Asides: The Role of Joy in our Movements

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(l-r) Rotimi Agbabiaka (Salima) and Emma Van Lare (Hamida)

Asides: The Role of Joy in our Movements

On July 15, Cal Shakes hosted a community meal and civic dialogue about the role of joy in our movement building, our resistance, and our art, inspired by our production of House of Joy by Madhuri Shekar.

Special thank you to Cat Petru and Nicky Gervacio of We Rise production for recording, producing, and editing this episode of Asides, and to our community partner RYSE Youth Center.

Here’s the conversation.

 

SK  
Hi everyone, you’re listening to Asides, the Cal Shakes podcast in collaboration with We Rise Production. This is SK Kerastas, Artistic Producer at Cal Shakes. On July 15, Cal Shakes hosted a community meal and civic dialogue about the role of joy in our movement building, our resistance, and our art. The conversation was inspired by our production of House of Joy by Madhuri Shekar. Here’s the conversation.

Tierra  
Hi, welcome everybody. If I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you before, my name is Tierra Allen. My pronouns are she and they, and I’m Manager of Artistic Engagement at Cal Shakes. I’m here to give a brief welcome. Before we get on to this event, I want to thank all of you for choosing to share a meal and build community with us before the world premiere of House of Joy. So we of course, want to start by acknowledging that the land that we’re standing on is indigenous lands. It’s stewarded by the Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people. There are different ways that people can move to be more in solidarity with Ohlone communities. One of those ways is by giving a Schuumi land tax that then indigenous people use to buy back land that is currently being occupied. And so if you want more information about that we actually have on page 28 of our program, a website where you can look up the Shuumi land tax. Yes, let’s go ahead and snap for that. Thank you. Thank you. I’m gonna kick it over to SK.

SK  
Thanks, Tierra. Hi, how’s everyone doing tonight? Also hello, corner table. So hey, my name is SK. I use they/them pronouns. And I’m the Artistic Producer here at Cal Shakes.

Kimiya  
Hi, I am Kimiya Shokri. I’m the Assistant Director for House of Joy. And I use she/her pronouns. And I’m so excited to be here with you all today.

SK  
Cute. So Kimiya and I are kind of co-facilitating this conversations tonight with two guests. And with all y’all which we’ll get to in a second, we are going to be having a conversation about the role of joy, in movement building, in resistance work, and in art making, and really glad to be sharing space with you all around that. Why are we having this conversation right now? Maybe obvious. But also, for me, it really …like seeing this play that y’all are about to see tonight? And thinking about sort of what is resonating with me. And with folks that I know like in this world right now, to me, there was no other question. It has to be about joy. This story House of Joy, which we’ll get into, it follows a team of women bodyguards for the Emperor’s harem, in pre-colonial India, on the cusp of the fall of the Mughal Empire. Which, did I get that right? Yeah. Okay. Right. So the characters we follow are these bodyguards, and they are, you know, living under extremely oppressive conditions. And to me, this play is about change and what it takes. And amidst all of this, in the play, there is joy. There are dirty jokes, there’s flirting, and pleasure, and a lot of risk. And I just want to actually really dive into that. I’m also reading Pleasure Activism right now. Or like, just finished it. So I feel like it’s really reframing the way I’m thinking about plugging into healing and change work and whatnot right now. So that’s, that’s that was kind of like my approach to this question.

Kimiya  
Yeah. And to affirm what SK was saying we were also talking about why this conversation is important right now. And I think what you’ll find when you see House of Joy tonight is that it feels so contemporary, even though we’re set in, you know, a past setting. It will ask questions of what complicity means right now, what activism means right now, and what it means to find joy amidst the oppression that we face daily. So we’re excited to talk about it today.

