Category Archives: Personal

Amandla in the Big Apple. Pt. 1

The mad hustle and bustle of trying to be extraordinary in a context where the absurd is ordinary.  I spend 2 hours, sometimes more, getting ready each day. nyc stuntin Experimenting, testing, mixing and matching, carefully considering each choice, knowing that none of this really matters, it is all so fleeting.  But.  In this moment, I enjoy it. Revelling, dancing in the seemingly superficial pleasure drawn from playing with colours, patterns, textures and shapes.

People keep reminding me to focus on why I’m here.

The reminders are appreciated. New York is possibly the most distracting city in the world and the support has been helpful in my attempt to maintain focus. So I dutifully go to the library and I clock my daily hours of researching, reading and writing.


nycI also rebel in my mind.

Yes, I am here for school. Yes, I am here to conduct research in order to finish my thesis.


I have also realized that I am here to discover myself as an individual away from home for the first time. I am also here to discover myself as a grown woman.


…this process…

amp…of getting ready each day…

…with no external energy, expectations or critique policing my decisions before I leave the door is a new space of possibility for me.

I am left free to indeed, focus my energy, but not only on my research. Rather I focus my energy on that internalized police force that casts shade and doubt on my daily desire to colour outside the lines. And each day, during those two hours of prep, inside the affirming madness of this city that never sleeps, I get a little bolder

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal

Dying of Thirst

“When the lights shine off and it’s my turn to settle down my main concern, promise that you will sing about me.  Promise that you will sing about me.” – Kendrick Lamar

I don’t have kids.  My closest understanding of the depth of love, responsibility, vulnerability and strength that comes with parenting is teaching.  In the first years of Lost Lyrics I often felt like a very young and very nervous parent…i made a lot of mistakes, I over-thought everything, I second-guessed all my decisions, I took things way too personally and I was overwhelmed by the amount of love I felt for these little people.  Some of those things haven’t changed much.  The kids in that first year who trusted this program that didn’t have a name, didn’t have catered food, didn’t have bus tickets, didn’t have a curriculum but came each week anyway and helped us build all of those things things have a very special place in my heart. I can easily say that I probably learned more from all of those early kids than they learned from me.

I made so many mistakes.  I thank the universe for their trust as they taught me about patience, about creativity, about consistency and commitment, about the need for fun and silliness.  They also challenged my understandings of community, my respect for the wisdom of children and the way I conceive discipline and practice justice.

Today is one of those days where I can easily drown in an ocean of regrets.  Thinking the impossible thoughts of if I had done this differently, then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be here right now wiping the tears from my cheeks.

I regret that I didn’t keep calling the students who stopped coming, keep checking on them, keep letting them know that I was there…after a while I stopped saying I was there because it would have been a lie.  I wasn’t and couldn’t be there for everyone and I wasn’t and couldn’t be there all the time.  I  was burned out and wanted to be selfish for a while.  “For a while” got longer and longer.  I stopped teaching in Jane-Finch and let funding determine whether programming would and could continue because I was tired and didn’t want to be broke anymore. I regret the reality that kids who at one point were my little homies who would easily share the dramas of their day, their dreams of the future, their quirky mannerisms that made them individuals and their fear of the unknown, later became acquaintances because the distance between us got larger without the space of programming to connect us consistently.  I regret that I do not give more support to the people in my life who do this work on levels that are unfathomable to me because for them it is not work, it is life but I see that life weighing  down so heavily and without reprieve and I worry about their health – physically, mentally and spiritually. I regret that I feel this overwhelming amount of responsibility because we are still not investing in building communities where this responsibility is shared between all members.

I could easily drown in this ocean of regrets.  But then I recall that a very wise Lost Lyrics parent once told me that regret is the most useless emotion in the book.  And  so I quickly swim back up, taking deep breaths as I break to surface.

My eyes are sore from crying. One of those students was shot last night.  He did not survive.  He was 15 years old.

His death is the 5th death in my life in the last year. I am trying slowly to develop strategies for healing during these really challenging times and also strategies for healing when the times are a little better but the trauma still sits in various spaces within my body.  Ongoing practices of self-care are helping.  The structured life that the return to school initiated has been incredibly positive as I balance intellectual life with gym life and more recently my creative life as I return to writing.  Time to teach, time to be with family, time to be with my partner, time to be with friends…still figuring it all out…but it’s getting better.  However in these unplanned, unscheduled moments of intense pain…I haven’t figured out too many strategies.  Today Natasha mentioned the importance of rituals in our healing process. I told her and Obie that over the past year I have slowly and unintentionally begun developing a playlist of music for these times.  From Nina Simone’s cover of “Here comes the Sun” to Lola Bunz’ “So Sick of all the RIP’s” playing this soundtrack of passing, pain and healing as I sit, cry, pray, reflect and meditate is one very small ritual that I am creating.

