Issue 005: Liberation

Three Liberatory Acts

PHOTO: TAMON GEORGE

PHOTO: TAMON GEORGE

By Lauren Ash

Liberation. My personal definition at the moment: the journey toward expressing myself and illuminating all that I am, unmasked without anticipating or being attached to the reactions of myself or others.

This past year I have shed my skin time and time again. When I reflect on these changes and their root origins, I realize that these changes did not happen on accident. My current state is the direct result of liberatory acts I made, intentionally. Acts that were in alignment with specific values that I affirmed were important to me, that necessitated action and right intention to move me from an undesirable place to a place that I felt rightfully belonged to me. This state of belonging is not always the most comfortable, at least not at first. Here are liberatory acts that I personally cultivate and advocate. My hope is that you may begin to cultivate them as well, and arrive at a spiritual, emotional and tangible place of greater liberation and growth. 

QUIT

Yeah, I said it. Quit. Quit what? Oh, I think you already know. It’s that thing that makes you roll your eyes when you wake up each morning. Or, what causes your stomach to turn when you think about it. Whatever is not contributing to your liberation, ability to feel free and your growth, you need to quit, drop, and leave it in the past.

This past year, I knew I needed to quit my job. A job that wasn’t allowing joy or affirmation to manifest in my life. I planned to quit. I wrote my resignation letter. The day I told myself I was going to quit I chickened out. I felt defeated. I did not know what my other immediate options were, so I sat on it for awhile. For the next couple of months I began to manifest Black Girl In Om more than ever. I took it seriously, which forced others to do the same. I also spoke about it. All the time. To everyone. (Yes, even to people at work, which was a really bold action now that I think about it.) And, importantly, I told my loved ones about the day I planned to do it. Even in my calendar I took out all visualizations of that job. By manifesting all of what I wanted to do instead of my former career path, and by talking about it, I generated positive energy toward my new, liberating path. 

SPEAK

I hint at this above, but I think it’s very important to emphasize how much power our words have. Start speaking! What is it that you want to see? Claim that you are already that. Because you are. Struggle with unforgiveness? Look at yourself in the mirror each morning and say “I forgive [insert the person you struggle to forgive] and also say “I am forgiveness.” Write that person a letter granting them your forgiveness (which is more an act of liberation for you, than for the person receiving the letter), even if you do not send it, read it aloud. You can cultivate similar acts for other common struggles like self-deprecation, periods of sadness and body image issues. Begin to embody that which you are struggling to hold onto by speaking what you want to see aloud. Physical growth happens incrementally, why would we think that other kinds of growth happen overnight? Liberate yourself from the idea that liberation is beyond your reach.

FEEL

Allow yourself the ability to experience the growing pains that come with liberation. I recently wrote about how it’s okay to not be okay. Oftentimes, once we start on a liberatory journey, we uncover mounds of pain and wounds that we didn’t even know existed. Be open to that. Continue to move forward. Experience every sensation. Sit with it.

When I first started therapy, I thought I was there to talk about my Father and learn how to forgive him. I thought everything was about my relationship with him. After my first few sessions, my therapist asked me, “So, we’re talking a lot about your Father. What about you?” I was taken aback. What about me? I’m here to vent about my Dad, right? Nope. In that moment I was forced to finally realize the significance of what it means to be open to where journeys toward liberation can take us. While I sensed my urge to run out of the room, or at least to run away from that conversation, I didn’t. I felt resistance within myself to go there, but I went there nonetheless (thanks, especially, to my therapist who gently eased me into that realization). I journaled, reflected, and let go of my ego so that I could be guided toward releasing the load I didn’t even know I carried.

Lastly, please note that in all these journeys I have gone through and continue to go through, I am not alone. We are made to interact with other spiritual beings along our journeys. Connect with others. Be vulnerable. Seek encouragement and give it in return. And as you journey, know that it is yours. Cherish all that you uncover and know that as long as you are seeking earnestly and with love, you’ll arrive at a better place than when you first began. 

