BrokenBeautiful Keynote: Are You Sure that You Want to Be Well?
Watch “a black girl watching herself” –Mendi Obadike clocks the skin ticks the bones herself counts only ever on this body herself kisses glass winks at background books foreground shrine, built this mirror herself does not look backward into her own eyes breaks forward charging this battle, herself walks quiet rhythmic proud stalks dignity elusive sneak up on this oddity, herself this breakthrough herself this broken this sundown herself this dark this touch up herself this smooth this turnover herself this sweet this crossfade herself this beat this broadside herself this poem this time all she has this heartbeat herself
I cannot tell you what an honor it is to have an idea that came right out of the middle of my heart when I founded BrokenBeautiful Press at nineteen years old invoked all day today as an affirmation of young women of color and all of us who are committed to a world that honors the brilliance of young women of color. Minne Ransom. a black woman healer in a community center asks an activist who has attempted suicide. and I especially want to dedicate what I am about to say to my nineteen year old self who was wise enough to call you forth into her future. And I handled this violent unexpected experience in a way that you might recognize from your own life. I stayed on
. I did not miss one class. This Tuesday was my 30th birthday and I am celebrating all month long and I am so excited to be here with you today. the great black feminist artist Toni Cade Bambara sets the stage with a profound question. I really wanted to be well.Good afternoon everyone!!!! How does it feel to be at the BrokenBeautiful Conference!? Yes!!! That’s how I feel too. a powerful novel that is a must read for anyone committed to healing and social change. An Origin Story In the Salteaters. You are a dream come true and the best birthday present ever! And so I want to dedicate this keynote to each of you and the dreams that you have that are bigger than you. a person I had thought of as a friend. I kept it moving. “Are you sure sweetheart that you want to be well?” When I was nineteen years old. I invented brokenbeautiful press while I was pressing myself back together after surviving sexual assault on my college campus by another student activist. creating the concept of “brokenbeautiful” in a dorm room at Columbia University.
A deep well full with more than water. I didn’t talk about what happened to anyone. because loving myself is the kind of thing that spills everywhere. and clarity and echoes and sweetness. And I needed what we all need. I drank cranberry juice and ate cucumbers. I believe that our presence on this planet as women of color is a constant reminder of the inevitability of
. I kept going to meetings. I survived so quietly that I simply started to disappear. I just kept moving as if everything was okay. and walking and singing out loud and listening to myself. I wanted to exist. I kept organizing. My body became a dizzy vessel for water. in my grandmother and as I started to glue and kiss the growing collage that is myself. that shows me the possibility of loving myself in other people. I didn’t want to make my mother cry. that pulls in everyone. Literally. In the months after I was assaulted I lost ten pounds that I could not afford to lose. I finally felt outraged. I started looking at and creating praise poems to black women. And my body knew what my brain would not admit.the dean’s list. But you know what? I love this body. I needed a context. That is what I believe. I know that my spirit was put in this body for a purpose and when I went to health services and found out that I had lost ten pounds I actually got angry. in my sister. and dancing. I stayed busy. in my mother. And more than that I wanted to be well. I didn’t want to be a burden on my family. but it wasn’t. resonant with song. I found myself putting together pieces of the women in my family and my community who also faced the threat of disappearance because we live in a world that can only handle the presence of women of color as much as it can handle its own liberation. Those were MY ten pounds! And I wanted them back! By instinct or grace I started breathing.
it is scary to us when we avoid our own healing. We are brown sweet broken beautiful we are the breakdance of this planet getting into alignment with the universe. everyone would have to be free. of the yearning of life to be what it deserves to be and that is scary. but some of our most crucial assets as women of color are our most broken edges. To the extent that we exist as ourselves. to value the children of young women of color as miracles and not mistakes? Do we want to be well enough as a
. our freedom requires our whole species to get well.” And that is true for all of us as women of color. our ability to be present to and to express and to live through our own experiences are assets even before we have anything smart to say about it. As the Boston based Black Feminist Lesbian Socialist organization the Combahee River Collective proclaimed in 1977. we are a constant question to all of humanity and especially to each other. trying to avoid the benefits that are available for everyone once our society can face the challenge of who we are and what it means that we are here despite everything. “for Black women to be free. so it contorts itself into all kinds of nonsense trying not to see us for who we are. those places that we have been hurt the most by the systems of our society that need to be changed and destroyed in order for our society to truly be well. any poem to write about it and any triumphant success story to cap it off with. The assets of young women of color are our genius and our creativity. do we really be well? How much? Do we value our own wellness enough to love other women of color even when they remind us way too much of ourselves? Do we want to be well enough as a society to respect the leadership of women of color. And that clarity. to be sure. and it is scary to our society as a whole.transformation.
