Welcoming our Her Testimony Youth Apprentices

A couple of months ago, we announced the launching of our youth apprenticeship, a program that will provide training in research, analysis, and storytelling for Black girls in North Carolina. This apprenticeship will build upon the the work of the Her Testimony campaign, which lifted up the experiences of Black women in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the extension of this campaign, we are positioning our apprentices to be witnesses, storytellers, and champions of Black girl wellness amidst the converging threats of the pandemic and racial injustices.

At the start of the apprenticeship, we briefly met everyone in a park to officially welcome the apprentices into TBP with gifts and portraits taken by our very own Winnie Okwakol.

Since mid-September, we have been virtually meeting with our four dynamic apprentices. Led by Erin, our Program Director, each of our apprentices are learning how to bear witness with Black girls and women through dialogue, create narratives that heal and affirm, and take ownership of our voices and power. Along the way, our apprentices are connecting with Black women storytellers, such as our friends Janelle Harris Dixon and Shanelle Gabriel, who created space to sharpen our apprentices’ skills in bearing witness through interviews and crafting stories. 

A recent guest workshop on techniques to create a good story led by poet Shanelle Gabriel.

After facilitating listening sessions with other Black girls to gain insight on how the pandemic has impacted their lives, our apprentices will create a creative resource of wellness strategies for Black girls to focus on their well-being in light of intense and stressful times.

We are excited to officially introduce the Her Testimony Youth Apprentices: Aniya, Chalina, Deja, and Noire. Get to know them below.


Aniya Arnold

How do you want to impact the world?
I want to impact the world by creating screenplays that evolve into films about an array of experiences that introduce people to new perspectives that they haven’t come in contact with before.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I want to become better at finding my voice and using it effectively to make real change, and improve my collaboration skills.

 

Chalina Morgan-Lopez

How do you want to impact the world?
I want to be able to use my skills and knowledge to enact social justice in our communities, and to be a voice and amplify the voices of those who are most silenced.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I want to take away more connections that can further my success in the future, and a long-lasting sisterhood with those who I’ve connected with, as well as valuable skills and new perspectives through helping develop the #Hertestimony campaign with Beautiful.

 

Deja Palmer-Reese

How do you want to impact the world?
I want to impact the world by bringing light and putting the spotlight on the underdog stories in any way possible. I enjoy doing this by writing my poetry in different perspectives with different subjects being addressed. By writing, I am also able to let people know that someone connects with them and understands what they go through; thus making them feel comfortable and less lonely. I want to have a career in the medical field as well because I enjoy helping people and making people feel safe. After joining this apprenticeship, I realize how much more I want to do for the community. This is my first time contributing and I feel and know I could help much more.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I plan to accomplish bringing awareness to the struggle that Black women and girls face during the rise of COVID along with the steady uprising of police brutality. Stories like theirs can easily be brushed away or looked over, so to be able to make a campaign and interview people really makes me happy. I want to take away a new knowledge on their situations because I was unaware of the risk that black women/ people face dealing with COVID. I also want to take away a new knowledge when it comes to writing as well. Conducting interviews, writing and listening to reports, and learning about the new lenses that the program uses may help me in future writing situations.

 

Noire Meyers

How do you want to impact the world?
Short answer: I want to bring more representation to us Black girls in the media, and create more safe spaces. Long answer: I want to use my writing and artistic skills to bring diversity to the types of Black girls we see in the media. Yes, there are Black girls who are loud and outgoing and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they are not a monolith. And not to mention the extreme lack of diversity in fantasy/sci-fi like stories. I want to make my own stories, my own games, with girls we can all relate to on a personal level, not just a skin-deep level. I want to bring awareness to mental illness through these stories, an elephant in the room we’ve been ignoring for way too long, and provide access to effective resources that even girls from different nations can access.

What do you want to accomplish or take away as a result of your participation in this program?
I want to walk away with the ability to create my own campaigns that’ll reach people inside and outside my intended audience. I want to be able to organize interviews and projects properly with little procrastination. I want to know how to properly use people’s testimonies in my campaign along with how to properly manage data for said project/campaign and how to properly interview someone.


Khayla, our creative director, leads the group in a quick icebreaker.
Bria, our project coordinator, posing with Deja, Aniya, Chalina and Noire.

In our orientation a few weeks ago, we asked each apprentice this question: What would it look like if all Black girls were valued, respected, and free? After ten minutes of imagining what freedom looks like for themselves and each other, a vision statement of freedom and hope was developed. This is the intention and declaration that we have been holding on to throughout the apprenticeship.

“We as Black girls are able to freely express ourselves without fear of harm or being silenced for speaking our truth and being our genuine selves.”

Black women: we see you, we love to hear your voice, and we’re grateful for the privilege of holding and sharing your stories, especially over the past several months.

In June 2020, The Beautiful Project launched #HerTestimony: A Campaign About Black Women’s Experiences of COVID-19 in North Carolina. Throughout this campaign, we’ve been listening to Black women and their experiences throughout the coronavirus pandemic over the past several months. We conducted interviews, have an online survey where women in North Carolina can anonymously share their experiences during COVID-19, we created a guide, and a downloadable gift accessible to all on our website. For a more in-depth overview of what the campaign entailed, please be sure to check out the “What We Did” section below.

WHAT WE’VE BEEN LEARNING:

Throughout the past two months, many Black women in North Carolina have anonymously shared their stories with us through an online survey. We are thankful for and moved by each response. Here are a few things we’ve been hearing:

    • Significant concern around work.
      Navigating unemployment, job uncertainties, or the changes in schedule and structure around working from home while caring for family.
    • Challenges with mental health.
      Heightened levels of anxiety and stress, concern for family’s financial future.
    • Changes in relationship dynamics.
      Navigating feelings of loneliness among those who live alone; or families figuring out the balance between spending quality time together and still getting necessary alone time.
    • Changes to self-care practices.
      Whether worship and faith-based, or physical; many women have had to face changes and different dynamics in how they feed their souls, bodies, and minds.
    • Concern for community.
      Many women expressed deep concern for the Black community: for access to resources, housing support, employment opportunity, and wanting our Black community to have a pathway to thrive. Women highlighted needs in their direct communities as well the Black community at-large.
    • Sources of joy.
      Women defined finding their joy in: spending time in nature, connecting with family and friends, laughter, their faith practices, music and dancing, spending time in solitude, and even intentional practices like having fresh flowers.

This is just a snapshot of some responses we received during our survey.

WHAT WILL COME NEXT:

We aim to continue building on the foundation of #HerTestimony and serve our communities with the information we had the opportunity to gather.

Sharing our Findings.

Our goal with this campaign has always been to document how this pandemic specifically impacts Black women so that our experiences and insights can be best positioned to serve us, our loved ones and our families not just right now, but in the year ahead. We will analyze the data and stories collected over the past two months and develop a report. This report will be freely available on our website, and will be shared with partners, organizations, and community members so that as organizations seek to serve Black women and their families, they will be able to serve according to the needs that Black people themselves state they have.

Her Testimony Virtual Youth Apprenticeship

We will also continue this work by supporting the growth and development of Black girls, via our first virtual youth apprenticeship. Black girls, ages 14-18, who live in the Triangle area of North Carolina are invited to apply to this program that will provide experience-based education to train them in The Beautiful Project’s methodology of centering and uplifting the narratives of Black girls and women. The program will run from September-December 2020 and apprentices will be trained in storytelling, research, and analysis by Black women mentors. 

Four girls will be selected to participate in this paid apprenticeship. Applications are due on Friday, August 28th, so we invite you to share this with Black girls you know who may be interested! You can learn more here.

 

THANK YOU.

With hearts full of gratitude, we thank Doretha, Jasmine, Derria, Melissa, Erika, Brianna, and Angela for granting us the honor of telling you their stories. 

We also thank each woman who took the time to complete the #HerTestimony online survey. Your responses are helping to shape the understanding of what Black families need in North Carolina as the pandemic evolves.

Thank you to each person who shared, forwarded, and reposted our campaign in any way. Many hands make light work.

Thank you to you – for your partnership and support of The Beautiful Project, and your value for lifting up the voices of Black women.

 


 

#HERTESTIMONY: WHAT WE DID.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted Black communities in significant ways – among the precious lives lost, there have also been significant economic impacts, changes in relationship dynamics, and clear highlight of need. As a collective of Black women storytellers, we are passionate about creating space for Black women’s voices to be heard. Historically, Black voices have often been overlooked during crises, but The Beautiful Project – like many other Black-affirming organizations – has been committed to ensuring that Black women and their families will be seen and heard during this time.

The #HerTestimony campaign has been a response to the need to raise Black voices – for the community to get the support needed, Black voices must be heard. 

Our campaign had several components.

Sharing Your Testimony: The Online Survey.

Beginning in June, we launched an online survey designed to collect stories anonymously from self-identified Black women 18 and older, across intersecting identities, living in North Carolina. They answered questions around their needs, challenges, ways that COVID has impacted various aspects of their lives from employment to family, to physical and mental health, and beyond. Participants also took time to share the hopes that they have in the midst of these difficult times, and hopes for their future after we emerge from this crisis. The survey closes in two days on August 28, so if you’d like to share your testimony, you still have the opportunity to do so.

Read #HerTestimony: The Narrative Project

Throughout the months of April and May, several Black women across North Carolina conducted interviews with The Beautiful Project during which they expressed their personal stories and experiences during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pains, challenges, hopes, and learnings they discussed resonated deeply. In their stories, we saw themes of faith, healing, purpose, peace, village and community, worth, and worship. Many thanks to Doretha, Jasmine, Derria, Melissa, Erika, Brianna, and Angela for taking time to bravely and vulnerably share their testimonies with us. Please take a few moments to read their stories on our blog.

#HerTestimony Giveaway: The Raffle

In support of Black-women owned businesses, we raffled off five $50 giftcards to: Semicolon Bookstore (Chicago), The ZEN Succulent (Durham), Jeddah’s Tea (Durham), and Cafe Con Libros (Brooklyn). 

Foster Community in Testifying: The Guide

We believe in the power of storytelling to provide a place for community, a channel for healing, and serve as a tool for change. We created a guide to give you a way to extend the Her Testimony project to your own community, be it in North Carolina or beyond. This guide provides the list of interview questions that we asked for our narrative project. It also includes several ideas on how to engage people in conversations about how their lives have been impacted during this period of time. The guide is available to download for free.