 

Creating a Balanced Mealtime Experience

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

By Lauren Nixon

In a culture where moving fast is a prized characteristic and being busy is glorified to the extreme, mealtime often gets the short end of the stick. It’s suddenly en vogue to eat standing up, or in your car, or to not give yourself the time and space to eat anything at all. This doesn’t have to be the case.  Plus, you deserve better!

Creating a relaxed, supportive environment for your eating practices can make dining less tense and frantic, more enjoyable and liberating. You deserve the time and physical space to be truly nourished. Why not reclaim this time and space and infuse some more mindfulness into the way that you eat and approach your mealtimes?

Treat Mealtime Like Date Night

Whether you are eating alone or dining with others, create a space that really allows you to enjoy and be present with your food. For one week, challenge yourself to sit down at a table, to remove all electronics from the table, and to make your meal your focal point. Spruce up your table with flowers or meaningful belongings. Chew thoroughly, taste deeply, and allow yourself to experience every sensation that moves through you.

Recognize Your Needs

If your body needs greens once a week, tap into that. If you would really prefer for a partner, friend, or your kids to help with creating nourishing meals, speak that truth. If you need something sweet, recognize that. Don’t push important information away. Use it and savor it to create a rich experience that your body and mind will actually enjoy.

Identify Your Fuel Foods

If you feel really amazing, alive, and vibrant after drinking a gigantic blueberry smoothie, or eating rice and beans, or a bowl of greens with a dribble of hot sauce, go with that. Pay attention to these messages. Alternately, pay attention to the foods that make you feel less than vibrant, that kill your energy and make you feel sluggish, irritable, and unproductive. Consuming fuel foods that you are actually excited to eat provides an uplifting energy around mealtimes.

Tell the Truth

If you’re hungry, you’re hungry. Plain and simple. Being honest about what your body needs allows you the space to get to know your body and its desires and cravings. On the other hand, if you’re not actually hungry but feeling the need to eat, tap into that feeling. Are you bored, anxious, emotional? Explore all the reasons why you are eating, whether they stem from healthy or unhealthy places.

Plan Ahead

A rushed mealtime situation makes for a rigid, strained meal. Take an hour or so out of your week, preferably after your visit to the market, to prep as many of your purchases as possible. Boil a big batch of rice, boil a few cups of beans or legumes, wash and chop your vegetables and store them in the fridge. That way, you can cut down on meal prep time and cook your meal at your leisure. A gently, leisurely meal makes for a happier, more balanced you.

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

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 www.laurennixon.com

Love Yuhself

By Tracey Coretta Ferdinand. Photography by Aaron Ricketts.

tied to a whipping post
she took lashes for love. 
worked in sugar cane fields
of self doubt, dusk ‘til dawn
carving herself into a worthy woman.
back bent into submission
cutting sweet fruit but the fruit
of her labor left her bitter.

season turned.
a hurricane raged inward
with Tubman’s spirit roaring
on gale winds of change singing,
“Don’t you want to be free? 
Travel North. Find that place
between love and light. 
Build a temple there and 
worship the divinity 
within your eyes.”

Tubman’s liberation talk terrified her.
so she ran to her master’s 
house of hate
but his doors were sealed shut.
she knew freedom journeys were costly,
required underground railroad travel
toward self discovery, 
meant learning to read her soul’s narrative.
(stories of strength courage and wisdom
were written there waiting for her 
to see, to be free.)

she conjure the confidence to
sign her own freedom papers.
left her dirty, old cabin 
one room cramped space 
a familiar unfriendly place
of self hate.

struck out deep into the wilderness
where the dead go to die to their masters,
where infinite possibilities and
unlimited visions of our stories are written.
North Star dust lighting her path,
dogs of self doubt snapping at her heels,
she ran North, 
past mental shackle boundaries and crossed over 
to a place of safe harbor.
she journeyed home to love.

PHOTO: AARRON RICKETTS

PHOTO: AARRON RICKETTS

Tracey Coretta Ferdinand is a love disciple who believes we carry medicine within us in the form of self-love. She is a fierce advocate for framing holistic wellness within this context.  Her work is rooted in the understanding that love has the power to transform our health improvement strategies since it requires adopting an ethic of radical self-care. Tracey Coretta holds a master’s degree in Africana Women’s Studies from Clark Atlanta University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Ursinus College. She is also a certified 200-hour vinyasa yoga instructor. Her writing inspires sustainable lifestyle transformations guided by self-love and self-care. Her mission is to encourage women and girls to cultivate vibrant lives by exploring creative wellness practices. Tracey Coretta loves the sun, the ocean and lush plant life. When she’s not outside celebrating her divinity in nature she’s writing, cooking, or practicing yoga. She is thrilled to be a part of BGIO's wellness collective. Born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Tracey Coretta is currently based near Philadelphia. 

Three hours of liberation

By Ciara Swan

19:36 Past 

(in my body)
 
deliberate naivety scatters along clenched and worn muscles. a pencil stare from gapped mouth captures the sweat clinging to palms and vining down armpits, breasts and knee-backs.
 
change in the human form requires a soiled constancy; the funk shun fruition, or so my mind thought me when i could no longer me myself and my mine was capsulated in consumed projections of xeno-negritude.
 
liberation is a thing much like change, evolution and freedom. it is dependent on. 

20:53 Present
 
(in my mind)
 
i am trying this thing, discipline, or maybe self-restraint. It only ends in borders of paranoia perpetuating a self-inflicted confinement of true self -
 
(Shackle-loose these screws atop stucco skin walls)
 
the functional screwdriver presented itself, after centuries of fragmented hands; dutiful and bloody-
i am twenty-three strokes in, “righty, tighty, righty, tighty,”
 
Pulsations of re-memory quantified a her-story and so I began drilling through (pst) past lives

21:47 Potential
 
(in my spirit)
 
whispering wontedly, “post-slavic abduction, freedom was created”
 
om-ing omnipotence, “traumatic times foster the whos’ that transcend”
 
mumbling matrimony, “stress deconstructs umbilical-born truths”
 
benign baptismal, “dis-orders dis-ease mis-educated pupils”

Ciara “Cc” Swan is a poet from Oakland, CA. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology at the University of San Francisco. As a current graduate student at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, Cc dawdles with a modern reconstructionist framework of language via sociological and philosophical platforms of “black sexual politics”. Aside from writing and performing her written forms, Cc also illustrates poetry via visual mediums, as a means for ascribing an image to text; the art of storytelling. All of these things are culminated with sporadic attempts of neo-soul singing and jazz-skatting with appropriations of funk via Logic Pro and Garage Band. She is an analytical hermit and creator, and a lover of family and ever-finding spiritualism.

Letting Go to Discover Myself

By Veleisa Patton

I couldn’t believe I was having this discussion, in that moment.

I was sitting in the small extra-bedroom in my sister’s flat in London on New Year’s Eve. Headed into 2009. My outfit for the night is laid out on the bed and I looked down on it as I felt sweat building on my scalp beneath my recently shorn curls. Instead of preparing to hit the town, my fiancé and I faced each other, confronting our longstanding issue: trust and expectations.

Looking back, I can’t quite recall how we agreed to marriage. Aside from the fact that it seemed like a good idea based on where I was in life – new college graduate starting my career – I wasn’t distinctly drawn to the institution. We simply moved from “I like you, you like me” to “we should get married” swept up in the new chapter of our lives. Cue the ring, an engagement party and moving in together, and the reality of what a union truly is began to weigh on us.

My ego wouldn’t allow me to admit that I had leapt in and the water was deeper than I expected … and rising. Petty arguments arose, resentment built and communication took a nosedive. We were shackled to the idea of happily ever after, the expectations of modern life and instant gratification.

I took the first step of releasing myself from others’ restrictions with the simple act of discovering my hair’s delicate curl pattern beneath years of straightening. The arc of the hair from my root shone like a beacon. It told me that there were other things I could discover, if I was willing to try, if I was willing to confront my own expectations. In a moment of decisiveness, I cut it all off. I then sat, rubbing the palm of my hand over the prickly texture of new growth that I had previously suppressed the same way I was silencing my internal voice telling me that my relationship was not serving me. I’d freed my hair, and I needed to do the same to my true feelings.

To look at pictures from that night in London, you’d think we had the time of our lives: smiles from ear to ear, covered in streamers and hoisting glasses of Buck’s Fizz. Two days after we returned, I ended the relationship. I am now far enough away from the moment to recognize that that night was a celebration: I marked a new year, full of new possibilities; and in confronting the unspoken, I’d freed myself. 

PHOTO: FITZ CRITTLE.

PHOTO: FITZ CRITTLE.

Veleisa Patton is a communicator, yoga instructor and a writer. Her fascination for storytelling led to her career in marketing and public relations in the realms of travel, tourism and transportation. Her passion is in leading students on the mat and remaining a student off the mat in her own practice. She became passionate about wellness when she realized, as a Black woman in the 21st century, she is her own biggest cheerleader. A flame was sparked in Veleisa to embrace self-care, vegetarianism and enter yoga teacher training. She recognized that guiding others, especially women of color, in their wellness journey is a privilege.

Wanderlust: A Conversation with Lifestyle Expert and Food Activist Lynnette Astaire

Interview by Lauren Ash.

This month’s Black Girl In Om Wanderlust is Lynnette Astaire, a fabulous healthy food chef based in Mexico. LiveLoft, Lynette’s juice detox and raw food seaside retreat place, sounds too good to be true. You mean I can vacation, relax, and stay committed to my health goals all at the same time? I’m there! 

Lynnette reached out to me a couple of months ago when she stumbled across what we’re cultivating through Black Girl In Om. I’ve been moving toward making smarter, more preventative decisions with my health through my eating habits so I was thrilled to hear from her. I’ve been considering the ways in which I can view healthy decisions with food as liberating, rather than constricting. And in talking with Lynnette, I’m encouraged to commit to my recent (re)turn toward a plant-based diet―and to consider a wellness-based adventure for my next vacation. Be sure to check out Lynnette's website for clean eating and creative living inspiration. You can also follow Lynnette on Instagram @LiveLynnette and on Twitter @LiveLynnette.

Lauren: You embrace a plant-based diet and avoid using the term "vegan" intentionally. Why?

Lynnette: Veganism is more than a diet. For example, I wear leather. Plus, there is a current stigma with veganism that I’d rather not even enter until there’s more food education. However, 75% of what I eat on a daily basis is a vegan-identified, raw food. There's a great article on Renegade Health that can help people who want to successfully incorporate more raw food into their diets.

Lauren: That’s me! So I’ll have to read that article later. So, I’m curious about how your experience as a holistically minded woman of color has varied from living in the United States to living in Mexico? Have you been received differently? If so, how?

Lynnette: There aren’t enough foreign women of color here to make a comparison to. So I am simply a black woman, which in smaller villages can be an event in itself. In Mexico City [women who sell tacos] add meat to my taco after I say veggie, but my Mexican friends say it happens to them so I think we're all being received the same!

Eating healthy, for some, seems like something that keeps you from certain things including sugar, carbs, and meat. However, in my own wellness journey, I've seen how it truly liberates you from addiction, disease, and more.

Lauren: I totally agree! After my Mother was diagnosed with cancer and changed her diet, I started to consider how I can do so, too, in a preventative way. She’s cancer-free, but has still committed to eating foods that aren’t going to harm her now or in the future. I’m striving to do the same! Lynette, in what ways has eating healthier liberated youphysically, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually?

Lynnette: I'm liberated from choice and time. You end up going down only one or two aisles in the store when you live like this. It's so much easier to shop when the goal is nutrition. I recently wrote an article on what happened after I unintentionally eliminated processed foods from my diet for two years. The post became popular because, the truth is that a variety of food choices actually makes us slaves to our over stimulated tastebuds, which usually aren't even good for us.

Lauren: You have been traveling in Europe this summer. In your pre-travel blog post you mention that Italy is a place where you have overindulged in the past. Was the temptation there this time around? In addition to your Golden Rules, what other best practices do you adopt, and would you recommend others adopt, when traveling while simultaneously striving to stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit?

Lynnette: With so many changes during travel it's always good to keep some constants. We're not so different than babies when it comes to changes but we just don't practice enough self-care to realize it. I try to stick to my normal routine of a raw food breakfast and lunch and indulge at dinner (and dessert) which is usually the most social time of day.

For long distance & long term travel I’d say adopt a fitness routine ASAP to manage your energy! A big time zone change can really affect you. I've definitely been feeling the seven hour change these past few weeks.

I just posted a YouTube video explaining how to avoid jet lag and a few other tips. I also have a new post featuring a short list of travel essentials.

Lauren: Great tips! These will come in handy for me and Zakkiyyah as we have some travel on the horizon! So, I haven't yet done a detox. There are millions of people just like me who are generally healthy and health conscious, yet new and a bit nervous about detoxing. Where and how would you recommend we begin?

Lynnette: Like most things, begin with the past! Many spiritual leaders throughout history, from Jesus to Buddha to Muhammad have spiritual stories about fasting. These days it's more about diet but I believe if it starts with the spirit everything else will fall into place. I've had so many breakthroughs over the 10 years I've been detoxing plus I think it’s been a key to me maintaining my weight as I get older.

I always suggest to start detox in the summer. Your inclination to drink is much higher, plus it's often "too hot to eat." The biggest thing to remember is that the concept of food is mostly in your head since you can survive about three weeks without food and only three days without water. But if you have any major health issues or medications check with a doctor, though most are, unfortunately, trained to treat with pharmaceuticals and not nutrition.

My detox page includes vlogs, blogs and books about my 10 year journey that you can access for free here.

Lauren: What's your favorite memory, involving wellness, from your recent travel adventures?

Lynnette: The Mediterranean Sea! I've always lived near large bodies of water so I feel at home in waves, but in Mexico I live at a surf beach. It's been nice to be able to just lay back in the calm water without having to look over my shoulder for the next wave. The salt content is higher here, too. So it’s been great to get a mineral soak, although how ashy my skin looks afterwards is not so great.

I'm also loving the wild lavender in Croatia! It’s cool to walk down the street and get random whiffs of "aromatherapy." I got into the habit of putting fresh pieces under my pillow every day and even created a lavender iced tea recipe that can be made from fresh or dry pieces

Lauren: What a beautiful, simple ritual, Lynnette. Thank you so much for all that you do to inspire more of us to cultivate mindfulness in relation to what we eat and how we live! 

Want more inspiration to jump-start your mindful eating goals? Be sure to check out Lynnette's article,"A Recipe for Healthy Food Humility!"

A Recipe for Healthy Food Humility

By Lynnette Astaire

With whatever “healthy food” term you may choose to use, remember that you are probably not the norm. Only 3% of the U.S. population considers themselves vegetarian and 84% of those go back to eating meat at some point, so if you want to influence someone’s diet? Be humble about yours.

Although maintaining a healthy food diet should seem obvious, old habits can die hard when comfort is Queen. Deep down inside, most of us know what’s best and often times your act of mindfulness is inspiring to others-without saying a word.

Unfortunately die hards tend to do the opposite! From the body builder poo-pooing about protein to the 70-something who doesn’t understand what was “fine for her” 50 years ago is “not fine” now, trust that there are an infinite amount of people willing to devalue your healthy food habits to justify their own. It takes more than just information to survive. Knowledge plus willpower equals liberation!

One of the best ways I’ve found to inspire others is to simply share something that’s truly delicious and most importantly practical. No matter how much of a healthy food something is, our taste buds, schedules and social settings usually have the final say.

Sharing my raw food recipes can be success or failure, depending on the season. In the summer everyone appreciates fresh fruits and veggies while anything not warm in the winter can be a hard sell. Oh, and referring to anything as a “raw food recipe” seems to freak people out year round but I digress...For me, desserts are the best introduction since many desserts are already raw by default. My chocolate mousse recipe is one of the most popular in my raw food detox retreats and is featured in my free dessert ebook Crave. This chocolate mousse is also great to share because it shows how versatile Avocado, a good, fat fruit, can be. Common culture seems to have made avocados so synonymous with guacamole (I've actually heard someone refer to it as that) so creating dishes with avocados is one of the ways I like to “humbly” blow some minds.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

3 Medium Avocados

10tb Cacao Powder

¼ cup and 1tb Maple Syrup (or sweetener of your choice)

¼ cup Milk / 1t Pure Vanilla Extract

Pinch of Sea Salt

1. Blend until completely smooth, and not a second more! Serve very chilled

The choco-avocado craze does not stop at mousse, check out my Q&A on fellow foodie Jessica Murnane’s blog featuring a smoothie version!

And to turn this pudding into a pie, fill my gluten free pie crust recipe with 1 batch of chocolate mousse and freeze for 30 minutes!

PHOTO: LYNETTE ASTAIRE

PHOTO: LYNETTE ASTAIRE

Lynnette Astaire is a lifestyle expert and raw food chef with 15 years of vegetarian, vegan and raw food experience and 10 years of juice detox fasting experience. She holds a bachelor's degree in Fine Art from NYC's School of Visual Arts as well as certificates in health. She has conducted lectures and workshops internationally and regularly consults clients in juice detox fasting and raw food preparation. Visit www.livelynnette.com for more encouragement on clean eating and creative living. 

 

 

 

All photos are credited to Lynnette Astaire.

A Dream That I See, Don't Kill it it's Free

By Nkechi Njaka. Photography by Nile Vu.

lib•er•a•tion n.

1. The act of liberating or the state of being liberated

2. the gaining of equal rights or full social or economic opportunities for a particular group

3. the gaining of protection from abuse or exploitation 

Opening my arms wide in yoga. A swim in the open water. Sitting on hot sand at the beach. That moment before boarding a plane to an exciting destination. Dancing until 2 a.m. Eating a delicious plant-based meal. Removing my bra. Taking my hair down. Floating. Meditation. Breath without restriction. Being love. Sometimes spending money. Walking in the woods and getting lost. Eating chocolate and not feel guilty. Running. Laughter. These are simple moments where I feel liberated. Alive. Free.

It is surprisingly very easy for me to find experiences where I feel free. My list above is an example of the few things that are top of mind where freedom is found in just small moments in my life. Finding freedom in the simplest moments...but the fact that freedom must be found suggests that freedom exists somewhere else, on the other side of captivity. Instead, I know that freedom comes from discovery. And choice.

Crossing my arms. Fearing the ocean. Not taking time to do what I love. Choosing not to take a vacation. Not self expressing. Eating food that gives me stomach aches and lacks nourishment. Wearing a bra. Wearing my hair tied up. Sinking. Stress. Shallow breathing and holding my breath. Doing human things. Feeling scarce. Having too much of a plan. Eating chocolate and feeling guilty. Not going for that run. Embarrassment.

For several years, I chose this second list above, over and over again until I couldn’t see what my choices were anymore. My mind suffered. My heart suffered. And my soul suffered. I needed a radical change — my life depended on it. I was drowning in my fears and my sadness; the combination created so much suffering and it became necessary for me to seek treatment for my mental health and my personal wellness.

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. — Albert Camus

Just as we can find freedom in the tiny moments of our lives, we can also choose to be restricted, confined, restrained and in captivity. Before we have an awareness of our choice in the matter, we can chalk up some of our lack of freedom to society, meddling parents, controlling partners, institutions, the “man.” I didn’t really live in an unfree world, I just thought I did. I was unaware that I was making unfree choices and paying a hefty price.

For me, freedom comes from the mind, the heart and the soul. It starts with the desire of the heart and then the courage to choose it over and over again. For example, I have a dream to love and to build something from that love in order to have a global impact. I am fortunate enough to live in a country and in a state and in a city where I experience the freedom to dream, speak, create in abundance. I do not take this for granted, and I feel a personal responsibility to share that with the world and inspire others to live similarly no matter how slow the process is. I believe this is true for all of us; our journey starts with small steps.

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. — Nelson Mandela

I know this freedom I have comes with a cost. For me, I had to choose freedom against several years of battling anxiety and depression. I had to very specifically and strategically work out how to undo years and years of limited thinking, self-doubt and self-sabotage to create new patterns of healthy freedom-choosing. And that struggle was real. I have learned over the years that choosing freedom is a choice that benefits me and my immediate community, supports my ultimate life goals and therefore my health. I would even go so far to say that my choices for personal freedom are what gives others permission to be free as well.

We can all be free

Maybe not in words

Maybe not with a look

But with your mind

Cat Power, Maybe Not 

Several years ago, I discovered Cat Power and always dreamed of covering one of her songs, which resulted in guitar lessons while I was in high school. Twelve years ago I fell in love with her album You Are Free for obvious reasons. This was and still is one of my all time favorite songs. I haven’t played my guitar consistently since then, but wanted to share this song with you in my voice. I hope you enjoy my very lo-fi/ produced-in-my-apartment recording:

Nkechi Njaka is the founder of NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio where she curates lifestyle and wellness content for brands and individuals. She is a woman of color, deeply concerned about personal and global well-being. Nkechi holistically approaches her wellness with mindfulness, movement, nutrition and style. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she majored in neuroscience and dance and went on to complete an MSc. in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. She attended the Institute of Integrated Nutrition and holds a certification in Holistic Health and Nutritional Counseling. When not involved in NDN projects, you can find Nkechi teaching Mindful Movement or Mindful Style classes + workshops, taking a yoga or modern dance class or choreographing independent work. She creates, curates, coaches and collaborates in San Francisco, California.

 

Daymaker: A Conversation with Felicia Holman of Honey Pot Performance

Interview by Lauren Ash. Photography by Tonika Lewis.

Since the launch of our online publication, I've enjoyed interviewing Daymakers—people of color who cultivate their crafts and live in ways that inspire self-care, self-love and confidence. So far, I've featured my barber Manny, the Hyde Park Dacha and the beautiful folk who navigate that space, and artist and jewelry designer Katra Awad. In Issue 005: Celebration, I'm thrilled to spotlight Felicia Holman, who I finally got to meet at a friends' birthday party. Her smile is tremendous, as is her energy. As one of the members of the Chicago-based collective Honey Pot Performance (HPP), Felicia creates, cultivates, and performs the richness of black-woman-centered knowledge(s) and experience(s) in creative ways including workshops, theater, and dance. I trust that you'll be inspired by all that Felicia and her fellow HPP sisters represent! Please join me at one of their upcoming events!

LA: Who are you, in this moment?

FH: I am an "in-demand" creator/connector/conduit...Thank God!

LA: Indeed! Your mission is spectacular: "Honey Pot Performance (HPP) is a woman-focused, collaborative, creative community who is committed to chronicling and interrogating Afro-diasporic feminist and fringe subjectivities amidst the pressures of contemporary global life." Wow. If a five year old black child walked up to you and asked you your mission, how would you break it down for her?

FH: I'd explain that we tell stories of everyday people, but especially, we tell the stories of everyday black women & girls who do a lot with a little.

LA: That’s beautiful and important, Felicia. I, too, have performance in my bones, and know the spiritual experience of having revelations about identity and culture through the power of performance. Once, during an African based movement session, comprised of all black women, one woman continued to dance in the center of the drum circle. It was clear that she was dancing from her soul. She was frantic with her movements, beautifully wild. She began weeping and we all danced on the margins in awe and support. Can you share one of the most liberating experiences you have had while performing? And, also, while watching someone else perform?

FH: I've had so many liberating and validating moments while performing, especially with HPP… this is gonna take a while. Okay … from an artrepreneurial standpoint, my most liberating performances with HPP were during our self-produced 2011 world premiere run of The Ladies Ring Shout (LRS) at Dfbrl8r Performance Gallery. Not only was that work generated from the informal weekly creative writing and movement workshop we created and facilitated during the summer of 2009, but the entire production seemed to have been organically ordained! From our costume, set, and marketing design teams, to Dfbrl8r's venue support—shout out to Joseph Ravens!—to the fiscal sponsorship of Links Hall, to our enthralled packed houses, everyone involved with the production of LRS was there for the love of HPP!

