Sunday, April 10, 2016

Every Face Lit Up: Kweli 2016 and All That It Was.

For the past few weeks, I've been at a loss.

The semester has long since lost its glossy sheen of expectations, seemingly light assignments and attainable syllabi goals. If, you know, it ever had any of those. I was physically ill, mentally worn out and withered, and reaching down into my creative well for any hope or love or light brought up a bucket of wall scrapings: what I should have been doing, what I should be writing, paltry, painful words that made me wince to type out and made me scratch them out and away like unsightly scabs.

So, just to make that clear right at the beginning: I was living scantily, and with the little energy I had, I was living for Kweli.

I seized on it - the idea of this conference within reach, for people like me, on a weekend when I could actually attend and not glance down at my watch every few minutes, worrying if I'd be missing another commitment.

So. It happened. And I went.

Which really are the most anti-climatic, poorly chosen words to encompass all of what I felt yesterday, and today, and hopefully for the rest of this week because I am still soaking it in and thinking it through and just...being glad and grateful for the rightness that it pretty much was.

My friend Patrice Caldwell really put it best. You walk into this room, and it is full - brimming in every corner and seat and smile - with your people.

My people.
Your shields came down. You code switched right back to your natural default. The slang and the sly asides and the playful ribs during the day just gave me life right back where it was suckered out of me by weekdays filled with casual racism and subtle sneers.

I beamed. Inside, I felt like I bloomed. My very heart was giddy.

And then, right when I'd managed to find a last minute seat, when I'd thought I found a moment to catch my breath and stop appearing so flustered, Edwidge Danticat stood up - and declaimed an incredible keynote that had tears swimming in my eyes, Does Your Face Light Up?

My face lit up. It felt like the entire room, in that moment, reached down inside and held onto their own deep spark. It was a reminder I needed: why we do this, why our voices matter - why my voice matters, even on the days when I droop low and I have to dig deep for the moments Ms. Danticat described, the moments when my heart first opened, or closed, or was battered or bitter or bruised, in order to draw them out onto the paper.

It is because we light up. It is because we feel that rightness.

It is because this story, our story, needs to be told.

Words have wings. Words have feet. We don't know where they will travel, where they will land, who they may comfort...or save. - Edwidge Danticat, Kweli 16

I rarely attend conferences with both the benefit of marginalized focus and discussion on craft. I have to admit, right here, that I ended up spending most of the time meeting with people I adore and only half an ear for some admittedly amazing panels, but the union was there nonetheless, and it was incredible.
I feel like I will be talking about this for weeks. I will be thinking about it for weeks.

I will hopefully be beaming and blooming for weeks, enraptured by this new sense of self: being part of that large room of belly laughs and cheeky rejoinders and hard-hitting truths and realizing that I am part of this world, I can hang with these incredible people, I was literally in the room where it happened and new talent walked away inspired to wield their gifts and everything pulsated with one beat:

Your story matters. Your story matters. Your story matters.
I'm not sure what else to share. There are little moments, funny and sweet moments: hugs and first meetings and being applauded while my mouth was full of a bagel and I hardly looked anything professional.

Oh, and going out to lunch and getting pancakes.

Because that did happen.

Today, my heart is hopeful. My mind is teeming over. Today, I feel my worth. I feel the weight of my responsibility and the memory of the girl I was, the girl who others currently are, who wanted mirrors and windows and hope and love and light and winged words to land in her lap and console her with their well-timed wonder.
In that moment, in that room, every face lit up.

And it happened and it was everything and I hope I experience it again soon.


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