Affirm the Truth of Your Testimony: The Gift

We created a gift of affirmations that were inspired by the testimonies that have been collected. These affirmations are available to download as digital wallpaper for phones and tablets. We believe in the power of surrounding ourselves with truth and affirmations. During a time where so many messages have been harming our spirits, let us hold tightly to the truth that uplifts and strengthens. You can download the gift on our website.

 

When we as Black women tell our stories, the power is tangible. So over the past several weeks, The Beautiful Project have been documenting and sharing these stories in our current campaign Her Testimony: Black Women’s Experiences of COVID-19 in North Carolina. Our goal is to share the stories of Black women, but also engage meaningful dialogue around what Black women need during this time.

What has been your experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

We launched a survey to document how this pandemic specifically affects Black women so that Black women’s experiences and insights can be best positioned to serve the community, loved ones, and families. For the community to get the support needed, Black voices must be heard.

For the best insights, we need to ensure that all voices of self-identifying Black women are represented – across identity, belief systems, background, and experiences. The only way our stories are told truthfully is if we tell them. 

To ensure the diversity of Black women’s voices are represented, our ask to you is two-fold.

Would you share some of your story? If you are over the age of 18, identify as a Black woman, and live in North Carolina, please take our survey. You can be as brief or detailed in your responses as you desire. The survey is anonymous, and can be completed by a proxy if needed. We are collecting responses until the end of August. To complete it, visit the link here.

If you’ve already completed the survey, thank you!

Would you share this survey with North Carolinian Black women in your life? Please take a few moments to send the survey to three Black women.

A couple of  ways we’d love to support you:

Her Testimony has been a meaningful experience for us, as we have spoken to women about their experiences during COVID-19, and also read their stories. We created a guide to help Black women everywhere also facilitate conversations and create space to lift up the voices of Black women during this time. For suggestions on how to bring this project to your community, check out our 2-page guide. Lastly, we have a gift of affirmations that were inspired by the testimonies that have been collected. These affirmations are available to download as digital wallpaper for phones and tablets. A quick look: 

 

We will continue this work through the lens of Black girls via our virtual youth apprenticeship. Applications are currently open for girls, ages 14-18, who live in the Triangle area of NC. Applications are due Friday, August 28th. Thank you for reading, sharing, and lifting up your voices with other Black women and girls during this time!

We are excited to announce our first apprenticeship program for youth!

This virtual experience is designed for Black girls ages 14-18 who live or attend school in the Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, or Cary) of North Carolina. 

In the summer of 2020, The Beautiful Project launched the campaign Her Testimony to uplift and explore Black women’s experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This extension of #HerTestimony explores the experience of Black girls, by positioning Black girls as witnesses, storytellers, and champions of Black girl wellness amidst the pandemic and the social change unfolding in the United States. This apprenticeship provides experience-based education to train Black girls ages 14-18 in The Beautiful Project’s methodology of centering and uplifting the narratives of Black girls and women.

Four apprentices will be selected and trained in storytelling, research, and analysis by Black women mentors. From September to December, apprentices will engage in the following work: 

  • Investigate the needs of Black girls in the Triangle during the pandemic using virtual research methods such as online interviews and listening sessions
  • Analyze their discoveries to identify themes and patterns in Black girls’ experiences
  • Create a virtual campaign that provides online resources for Black girls’ emotional and mental wellness
Eligibility
  • Live and/or go to school in the Triangle
  • Ages 14-18
  • Identify as a Black girl/young woman
  • Desire to positively impact Black girls through narrative-based work
  • Regular access to stable Internet Connection (laptop will be provided if needed)
Duration
  • September 12- December 12th 
Benefits
  • Exposure to Black women in various fields who are committed to centering the voices of Black girls and women 
  • Mentorship by The Beautiful Project staff and training by guest speakers in storytelling, research, and campaign design
  • All apprentices will receive a monetary stipend of $800, distributed monthly 
  • Apprentices will be provided with temporary laptops to conduct their activities 
Commitments
  • Participation in a virtual Orientation on Sept 12th (please confirm you can be available for this mandatory orientation prior to submitting an application)
  • Participation in weekly 1.5 hr virtual trainings and workshops from September 12- December 12, 2020
  • Weekly bridgework not to exceed 1 hr a week during Sept-October; During November, apprentices will work independently and collectively to develop campaign content
  • Working alongside other apprentices to develop a wellness campaign targeting Black girls in November
The Selection Process

This is a rapid selection process, so please pay attention to dates. 

  1. Complete Online Application: View the instructions for the online application here: Her Testimony Youth Apprenticeship Application Instructions. Complete and submit the online application by Friday, August 28th here
  2. Submit Letter of Reference: Ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation that shares why you are a good candidate for this apprenticeship. We recommend asking someone who knows you well and has supported or observed your work and/or leadership style, for example a teacher, mentor, coach, or boss. Letters must be signed and sent as a PDF or Microsoft Word by Friday, August 28th to estephens@thebeautifulproject.org
  3. Virtual Interviews: If selected, candidates will be invited by email to a 30 minute virtual interview with The Beautiful Project staff during the week of August 31st. This is our chance to learn more about you and figure out if this is the right program for you. 
  4. Final Selection: Selected Apprentices will be informed no later than September 5th

For more information about The Beautiful Project and the current #HerTestimony Campaign, visit www.thebeautifulproject.org. If you have questions about the apprenticeship program you can: 

 

Deep thanks to the Grantmakers for Girls of Color’s Love is Healing Covid-19 Response Fund for their support of our girls!

 

Her Testimony is a response to the urgent need to document the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the lives of Black women. Learn more about our campaign and participate in our survey here. The survey can be completed by anyone who identifies as a Black woman residing in North Carolina who wants to share their experiences as they navigate life in the time of COVID-19. Today, we offer another testimony. 

Angela Whitenhill-Shields lives in Garner, NC with her husband and young son. As a licensed clinical social worker and minister, her life’s work sits at the intersection of mental health, spirituality, and activism. She often bridges the gap between religious spaces and the therapy field by creating spaces to reduce the stigma of mental health in church as well as helping people heal from religious trauma. In addition to that, she leads a spiritual support group for Black women called Deborah’s Table. Our conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity.

This is Angela’s testimony.


 

What has this experience been like for you? 

Spiritually, I’ll just tell you, my response has been anger. When a crisis happens to me, the real stuff comes out. This has shown me how different Black and white people are. Not in just racism. Your relationship to privilege and access to resources, to me, it defines your relationship to God. And what hit me was, we have a different God, in the sense that we see God differently. Not because we don’t all read the same text. But if I pray for daily bread, and I own a bread factory, that’s a different kind of prayer than if I literally don’t have food and I’m talking about bread.

I do a lot of work with mostly older white men and to hear how they are responding and juxtaposing that to Deborah’s table and Black people, I’m thinking, wow we have so many different resources. I’ve always known that, but it didn’t hit me as much. 

I think it’s time to return to the God of our ancestors. I think our ancestors are Christian in a lot of theological ways. But I just feel like in our country, so many Black people have been socialized in Eurocentric work ethic, Eurocentric hair, Eurocentric Christianity, when all that is coming down, because I believe that is being tested, we really don’t know what to do. 

I’m so drawn to hear stories of how Black people just got through unknowns. That’s part of who we are. We survive. We are good at this. But now in the Black church, we don’t know what to do. Everybody is in crisis and I’m like, wait a second. We come from Harriet Tubman. We sing about it, and we talk about it, but when it hits the fan, I don’t see spiritual coping skills. That’s what I would like. What is my work around religious trauma? What are your coping skills? It doesn’t have to be Christian. But you need them. And those of us who are Christian, if your religion doesn’t help you in your mind and practically help you deal with life, to me, it’s not as important.

One of the things I’ve been doing is worshipping. I talk about a lot of worship in relations to whiteness because I’m the worship chair at my church. And recently the worship leader reached out and said, “how can I be in solidarity with the Black community?” And I was done. I don’t want to help you help me. I’m over it. I’m over here mourning.

I told her, “Black people tarry. And we sing for a long time. Personally, I think it’s because we actually believe worship is a portal to the presence of God. The idea that God inhabits the praises of our people, we take that literally.” White people don’t do that. I’m in my white church, and you guys sing in three minutes, you’re done. And that’s fine. When we sing, it’s actually a trance. We move into an emotional space. Hit that key, and keep going back. That has been an eye opener. I told her, “I want to tarry. If you want to help me, I just want to sing the same three words over again. And go somewhere and not be so present at church.” And that is what worship does for us.

I’ve been thinking about the coping skills of our ancestors. Spiritual coping skills. I think this is a beautiful time for the world to meet the God of the Black woman. I think Black women, in particular, we don’t have the same power in the Black church. That’s why we do Deborah’s Table. And we make it work. What do Black women do spiritually? We cry, we tarry, we intercede. We cook. We do these things, that we think we’re just doing them. But as a therapist, I’m like, that is consciously helping you cognitively and emotionally. 

What are the coping skills that you are holding on to? 

Coping personally, I’ve had a ton of anger, which is not my personality. I’ve been so angry because I think in my work, I’ve always communicated that this is coming, something is happening. You got to get away from this. You got to deal with your psychological stuff. So I think when everything hit, and seeing it really impact people, it just makes me angry. And one of the ways that I’ve been dealing with it is that I don’t entertain certain conversations. There is a scripture in the bible and essentially the Pharisees are coming at Jesus again. And they’re like, “show us a sign.” And Jesus was like, “I’m not giving you a sign. Your whole generation is not getting a sign.” And He gets in his boat and leaves. God was like, you ain’t got to explain yourself anymore. 

So one of the coping skills has been…as Black women, how do we really have pride in who we are and let that fully come into a space and not explaining ourselves? At work, there’s a lot of stuff happening. And instead of me explaining why, I just say, “I can’t do that,” and I stare, which is very hard for me. Really practicing being fully there. That helps me cope with my anger because it gives me power. 

Movement has been huge. As a therapist I encourage everyone to move. We’re sitting on zoom every day and we’re sitting at home. So walking, moving. Surprisingly one of the biggest things that has been amazing has just been gardening and working in our yard. It’s been great to be outside. 

I don’t engage conversations that feel like I am taking on anxiety that’s not mine. A lot of times, anxiety looks like, “we have to do something,” which is also white supremacy, but it can be both. So it’s like, nope – I don’t have to do something. 

