Do you have a subconscious mantra that drives you to despair or panic? Check out how I uncovered mine and adopted a new one instead. I am onstage, performing the final words of “Say Her Name,” a poem that charts my resistance to mourning Sandra Bland. I have no one to sing me through the despair. My friend Vanessa could not come. I had not asked anyone else. In the silence that followed the poem, the spiritual “Hush” comes to me. I sing it alone while the audience holds its breath and watches my pain. I feel alone and vulnerable.
Later, while talking with my friend Matthew, I realize the missing element is community. I had not invited the audience to sing; I had not invited the formation of community. I had been afraid no one would join me.
Two days later, I sing “Hush” at the end of this poem again. This time twelve women from Haverford College's Outskirts file onto stage, harmonizing behind me. A young Black woman with a smoky alto stands beside me and takes the lead. We sing together. She steadies the pace and the pitch. The women behind us blend softly and then loudly, rolling the sound out into the audience. I ask people to stand and sing. They do. Together we ask “Oh, my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do?” The spiritual binds us in our humility, in our responsibility to heal and transform. A silence falls after we sing it a final time-- together.
I treasure that moment. My mind returns to it again and again.
Yet, something strange happens when the following week I stand in a circle of four women, none of whom I know well As I start to say “my community loves and supports me,” I actually bend over, holding back the sobs. I have to push myself to keep speaking, letting them know simultaneously my deepest longing and my deepest doubt: My community loves and supports me; I am all alone and nobody cares.
I’m having lots of feelings in this Deeper Change forum on somatic conditioning. My circle of women who don’t “know” me, wait for me to rise, to catch my breath. Together we stand shoulder to shoulder, outstretched arm to outstretched arm, embodying my newfound mantra. We are reconditioning my body to stand with both feet planted, rooted to this mantra—my community loves and supports me.
I say this to the young Amanda that believes the opposite; who chants the old mantra “I’m all alone and nobody cares.” I say it to the lonely foster child who doesn’t know why her mother left. I say it to the teen who’s been rejected by two prospective adoptive families. I say it to the Black girl whose community has repeatedly told her she’s too dark, too “African” to be beautiful.
Today I share it with you. I declare it again. And again. I belong to community; that community loves me; that community supports me.
What is your truth? Can you identify a simple phrase or sentence that strengthens and connects you? Maybe it's the opposite of that corrosive mantra that's accompanied you much of your life.
If you are like me, then you will need to share that mantra in community for it to become real, truth in the moment. The more your community knows, the more it can remind you of this truth when you get into what my Michael calls a "blame and complain" mindset.
I can't wait to start my racial justice and oneness mastermind group so that we have a place to affirm our conscious mantras with each other. If you enjoy my blog, please pre-order my ebook "Saying the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice."
Peace and love,