Outside of my work with HPP my most liberating performance as an adult happened last year, during my role of 'Khan' in Gorilla Tango Burlesque's parody, The Rack Of Khan: A Star Trek Burlesque. I had a quasi-solo and a climactic dance-off with Kirk to Britney Spears' "Work Bitch." SO much fun!

As for a liberating performance I've witnessed? I gotta say that Darling Shear gives me life every time I watch her dance but she floored me with her performance at this year's Chicago Home Theater Festival, the South Shore edition. Anyone reading this who was also there can testify!

LA: I’m so sad I missed this year’s CHTF. I’ll be at multiple performances next year! So, what does liberation mean for you? As an artist and as a woman of color?

FH: For me, as both an artist and woman of color, "liberation" means de-prioritizing others' expectations for my life. At this point in my life, my quality of life aspirations are based on my own tailored metrics of success.

LA: I have to snap my fingers to that! That’s so beautiful. Can you describe one way that you have tailored your life according to your own metrics of success, and not someone else's?

FH: One primary metric of success I've customized for myself, personally and professionally, is developing my "Conditions for Connection" (shout out to Tara Gentile!). These are mostly informal and internal tools I use to assess whether a project or partnership is a 'good fit' for me. Is it meaningful or valuable enough for me to say "yes" to? Does the proposed project or partnership meet my conditions for connection with the prospective audiences, donors, community and/or collaborators? Does it feed any of my other passions and projects? My conditions for connection assessments have saved me from saying yes to opportunities that, upon closer inspection, are truly only based on my level of desperation. As an artist and a woman of color, I work diligently to banish desperation from my life.

LA: You just gave me so much life. All of these questions are deeply important and certainly help us make values-based, life and career affirming choices. Thank you so much for sharing that. So, obviously we’re all about self-care and self-love for women of color, Felicia. It may seem obvious, but how is Honey Pot Performance related to self-care and self-love?

FH: The better question is "how are we not?!" Every HPP show, every HPP public humanities program, every HPP project or event starts from the consideration of improving quality of life for our communities, our audiences and ourselves through artistic means. We are a creative and reciprocal feedback loop, or "Win/Win/Win" ven diagram. That quality of life consideration often shows up in elements of our productions (from altar-making to acknowledging and celebrating the sacred and the spiritual, sharing important-but-not-widely-known data and research via our script, hugging our audience to start the show, then ending it with a dance party, etc).

LA: Goodness, ya’ll are so multidimensional, I love it. What ways do you personally cultivate wellness, besides performance?

FH: Some of my fave wellness approaches outside of performance include quality time with loved ones, laughing, journaling, reading, arting around, traveling, volunteering, modified yoga, good conversation, good food and good sex.

LA: And to that I say amen. Thank you, Felicia!

Definition

By Oriana Koren

This ongoing visual exploration is part confrontation, part observation. With these portraits, I am hoping to confront and challenge ideas about how we usually see black women in visual media, particularly in photography. I am exploring creating portraits that challenge the idea of the male gaze by framing my subjects within the female gaze; incidentally, I am also challenging and confronting the white gaze.

In making this work, I am seeking to answer one very important question: How does one cultivate an identity, or identities, in regards to the intersection of race and gender when you don’t always feel fully in control of how others see and perceive you?

PHOTO: EVA DEITCH

PHOTO: EVA DEITCH

Oriana Koren is a Los Angeles-based editorial photographer specializing in narrative food and portrait photography. Acutely attuned to the unfolding narratives around her, Oriana’s inquisitive spirit led her to probe into isolation in Tokyo, voting rights in post-Katrina New Orleans, and chronicling Chicago’s innovative pool of cutting edge chefs and restaurants. It’s that same inquisitive spirit that allows Oriana to connect deeply with her subjects, focusing on human interest stories, to document the diverse commonality of human experience. This year, she was nominated for Photo News District’s ’30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2015’.