Thursday, June 16, 2016


My family and ancestors are from the tropics. The seasons they experienced were the harmattan and rain.  Even though I find comfort and ease in warm weather, I acknowledge that I was raised in New England. I’ve faced many climates growing up on the east coast. I must say, navigating the winters of my life have always been the hardest. The sunlight left too soon and the darkness would stay too long.  The snow could be unbearable. When another six feet of snow came down, I would throw my hands up in exasperation, believing the storms would never end.
Winter has become my metaphor for recovery and accepting the stillness. Like a real snowstorm, we find that everything is covered over, from the branches, to the flowers, to the cars. Even nature’s very own color is covered. Sometimes the startling quietness can bring about those feelings of despair. In my life, I have had trauma, trauma that predates my own birth.  I carry the trauma some of my ancestors surely had with crossing an entire body of water, as well as the despair other ancestors had when they watched their loved ones cross over, uncertain if they would return.
I’m sure their feelings of anger, violation, and betrayal have been passed down to me. I’ve felt it when I watched my own parents exhausted after a long day of weathering constant microaggressions and blatant racism in their work places, or when we inflicted our frustrations on each other because there wasn’t anyone else to yell at.  Managing harsh New England winters was enough of a hassle. Who had the time to manage a winter coming upon the soul? The idea of a physical condition of sadness, or a depression, seemed too time consuming, too self indulgent in a world where we needed to succeed. Success would bring happiness; at the very least it would mean that our labor was not in vain.
 A winter of the soul could be prayed away, and if not prayed away then it could be worked away. Just like real snow itself, we could shovel it away and make room to keep moving. After all, sadness was supposed to look and breathe a certain way. The sadness we imagined was a boogeyman that resolved itself to do nothing, and the last thing we were, were a people who resolved themselves to do nothing. I was shocked, when one day, something in me froze, refusing to move with the current of what I believed was true. I was still, and everything was full of quiet.
As a sensitive child, I had personal anxieties about quietness being a problem in a world that demanded me to prove myself. It had been reinforced to me well into my adulthood, often through cruel measures, that my inclination for introspection and solitude was a fundamental problem. Anger or glee was a predisposition people could accept. Quiet made too many people uncomfortable. I learned that quietness and grief were unacceptable, especially if you were a Black girl. A Black girl needed to tell the world what she thought, even if she wasn’t thinking much of anything, except a deep longing for peace.
I had stored the belief in my heart that I was in need of fixing. I didn’t know that winter was inviting me to know myself beyond human prescriptions.
Once I decided to brave the storm, I learned a lot more about myself and my emotions.
I have learned that once you can go into that quiet place, sooner or later, the heart unfreezes and feelings of anger, hurt, and disappointment surface. Just like nature eventually thaws itself out, it is inevitable that the human spirit, if allowed to move fully through its internal conditions, will do the same. 
In my own process, I had to challenge the idea that said I was doomed, because my timeline for recovery was longer than expected. I slowly let go of the idea that said emotion was a sign of weakness, and an act of selfishness. I realized that such binary thinking of an either-or existence was its own death. I had to yield to the possibility that I could recover.  
We live in a culture that compartmentalizes grief and the need for quiet.  It teaches us to treat sadness with a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”  mentality.  Medication or the quest for something external is seen as a way to gain peace in an uncertain world. The truth of the matter is that the world has trauma. Whether we watch the news, look at our Facebook feeds, or speak to family and friends, we know that no one walks the planet unscathed.
When winter approaches, we feel a chill that nudges us to take stalk of our lives, and retreat. I hope that if you face a winter, you embrace the season as a quiet process of becoming, allowing you to release old parts of yourself that no longer work, and unearth your deeper self. Recovery is possible, and learning to love in a time of darkness becomes inevitable if you can still the chatter.  At some point it is time for the heart to rest.
Here is a meditation I have been reciting navigating my own winter:
Release me from guilt
Release me from my pathology
Release me from fear
I forgive myself
I love myself
I give myself permission to let go
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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Connecting the Dots: A Look at my History Project

