One of the truest thing I have learned over my tumultuous life as the eldest child of a single mom, + a first generation college student, is that nothing is linear, nothing is never clean, cut, nor dry (for me). Another even TRUER thing (for me) is that while on this non-linear path of my life, I have always had to carve out my own “why” + to constantly defend my reasons to my friends, family + even random passerby.
- “Why do you want be an artist?” [AKA “How are you ever going to financially survive doing that?”]
- “Why would you do that to yourself?” [ranging from my tattoos to participating in roller derby]
- “Why do you care so much?” [often asked when I went to bat about a project I cared about]
- “Why are you just GIVING it away?” [usually referring to my time in mentoring others]
The more I was questioned the more I was galvanized my “whys.” And the stronger my “whys” became the more I was getting responses that I was “weird,” “intimidating,” or the more polite version of “inspiring” — which I always took the way my Southern Grandmother used to say “Bless [her/his/your] heart.” Originally, I took all these adjectives in school-yard-like-offense. I wanted to be normal, I wanted to be understood, I didn’t want to be an outlier. Later, I learned the etymology of the word “weird” in my early 30’s. It’s an Old English word of Germanic origin meaning ‘having the power to control destiny,’ referring to a sense of being ‘unearthly.’ I fell in LOVE with being weird by its definition. It gave both retrospective coherence to my life’s previous ambling path, but also gave me a form of permission to push even my own boundaries in the future. So when I was later wrestling with my own mid-career crisis + was reflecting on how to best changing my life’s trajectory, I began to notice a historical pattern — the biggest things I was being called “weird” for were also my biggest life “whys” — art, roller derby, politics, mentorship. So I had to tackle Bo Diddly’s biggest question: “Who [or what] do you love?”
When I was a child, I loved school. Education was an amazing tool for social change + identity formation. I know that this was a HUGE contributor as to why I pioneered my own path + was the first to go to college in my family. Subsequently, the autonomy that art gave me was another great love. I could create worlds that didn’t yet exist in my personal artwork or I could act as visual translator of ideas for clients + colleagues. I also loved my role in my roller derby league. I had one skate in community outreach + one skate out as a skills coach. For years, I wrestled with how to marry all of these loves…so I wondered through life till one day in a Google search for “Art Education Masters Programs” + a nudge from a friend who had recently moved from Phoenix to Baltimore lead me to look at MICA.
Within a few months time, MICA + Baltimore went from fictitious possibles to my sole destination + goal. And over the next two years, I had the luxury of honing, sharing, committing, learning, respecting, listening, trusting, + honestly expressing care with the dozens of participants, community members, makers, educators, technicians, facilitators, artisans, colleagues, entrepreneurs, + mentors who made me feel known. As a new Baltimorean, I came in with a curious mind along with open ears + mind. As a returning student, I showed up thinking cap strapped + my teacup empty, ready for my Buddhist kôan. As a classroom lead, I shared my skills, acumen, + wisdom with some critical thinking disguised as art making + creativity. I don’t know if it was the academics or the art making, the action plans or readings, my teaching or me being taught, but somewhere in there was a beautiful + authentic coalescence of critical growth + real learning.
The program at MICA for the Community Arts Masters Program, its mentors, + leaders gave me a vocabulary for ideas that I had struggled to articulate or locate within myself for decades. I see myself, now, as armed with a pedagogical preparedness that only augments my congeniality. I believe this pairing also only amplifies my desire to dismantle hierarchies + share the power, both in the classroom + in collaboration. My biggest conclusion + takeaway from my graduate school experience is that all forms of education — taking or giving, in-class or communal, formal or informal, mentorship or professorship — is about sharing love, + overall, love is ALL about action. Be it through the love for my participants, love for art, love for my community, love to see this world a better place, I strive, + will continue to strive, for impact + my intent to be one in the same.