25 Oct 2016

By L. Toni Lewis

I see you.

How are you?

I mean really…how are you? Because you know, it’s tough out here. Traumatic.

As we roll up on less than three weeks until the 2016 Presidential Election (aka the battle for the soul of our nation) it’s got me thinking about US — how we as Black women dig in, speak truth to power for ourselves and our families, catch hell for it, and somehow have been resilient over the centuries to keep moving forward through all sorts of drama and trauma. It’s as if generations of Black mothers are constantly looking at this child of a nation through our eyes and saying with tough love, ”I know you can do better.”

So, what of today’s trauma?

When I learned of Venida Browder’s passing, it broke my heart. Then I thought of so many Black women holding down so many spaces — with all of this trauma.

Naming and knowing that this thing we are collectively experiencing is “terror” and “trauma” is key to understand how we are feeling, moving, reacting, and acting. By getting in touch with all of that, we can then choose the way we live.

As a healer-doctor-yogi-activist Black woman, I have made it my life’s work to study how we move through this existence and create more space to not only survive, but to thrive. I love that the many generations of my social-justice-movement family have been so generous in sharing their tools. There are some basic themes to building resilience and power.

Put your mask on first. If you’ve been on a plane, it’s likely you’ve heard the flight attendants offer instructions of how to put on oxygen masks should the passengers need oxygen: Put yours on first before assisting others. How are you going to help folks if you are struggling to breathe?

Gather your team. Call in your fam, peeps, tribe, and counsel. Maybe you have one person, maybe you have many. You know who really gets you, loves you, supports you and listens. Reach out in the way you are accustomed. Consider sharing a meal, meeting up after work or whatever you do to create space to be with and support each other. Ask for help. Be specific about what you need.

Inventory and maintain your personal toolkit for resilience. Now that you’ve gone within, you begin to see what tools you already have and which ones you need. You can go to your team to both ask for help with what you need, and offer ideas on what tools work best for you. (More tools to come in my next post!) Your infrastructure for resilience is right here – and will always be a work in process.

Transforming our resilience into power

A way to leverage our power is to vote with intent up and down that entire ballot. Across the country we are electing many people to offices including judges, attorney generals, and city council members. Sometimes the local elections are decided by few votes. In my Brooklyn, NY neighborhood, Bedford Stuyvesant, our councilman Robert E Cornegy, Jr. won by less than 70 votes in 2013. Check your local results to see the margins of victory. If you think about it, 100 votes is easily a church convening or your block, your friends and their friends’ friends, or a party. We could truly be changing our politics in more ways than we are now. My dream is that we take the power of our resilience and our powerful circles, choose the political landscape where we will fight for our freedom, unapologetically hold anyone asking for the privilege of OUR vote accountable before, during, and after the election, and groom our amazing sisters to hold those seats in the very near future.

We know Black Women drive election results. When we show-up and show-out, for and with each other, we move things for our community.

Together we can do this.

Dr. Luella Toni Lewis is a devoted health equity and social justice strategist. Among other activities, she currently serves on the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Leadership Program, and is Immediate Past Chair of SEIU Healthcare, the arm of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representing 1 million nurses, doctors and healthcare workers throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Dr. Lewis is committed to health justice, especially for those that face the most injustice and inequity.
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