As a Black woman established in many white centered communities I have battled identifying myself as brave. Shoot, I struggled even identifying myself at all. White people took up a lot of space in my mind as to how bravery shows up in the world. Growing up, bravery looked like my girl friends jumping in lakes and rivers without hesitation. It looked like my classmates putting their whole selves out there, getting a bachelor’s degree and chasing their wildest dreams. I knew a lot of brave people, but never added that to a list of my own attributes.
A brave backstory.
I grew up in California where my parents chose a white church to attend over a Black one. On Sunday’s I was surrounded by white faces and lived in proximity to experiences I often couldn’t relate to. Monday through Friday was the same with the exception of a few Black friends and teachers. I am learning now that my dad’s traumatic childhood made him run as far away from everything that reminded him of his Mississippi roots. He ran from his family in California, he ran from anything that might tie him to his country ways of existing. That landed us here in Washington State – the great Pacific Northwest. Where you run into Black people engaging with the outdoors about as often as you do mountain lions.
For whatever reason, God chose not to put a healthy number of Black and brown folks in the PNW. His plan is perfect, I don’t doubt that. Still wrestling with the trauma of living, working and playing as the only – fill in the blank – in a space. The only Black girl in class, youth group, on the volleyball team, amongst co-workers, at the party – you name it. I was that Black girl. In each of these circumstances – I brought the diversity, the “different” lived experience, the token opinion. Which let me tell you – back then, I never felt very “diverse”, or Black enough. Never understanding that Black is expansive and there are so many ways to be a Black girl.
I noticed bravery in all other Black women. Letting the pitch be heard behind the strength in their voice . To the finger snappin, head bobbin, natural hair flippin. Admiring their creativity from styled head wraps all the way down to their shoes. Being not that kind of Black girl – I never thought bravery was my attribute to claim. But those Black girls – they knew their worth, to me that looked brave as hell.
Bravery, are you there?
Again, as the only Black woman in most situations I often thought things but never expressed them out loud. I dare not. Knowing I had an unpopular opinion about a person or place. Often, instead of speaking out bravely I would keep it to myself. Internalizing everything and everyone in my wake. Learning to do a lot of processing in my head rather than being vulnerable with my friends and community. I got good at showing undeserving grace to people while never risking being dismissed or overlooked. All while mastering the art of showing up with one foot in and one foot out of relationships. I was queen of making excuses for others. Giving them far too much of the me I thought was most tolerable, leaving behind my most authentic self.
As Black and brown women we are not often in situations where our voices are heard. Around tables where our bravery is seen, and our opinions hold weight. It is not often that the company we keep is intentional about making us feel welcome. Reassuring us that we belong at the table and that our lived experiences matter.
Brave came in the year 2020 for me.
I said goodbye to past relationships that no longer serve my expansive Black self. No more people in my life that cannot appreciate who I am becoming, a whole brave Black woman. I need friends and co workers who accept me when I am not code switching or remaining “palatable”.
Realizing the better approach to life is NOT : having friends who only know a certain side of you – the palatable Black girl. The better approach to life IS: having friends who make social and environmental justice “the work”. Friends who speak up and out for you even when you are not in the room. Defining “the work” against white supremacy. While not using their proximity to you as their proof of doing said “work”.
Being “woke” is dead to me. Actions speak decibels louder than words.
I have received a gift behind the scenes of the Brave Space Project. Working in my first multi cultural creative work space built on trust, listening, vulnerability, humility, honesty and gentleness. On the film project I am currently co-producing there is an Indian American, Asian American, and a white woman. For the first time in my life I am working with women who have a genuine desire to see me rise. Rising, my hand is outstretched behind me pulling others up with me! Or rather, we are behind other women pushing them higher, creating space in the industry as we go.
In this Brave Space the solidarity and advocacy continues. We have conversations about our worth, value and the importance of compensation. Questioning and red lining contracts from companies and organizations that claim “this is how we have always done it”. From my personal experience, how we have always done it wasn’t working for everyone – and somethings gotta give. Turns out an intentional multicultural work and play space CAN be beneficial with and a strong foundation. You can have life long friendships, equal give and take, with a push and pull forward. Equal nonetheless – not just there as a diversity pawn or DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) expert.
Be you bravely.
I have accepted the gift of bravery in this space. It’s here I am reclaiming my sense of belonging to natural spaces and our great outdoors. Building a community, creating change. As a result, I am braver and stronger than ever.
A special thanks to my forever friends – Erin Joy, Sanjana and Rebekah. Thank you for allowing me space to be brave. Thank you to the 11 women featured in this film. You continue to give me gifts of confidence and nourish me after one of the hardest years on record.
To follow along on this film project’s journey follow @BraveSpaceMedia on IG and visit Bravespaceproject.org. Film coming Summer 2021. Thanks again to every sponsor and friend that pledged to get this project where it is today.