Issue 001: Growth

Why Growth? Issue 001 Reflection.

by Lauren Ash. Photography by lawrence agyei.

Why this focus on growth? 

I'm not yet a mother, but the birth of Black Girl In Om brings feelings of excitement, anticipation, and elation, which I imagine new mothers experience, as well. The past four months I have stretched in places I didn't even know existed. So much excitement dances around my vision, which has turned into a collective vision that other beautiful souls have helped me manifest. Simultaneous to this excitement, I have experienced discomfort and uncertainty in jumping into this process headfirst: quitting my 9-5, investing countless time, ideas, and resources, building a dynamic team, asking and responding to lots of questions. Last month, in a visioning session co-facilitated with Zakkiyyah (my partner in creativity, wellness, and manifestation) the dialogue we had with an intimate group of open souls led me to a revelation, perhaps simple, but I choose to view it as profound: the purpose of life, a quest for every body and every soul, our task on this earth, is to continuously respond to questions. Not answer the questions, as answering implies there is one right, correct, sound response. But to never stop responding to the big questions life asks of us.

To illuminate this, I think of my Mother. The kindest, most loving and patient soul I have ever known, and will ever know. Self-less and ever-giving, about a month ago she discovered that which many of us fear: cancer. A terrifying, life-taking, unwanted thing. Even discovering this about my Mother took some prying, not because she didn't want to share it, but because she didn't want that news to distract me or my sister from our respective paths in life right now. There she was, faced with her mortality, and she wasn't even thinking of her self. How many of us can say we would do the same? I've heard that mothers are granted with some special love that only they can understand, But I also consider my mother to be in a special state of grace and love in a league all her own (when I was young, growing up in a Christian household, I remember pondering how Jesus could be the only perfect human who walked the earth because I seriously viewed my mother as perfect, too). This desire of hers to keep her news to herself evidenced how much she believed it important to take on that burden all her own and continue to love and support us as she always has. 

Of course during news that shocks your entire being you start to reflect: what has my life accounted to? Who have I been able to bless? If I were to leave this earth today, how would I be remembered? What am I doing with my life, really? My mother has been grappling with these questions, and has also returned to questions life originally asked of her. Over thirty years ago my mother had dreams. Big ones, like I do. Dreams of being an artist (she's a good one, still, even if she refuses to admit it - artistry doesn't die, but remains within your bones). Dreams she buried due to "common sense," family encouragement, and, eventually, daughters. These are the unresponded questions. The questions that demand a response. A lifepath as of yet unlived. 

I firmly believe that in investing in our greatest assetsour selves–we can be better for all those around us. That my mother has been an incredible version of herself despite giving so much away to others is unbelievable and I know I'll see even more beautiful things as she has begun to make necessary strides toward greater self-care and self-love practices. And, interestingly enough, I have seen that when we take greater care of ourselves our souls are then sparked to respond to those unanswered questions stirring within us and around us

As many (black) mothers do, my mother made enormous sacrifices for her family at her own expense. A question I've asked repeatedly during the past several years as my own interest in wellness intensified: what have you done for yourself today? Most days, she couldn't answer that question. My mother made a brave decision last week and now the cancer is gone. Thank God. And now, she is beginning a new journey. Faced with mortality, she is now returning to something she considered thirty years ago: responding to the first questions life asked of her. The original ones, before life asked her to be a wife, a mother, a hardworking bad-ass boss. The first questions included "won't you become an artist?" and "why not travel the world?" And a whole host of other things that get her excited. This is how we expand. This is how we grow. 

How have you experienced a correlation between investing in self-care and your ability to engage with your purpose in life? Let me know:

If you're in Chicago, I invite you to join me at our next vision+yoga workshop on Saturday, April 11th, where we will share the visions we have for our lives, and manifest them together. All attendees of BGIO visioning sessions are invited to come to our first ManiFEASTing Brunch, set for late April.

Lawrence Agyei is a Chicago based photographer from Ghana. He is a 24 year old, trilingual visionary, capturing essence in each shot. His work has been featured in Rolling Stones Magazine and the VSCO Journal. Follow Lawrence on Tumblr, VSCO, and Flickr

SEEDS Project By Black Girl In Om

Photography & Narrative By Zakkiyyah 

The SEEDS Project by Black Girl In Om (BGIO) interrogates the current nationwide and global violence in black and brown communities. In light of recent events involving black and brown bodies affected by state violence and inter-community violence, SEEDS was first activated as an interdisciplinary art engagement piece. Visitors had the opportunity to plant their own seeds, be photo-documented, and offer written opinions, solutions, ideas, drawings, or feelings about inter-community and state violence.  

Before SEEDS was initiated, Lauren Ash and I were inspired by a quote we heard often in the wake of protests after 43 students in Mexico were massacred: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” We were so moved and inspired by these words that we decided to address the significance behind them, as well as further cultivate our understanding of growth and resistance in communities of color. Our belief is that this project will allow individuals from diverse communities to engage with both environmental materials while addressing concerns in their own communities/environments. 

Artistic Response

As a photographer, a critical part of my mission is using visualization and storytelling to highlight the struggles, yet beautiful narratives that exist within the black experience, as well as that of other systemically marginalized cultures. 

I am forever inspired by the resilience and consistency of hope that has been maintained by not only myself but communities that have been directly affected by violence and pain. This particular photo-story re-imagines new ways of being, living, and connecting in our communities. I was particularly drawn to how closely my own personal growth, and the growth I’ve witnessed so closely resembled that of plants. I found it necessary to include visual ideas of growth (soil, plants, etc) in order to convey the importance of life and vitality.  

I thought about the current Black Lives Matter movement during the direction of this series, the importance of my own life and those around me. Living in a society that is dictated by systemic racism, oppression, greed, social and judicial inequality, and other various disparities, what does it mean to envision a life outside of that? What would it mean for people of color to live in a society that is holistically nurturing and life-giving? I asked myself these questions during my photographic process and envisioned a world where all of this would be possible. In fact, I firmly believe that these possibilities reside in a radical imaginary that is never fully satisfied with our current state of being, but always seeks alternative ways of existing and achieving our desires. 

Community Response

In January, we launched SEEDS as a participatory art engagement piece at the closing reception of Fultonia Now, which was a year long engagement that forwarded the legacy of Dr. Alvenia Fulton, naturopathic pioneer. Dozens of Chicago artists, creatives, activists planted seeds and wrote their thoughts in reaction to our project. Here are just some of their responses:

“I matter. You matter. BLACK LIVES MATTER. Our lives matter. We matter. How can we co-exist if we don’t attempt to feel deeply for one another?” 

“I think it is necessary to plant flowers where this is pain. I think it’s necessary to continue to grow hope where nothing but despair exists. I think that we have to continue to be sweet to each other. Our acts of kindness, our care of ourselves and each other will carry us through”

“Our energy brings life. PLANT. PLANT. PLANT!” 

“To heal community violence, become a community. Nothing reduces violence like knowing each other” 

“When I hear about revolution, there is always this underlying message that death is inevitable. The question is always “what are you willing to die for?” Well, I’d like to shift that conversation to speak LIFE into the revolution and ask, “what are you willing to LIVE for?” To build intercommunity and heal from violence against black and brown bodies, I want to put love at the center of the revolution. LOVE is often assumed but not explicitly stated. By giving love and life, it moves pass the state of reactionary protest into a space of healing and transcendence. And no matter what community you come from, LOVE resonates with everyone. So to build intercommunity and combat state violence, I affirm my own humanity and the humanity of others through love!”

“Every idea starts as a seed. We can’t see progress if we don’t plant. 
We can’t see progress if don’t water, fertilize and nurture each other”

“The first step to curing violence is to acknowledge that one cannot cure violence alone. Still, one is able to propel the process through self analysis. How is one violent? Where is that space in one’s being? How does one pivot away from violence? How many perspectives of violence exist? How many perspectives is one willing to accommodate? One has to be the beginning. There is no solution to satisfy the varieties of separate, equally vast persons. Violence is not much more than a developed mentality, or a consciousness rather. If one could understand, or attempt to, begin to....understand one’s own psychology about one’s own violence, then that would be enough…”

Everything we say and do starts as a seed, and it grows… what we do, what we say aids in the growth of whatever seed we plant” 

“There is nothing better than adversity. Every defeat, every loss, every heartbreak, contains its own seed, its own lesson...on how to improve your performance the next time.”

