Monday, June 20, 2016

CHOKED ON THE BUS: Surviving "Everyday" Violence



Even as I sit to write this story I must acknowledge that I am still affected by it. I’m not affected in the same way as on that traumatc day, but my passion is fueled by it and my heart's memory is still green. It drives me to do my small part in building a world of peace. In that regard, this terrible experience has purpose. And part of that purpose is manifested in my willingness to share my truth with you and your willingness to hold space for me as a reader---For that I am grateful.

My story begins with a day like most other commuter days for me back in 1993. I was living in East Orange, New Jersey and working in New York. I was born in Trenton and lived a great deal of my adult life between Trenton and Newark. So none of the commuter danger was foreign to me. The commute, the people, the energy and even the risks, were all too familiar to me.  Believe it or not, commuting also brought a lot of joys with it as well; such as meeting new people, the comfort of seeing the same friendly strangers every day and the opportunity to people-watch without the woes of daily traffic.

THEN THINGS CHANGED: On this day I got off work early in New York and made my way back to Newark via the Path train. It was only 1 o’clock in the afternoon so I figured I’d do a little bit of downtown shopping. I walked around for a bit but found nothing of interest…honestly, I was probably more interested in the stroll and people watching than I was in purchasing anything. I walked to the corner to catch the bus that would take me home, to Prospect Street.

As the bus arrived the line of people waiting to get on had quickly formed; everyone wanted to find a good seat. I hustled my way forward and made it to what was ultimately the middle of the line. There were quite a few people in front of me and in back. I was standing there with the usual “mind my own business” glare that you acquire as part of your survival in city-living. 

Suddenly I felt an aggressive choking sensation around my neck that sent me immediately into shock. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was sure that the sensation felt like someone was gagging me. Oh my God--Someone was choking me! Was I about to die right here on line for the bus? In those brief moments it took me to understand what was happening, I froze. My body was frozen but my mind was racing.

Just as I began to react by turning around to see who was doing this, I realized someone was trying to steal the necklace off my neck. My necklace was a gold Bismarck chain that I had spent quite a bit of money on...and was proud to own. It was thick and hard to pull off, especially LIKE THIS! This predator had clearly decided that MY necklace should belong to him, with no care or concern for the potential injury to my neck. He pulled. And he pulled. And he pulled.

Before I had any real cognitive thoughts, my reflexes sent my hands to my neck for protection. Finally the necklace popped…POP! Oddly enough I could hear the snap like a firecracker near my ear. In that moment this thief also grabbed my purse. Fortunately, I had just taken my wallet out of the purse in order to show my monthly bus pass to the driver. My purse was on my right shoulder and the wallet was clutched in my left hand, which at that point was at my neck.

When I was finally able to turn around, I got a brief glimpse of him running and people making a path for his escape. He made his escape through the crowd standing behind me just as he did before the attack. Still in shock, I was able to put 1 foot in front of the other to get on the bus. I made no sound, but was acutely aware of the sounds around me. More accurately, I was acutely aware of the lack of sounds around me. There was no one shouting, “Are you okay?” There was no one rushing to my aid. This sea of brown people…brown like me…my people…they made me invisible on that day.

As I set down on the bus and raised my head to look around, I realized that most people had continued their well-taught “mind my own business” glare. No one even offered a compassionate stare to meet my pain. I felt so many feelings in that moment: anger, rage, violated, embarrassed, lonely and ashamed of not being able to protect myself. Tears streamed down my eyes and I knew that the theft was not the sole cause for my weeping. This violation was so much deeper than that. No these were ancient tears…the weeping of ancestors who fought hard for all of us only to bear witness to such terrorism between brothers and sisters. My soul was wounded and my heart was broken on that day. I cried in silence all the way to Prospect Street.

