This past week I went to the Allied Media Conference. It was my first year attending – it happens every summer here in Detroit – and I can say honestly that it’s unlike any conference I’ve ever been to. I went to a session on community organizing strategies based on the work of Octavia Butler and Grace Lee Boggs. A conversation circle with the City of Boston’s New Urban Mechanics team about youth and civic engagement. A play starring Black and Brown student actors about Detroit Public Schools. Alongside these more-traditional (at least in format) sessions were physical, visceral experiences. An urban farm tour; an embroidery workshop; peeling ingredients in a church kitchen for kreung, a Cambodian cooking paste; performance “games” inspired by Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed; meditation, ear acupuncture; dance parties and lying on the floor in a campus basement room deep-listening to Black radical jazz.
I had literal chills down my spine again and again. There were moments of awakening, of opening my eyes and looking around and realizing that I had never before been surrounded such a large concentration of diverse human beings, all listening and paying attention to each other. I think that maybe the only thing we all had in common, aside from being at the conference, was that we shared the belief that our differences should be honored and respected. Celebrated.
It’s one thing to talk and read about this stuff; it’s entirely different to feel it in your bones. And it doesn’t mean there weren’t times when I felt lonely or left out. But in this environment, there was for me a stronger sense that these moments were temporary, fleeting. An understanding that everyone probably felt that way at times, and that was OK. That there was no one way you were supposed to feel, and no one thing you were supposed to do about it, that was more valid than the others.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Get Ready, Stay Ready.” At the closing ceremony everyone was given a disaster preparedness zine and a packet of seeds. To me those seeds represent a question – about the world that we want to grow and build. We talk about safe spaces, and self care. We talk about the power of love. And, at this moment, the morning after the conference, the question I’m asking myself is, What does that world not only look like but feel like? And how can I, in my own life and vocation and community, grow that feeling?