In addition to not taking that on, what I am taking on is creativity, which is very hard to do when you are in crisis, I’ve noticed. My brother helped me out saying creativity comes in a time of constraints. When real creativity happens it’s because something is pushing down. That’s the Holy Spirit. And I think creativity is the Holy Spirit. And my people, that’s why we are so creative! So instead of me being like, “Oh I’m so overwhelmed,” I’m like wait a minute I can’t go outside, but what can I do? How do we create? And just tap into some of the energy from ancestors around creativity. 

I’ve been writing more, which is awesome. Engaging conversations about Black identity and engaging conversations about Black women have been life giving. Laughter. Joking around and not being too serious. Really going deep into who are we when everything else around us seems to be peeling away. It just feels really good.

This is not going anywhere for a long time. I noticed the energy in all of my friends’ professions were to scramble to somehow control the moment. And to me, that is white anxiety. We know we can’t control the moment. This is something that we actually cannot fix. So a lot of my sisters have been burnt out. They are working. Working hours beyond hours. And I’m like, what are we doing? Whether it’s clergy, business, mental health professionals — you cannot fix any of this. So we have to be real specific right now. These are the amount of hours I can do. I’ve seen a lot of articles on how to keep your job when there is a possible recession — you somehow over perform so they don’t fire you. And that’s not for you. All of that to say, I think boundaries have always been important.

But in this crisis, I think a lot of other people’s crises fall on Black women. We are socialized to pick it up. But we can’t pick this one up. This is a pandemic, y’all. The whole world is trying to figure it out. You can’t do it. 

How has your day to day life been affected? 

Ironically, a lot and not at all, at the same time. I worked from home the whole time so that’s been nice. Kai is getting older and I had someone babysitting him for a few hours a day so I can get work done, but that can’t happen anymore. My husband is an essential worker. He’s actually a sheriff. Right when this happened, they put him on the streets as patrol, which I was super angry about. Now he works nights and days and his whole schedule shifts very differently than before. There have been some twelve hours days where it’s just me and the baby. And there have been some nights where it’s just me and the baby. No complaints. We both got jobs. I used to have a set schedule as a mom. If he’s home for four days now and I’m working, we’ll do all of the gardening and I will just do my work at night. I think daily, I talk on zoom so much more. Everyone is. So that’s probably been the most overwhelming part. It’s not my favorite thing. So I try to balance it by being outside. 

I tell people as a therapist you need to tap into your five senses. Not just two. Not just your eyes and ears for zoom. So I promote pleasure. You should be smelling, and touching and tasting and feeling.

When I’m only looking at netflix and the computer and hearing, I go outside and I put my feet in the grass. Or Kai is an easy excuse because he’s learning everything. So we’ll splash water together. It’s so exciting. For me it’s just like tapping into the senses to offset. We cook big meals and literally eat the same things for four days. If I’m not working, I try to stay away from my phone. But I would call my family. We zoom every week. Or I’ll call certain friends every week. My world has gotten really small with who I’m actually checking in with, which is opposite. I’m usually checking in with a ton of people. And that’s just different from me. 

What has been a low point for you? 

I used to play football and worked out four times a week. So that completely stopped. And after about seven weeks, I was angry at the stuff I named but also I was cloudy, numb, and snappy. I remember just crying one time. Just sitting down, crying to God. A lot of it for me has been work stress –really feeling like this is the time to be for my people. 

I think that combined with my body literally not moving, I was just so low. I remember I got up, went outside and went for a run. I wouldn’t say I was depressed because I know depression, but it was one of those things when there was something within me where I was like, Ang, you are one symptom away. So to be in a slump like that, I was like wait a second. And it was coming out like anger. Depression could look like anger. After running, you would have thought I went on vacation, had good sex or something! I was like, hey everyone, I’m good! And I wasn’t good, but I was able to manage in a way that I wasn’t. I think it was a compilation of working too much, watching the news, trying to figure out what was happening, going to the store, schedule changing. All of this change is happening. And then, not moving. Not tending to my pleasure and laughter and singing. That’s that breaking point. And after that, that’s when I started dancing and worshipping and cutting folks off. 

Physiologically, our bodies will kick us into a space. 

In addition to that, I’ve realized, I don’t know how many Black women are feeling this — I think this moment is making me rise up differently about my career and about who I am in society. I’m getting much more ready on just doing my own thing and focusing on Black women like The Beautiful Project. This is a scary thing but also a new thing for me. I like to hide within institutions. But I think some of the anger, some of the scary and numbness wasn’t so much the pandemic. I’m feeling drawn this way, and that is not what I was expecting in a time like this. So I’m curious. Are all Black people feeling this too? Are we all tapping into ourselves?

What has been a high point for you?

I think getting clarity. I had a call with a friend on how we could develop a sacred space for brown women in a worship experience that is not what we see.  A lot of my people are outside the church. And to hear the synergy, to hear what she has been doing for four and five years without me even knowing it. And I told her about Deborah’s Table, literally like two steps to the same movement. To hear about her Indigenous background and what she’s been thinking about. There is something about going back to the ancestral knowing. That just felt like such an affirmation. 

And literally two days later, I got a text from a friend about The Root is doing some kind of call to Black people to share papers on inspirations that call to Blackness. I think that is affirming. I want to speak to and about Black folk and Brown folk only. We have something to offer everyone in the institution of power. That has felt so exhilarating and terrifying but just the confirmation that may be where the spirit is going. 

I think God has always been outside of the church. I always loved that idea. I think God is also inside the church. I’m trying to figure out what that looks like on my end. But these conversations, like you said about coping skills–all of this literal death. So many people in my world are dying. I am blown away by Black women. And not in a cliche type of way of Black women. Really how we’re thinking and feeling across economic lines. It gives me life. There’s movement outside of church in a way that has been really affirming with how God is speaking. 

And this moment, particularly when we can’t be in a building. Church was also so attached to the building and the rituals inside. If you choose to, you can see what church really means and how it’s rooted in the people. 

To me there’s church, which is great. But then there is a relationship with God. I started a group called Sisters in Spirit in college, which is pretty much like Deborah’s Table. And we were doing the same thing. Talking and sharing about God.

The tangible growth about how God moves, not that it doesn’t move in church, but it’s freer for it to move however it wants to move when you are in a space of openness.

To me, I’m excited because I hope this moment is hopefully introducing people that haven’t experienced that God can move. Whether it’s playing in the water with your kid, you can hear a word in anything. Not to take away from pastors.

What have you been learning about the needs for yourself? 

A theme that has come up in our Deborah’s Table moment but has really hit me has been learning how to receive. If we’re the “make it work” kind of women, in a moment of crisis, us being able, me being able to go, “I’m angry, I’m tired. I cannot.” It was the first time I told my job, I cannot do that, which is very scary. Nope, I can’t do it. My husband — I tell him, “I’m going to need you to wake up and take him to the bathroom, I can’t do it.” Just knowing my limits. And that’s hard when I am good at a lot of things. And the world thinks I am really good at a lot of things. When the world is coming down, I have to be able to go, okay, this is my piece of the pie. And really discipline myself. In disciplining myself to not take on other people’s stress but also ask people for help. 

My job is offering us to do lesser hours. And I wasn’t going to do it. But you know what, let me get that good 24 hours work week. Now I have time. Kai is asleep. I can write. I can create. I can talk to other Black women. I can do what’s inside of me. So in asking for help, cutting things off, and filling that kind of void of purpose. What am I when I’m not working? Now, you can do the stuff that I want you to do. Things that I usually don’t have time for. 

What are some of the needs you are learning for your community? 

I’ll start with Black community. That’s where my passion is right now.

As a therapist, and this is more like a foreseeing, we need to really have better theology of mourning and how we corporately mourn. We, as Black people, are really good at surviving. So you see in our words and in our sermon, we are always about that third day. God overcame. But I think we’ve been traumatized already. This is before COVID. Part of my work has been how do we help Black people mourn healthily? There is a process to mourn. A process to grieving, whether it’s loss of person, loss of job, loss of agency. 

Our culture doesn’t know how to grieve, in general. Particularly when you have people who are marginalized who are always getting losses. It’s a piling effect. A need that I am interested in that I’m trying to wrap my head around is, you have people dying, mass deaths, and no funeral. How are we mourning this? How do we, in a year from now, still go back when we didn’t get to have a funeral. That’s anybody, but particularly with Black folk. 

I’ve been talking to women, clergy women, and they said, this death is bringing up the trauma of police brutality deaths, the trauma of heart problems in the community. There’s been mass deaths. So to have it on a large scale. And now you can’t even do a funeral and stuff. We’re “fine.” We’re dealing with it. But as a therapist, I’m like, are we dealing with it maladaptively? How are we dealing? Are we drinking? Are we eating? Are we beating up on our own family? Or are we healthily grieving? 

As a therapist in white community, there are many more practices like planting a garden, writing a letter, and sending off a balloon. We don’t do that culturally because we don’t know how. So a need would be corporate grieving and not being afraid of it. And we’re not afraid of death, but we don’t grieve. That’s harder. We do grieve. But I just wonder if it’s healthy and how do we do that? 

For my Deborah’s Table, for my friends and people like me–more identity development.

How do you just form your identity in such a way where you protect it and let it free? I just think that the world needs Black women’s vision so there is a psychological development to do that.

If we internalized racism, that’s psychological. Every time I say sorry when I walk in front of someone it is because I’m conditioned. Preaching is great. Activism is great. But I think we have to do therapy around getting racism out of us and my white friends have to do therapy around how to let racism go. Personally, I’m righting that for me. 

Deborah’s Table is for people who are running stuff and are powerful in the world. Deborah is someone who did that healthily. My fear is that all of us are powerful but dying inside. All of these things are happening and you will never know from our facebook pages. In the group, we talk about our personal needs. When you are a public leader, doing amazing things, needing a space to deal with my own fear, my own insecurities about my physical appearance, those needs are there. A safe space to do that. And do it with God. Church is not that for me. It’s not that for a lot of people. Therapy is not that for me. Activism is not that for me. So where is that space? Right now, I need that space. I’ve been needing other Black women to have that. 

Where have you been finding joy?