I stepped off the bus different than when I stepped on. Although the thief in this story stole my property and my naive sense of safety, he didn't steal my unwavering commitment to see and be the love I want to experience in the world. He didn't steal my commitment and belief in PEACE. --- ©2014 all rights reserved

FOR SUPPORT IN DEALING WITH TRAUMA:
The Effects of Dealing With Trauma
Common Responses to Trauma
Get Help to Deal with Trauma


Ankh-Udja-Seneb!
Imani Evans, MA, EdDc
CHANGE ACTIVIST / SPEAKER / AUTHOR
Women Healing Women, Inc.
501 (C)3 Non-Profit Organization
Empowered Squared, Inc.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Healing A Mother-Daughter Relationship with Black Girl Magic

dedicated to Yolanda Renee Evans, my mom

When I think of the ongoing debacle that was my adolescence, I can't help but be amazed by what it means to be a 16-year-old mother. I am astonished that my mom was not only that, but she went on to be a young bride at age 17. I often wondered to myself---how do you even know what do at such a tender age? Quickly I realized the daunting answer...You don't! You just do the best you can and try not to roll over on the baby in the bed. :-)

2 years after birthing me, my brother, Montsho Edu (Aaron Evans), was born. With the addition of this new baby boy, my mom was thrust into a mature existence at the ripe age of 17 years old. In contrast my step daughter, Taylor, is 18 and about to graduate high school. Her biggest concerns are which college to choose, when to get her driver's license, and whether or not to upgrade to the iPhone 6s. The polarity to my mother's life at that age makes it abundantly clear as to why she is my shero, well above my beloved Oprah. I honor my mother not because she was perfect, but because she survived it all despite the plausible destructive alternatives. My brother and I survived too. And we all did so with our sanity intact...Well, mostly.

The journey was no cake-walk

When I Ponder back on it all, it was nothing short of a miracle. Not the kind like Jesus parting the Red Sea. No-- this was a real-life-badass-black-woman miracle. Black girl magic at its finest! My mom and I grew up together; she made mistakes and I was no peach of a kid. Together we gave each other hell, broke each other's heart numerous times and--truth be told--often felt tortured by the other. It was downright mutually abusive.

As a self-critical, sexually abused, suicidal, rage-filled kid I was hurting and keeping insidious secrets. As a kid forced to be a woman far too soon, resentful of an unplanned life, my mother grappled with balancing her lost innocence against her natural maternal instincts. We both lived with rage just under the surface. I remember my mom telling me, "if anyone ever touches you, I will kill them." I believed her! So I kept my secrets buried beneath the rage and self-loathing. Instead we acted out of our respective rage and pain. But it got better, eventually.

My father's death opened the gateway to healing

When my father died in 1990, it left a gaping hole in my heart. After lots of therapy and personal evolution, I realized this hole could only be filled by rekindling the mother-daughter connection in my life. I needed my mommy more than anything at that time. I needed to love her and be loved by her. The wonderful thing about healing journeys is that sometimes the people you love are traveling one too, simultaneously.

One day I sat down with my mom and poured my heart out (the palpitations I felt in the moment almost made this statement a literal one). Here's the thing...It wasn't the end of anything, instead it was the beginning of everything. I distinctly remember falling back in love with my mother. It was like an emotional defibrillator. There have been many conversations since that day. Healing is a journey--not a forced destination.

Here's the turning point of my story...She was ready. She listened with her soul not just her ears. She didn't get defensive, even though she didn't even remember a lot of my mother-daughter hurts. Once again, she put the needs of her child ahead of her own ego. As a result a weight was lifted from my spirit. My little girl was free to grow up and reach for recovery.

Fast forward a couple of decades and my mom is my best friend (beside my new wife). She is a motivator, a grounding force and my reason for wanting to be better. Many times her belief in me has filled the spaces where my fear and insecurity resided. In those times I believed in myself, almost exclusively, because of her belief in me. We have a mutual respect, admiration and love that is palpable to others who share our company. I would have a nice savings if I had a quarter for every time someone said, I wish I had that kind of relationship with my mother, or I love the relationship between the two of you. In part, I wrote this article because I want those people to know that my mother and I make an ongoing, conscious choice to forgive and love one another over and over again.

