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Creating brave spaces

Last week I had the honor of attending the Summit for Change sponsored by the Sojourners Christian Community in Washington, D.C., and it was very inspiring on many levels. There were participants from across our country as well as Brazil and South Africa.

The delegation from South Africa helped us to see that these years following the fall of apartheid are not what they seem to be. While there is no longer white rule in the land, the damage done by that system continues to undermine the well-being of the country. They continue to have many issues to confront around poverty, crime and the results of the long-term internalized oppression of the blacks there. It is very much parallel with the situation that African-Americans confronted in this country following Emancipation and that continues to haunt us as we work to move forward.

In the light of the report from South Africa and in thinking about the state of race relations at the moment in America, the idea of creating brave spaces makes great sense to me. One of the workshops at the conference, which focused upon self-caretaking for women of color, addressed the issue of the spaces that women of color occupy in their daily sojourns. In most cases, there is a notion among us that we need to create a space that is safe for those who are wounded. But the idea of creating a brave space resonated with me.

Actually it was quite amazing, because as soon as I heard the phrase, it seemed that a small light came on in my head to bear witness to the importance of it. Of course we need spaces where people who have been shaped by forces of oppression to be someone other than their authentic selves can reimagine themselves. Brave spaces that make it possible to tell your truth as it needs to be told.

This is especially true for African-American women. We have the historical legacy of being the members of the community that can bear all burdens for ourselves, our families and all of the others who wish to put their burdens on our shoulders. Unfortunately, we have worn that mantle to our own detriment. We have shortened our life expectancy by taking on this role and we live with more physical and mental illnesses than whites. It is time to have spaces where this truth can be spoken without the fear of reprisal.

It is difficult to create new roles when the old ones are destructive. How does one who has no power learn to assert the power that rightfully belongs to her? There is not an easy answer to this question. But there are answers. One of the most important factors in this process of transformation is the creation of brave spaces, places where it is alright to tell one’s truth. But how does a person realize whether or not the space will allow that truth to be told? It requires the development of trust.

If you have great fear and cannot see your worth, you cannot talk yourself into being different. It takes the support of a caring community to make this possible. Much gratitude needs to be extended to the two young African-American women in Nashville, Tennessee, who have designed Hush Arbor. They are providing teaching on self-caretaking for women of color and providing the atmosphere to make the space “brave.”

Their clients are encouraged to pay attention to what they need in order to be more satisfied with their lives. Along with this they are encouraged to work on creating new ways of managing the expectations that others hold of them. The work that they do together through body work, various spiritual practices and artistic expressions helps to facilitate the healing process.

The path to true liberation requires brave space.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at kayma53@att.net.