Over half the year has passed and it has been quite interesting to say the least. Despite Toronto finally entering Phase 3, Covid-19 still has a grip on most of my life and much of the world. Lockdown life began for me over 4 months ago and for the most part, I’m used to it now. I live in a home with 4 generations so I never lack company. On occasion, I go for socially-distanced walks with friends or have socially-distanced chats in my drive-way. I’ve got Netflix, Prime, Crave, the internet, a smart phone, a backyard, access to books galore and so much more. I’ve been reading, writing and working on some exciting projects with some amazing teacher friends. In spite of this, it hasn’t always been easy. The hardest part of lockdown life for me (aside from ‘Remote-learing) has been adjusting to ‘lack of solitude’. I’m never really alone. This shouldn’t be a bad thing, and I’m in no way complaining, but I learned years ago that I need time alone to recharge and rejuvenate. It’s essential for my well-being. Like many, I’m unable to take a trip to “get away”. I no longer visit the library, which was my ‘me time’, my ‘happy place’; and a key part of my ‘self-care’ (aka #writingtime). So, I’ve been improvising.
I started running this month. I hate running. Nevertheless, I joined a ‘Staying Active Run Club’ with a group of friends — it’s an extension of our “Staying Active” Whatsapp group, where we have daily, weekly and monthly health and fitness challenges. Most importantly, it’s a space for support, inspiration and accountability so that we can achieve and/or maintain our healthy mind, body and spirit goals during these challenging times. For the most part I’ve struggled to maintain consistency with our challenges. Ironically, the running seems to be turning into a habit. At this point in my running journey I’ve completed my fourth week of running and while I still hate running, I absolutely love it. I am super slow and I can’t run for twenty minutes straight but I’m already trimming down and it feels good. Like for real, sweat will be dripping into my eyeballs and I’m just grinning with joy because I feel good and am incredibly proud of myself.
Walking in the footsteps of my ancestors
Along with running a dear friend of mine (shoutout @yummalishtreats) shared a link to girltrek’s 21 day Black History Bootcamp. For 21 days Black women all around the world are walking to be reminded of where we come from; to be reminded of our power and of our need for self-care. It’s pure magic. Day 1 started off with Audre Lorde, (I’d just finished devouring her book ‘Sister Outsider’ – and believe reading it should be a rite of passage for all Black women) and it was absolutely everything my soul needed. In the midst of not just the pandemic, but the literal ‘madness’ of what’s going on in the world, rather, what’s always been going on in the world in terms of systemic racism, anti-black racism, the rise of fascism, the destruction of education, the ruination of the environment and so on and so forth…I was driving myself unnecessarily crazy with feelings of “I’m not doing enough.” I’ve learned however, throughout my 37 years of participation on this planet that my joy is tightly linked to leading a purposeful life. This podcast helped me in so many ways in terms of reaffirming things I already know, claiming things I’ve been afraid to accept, letting go of things that do not or no longer serve me and accepting that I am enough and that I am doing enough and that I can do whatever it is I am destined to do. I just need to relax, breathe and keep walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.
Speaking of ancestors, July (2020 in general) has been death-filled. Covid, police injustice and brutality aside, there’s been a lot of death this year. My grand-uncle passed away and attending the viewing was incredibly sad and for lack of a better word weird. There was no one was in attendance and very few names were on the guest list. My grand-uncle’s wife had already left because she’s old and tired, and then there’s COVID, the source of all of the weirdness. To make matters worse, my grandfather who loves his brother dearly has no clue his brother has transitioned. He is in a long term care home and because of COVID we can’t visit him and do not want to tell him over the phone. It’s all so damn sad.