SK
Yeah, hell yeah. Cool. So we’re going to talk about kind of who we are sitting at this table. Just as a heads up, both Kimiya and I are going to be like participating in the convo as well. And also want folks out here to participate as well, we have a wireless mic that Tierra has so graciously agreed to run. So in moments where we’re inviting share outs, just raise your hand, and we’ll come to you and we’ll see you. And I just want to name, you know, sometimes with these dialogues or panels, there’s this convention that somehow we up here are more important, or somehow experts or whatever, and I just want to really, like interrupt that and stress that that is not the case. I know. There are people here tonight who are artists, who are organizers, who are healers, who are parents, who are friends and supporters, who are health workers, who are youth workers. You know, there’s just hella people here and everyone’s voice is super valuable for this conversation and wanted to name that. Yeah. So we’re going to do a bunch of kind of like, “we all talk at our tables” moments, and we’ll talk at this table too and then share out together. Cool. So to kick it off, just real quick. I’m gonna introduce some of the people at this table. I’m going to kick it off with CiCi Jevae. CiCi is a Richmond native serving her community as a teaching artists, a healer, Richmond’s Poet Laureate, writer, (I know Hello), activist, and scholar. She reps her ancestors and shines light on the lived experiences of the divinity in black women and girls through poetry and performance. She also—Yes—she also serves as the Media, Arts, and Culture Manager at the RYSE Center in Richmond, California, where she is able to support the healing process of youth ages 13 to 21. She is the published author of her new collection of poems Unto Ivy’s Rib, as well as the author of two chapbooks, Testimonies of Richmond and Incarcerated Words. We’ve got two copies of the books tonight, they are for sale, first come, first served. Let’s give it up for CiCi. I’m also going to introduce Kimiya Shokri. She is the Literary Manager and Resident Dramaturg at TheatreFirst and has has been the assistant director for the world premiere of House of joy here at Cal shakes. She is an Iranian American theater artist and activist born and raised in the Bay Area, creating purposeful and unapologetic theater as an actor, writer, director and dramaturg. She’s a published writer and researcher from her time at St. Mary’s College of California, and the bulk of her research focuses on playwrights of color and post colonial thought. She lives for social justice theater and is exploring her role as a playwright as she develops her new play Yadam for TheatreFirst’s Future Tense developmental festival.

Kimiya  
Thank you, SK. I’m going to introduce Madhuri Shekar. She uses she/her pronouns. Madhuri’s plays have been produced internationally and across the US and she is thrilled for House of Joy to have its world premiere at Cal Shakes. Her other plays include In Love and Warcraft, A Nice Indian Boy, Queen, Bucket of Blessings, and Dhaba on Devon Avenue, premiering at Victory Gardens next spring. Her first audio play Evil Eye is available now on audible.com and debuted on their bestseller list in May 2019. She’s an alumna of the Juilliard playwriting program and a staff writer for The New HBO show The Nevers, created by Joss Whedon. You can follow her @madplays. And of course, SK Kerastas uses they/them pronouns. SK is currently the Artistic Producer at Cal Shakes. Currently, they are working with Mia Mingus of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, a cohort of 27 Bay Area Theater Workers to build up a Transformative Justice resource within the theater community out here. So we can address the harm happening in our rehearsal rooms and organizations and thoroughly support accountability processes.

SK  
Okay, now, we’re actually going to take a moment where everyone at the picnic tables can introduce themselves to each other, if y’all wouldn’t mind, just like turning in and saying, hey, and giving your name and pronouns and then facing back out when you’re done. We’ll give you a couple minutes to do that. Okay, we’re gonna, we’re going to invite focus back into the larger space from folks. Alright, so we’re going to kick it off at the start of this conversation, we’ve got a couple of questions. The first one, we’re going to actually do a similar thing where we’re going to talk as a panel, and then y’all are going to also talk at your tables. So the first question is really about what is joy to you? And how are you finding it right now in this moment, in your life? You know, and also just, I’ll just say, like, you know, maybe self-monitor in terms of how deep you want to go and how vulnerable you want to go, especially if you have strangers. There’s an amazing teacher named Lev in the bay who talks about, you know, like oversharing regret, and like, maybe like, you know, where y’all are gonna blame us for your overshare afterwards. So maybe just like check-in. You know, you share what you want to share. And we’ll give you maybe five minutes to just chat it out with the folks at your table, and then we’ll all come back together. Cool. Thanks, y’all.

