It has been said that we all have angels assigned to us or all around us.
If that is true, mine sent me to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa last weekend.
I was chosen, along with 14 other women across the country to participate in a three-day workshop called The Storyteller Project: Digital Storytelling for Women of Color facilitated by Dr. Robin Boylorn and Veralyn Williams with a special lunch and learn with Dr. Rachel Raimist.
When I was selected, I remember feeling so much excitement that I paced the room. I didn’t even think about what it would be or who I would be in that space until I got the additional information we needed to prepare before coming–“Bring an excerpt written by/about a woman of color that inspires or resonates with you (one paragraph or less). Personal story ideas or topics (Consider what part of your story do you want to tell, and why?)”
That part of the preparation made it real. I was going to come and fellowship, yes. But I was going to have to do the work. Ask myself serious questions. It demanded that one of my truths be spoken.
As time passed and the workshop was rescheduled from August to October, I had time to let a few doubts seep in about whether or not my story would be compelling or impactful enough but I never let it take up residence in my mind, the only place that matters.
Within seconds of arriving in The Hub at the University of Alabama, any fears I had were allayed. I was met with such warmth by the other women, Dr. Robin Boylorn and her graduate assistant, Lola I was instantly at ease. I no longer doubted the validity or the strength of my story. There was no reason to wonder why I had been chosen.
There was no time for my “stuff.”
I was there not only to be a participant and a storyteller but to bear witness.
I witnessed Black women being daughters, Black women being mothers and Black women being sisters.
Black women giving ourselves permission to fall apart recognizing there was someone there to provide a soft place, lap and heart.
I witnessed women give birth to their stories.
It was painstaking at times but it was healing.
There were women aching to release their screams, aching for the women who raised them, aching to claim their sexuality, aching for healing, aching to tell stories of other silenced and forgotten Black men and women, aching to be seen and aching for a way to grieve.
There were moments where my heart was so full “overflow” will never be the word, is not enough of a word.
On Day 1, we were asked to work in groups to talk about Black women, our stories and address the themes of the passages we brought.
By Day 3, it was evident they weren’t just words in marker on paper taped to a wall. We gave those words life. We breathed life into those words. We embodied those themes and stories in our work.
I was in a room full of survivors.
Me and Lakeesha Harris, a woman who isn’t afraid to speak her truth and honor her ancestors.
Jilisa Milton (future civil rights lawyer) and Jameka Hartley (passionate storyteller and force of nature) chopping it up before we got going on Day 3.
Getting ready for Day 1!
Producer extraordinaire and my birthday twin Veralyn Williams!
Bernadette Merikle wowed us with her spirit and artistry!
Allison Upshaw–love the spirit and gorgeous operatic voice on this diva!
Me and masterful storyteller Salaam Green, also one of my See Jane Write sisters!
Veralyn showing us the ropes on Day 2.
Education advocate Cassandra Jones. She was sweet and when she spoke of wanting to tell her family stories reminded me of how much I want to tell more of my grandmother’s.
Me with my adventurous hometown sister Delilah Gilliam and our amazing workshop assistant, Lola!
No More Martyrs founder Nadia Richardson and Allison Upshaw. I loved connecting with these ladies!
Professor and podcast host, Tiffany Pogue is a dynamic sister who honors her ancestors.
None other than our awe-inspiring leader, Dr. Robin Boylorn and fiery lawyer-to-be Andrea Dobynes!
On Day 2, Dr. Rachel Raimist joined the party via Zoom in Los Angeles. She imparted valuable advice on how to break down our audio to prepare them for Day 3. During the session, she used a photo of her own grandmother and mother to propose a story. I loved how she used something as simple as the frame (or lack thereof) to give us ideas on the many ways to approach a narrative.
Veralyn Williams (NPR producer with the patience of an angel) came from New York to start co-facilitating with Robin and help us produce our audio/audio-visual stories. In addition to sharing her digital storytelling expertise, she challenged me. I had never used the IMovie application before and I was frustrated trying to navigate it. After helping me with some of the more difficult parts of the editing process, she let me know in no uncertain terms she was not going to complete it for me.
Even though I didn’t ask her to, she knew if I sat back and let her continue to work on the visuals, I would have. It became glaringly obvious how uncomfortable I am with people recognizing my fear of not being able to do something well.
I psyched myself up to finish, remembering we were all in this together and as Robin lovingly pointed out, this was technically a first draft.
After dinner and pictures we all sat together (including Robin’s beautiful mother) to screen our stories and enjoy cake.
I know I can only speak for myself but what I experienced during and especially after the screening was no less than supernatural.
When a group of Black women who don’t hold shame and celebrate the skin they’re in congregate and create with love, there is a sense of power, a collective power in the room.
Yesterday, I received two kinds of news. We’ll start with the “negative.” I submitted two pieces to a literary magazine. Both were rejected. However, my reaction was a sigh and guess what? I’ll have something else to add to my collection.
Let me explain. Last year, I got my first official rejection from an agent I sent requested pages to after the James River Writers’ Conference 2016. The email was kind and encouraging but she just didn’t connect with the work. I called my sister (younger but so wise and confident–I believe she was secretly reading HR Manuals and Personal Development books while the rest of us were struggling with our ABCs).
After telling her what happened, she practically congratulated me! “You got your first rejection. You should print it out and hang it on your wall!” I was a little puzzled but it quickly became clear: It means I tried! It means I put myself out there! It means I actually had pages to send the agent! It means that this is the first of many so I better keep going!
I never forgot that conversation. I have saved every rejection and kept every pitch I sent out no matter the result. They are my treasures, too. I look forward to perusing them when I’ve “made it.”
On to the second kind of news. I have been asked to be a guest on a podcast! I will follow-up soon with more details. Also, the post I wrote about the 2017 Pop-Up Conference with Sharvette Mitchell was featured on her website: http://www.mitchell-productions.com. For me, the point I want to drive home is to keep going. Look forward to the failures. It means you put yourself in the arena and choose not to sit on the sidelines.
This is all I can ask of myself.
Your turn: How do you deal with rejection? Has your perspective changed as you have gotten older?
I am a member. I fell in. I joined. I paid. I listened. I spoke up. I have shouted. I have risen. I have sat down. I have dreamed. I have cowered. I have fallen down. I have kneeled with purpose. I have prayed. I have cursed. I have written.
I was born.
Within this tribe, these tribes, I am human. I have found my humanity and I find myself extending my hand to touch yours.