THE HOPE


For those of you struggling with your daughter, or your mother, on this day--I see you. I know there is hope if you both reach for it. Don't let your ego and pain be bigger than the healing and recovery. I do believe in what I call a spiritual umbilical cord. The physical cord feeds and nourishes the body while in the mother's womb. But as soon as that cord is cut, the spiritual umbilical cord takes hold of your soul and bonds the two of you for life. Without words and even action, you can send Love and Hope through this unbreakable gateway, even if you've never laid eyes on your biological mother.

The most important thing is for you to do your personal work. Then nurture your love through your metaphysical connection long before you speak words to one another. Make no mistake, my relationship with my mother is still not perfect; but rest assured I am not seeking perfection. No ma'am! My daily prayer is one of acceptance and gratitude. Gratitude may come easier than acceptance, but when they are linked---miracles await you!

I'm grateful for all the experiences that made me the self-loving, warrior-queen I am today. I don't take the memories nor the moments for granted. With every laugh, cry and frustration I am always basking in the miracle of this journey. For this-- I am eternally grateful. Thank you, Mom, for allowing our souls to choose each other in this lifetime. We grew up together and my fervent prayer is that we will grow old together, holding closely the sweetness of a well-earned mother/daughter love.

To all the Teenage Warrior-Mamas Around the World:

I know it wasn't easy.
I Honor Your Black Girl Magic!
Happy Mother's Day

May your journey be filled with miraculous moments and magical moments. I wish you great healing and love. Ase!

Imani Evans, MA
Empowerment Coach/Author/Blogger/Empowered Black Girl
Email: Imani@surviving2thriving.org
Websites:
Phone: 404/944/6409


Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Audacity to Do Nothing! Self-care for Busy Women




I am currently on a staycation (until mid-August) to restore my soul. I have been exhausted at a cellular level for years. If you’ve ever experienced this feeling then you will know that it is not resolved by merely sleeping. I have always been multi-interested, multi-stimulated and, thus, always multi-tasking. It is how my brain works; what a glorious gift from God (seriously)! BUT everything has a breaking point. And there are times when the bucket gets filled to the max and begins rapidly spilling over, which puts my very sanity at risk. It has definitely shown up in my health as discomfort and dis-ease.

So here I am. I took off work for 2-weeks to do absolutely nothing…except whatever I want to do, whenever and however I want to do it!!!! Now…none of this has been easy, which is why I felt compelled to share this experience with anyone willing to stop multitasking, for just a moment, to read this. See, I know I am not the only one trying to wrestle the superwoman cape off of my back and rip it shreds! LOL

The first four days was spent responding to essential tasks that I neglected during my numbed-out period. I then informed people in my circle that I was taking a break to restore my soul, body and mind. I even stopped taking appointments, meetings, etc. This is atypical, because I would usually stop my main “job” but not my other stuff (community work, vision work, etc.). NOT THIS TIME…This time even in the face of my guilt-driven-save-the-world-complex, I am telling clients – NO, I am telling friends – NO, and the list goes on. Interestingly enough it is not just me who is grappling with my time to do nothing. I keep getting questions like…”So, what are you doing today?” And maybe it is just me but it reads like…”surely you are going to do something today and not just waste time, right?” WRONG, PEOPLE! Ask me how I am feeling on my time off…but don’t ask me the “what” question.

I am doing NOTHING…nothing today, nothing tomorrow…nothing until and unless I feel otherwise.

I have been working since age 14 like many people in my age group; I am tired. But that isn’t what gives me the audacity to attempt the art of doing nothing. It is a human right. It is a birthright. It is a right that allows us to restore ourselves to our bodies and the connectedness to all things.  It is essential to quiet the brigade of thoughts urging us that we are lazy, wasting time, or slacking off. I reject those thoughts starting today.

Today I am embracing the right to heal my soul, the right to sleep, the right to sit, ponder and only “play it by ear”. I am making no plans unless they can be readily canceled if my need to do nothing needs to take precedent. There are people who want answers to things, have questions, are wondering why I haven’t responded---well, this is why. I am working on shaking off the numbness so that I can re-enter my body…all while doing absolutely NOTHING.