The same night of the viewing, while putting my son to bed I sat on the stairs and bawled. I wept to the point of shaking. It was one of those ugly whole body cries. I haven’t done any of those in a while and am surprised and thankful my little guy fell asleep in spite of it all. I had foolishly, while waiting for him to fall asleep, aimlessly scrolled through Instagram and saw the picture of a smiling Black boy named Cornelius Fredericks. I should have known better not to click on the link and learn more. The odds of that link leading me to a story of Black joy were slim. I clicked. I read and I cried. Slow, quiet tears at first. And as I learned about that young boy’s awful demise I began to bawl more loudly and more wholeheartedly. At the time I was reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness and learning about America’s history of insidious hate and how that hate plays out in terms of how incarceration functions and what it means for Black people. So, I cried not only for Cornelius Fredericks and my grand-uncle. I cried for D, one of my grade one students this year; I saw so much of his likeness in not only Cornelius Fredericks image, but in his mannerisms and I broke down. I cried for all Black boys and Black men, and all Black girls and Black women. I cried because no matter what we do, this system that we live and operate in, is not made for us. When we survive, when we make it through, we are truly defying all odds.
In loving memory
I think for the first time in my life, I felt truly hopeless about the transformation needed in our world. The saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ has never seemed more true to me. Nevertheless, I do believe that knowledge is power and that is where true liberation lies. The deaths I’ve ‘witnessed’ this past month, whether it was a family member or someone whose name I’ve only come to know because their life has come to an untimely and unjust end, have all hurt the same. Someone’s life has ended, their loved ones have to continue with their memories only. Their potential can no longer be realized and their hopes and dreams can no longer be actualized. Regardless, their lives have meaning. They have left a blueprint for us to learn and grow from. I learned so much about my grand-uncle while listening to his eulogy via live-stream. My grand-uncle, along with my grandfather and many others, have left their blueprint in Toronto, for their Jamaican-Canadian communities through their contributions and leadership. I intend to dig up their stories and contributions to this city for others to not only honour them but also to learn from the blueprints they have left behind for us, so that we may truly walk in the footsteps of our forefathers and foremothers.
Living and learning with gratitude
I’ve done many cool things in my life. In many ways, more than my ‘fair’ share. I often forget how many unique and special opportunities I’ve been privileged to be a part of throughout my life. I was recently reminded of one of these special experiences after learning of the death of Nakotah LaRance. He was 30 years old. Around this time, five years ago I got the opportunity to perform at the opening ceremony of the Pan Am Games with Cirque du Soleil. Up until this point, seeing Cirque du Soleil had been just a dream. So for my first experience to be performing alongside them at the opening ceremony of the Toronto Pan Am Games, was a truly remarkable experience. In true Toronto form, the diversity of Toronto was highlighted in the opening ceremonies ‘Pow Wow Carnival’. I was part of 183 dancers and 21 cultural dance groups from in and around the city. One of the stars of the show was Nakotah LaRance. He was a nationally acclaimed Hopi-Tewa hoop dancer who performed with Cirque du Soleil. He was beyond talented, and had a beautiful soul. His energy was welcoming, kind and dynamic. It was obvious that he was a special person with a special purpose in life. I am honoured to have met him, to have shared a stage with him and to have danced alongside him.
This school year, I was a part of a leadership training program for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour women educators in Ontario. Our training was interrupted because of teacher strikes, work action and then because of Covid. It was one of the highlights of my year and while I am still disappointed my cohort was unable to complete the program, I understand the purpose behind my participation in it and am beyond grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and connections I’ve made. In the last email I received from one of our mentors; she closed with ‘Miigwetch for blessing my spirit with your presence.’ Miigwetch means ‘thank you’ in ‘Anishinaabemowin’ one the languages spoken by the Anishnaabe people of Canada. This closing was profound for me. I read it at a time when I was feeling particularly guilty about being absolutely horrible with keeping in touch with family and friends who I hold dear to my heart. This statement encompassed how I view interactions with all the souls whose paths I’ve crossed throughout my life (even if I don’t keep in touch). Whether the experience was negative or positive, I honour and value all experiences, interactions and connections as a blessing, as an opportunity to learn and grow and for that I am truly grateful.
More than half of the year has passed and calling it ‘interesting’ is an understatement. The lessons are clear and obvious though. And I am positive the universe will continue to present us with reminders and experiences for us to learn and grow from until we wake up and pay attention. In the meantime, I will continue to practice gratitude for all those who continue to bless my spirit with their presence along the way.
Who has blessed your spirit with their presence this 2020?