breathing question of how well we want this planet to be. sitting in a clinic right now. That potential live in every young woman of color in this room and not in this room. And I think most of us know this in our brains. complicated brilliance of women of color and our fear tells us: Sure. resilient and transforming and unpredictable self! And that’s scary. it doesn’t fit into the categories on these forms on my desk. unpredictable. We are all healing. but unfortunately in a society shaped by capitalism. sexism. Every young woman of color on a bus right now. fractious.society to honor the decision of women of color around their own bodies. And that’s also them most beautiful possibility
. racism. we look especially at the growing. it doesn’t fit in what I’ve seen on TV. uncontained. I don’t have anything to use to understand all that complicated broken beauty with except for my own brokenbeautiful hurt and healing. homophobia and so many interconnected forms of oppression we are trained away from what we already know. messy. huge. too beautiful to see. that is some deep stuff going on over there with that sister. we have all been deeply hurt by this system and it is the broken edges in ourselves that that make the beauty in the complicated experiences all around us feel too sharp to look at. sitting alone in a dorm room somewhere like I was is a living. We look at each other. unrestrainable. period? Do we want to be well enough as a society to refuse to allow women of color and our families to be locked away from each other in prisons. there is no song about it on the radio. we know that young women of color are inherently valuable because all people are inherently valuable. whatever I want to be well. denying us from the benefit of the genius of huge components of our society? Do we really want this world to live up to its potential? Because we don’t have far to look.
of life. So let’s practice. A persistent invitation to evolve. And this too is clearing that the organizers of this conference have created for us to practice the healing power of loving ourselves and each other. each fingers their wrists that have been shackled.
. but the NEXT miracle that is challenging us to be radically present. It is a place were Baby Suggs. You might have read about this or seen it represented in the movie Oprah made of Beloved. that the brokenness around us would take us even deeper into loving the part of ourselves that we thought that we could not love. a miraculous space. They kiss and hold and cherish their hands. supremely honest and deeply open. They are broken beautiful. Toni Morrison in her classic crucial novel Beloved describes a place called the clearing. an elder black woman leads formerly enslaved people in learning how to love themselves and each other again. to offer each other the miracle ourselves for real. All of it. The pieces of ourselves we see scattered all around us in each other. not the finished miracle of pretending we have it all figured out. the things you don’t want to say to your mama. the trauma. a marvel in the cosmos because this a space specifically designed for us to practice what it feel like to find miracles in each other. piece by piece. And you know how I know you are down to evolve? Because YOU CAME TO THE BROKENBEAUTIFUL CONFERENCE! This is a sacred space. Because guess what? Everyone in this room has put themselves in a position to breathe right at the center of the evolution of human species. Whew! I gotta take a deep breath. every piece of their flesh that has been so profoundly disrespected by the violence of slavery. the drama. Deep breath. loving themselves back into more than whole.
Okay everybody ready?
First I want you to kiss you shoulders the best you can. Both shoulders! A real kiss. or maybe someone you
. even if you gotta blow them a kiss. possibly someone you don’t know well. like you are committed to stretching into your own power and stretching beyond what we knew was possible in honor of the young women of color transforming the planet. just please choose one person near you. which you have probably already been experienced again and which you will have the opportunity to continue practicing for the rest of the day and the rest of your life. Now we are ready to practice the technology of seeing the beauty of ourselves in each other and vice versa. Kiss those shoulder and thank them and know that as you love on your own shoulder you are also giving gratitude to the shoulders that we all stand on of the visionaries and ancestors that have come before us. can you feel the presence of the ancestors around us who are so thrilled and affirmed because we have made this healing space? Okay. Yes! Yes! Now take a deep breath and celebrate all the inspiration that comes to you and through you.If you are able to stand. Take a few deep breaths and celebrate this moment of freedom. like you are committed to standing up for yourself and for the resilience and brilliance of all young women of color. If you are not able to stand just stretch for me right now even if just your eyebrows. Are we all here? Present? And more than us are here. that as the story goes hold the whole world some days. But for right now. stand up for me right now. Kiss those shoulders that hold more tension than they should.
love. both hands if you can and breathe. Now if you are standing ground your feet into the floor. Start now. Keep looking…just for one minute. You are really here despite everything that may have
. Keep breathing. just keep breathing and notice what you notice about what if feels like to be looked at and what it feels like to look at someone. but keep looking. notice their skin. You may have seen this person in a way that you have seen very few people and in gratitude for that experience please offer the person one wish from your heart and thank them for being present. their lips that are also trying not to laugh. You did it ! Thank you for doing one of the bravest things that can ever be done. Has everyone found a partner? Does anyone need to come up here and be my partner? Okay so with your partner we are just going to take one minute in silence and just look at your partners face. Look them in the eye. just being present to someone else and yourself in silence for a moment. Okay y’all we are still practicing. Take a breath and put your hands on your heart. if you are seated press towards the ground with your bottom and feel how rooted and connected and strong you are. Notice that you might want to laugh and just be present to the fact that it is rare that we really get to look at each other and it might feel awkward. You may have felt. Back in your circles around the table can you please face each other in a circle. insight. how real you are in this moment. Just notice that you are here.do know a little bit. or move to look at other parts of their face. how deep you are. recognition. You can keep looking the person in the eye. Hold the minute.
Keep holding Did you know that a 9 foot radius around us is the space that our vibrating heart beats resounds in. These are the hands that we will use to build the world we deserve in honor of ourselves and each other. And now if you want to send the energy up to the ancestors and out into the future you can bring your hands together and clap. Broken beautiful here together. And here we are standing in all the overlap of each others amazingly open and powerful hearts. And now press your hands with the other people in your circle and feel the energy that moves through. Feel your heart beat at least three times.tried to prevent your survival. so much more than whole? Thank you each so much. Thank you.
. your awesomeness in this space. are we not so much more. feel the power of those hands that were just on your heart. your presence.