My son. He is hilarious, this kid. I know a lot of people are stressed out because their kids are at home. I had a miscarriage before. I didn’t think I would have kids. That is always a marker for me. I’m still shocked that I have a kid. Seeing him do little things, it’s just really a big deal because I didn’t know if I could have a child or have more. He’s been my cuddle buddy. He’s my coping skill. 

A couple of weeks ago, I had an impromptu game night with some couples’ friends and we were foolish, ratchet, and you could tell we just needed to get stuff out. You can tell we just needed space to not be responsible, not be holy. I’m still laughing at stuff. Black people have given me joy. 

What are your hopes for the future? 

I hope we notice what is happening now. I think what’s happening now is going to tell us where we need to go. So if I need to process my anger now, why am I angry? That’s going to tell me what I am supposed to do later. I love talking about the future. My hope is that the lessons and the awareness that we are getting now, about ourselves and about others, does really impact and move us.As Black women, I hope we speak up. I hope we know the world needs our perspective. And we feel confident in that.

A lot of my hopes are that this is the cleansing. This is the restructuring. This is humility. This is a gentle destruction. Natural disasters are not disasters. They’re actually just the earth rebalancing what should already be. Crumbling a building that wasn’t supposed to be there. It floods out towns that weren’t supposed to be there in the first place. And I think this moment, to me, feels like a moment in which, I don’t think it’s positive, but I hope that it does destroy some things that shouldn’t be for ourselves and for our country.

I hope that we come out of it never the same in a good way. I know we will never be the same, but I hope we don’t try to remake what we had. I hope I’m free to do it. I’m also hoping that I see more people out, looking for fresh and new. 

What are your hopes for yourself? 

I hope I get this baby out. It has been brewing. It’s time. I was praying the other day, like God, you give me a way out and I’m gone. You send a grant, you send a job, something and I’m ready. Maybe it’s not that. But I hope, in the midst of all of this craziness, I feel so pregnant with it. I just hope I get it out. I hope I don’t get distracted. I don’t want anyone to feel that “I’m supposed to be creative, I’m supposed to be productive.” But I feel very prepared for this. Spiritually. I’ve been preaching change, not the end is near, but I’ve been preaching really hard words about something that is about to change everything. So I feel like when I did, I was like, oh that’s it! I thought I could coast, but God was like, nope. 

Any last words?

I really am focused on Black women. Think on these things: whatever is kind, whatever is noble. I give encouragement to Black women that they can think about their vision, their needs, their opinions. That to me, I think that’s the divine. I think the divine is a lot of things. I think this is our moment. It’s been a moment, but we know how to do this. We know how to make a way in no way. Unfortunately, we know how to suffer. But we know how to be resilient. And the world needs us. So I’m really trying for myself, instead of being angry at what’s happening. I’m really excited about Black women and what we’re doing in the midst. And I encourage other people to think on those things. Watch your people and be inspired by what God is calling us, Black women, to do and be. 

As Black women, we engage the gift of community and the collective power of our voices to tell our stories – our way – and incur change. In our current campaign, Her Testimony, Black women are the ones shaping the narrative around our experiences in the coronavirus pandemic. One of the ways that we are documenting how this pandemic specifically affects Black women is through our survey. We are collecting input so Black women’s experiences and insights can be best positioned to serve our community, loved ones, and families. If you identify as a Black woman, are 18+, and live in North Carolina, we would love to gain your insight. You can access the Her Testimony Survey here. Don’t live in NC? Help us spread the word to Black women you may know in NC. 

Brianna Kennedy lives in Durham, NC with her husband and three year old son. An educator at heart, she currently works in the education policy field where she engages leaders across the state in mobilizing resources and access for the public education system in North Carolina. She is also a passionate community advocate on issues impacting the lives of Black women through her organization, Black Women of Durham.  This conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity.

This is Brianna’s testimony. 


 

Reflecting on what this experience has been like so far, what are a few words or images that come to mind?  

If I were to use two words, I would say this experience has been difficult, yet I remain hopeful throughout. What’s funny is before all of this started, I actually left the classroom so I could work at an education nonprofit because I needed to step away from that direct service aspect of being a teacher. Even when I started at my new position, I’ve been really pushing, “can we work from home?” So I’ve been wanting to work from home, but I never thought I would be working from home during a pandemic.

I don’t think I can have a remote position permanently, but it’s definitely something I would look forward to. But it’s been difficult because our son.  We made the decision to keep him out of the daycare for the foreseeable future and that means that two full time working adults have to bring their schedules together to create a plan that he will get some type of nurturing outside of just putting him in front of the tv. 

That’s the hopeful part because my husband and I are in a fortunate position now. If I was a teacher and this happened, I don’t know how we would be able to navigate the scheduling needs we would have and the demands of our three year old. So yes, it’s been difficult, yet it has brought a lot of hope for what’s to come. 

I’m curious, what is some of the hope that you are holding on to? 

I think that part comes from the way that me and my husband have been able to communicate during this time. For a lot of couples, having to be in the house or in someone else’s space, literally for 24 hours, that’s a lot. And if you include a toddler that is very demanding, it could have been way worse. But it reminded me that this is the partner that God placed in my life for many reasons and this is the child that we are growing and raising together.

Even if the world abroad is losing their minds, I have some peace and safety that I can actually come home to and that I can be surrounded by. That for me is the hopeful piece. 

I also draw from my girlfriends. I realize that I like talking on the phone more than I thought I did.  So now I am able to have random conversations in the middle of the day with my homegirl, my grandmom, my mom, my sister because we all are at home, working some, chilling most of the time and it’s allowing me to reconnect and put in place things that I hope to continue if we ever get “back to normal” because I appreciate those conversations. 

None of this is normal. And after this is all over, whenever or if ever it is over, I think people will realize that what we were thinking was normal, wasn’t ever working. I’ve never been through this. I’m a first timer at this and we are just going to play this day by day. And that’s all that anybody should expect. If you try to give more, great. And if you don’t, that doesn’t make you a terrible human. It just makes you human. 

How has this experience affected your daily life?  

My son’s biological clock is still on schedule so when he’s up by 7 am, everybody in the house is up and awake. My husband and I decided that since he’s home with us, instead of trying to work around our schedules, we would actually take the concerted effort to make our own schedules and communicate that with our directors and bosses at work. So we’ll have half day chunks where we are Zion’s teacher versus a coworker or colleague. The schedule that we have now works for the both of us and for Zion because he doesn’t have to bounce back and forth between his two parents. 

What has been a low point for you?

Thinking about my son, I think one low point is him not being able to interact with people his age and his size. It’s super important, especially for his development to have that peer to peer. One day, we actually went on a walk in our neighborhood and there were some kids playing and initially, I was like, we have to stay 6ft apart, but how do I tell that to a three year old? We haven’t told him about all of the intricacies about coronavirus. We’ve just been telling him we have to wash our hands and we’re not going into the grocery story. After that initial moment of shock, I thought, you know I’m going to take this risk. I’m going to pray that nothing happens. And we will take some really nice baths. I was able to let him play for five minutes with the kids and he could not resist. And I thought, oh my God, I have not seen him this happy in so long because he is seeing kids. I think that was the lowest point, because I depend on my childcare facility a lot because they help me navigate being a parent to a person at his particular age, so without it I know that he has been missing his friends and missing the structure that they have there.  

That situation with the neighbor’s kids reminded me, okay, I have to make sure he has stability and structure to his day, but it is also a lingering concern for when we decide to put him back in daycare. “Is he going to be behind other kids? Is he going to know his alphabet? Are all of the other kids going to have their friendship circles and my son will be the outcast?” I don’t know. That’s definitely a low point, but it’s something that I think about every now and again. Probably more often than necessary. 

That makes sense. And it aligns with what a lot of parents are grappling with, especially parents of children around your son’s age. We are all missing our social lives and the kids as well. I tend to forget sometimes what that means as a child. On the flip side, what’s your high point, if at all in this moment? 

Being able to not be in my actual office. I am in a very comfortable place called my home, and I’ve actually been more creative in my line of work. I don’t have to worry if my hair today is going to be the topic of conversation or, you know, the little micro-aggression things that Black women have to deal with in a white space. That’s been a high point. 

What have you learned during this period about what you need, specifically for yourself, in this time?

I’m an extrovert by nature. Over the last couple of years I’ve turned more so into an introvert with extroverted tendencies. A three year old requires a lot of attention. My husband on the other hand is an introvert. If we don’t have conversations, he’s totally fine because that’s not his love language. For me, I’m like, let’s spark up a conversation and then sometimes I’m like, I got to get out of this house. So a part of the routine that we established is Saturday mornings when we’re done eating breakfast, I’m going to go someplace so I can be by myself. 

That’s one thing that God revealed to me—that you actually need alone time.

Just because people know you as an extrovert and friendly, doesn’t mean you have to be performative in that. 

What’s one thing that you learned about the needs of your community and you can define community as you seemed fit?

My community is Black women and one thing I realized is we need community and fellowship on a much more regular basis. Usually, when people talk about your basic needs, I think sometimes the need to fellowship and have someone to talk to is often overlooked.

But for anybody, regardless of your personality type and age, you need somebody that you can talk to and you need a tribe or a village that you can be a part of and are able to be your true and authentic self. 

Something else that I realize my community needs, and that’s Black people in general, we got to come to terms with the way that we trust our political structure and our government. A lot of times we like to call things conspiracy theories but even if people weren’t conspiring for this to happen, there definitely was a lack of any sort of forethought. Thinking about this pandemic in general — we are the United States of America. There is no reason why we weren’t able to stop this spread earlier. And there is also no reason why people are able to go on national television to say — “if a couple hundred thousand people die, and that’s all, that’s a good thing.” That’s not okay. At all. You know of that hundred thousand, that’s mainly people of color. Mainly Black people. I think we just have to be critical consumers of information. We have to be that way for our children and something has to make us mad enough where we intentionally like — if we are not going to destroy the system we have to intentionally disrupt the system to the point where it can no longer function without us. I have no idea what that looks like. But it definitely has been on my heart.

It doesn’t make any sense that we are able to live in the land of milk and honey but literally people cannot buy milk. 

Yeah, you would think this is the moment and breaking point. We are just trying to survive. It would be interesting to see how it all unfolds and our roles in it. I’m interested in knowing how you have been adapting around the mandated conditions? 