I HOPE YOU GET YOUR “NOTHING” ON 
WHEN NEEDED TOO.  Thanks for letting me vent! J

Nya Akoma! (Take Heart)

Imani Evans, MA, EdDc


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Meaningful Rage

Originally my plan for this gratitude article was to write about how my so-called character defects are actually utilized to propel my life forward. Then came the no bill indictment in the Michael Brown case and my plans changed. Instead I chose to write about the gratitude I embody for my very survival. It is abundantly clear to me that a culture rooted in racism, heterosexism, classism and misogyny has no investment in my emotional and spiritual sustainability as a Black lesbian, who is living out loud. 

As an artist and creative sometimes my rage is too big for normal sentences. In those cases only prose and poetry can loosen the noose of anger choking me and disallowing the passage of reason. It is then that I feel compelled to take pen to paper and speak my mind to free my heart. Sometimes the creativity is plentiful and other times it is just enough to shift me back into compassion. 

As our world has transformed from the industrial age to the information age, I often feel bombarded by ignorance and hatred. It is everywhere: Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ and it even seeps into my text messages. It is a laborious task to keep from spewing venom back into the mouth of the snake, with no care of its carnage. Then just as I am destined to succumb to the cycle of viciousness, I am reminded of grace, true strength, dignity and compassion. In those moments...I am saved by my art. So I write.


Today I am grateful for my very existence, despite their efforts to kill me. See, they have been trying to kill me since ancient times. 

They have been trying to kill me since my name was SekhmetOshunSaarjie BaartmanAmarinta Ross, or Audre Lorde. 

They have been trying to kill me because my voice is that of a light-bringer, a consciousness-shifter and world-changer. But I am still here. Maybe I won't be in 20 years, maybe I won't be a year from now, or even tomorrow. 
But..today...I am still here. 

The "they" that I speak of are the dark ones, the negative forces, the racists, the oppressers, the despots, the ones whose ignorance and fear serves as a guide for their actions and supersedes their logic. Them...they...those ones who know exactly who they are, despite their ever-present denial to my face. I will defy you...

I will defy you with my sheer determination to stand upright and straight-backed in the face of brokenness.

I will defy you with my ingenuity to create nations out of nothing and morph magnificence out of malevolence.

I will defy you by holding hands with my beloved on the streets of the elite and shattering your unrighteous laws with my joy.

I will defy you by reincarnating with perpetual greatness and evolving beyond your recognition.

See you cannot kill me for my Earthly existence is an illusion. And when your hatred seeks my destruction...I will defy you with my very existence and my will to be all that I am called here to be...
for whatever time that I be.

Shem Em Hetep!
Imani Evans, MA, CLC

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Reaction to Ray & Janay Rice: Michelle Dowell-Vest

If you are like me, yesterday your morning social media blitz gave you the TMZ video of Ray Rice hitting his then fiancĂ©,  now wife,  with a blow that not only crushed her face but his career and quite possibly her spirit.   I watched in horror as he picked her up, tried to remove her from the elevator, realize he didn't know know what to do with her limp body only to drop her and close the elevator door.   A few minutes later the door opens again,  he drags her half way out then drops her in the door so that it works as a prop to keep the elevator door open.  He was met by a random man.   We can't hear audio so it's tough to know what was said or how he explained what looked like a dead woman hanging half way out of the elevator.  I would love to talk to that man.  I would like to know what he saw and thought at that moment.  Was he shocked?  Did he want to help?  Did he recognize Ray Rice as a Raven’s Running Back?  Because it didn't seem like he was that concerned.

That image is burned into my mind.  Janay Rice.  Laying there, limp, her skirt almost above her waist, ignoring her modesty as if she were not worthy of it.  I admit I watched that video a few times.  This was the first I had heard about Ray Rice and the incident between him and his wife.  I don’t watch the news much and this one escaped me. However, I researched and found this helpful timeline of the events.  I admit it, I got sucked into a rabbit hole of social media discourse. Today I spent a lot of time on Twitter. More time than usual.  I have come to trust Twitter as the pulse of the community and a real life news commentary around hot topics.   