“A healthy spirit ensures a healthy and present mind” 

Let's continue SEEDS. Plant a seed (we recommend basil) and write your opinions, solutions, ideas, drawings, or feelings about inter-community and state violence. We want to hear from you! Send your response to with the subject line "SEEDS."

Garden of Eden

Photostory by Lawrence Agyei. Featuring Ferrari Sheppard, Ronnie Lee Smith Bey and John Antoine.

Before meeting him myself, Zakkiyyah told me that Lawrence was enormously down-to-earth. True. A breath of fresh air given his talent, which I had been watching, mostly on Instagram, for awhile. With origins in Ghana, roots in Chicago, and his eyes on the skies we knew we had to invite him to be a contributing photographer for BlackGirlInOm. Lawrence's photography is striking and resonates with our interest in the natural environment and our relationship(s) with the Earth, especially as people of color. I picked Lawrence's brain to discover what he was going for and what he was thinking when he captured these shots, and also learned a bit more about what he plans to explore more as a photographic artist. 

LAsh: When I first approached you about contributing to our issue focusing on growth, what came to mind?

LAgyei: The first thing that came to my mind was definitely flowers and trees. Growth,...I feel like, flowers grow all the time. I definitely wanted to shoot that. 

LAsh: That's interesting. We obviously live in a city. Chicago, compared to where I grew up [the Twin Cities] does not have a lot of green space at all. But you can definitely find it if you're looking for it. What, to you, is important about being in the natural environment? Shooting people, especially black men, in the natural there anything special about that for you?

LAgyei: To me, I feel like everything is God-made, right? And just being in the natural environment just feels good. It feels really good there. You know what I mean? And to put black men in that kind of light...the way I was thinking about it: natural, green, flowers, and black men. I feel like I've never seen that before. You know what I mean? When you think of flowers you think of [the fact that] women like flowers. Black men and flowers [don't seem to] go together. But when you really think deeply about it, there's more than just women and flowers. God made everything. When I shot the photos of Ronnie I was thinking of the Garden of Eden. I was like, "yo, what if this was Garden of Eden?" I had these thoughts in my head, but I feel like it's very, very important to always shoot black men but black women, too in the natural environment. It just feels good. I just felt good. It just gives me a whole lot of feelings when I shoot that.

And I'm actually doing some more shoots like it again soon with some Chicago artists. I want to keep doing that.

LAsh: You should. I feel like that's your environment. You were so happy when you walked into the conservatory for our shoot together! I love that you said Garden of Eden. Before you said that, I was thinking that. It feels very much like the original Earth.

LAgyei: Yeah, heavenly. You know what I mean? Peaceful. With all this chaos going on in the world right now, especially toward black men I want to put them in a place where it's peaceful, [where] it's comfortable. 

LAsh: That's beautiful and very, very important. That's the power of art, you know? People who don't understand the power of art might just look at this and say "that's a nice picture" and move on. But when you look at it with that layer to it the power speaks for itself, I think. The last question I have for you is in regards to your own growth as a photographic artist. How do you feel you have grown in 2014 and how do you want to grow in 2015?

LAgyei: It's funny that you're talking about growth. Yesterday I was talking with a friend and he said he has seen my growth in my photography. I was going through my old photos from 2010 to now and it was like..."wow." The type of things I am shooting right now, I would have never thought that I would do. At first, I was just shooting anything. I didn't have a specific photo, specific topic, you know what I mean? But now I just want to shoot black people. You know what I mean? I just want to shoot portraits, mainly portraits. I love portraits. I feel like portraits can really tell [a lot] about a person. Whether the person is smiling or sad, when I think of a portrait, it's just's like I'm a part of them. Even though I may not know [my subject] ... when I go through their photos it's like me and this person know each other. It feels like that sometimes. It's weird, but it really does feel like that.

With the project that I want to start [this summer]...once I start, that will be my first project where I will feel like "okay, now I'm growing in photography." I'm growing right now, but with that project I feel like people will see my growth. Right now I'm shooting, I'm doing all these portraits, and I'm doing research. I feel like when my [future] project is out, people will definitely see my growth.

photo: andre wagner

photo: andre wagner

Lawrence Agyei is a Chicago based photographer from Ghana. He is a 24 year old, trilingual (Italian, Twi and English) visionary, capturing essence in each shot. His work has been featured in Rolling Stones Magazine and the VSCO Journal. Follow Lawrence on Tumblr, VSCO, and Flickr

Growth: A Photo Narrative

Photostory by Kat Reynolds. Interview By Lauren Ash.

Kat joined us for a BlackGirlInOm yoga session when she was in Chicago a few weeks back. She's as cool and sweet as she is talented and we were lucky to have her join us! Zakkiyyah and I absolutely adore the narrative that has Kat told through her photos. I wanted to ask her more about her ideas and her process. (Also, isn't the woman in this shoot, Manvitha Mallela, stunning?) Here's our conversation about her work and a bit about self-care and her personal philosophy on challenge, as well.

LA: What was your vision? What did you take from the idea of growth? And, how did that translate to what you ultimately captured?

KR: To me, growth means green, green means rebirth. and of course, flowers. I think it was January or February [when I shot these photos] was during a time where it was very difficult to find flowers. I went to the dollar store and found a bouquet of fake flowers. Really just accentuating what it means to actually grow from nothing to what it is now. And to be embraced by nature. That's what I really wanted to work with.

There's a shot of [the model] in a mulch pile that's actually behind my house. It looks like a mountain of earth. That's really what I wanted from that shot. Ultimate new possibility and untapped potential. That kind of thing, you know.

LA: I get that. And is she a friend of yours?

KR: I actually ended up meeting her [at work]. I was like "you're beautiful, here's my card." I shot her a few times before and she was pretty comfortable with me and my ridiculousness. I know I can kind of be ridiculous, especially coming from a dance world, directing and stuff, I can be very hands-on. I want you to jump for things. (laughs) So, I met her and thought she was beautiful and from there we built a relationship. She's not a model. I don't usually shoot people who are considered models. I don't shoot people like that. I like to shoot naturally beautifully people ...  people who have an inexperience that gives them an air that I really like .... a vulnerability that I like.

LA: What you just said about vulnerability is why I asked why you knew her. It seems as if there's a vulnerability as well as an intimacy with your shots, too. I think that's a mark of comfortability of the subject in the shot, but also of you as the photographer to make someone comfortable with you to express so much even when they're not looking at the camera. 

KR: Yes, I feel like a lot people think that photography is just you with a camera. Actually there's been many a time where people are like "you made me feel so comfortable with myself and I haven't been feeling that way in a really long time." So, it's therapy for some people. You taking good pictures of someone and showing them good pictures of themselves.

People need to know that they're beautiful. Because it's more than just on paper--it's within. I know that sounds super hippy-dippy, but it's a real thing especially for women, I feel. You have all these standards of beauty. You look in a magazine, you look on Instagram, and Tumblr, and you have all these standards of beauty that it's hard for you to sometimes look in the mirror and say you can relate. So when someone else can look at you and take a good picture of you, then it means a lot more than taking self-portraits of yourself. Because you know how good you can look. You know your angles, but when someone else does it for you it means so much more.

...I like to work with different angles. I know I wouldn't want someone to look at my work and think "everyone looks the same." It's really easy to do go-to poses. Mind you, working with someone that's not a model, that can be an issue. Because they don't [always] know what angles they look good in. It can be challenging, but it creates a possibility.

LA: I love that. A possibility. That's basically what a challenge is if you choose to look at it through a different paradigm.

KR: That's exactly how i go about my day. Going to the gym, for example. I am an extremely active person ... I make it into a thing that's not a challenge, but a possibility just to get through my day. If I don't do that step, I won't be able to take other steps because I won't be mentally there. Taking challenges and turning them into possibilities. If I think of me not doing something than it bothers me more than just not doing it. I'll sometimes make myself think about myself not doing something. And then I just do it. 

photo: kat reynolds

photo: kat reynolds

Katherine Simóne Reynolds is a 23-year-old freelance photographer specializing in portrait and architectural photography. She acquired a new found passion in photography during her study abroad in Vienna, Austria while attaining her B.A. in Dance from Webster University. Katherine captures many social issues within the Saint Louis community; her first show, TheDivide, was a visual interpretation of the socioeconomic separation concerning the intersection of Delmar and Kingshighway, from an architectural standpoint. Through photography, Katherine has made it her goal to give unnoticed beauty a purpose. View her portfolio on her website.