For the safety of myself and for the hope of seeing my mother who has asthma and who has definitely come to the brink of death with said asthma, I don’t go out to these stores. I honestly can’t remember the last store I went inside. Everything that I do is either through the drive through. I went to Perkins Orchard. I don’t know if that counts because it is an outdoors fruit stand. That’s the store that I’ve gone into and I’ve only gone into twice. I actually explained to my mom to give her some comfort but I try to limit the stores that I go to. There is a restaurant that we like that started to sell its dairy and meat. That is the store that we go to for our salmon and chicken. Target is where we go for our snacks. That’s really it. 

For you, where have you been finding joy? 

I’ve been finding joy in my friend starting a bible study and going with her on a journey of actually getting it started has been fun and joyful. It’s a constant refresher and reminder of God’s promise to us. It’s just really cool. She’s been talking about doing it for over a year and now she’s finally doing it. It’s not just a book club. She is curating and creating a space for a specific group of women, some of whom I never met, some who I know through her, and now this is another part of my village. I’m definitely getting joy from that. 

I’m also getting joy from my sister who is pregnant with my niece. For my mom, this will be her second grandchild. So just getting updates from her and her asking me about my pregnancy and how that looks for her pregnancy. It’s just fun. 

What are your hopes for the future when we emerge from this crisis? 

I hope that people, especially Black women, are able to come out of this with an understanding of what their worth is actually tied to and what it is not.

Some Black women think that their worth is tied to how much work they can produce or how many people they can take care of.

I just hope that they realize that none of that matters. And literally God said it. All of this stuff that you are doing for man, that’s not your ticket into heaven and that is not what is going to help  advance my kingdom. I hope that people — Black women specifically – realize that you got to be comfortable in yourself and even if you do nothing else, it was enough. 

 

For me and my job especially, I hope that in my position, I am able to be more courageous in the ideas that I present and actually begin to present them and take risks. At work, that was something that I told myself in the beginning of the year. Instead of a new year’s resolution, I did a word that I wanted to embody, and risk-taking was mine. I just want to continue to do that. 

Erika Brooks is from Durham and is a registered nurse who specializes in informatics, meaning she teaches nurses and doctors how to use technological systems to chart and document patient treatment. She is also a mother of a four year old daughter. During our conversation, Erika gratefully lifted up the power of a support system of family, friends and colleagues to navigate this challenging season together. 

This conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more about Her Testimony and participate in our survey, visit here. The survey can be completed by anyone who identifies as a Black woman residing in North Carolina who wants to share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is Erika’s testimony. 


 

How has this experience been like for you so far? What are the first set of words that come to mind?

I would say grateful. I’ve seen a lot of other people’s stories and I guess I’m just grateful at the point where I am. It’s also very demanding in the aspect of just trying to figure out different ways to do things. How to entertain my daughter, how I even walk into work, or how I interact with my family and how I go to church. Just trying to be creative.

Demanding, but I’m also grateful to have those opportunities.

What are some of the different things that you’ve experienced during your day-to-day?

My meetings are still going on, so I’m still working Monday through Friday, sometimes 7-7 sometimes 9-5, so I’m still on meeting calls that are informative, so I can’t just play it and do what I need to do. For daycare, it’s still open so that’s one piece that I’m grateful for. You drop off at the door, they take their temperature, give them hand sanitizer and [they] kinda have to take them in. I let her know that even though I’m dropping you off at the door doesn’t mean I love you any less.

At church. Just making sure my phone is charged up, my computer is charged up, just to go. It is nice not having to rush, to get up, put your clothes on, but it is different because when I’m laying there I’m thinking of so many other things that I could be doing. Sitting, watching church, you know when you’re there you can’t go fold clothes or do dishes, you’re at church. So just trying to remain grounded and actually attend it.

And then with my family we try to connect on Friday and support a local business when we eat. But my mom is a nurse too, so we do check-in throughout the week to say, “How are your patients doing?” Because we don’t live together so technically we’re not supposed to see each other but she lives right down the street. Just trying to make sure we don’t expose each other.

Are you working from home and then going into the hospital?

I go into the hospital about 2-3 times a week. What will happen is I’ll just go in the morning. Everybody has to wear a mask and they ask you a series of questions. But I still get calls, “Hey do you have a minute to run up and help me do this? I can’t figure out how to do this order? Or I can’t figure out how to talk with the nurse about this issue.” So I still have to have face to face interaction with people who take care of COVID patients. 

What’s a low point for you so far in this experience?

I think it’s just how to support. I mean I’m a nurse by heart, so I’m a caregiver by heart. I just try to make sure that I give enough. To my daughter, I try to take her outside to fly a kite. But she’s the only child, so it’s like, “I don’t know if the next door neighbor kid feels comfortable with you coming out to play.” I’m trying to play with her.

My mom is a nurse but her husband is now paraplegic, so she’s a caregiver in her own home. She needs a break. But I don’t want him to come over here and I might have something because I’m still in the hospital. So the low point is just… how to do it? How to remain supportive and be that person for everybody because it’s not as easy. You’re more conscious about things. 

What’s been a high point for you?

I think just my spiritual groundedness. Finding the silver lining in all this has been. I’m proud of where I am spiritually and emotionally.

I’ll get onto social media but I really won’t feed into it. I’ve set boundaries for myself of how to remain sane and do things. I took my daughter to the strawberry farm and there was an outbreak in Greensboro and all these people were like sending me messages- “You shouldn’t have done that,” “See there’s an outbreak,” – and I’m just like, I did it. I did it, I prayed about it and I’m not going to feed into it. I think it’s just a high point. 

I have friends in California that are in COVID units, some friends that decided to go to New York, I have an ER nurse in Winston-Salem. It’s hard talking about my story because so many other people really have it worse off. This project is really great because people like me who aren’t in the trenches, and coming home tired, but you still have a story. At one point I was like, I’m not going to share anything because I don’t want to sound like I’m ok. It’s almost like, “I’m ok,” and you’re shunned upon. Like everybody should be struggling. Yes it’s different, but I’m ok. That’s probably why I’m really interested in this project because there are so many different stories.

That’s the reason we wanted to do this. To document the range of Black women’s stories. We’re all in this together universally, globally, but every situation is different. What have you been learning about your needs during this time?

I think the biggest thing is setting boundaries, because I have to show up and protect myself before I can show up for my daughter, for my family, for my coworkers. Am I an overachiever? Yes. Do I like to go and help people? Yes. But I have to set boundaries. Be smart. You’re still a great worker, you’re still a great employee. Just do what you have to do to protect yourself. 

What have you been learning or observing regarding the needs for your community? 

For my friends and as Black nurses, we have a group and we message. It’s just the support and being listened to. My friend in California, her health system is terrible. She feels like she’s out the loop, she doesn’t have the equipment that she needs. She’s writing a letter to the union on how to get things. Just being a listening ear to her and empowering her to say “You have a voice. You can advocate for yourself and your employees, your coworkers.”

For my family community is just support. My mom is tired. She told me this weekend – “can you do something with Eddie,” her husband, “for a couple of hours so I can just rest?” 

What do you need? It’s really not toilet paper or anything like that, it’s more of a sacred space to just get it together. It’s not different from any other day. Being a single parent, or being somebody who has a husband in a wheelchair, or being somebody in school– this happens everyday. Sometimes you just need a moment. And this just heightens that because it’s limiting. 

It’s interesting to see how people are becoming closer in a way.

At work we just discharged our first COVID patient the day before yesterday. So what we do is we play the Rocky song. They called a “Code Rocky” and people lined up and cheered the patient on. I wasn’t there the day before yesterday, but that’s the way the hospital as a community has come together in support. They send out messages like, “we’re here to talk to you for the mental space” and reminding us that it’s ok to want to go to your car for lunch. It’s ok to not want to talk. We started virtual rounding in the hospital and a doctor called me and he said, “I don’t want to go to the COVID hospital.” I walked through how to use the iPhone to talk to the patient. On the nurses side she was like, “I’ve never had to do it because all the doctors come to see the patients.” And I had to tell her and the doctor hey, you don’t have to feel bad, because you’re not the first one who doesn’t want to go into the COVID unit. So the system is doing a great job at making you feel like it’s ok in your decision– everyone has to make their own decision, everyone knows their own struggle.

We’re all adapting to the different demands, stressors, limitations, restrictions with shelter in place. How have you been adapting? 

I guess just trying to use my time wisely. The time that I have, after I drop my daughter off. If that’s a work from home day, I’ll stop by the store. When she’s home, it’s just me and her so I’m the entertainer. I’m trying not to do the adulting when she’s home because I feel like she needs my attention. 

So your daughter is 4 right? How is she processing all of this? Does she understand what’s going on?

She does. We’ll see a commercial for a movie and say, “We can’t go to the movies right, because of the virus.” So she understands, but it’s just scary because they’re talking about it’s seasonal, you don’t know how long this is going on, so from her perspective this is gonna pass. I don’t know if this is going to be the new norm. 

Where have you been finding joy?

Yardwork. Just watching the plants bloom, re-planting flowers, re-doing things in my house, I think that’s where I’ve been finding joy.

What are your hopes for the future?

I’ve learned a lot about myself through this- the willpower I can have to just separate myself from stuff, so I just hope that it stays. I hope that some of the things- like being outside, I hope that stays and I can just put my phone down and go outside.

What are your hopes for your community?

For work, being thankful and expressing that. Like for the ED nurses, if I see one, really thanking you for all that you do, even if I don’t know them. I guess just remaining grateful.

There is so much. But I think the overwhelming support– especially as Black women, in my group as Black nurses–the people I went to school with– the support, you know, just being there, I think that’s what we really have to hold onto.

Form a village.

It doesn’t have to be your family. Form a village that you can really rely on. A non-judgemental village.

I’ve talked to a couple other women and I’m not surprised at this trend of how folks are talking about their community and their tribe or their family or who they’re able to lean on and it goes to the power of the collective — how we take care of each other. You talk a lot about support for each other, support for yourself, support for your family and navigating and how that’s a continued need and a hope.

And also not to put off things — that was another thing.

This virus came overnight and it changed our entire life overnight. Tomorrow is not promised. And even though it might not mean life or death, your life as you know it as today, may look different tomorrow.

A lot of things that I want to do, especially to show people how much I love them, and to embrace people — I’m gonna do it today. I’m gonna do it now. And that’s one thing that I’ve probably learned too. Just how to embrace the moment. Because I love my schedule, I work off my schedule, so I’ll say on Friday I’m gonna do this and this, but I’ve learned that– you know what? I’m gonna take the time to do that today.