I experienced a deluge of emotion today.  I was happy the Ravens released him and the NFL suspended him, but couldn't help but think it was done for show. Why did they protect him with such a light suspension?  Why did they force Janay Rice to apologize for her role in the situation?    I was angry at men who defended him, but then my heart was warmed by the flood of men sending encouraging words to Janay Riceand decalring their commitment to fighting against DV.  I felt a kinship with women as they told their stories on twitter using the hashtags #WhyIStayed & #WhyILeft.  I was proud of women , including two close friends, who bravely told their stories of abuse in the effort to diminish the silence and shame that ever so often fills the space when  one is being abused.


However, my biggest heartbreak today came from other women.  Women who victim blamed and shamed Janay Rice for staying.  Listen, I get it.  I know its hard to understand why a woman would stay with anyone who abused them.  Our instinct is to run as far away
as we can as fast as we can, to save ourselves and our children. I also understand that we are conditioned to believe that somehow women who are abused probably deserve it.  Somehow she provoked him.  I learned that some of us still believe the Harpo message of wife discipline that says that sometimes a stubborn woman needs a beating to remember who is in charge.  I learned that many believe that a women who married a wealthy man should shut up and take it and if she is beaten that she gets what she deserves for being a gold digger.  I saw so many women attack other survivors and boldly state that a woman who would go back deserves everything that is coming to her.    We believe its none of our business and we turn to sip our tea.  Those statements may seem a little archaic to evolve and independent women, but that is exactly what I read time and time again yesterday.  


When will we realize that for many,  leaving is not as simple as packing a bag and walking out of the door.  Where is our heart for hurting women?  Why is our compassion so diluted by the need to judge her and other abused women?  This isn’t just about Janay Rice, this is about every woman who is being abused right now.

Imagine a life that looks like this: (www.womenshealth.gov)

Your partner:
  • Monitors what you're doing all the time
  • Unfairly accuses you of being unfaithful all the time
  • Prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family
  • Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school
  • Gets very angry during and after drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Controls how you spend your money
  • Controls your use of needed medicines
  • Decides things for you that you should be allowed to decide (like what to wear or eat)
  • Humiliates you in front of others
  • Destroys your property or things that you care about
  • Threatens to hurt you, the children, or pets
  • Hurts you (by hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting)
  • Uses (or threatens to use) a weapon against you
  • Forces you to have sex against your will
  • Controls your birth control or insists that you get pregnant
  • Blames you for his or her violent outbursts
  • Threatens to harm himself or herself when upset with you
  • Says things like, "If I can't have you then no one can."
A life like this happens in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it can happen almost instantly abut most often  its the slow process of conditioning.  The level of fear that lives with a woman when she is being abused is unimaginable.  I know.  I have lived through it twice.  Once with my ex-husband and once with an ex-girlfriend.  The reasons I stayed and left were complicated and different for each situation.  What was similar was that each time I was full of shame and guilt and it was those two emotions that played a serious factor in both my staying and leaving.  In the end, I left my ex husband because I didn’t want my daughter to believe abuse was the norm.  I left my ex girlfriend because I found my voice and would no longer stand for her abuse.  Both times, took years and I was filled with fear.  Neither times was leaving easy.  
My message here is not to try and change the beliefs of women who want to blame Janay for not leaving.  Thats a huge task because we have become so desensitized to violence and specifically violence against women, that unless these women are exposed to the pain, fear and desperate nature of abuse they simply won’t understand.  My prayer is that they never have wear the shoes and carry the luggage of abuse.  I do hope their heart would soften enough to hear the women in their life who may secretly be hurting because their voice has been stolen. It’s a fact that 1 in 4 women are abused.  Chances are, someone they know is being abused right now.  My hope is that they can see their pain and let go of their need to judge and lend a hand. My hope is that we learn to lovingly support other women in times like this.
My message here to is to the women like me, who need to hear that there is hope.  My message is to women who need to know they are worthy of safety and love.  My message is to let you know that there is help when you are ready.  There are women who won’t blame you no matter how many times you went back because we understand the draw to go back and the cycle of abuse.
There is an army of women who won’t accuse you of provoking your abuser.  We are here to remind you that God would never be ok with you staying in an abusive marriage.  We want you to know that you are strong enough to stand on your own and when you can’t you are not alone.  We want to say that your family does love and miss you.  We understand that leaving will be the most scary and dangerous thing you may ever do but you don’t have to do it alone.  We will be here to tell you that love doesn’t have to hurt like this.  
We want you to know that you don’t have to be silent.  You don’t have to carry shame.  You don’t have to carry guilt.  You are powerful.  
My message is to the women who need to hear it.  
You are not alone.  
We will not blame you.  
If you are in an abusive relationship, please find someone you can trust and ask for help.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline has a ton of resource to help you find your way out.  Call them 1-800-799-7233 or visit them at www.thehotline.org. There is hope and you don’t have to do this alone.  
Michelle Alexander
Founder, A Gurlz Guide
Michelle@agurlzguide.org
FIND HER ON FACEBOOK
FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER
* Serves on the board for Women Healing Women, Inc.
www.surviving2thriving.org

