This year could have taken our spirits and our bodies altogether, but it didn’t. It could have taken mine. If you are reading this, you made it. We made it, however. As a Black writer who finds strength in Black people’s stories of survival and triumph, I know how easy it is for our encouragement to be suffocated by the everyday forms of injustices we push through. I made it and I am stronger because of the journey. As I have traveled the world this year in search of community, I have learned many lessons about what it takes for us to survive individually and collectively. Here are a few lessons I’d like to leave with you.
The Importance of Communal Care In Brazil
In early June of this year, I traveled to São Paulo, Brazil to participate in the country’s first international conference on genocide, prejudice and incarceration as it largely affects people in Latin America, particularly Afro-Brazillians. From the moment I arrived at Guarulhos airport I was greeted with love. My hosts’ inviting embrace stayed with me until I stepped into the cab that took me back to the airport at the end of the week. The Black activists that coordinated most of my time in Brazil demonstrated the power of community and communication whether or not we all spoke the same languages. Every day of that experience I was supported by a different group of people who led me through various parts of the city ranging from the police-raided area known as Cracolândia to the über white conservative University of São Paulo Law School. They made sure I was good. To be in community doesn’t always mean that everyone will remain in total agreement, but it does mean sharing space and struggling through those connections in the name of a more important goal: collective freedom. The Afro-Brazilian activists I connected with modeled a loving example of community-building that reminded me we need each other.
Learning to Listen More Than I Talk in The Netherlands
In mid-October, I had the honor of traveling to Brussels and Amsterdam for the annual Read My World International Literary Festival as part of a small cohort of Black U.S. writers. It was my first time connecting deeply with Black folks in the Netherlands and what a humbling way to learn about the power of presence and attentiveness. Black people in the world outside of the U.S. are not always centered in discussions about Blackness because so many of those conversations are filtered through a U.S. lens. That shortsightedness was made clear during our trip. Being in community with Black Dutch people taught me the importance of listening to another Black person’s perspective to continue to complicate and re-shape my understanding of Blackness. Listening requires empathy and hearing the stories of others will be one way to find common ground and move the needle forward in global Black liberation.
In Cuba, Generosity Was An Ever-Present Gift
I traveled to Cuba with The Wander Life, a brand and travel company for people of color, as a photographer, in early October. Once there, I became an unofficial translator as well. I documented my friend’s group trip to the island. I arrived a few days before the group to provide support in preparation for the experience as well as to devote time to learn about Havana before having my days dictated by scheduled outings. Behind the romantic notions that have been constructed about Havana and Cuba at large as a way to lure tourists, is a people that is really fighting to make it each day. So many of the people I met are hustlers in the truest, and most generous, sense of the term because so many Cubans do what they must for the sake of another’s survival. What might it mean if we developed support systems that allows everyone a win? I was reminded of the need for selfless generosity during my short trip, whether it meant translating a day-long tour of Pinar del Rio when the hired translator got too sick to work or documenting an experience for a friend I really care about. What mattered most was the gift of giving.
I Took My Time Climbing A Mountain in Cape Town
I spent my 28th birthday, Valentine’s Day 2017, on a 14-hour direct flight to Johannesburg, South Africa to participate in the Baldwin’s Room Artist Residency. The intention of the two-week trip was to conduct as many in-depth interviews as possible to learn a little about life in South Africa and what Black joy means to Black South Africans. At the end of the first week, I traveled to Cape Town as I was told it would be silly not to visit since it is so close. I had only booked where I was staying a few days before and didn’t do very much research on what to do while in town. I was focused on my interviews.
What I did know was that I wanted to stay in an apartment that overlooked Table and Lion’s Head Mountains. It was a blessed birthday gift. On the first night, I decided that I would climb Table Mountain the following morning. Aside from some light googling and my Airbnb host telling me it would only take me an hour to climb since I was “young,” I knew nothing about the fabled mountain. So I made my way to the mountain’s base the next morning with plans to get a lot done that day in addition to a hike. Life had another plan. As the weather slowly climbed to almost 95 degrees, I ascended on what would become an almost 3-hour physical and spiritual journey. While climbing, I asked myself why it is that I constantly rush? Why I seem to succumb to self-imposed anxiety? Why I often create pressures for myself that no one else is aware of? Why it is I fail at taking real, uninhibited breaks?
I then sat in the shade of the mountain, took out my notebook and wrote as much as I could. When I made it to the top of the mountain, I was elated and in awe. I cried joyful tears. I cried because I’ve been fighting and sacrificing to create a better life for other people, and myself, and I was finally giving myself time to see some of the fruits of that labor. The lesson this time was a personal one. I learned that I didn’t have to climb the mountain in an hour. I needed to give myself as much time as necessary to enjoy the experience once I arrived. I carried that lesson back home with me.
I Left My Job and Began A Journey Towards My Purpose
I left my full-time job this year. I worked at an organization where I served as an integral part of the team for five years and after that much time, my spirit let me know it was time to move on. It was time to take a leap of faith and journey into unsettling waters. I decided to give up a serious amount of financial security, and excellent health insurance, to further pursue the work that speaks most to my spirit. I had to summon the courage to create a life that is free from the constraints that prevent me from living a life I love. In the weeks since my leave, there have been days of doubt—and I promise you that on every occasion of doubt, even if I simply thought it to myself, an affirmation of some sort has appeared to remind me that I made the right choice. Whether it was an unexpected message from a new acquaintance saying they were including my work in a presentation or invitations to speak in spaces that will elevate what I have been up to, opportunities I would have had to turn down in the past have now availed themselves. Following your heart is rarely easy, and there are many days where it will be tempting to do something more “stable” and “comfortable,” but we only have one life to live. So why not live that one life to its fullest? That life should honor what inspires you while also ensuring that the world becomes a more loving place for the people in it.
The coming year will have more mystery, tragedy and the not-so-good moments that life will bring our way. It will also be full of joy, growth and love. We have been ushered into a period of major transitions, and on every level the world is shifting towards its next phase of existence. I want as many of us to see the other side of that mountain, that transition, as possible, in 2018. Just remember that it is okay to pause along the way. Remember to love others and yourself. Be present and in community with people you know and strangers. Listen deeply. Offer support and help others achieve their dreams. Don’t rush through your journey, take the time you need. Follow your heart. Breath.
Kleaver Cruz is a Bronx-based writer and creator of The Black Joy Project, a digital and real world movement to center Black joy as a form of resistance.