The power of now.  

It’s powerful. I’ve learned that about myself. I didn’t realize how much I put off.  It’s a humbling experience. Even to my hair– I’m gonna get my hair done this day because I’m going here, or I’m gonna get my eyebrows done this day, because I’m going here. My whole schedule… like gymnastics, my daughter’s dance recital got cancelled. Just how everything is so planned out but, but nothing is promised. You know? Nothing! So that’s probably been my biggest learning thing. Now instead of being able to say I’m going here in August, I can say- I hope to go here in August.

So that’s probably been my biggest thing actually. It’s funny now — it was frustrating but now it’s funny, because I’m like– I had it all planned out.

Once again it’s going back to that lesson of letting go- letting go of what society says, of all of the fluff that we try to bring in our lives. It’s really forcing you to get back to basics.

Yes it is.

The stillness– like everything needs to stop and everything has. You gotta face yourself and whatever else without the distractions.

Yeah. And we’re all in the same boat. There’s still hierarchy and justice, but we’re all in the same storm. From higher levels to lower levels, this has just shown us that we’re not immune just because we make this kind of money or have this kind of job or drive this kind of car.

I hope it has really humbled us as a nation.

 

 

Melissa Gilmer Scott is a family health physician and lead provider at a community health center in Moncure, NC where she leads a team of nurse practitioners and doctors. When we spoke with Melissa, she shared details on how she navigates the pandemic as a frontline worker while balancing her responsibilities as a mother and a wife. This conversation took place in May and has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more about Her Testimony and participate in our survey, visit here. The survey can be completed by anyone who identifies as a Black woman residing in North Carolina who wants to share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is Melissa’s testimony. 


Reflecting on what this experience has been like so far, what are a few words or images that come to mind? 

Chaotic. Very chaotic. Adaptive, I would say. It’s been a lot of adaptations that had to be made. Very emotional. Just a lot of emotional roller coasters between roles. 

How has it been chaotic between your roles? 

Just having to be in different emotional states depending on where I am or what I have to do. I have a leadership role at the clinic. I’m actually the lead provider.  So I’m in charge of all of the PAs, the nurse practitioners and all of the other medical doctors that work at my clinic. So I had to help to organize and give input in meetings in having to adjust and drastically alter the way that we do our job for the first time ever. And to make sure that things are happening when they need to happen to get to the other side of this without contracting this ailment has been less than fun. 

How have you been adapting under these conditions at work and at home? 

The adaptations at work have been more difficult than the adaptations at home. Previously, my work was always very predictable. I’ve just been there for so long that work was kind of comforting at times because this is what I’ve been doing for 20 years. And home was more chaotic with all of the things that have to be done at home and the places that people have to be. The events, all of those sorts of things. And now it has sort of flipped flopped a bit. My youngest is still going to his daycare. My daughter has always been amazingly independent and responsible. So she’s here, doing her thing, keeping up with her work. My husband is with outside sales so he is an essential employee and is continuing to work. He comes in and out of the house throughout the day. So when I’m at the clinic I know that my daughter will be able to see him a couple of times today and not really here alone. 

So life at home is pretty calm.  I go to the grocery store, cook dinner, we take the dogs for walks, go out and play, sit out on the porch.  Things have flipped flopped. Work is crazy and home is very peaceful.

 

 

How has this experience impacted your daily life? 

I think the biggest thing is that my in-laws live seven minutes away. They used to keep the kids overnight. That part has been hard to get used to and not knowing, well there will be an end to this, but not knowing when that will be. It might be next year where we will have to continue to distance ourselves from them and not have interactions with our children that they have moved to NC for, so it’s been difficult. 

What has been a low point for you? 

Being in health care, we started to prepare in the first week of February because we just knew. Okay, it’s in Washington state so it may as well be here. We just started the preparations for asking screening questions and got ready to be here. Even with all of that preparation, when it actually came here when they closed the schools, everything started to happen, it was go time. 

We were talking about masks and how many we have and how many people we can have in the building. How many employees can we have in the building? How long can masks last? So those sorts of things. 

I think around mid March, things really became very clear that we were diving into this. We have an affiliation with UNC and in my head I had this theory that UNC was going to have this respiratory clinic in our county and they were going to be testing. It turned out if you work in a community health center and there is a public health crisis, you get thrown into the middle of it. So we had a tent. When they put a tent outside of our clinic, that may have been the breaking point for me. Knowing that our employees will be doing the drive in testing, the evaluations, and that kind of thing. 

I have been able to stay in a leadership role with that and not actually do any. There are younger people than me at my clinic. So I have recognized that being almost forty-six is not young when it comes to COVID. So I have been able to do a lot of telehealth and see very few patients in the clinic. I think that realization was like, “oh my god, we are really going to do this.” 

How frequently do you go to the clinic? 

I go on Mondays and Fridays and that’s when I actually touch patients. Friday is a half day. I really have about ten hours a week of touching patients. And then Wednesdays and Thursdays are telehealth only. I stay at home on Wednesdays.

About a month ago, we all started wearing masks, all of the clinic staff. Pretty much as soon as you go into the building, we get our temperatures checked. We wear our masks all of the time. I have an office and I go to my office to eat or to just take my mask off for a second. And then we are staying 6 feet apart from each other while we are at work. Mostly I’m staying 6 feet away from the patients also. I put gloves on and examine them really quickly and then we just go to the opposite ends of the room. Both with masks on. All of the patients are getting masks as soon as they walk in if they don’t have one already. We have gotten used to that. The new reality that is going to be happening for quite a while. 

Are there people coming in checking for symptoms of COVID or are they coming in for other health issues and normal check ins? 

That was our main concern.

How do we keep the sick people away from the well people? How do we create an environment where people can come and get care without getting worried that they will come and get something else to take home?

We have screeners at the door asking patients if they are sick in any way. Cough, fever, runny nose, short windedness. If they have been in contact with anyone who has been sick? If they work at a factory of any kind? We ask a million questions on their way in. A lot of people blaze through the questions, we found. So we had to get really specific to make sure we know if they are sick in any way, they cannot come into the clinic. You are going to get in your car. Drive to the tent. And they will talk to you.

For our elderly population, we pretty much changed 95% of visits into telehealth or video calls. We tell them to come in between the hours of 8:30-9:30a. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, you’ll get your lab work done. You’re in and out. We’re trying really hard to do what we normally do. Or at least to continue to provide that care. 

There are some people that we need to see in person. Mostly prenatal and pregnant people. And then if someone needs a procedure done, mostly contraception like IUD, then we’re still doing that. That was what we were doing in February to figure out who we really need to see and who can delay coming into the clinic. We are still figuring out the pediatric situation, which is why the schools are closing. They are the germ carriers of the world. They are just spreading stuff all over the place. 

We are doing a lot of telehealth there. But several times a week we are having conversations amongst ourselves in leadership trying to figure out how to give vaccines and keep them current on stuff without affecting our staff. We do have enough PPE. We actually got donations and the state has provided more. UNC has provided more. So gowns, gloves, masks and face shields that can be used if someone needs to evaluate someone who is ill in any way. 

What’s a high point for you? 

I think the high point has been in two areas. At work, it’s really been seeing the team come together. We have a good team with everyone’s goal is the same. Everyone wants to help the patient. Everyone wants to do what they need to do in order to serve our population and that has been really refreshing. All of the staff have been willing to adjust their jobs and do things that they would not normally do, like run medications out to people’s cars to help out. 

Spending more time with my family has been great. Being able to sit down with more meals. The weekends have been really nice to have that downtime. We worked a few puzzles.

What have you been learning about yourself and what you need in this time? 

I definitely learned that I probably do need more downtime that I have been having previously. It’s very energizing. Even if it’s 30 minutes a day of just down time. For a while when things were really crazy, in the post COVID super craziness, I found myself watching jeopardy every night. And that’s just a comfort thing. I watched Jeopardy with my mom when I was a kid. She watches jeopardy every day. My dad died a couple of years ago and when he was in the hospital, she would be home, every day at 7 o’clock watching it. I think I defaulted to just having that kind of consistent comfort. Alex is always there. I did find myself doing that and that was really helpful. 

You talked about March, and how you were preparing in February. Now we’re in May. Did anything shift at all in regards to what you’re seeing? I know cases are continuing to rise. And I know a lot of people believe that we should not be opening up. 

I think we are just starting to get into a routine. When we started telehealth, it was just telephones because they had to figure out zoom licenses to pay for the HIPPA protection. We just started televideo a couple of weeks ago. We are still figuring that out, especially in a rural population.

We have a super underserved population. Forty percent hispanic and thirty percent African American. And then just rural. Between connectivity and flip phones and all kinds of things. And the fact that grandchildren are not around their grandparents to help them figure this out. It’s still a learning curve with that. 

In our community, because of the prevalence of essential workers, tons of essential workers go to community health centers because it’s affordable and we take the uninsured. So we have a lot of fast food workers, grocery stores workers, meat packing plants workers. Other factory workers in Lee and Chatham, county. 

We know that COVID is going to be with us for a while.

We just know that because we don’t have people who can social distance at home or work. At work they are working it out and being receptive at the plants to figure it out so that they will not have the same kind of outbreaks that they had. But at home, we’ve dealt with families of twelve people in one home. And they all had COVID. Nobody can isolate. 

But we have been working with people to try to help meet their needs. Even their community needs. Helping procure food. Our pharmacy started delivering medications. Anything that we could do to help them get the services that they need, which can be difficult sometimes. We’re also dealing with undocumented people at times. So there are some services that they can’t really get. We got a lot of folks working on it and it’s all hands on deck. We really try to get healthcare in the community, especially with COVID positive patients. To make sure that they have what they need to isolate has been really important. 

What have you learned about the needs of your community?

I’m part of a facebook physician doctor mom community. It’s actually international. I think 100k. That’s been really helpful during this time because you are in your own world. There are not a whole lot of people that have the same circumstance of a female minority doctor mother. So it’s good to be able to see how other people are doing this and what they are going through. What’s taking place in other towns and cities around the world during this time. It gives me a few more tools in my toolbox to navigate and to help make informed decisions. 

What have you learned about your fellow coworkers or just healthcare workers in general, around their needs? 