Okay, everyone, we’re going to encourage folks to finish up, wrap up maybe the last sentence or sentiment and bring the focus back to the center. And if you need to keep going, that’s okay, too. I respect that. Awesome. We got a little carried away. And are curious to hear if anyone wants to share out about kind of what came up for y’all in that question. We talked about movement building, about identity, about pressure, guilt, about service, about self care. Y’all want to chime in and popcorn, we’ve touched a lot of subjects. Yeah. We love to hear if anyone is down about the comvos that were happening at the tables too.

Unknown Speaker
We talked about being in transition and how joy is kind of put on hold for a moment. And during that period, and as you’re trying to find your way through it. You don’t want to get too happy. You know, and, and we talked about everything that you just said in different ways. And I think as an artist, in order to produce our art, Michelle said, the feeling of safety is what gives her the best joy. And to me, that’s essential in order to be an artist, we have to feel safe.

SK  
Yeah. Any thoughts from other tables or responses to that comment in particular?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, in response to putting joy on hold, what came up at our table was watching how kids can enact and engage in joy and how they generate joy. And there can be complex things going on simultaneously, whether it’s from that show that you mentioned, where you know, kids are having their own experience, even though the world may be going crazy. So just more permission to engage with joy. It doesn’t cancel out other things, but it actually is a reservoir to draw from to kind of get through other times. Yes.

SK  
Yeah, any responses or other comments from folks, either at this table or any table in the space?

Unknown Speaker
We went back to India, this table, and I think, to living and celebrating despite everything that happens at a macro level was, powerful listening at this table. Like Ashani living her life, so authentically herself and purpose, you know, sharing her talent and joy. And me just being here amongst the trees.

SK  
Yes, thank you. Any responses or shares to that one? Anyone want to build? Yeah, go for it.

Unknown Speaker
So I’ve learned that in nature, things naturally change and grow. And I think that we live in a society that doesn’t understand that and doesn’t encourage that. And so the way that I’ve internalized that is, for example, when I try and set a goal, or when I try and pursue something that I’ve told myself makes me happy, in the process of that I don’t allow myself to also grow and change. And so I’ve realized that what brings me joy, is acknowledging that, of course, I grow and change because I’m of nature, and everything naturally grows and changes and is fluid. And that fluidity is beautiful. And to me, looking back at the ways that I’ve changed not only makes me excited for the future, but I kind of give myself a bit more, I guess I’m more gracious with myself, when I’m changing and don’t really understand that change. So that’s something that I’ve learned brings me joy.

Tierra  
Yeah, I just want to add that I want to resist also objectifying joy as like, oh, to be resilient in these times, gotta like, make sure I find my joy, just like I have to make sure I like do my self care, like that sort of attitude. Or that pressure doesn’t actually serve me. So wanting to resist that and allow joy to be spontaneous. And like you were saying, to flow and to change, or other people are saying too, there can be times where there are other things that are more present. And that’s okay. And then when the joy comes, then that doesn’t mean that all of these other shifts, or intensities aren’t also happening.

SK  
Yes. I have responses too. Anyone from this table, I feel like I’m not really checking in with you. Go for it.

Unknown Speaker  
I’m just hearing that it’s such a sensory experience, and not a rational cranial experience. And it’s almost the safety that allows the letting go. So that you know, sight, sound, taste, touch, you know, water came up over here. And then I’m smelling the trees. So that’s what I’m gonna say.

SK  
I know, thank you for bringing us to the elements I appreciate that so much. We’re out here. And it’s these beautiful trees. Yep. Thank you. Yeah, and I feel that, yes to change. Oh, my gosh, so deep. I was talking about the ways I’ve been like, conditioned to deny and doubt, the joy.  And so much of it is about just like, accepting it and letting it be, and letting go of maybe old truths that were like true for me one time and not anymore? Yeah. Cool. Do you want to take it into maybe more like work, art space? Yeah. Sounds good.

