Broken but Still Whole: reflections after the Words of Fire Conference 2017

It hasn’t even been a day since I left the final moments of the Words of Fire Conference. It would be rude for me to not acknowledge the people who contributed to making this trip happen for me. There is no way that I would have been able to make the trip to Atlanta, without people financially and emotionally supporting me. It just so happened a few months ago that I saw a sponsored link on Facebook talking about the Words of Fire: Sex, Power and the Call for Social Justice Conference. It was one of those moments, where I can’t explain why I felt the need to make it to this event, but I just knew I needed to. Call it what you will, but everything in the Universe made sure that this trip was going to happen for me. I also might have just randomly called out for a sponsor on that same aforementioned social media platform, half-joking and half seeing what would happen. From that post came a message from an acquaintance, to starting a crowd sourcing campaign, to less than 24 hours later, having my entire trip covered.

We’ve all had those moments, the moments when you speak what your heart wants but out of fear of rejection, you convince yourself that you were just playing, just in case it doesn’t work out.  A silly practice indeed, but one we all have done and are currently probably doing on a deeper level then we are willing to admit. Truth be told, I stayed in that moment up until I arrived to the conference. Life disappointments have taught me to not get very excited about things, because rarely do they live up to what I want. Fantasy of outcome and expectations are a dangerous place to live. While, my approach is based out of cynicism, it is an approach that has shaped me and I am okay with it. In recent months though, I have been trying to make the point of living my truth and not let fear be an excuse to not do so. It is from that space, that I am writing.

I won’t get into all the aspects and ins and outs of the W.O.F.C. As this isn’t about that. This is really about my journey and how necessary it was for me to step outside my comfort zone to actually see where I am. I have been on the journey of finding and speaking my truth from a very young age. I found my power and comfort in writing. Even more so, I found my connection with humanity by sharing my stories publicly. To often I had found that the things that I kept hidden from my childhood and life in general, were very similar to experiences others have gone through. My writings and revealing my own skeletons, showed me I wasn’t alone. My most powerful moments have been when I revealed being a rape survivor, and most recently speaking about being sexually molested as a child. Even seeing those words on my computer screen as I type, I am hesitant to go any further with writing this. Yet, my purpose is to speak my full truth and move from it. I won’t go into details on either account, but they are beyond relevant to this story. What I didn’t know when I had spoken to the Universe about going to Atlanta, was that the centralized focus of Word of Fire was to “serve as springboard to further propel Black women and girls’ experiences with sexual and reproductive violation to center stage.”

Yet, for the second time since I have decided to live without allowing fear to stop me, have I “accidentally” done things that have put me in the exact place I know I was supposed to be. The first was getting a job for the same organization and being able to continue the legacy of my life hero, Bayard Rustin. The second was signing up for a conference that wasn’t just about Black feminism and a call to action, but talking about doing all that from the reality of being a sexual assault survivor. To share space with other fellow activists and leaders and academics and healers and organizers and you name it, all on their own journey to use their stories of assault to better their community… my life has been forever changed.

It was as I sat in the Sisters Chapel at Spelman College, that I decided to let go of my bullshit and allow myself to be fully present. It was also at this moment that I realized that I was not alone. There is such a secrecy and shame that comes with sexual assault. We, for whatever our reasons, decide to silence those moments and memories within ourselves. Some have a long line of violations and have very few memories of childhood not wrapped around the darkness. Others, silenced out of fear of death or the death of a person they love. Others, just didn’t have the resources to know what was actually happening to them, or even a safe place to go. Sexual violence, especially at a young age is unfortunately more common than anyone can imagine. It is something that has no prejudice, crosses all genders, socioeconomic groups and is rampant in every neighborhood. It is our silence that stifles our spirits. It is the silence that allows perpetrators to walk the streets. I blame the “snitches get stitches” culture, within marginalized communities, especially for allowing this to happen. The pressure to not lock up another person of color, even when they are sexually violating you, is so powerful a predator is excused and a victim is shunned.

It is for them and myself that I will longer live in my darkness. I will no longer be ashamed of the misdeeds of another that preyed upon my innocence. I will no longer try to protect those that might be bothered from hearing my reality. I know especially this will be hard for my mother, who I never told, out of my desire to stop her from blaming herself. I know she did the best she could with what she had, and have never blamed her for the things that have happened to me. I also know that I have come from a long line of women that have survived countless attacks, sexually, physically, mentally and that knowledge lifts me even more to tell my story. It is also the reason I finally understand why safe spaces are so necessary and why I knew I was meant to be there.

There was one teach-in that particularly moved my spirit to do the work that must be done to free myself from my guilt, shame and own personal oppression. As I walked into the space, I was taken aback at first by the energy. The room was filled with young girls that had begun their own kind of liberation, that from the grasps of the Fuck Bois. They were elated, loud and unapologetically themselves. To be honest, I loved seeing the duality of it all. Us, older or perceived to be more spiritually grounded. Them young, and full of life and learning to claim their bodies as they so chose. I remember that sense of freedom. It was beautiful and loud and perfect. Erika Totten, our facilitator, made a point to claim the space as our own and as she cleansed the room, I knew that I was going to come face to face with the biggest skeleton I’ve known, my skewed view of my own self worth. It was there that I forced myself to deal with the fact that it has been me all along, that has truly been stopping myself from living fully in my truth.

I must admit, that while sharing my story of sexual assault has been hard, admitting my insecurities about my own blackness plagues me even more. Even at this conference, where no one questioned or even asked about my racial makeup, I doubted if I was even worthy of being there. I have sat up on more than one occasion and talked to my partner about what blackness is. When we talk about the patriarchy, colonialism and the history of America, I can not get around the fact that race was constructed strictly as a tool to separate and enforce slavery. Yet, I am moved and honored to be apart of the movement to claim and define what Blackness is within myself and within my community. It was there that I realized my insecurities of being a biracial woman in a Black space, was completely unfounded. It was in this space, that I realized my mother’s whiteness, does not negate my Blackness. It was in this space that I realized that I can be Black and Biracial at the same time. It was in this space that I realized the true intersectionality of not only genders or movements,  but also of Blackness itself.

Even as I sat in that room, eyes filled with tears and a lump in my throat, I stopped myself from speaking up. Fully aware that my story is a story that deserves to be told, I still was silent. Still trying to wrap my head around everything that had happened in just a day. Grappling around the notion, that those 6 hours, in that space changed me. It reinforced that I can be broken and still be whole. It showed me that everything, dark and light, that has happened to me, has brought me to this moment. It was there I learned the power in speaking up and out. It was there that I learned what it meant to move from surviving to thriving. It was there that I moved closer to fully accepting myself, on no one’s terms but my own. Every single one of us has a story. Every single one of us has darkness. Every single one of us deserves to be inserted into the dominant narrative. Every single one of must lift up our own selves and shed the things that bind us. It is in the moments that we show our own struggle and perseverance, that we find the humanity that unites us. Don’t let the things that others did to you be the thing that you use to determine your self-worth. Take the time to see yourself as the beautifully complicated being that you are. I still have such a long way to go, but this weekend just reinforced that I am where I am supposed to be. It should me the strength in sharing space and experiences. We can not get through this life alone. We must stand together in our hurt, in our truth and in our purpose, to truly get anywhere.cropped-2013-06-27-19-30-34.jpg


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