in this country.

Still, we all manage to carry on in some way. It is not all gloom. Yes, there are moments of joy, too, that appear for me, and I truly hope for you, too.

Getting to visit NYC with my daughters-surreal in its emptiness, but still loved

Our beautiful New England fall still came, and yet without the news of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor, daily filling our newsfeed anymore, I worried that many white folks were forgetting about the fight they so vehemently said they were there for in June. With covid fatigue, and racial justice warrior fatigue in mind, I wrote, Fighting Racism Got You Down? Don’t Make Those Brunch Reservations Just Yet. I worried that so many of us who were waiting for the Presidential election, with hopes that we could oust the current one, would, once that happened, think all was well.

We do hold hopes the new President, will in January, begin to undo all of the evil policies and legislation put into place that hurt mostly Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, as well as our immigrant community. Yet, the post warns us to stay vigilant, and to keep fighting, and to not let things go back to the status quo. It asks white folks to not just rest easy, because the blatant hate is gone, and we are being taken care of again. It asks us to not forget our privilege, or the will to make things truly equal for every one, to include everyone, on not a hierarchal level, with white people at the top, but one where we are all together, side-by-side. (My August 2019 post, Every Day, Chip Away at De-Centering Whiteness speaks to this in more detail)

While I was able to, though more sporadically, keep writing this year, I got stuck in my own head, thinking I was real special, and developed a case of the white fragility. In, What I Didn’t Want To Share, Or: If This White (Jewish) Woman Went To Confession, This Is What She’d Say, you can read all about my bout with thinking as a white person, I should step back from writing about race, and how still after so much time of writing about race, and educating myself and doing anti-racism work, I still worry way too much about saying or doing the wrong thing in my cross-racial conversations and actions. Thankfully, through friends, Black and white, who help give me perspective on this, I carry on, striving to not worry what others will think, ready to engage in the conversations that come up because of my writing or dialogue, and take responsibility for what my impact is. I am also thankful for friend, and racial justice activist, Joan Wyand, who shared about the new podcast Eyes On Whiteness, which helps me look at how whiteness operates within me, and others, and the world around me. It’s truly helpful, and I highly recommend it.

In my most recent post, Catching Back Up With Artist Kenya (Robinson) And The Luck, Or Lesson Of, Finding What You Seek, written right before Thanksgiving, I share part of an older post never published about an encounter with visiting Florida artist, Kenya (Robinson) who gave a talk at the Providence Public Library for the exhibition, HairBrained. I follow Kenya on Instagram now, and in November, was lucky to catch an IGTV video she made on what she, as a Black artist, noticed was a passive-aggressive style of communication she was encountering, with white women. I was moved by Kenya’s thoughts, and desire to share with those of us listening, how to use our own inner creativity to ‘hack’ these conversations to be able to communicate authentically, and move beyond the way we’ve been programmed for survival with all of our ‘isms, and in doing so, create a new pathway to tap into our true inner energy where we are all the same.

In my blog post title, I use the word ‘luck,’ but when Kenya in her video held up her fortune cookie fortune which said, ‘If you seek it, you shall find it,” she emphasized that there are no coincidences, and so my happening upon her talk that day was meant to be, and I am grateful for the lesson, and the reconnection to both Kenya, and her important work. You can follow her at www.privilegeasplastic.com and on IG @kenya9.

Which makes me think about the word intention, as my year of 2020 blogging comes to an end, and this challenging year is about to wrap up. I have been challenged to keep the things in my life that I say are important to me–continuing the work required to bring about racial justice, equality and freedom, being present in the way I want to be for my two daughters, for my friends, and for my family, being present and giving better energy to serving our patients in my workplace, delivering more Healing Arts programming in my workplace, and opening myself up to the possibility of loving, and letting myself be loved in a romantic relationship.

I know we all have our lists, and that mine is probably sounding just like any New Year’s Eve Resolutions list. Yet, I hope not. I know I can be gentle with myself at this time, and not get down on myself for the things I feel I can’t muster the energy for. I hope you will, too. I also know, as is quoted often in this work of racial justice, in the words of Dr. King, that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I know that I won’t give up the work, and that the work started long before this time we are here on earth, and will continue long after we are gone, and each thing we can do, every day contributes to making things better for all of us. I know that we can make this new post-covid world a better place for all, and not go back to our ways that don’t make a way for all of us, but just for a few of us. I know we can do this. I know we must. I pray that we are not in a rush to get back to ‘regular life’ where we are all about having to make enough money so we can consume things that make us feel comfortable, and fool ourselves into believing everything is all right, forgetting the valuable lessons about what matters to us, is us. All of us. Not just some of us. All of us.

This year, in particular, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support, for engaging with me, and with one another about how race, racism, whiteness, cross-racial connection, and the work of breaking down racism and racist systems shows up in you, and what you are doing about it. I wish you the will to keep doing the work to make the spaces where you are, free and equal, truly equal and equitable, with all perspectives honored and included, and with whiteness de-centered, and not above any other perspective. I wish each one of you, peace, continued good health, safety. I wish you joy.