Kimiya  
Sounds great. So something else we were talking about was kind of implementing joy into work and creativity. And so something we were asking was, how can we cultivate joy, especially when we’re creating works about oppression, and kind of operating within our own sense of despair? Like when you hear things on the news, when you see things and when you know, what’s happening, and trying to address that? Like, how do you cultivate joy out of that? Yeah, I don’t know if we want to pass it to the panel.

SK  
Yeah, go for it. We haven’t heard from CiCi or Madhuri, either of you feel compelled?

CiCi  
Okay, so. So I work at the RYSE youth center. And so a lot of my work as the Media, Arts, and Culture Manager is working with young folks, particularly around spoken word poetry, but music, painting, kind of any and everything that young folks are interested in. And so it gives me a really unique opportunity to get to see the trauma and grief that young folks go through through their art. And that is: one, extremely beautiful, and then it’s also really painful for me. And I think a lot of the folks that I work with. So I think in regards to that is, what’s the day to day work, and cultivating that joy and not experiencing burnout, which is something that we were talking about, just because you’re inundated with a lot of young folks who are experiencing really intense traumas just from like, what’s happening at school, what’s happening on a global level, what’s happening in the household, and it’s all happening. And there’s like, 70 young folks in one space, you know, like, how do I function? Right? A lot of that is this idea of giving yourself permission to take a break, what does it look like to take a step back? A lot of times when it’s too heavy, some of the young folks will bring in like funny videos. And we’ll just like laugh about it, right? And it’s like, it feels weird, because you’re like, well, I’m in the middle of dealing with this really intense thing. But it’s just too heavy. Sometimes it really is just too heavy. And so I think for us, it’s finding those moments to laugh about a TV show, it’s finding those moments, where we’re like, you know what, this a lot, we are going to put on an open mic, or we’re going to put on a drag show or like what’s something that really gets everybody excited. And just kind of out of that state of despair. For me, it’s definitely giving myself permission to take a step back, find something that makes me laugh. And at the end of the day, remember why I’m doing the work that I’m doing. A lot of our work is directly focused on liberation, right? So not only are we teaching young folks how to kind of maneuver through these systems, but we’re also teaching them how to dismantle the systems. And so if I know that that’s the end goal, and I need to be there for that end goal. What are the things that I need to do to make sure that I make it there, and a lot of that, for me, and a lot of the staff is, is laughter. I’m super giggly and goofy, it’s just, I can’t help it. And so, yeah, just really trying to bring that into the day to day as much as possible.

Madhuri Shekar  
That’s super inspiring. I’m not one of those writers that believes that art can change the world, which is heretical, probably, I think art, art can change the artist. And I think that’s where I come from. So I feel like writing for me is what gives me joy. And then that joy helps me do the hard work that is living ethically in the world. So that’s, that’s just one thing. And then within what I write, it’s impossible for me not to write something that is not joyful. It’s just I can’t do it. And for me, that means finding the love in the story. Because I think that love is the most joyful thing that we can experience because it’s positive and generative. And you can love a person, you can love a thing, you can love a place, but it’s that thing that keeps you going, right? It keeps you living it, it gives you purpose, and it gives you direction. So whenever I’m writing the story, it’s, the question is always where’s the love in the story, and then I go towards that love, like, which characters love each other? What does this character care about, and love, you know, just love more than anything else, I can’t write a story unless you have those people in it. So that’s always been very helpful for me in my writing. And I also think a genuine love, like when it comes to theater, a genuine love of the audience, because you’re all really, really wonderful for taking time out of your lives and coming out here. So I felt this a lot when we were working on this play, but there’s just so much love within the company, and so much love for the audience and what we’re going to share with you. So that’s that’s how I see joy in my work. And it’s, I don’t know how people do it with without that, you know, it’s there’s, there’s, you know, there’s there’s enough suffering, there’s so there’s enough like, you don’t want to come to see a story to be preached at or, you know—you want to feel the affirmation that no matter what happens, we all have that strength and the joy and that laughter within us, because that’s true. We know it from our everyday lives, you know. So that’s, I hope you enjoy the play tonight.