Welcoming Ritual Into Your Life

Photo: Sophie Sarkar

Photo: Sophie Sarkar

By Lauren Nixon

I am, without a doubt, a morning person.  Every day, I slink out of bed before the sun rises to catch a bit of time to myself. In that quiet little span of time between me waking and the sun rising, it often feels like the rest of the world is asleep. I relish this time to myself when I can prepare a cup of hot tea, write in my journal, dance in my pajamas, or simply sit and daydream.

A friend of mine runs every morning. Another spends time alone in a dance studio improvising.  

These are all rituals. Actions and practices such as these, placed intentionally within our lives, can really lift our spirits and provide a sense of purpose and wellbeing.

Taking care of yourself doesn’t need to involve anything particularly fancy or expensive. In fact, with a bit of planning, you can welcome a bit of decadence and ritual into your life quite easily. Each time that you make space to take care of yourself, you’re making room for a more whole, more balanced version of yourself. You’re making room for a rebirth, the shedding of your old skin, and allowing yourself the opportunity to transition into a healthier state of being.  

There is, indeed, a space and a need for ritual. Here are some ways to bring self-care and ritual to the forefront of your life:

Transform a physical space: If you have a bit of space to yourself, (a room, a corner, an empty wall) transform it. Create an altar in your bedroom, design and hang a vision board, bring plants and greenery into your space, mist the room with a homemade essential oil spray, or fill your home with music that moves you. Visit this space on a regular basis to check in with yourself.

Spread the word: If you’re on a journey to take better care of yourself, let people know so that they can support you in this task. If the people in your life are on board, they’ll hold you accountable for taking care of yourself, and potentially share tools, resources, or a listening ear. Creating and participating in a ritual with a loved one can be a special practice, as well.

Nourish your body: Eat real, whole foods that will keep your body alert, awake, and full.  Nourishing your body doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. A quick stir fry, eggs with greens, or oats with honey, can make a fine meal. Choose one day out of the week to focus on creating a nourishing, satisfying meal for yourself. Eat with music, candles, or a good friend. Whatever suits your fancy.

Take time away: Spending time alone is not just for introverts. Taking time away is necessary for reflection, self-reflexivity, release, and growth. Take 5 minutes, an hour, or however long it takes for you to get back to center. Spending a few quiet minutes on your front porch, browsing the poetry section at a used bookstore, laying in the grass in your backyard, or sitting on a park bench can be rejuvenating.

Pencil it in: Make a schedule that details your obligations. Your self-care practices should be listed. Want to meditate for 20 minutes? Schedule it! Want to take yourself out for a solo dinner? Schedule that, too. Creating a schedule helps to keep you committed to your wellness practices.

Move your body: Go for a walk, a swim, or a bike ride. Practice karate or fencing. Dance in your living room. Whatever feels good to you. Do it regularly.  

Get lifted: Getting “lifted” entails doing something that makes your spirit hum.  Attending a ceremony or a service, praying, dancing, and meditating can definitely all fall into the “lifted” category.  

Reflect: Regular journaling sessions can help you to release emotions, get in touch with yourself, and to chart your personal growth. Commit to writing about your life and your experiences with honesty and respect for your process.

Inviting ritual into your life is a practice that can allow you to tap into your most basic needs as a human being. Give yourself permission to let go of preconceived notions regarding how you should be spending your time. Let go of the need to hustle and make room for more flow. Your mind and body will thank you. 

Ritual In Practice

Sipping on a healing drink sometime during your day can create a sense of ritual and provide a bit of stillness amidst a busy schedule. 

Nettle, a popular herb with a prickly, stinging leaf, has many health benefits and is delicious. Many people use nettle for their sinus and allergy issues. Others use nettle to clear their skin, to provide a boost of energy, to combat stress, or to ease joint pain. Either way, nettle is a gentle, healing, energizing tonic with an earthy taste that is adored by many. Creating and enjoying an herbal infusion, a large volume of herb brewed for an extended amount of time, provides a satisfying, nutrient-dense pick-me-up and makes for an excellent, grounding ritual.  

Nettle Infusion Directions:

Fill a quart-sized mason jar with one cup of dried nettle and cover with boiling water. Place the lid on the mason jar and transfer the mason jar to a cool, dry area. Let the nettle sit for at least 8 hours to create a really potent, medicinal drink. This can be done before bed so that you have a nourishing drink to wake up to in the morning.

The next morning, strain the herb and drink the infusion plain, or reheat it on the stove. Adding raw honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, cinnamon, or ginger can jazz up your nettle infusion and make it even more delicious.


Lauren Nixon is a Food and Wellness Educator who guides youth and adults in creating healthy, nourishing relationships with local, sustainable food through cooking instruction and educational workshops. She has had the pleasure of working with sustainable food and environmental education organizations including FoodCorps, Urban Nutrition Initiative, Raices Eco Culture Micro Farm, Johnson's Backyard Garden, Hidden Villa, and many more. Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenNNixon or at

Wanderlust: A Conversation On Travel and Wellness with Adora Tokyo

Interview By Lauren Ash. Photography By Travis Chantar

“I’m being completely honest when I say, I can fall in love with every spirit I meet. I see beauty in everyone and everything. My smile is genuine. I believe everyone possesses the divine potential to be successful at whatever they desire. My goal when meeting you is to turn that flicker into a flame.” - Adora Tokyo

Earlier this month, I chatted with one of my sisterfriends Adora. Adora and I recently reunited when I guided a yoga class for women of color in Minneapolis. She arrived a little late (love you, boo!) and completely knocked me off my yoga game when she entered the room. We hadn't seen each other in two years largely due to my moving to Chicago and Adora's jet-setting nature. From Minneapolis to New York to LA to Spain, I've lost count of where and why she travels! But she does and I'm impressed. I’ve been curious about how she’s maintained her sanity and natural, bright light while traveling so often. So, Adora is the first of many features in our Wanderlust series that will hone in on people of color who travel: for work, play, and just because. Travel can be stressful. What wellness practices do we cultivate while traveling? These questions and more inspire these features. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did! You can follow Adora on her continued journeys on Instagram and Twitter: @AdoraTokyo.

Lauren Ash: Who is Adora Tokyo in this moment right now?

Adora Tokyo: In this moment I am a mother, a musician, and a make-up artist.

LA: I love it! Mother was first. Was that intentional?

A: Oh, absolutely! That is my role, that's who I am, that's what I'm doing before and after and during everything else (chuckles). That's my consistent role. The other roles tend to change, this one will always be the same. That's who I am. I'm a Mama.

LA: I've noticed a huge growth in your life professionally and in other ways since we first met. How do you think you've grown in the past two years?

AT: Oh, I have grown. I've learned a lot of things that I didn't think were true about being myself. About things I didn't think I should be doing or wasn't capable of doing. And I've learned to follow my instincts because my instincts are what lead me to do anything great. Listening to them leads me to do anything great. So, I think the past year you've seen a lot of evolution because I've been doing feels most natural and most beneficial for Adora, you know.

LA: I love what you said about instincts because I feel like I'm doing that as well as I'm also trying to take things to the next level. I've realized whether its professional relationships or personal relationships or ideas that I have for BlackGirlInOm, there's always a deep down feeling about what I should do and if I don't listen to it then I find that things get a little messy...

AT: Exactly! And the more you do that the more natural [things will become]. Few things are by chance, you know. I think the more we listen to our instincts, the more things intentionally happen around us that we wanted. 

LA: Mmhhhm. Yes. Completely. So, you've grown a lot but what ways do you anticipate growing in the next year? 

AT: I've taken 2015 to focus on music, and still take any make-up or hairstyling or DJ opportunities that come my way, but my primary goal is to release music that I've been producing for the past six months. There will be lots of original music from me this upcoming year.

LA: Yay. Oh, that's perfect! I love it. You're inspirational to a lot of women who have goals and aspirations. I feel like you encourage a lot of us to take it to the next level. So, for you, who has motivated you to keep growing and keep achieving? Who has done that for you?

AT: Oh, that was beautiful for you to start with thank you! My motivation comes from my immediate, my immediate, exterior and extended circle of family and friends. You, are someone who motivates me. It's a back and forth. So if I see my friends making progress it almost holds me accountable to keep making progress, too. 