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I AM Powerful


There are days that my power seems more elusive than I would like. Then there are days when I feel the depth and breadth of my power at a visceral level. But whatever side of my consciousness I wake up on, each day I seek to affirm the truth as I know it; And the truth as I know it is that I am a manifestation of all that is. I am a dynamic drop of the most omnipotent force in the universe. I am powerful. I am constantly and consistently co-creating all that I experience. However, I am not discouraged by knowing that pain and discomfort are a choice, because so too are joy and bliss. Thus, I can take a deep breath and exhale saying, I am powerful! When I do this I remember that "I AM" is a mantra and prayer. So anything that comes after the prolific I AM is my request to the universe.  When I fully stand in this "knowingness", I am the personification of gratitude and love, which conquers all things.  Below is one of my favorite Marianne Williamson quotes perfect for starting each and every day.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"
Metta,
Imani Evans, MA
Women Healing Women, Inc.
imani@surviving2thriving.org
www.surviving2thriving.org
404.944.6409
Imani's Press Kit



Monday, August 11, 2014

What happens when funny isn't about HAPPY? RIP Robin Williams



Wow, I feel strangely and deeply impacted by the alleged suicide of Robin Williams. It isn’t that I ever met him in person, or can even claim to be his number one fan. But I am an admirer of his work and, more importantly, I admire a world where a personality as big and as unique as Robin Williams can exist and succeed. It is no mistake that his breakout role was with Mork, in Mork & Mindy, because his personality was so big that he often looked like an alien in real life. If you want to find yourself really amused, go back and watch some of his early interviews. Talk about hilarious! But what was funnier than this his comedy was watching the interviewer try to control Robin on the stage. Impossible! I loved that about him. 

His death also hits home to me on another level, if in fact it turns out to be a confirmed suicide. As someone in the mental health profession and one who has had my own battles with depression at times, I am reminded of how effective the masks we wear can be at covering up our pain. It is critical that we find places where we can take off the mask and be our whole selves; be compassionately witnessed, validated and authentic. This need is so essential to our being that when it is unavailable we can feel lost. As is often the case when trauma impacts celebrities, there will be lots of media speculation and propaganda. If we can find anything useful from this spectacle that is sure to unfold (often without any compassion for the surviving loved ones), then I hope we take this as an opportunity to check in with our loved ones. Take this opportunity to check in to make sure a smile is really a smile and a laugh is really a laugh. Make sure that being funny isn't someone’s cry for help. Allow someone to take off the mask and be seen without judgment. Conversely, be willing to take off the mask and be vulnerable to receive love, help, or understanding. 

In the meantime, I will sit at my computer and replay segments of Mork and Mindy, Jumanji and especially the hysterical Mrs. Doubtfire as a way of honoring the legacy of this comedian, humanitarian and fellow human being. Rest in peace, Robin Williams.

In the spirit of love & community,
Imani Evans, MA