Kimiya  
But that’s really inspiring for me to hear. As I’m kind of making my transition, having just graduated from college, and like starting all these different theater careers and starting writing, I think it is really hard to find the joy, especially when you’re writing pieces about trauma. And using these plays as a form of healing is what I found, my play Yadam that I’ve been developing is about the Iranian Revolution, and how that kind of violence and diaspora has affected me. And so using it as a vehicle of healing. It’s really beautiful to hear from you, the root of love in your work and finding that, because I definitely find myself questioning joy and the role of it in my work, in my life, during this transition period. So I think it’s, it’s really great to hear that as a method.

SK  
Yeah, totally. I just want to reflect back that I’m hearing a lot of like, individual practice and also collective practice, and co-holding of how hard it is, of the difficulty, you know what I mean? Like, just hearing you. Some of my background is in like working with queer and trans young people making art and I feel like there’s a special thing that happens where like, yeah, it’s so hard, and that people are that much fiercer about, like, doing it together, creating the joy together. But yeah, I’ll just chime in, we’re doing we’re doing a bunch of transformative justice organizing, where a bunch of like 27 theater artists are like, in a room working with Mia Mingus and these, like, long sessions, where we’re learning about, like, trauma responses and like harm, you know, and keep, like, basic ass shit, like communication and receiving feedback, and like, knowing our own kind of, like, body triggers and stuff, and like, you know, it’s really hard people are getting triggered, like, every other minute and needing, you know, to take care of themselves. And yet the spirit in the room is one of like, such joy and like, lots of like, making fun of each other, like teasing and stuff. And, you know, also like, in this way, making fun of like how broken we all are. And saying that with like, love, you know, and like with that this courage to like, mend each other together. So I’ll offer that too. Let’s open it up to other tables, does anyone have any sort of responses or, and also to the panelists, responses to what each other are saying, or any new offerings to the conversation.

Unknown Speaker  
Just a quick reflection, I’m really appreciating this conversation so deeply. And one thing is that we’ve been talking about personal and collective and I, my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. And from from them, I feel like I partially internalize that, like, Joy is futile. And like, I need to keep my head to the ground, and work and, and like, I can’t have joy until I like, accomplished this, like grandiose social change that is requisite right now. And so it’s been like, thus far, lifelong learning. Also, like when I was little, I knew how to be happy. And so I’m like re-learning. That joy is not only allowed, but it’s like fundamental in actually like the end goal that I’m seeking anyway.

Unknown Speaker  
So I appreciate and I actually wrote it down, Where is the love in the story, and the love for the audience. And I think that that is one of the things that I learned the most this year is, there is a way, as artists, we have a responsibility to develop the right technique, to storytell without necessarily triggering, and harming our audience. And so I’m really, really interested in learning more about that. But at the same time, I know that there are stories that need to be told. But there’s a way right, that we can tell them. And we need to find out how to make sure that we’re doing that correctly, because I don’t want to harm the audience. I don’t want anybody to leave from experiencing storytelling and say, you know, I’m never going to be the same again, because I’m hurt, I’m wounded. This opened up something, but I definitely want healing to always be attached to it in some way somehow. So I I think I’m going to be, you know, just more selective, more picky, and learn more techniques. And I’m taking Eric Ting’s master class on Sunday. So hopefully, I’m just putting him on the spot. So. So hopefully, you know, that’ll be part of my training as well, you know, we’ll touch on that. But definitely, I think that that is something that I really want to focus on is how to tell stories responsibly, to make sure that the love and the healing is going forward.

SK  
Any responses to that? Yeah, go ahead.