A couple months ago I joined the History Project. I was excited to use a digital platform to celebrate the stories of ordinary people. As a History Concierge, I would be in a role I knew best. Serving as a trusted guide, I would support clients ready to share their personal histories. When I was given the task of making my own history project, I felt vulnerable. I have spent a great deal of my life as an observer. Usually helping people tell their own stories, or being the trusted listener if someone needed to be heard. Beginning my project caused memories of childhood and adolescence to surface. Some memories were joyful, while others were painful.
I remember my parents candor in reminding their children that coming to the United States with one portmanteau (suitcase) was not for the faint of heart. My mom told many stories about her love of science — molecular biology — a subject I did not understand. Watching cells move under a microscope supported her belief in something beyond what the human eye could see. She took pride in conducting experiments that affirmed a life force in all things. Dad spoke candidly about African immigrants joining the larger American tapestry. Proudly stating that we belonged to a new generation with our own perspectives, triumphs, and challenges to share. He found joy in knowing that we were a new and developing life force, forging our own destinies.
The more painful memory was knowing that they had planned to return to Nigeria after receiving their education. I could sense their defeat whenever they made international phone calls home, knowing that their return home was uncertain. International calling cards became a staple in our house.
In sharing my story, I would have to find my own truth in sorting out these memories. My history project challenged me to find a story among many disconnected pieces. As the History Project Concierge, I know that mining through your personal history can be an enriching and overwhelming process. If your story is not so clear cut, here are three useful tips I would love to share to help you with your project.

Find a Theme
Find a Theme
When looking through my family lineage, I see a presence of absence. Relatives I would love to chat with are deceased. Modern technology helps connect living family members over space and time. Yet, it does not replace the desire for a real time connection with important members of my family. Sometimes, even the innovation of social media cannot comfort the heart. For all these reasons, I decided that I would not be able to think of my history in a linear way. I chose to work with a theme to weave different events, people, and ideas together. I named my project, “Roots: A Celebration!” I wanted to celebrate how our roots are the same even if we have taken different paths.
Finding a theme to connect your story might be useful. Look through your photos, sift through your memories, and talk to your family if it feels right. What major messages strike you about your life? What can you acknowledge about your personal history? What makes your life compelling? These questions can help you go deep into your own values and ideas.

Add Historical Events and Facts
Even though my people are from Nigeria, there’s only so much I know and remember. I visited Nigeria when I was very young. I remember fragments of seeing my grandpa laugh. I also remember that one of my grandpas was a talker, and might have told me something important that I have now forgotten. Growing up in the States has chipped away at these memories. I cannot deny that I have assimilated into a dominant culture that makes holding onto your personal narrative difficult. In my journey to remember and retrieve my history, I have had to re-learn my origins. Finding historical events or figures — especially events and figures my family connect to — helped in shaping my story.
My father loved Chinua Achebe (considered the father of African literature). He quoted him in his thesis and his books were in his study. The first thing I did was read up on Chinua Achebe, learning how his writing continues to embolden a people. Of course, I love his writing too!
Looking through the collective history of your family can bring a larger perspective and understanding of who you are. Adding historical context helped me see my story as more than an individual effort. So look for a picture, a video, or a document. Even better, interview your family on what they thought about larger historical events to give your project a level of intimacy.
Find Family Quotes, Mantras, and Sayings
My mom told me that her mom would always say, “Show me your friend, and I’ll show you who you are.” My mom used this phrase with me when I was growing up. She valued the cultivation of good character. Her mom would say this same phrase to warn her to stay on the right path. The right path meant nurturing a solid sense of ethics and morality. As a somewhat feisty teenager, my ethics could be shaky at best. I wanted “cool” friends. Coolness meant finding friends that took risks, were defiant, and would often lie to get out of trouble. During these trying years my mom repeated this mantra frequently. When I turned sixteen much of my unruliness and defiance left me. I suppose my mother’s words latched on because soon I was reciting the same phrase. Now, I see her words as a gentle reminder to follow the path that’s right for me. Her mantra reminds me that friends can be a reflection of self, so choose wisely. In this way I live with integrity, while honoring the wisdom my grandmother and mother passed on.
What are the quotes you’re folks lived by? What sayings do you remember them repeating when you were a child? Ask your family if there are any proverbs, sayings, quotes, or mantras they held dear. There is a lot to learn from the words people often repeat. Where did they get that from and why? You might be surprised at how this connects to your life now, and to your personal history.

Finishing my history project allowed me to see my story as something alive and not limited to a timeline. I hope that in making yours you see your personal history as a living project that is always re-defining and re-imagining itself, because really our stories do just that.
For more about the History Project look here: