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In the Heart and Spirit of the Village

me.mae.i's picture

Before actually going to the Village, I spoke on the phone with Lillian, my supervisor, mentor, hero, and secretly prayed that she'd be a woman of color. Just before landing the internship, I had switched my major from Computer Science to Religion/Africana Studies and decided to dedicate my academic journey and time to art and the various mediums of expression. As I mentioned in our Art History Class, I felt incredibly invisible, uncomfortable, and underrepresented in Computer Science, and found myself being in a zone of proximity when it came to art, religion, and humanities. Therefore, I needed to have some sort of comfort going into my summer experience. 

As I met Lillian and my co-worker Jordan, I saw that they were both white and immediately thought to myself that this would be difficult. I felt a slight sense of panic while coming to the understanding that I was going to be working in an environment that was constantly shifting. I feared the code-switching would be constantly happening and that I would leave my summer experience drained and worn out instead of fulfilled and inspired. Physically, I fit right into Germantown. The Village of Arts and Humanities is in the heart of North Philly. Along with the main building and parks, they also have neighbors, and help them keep their homes. I'm also from the inner city, so I felt comfort in the environment. Going to the corner store and buying pineapple sodas, Arizonas and lemon-heads, sitting on the porches and just talking, constantly hopping on trains and buses, blasting rap and r&b music pouring out of cars, men trying to talk to me and cat-calling me from across the street, playing with kids in the middle of the street, cookouts and more screamed black culture to me, and even more it was the black city culture that I grew up in and knew all to well. 

What was challenging for me was going in and out of that. Sometimes I felt too comfortable and as if I wasn't working. I felt as if I was blending in too easily. I met so many community members, and actually became friends with many of them. We would just hang out, eat food, and just chill. It was great. But at times, I felt as if it was too easy. I was so used to working hard to be seen. I was so used to trying to stand out and work hard to show people that I, a black girl from Newark/Trenton/Irvington (it's hard for me to say just one city, as my parents had me when they were in college and 19 and did not live in the same city. therefore, a lot of my child hood was spent constantly moving from parent to parent and city to city) was more than what I appeared to be. I wanted to defy every stereotype and misconception about who people thought I was. 

However, once I had let go of that effort, I felt very empowered. Now, this actually took a while for me to do and happened right after the Alton Sterling/Philando Castile Murders. I came into work the next day and Lillian noticed that I was upset. A few days later, we met with Ms. O, a black woman who was also a community healer and spiritual guru. We went into the meeting with the intent of trying to create a community healing circle and the meeting ended up being a session for the both me and Lillian. Ms. O helped me to appreciate all my emotions and give them equal attention and care. I was able to vocalize my apprehension and tell Lillian how at times I felt unsafe, even under her supervision. She recognized what I was saying and saw where I was coming from. From that point on I was able to trust Lillian and work knowing that she saw me as a full and whole person who was broken at some parts, but willing to do the work to contribute.

With the help of Ms. O, the environment of the Village, and the honesty/openness from Lillian and the staff, I was able to grow. I'd must admit that this past summer, I felt carefree. I dressed differently, moved differently, laughed differently, and saw things differently. I felt my blackness and used it to power me in all other intersections of my identity, as woman, as an intellectual, as a creative, and as a human being.