Unknown Speaker  
I just really appreciate all the offerings that folks gave, I think for me what’s really manifesting is this idea of like, well, one, I love that quote, that art doesn’t change the world, art changes the artist, and that the art and the process of creating art enables me to heal enough to do the work that I need to do outside of just the art. I really love that and that speaks to me very much as like a person and an artist. I think I just have a thought around. And I think it goes with what you were saying Cheri around, like talking about things that can be potentially difficult and hard, but that they’re like, they’re still can be healing within that. And they’re still and that there’s still love there, right? I’m just thinking about a project I’m doing with somebody talking about mental health and interviewing them and having them be like, and this is someone that I consider an elder being like, nobody has ever talked to me about this, I have never had a space to say this out loud. And so I think about that, even with some of the hardships, like where is space. I think about like, Where’s the conversation that there can be joy found even in talking about difficult things and processing through difficult and painful things. And kind of the duality of that.

Unknown Speaker  
I just want to reflect on the fact that me being South Asian joy was always related to responsibility and conditioning of competence and getting somewhere. And for me, that’s how I showed up. You know, working, bringing a paycheck home and you know, putting in the back burner of my basic identity of being a trans woman. And when I don’t have any of those today, I just really thought there was no joy. And what I found was that just being visible, and just being out there with my community, and being a community leader, helps build that joy for so many of us because there is no set defined way of joy even though that’s how I was conditioned to believe, that if you have a paycheck, a bank account, and a husband or a partner that you are you that’s yours, you know, what is that—raw material for the chemical reaction of joy? Or many other things. And that has been an evolution and I have come to believe that it is very easy to get drowned and the difficulties of what we are conditioned to believe are tough times. And when a time when the political environment in this country here back home in India was very pleasant and very conducive to trans people or people who are marginalized, I was very much living my cis-assuming life as a privileged woman. And now when the times are tough, I’m really out there because it’s independent of how we can feel joy and still be able to be authentic. One example that really made me learn that is there is an organization in Bangalore, India, that is called Arvani project, it’s been around for about three years, and I’m very involved with them, I’m fortunate for that. But the project is helping trans women who are in sex work and begging to become artists and mural painters. And when I have met them, they’re just so happy and joyous and some of them have had the most brutal lives, you know, from having to do self genital mutilation to being sold into brothels. And they were out here and Facebook had commissioned them to do artwork, and the joy and the happiness they showed was so inspiring that there’s no, like everybody is meant valid for their not being happy. But there was equally an important thing to learn from them that you can be very joyful and be content in who you are and the work you can do respective of what is, you know, prevailing around you.

SK  
I think we have time for maybe one or two more comments before we’re, unfortunately gonna have to start closing it, wrapping it, closing the circle. You know, whatever. Anyone else want to build on that?

Madhuri Shekar  
I just wanted to say one, one thing building on what you were saying about the joy that is unlocked, when you give people just a little bit of a paintbrush, right? And that also made me think about when we look at our world do we have assumptions about who is entitled to join who was not? Or who might have joined our lives and who might not? Which is very interesting. And then we were talking at our table earlier about how joy if we believe that joy is infinite and abundant? And every single living soul, right? Has that abundance of joy within them? And I think it’s it’s definitely important for me to never make assumptions about where joy lives in the world. You know, so that was just that was just really interesting that made me think of that.