There have been discussions on the facebook page. People would throw out questions about “what are you guys doing about this” or “have anyone seen their parents lately?” Just trying to figure out how people are navigating. I know when all of this started, people were figuring out if they needed to be on the frontline in New York, and keep their families safe by isolating themselves. With my more close knit community at work, I’ve been checking in on people more often. We had a zoom meeting which was nice because we are trying not to have too many people at the clinic at a time so we can go weeks without seeing certain providers and doctors. It was really nice to see everybody. 

I definitely found that having support from your fellow comrades, knowing that other people’s hairs are on fire too, is really helpful because sometimes you get the thought that you can handle anything because you’ve done so much already, as a physician. You just feel like you can pile on as much as the world has given you and you keep trudging on. Just knowing that other people, you may think should be doing well, but aren’t, is really helpful to put it in perspective. 

I had a talk with one of the younger providers who is out doing the testing. He’s newer, only been practicing for a couple of years. This was mid March and he was starting to feel like he was coming down with something. But it was Friday, he’s been doing testing all week. He took his temperature. I told him, “this is super hard. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. This is not normal. There is nothing normal about this. It’s really really hard. You really need rest. Go home, drink water, go for a run. Do whatever you need to do to recharge because this is really really hard.”

So I think that just a way to acknowledge that this is not normal. There is nothing normal about this. You have nothing in your toolbox in order to take care of this. So whatever you do in order to get through difficult times, do that. You need to just put as much as that in your life as you can find. This is not going anywhere and we are going to be here for a while. You really have to remind yourself, okay, I think I used to like to do this. Let me do it. My kids brought out the puzzles and I was like, yeah lets do puzzles. That sounds like a great idea. We are going to sit at this table and work some puzzles. 

Where are the places that you are finding joy? 

I am really finding it in a lot of different places. I’m finding a lot of joy in nature.

I’m finding a lot of happiness just sitting at my desk and listening to the birds and let the sun hit my face.

Taking deep breaths. We have two puppies. That’s been fun. And then just watching my daughter grow has been really cool. She’s just at this really cool age. She’s this tween. She’s been really inspirational for me. She completed 30 days of yoga when this first started. Now she’s on 30 days of mediations. She’s working on different crafts and projects. She’s really taking this time and making the most of it. Showing me that if you have time you should do what you want to do as long as it doesn’t involve being around a lot of people. Those things created a lot of joy for me. 

What are your hopes for the future? 

For myself, I hope I can remember this time. If things get too hectic, I could just continue to remember and take time for myself. And to live a realistic life would be the most important thing. To figure out if I’m doing too much, how can I do less? Who could I ask for help and what can I say no to? All of those sorts of questions. Hopefully I will be able to continue to remember priorities and how to prioritize in life and continue to interact with people and circumstances that do revitalize me and give me joy. 

I really hope that society comes out of this way different than before.

I definitely find myself interacting less with social media because I couldn’t relate to all of the materialism, selfishness. I really hope that we come out of this being a better community, more of a global community, more of a brother’s keeper type of community. Now that everyone has seen all of the problems of the United States, I feel like we have seen the problems for a long time. Now that people have time to really see and share, hopefully a large number of people are waking up to understanding that there are a lot of problems here. Hopefully, they will continue to do whatever they started doing during this time to be able to fill some of those gaps that they found. 

As we continue to share testimonies from Black women across North Carolina through our Her Testimony campaign, we would like to thank everyone who shared their experiences of navigating this pandemic via our online survey. The survey is still open for any adult who identifies as a Black woman residing in North Carolina and wants to share how COVID-19 is impacting their life. To learn more about the Her Testimony campaign, please visit here. 

Today, we offer a testimony from Derria Dixon who provides mental health services to residents of Eastern NC, alongside her husband through their organization, Dixon Social Interactive Services. Prior to supervising Dixon Social, Derria worked in the pharmaceutical industry. She is a mother of two and the caregiver of her mother. This conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity.

Here is Derria’s testimony. 


How has this experience affected your daily life? 

Well probably like so many people–not knowing that the scientists don’t even understand the pandemic, so it has been kind of scary. With my science background, I listen to science. I believe in science. But then when the experts don’t know and they are learning, and you’re learning as they’re learning, that’s a scary experience. The community reaction to– it as far as getting all of the toilet paper and there’s no meat and not knowing how the virus really spread — they’re kinda guessing.  It’s been wild. 

For you specifically, what has been a low point while experiencing this pandemic? 

Not knowing what to do. My kids are out in California. And LA, you know that’s where one of the first cases was identified. I just wanted to know that they were okay. I was concerned about them. And also, my mother lives about two hours away from me. She has a lung condition. Sarcoidosis. I wanted to be sure that she was safe. What should we do for her to make sure she’s safe? So all of those uncertainties on how we are going to do this. I’m the primary caregiver. I have a brother. He helps, but I’m the oldest. It’s my responsibility. I guess I could say that they were low points. 

I have faith in God. For the most part, because I identify to my core, which is my faith in Jesus, I haven’t had any really low low points. I am always able to go back to the word and remember his promises of protection and how He is going to provide. And how He is going to protect. That has kept me from having low low points. 

I want to know more about your role as a caregiver. You are a mother and a daughter. How do you navigate taking care of them from afar? 

So when I think about my role in this — I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a daughter, I’m a friend, I am a supervisor.

Because of my nurturing nature, I’ve had my hand in everyone’s life, making sure that they are okay.

At least I’ve tried. And it probably has helped me in the process too because I’m occupied with making sure that people are okay.My husband, I have to remind him of the recommendations, the social distancing, and washing your hands. I probably aggravate him but I feel like I have to ask him the questions. Did you use your mask? Also my children –I’m not so concerned with my daughter. But it’s my son. Making sure that he knows that he needs to do what he needs to do as far as protecting himself. I don’t know, maybe it’s a man thing. But I think he sees the seriousness of it too. He’s in that generation. You know the generation of people that were on the beach during spring break? I don’t think he would have done that but he’s kind of wondering, “What’s so bad? I’m this age and it’s not going to affect me this much.” But I think he’s caught on to the fact that it could hurt someone else. 

And as far as my mother, I’ve been shopping for her so she will not have to go to the grocery store. Doing shopping two hours away and getting it to her has been interesting, but it has been working. And as far as being a supervisor, making sure that our staff is okay. Being in the process of making sure that the clients are okay because we are deemed as an essential business. So making sure that we have everything possible that we need to make sure they are protected. Even in the community, being a friend, we provided computers for children to do their schoolwork at home if they didn’t have it. So I’ve been kinda busy, Barry and I — my husband’s name is Barry, doing those things. 

What’s been a high point for yourself in this moment?

I think the high point is finding out about zoom. Zoom has been wonderful because we’ve never used zoom in our business. We always had round the table meetings. Now we’re zooming and it’s so efficient. It saves time. The communication is great, not just for the business, but for family. We have family meetings on zoom. My son is graduating May 8th. He’s getting his Masters in engineering management and we were so excited about going to his graduation at Duke. So now it’s going to be virtual. But we’re thinking about having a virtual party too so family and friends can all be together on the screen and celebrate with him. So that’s been a real high point. Finding other ways of communication. I love zoom. 

What have you been learning about the needs for yourself? I have heard you talk about other people but what are you learning about for yourself at this moment?

I think I’m learning, because we have so much time, there are so many things that I have on the back burner that I continue to put on the back burner.

But now is the time to take those things off the back burner and to start doing them. 

I find myself still making excuses to not do those things. Like writing a book–there’s a book that I’ve been writing for a couple of years. Reorganizing my closets. 

 

What are you learning about the needs for your community? 

My husband and I pastor a small group, so we’re using zoom during this time. Usually it’s a house church so we go from house to house. What I’m finding they’re needing is really just a touch. Getting together. Everybody is excited to get together because of the distancing. That’s the biggest thing I’m finding that people need. To reach out. There are some people that I have to call that are a part of our group. One lady is suffering from illness so I reach out to her and a couple of others. For the most part, everybody loves to come on and see each other’s faces. Give kiss signs. And all of that. 

In the neighborhood, when we’re walking, everybody just likes to say hello and make a gesture of wanting to communicate because of the distance.

It’s like we all are in this together.

It seems like everybody has that frame of mind in the community where I am. Now when I think about some people in my community — the lack of information. That concerns me. When you go out, they are not practicing social distancing or just seem unaware of what they need to do as far as safety is concerned. I think that is a need in some populations. 

With your mom, do you drive her groceries or send via delivery? 

Either me or my brother take it to her. Now her town, they made it so that visitors cannot enter. It’s a port town and a lot of tourists come. And so we had to get entry passes to go to Beaufort. I either send it through my brother or I’ll take it directly. 

How have you been adapting under these conditions? 

Well, I’ve been trying to go by the recommendations. I’m used to standing six feet away. At one point it was a problem with masks. But it seems to be easier to find. Even when they lift the stay at home restrictions in North Carolina, I’m still going to follow it. I think that I convinced my kids that they need to too. So I think I’ve adapted pretty good as far as the safety part. Now I have slacked as far as the cleaning in the house. I was one time crazy with it. Wiping everything down. But it’s like, maybe that’s not all that necessary to do. But adapting — I think so many things that I have adapted to, I’m going to keep for a minute. 

When it comes to your work, are you going into the office or working from home? 

The administrative staff and management, we have them work from home. However from time to time they need to go into the office. But because everybody is not there, it is easy to practice social distancing. There are times when I have to go to the office and I make sure I have my mask on when I have to be around so many people. I think we might try to keep that practice in the office as far as social distancing. And also allow them to work from home more. We would have never known that until this pandemic. It’s really been working. I am for us doing a lot of work from home. 

Yeah, I see that as a trend. Where have you been finding joy? 

I’ve been finding joy in my faith. In the word that where He promises to protect us and provide for us.

I can’t imagine going through Covid-19 without a relationship with God and in not having that blessed assurance during these uncertain times.

That is where I get my number one joy. And then being with my family. Me and my husband have time to catch up and be able to talk to my kids more because they are home and have more time to catch up with me. That’s been a joy to talk to family more. 

What are your hopes for the future when we emerge from this crisis? 

My hope for myself, I would say, is to not to take for granted the daily blessings that God has given us.

Take advantage of every minute of the day to do something that is purposeful. That’s my hope for me. To see the importance of moving forward in my purpose as a woman, as a supervisor, as a mother, as a daughter, as a wife. To take that opportunity and continue to move forward in a positive manner.