I agree with Tasha.  More rituals are needed.

Last fall while attending a funeral I witnessed a moment of one kind of healing and ritual that I am yearning for.  Following a very dramatic sermon describing Jesus’ crucifixion and the last words of the men who were crucified on either side of him, the minster asked the young people in attendance to step forward if they would like Jesus to remember them.  At first there was a stillness as no one moved.  However that stillness was broken when one young man in a fitted cap and sunglasses took the initiative to step forward. He beckoned to his friend, “Let’s go.”  That was all it took for what felt like hundreds of young men and women to leave the pews and move forward, encircling the coffin as they approached the altar.  As they congregated, elder parishoners surrounded them, put their hands on their shoulders, on their backs, on their arms and on their heads and prayed for their souls and sang for their spirits.  And as they sang it was as though a tidal wave burst forth as young people rocked and fell and lowered their heads and cried and cried and cried, bodies of young men and women shaking while the elders continued to hold them…still singing, still praying, not letting them fall.  The moment ended abruptly when the minister awkwardly attempted to take this time to increase his membership by circulating a church sign-up sheet.  The young people scattered as quickly as they had come, wiping their wet cheeks and exiting a room pulsating with pain and vulnerability exposed.  The moment ended but the moment was witnessed. And it stays with me.  I think of it each time I hear Maya Angelou’s voice at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s “Dying of Thirst.”

I wonder if these same elders were to see these young people in the street if they would feel compelled to go to them.  I wonder if those young people if approached on the street would be open to receive them.  We are struggling to deal with all of this trauma.  I know I am struggling.  We need our elders.  We need them to not judge us but to hold us up.  We need a laying on of hands.  And it cannot only be in the church.  And it cannot only be at funerals.

To end, I want to share a Facebook status that my friend Rakhi Mutta put up on January 23rd of this year.  Her sincere public affirmation and acknowledgement of a very under appreciated community of people is yet another ritual of healing that I have witnessed and truly appreciate.  Let’s keep developing these rituals:

“Community workers/child n youth workers/artists/activists/educators/change seekers & change makers …

For answering calls at all hours and for never turning off your personal cellphones because you know your “clients” lives don’t shut down at 5pm. For waiting in emergency rooms and jail waiting rooms. From courtroom visits to psychiatric ward visits. For every funeral you’ve ever attended and for every weekend 7am conference you have ever attended. For being over worked and under paid. For working contract to contract with no benefits because the gov’t doesn’t deem your job valuable enough. For every grant you’ve written that wasn’t funded, every article you wrote that wasn’t published, any art you created that wasn’t celebrated because it wasn’t mainstream enough. For not turning away participants who didn’t live in the catchment area and for not discarding participants from programs at the one year mark because some funder told you to do so. For running programming from the overdraft of your bank account and for struggling to find a way to be fed and to do the work.

For cradling victims of abuse and victims of violence in your arms, for listening to countless stories of hurt, pain, anguish, abuse, violence and discrimination. For feeding hungry children and youth when you live paycheck to paycheck. For letting young people seek shelter in your homes because the city has waiting lists. For the countless nights you have stayed awake worrying about your participants because everybody knows that your feelings don’t shut off when you step off work property. For every tear you have ever wiped, every hand you have ever held, and for every smile you brought to someones face. For all the thank you’s you never received, for all the vicarious trauma you silently dealt with and for all the broken hearts and broken bones you helped heal. Finally for all the sleepless nights you laid awake wondering if the work you were doing made any difference at all …

This is my thank you to you. For making the world a better place then you found it, for being the change you want to see, for providing opportunities that were never provided to you. For your labour of love not labour for paycheck, for being on the front line of the movement not the arm chair revolutionary. Our approaches to our work may be different, our philosophies may not always align and our lenses unique but it is the diversity of the colours in the rainbow that makes it beautiful. You are the true soldiers of change, and for that I salute you.” – Rakhi Mutta

For Auntie Marie. For Curlz. For Kim.  For Tyson.  For my student.