There isn't one person in particular that I can think of that has motivated me solely. There's a collection of people from different parts of my life. Travis Chantar, he's a motivator. Ashley Nguyen. Maconnie. You. Julian...You know all these people so I think you know exactly what I mean. We touch base every now and then in any capacity that we can so we can talk about how we all are. So, it's a network of support that keeps me grounded and motivated.

Oh, and my Daddy. My daddy! I need to give him a big, big, big, big moment of credit because he is a very, very inspiring person and I only hope to be only a quarter of who he has been in his lifetime. He has been nothing but supportive and encouraging for 99% of the decisions that I've made...past age 21. (laughs) And without that I think it would be difficult because I need to feel as though I have a strong foundation with someone consistently in my corner. So, my Daddy: Dr. Mike Okeke.

L: I remember that. I remember one particular time that you read me this letter that he wrote to you...

A: (laughs) About men? (laughs)

L: Yes, girl! You know what I'm talking about. And I was on the floor. Because on the one hand yes, it was really, really long. But he was like “you need to know your worth, girl.”

A: Yes, my Dad helped me out. I was engaged to someone who wasn't for me. And he was like "absolutely not." (laughs) "If you must: go ahead. But you do not have the approval of people you probably want approval from."

L: I will never forget that.

A: I'm glad that I shared that with you. Sometimes I forget ...That's just how my Dad talks. (chuckles)

L: Alright, so tell us about the countries that you've traveled to in the past year! 

A: In the past year, let's see...I went to Korea around this time last year. I'm really, really hoping to go back in a few weeks for Fashion Week again. Korea, then Spain and then Nigeria. Korea is great because (Seoul) is one of the cities few cities where I go where I experience a lot of wonder. I'm curious about everything around me. I'm intrigued by everything around me. I'm also at complete peace. I think the people there have a good grasp on a way of life that works for a lot of people. It's a low stress environment. Even when things should be stressful it's still low stress. And I'm inspired by all of the food, fashion, culture language, etc. etc.. And I happen to have a very good friend who lives there who I consider family. So it's good to see family (laughs). 

Spain was really beautiful. It was my first time there and it was the first time I took my son out of the country to travel with me. So...and then (my son) just chimed in right now and said what Onyx? That he doesn't ever want to travel with me again. Well, that's unfortunate that you would want to miss out on such a fun experience. However,....oh, he only wants to travel to New York, he said, because he's just as posh as Mommy. (laughs) "I only want to travel to New York I don't want to go anywhere else again." Okay, Onyx. He's still talking, he's like "only Minneapolis and New York!" He's never been to New York, despite all of the times I've invited him, he's always said "no." 

So, Spain was great because I feel like I got to see the source and the root of a lot of different cultures that I come in contact with. And that was pretty, just like in Africa you see the source and root of a lot of different cultures that we see now. Very beautiful and I know that my son loved it!

We then went on to Nigeria from there. I have family still living there. My father and my mother are both Igbo people from the Igbo tribe. And they both frequently go back and forth to Nigeria. So I have a very active life there with my family and I hadn't been back in 20 years. And I wanted to bring my son with me and celebrate the new year, Christmas and my younger sister got married so we got to partake in the traditional marriage. And It was really, really great

L: That's beautiful. I love it. I knew that you went back to Nigeria and Spain but didn't know too much about it. Also, I went to Spain in college and I loved it, Loved it!

AT: That's what I mean by friends motivating me and inspiring me! Because of how highly you spoke of it and how highly Julian spoke of it. I thought should probably go and I should go for the first time with my family. I loved it, it was cool. I wasn’t there long enough, but I was there long enough to be with a 5-year-old if that makes sense. (laughs) I'll go back with my adult friends and check out Madrid (laughs).

LA: Yes, girl, yes. Okay, so while traveling how do you find stillness? I know that you travel quite a lot. Do you feel as if you're able to find moments of peace and stillness despite the jet-setting nature of your trips?

AT: Absolutely. I make a point and priority to find stillness and reflect and rebuild. I do it early in the week. Sometimes, it is very rare that I have to do a project or work on a Monday or Tuesday. Usually, I tend to be home with my son and we take those times to re-energize and get ready for whatever's next. 

I also light some candles. And I (laughs) I would say I partake activities. And, I really do. (laughs)

LA: That's good! (laughs)

AT: Yeah! And, you know what, I listen to music that has more of a soundscape vibe. A down tempo. And, yeah, I take some time to reflect. That is how I find my stillness. And my stillness includes sound because I think sound generates certain vibrations that our bodies are attuned with. 

LA: Yes!

AT: And, to me, there's always sound present around us. So to try and create stillness without sound is kind of counterproductive. So I do always have some music in the background. I know that's why I'm a DJ, too. I love music so much! The music will sometimes dictate where I go with my stillness if that makes sense.

LA: No it does. I love it, I love that. Is there anything besides what you already spoke to that you would consider a wellness practice?

AT: Yes, actually, actually! (laughs) I've got a wellness practice that I really believe in that I try to do multiple times a day if I can: I get cute and dance in the mirror.

LA: Love it!

AT: (laughs) It's a method to promote confidence, promote self-awareness, and really get in touch with who I am. We're in an era now where we're able to see ourselves and see our reflections a whole lot more than we have been in the past. And if you use it properly it's allowing you to see what other people see, it's allowing you to perfect what other people see, and it’s allowing you to love what you see and what you feel. So, yeah I dance in the mirror a whole bunch. It's an extension of my night life, career. It's an extension of my performance. So, It's like rehearsing for something that you don't know what's coming. But something's coming.

LA: Thank you, Adora!

What Growth Sounds Like: An Interview with Sarah White, BGIO Music Curator

Photo: Jaafar Alnabi

Interview by Lauren Ash

I don't remember when I first met Sarah White, but I do remember always feeling drawn toward her and the energy she exudes. She is both calm and exciting. Bold, yet subtle. With a creative energy all her own, it's no surprise that she wears so many hats: DJ, Mama, singer-songwriter, and yogi! I knew that music was going to dance around the heart of BlackGirlInOm in many ways (in my former life, I was a DJ) and decided to ask some of my favorite DJs to curate mixes or playlists for BlackGirlInOm. I am thrilled that Sarah said yes and gets to illuminate more about what growth means to her through her mix as well as through our conversation:

LA: You're our first music curator! When I first told you about our theme, growth, what first came to mind?

SW: I feel like that word really resonated with me because right I'm going through a lot of different transitions in the way that I navigate through life, through my day, and through my family. And I've been thinking a lot about sometimes how hard it is to grow. And sometimes how much resistance you feel with growth, but it's something that you have to do. You can't stop time, you can't stop evolution, you can't stop change. And, once you start to embrace it and swim with it versus swim away from it [that] you slowly start making steps toward growing. That's pretty deep, but that's what I thought about. Even in regards to music I was thinking about resistance and oppositions.

LA: Totally. That's deep, but growth is a deep topic! So, you're obviously a lot of things -- you're a mother, you're a DJ, singer-songwriter, all these beautiful things. How have you seen yourself grow creatively in this past year and how do you foresee yourself growing even more creatively in this next year? Big question, I know! (laughs)

SW: Huge question! I think already since 2015 started I've been taking more risks. Even things that I feel a little uncomfortable doing sometimes. And it's already pushed me into being more dynamic. Being more true. And being more fearless, when it comes to exploring things creatively. And that's where I want to keep going. I want to try to tackle things that scare me. Tackle things that are sad and that are hard. That I've been trying not to deal with. Once you get all of that mess out of the way I feel like it's so much easier to be creative because you're really being yourself.

LA: That's so true! If you're not afraid then you're just willing to explore everything. No questions asked.

SW: And that person is there. That person is just waiting for you to remember yourself again. They always say when you expose light to the darkness, there's no more darkness.

LA: Totally. So, your mix...what kinds of things were you thinking of when you chose the songs?

SW: First off: I love Hiatus Kaiyote. I've watched Hiatus Kaiyote's evolution. The way the band has changed, the style has changed. I just love how her style is so original. And when I listen to "Laputa" I feel like I grow in the way I think about concepts, the way I think about music. But also, to me that was a "birth-sounding" song to have at the beginning. 

Jesse Boykins: great. "I Can't Stay,"...if you listen to the lyrics it's a lot about growth and just having to not stay in the space. There's all these reasons why he wanted to stay. You know, the beauty, the feelings. But he couldn't because it wasn't right for him. And sometimes it's hard to really deal with the truth and move on. 

