"When was the last time you were in a room full of women of color?"
This was the opening prompt from our MC, Zakiya N. Jackson during Clothed with the Sun, a Women of Color (WOC) retreat located in downtown Los Angeles earlier this month. For me and many others within earshot, it was difficult to locate ourselves in a past gathering reminiscence of this one.
Clothed with the Sun brought a diverse group of women across Diasporas. The retreat was a post-conference event to the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) national meeting. While only in its is second year, it was clear to all involved that the demand for spaces such as this only continue to grow. This year there were a couple hundred women in attendance. Our numbers grew so substantially that on the first day I was forced to practice patience as the attentive hotel staff squeezed several more rows of chairs in our meeting space.
In true, WOC style, the retreat was a showcase for how diverse and multi-layered we are as Women of Color. There was a Beyonce "Lemonade" viewing party, a Bernie Mac impression, and multiple syllabi references. It was all about sisterhood, keeping it real and walking unapologetically in our badass WOC identities. Many women exclaimed how they’ve been enthusiastically awaiting this event all year long while others confessed they hesitated when deciding whether or not to participate. We were all sisters together, but as a collective, we resided in various places on our respective developmental spectrum's, albeit racial identity, theology, or otherwise.
Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim delivered the opening keynote, providing a timeline of Asian-American history and spoke passionately about 'han.' In the context of her talk, Grace defined ‘han’ as unjust suffering caused by systems of patriarchy and racism. She further explained how the "model minority' trope has been a way of hedging the divide among Asian and Black Americans. This term also suggests a dismissal of the longstanding injustices undergone by our Asian-American brothers and sisters.
In addition to gifted keynote speakers the format allowed time for workshop sessions on multiple topics. The workshop I attended was "Wholly Single" with Dr. Christena Cleveland. If you're familiar with her work you know that she epitomizes #BlackExcellence, so to say it was a great privilege to glean insights from her in an intimate setting is an understatement. Dr. Cleveland delivered what I believe to be the most affirming and encouraging talk I've heard on this topic. Given I've been single and a Woman of Color in the church all of my life, this isn't a flippant statement. Christena reminded us that the reality of marginalization of single women in the church is a justice issue, and one we must pay close attention to. She was passionate, serious, funny and incredibly vulnerable. One of my favorite moments was when Dr.Cleveland led us through an exercise where she called upon the work of mindful self-compassion. Based on the feedback from the room, the activity led to a lightbulb moment for many of us where we began to shift our focus and perspective on how we view our own singleness. I left feeling empowered and committed to being kinder, gentler, and much more compassionate to myself in my identity as a single Christian Woman of Color. If you're interested in learning more about this check out "Singleness: Theology, Spirituality and Practice" from Fuller Seminary and Dr. Cleveland herself.
Sunday morning we heard from a diverse panel of sisters addressing how they navigate their context as Women of Color. I'm very grateful for these women as they were so honest and open with us. There were laughs, tears and nursing taking place simultaneously. (I told you these women are badass). Much of what was shared was courageous and incredibly personal so I continue to honor their vulnerability and the mutual trust we granted one another in that space. I am able, however, to share some golden nugget takeaways that I hope stir up some things within you:
- On dealing with the BS: Birth (create) something from your pain.
- On transitioning: Leave well.
- On staying put: Why do we stay? We stay for those who can't.
- On sustaining yourself: Make moments for pause. Create space for lament.
- On self-care: Remember, often no one will remind us to "take care" of ourselves. Risk letting people down. Create a strategic plan for self-care.
- On not feeling enough: Reclaim/own your gifts.
CCDA Board member and local Pastor, Marya Nolan led our closing keynote and helped us see how we receive strength by way of weakness and pain. She declared mightily over all women in attendance, asserting that "Women of Color are uniquely gifted and positioned to be bringer's of God's hope, healing and justice to spaces that are defined and bound by fear, by blindness, patriarchy, and white supremacy." While this statement doesn’t often reflect the empirical evidence of our realities, I think it’s an empowering and factual statement nonetheless.
Opportunities for connection and engagement such as Clothed with the Sun are so desperately needed. My personal belief is that Women of Color benefit from these sacred opportunities. We lamented, questioned, laughed, and dreamed together. But most of all, we left with a sense of hope and persistence. We were strengthened and sharpened.
After spending a number of hours with a room full of brilliant and power women, you don't leave empty handed. You leave with new formed relationships, budding thoughts, renewed hope, and a booklist to help navigate what sometimes feels like a weary and even lonely journey. Here are few texts that will get you started though I'll be looking forward to a full #WOCSyllabus from Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes and friends:
- Khalia Ii