Filed under Personal

Black Girl Thriving Tools (Short List) By Kyisha Williams

This list was written by my beautiful friend Kyisha Williams and I asked her permission to share it here because I thought it was all kinds of brilliant:

*the following is written with black girls/womyn/femmes in mind, but I’m sure lots will be applicable to many different people. these are just some of the things that continue to help me and the people i love.

*eat something alive each day (something raw-almonds, veggies) alive things have wonderful and different vibrational energy than cooked food or meat (and these things are still yummy too)

*think of every interaction with anyone and anything as a dialogue with self and the universe. Always focus on realizing the learnings of your experiences (whether you experience them as “good” or “bad”, reflect on why you magnetized those things to you and how you continue or discontinue to attract/magnetize those things or feelings **this is not to say you deserve it or should feel guilty at all)

*think of challenges as the opportunity to see your resilience, brilliance and strength. always.

*study the power of melanin (and the miraculous ‘everyday’ functions of your body)

* remember that all you have to do is live and you will shine like the gold that you are (recognize your magic).

*divorce scarcity logic and embrace the reality of abundance (there is enough for you/everyone)

*create a joy list (a list of things that bring you joy/make you feel happy) do at least one thing on that list every day

*create an appreciation list, as often as you want (i write a couple things a day) what you appreciate multiplies!!!

*Thank yourself for being the miracle called life-thank your body for working the way you want it to (instead of only noticing your body parts when they hurt)

*get to know your emotions and feelings, both easy and hard (learn what you fear, have a relationship with your anger, what brings you joy (as mentioned earlier), what brings tears), get clear about how you work!

* understand that we only ever experience/live in this moment

“we can use this pressure of trauma to transform ourselves…pressure creates the diamond” – Brother Panic

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal

Kujichagulia: Affirmations from The Wire’s Marlo Stanfield and African American Poet June Jordan

Today is the 2nd Day of Kwanzaa and the principle for today is Kujichagulia which means Self-Determination.

I was told by one of my mentors that one of the most important tasks one has to do when creating a business is guard their reputation.  I didn’t make the connection at the time, but I recently realized that I already knew that.  For better or worse, guarding my reputation has actually been of paramount importance to my own personal sense of self.  Growing up as a young Black woman in Malvern and later on the south-side Jane strip, I saw so many examples of the way that reputation could make life easier or harder.

However the most significant learning lesson came in 2005: I was in university and was beginning to develop a politicized sense of self that was excited and eager to make a difference in the world.  I was connecting to and being inspired by numerous artists and activists whose knowledge, passion and eloquence both inspired and intimidated me.  One of those individuals (who shall remain nameless), I foolishly put on a pedestal.  He was one of the first people I met who used their art as a political tool.   He was connected to everything that was progressive and revolutionary in the city and introduced me to numerous spaces.  He also believed in me and told me he thought I could do great things…I was floored.  Little, old, me?  Not recognizing my own value, I foolishly allowed him to define it for me.  However truth always reveals itself over time…I started to see the distinction between leadership and ego, confidence and arrogance.  I saw how his words on the stage did not match his actions in life. I saw his lack of respect for many of the young people he purported to support and I began to recognize his deep-seated aggression toward women.  I made the decision to distance myself from him.  He made the decision to ruin my reputation.

One day, he held court in front of a number of people who were artists and activists in Toronto and proceeded to tell a story he had concocted of my supposed sexual exploits with a number of men in the community.  The individual, did not describe these imagined sexual exploits as a site of empowerment or informed assertion of my sexuality. No.  He called me a groupie.  He called me a ho.  He belittled my work as opportunism.  He expressed his disgust for me.  And not one of the over 30 people who were present in this moment spoke up in my defence.  No one challenged his words.  No one contested the inherent infringement he was making on my right to tell my own story.  Not the self-identified feminists in the group.  Not the so-called homegirls who told me about it later.  No one.