D'Angelo, that song is so deep. Even the words [of the title]: "Betray My Heart." [He said] "I will never betray my heart." Figuring out in the end what you need to do to keep yourself safe, and to keep those you love around you safe, I think there's a lot about growing in that.

Yuna "Live Your Life" for me was the peak of the growth in the mix. She's talking about not hiding from yourself. Not being afraid. Hoping for more and if you want to live you just have to live. She's saying live if you really want to. It's such a simple line but it's so hard. People always say I wanna live later. Later I'll do this. [But] life is really about living now. I love that song. 

Mostly, just all sides of growing. Emotionally, mentally, physically, spirituality, I tried to cover all of those with the mix...and unconsciously!

LA: Another huge part of who you are: you're a yogi and a wellness practitioner! Tell us more about that.

SW: My next ... new chapter is this summer. I go to Costa Rica for three weeks. I just put down my registration fee today! I'll be studying yoga with 20+ dynamic women from all over the world. Through Sacred Yoga in Brooklyn. I've been doing yoga for 11-12 years. It's a huge part of how I deal with things going on in life. Balancing being a mom and an artist and a student and also [being] in community. I really want to start working at putting yoga in more of our communities in Minneapolis which is a big part of why I'm going on this training. And also just to be more available and helpful to the growth of all of our women of color especially in Minneapolis. And, all over the world!

LA: Thank you, Sarah. Also, lots of gratitude for Quinn Wilson who designed cover art for this month's mix.

Have a listen to Sarah's Growth mix for BGIO. Also, if you'd like to support her journey as a yogi, you may do so here!

If you're in the Twin Cities during March 19-21, check out a play about an incarcerated black yogi that has everyone talking: There Are Other Worlds, written and directed by Junauda Petrus featuring soundscape music curated by Sarah. Word on the street is that there's a waiting list!

Track List:

1. Bonobo - Towers (feat. Szjerdene)
2. Hiatus Kiayote - Laputa
3. Jesse Boykins III - I Can't Stay (Gold Panda)
4. D'Angelo - Betray My Heart (Dino Soccio Edit)
5. Recloose - Can't Take It (Herbert's Some Dumb Dub)
6. Groove Theory - Tell Me (George FitzGerald Remix)
7. Yuna - Live Your Life (DJ Wonder Remix)
8. Janet Jackson - If (Kaytranada Remix)
9. Aaliyah - One in a Million (su na Remix)
10. Chris Turner - Extrasolarlove (Interlude)
11. Sarah White - Create Found [MYK Remix]
12. Kwabs - Last Stand
13. Lianne La Havas - Lost and Found (Ifan Dafydd Remix)

cover art: quinn wilson 

cover art: quinn wilson 

Sarah White, singer, emcee and soundscape designer, has played both nationally and internationally. Best known for her creative work with Shiro Dame, Black Blondie and Traditional Methods, Sarah has independently released two solo albums and her voice is featured on record label releases from the Midwest to Tokyo. She won Scion’s Best Electronic Vocalist Competition in 2009. Currently the Music Resident at Public Functionary, a music curator for BlackGirlInOm and creating the sound scape for the play There Are Other Worlds, Sarah is steady, focused and continually challenging her growth and process. Sarah is also a mother of two, a yogi, photographer and a creative with a Minneapolis-based event production company. Listen to more of Sarah's mixes on her Soundcloud page.

Quinn Wilson is a four year Entrepreneurial Studies student at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She is also a professional makeup artist at MAC Cosmetics as well as the creative director for Q+A and junior AD for Issue 04 of Greenroom Magazine. View more of her work here.  

All Of The Girls: A Spotlight Piece on Healer Tiffany Macklin And Her Powerful Narrative On Womanhood

by Nancy Musinguzi

I can’t remember a time when my mother didn’t cook. She always found a reason to keep us at the dinner table – for breakfast before school, family coming from out of town, a graduation, or a spark of inspiration by a mistake in the kitchen, she turned it into a meal for all of us to try. Regardless of method, she used food to bring us all together, slow us down from our hectic lives and help us remember how to converse in the language of the world – love. The relationship we share with our mothers are sacred beyond comparison. Our mothers are the first set of eyes we see, the first touch we seek, the first we feel familiar with and grow to trust. The unconditional love of a mother can transform, heal and repair life, teach us lessons about pain, growth, and ultimately how to love ourselves, plainly and simply.
When I first met Tiffany, I was reminded of this power that all Black mothers have. She was a patient woman with eyes that spoke volumes of life overcome with strength and persistence. Tiffany began our interview with a brief reflection on her experience living in Minnesota, being raised by conservative Black parents, and her new role as a healer at the People’s Movement Center in Southside Minneapolis. The dialogue eventually led me to ask her about her family and relationships with everyone in her household. In an interracial marriage with her White husband, Elliot, Tiffany shared with me the challenges of raising four daughters of varying ages, complexions, and racial backgrounds including a White, teenage daughter and a biracial child. Going through various phases of her life–admitting at times that she felt severed from herself, not completely valued or cared for–Tiffany explained the joyous side of motherhood. When she spoke of her children, particularly her youngest daughter, Luca, her eyes became ablaze with passion and warmth. Her family and children hold her heart together and provide her with an endless source of wellness. I bridged these connections and requested I meet her family to experience this unparalleled world of love first hand.
We chose a Sunday morning to meet again.
A few days later, I stood on the lower steps of their home, waiting anxiously to meet her family for the first time. I was finally greeted by a man I assumed to be Elliot at their pine green door. A face accented with lines from smiles and loops of laughter, Tiffany’s husband welcomed me inside as I inhaled the aroma of food. Tiffany called from the kitchen, glued to the stove-top making gluten-free pancakes and oven-baked bacon. I could hear tiny feet running after each other above me, and my face gave away my eagerness to finally meet her daughters. Tiffany smiled and told me to come down later to join her family for breakfast. 

I vanished upstairs and discovered three giggling girls rolling over each other in bed sheets and pillows. One of the girls introduced herself as Vivian, and I instantly remembered her from my conversation at the Center with Tiffany when she was describing the nature of her daughters during our interview. Her step-sister, Jemila, beaming with gentle eyes and ebony skin, introduced herself next and then brought Luca, the youngest, to greet me and my camera where she smiled and sat sheepishly in front of my lens. Luca, only two-years-old, had the attitude of a person ten times her age. Strong minded and sharp, her natural ability to interact with her sisters, both nine-years-old, inspired me. I wondered what their lives were like sharing parents of different complexions and histories, but conjoined together by the values of home. I recognized this while eating breakfast with them at their kitchen table. The differences we had between us began to melt and blend with each new conversation, ranging from school, music, favorite foods and back-story of how Tiffany and Elliot met. “She wouldn’t date me at first,” Elliot grinned while Tiffany stacked food onto our plates, “but after a while, the connection was undeniable.” They exchanged a series of smirks in a language that only they understood, while Luca whined for more food with a bloated belly. 

Eating and sharing space with Tiffany that morning made me understand the simplicity of love. Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours in the United States. Sitting at a kitchen table with a group of people connected by the raw meanings of kinship brought on new thoughts about how we create definitions of family. How can we maintain authentic connections between each other without biology? What can we learn from transcending values of home into our everyday relationships with others outside of our home?
Tiffany shared with me her transformational journey in turning into the woman and loving mother she is today:
“...the girls. Yes, I do have very different relationships with each one. I’ll begin with the oldest.
Scarlett is 18 and lives in Dubuque, Iowa where her dad is from. My relationship with her has changed over the last couple of years. It began as more of a friend connection. I was the cool adult that she liked to hang out with. We would go to the beach, we would make art together, it was fun. I eventually though, came to a point where I had to choose whether to continue being her friend, or to step into the role of an adult who was responsible for her wellbeing. I chose the latter. As a result, our relationship is no longer the one of leisure, which I do miss. I am still trying to find the balance of friend and parent figure. It’s a tricky balance because I have come into her life at a stage where she is very quickly becoming less and less dependant upon parents. It makes it a little more challenging to figure out where that balance lies. Scarlett has grown into an amazing, confident young woman who is secure in herself, her beliefs, and her choices. I have so much respect and love for her.  
Vivian, will be ten in just a couple of days. This is yet another tricky relationship, one that I am constantly working to improve. The thing with Vivian is that I feel as though I have to overcompensate for where she may need some extra support. I know I am harder on her than any of the other girls. I know it may be difficult for her to see right now the position I have taken, but I come from a place of love. I love that girl so much, I see where her heart is, what her potential could be and I know she’s been through a lot in her young life. I try to remind myself that she’s just a young girl, just a kid that needs support and love and nurturing. She is a very intelligent, strong-minded, creative girl who will run you into the ground if you let her.  
Jamila, is nine also. Her and V are just about six months apart and two very different people.  Jamila and I have had a special relationship from the very beginning. A special bond. Jamila and I spent a lot of time together when she was a baby, and still do now.  I always felt as though our connection was more than just  that of great niece/ great aunt. She has always been my girl. In a way, I sometimes think of her as my first child. With her, I really began to understand what it would take to be a parent, where and when to protect, and when to step back and let her explore her world with just a reminder to be safe. She’s intelligent, imaginative and quirky. I often allow her to take me into her world of make-believe.  It is always quite a ride in her fantasy. I feed that flame as much as I can because it’s a beautiful gift that I hope she always keeps close.
Last, and certainly not least, is Luca. At two and a half, she is a force to be reckoned with.  Luca keeps me honest. Her pure heart, filled to the brim with the very rawest of emotions, is the most true thing I have ever had the honor to witness unfold. With Luca, no part of me can ever hide because she sees right through it. What choice do I have then but to respect her intuition, her highest self, her intelligence, and show up and try to match her in brilliance?  
I see some of myself in all of the girls. Each one of them challenges me in ways that I never imagined I could be. I am up for it, though. They have given more to me than I could ever begin to repay. I am forever indebted and grateful to have them in my life, to be able to call them my girls.”


