This past Friday I had the wonderful opportunity of showcasing my grant project and blog, honestlyimanijai, to the community at my event "Obtaining, Maintaining, and Sustaining: Self-care in the Era of Trump". It was a night full of food, fun, and more importantly conversation around a topic that often goes undiscussed-- the lack of authentic safe spaces for black women attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs). The evening was such an exciting one for me because I got to see that people believe in what I and so many other black women are trying to accomplish, and affirming that black women attending PWIs do have the power to obtain, maintain, and sustain space and their voice at PWIs.
That evening the Keynote Speaker was Ms. Jessica Ruffin, the Director of Carlow University's Social Justice Institute. Jessica spoke to her experience navigating both attending and working for predominantly white institutions. Her sharing her story was more than necessary because I believe it is easy for black women attending PWIs to feel as if they are alone, but her story was a reminder that we are not.
I was super unsure about how the event would turn out because I, like many other women of color, got caught up in the narrative that "I wasn't enough" and that being strong means there is no room for vulnerability. Although, at some point during the event I was reminded by two people that are dear to me, that I have to stay true to my experience. I didn't have to be perfect, what I said didn't have to be worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize speech-- it had to be true, my truth, my experience, and my experience wasn't perfect. There were times were I was a mess and all over the place, but there were also moments when I knew that everything would be fine. Just like that evening there was room for imperfection.
This ongoing journey through my imperfect experience made me think about the space that I am trying to create for women of color at PWIs. For this space to be authentic it must accept and allow black women with all of their imperfections, to be imperfect and speak to that imperfection. Sometimes I get caught up in the idea that I have to be whole, complete, perfect in order to do the work, but the work lies in my imperfections-- in our imperfection.
That evening, when I realized that I was not going to be-- the night was not going to be perfect, I allowed for the space to be what it needed to be and I could stop worrying about myself and I could do the work.
Overall, I am so thankful for the event and all that came with it. The event and the work I am trying to do would not be possible if it wasn't for The Heinz Endowments and Heinz's Transformative Arts Process Board seeing something in my project. I also want to thank the beautiful and intelligent who help put together a wonderful event; Ms. Jessica, my mentor, Maxine Garrett, Nadine Masagara-Taylor, Ryan Lewis, and mom, Audra Chisom. I also want to thank the Jeron X. Grayson Center and Lashay Watkins Red Carpet Affairs for creating such a beautiful space.