4 Philly femme and womxn leaders of color on the importance of self-care - Generocity Philly

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Jul. 18, 2017 12:55 pm

4 Philly femme and womxn leaders of color on the importance of self-care

Catherine Lee, Lara Witt, Lori Tharps and Eryn Amel weigh in on taking care of oneself as it relates to art, writing and social justice.

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(Photo by Julie Zeglen)

America’s recent political climate has sparked an increase in political protests — and we’ve noticed that many of these have been led by womxn and femme-identifying people of color, who are doing much of their work through art and writing.

While exploring the lives of a few of Philly’s own womxn and femme leaders of color, we came across the shared idea of self-care, or caring for oneself emotionally in times of stress. This becomes especially important when people have committed their time and life a cause like social justice, which can be emotionally taxing.

Generocity’s editorial calendar theme in July highlights leaders of color, so we’ve checked in with four womxn and femme-identifying leaders of color within the Philly arts and writing community. Here’s what they had to say about self-care, social justice and more.

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How are you involved in arts and writing and how does this shape you into the leader that you are today?

Catherine Lee, development and communications associate at Asian Arts Initiative:

  • Now that I’m at Asian Arts Initiative, I’m able to bring together arts, writing, and my passion for social justice and racial equity all together. While I’m not directly involved in creating art myself professionally, I am actively involved in observing the process and understanding process helps me better understand the world and people around me. … Not everything is black and white, and I think my experience with the arts and writing has better honed my ability to think out of the box.

Lara Witt, freelance writer and senior editor at Wear Your Voice:

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  • Working with a team of Black, indigenous and people of color writers is my way of helping us reclaim our narratives without worrying about a white, cis heteronormative gaze. White editors have a tendency to tone police and change our valid perspectives to make them more palatable to white audiences. So writing our own stories, and being paid to do so, is one of the most powerful tools we have. My job is to make more space for writers of color in a typically white industry.

Lori Tharps, professor in journalism at Temple University and founder of Qwerty Philly:

  • I launched QwertyPhilly because I love writing, but sensed a lack of community in Philly’s diverse writing community. QwertyPhilly is an online platform that offers original editorial content, events and services for Philadelphia’s literary community, and by literary, I mean anyone who works and plays with words.

Eryn Amel, marketing manager of Philadelphia Printworks:

  • I believe I am involved in a lot of ways that serve me personally, but on public forum most of my reach is on Instagram. Building such a platform has made me very conscious of the words and images I put out, because they speak to represent a group larger than myself.

How do you use your voice and artistic style to bring awareness to social justice and self-care? How do you practice self-care?

Lee:

  • With my writing for [a youth-focused] Bhutanese magazine, my articles focused on self care. A time of personal loss really put my own physical, mental, and emotional health [through] the wringer so now, one of the ways I practice self care is to create boundaries. If I don’t want to commit to something, I say no and I have been teaching myself to not feel guilty about it. I can’t be present for others if I can’t be present for myself, so I take notice of what my body may physically cue to me and I’ve become more attuned to my own needs.

Witt:

  • There is a lot of stigma around self-care and mental health, especially in communities of color. As a sexual assault survivor and queer person of color, self care is essential for me but I am terrible at it so I try to talk, tweet and write about it honestly and without shame so that I can learn about simple, cheap and mindful ways of practicing it. … Women of color are often burdened with taking care of everyone else but themselves, so I’m learning to put myself first.

Tharps:

  • Almost everything I write about in some way interrogates the concepts of race, identity and culture. I am always using my words to challenge the status quo when it comes to racial justice. I am really bad at practicing self-care because there’s just so much to do to fix this mess of a world we live in. I need someone to tell me how to practice self-care. Basically I work until I can’t work anymore.

Amel:

  • In today’s age, I believe the fight for social justice has a position for us all. … I also believe there are many ways to practice self care, my favorite would be journaling, stretching, cooking new things for myself, and finding a quiet corner to meditate in.

How does being a person of color affect your art and writing engagement within Philadelphia?

Lee:

  • Being a person of color definitely affects my writing engagement within Philadelphia, specifically when it comes to grant writing but also when producing materials disseminated publicly. … The fact of the matter is, I’m writing in a way that reflects my lived experience and that many others may relate to, but at the same time, it’s kind of tricky to strike the right chord when I’m doing that professionally within the confines of development and marketing.

Witt:

  • Often times it can either drive me to write more or can lead me to depression and hopelessness. Being at the center of the poorest big city in the U.S. can lead to creative burn-out. So I go from being exceptionally engaged and driven, to withdrawn within a matter of months.

Tharps:

  • As a Black woman writer, I always start my writing from that unique perspective. But my Black woman stories are different than the Black woman sitting next to me and her sister around the corner. I think like most things, Philly’s writing community is rather segregated and I hope QwertyPhilly can help address that by offering opportunities for writers of diverse backgrounds and writing styles to come together in community.

Amel:

  • Where I live in Philadelphia, it is still very brown. Most of Philly is just as brown and as painful as gentrification is to these brown families I know that when you have a certain platform you are responsible for yourself and the things that you love. I love writing, I love my people, I love myself. So in my writing I like to reflect on all of these and add a voice.

What is something that you would tell womxn and femmes who are just getting to know themselves through art and writing?

Lee:

  • I would say whether you’re creating art or writing, when the moment of inspiration hits, just give into it and don’t be afraid to put down whatever on paper or to create something. … It doesn’t matter why you do art or writing. To me, the moment you start, is the moment you begin this really cathartic journey to self discovery, empowerment, and boundless creativity.

Witt:

  • The arts require patience and kindness towards yourself and it takes a lot of self-discipline, but when you love it, it’s worth it. One of the most important things I learned was to not undervalue myself – don’t do stuff for free when it requires both your labor and emotional labor. When working for publications or clients: Learn what you are worth and what you think they can afford. If you don’t know how much you are worth, ask another creative what they think. For women and femmes, our strength comes from communicating honestly with each other, don’t ever forget that.

Tharps:

  • I would tell them to look to other women’s stories to get inspiration from and take courage from and then I’d tell them to share their own stories to inspire the next generation coming up.

Amel:

  • Do not compare yourself. But if you [must], let it be through eyes of compassion and with ears open to wisdom. I believe a lot of us (womxn) feel as though through comparison that we will find our true selves and for me that has not been the case. My art is built from my experience as a black woman/ black mother/ black creative and from the love that I have [borne] witness to. It is not going to look the same on someone else, and neither will your writing. Finding your voice is probably the greatest journey into your art. Do not rob yourself of that fulfillment.
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Ivanie Cedeño

Ivanie Cedeño is a Steppingstone Scholars intern at Generocity and a rising senior. She enjoys writing poetry, listening to Spanish music and playing with her dogs during her free time.

  • Really appreciated this honest sharing! As a mother and a writer it’s often difficult to balance self care with sustaining your household and finding the space to write. I appreciated the suggestions and encouragement this article offers for us all!

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