photo: nancy musinguzi

photo: nancy musinguzi

Nancy Musinguzi is a documentary photographer, activist, and writer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Recently a graduate from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, she uses her skills in photography to engage young people in conversations about social justice, community engagement and the power of visual art in media. Nancy previously worked as a freelance photographer and writer in New York City to tell stories about subculture and art communities she lived in and traveled to. Currently, she works as an artist-in-residence at the non-profit organization, Youthprise, where she has had the opportunity to install her work in two solo exhibits. 

Daymaker: A Spotlight Essay on Manny of Lake Street Barbering Co.


Narrative by Lauren Ash. Photography by Zakkiyyah.

He knows parts of me no one else ever will and yet I only see him once a month.

Settle down, I’m talking about my barber, Manny, at Lake Street Barbering Co. In my experience as a black woman who prefers everything about me to be au natural, including my hair, finding a sharp barber was absolutely fundamental to my livelihood when I moved to Chicago a year and a half ago. Yep, a good haircut was somewhere on my to-do list below groceries and paying rent. This Daymakers feature, which is a recurring section of our online publication, is actually inspired by my barber, Manny, and will continue to spotlight people of color cultivating their crafts and lives in ways that inspire self-care, self-love and all the good feelings that come with confidence!

Natural-haired friends, I’ve learned my lesson -- don’t go to a salon. Even if they tell you “yes, we have so-and-so and they can cut hair really well,” a bad haircut in fall of 2014 proved otherwise (note: I paid nearly $100 for this bad haircut after she deep conditioned all of the hair that she proceeded to cut off). Barbers are trained in cutting hair plus the environment of a good barbershop can’t be beat. 

Cue Lake Street Barbering Company. Their name? On point. Their location? Dope. Their aesthetic? Coolness meets bearded men meets cosmopolitan meets hip-hop meets all-kinds-of-melanated goodness. Seriously. There's so much visually appealing about their shop and how they present themselves. Their aprons are custom-made (by Red, White, and Blue based in San Francisco), featuring stitched denim and each of their names engraved in leather. Manny rocks an Ecuadorian-flag-inspired barberpole tattoo on his arm, a symbol of two aspects of his identity he is most proud of. When you walk toward their shop, located in the West Loop of Chicago, you'll note note their chalkboard sign with a cartoon of a bearded man that advertises their hot towel shave (Manny swears its not him, but we know better). You look through their glass walls and everyone looks up and nods. You get buzzed in and are greeted by hip-hop and good vibes. If you’re special, you get invited to the back. What’s in the back? You’ll find out if you enter their good graces. 

Manny and Ralf are co-owners of Lake Street Barbering Co. Several years ago, they found themselves in cosmetology school together and admitted to me that they bonded as they were among the only men in the bunch. Fast forward to the present and most of the team they’ve brought together has been together for over a decade. Manny’s longest client relationship is going on 11 years. He has watched children grow into men and women.

What makes LSBCo special? “We’re just ourselves,” Ralf says. I agree. Manny describes their aesthetic as “old-school meets new school” and describes his barbers as “fun” and a “cast of characters.” True. From the multiple times I’ve stopped in, whether for a haircut or simply to say hello, I’m never quite sure what’s going to come out of someone’s mouth. It’s always funny and always worth telling a friend about later.

So far, I’ve sent at least three of my girlfriends Manny’s way (hey, Fushcia, Alexandria, and Erin). They always come out looking fresh and always come out with a story. 

Manny knew from a young age that he wanted to be a barber. When he told his teacher, she replied "oh, so you're a daymaker!" referring to how barbers, if they exercise their craft properly, make people's day. Indeed he does. 

The “why” behind Manny’s work ethic is admirable. Manny is a family man. Two of his tattoos symbolize this. The large rose represents his wife and the small rose is for his son. Manny brings in his 5-year-old son, AJ, every Saturday, one of the busiest days for the shop. He wants AJ to learn about his craft from an early age and to appreciate it. Manny also has a daughter who is nearly two. He attends church with his kids and his wife each Sunday. Growing up, he witnessed his father speak from behind the pulpit on Sundays. In addition to his family, faith gets Manny up in the morning and he dwells on it before he gets out of bed each day.

In addition to rituals of faith and community, Manny credits his wife’s skincare products, drinking lots of water, and his crossfit practice as reasons for staying healthy. And he has a pretty epic beard that he takes care of, showing his interest in self-care and maintenance. I asked him, why the beard? His answer: he got bored. Manny described that he can’t do makeup, can’t get extensions, that he wears one of his 47 grey t-shirts every day (it’s true, I started noticing it after told me this months ago), so why not grow a well-kempt beard?

When chatting a couple of months ago, Zakkiyyah, Manny and I all agreed that one of our collective goals in life is to simply do what we love and be supported financially in doing so. Most people are afraid to reach for this because they believe that this is impossible. Manny serves as an inspiration for us as we keep on pushing forward and growing into the creative entrepreneurs that we want to be. 

In Chicago? Book your appointment with Lake Street Barbering Co. today. And follow them on Instagram: @lakestreetbarbers

H(OM)E: A Conversation with Cultural Curator Janice Bond

Interview by Lauren Ash. Photography by Shelby Stone.

Janice Bond, recognized by most as a cultural curator and arts advocate, has been an enormous catalyst for BlackGirlInOm's blossoming. We first met serendipitously this past summer on a day that has become one of my favorite memories: the Silver Room Block party. A day when creative, black Chicago celebrates, dances, mingles, and eats for what many of us agree is the best day, and day party, of summertime Chi. I forgot that I met her, however. Our encounter was brief and I barely caught her name, but remember thinking she was dope! (I was new to Chicago and things weren't quite sticking yet.) Fast forward to September when I started to voice my ideas about BlackGirlInOm to people who would listen to me (RJ Eldridge, Eric Williams and others). People were almost singing Janice's name in unison when I told them what I had my up sleeves. One fateful day in November, Janice opened up her office hours to anyone who wanted to meet about a creative vision. I was the first to respond. I was at work (my 9-5 job) and signed-out for what ended up being a two-hour meeting with her. One of the best decisions I've ever made. 

I will never forget first walking into Janice's space. I was immediately fascinated with her alter, filled with dried and living plants, multicolored candles, mysterious wooden boxes, personal letters and incense. Our meeting impressed the kind of person Janice is: passionate and mindful about the importance of wellness as a woman of color and as an entrepreneur, unapologetically ambitious, and fiercely visionary. At the end of our meeting not only did I feel more curious about the sort of person she was and how she housed so much beauty and care, both physically in her space, but also spiritually around the very nature of who she was, but I felt truly blessed when she offered for me to begin BlackGirlInOm the very next week in her home. Well, shoot. I wasn't going to say no! Now, four months later, the positive energies of BlackGirlInOm yogis and community members have been added to the energies already swirling within her space, as she has graciously hosted many a BGIO gathering. I'm excited to have Janice as our first H(om)e feature, an ongoing section of our online publication that will highlight the ways in which people of color intentionally curate their spaces to be life-giving, inspirational, and peaceful. Enjoy this conversation and may you be inspired to more intentionally create your home and work spaces to be sources of inspiration.

LA: Who is Janice Bond in this moment?

JB: This morning who I am open! I am an arts administrator, cultural curator, arts advocate, mother, recent yogi, astronaut. (laughs) Just kidding. I always say I'm a part-time astronaut. You have to be if you work in the arts. But, with all those titles that sometimes I answer to, I think right now I feel like I'm open. I'm open to the different ways that all of those titles or surnames connect and what they have to offer and also what they bring in 

LA: I thought you were going to say open because this elixir that you've been making for the past week has opened up possibilities for you to become an elixir queen and quitting everything else and starting your elixir business. (laughs)

JB: You know, I've been a reluctant artist for awhile. I do make art. There are things that I think about making. Obviously there are things that I do from time to time that are artistic, especially in the healing arts. But mostly those are for me. They start as for me and then maybe the people close to me. But the attention never for my own personal art or healing art. It never starts out as a commercial venture. It's just something that I know I want to get better at. Or it's something that I know that it's something I want to see and if it doesn't exist then I just make it.

LA: Yes!

JB: And then often, people decide that they want it, too. So, of course it's available to them if they want it. Especially recently with the elixirs. There are teas. There are candles. There are medicine bags that I told you about. All of these things are things that I've known how to do, or want to do, or come naturally to me but I've never made the time to pursue any of it. And as of recent it just sort of came to me. Just like with anything else, you could always be doing something else. You'll never "have" time. So, if I want to do it, you know, then I just have to take the time to do it.

So I am open to those possibilities. It's beautiful because it's revealing to me that it's really kind of necessary. Because there's little to no resistance for it to move forward, you know. I woke up this morning (laughs) and the last two [elixirs] were sold, of the first batch. And I checked again and there was another person who was like "I want in" and I was like "well, I don't have any more, technically." So now I have to make more. It's kind of one of those things where before I even got started, demand exceeds supply. So, I'm cool with that. I haven't had my own...I need to find a way. (laughs)

LA: What you said about yourself being a reluctant artist, particularly involved in healing arts...that is why I would love to talk with you. I think the first time I met with you, in a formal way, was in your home. Our first meeting. From when I walked in I noticed aspects of your home that were healing. Whether the art, or your live plants you have in most corners of your room, or your alter. So, speak more to how you've created your space to be a space that when people enter they feel at peace, they feel calm, they feel inspired. When did you start making your space an intentional space of peace, of "om"? (chuckles) 

JB: Well, truthfully, I think, and it came to be after a visit back to Houston where I'm originally from, this is something that originated from my Grandmothers. I think about my late Grammy, and then my current Grandmother. Both of them, they had different styles, right? One was conservative, Roman-Catholic, Louisiana, couple generations in, farmer's daughter kinda thing, right? And the other was a California transplant, violet-lipstick, five different pairs of the same colored shoes, she still argues with me that they're not the same color ... One thing that were similar for both of them, was the fact that they both have homes ... Their homes felt full :there were blankets if you needed a blanket, there was always food in the refrigerator. I'm not going to say that happens with me. (laughs) In their homes, they had scissors. They were just prepared. They had plants.

My Grammy ... she inspired me this summer because I was like "oh, I don't have space [for a garden]" but then I was like "wait a minute" --my Grammy used to have an urban farm on her balcony. Like, she grew nine types of peppers every year. I would pick up a jar of peppers from her that she grew on her balcony, among other things ... she had a whole urban, garden oasis on her balcony. (chuckles) There were always plants.

My Grandmother has some plants. But [Grandmother] changes out her complete furniture and kitchen design, like every 5 years. So, she takes pride in that ... so it feels very much like her. She had decorative aprons during the holidays. And my mother is the same way, so now when I think about my Mom ... [by the way] my Dad is the exact opposite he does not care. (laughs) He's like "whatever...give me a work table....and a sheet...a fitted sheet" (laughs) My Mom has art, not that she's an artist, she's more of a humanitarian, but she keeps things framed, she has a china cabinet ... When you go to my mom's home you feel like it's a home ... When you come back to it it feels like someone lives there.

I travel quite a bit. My home is for me. It's a reflection, a balance, of all of the work that I put in, you know, in my life. So when I come home. I always say in regards to my altar that pretty much the most valuable things to me can fit [in my altar]. So I look at my place and I think about the plants, and the art. There's something functional or something memorable that's attached to almost everything that I own. There was a time when I used to just buy stuff. Not so much anymore ... the things in this home I've chosen to be here. So when I travel or when I come back it feels like a place that re-charges me. Gives me space to think. And so when other people come, I think they catch onto that. They feel that, too. They feel like it's a place where something happy is happening. Not just a transient spot where someone comes by to shower and halfway eat. I think part of it is history and the second part is that I don't like paying rent (laughs) so if I didn't have a space that I love to come back to, then what's the point?

LA: Right now the light is entering this space so right. But, to be honest, you have such large windows that let in this natural light, that every time is a good time.

JB: At night, I turn off all the lights and the city is your nightlight. I love the windows. I love being reminded that I'm in the city. But at the same time I can have my own, somewhat oasis. That's kind of like life, isn't it? There could be sirens, crazy stuff going on, it's cold, but you can, to a certain extent, control the environment that you opt into. And I think that's what creating a home is about. Creating a space that pulls you back together.

In my journey of life, I've gained and lost a lot. So, even though I love the beautiful things that are in this house. I'm not 100% attached to them, at all. I love who they are and the fact that they are here, but if I lost anything in this house it wouldn't end me.

LA: Love it. Sidebar, I'm learning a lot about me as an interviewer and I say "love it" a lot. It's true though, I love it. So, I'm looking at your altar, I'm looking at your altar. There's some books, there's some letters. What inspired the altar and

JB: Well, it changes form every time I've moved. I started having one officially back in 2009, 2010. I was having just a really challenging time with some stuff and I had a really close friend who was like, this is what you need to focus your energy on. Create a space, create an altar, to meditate. At the time I was working from home and [was] here and there. I was completely unbalanced. Working all the time, every day, no boundaries. I was one of those people who was like "sleep is the cousin of death" which is insane. Go for it, just know what that means. So, my life was just completely out of balance and started to reflect that. 

And so my friend was like "just take this small table" (points to the small table). So I started with this small table and it see that glass bowl in the back that has mysterious things in it? It has all kinds of stuff in there ... plants, tea, movie stubs, drawings, keys, it's just a found object heaven and maybe once or twice a year I pull that thing out. There's so many memories in that bowl. I started with that and a little sketchbook. I would doodle and meditate ... there was a quote or two that I used to read in the morning. But as I moved on it started to evolve.

I've always liked boxes. Some of those boxes were gifts. Most of them were gifts from different places, India. I have two boxes that were given to me from Ghandi's granddaughter, Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya. I know that you haven't seen these until recent months (points to bangles and bracelets). I've owned these for years. They were in one of the boxes. So, this bangle was given to me by Gandhi's granddaughter when I visited her home. This was given to me from a friend of mine in Senegal. I got this Om Nava Shiva bangle for myself from my first time going to the Taj Majal. On the way I purchased this. These used to all be in those boxes. I feel like I needed to wear them for awhile. I looked at them and I was like "you know what? It's time to bring these back out." And so that's where they were.

There are some things in some of those boxes that are not going to come out. Old amulets, among other things. Boxes are keepers. They are keepers of many things: of medicine, of secrets, and at the same time each of them has their own architecture and purpose and they find me in different places. I have a leather box I picked up in Africa on my last trip. One of them wood carved. One of them I got in New Dehli India at a temple. All of them have something.

And then the flowers, you know. The ones that are on the floor close to the fireplace, Irina [Zadov] gave me those on my 30th birthday. And, you see next to the paintbrushes there's a class with petals on there? Those are the tulip bowls from the flower arrangement that was at my first gallery opening at my gallery.

Anyone can walk in and look at the altar and say "Oh, it's beautiful" and feel something, but they don't know why. There are a lot of great memories and a lot of lessons [in the altar]. There are things that are there that are from my mother, from friends ... a few of those postcards are gifts from friends. Those two churches are handcrafted pieces from Haiti that were given to me from a friend. That succulent in the corner came from the Black Cinema House, Theaster [Gates'] place. I traded it for a poem with my daughter, one day. So, there are a lot of great energies and memories, I charge things over there. I deposit things. I take energy away, but I'm always bringing something back over. So I've been building it for five years. And it's expanded--clearly it's starting to take over the whole left side of my house. (laughs) I think that's kind of how it should be. I think if your entire house feels like an altar then everytime you come home you're sitting in your spirit.

