“I Am Because We Are.”
Before helping co-facilitate the recent Black Modern Elder MEA workshop (BMEA), I’d heard the African expression “Ubuntu” (derived from Nguni and Bantu languages), but had never understood the translation as defined as the poetic title of today’s blog post. My participation in the inaugural BMEA was unlike any other cohort in which I have ever participated. This post is not about virtue signaling or progressive voyeurism but an expression of my heartfelt shift in understanding.
Wow, what a week-long experience! As the only white person amongst 25 people in the workshop classroom (the “5 Sistahs” who organized the program, one Sage, one MEA Experience Guide, and 17 workshop attendees), I experienced a powerful presence of spirits with a deep sense of beloved community. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a more connected cohort.
It all started with shifting our standard opening orientation introductions from “if you really knew me” to each person storytelling about the lineage of their names. Some people of African descent rename themselves as a stance to reclaim their identities since their given names have come from the owners of their enslaved ancestors. Numerous cohort members could trace their lineage to the plantation or area their families were enslaved, creating a palpable sense of ancestry in the room all week. It felt very humbling to have the simple, preppy name “Chip.”
What a profound honor of witnessing and feeling the impact and connections to Gospel music, inspired poetry, the extraordinary degree of mastery and expertise that was identified as “bad-assity”…each new day greeted with a “good mourning,” feeling the collective ancestral suffering that often permeated the room,…and the healing reverberated by AMENs as though in a rural church revival. I felt that their AMENs might be "After Modern Elder Nourishment" - seeing and feeling how the cohort said their good-byes to one another, I sensed this BMEA would be a foundational part of each other's lives for the rest of their days.
I wrote a blog post a couple years ago about Being The Other (BTO). I now know that this notion of BTO comes from the dominant culture narrative -- the idea of "other" is grounded in who gets to be "normal" and who gets to be "the other.” I will never be the same after this honor of being with my black sisters and brothers, bearing witness, and learning from my own blind spots. I’ve always tried to be an ally, and it was coming from both my head and heart. But now, my sense of fellowship comes from my toes, and I feel more committed to redistributing my privilege and access.
Our next Black Modern Elder workshop week will be in 2024. I am also proud to say we have a whole collection of amazing workshops facilitated by Black leaders in Baja this coming year, including Lesley Salmon and Jeff Jones (AfroFlow Yoga), Zee Clarke, Justin Michael Williams, Light Watkins, and Dr. Alexandria White. Check out our Baja workshop calendar to learn more.