For my community, it is my hope that everyone would take the opportunity to find and stand on that solid rock, which is Jesus Christ. And to be able to have that blessed assurance for uncertainty times such in what we are experiencing. That’s my hope for community. 

Last week, we offered our first testimony of faith by Doretha from Her Testimony, a campaign capturing the experiences of Black women in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we are excited to share another story that is full of introspection and self-healing. This conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity. We are also gathering stories from Black women in North Carolina about their lives in the pandemic via a short and anonymous survey. The survey can be completed by anyone who identifies as a Black woman residing in North Carolina who wants to share their experiences during COVID-19.

Jasmine Michel is a chef, a food justice advocate, and owner of Dreamboat Cafe, a space that provides pop up dinners to feed and heal the community. When she is not in the kitchen cooking up soulful meals, she is working the land as a farmer. Originally from South Florida, Jasmine has called North Carolina home for the last five years. 

Here is Jasmine’s testimony. 


How has this experience affected your daily life, with yourself, and the folks around you? 

Oh man. It more so made me dive deeper into what I’m doing and dive deeper into a schedule so I don’t go crazy. There is a lot of stress and anxiety in being at home. What the hell could I do? I’m trying to find the moment of being happy, while just waking up in the morning and being able to take my time to make breakfast. You get to choose now how you want to exert energy. It can be in the form of being outside. Doing yoga, meditating. So it’s been a push and pull, trial and error. Navigating my day to day. 

I’m very blessed to have whatever tribulations come up and realize a lot of people have it worse and a lot of people have it better. Sometimes I just go with the flow of things. It’s causing me to not to plan shit. If there is any moment in time that forces us to be in the now, it’s this pandemic. It’s been a very beautiful process but it has its difficulties. Being with yourself. 

Yeah, this forced stillness. There’s nothing else to distract you. What has been a low point for you? 

I think a low point from this pandemic is integrating into myself and being completely alone with myself. My whole house is packed. There are seven of us in here. You have to deal with your family ties. And it’s pushing you deeper to why you are the way that you are. What has led you to act this way? And so, sometimes being at home, you can’t dodge reminders where you’re at with growth and feeling processes. 

I think the low point is having to be completely alone within yourself and having nowhere to go to distract you. Not having any distractions is a more eloquent way of saying that. There is nothing to distract you from yourself. And you can, but you really have to go outside of yourself to get a distraction. It’s a beautiful point, but it really is a low point for me. This quarantine has pushed me into my work, which I’m grateful for. 

What’s one thing that has been a high point for you during this time?

It’s definitely how I would like to take up space from now on. I just reshaped how I want Dreamboat to be and how I want to contribute to society. I’ve definitely been sitting on what my new role is in society. Those have been really pleasant reflections. How are you going to take up space? When all of this gets back to normal, or whatever normal will be, how will you contribute? How will you stay safe? How will you be self sufficient? 

The veil has been lifted a little bit. I think everyone realized that everything is basically bullshit. So get aligned into how you want to take up space. It’s definitely pushed me closer to the land. It’s pushed me closer to the medicine of food. And it’s pushed me closer to what I feel has been my purpose. 

Those are very precious things. Just being with my family. My dad hasn’t had a day off for years and the fact that I get to see him wake up and just cruise around for a walk, for a bike ride. It’s insane. People haven’t had a moment of rest like this. The fact that it took a pandemic for people to get a moment of breath should tell you that everything is bullshit. 

I’m interested in how you describe food as medicine and the desire to go back to the land. It sounds like these are values that you had before this pandemic. And now, we’re in this crisis around health, policy… All of these systems that are at a breaking point, and food is one of them. What are the things that you are learning? Or maybe what are the things that we should pay attention to or do for ourselves just from your knowledge in working the land and the way that you advocate for food?

I think it’s really nice for a person to listen to themselves internally. I think there’s a lot of conditioning or constructing around listening to the outside world for your problems. I think if we silence ourselves enough, silence our surroundings enough, we are able to listen to ourselves internally. 

That has really led me to how I navigate myself. It comes in the form of listening to when you don’t feel good, listening to when you are hungry. And so, you think listening to your internal self and feeding that voice to get louder so you are moving in a direction closer to your own truth and not dictated by the outside world. It’s also getting into your own studies of things. I’m really leaning towards herbs and wild things that are out there that can help us to become more self sustaining through food. 

There’s the new Tall Grass Food Box in Durham. It’s the produce box of all of the Black farmers in Durham. And I’m like, what, it’s insane! You are actually able to now take a second and see where your placement is in society. What is your offering? It makes you see your safety net. You can say right now you know a farmer. Do you know someone with a well water system? Do you know how to get water? Do you live without electricity? I think people were really preparing for doomsday for a second. It puts you in perspective on what happens if that actually can occur. Who do you know? What do you know?  Your survival skills? How to heal yourself? If you don’t know how to heal yourself, it would be impossible to know how to heal someone else. And so, those have been the things I’ve been leaning into. Those are just things I also encourage in other people. 

I love that. I feel like in some ways you are answering my next question, but I’m going to ask anyway in case there is anything else. In terms of needs, what are the particular things that you have learned about your needs? 

I think Jasmine needs time for herself. My partner says that I need to stop caring for other people.  I throw myself into that role because it is the role I’m most comfortable in, but it is also a role that I abuse. I’m easily the first person to self sabotage and to abuse the role of caring for so many people. And I think in the height of things, especially in my household with a bunch of grown ass adults, we are all going through our own emotional cycle. It’s been extremely difficult for me to give back to myself. 

To take time, breathe, do nothing. It’s been difficult because I always want the people I surround myself to feel safe and comforted. It’s also the way that I’ve been raised,  growing up as a Caribbean kid, it’s very much, “take care of the family.” Although I love doing it, it gets easily abused by myself. I’m learning very slowly to take care of myself. 

More so than that, I’ve reached a huge stint of insecurity. It’s really because we are just home. We’re looking at ourselves for a little bit longer. We’re pondering on things. I have not been this insecure in an extremely long time. “Teenage” insecurity. “Comparison” insecurity. “Not enough” insecurity. “Worthiness” insecurity. And I’m like, where the hell did that come from? It comes up because I don’t necessarily think I did the work I told myself I did. And so, that has been my biggest lesson. 

My biggest need is for me to speak kindly to myself, and for me to say what I am doing, whatever little or however big or small, is enough. Sit down. It’s difficult sitting with yourself. It’s difficult when you have to sit down and have to actually listen to yourself. You have to actually listen to “oh man, this is what I’ve been telling myself?” This is what I’ve been thinking to myself about myself? And so, I’ve been trying to not be scared of sitting with myself because I need to. I need to not run from myself. 

I appreciate you for sharing that and to say that out loud. What I hear, by you claiming that for yourself, I hope you will do it and really carve out that time to create the boundaries that you need to have more time for yourself. Are there any things that you’ve been learning about the needs for your community? 

I think what I am learning is showing up. Small steps, like checking in with my friends and dropping stuff off at my friends’ doors. 

How have you been adapting under these new conditions?

I think I adapt by taking things so slow. I am taking things, day by day, minute by minute. Things are changing so rapidly. And trust for government and capital, it’s never been there, but we depend on it so fully. I’m adapting in a sense where I am trying to integrate into society without the construct or the dictatorship of government demand. I’m integrating in a way I will be when all of this goes back to normal. A lot of people think that anti-government — they think it’s riots and teargas but it’s really just self sustaining. It’s living off the grid. It’s farming. It’s buying locally. It’s bartering with a friend. I’m realizing that I want to get deeper in that role in society. 

Can you say more? What does that look like? 

I think it’s having a discussion with yourself. How are you negatively impacted in the world? Have that discussion with yourself and see what you would like to change. How does that look like from your scale? 

It’s going to the land. Finding a farm. Finding people who garden. Durham is really a great representation of that. You don’t have to be a farmer. Go get some herbs. That’s why I really encourage cooking and healing through food. You do find a lot of healing and purpose by cooking. 

And it’s also just about community too. It’s finding people who are like minded like yourself and being able to share whatever resources that you have and being able to freely express your desire for something. That’s something I’ve been learning to do. Diving deep into people that share the same ideas that I do or the same stress. Being able to have that bond and freedom to just chill out. 

Where have you been finding joy?

I’ve been finding a lot of joy in witnessing my family. All of us have found our little comfort zone. Someone would be in the backyard. Someone would want to go take a walk. It’s nice to witness. It’s nice to see someone take up space with something that is bringing them peace and comfort. 

My partner and I have been going to the woods and that has been bringing me a lot of joy. To swim in the lake a little bit. Anytime I’m near water, I always feel revived. I always feel blessed. It takes me a second to want to go outside and trek out into the forest. But some of the things are left behind when you walk somewhere, walk on a piece of land. And so, that has been bringing me a lot of joy. 

Also being able to navigate Dreamboat in a new sense. I did shopping for ingredients for this week’s Thai food delivery yesterday and I haven’t been that happy in an extremely long time. Recipe testing and smelling herbs. I haven’t been that happy and hopeful. This is going to feed someone. This is going to be amazing. And being able to navigate Dreamboat in that sense has brought me a lot of joy. Coming home with my damn mask, scrubbing my hand. Making my prep list. Doing the marketing for it. It has brought me an immense amount of joy. 

Yeah, it’s back to your purpose. What are your hopes for the future when we emerge from this crisis? For yourself and your community?

I hope I stick to my growth. I hope I don’t just throw it all to the whim the moment that society basically opens back up. And I hope that staying true to what I see Dreamboat and how I see my role in society and this life, I’m hoping to stay true to that and to honor it. My hope is that I get back out there and actually be more true to myself. 

I hope people just wake up. I hope people actually take this seriously. I hope people see all of the faults of capital and government. I hope people see their power. I hope people see that they can change something. I hope people don’t feel so small. I  hope people become self-sustaining, realizing that this is all kind of bullshit. 

Step into your own power. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it is changing us. I’m in the midst of trying to claim my power. And it’s difficult because you say that it’s not there half of the time. Yet you see it sitting right there, but you are not going to go out, grab it, hold it, nurture it. And so I hope people wake up. I hope people see. I hope people run to the land. I hope people see each other. Love each other. Screw anything that tries to put you in a freaking box.