Unknown Speaker  
Yeah, I really, I’m really enjoying this conversation about joy, because I, as I’m just thinking through it, I’m hearing everybody, I’m just thinking about how one: joy tends to be healing, if you’ve ever worked with people in duress, that once they’re able to laugh at their condition or find humor that you know, they’re on the on a path to wellness and, and then I think also that joy has been, I would say, I don’t know, it’s been put into this category that equates it with cluelessness or not being savvy, or being dumb or clueless or something, there’s something that I’m kind of getting the sense that we, our joy has been robbed, where it’s, it’s, you know, we’re not sure how to walk on eggshells am I allowed. And I would just say, gosh, you know, I’m part Nigerian, and we’re considered the fourth happiest people in the world. And it has nothing to do with the state of the economy, or the state of the government. It has to do with our immediate community and valuing family and valuing food and the simplicities of life. And so I’m just feeling kind of riled up to, in an activist way, we need to reclaim our joy, because that is what defies the powers that be. And if you’ve ever read anything about oppression, that’s usually what they’re trying to take from the people is their right to have joy. And so and sometimes joy can be a very political act in the face of other things. So anyway, that’s what I’m just kind of feeling like for those of us who enjoy theater, we know how much joy it brings us to come to the theater. And, and it doesn’t always make practical sense, you know, doesn’t always work out financially, and yet, we’re drawn to it. But we do it, and we commit that time, because it is for a greater good. And so I don’t know, I’m just kind of getting the sense. It’s not just about the individual joy, but joy tends to be activated within community. And so once we find community that we can identify with, we get to experience that joy. And so just to kind of a call and an encouragement to, you know, to be amongst people that are community so that we can laugh through the difficult times, laugh through as we’re working through it, you know, because joyful people tend to generate a lot of solutions too, actually if they’re given that capacity, like getting that paint brush to paint their way out or to joy their way out of the situation. So like I said, I’ve been watching a lot of kids lately, babies, and just how like, man, they start out this way. So what happens, you know, to all of us. So anyway, that’s just my encouragement for today.

SK  
Unless there any other really like present comments that folks would like to offer, and I’m maybe going to transition. Okay, thank you so much. I feel like we’re just getting started. Yeah, but it’s just as we’re here together. We’re like, you know, this is this is the energy that we’re building together. Eric Ting is leading a talk back after the show. CiCi our poet, one of many, has graciously agreed to read a piece from her book. And I think this is like just the best way to close us out.

CiCi  
Thank you. It’s a fairly short piece. It’s called How to Choose. And this is a poem that’s brought me joy and it’s really about meeting my grandma on my dad’s side for the first time. Two years back.

[singing] I surrender all to you. Everything I give to you. Withholding nothing. Withholding nothing. Withholding nothing. Withholding nothing. 

[speaking] St. Louis loved me up in my mama’s womb. Even though we didn’t meet until I turned 24. It received love poems from the cracking pavement and my grandmother’s house allowed my auntie to lay eyes on me Say I love you. In the flesh before the sickle cell anemia eroded first her eyes and then her body. And when I flew home from St. Louis, St. Louis made sure to give me both sacredness and tradition poured into grandma’s rings. This is the story of how I chose God. How I didn’t learn of your humor and sweetness until six years after baptism. Learned how you curated heart beats a vibe with jazz, See I found you on the corner of Rose Quartz with a lit candle. I knew you by smile and you knew me by ring, by way of my grandmother’s first hug by way of my father’s apology, by way of my great grandmother’s passing in the same week as my aunt’s funeral and I knew you. You knew me by warm eyes that held no pity for me, but so much love and pride. I knew you by the way of fit coils and golden arms by way of songs and psalms and you knew me by way of uncut crystals, my grandmother’s band, a St. Louis type of resiliency. You knew me by way of home and womb and heaven. And I am a black girl with four orbiting grandmothers and too many missing brothers. I harvested the deepest love of God through my grandmother’s rings. I live this life knowing that I loved her a lifetime with only hugging her once. I learned of God to the first time she laid eyes on me. And weeped. Thank you.

SK  
Thank you. I want to give a special shout out to the folks at this table for participating in this conversation to CiCi and Madhuri and Kimiya. Thank you so much to everyone here for coming and, you know sharing food and conversation with us. We’re super grateful.

Kimiya  
Thank you all for being here so much.

SK  
Thank you grab food, take leftovers. Thank you so much.

Thank you for listening, and special thank you to Cat Petru and Nicky Gervacio of We Rise production for recording, producing, and editing this episode of Asides, and thank you again to Madhuir Shekhar, Kimiya Shokri, CiCi Jevae, and our community partner RYSE Youth Center. RYSE create safe spaces grounded in social justice for young people to love, learn, educate, heal and transform lives and communities. They envision a community that inspires youth to live with pride and purpose, where the sounds of gunshots have been replaced by the sounds of organizing, song, collaboration, laughter and learning. You can find more information at RYSEcenter.org, that’s RYSEcenter.org.

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