By Hope Lehman
Last week I decided to reconnect with spirit and pull a few tarot cards from my “Daughters of the Moon Tarot” card deck. While doing my usual shuffling and meditation, a card fell out of the deck that featured a group of women around a table with a delicious feast (see image below). This card was actually placed in the tarot guide book by the individual whom I bought the book from online. They had set this card aside just for me. The women on the card immediately made me think of all the powerful women I connected with at the Standing in Our Power (SiOP) Transformational Leadership Institute in September. I didn’t think much of the card when I first saw it in the mail this past summer, but I now smirk at the realization that my connection to SiOP was meant to be.
My experience at the SiOP Transformational Leadership Institute this year came at a very pivotal time in my life. I had just deferred graduate school for a year and was navigating a shiny new job traveling all over the country to support young women of color and volunteers with STEM Education. I was enjoying the highest salary I had ever had before and was getting opportunities to connect with Black communities all over the country. However, as I got deeper into the work, I began to feel the stress and toxicity of the work environment as a whole. I was exhausted all the time, unavailable for my own self care, disconnected from my friends and family, and constantly dealing with critical feedback from my boss, as the job took over my life. I was deeply conflicted as a 28 year old woman of color from a single parent, working class, welfare background with parents that have struggled with drug/alcohol addiction, and mental health support. How could I give up such financial stability and unique experience? Yet, I had this feeling in my gut I get when I know something is not working. My spirit was sick.
This is the context in which I entered the SiOP Transformational Leadership Institute in September 2015. I was trying to figure out how long I should stay at this crazy job and how I really wanted to spend my time making $$ as a woman of color dedicated to social justice and social change. SiOP gave me a space to face my demons I didn’t have time to face and provided a safe place for me to truly rest. I remember falling asleep on this couch in this beautiful farm house we were staying in near the back of the retreat property. I just curled up in a ball and let myself sleep in a strange new place. My anxiety is usually triggered by new living quarters and I often cannot sleep my first few nights in a new place. However, I felt so held by the facilitators and community of SiOP that I felt free enough to just rest. (For you Black Film buffs – it felt like the scene from Lackawanna Blues when Nanny – the main character – gets a moment of rest at the mother’s house of a woman she helped escape from an abusive relationship). This moment means a lot to me and reminds me to build in personal retreat time.
Facing my demons came during the deeply transformational “Affirmation Exercise” at the institute. We had to come up with an affirmation that we were going to take back with us. During this activity I began to really analyze why I accepted the crazy job in the first place and how it fit into my overall goals as an artist, social entrepreneur, and political educator. Throughout the retreat, I kept sharing my crazy experience at the job over and over again. I realized that I had been venting about this job for months. I was venting because I was searching for answers and validation. I did not trust myself to make a decision. I immediately connected this distrust to my childhood as an older sister taking on adult roles within a welfare dependent single parent household traveling between the upper/ middle class white town of Davis, CA and low income POC city of Sacramento, CA. My mother was struggling to find herself and taking on her own entrepreneurial endeavors within the majority white hippie community of Davis. However, her goals never panned out in the way she had hoped and the family constantly critiqued the decisions she made. I had internalized this distrust of her decisions and realized that, as my woman of color role model, I had an internalized a distrust of myself as well.
There are no words that can describe the experience of realizing something so deep. I am getting emotional even as I write about it now. Ultimately, I decided to submit a resignation letter to my job the Monday after the institute. I was still nervous as hell about risking financial instability, as I did not have another formal job lined up. However, my spirit knew I had to get the heck out of there. I kept reciting my SiOP affirmation in my head: “I do what is best for me, I am free” to stay grounded in my decision.
Since SiOP and leaving my job, I have plunged into the adventure of self employment. I am now directing my skills, talents, and passion toward building a stronger foundation for my business, Fresh to Def Collective – a fashion and art social enterprise dedicated to women of color and political education.
The road a head is not all butterflies and rainbows. I continue to have my off days when my anxiety and depression are triggered, as I figure out my next career moves. However, I am grounded in knowing that I am now a part of a network of incredible powerful intergenerational women of color warriors all over the country that I can turn to for guidance and support. Healing spaces like SiOP are crucial to the work of social justice. We often must first face ourselves before we can face the world – the personal is political and often directly connects to our activism in the streets. I am deeply thankful for this lesson and look forward to continuing to find my place within the movement for liberation.