LA: And in the spirit of all the other people and the experiences you share. One day you'll have a separate room for your altar only. It's going to continue to grow. Do you have a favorite product you use every day, something that relates to self-care, self-love. I know you're an avid tea-drinker. What else is part of your ritual every day? 

JB: I don't use it every day. But I totally recognize and know the power of the coconut and baking soda blends.

LA: Tell me more!

JB: Okay, if you blend coconut oil and baking soda together you create a paste. And that paste can be used for so much. One, you can use it to brush your teeth, to brighten your teeth and to pull toxins out of your mouth. Two, if you use it on your skin it's a light exfoliant because of the graininess of the baking soda, but it's not harsh at all so you can literally use it every day. On all different parts of your body. It balances out your PH but then it also moisturizes because of the coconut oil. You can literally use it all over. It's amazing. When I used it regularly there was definitely a difference!

Then, to a certain extent, on my really messed-up boots. I've used it to clean and polish and moisturize on some of my older leather booths. To get some of the salt out. After, of course, using apple cider vinegar. But, yeah, it's so simple, but baking soda and coconut oil works wonders. And, in your hair, too. Because baking soda and coconut oil is going to lift it up! And, it's also going to balance the PH of your hair and moisturize it. It's one of those all-over things.

Other than that, I would say that it's not one thing. A couple years ago, I said to myself, "I want to one day have a majority of the things that I consume regularly either be self-made or purchased locally or from someone that I know." I'm somewhat on the way there. I know where to buy tea or I know how to make them ... I know where to get a lot of stuff. I know that I don't have to buy soap from the store. There are several vendors that I know that make the soap that I like. Outside of the candles that I buy for my altar, there are several people that I can buy candles from locally. One of my goals is to be more intentional about that in the short term. Writing down a list. I think I might even ask some people to join me on that. Take a list of things that you do or use regularly and ask which of these things can you, in a network of people, buy, share, trade? Just to look at things a bit differently. Things don't come from the store. We buy them at the store. (chuckles)

LA: (chuckles) That's so real.

JB: That level of interaction. It changes how you value people. I know that there's a woman, Michelle, in London. I left her face scrub in my Air BnB in New York and I'm tore up about it. I hit her up like "can I buy another, please?" It's completely vegan. It's one of the best face scrubs I've ever had. It's affordably priced and it comes all the way from London. So, come on! It's handmade and it's under $20. That's the world that we live in. I can get a hand-crafted bar of soap, hand-poured, fresh herbs, for less than $10. Like, that's why we should just buy like that. Ultimately, doesn't it feel better to attach such things to it?

LM: I think everyone should do that activity. I think we'd be surprised to see who we know in our immediate circle, if not extended who create products that we use everyday. And create it in a more healthy, organic sort of way.

JB: Yeah, let's do it. Like I said, it changes the way we look at each other. It's called community, Lauren. (laughs)

LA: (laughs) One last question, Janice,...

JB: Only one? We just got started! 

LA: (laughs) I've been here in the morning, I've been here in the evening and I know that you like to listen to different things depending on the time of day. What do you like to listen to, and why?

JB: Hmm. It depends, but you know what? I realize that I have a couple of combos for music. Depending on the space and time of day. For example, this morning I'm most likely going to turn on an old favorite because I need to feel energized, but at the same time I want to have a little bit of nostalgia, at the same time I want to be calm. I'm most likely going to listen to Jazzanova's "No Use" featuring Claire Hill, which is one of my favorites. And then I'll probably listen to "Talk" by Coldplay because I heard it in Whole Foods last night and I was like (sings the song) yeah I miss that! Spotify! (laughs) They can take my money every month!

LA: They're going to think this is a Spotify ad. (Sidenote for our readers: follow BlackGirlInOm on Spotify!)

JB: I support the music arts every month (laughs) But not just through Spotify. So in my house in the morning it's usually some sort of fusion. Something that is engaging, but doesn't completely consume me one way or another. If I'm cleaning, specifically, it might be something a bit more contemplative especially if I think there's an energy that I need to get out. If I'm driving at some point it turns into 90s alternative. (chuckles) Always. Or, rock. In my car, I think my Spotify list shows up on my Facebook page. It sounds creepy, but you will always know when I'm driving somewhere. You're going to see Incubus pop up. You're going to see Def Tones pop up. Or you'll just see Meshell Ndegeocello on repeat. (chuckles) She's good for the home or the car. Depending on what's going on at the moment.

In the evening, depending on how I'm trying to wind down, I'm very about that when it comes to music. I have maybe 15 or less CDs that haven't been opened. Some of them I've had for a year. I have some down here that I've had for longer that I haven't opened. So, I listen to stuff when I'm ready. Unless I have to for work. There's only certain things I want to allow in when I want to. I think of music very much like the artwork on my walls. I could have filled all these walls with stuff I make even. Just like the art on my walls. Like Lamont [Hamilton]'s piece. When I saw that piece in the show, I thought want that. I'm just as intentional about the music. Because it does impact you. Which is why I love BGIOs Playlists. (takes on cheesy voice of generic yoga instructor) "Let me put on this yoga meditation CD. Downward dog, everybody." No, it's not like that. (laughs) That's one of the things that I've always liked about the BGIO playlists.

LA: Thanks for giving us a little shoutout in your interview. Is there anything else you want to say?

I've rekindled and expanded my love of eucalyptus. So, I've had it in the shower for awhile. But I've started to incorporate it more in arrangements around the house. So, pretty much one way or another, for awhile at least, you'll always see eucalyptus in this house. Its made a difference. The air is different in this house. I feel like my plants are growing more because there isn't so much strain on them to provide. Especially my larger plants. Although (looks at and talks to money tree) we're going to have a talk. What did I do to the money tree? Or maybe the money tree is giving me so much energy because it wants me to make so much money that maybe I need to go there and hug it. Because I'm about to get a big fat check. So, I am with you, money tree, we are with you. Or I'll just put a crystal in the dirt or something. (laughs) Yeah, I'll give you some rose quartz or something. But yeah, eucalyptus has recently been a huge part, as well as I purchased a few more Himalayan salt lamps. Those are natural air purifiers.

And, I don't know if you know this, but I intentionally own my desk and this table. And the ones by my altar. The make-up of these tables is very intentional. My desk is intentionally a glass-top desk. I have this thing about...unless they are hand-carved, or wood desks, they just feel so heavy. My work space usually feels so light. There's a lightness to it although the work behind done there is really heavyweight. So, I've always kept my desk and the space around it organized, but very simple, very minimal. And the tabletops and the things that I place things on I need them to be very well-crafted.

LA: That's food for thought for me. Creating lightness in spaces that are typically heavy spaces or the full spaces. 

JB: Mmhm, being inspired. Feeling your way through your work space and unifying it that way is really important. Why is my bedroom that room when that [other] room is bigger? Well, first of all the washer and dryer is in that room so that if its running I have no control over the temperature. And this room has more light.  So, I plan my spaces accordingly. 

LA: Thank you. We made this interview happen, Ms. Janice Bond.

Join BlackGirlInOm and Janice Bond on Thursday, April 2nd for the first of many workshops in our collaborative series Alchemy 101. We'll learn the benefits of elixirs and make one together! Learn more about Janice Bond on her website Follow Janice on Instagram: @janicebond.

photo: shelby stone

photo: shelby stone

Shelby Stone is a photographer, interdisciplinary artist and thinker. Having been a resident of the west coast for over two decades, and after completing her B.A. in Studio Art with an accompanying minor in Cultural Anthropology from San Francisco State University, she relocated to Chicago in 2013. She moved to fulfill a blossoming desire for travel and deeper exploration of culture, space and self. Having recognized a spiritual and purpose-based rootedness in Chicago, in conjunction with building her fine-art practice, she hopes to engage her passion for process, film-photography and the human condition. She focuses her endeavors towards building spaces that nurture the intersections of creativity, identity, self-expression, art making and education. Shelby works to further aid in developing the narratives and social values of individuals and communities in Chicago, San Francisco/Bay Area, and beyond. She currently resides in Hyde Park.