Whew! Even thinking back on it now, it gets me heated.  This was an attack on my reputation.  And of course he targeted my sexuality and vilified it as a space without integrity, depth or beauty because that is the strategy patriarchy has informed the world to take when attacking women. June Jordan illustrates this so beautifully in her piece “Poem About My Rights.”  It remains one of my favourite poems.  Here is an excerpt:

I have been the meaning of rape  
I have been the problem everyone seeks to  
eliminate by forced  
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/  
but let this be unmistakable this poem  
is not consent I do not consent  
to my mother to my father to the teachers to  
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy  
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon  
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in  
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

The legitimate rage I felt at that time has mostly dissipated, but the more important legacy of this experience was what happened subconsciously: I became obsessed with protecting and strengthening my reputation.  From that point on, I began working at making sure that if anyone in this city tried to fabricate stories around my character again, there would be ample evidence to challenge their tales.

The desire to protect my reputation was/is largely subconscious. However, I am beginning to recognize that it informs (in part) the mass emails I send out, the facebook statuses I put up, the reason for this blog, the reason for Twitter – these are all platforms I can ‘control’ to tell my story so that someone else cannot tell it for me.  It is problematic to allow external perception to hold so much weight…but when the right to be self-determined has been taken from you, it becomes a space of crucial importance.  Self-determination is partly personal: at the start of my journey as an artist and activist in this city – before I had done anything and was just on the verge of emerging with so much excitement, hope and idealism – someone purposely tried to define who I was to everyone else and received no contestation on the tale he chose to spin.  Self-determination is also partly historical and communal: this experience is a microcosmic example of what oppressed people consistently experience when they are robbed of the right to name themselves and tell their own stories: until the lion learns to speak, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

All of this to say…that this explains why this is one of my favourite scenes from the greatest television show of all time: The Wire.  It is one of the few moments where I felt connected to the character of Marlo Stanfield (played by Jamie Hector).  It may be odd to connect this ruthless character to a principle of Kwanzaa but Marlo is all about self-determination. “My name is my name!” He states.  He affirms that subconscious desire/need/urgency to not only name oneself but also to protect that name.  He embodies the rage that is felt when that right of self-definition is taken away without consent.  I get it.

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

So I continue…like Marlo and like June Jordan…to guard my reputation.



Filed under Personal

My Grandmother/Nostalgia at Christmas Time

Holiday Season for me means intense feelings of nostalgia and homesickness.  I moved to Toronto from London when I was 10 years old with my mum and left behind my grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts.  Back then we used to have huge Christmas celebrations at my grandparents old house on 23 Grove Road in Acton — there were certain inevitable truths that happened each year at 23 Grove Road around Christmas time.  Each year my grandmother would cook a crazy Christmas breakfast and dinner.  Each year the grandkids would rush to open our gifts…and wish later on in the day that we had waited.  Each year my uncles and grandfather would get into some kind of a political debate.  Each year the adults would drink rum and brandy and the kids would drink Baby Cham (feeling very cool).  And each year my grandmother would get more gifts than anyone else and she would wait until the last moment of the night to open each one up – carefully and slowly so as not to ruin the wrapping paper which she would save for the following year (my first lessons in recycling).

Below is a reflection piece i wrote about my grandmother on the day that my friend lost her grandma.


Thoughts of My Granny on the Day of Kim’s Grandmother’s Passing

My grandmother is beautiful.  She has always moved with a careful grace.

Her hands this delicate balance of strength, hardness and tenderness.  Her hands are like her love.  Unrelenting, persistent and full.  I am never in doubt of it.

My grandmother is beautiful.  She has always moved with a careful grace.

She never rushes.  Everything is done with thought out consideration.  You can see it in the shaky lines of her handwriting as the shape of each letter is considered as ink meets paper.  It can be observed in the carefully ironed and immaculately organized bed linen found in her drawers.  All decisions are made with thought and care.

My grandmother is beautiful.  She has always moved with a careful grace.

She carries the weight of pain as a deep basin that defines the lining for a well she chooses to fill with love. Hurt and pain are not denied nor released.  However they are not given centre stage.  Guised as anxiety and worry, they sometimes fight their way through and take over.  This is a battle she has not mastered.

My grandmother is beautiful.  She has always moved with a careful grace.

Nestled in her arms, between her and my grandfather, listening to the harmonious interplay of their light snores, the 5 year old me felt invincible.  Nothing could harm me while curled between their bodies.

My grandmother.


Earlier this year, my grandmother had to have a very risky surgery and was not doing so well.  I was missing my family so much that I made the hasty decision to drop everything for two weeks and take a spontaneous trip out there and surprise my grandparents, uncles and aunts.  I have included a little movie that i made of my trip that is super amateur but captures the emotions pretty well.  I miss my family every single day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal