Vay's Place


Healing

This photo series was brought forth out of a self-reflection process on the things I’m healing from. My lovely models are healing in very distinct and specific ways, and yet they have a lot in common because all of us are healing from our bodies through our bodies. Our bodies carry countless stories, from childhood to now, but they also carry us every single day as they are the only home we truly know. I’m healing from lacking a healthy model of how to love and receive love from early on. These days, I am healing by spending more of my time and energy on believing more than I doubt, hoping more than worrying, doing than planning, and loving more than resisting. I feel like I’m late to the game but I’m happy I’m here. As our vessels hold us while we heal from our life stories, may we also heal from the strained relationships we have with them.

This image was featured by Twitter @TwitterTogether


‘For Africa’

I have to admit that I have a hard time creating lately. I’ve had some internal struggles to overcome and the recent period of political and therefore mental unrest made it significantly harder to put out work. In the first week of the Black Lives Matter protests, the best thing I could do was take care of myself as each day went by. I couldn’t stomach social media, talk less of creating content to share with the world. Still, I felt an internal pressure to share my thoughts, to do what is required of artists in times like this. I had to pick myself up and heal fast (I wish it could happen another way but this is how it is) so I could attend protests and connect with that energy. As a Black woman, I felt like I HAD to go outside and participate in the protests but I also had to as an artist. 

This photo was one of many I took at one of the protests but it stayed with me because it ties a lot of things together for me personally and politically. The woman pictured saw that I was shooting, positioned herself in my line of sight, and posed for me— she saw me and I saw her. It was a moment for us that speaks to Black sisterhood and the support, care, and love that is characteristic of our community. 

After we’ve seen what has happened to protestors in Ferguson and others, protecting the identity of protestors these days is so important. That is why I love that this photo came out the way it did because it hides her identity. Even though she willingly posed for me, the cause is more crucial than a photo op—we’ve learned that it is about life and death for Black people to be in the streets. I have a responsibility as a Black artist to be aware of what exactly is happening in our movement for justice and what it is costing us. I have a responsibility to do my work out of a place of knowledge of what this means for all of us and here, that meant protecting my fellow Black woman. 

I titled this ‘For Africa’ because of her hat was another point of connection for us. Black Lives Matter is an international struggle. It is a global fight to regain the honor and value that the first humans of the earth have lost. A Nigerian photojournalist living in San Diego taking this photo of a Black woman I don’t know with Africa on her hat shows that those roots we share are important and will always call us back.

For Africa, by Vayunamu.



A Few Days of Soft Social Distancing

I am writing this because all the weirdness around me tells me this will be an important time to take note of, both on a personal and societal (maybe global) level. I love journaling and I think it is important that I document this in real time.

I, alongside pretty much everyone in most parts of the world, am thinking about COVID-19, the Coronavirus Disease. It’s on our news alerts, social media feeds, and in face-to-face conversation. Italy and Norway have officially shut down. Americans are learning how to wash their hands for the first time and have bought out all the toilet paper.

I currently live in San Diego and there is no systemic lockdown so people are acting on their own and doing whatever they believe is best. People are staying away from large gatherings and working from home. As of the week of March 9, the small office I work in is not planning to close up and the work that I do can’t be done from home so I am happy to keep coming in simply because I keep getting paid. With no insurance or savings, I’m 40% reliant on my skinny bi-weekly paycheck and 60% reliant on the Blood of the Lamb. I know it should be 110% on the Blood but I’m a work in progress. Also, rent and bills are not being paused and the likelihood of that happening in the US, specifically in my case, is very slim so I’m trying to match my reality.

It’s Friday morning and I’m on the 10-minute walk to work from the bus station and it’s raining. My flimsy umbrella is keeping only most of my body and backpack dry. As I walk, I think of the chaos all around me, the external joining with the internal to produce.. calmness? I feel numb, like I’m outside of my body watching myself. This is common for me.

As soon as I sit at my desk and turn on the computer, I check my email. I’m reading one absentmindedly then I remember seeing a subject line from a university in the unread list, the university that has my graduate school application. I try to finish up the email I’m currently reading but can’t concentrate enough so I just rush to the other one. From outside myself, I watch my reaction as I read my acceptance to my top-choice graduate school program. I feel very lightheaded, like I’m going to pass out. I screenshot the email and put it in my family Whatsapp group and then send Snapchats to my brother reacting; I can’t believe it for some reason.

I want to tweet my good news but I can’t bring myself to do it. There’s a lot going on my timeline and there’s really no need to add to it, even though, I’ll note tomorrow morning, I waste no time in logging on to complain about the most irrelevant stuff. Moving on. 

Later that afternoon, I receive an email that the opening reception for an art showcase I’m in has been postponed. My friend and partner in this project are honestly relieved at this because now we have more time to pull it together. We’d been so busy that it was hard to meet up as much as we needed to to bring our project to work. It seems like everyone is getting a big life break that we all knew was necessary but not possible based on our society. We are being forced to stop and rest by this pandemic. My roommate texts me to say she was able to buy toilet paper. Good news since I couldn’t find any last night. It must not be that rough out there then. 

On my lunch break I go to see an apartment. I’m moving soon-ish and need to find a place. I don’t like the set up so it goes quick and I get a chicken sandwich on my way back to work. As I eat at my desk I think about my health for a moment: I should probably be eating something nutritious, when last did I take something with Vitamin C? and so on. 

Around 7 p.m., I go grocery shopping with my friend right after work. I wasn’t thinking of going to buy groceries but she thought it’d be a good idea since stores are getting sold out of products and we don’t know how long all this will take. The uncertainty is real. We hit up a 99 Ranch Supermarket and Trader Joe’s. When she gets to my apartment to drop me off, we end up talking in the car for over two hours. We always talk about life, how it is to be us here and now and it always feels good to talk about stuff that really matters. I wonder how important this moment will be if I have to look back on this weekend years after all this.

I have two cups of Trader Joe’s yogurt for dinner around midnight and at 1:44 a.m. I’m still up watching Monse from On My Block talk about being desensitized to pain and loss as a part of being numb to life. That really sounds like me.

A church conference that I was supposed to be at all day Saturday moved to Livestream and so did our Sunday service which means I’m looking at a weekend completely free with no obligations to leave my apartment. I truly can’t remember the last time I had a weekend to myself, when I didn’t have to leave my apartment both days and that stresses me out. I have been telling everyone that will listen that I need to stop being busy and need to start taking it easy. Constant, unstoppable productivity is an evil spirit that is very alive among us and very difficult to stop. This outbreak is handing me that time to rest on a silver platter but I’m not sure how I’m taking it. I stay in my apartment and in my bed for most of Saturday.

On Sunday, I go to a birthday brunch for my close friend. The restaurant is still open, packed even. It seems like with schools and workplaces closed, people are now having time to hang out with their loved ones. In other words, people are taking the time off from responsibilities to do what they actually want to do with their time, even if it is hazardous. This is interesting to me: our reality is looking very different because people are taking risks for what is important to them.

There are a lot of discussions on social media about the selfishness and privilege of going out and not properly observing social distancing and I understand those arguments. Still, I can’t stop thinking about what feelings of uncertainty and lack of control are doing to us. 

As someone who has been in a long self-improvement process of unlearning my need and desire to be in control of my life and all that concerns me, this is a massive test for me. I have things to do and moves to make that are time-sensitive and I can’t put things into motion that will let me know where I’ll be for sure in six months. I see a lot of people also being tested on a personal level. Folks are defying the new social norm of self-quarantining because they feel their comfort and freedom being threatened. Some people think doing the recommended and the needful, which is staying at home unless absolutely necessary, would mean some type of loss. Someone I know expressed not wanting to “give in to the hysteria.” Let me say a little about this person. He is the type who prides himself on being rational and logical in the face of anything and what I see going on with him is that his sense of worth and value is being threatened in this crisis. For someone who has always believed he is the level-headed one in the room, going with the crowd to feel worry or concern is against his brand. Instead, he has taken up a face of annoyance. From the people on this side of the spectrum to those on the other end of absurd panic who are buying out the stores, we are all acting out on our fears. And we all know what fear can make people do, regardless of who they are or what they know.

This common feeling of helplessness is definitely exposing capital and property ownership for the shams that they are. Our lack of control, which was already a pretense, has come to light. My roommate was let go from both of their jobs and has no idea what to do next. With a lot of people suddenly in this situation, we are collectively understanding of the fact that people need a place to live and the other things necessary to have a good life regardless of their ability to pay for it. We seem to easily understand that no one should have to suffer because of situations that are out of our control. An empathy that is aggressive is being shared by all of us and we are showing what love in action means. I really hope I don’t miss the point of all this, that I get out of this thinking of society and work differently. 

It’s around 2 p.m. on Monday and I am at work. I feel like a panic attack is coming on but I’m not sure if that’s what it is. Earlier on my throat felt weird and now my head feels fuzzy. I have had a lot of anxiety recently and being someone that does not express stress outwardly I am always concerned as to where the stress goes and how it is going to manifest because I’m pretty sure it stays in my body. I am already dealing with trying to find a place to move to by the end of the month and figuring out the road to actually get to the school I will now be attending. 

I noticed I am posting a LOT. I’m Very Online, even more than usual if any of my mutuals can believe that, and the hysteria mixed with humor is taking a toll on me. The fact that I can notice that means it has already done too much damage. I’m thinking of how to save myself. 

Journaling really helps. Keeping record gives me the freedom to check in with myself and how I am feeling in the midst of all this. I have shared a tiny bit, and I’m still working through the rest. It’ll also help me if I start to live my life more from day to day instead of in six-month time blocks.

I am taking advantage of all the free time I have now to stretch my body and read—two things that I hardly have time for in my regular routine—because they help with the anxious feelings by keeping me in and connected with my body. I’m still going to work, but I would say that my main responsibility right now is to take care of myself. I can’t say how long this will last but for now, I am thankful and mindful.



Khea Pollard is Making ‘Cafe X’ a Reality By Any Beans Necessary

On a sunny San Diego afternoon, a cafe is packed with women trying on headwraps and
getting fitted for waist beads. The sense of togetherness here does not happen by chance
but is instead cultivated in a space owned by a Black woman who understands the need
for a business that is run with the community in mind. Café X: By Any Beans Necessary
is a homegrown coffee shop rooted in southeast San Diego and dedicated to advancing
communal wealth building in the community; Khea Pollard, a San Diego native, is the
brilliant brain behind it. With an MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management, two
BAs in English and Ethnic Studies, and two good parents, Pollard advises on Public
Policy for the County of San Diego by day and works on other soulful activities by night. 

During her time as a 2016 Fellow with the experiential learning fellowship RISE San
Diego, Café X was born. She learned leadership lessons in this fellowship designed to
support leaders in finding solutions for complex problems in “urban”/Black, Brown,
Yellow communities. Additionally, she was inspired by the life and legacy of Malcolm X.
The phrase “by any means necessary” was used in a play by French philosopher Jean-
Paul Sartre called Les mains sales or Dirty Hands. Performed in 1948, it’s a political
drama about a faction fighting for a classless society against a Fascist regime around the
World War II era all told through the memory of an assassin. The play used that phrase
within the context of eliminating class and when Malcolm X traveled to Paris around the
same time, he used it in his speech to the Organization of African American Unity. The
politics, history, and pure humanity in those words strongly resonated with Pollard
because she understood that any and all change begins with the individual and the
community. 

Café X is a legacy project that had to be created because Pollard realized there was a
strong need for it. It was intended to establish a relational, mutually beneficial network
with partnering organizations for collective impact such as freedom for member-owners,
personal and community wellness, and keeping money flowing within the community.
She recognized that cultural context and leverage are critical to structural change. While
it is difficult enough to open a business and generate revenue, it is even more so when
generational wealth-building is also one of the goals of the business and Café X takes on
the challenge of embracing economic development with a value system that is built to
benefit the community. 

In addition to advancing the community in a natural and respectful way, she wants
people to feel both proud and vulnerable when they visit Café X because that is
important to her. “It’s the kind of authenticity and assuredness blended together that
keeps me going. If we can get a little bit of that with our coffee, it’ll make a brighter day,”
Pollard says. Intentional event planning is part of what makes Café X a conducive space for authenticity. The Headwrap Meet-Up was a partnership with Runway Boutique L.A.
and vendors Alaiyo Waistbeads and Tielle Greene who provided waist beads and tribal
face painting. Upcoming events include a Game Night to build community as well as a
partnership with O.U.R Afro Entertainment for a special night of performances
Valentine’s Day weekend. 

Khea Pollard is motivated by the understanding that she has a long way to grow
personally and professionally. “The paradox of ‘the more you learn, the less you know’ is
real,” she says. “Keeping that and the vision for connectedness in mind, and what a
development like this could mean for marginalized communities is more promising than
anything monetary that will come out of it.” 

She lives by the following mantras: For complete and total freedom, you must make a
job, not just take a job; There are no mistakes or ‘wins’—only lessons; If you can run a
nonprofit, you can do anything. Pollard wants the world to know that she doesn’t quit
and neither do her people.


Making Space for the Black Yogi

It’s 10:30 a.m. on Sunday and the mellow sounds of Masego and Lauryn Hill are playing in a Liberty Station studio space. Bri, a Southern California-based Health Educator, is in the middle of her weekly Soul Flow Sunday Yoga class where people of all various experience levels can practice. As a Black yoga instructor, her classes are unique because they are intended to be a safe and welcoming space for Black folks and other people of color.

Yoga, originally Indian, is a practice that engages both the spiritual and physical, encompassing mindfulness and exercise. Like a lot of cultural traditions in the US, it has been so whitewashed that the type of people who can benefit from this age-old discipline has become unclear. As more Black people revert to lifestyles and customs that are more reflective of their roots in and connections to the natural, however, yoga is being seen as a valuable practice to take up. Bri initially took up yoga to help with sleep and stress management, which are some common reasons among Black people for trying yoga. As Black communities are increasingly plagued by trauma, stress, and a survival mindset that takes forms in different ways, dealing with issues of the mind has become more important than ever. Black people, though, are having to move through microaggressions or lack of familiarity with their life experiences in order to make use of yoga spaces, which ultimately hinders their ability to really enter a better headspace. 

Movement, breathing, and meditation are key parts of the yoga practice. All of these encourage a connection between the body and the mind— the physical and the spiritual. Coming into an awareness of the body’s capabilities and the state of the mind is powerful. Regularly connecting with one’s thoughts as well as one’s surroundings significantly improves mental well-being, which is definitely necessary for members of marginalized communities. Being able to relieve stress and relax the mind while living through the numerous effects of oppressive systems is crucial; taking care of the self truly is revolutionary. While yoga is usually characteristic of privileged demographics, everyone ought to have access to a routine centered around improving mental wellness in community.

With her business Just Bri Free Yoga & Wellness, Bri seeks to create spaces where black folks can practice with those that look like them as a result of not always feeling welcomed in her past yoga experiences. A lack of representation and understanding in typical yoga spaces hinders the ability of Black people in yoga to get comfortable and enjoy the practice. It is important to black yogis like Bri that they can provide spaces where people who look like them and have similar backgrounds are more likely to escape even the probability of microaggressions and just be as people working towards personal development. The reality of yoga is that it is much more than an elite hobby for wealthy, white people; it is a valuable spiritual practice that more people can benefit from, especially in conducive spaces.



Briefly: Reflecting on Graduation

Last month I graduated from the University of San Diego with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations.

I learned so much about myself and the world during my 4 years at university and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to study in the United States as an international student from Nigeria. 

I was involved in student government, multicultural centers, organizations, and student clubs. I applied and got into opportunities that I had no prior experience in, marketed myself and my skills as much as I could, and never underestimated any position I found myself in. I worked all sorts of campus jobs as long as they were available to me, from food services to office jobs to athletics. 

As a Nigerian living in the United States, I found out how valuable and unique my perspective was and made it a point to be confident and proud of who I am, especially living in a time where uniqueness, individuality, and unconventionality are unpopular. 

I made so many connections and now have so many relationships with people from all over the planet, at different life stages, and with different life paths. I questioned my beliefs and value systems, examining what made me the way I am and embracing the fluidity of life. I learned so much about the powers of tenacity and grit and found that these things mixed with faith and praise make me unstoppable.

I would say that I evolved, and I will continue to embrace the ongoing, vague process of evolving.


On the Interconnectedness of our Personal Responsibility

When the recent UN IPCC report came out stating that humans have about twelve years to keep temperatures from exceeding 1.5C and intensifying natural disasters, it found itself in mainstream media. With its strong but clear call to action, the familiar debate of who is responsible for environmental crises between the individual and corporations circled back to the forefront of general conversation. Should the focus be on Nestle’s use of palm oil in Kit Kats and Forever 21’s use of sweatshops? Or should it be on our fifteen-minute-long showers and use of plastic boba straws? This debate operates on an either/or situation centered around laying sole responsibility on the appropriate party but both individuals and collectives are responsible and we need to move forward with this in mind. Our thinking of personal responsibility in global challenges becomes complete when we see it as the other side of our joint activities. We replace our clothes instead of repairing them which fuels fast fashion. We choose plastic containers over reusable water bottles and lunch containers which end up in landfills. We criminalize and isolate the poor when we respond to their demands with suspicion which props up systems of apprehensive means-testing for welfare services. Responsibility for all of us means that we will always be directly connected to the state of the world around us, for better or worse, and we need to own that.

We are highly interdependent on each other despite what we like to believe about the way our modern world works today. A product of our globalized society is that what we do or don’t do affects those around us both near and far. A subtle theme from Black Panther is the question of international interaction and foreign aid as Wakanda thrives on its powerful natural resources but is hesitant to help struggling nations and peoples. We are familiar and comfortable around the idea of helping people across borders and country lines in times of crisis and even expect it. Yet, it is hard to conceptualize that my water use while living in America is somehow linked to the drought affecting my grandmother’s farms in Nigeria, or that our actions may contribute to the dwindling resources in the Sahara Desert which make it a tense environment ripe for extremism. Seeing as we cannot clearly draw these type of direct connections even though they exist, responsibility needs to be thought of less in terms of blame or retribution for what has happened in the past and more in terms of doing what is in our power now.

Personal responsibility should be forward-looking. We should see ourselves as being responsible for what we do now and how that affects our future; being responsible should be in present and future tense. Being personally responsible means being aware that we are responsible for what our physical and political communities produce. We live in social systems that are based on putting down those more vulnerable in order to lift up the privileged. We also live under governments that do not acknowledge the worldwide reality of the growing wealth gap or the increasing climate change. By being part of these communities, the responsibility is ours to act in ways that go against the grain. Individuals are able to embrace the inconvenience that comes with carpooling more as well as support public measures which work to counter the fact that tax rates on the highest incomes have dropped. We can shift our lifestyles to be less focused on consuming in attempts to fill the void created by a lack of hope, security, and purpose as well as aid efforts to institutionalize programs that destigmatize mental health needs and pursue equality for groups that are more vulnerable to mental health issues. Thinking and acting on our individual responsibility in a way that is both current and forward-looking means that we do what in our power and control today in addition to contributing to something greater than ourselves for tomorrow. We have to personalize the urgency presented to us by news like the wider-than-ever wealth gap and the IPCC report. It means we recognize that our actions and decisions play out against the backdrop of global challenges.



On Being Tired of the Film Industry

Seeing Crazy Rich Asians all over my social media made me determined to go to the cinema, an activity I do about twice a year, and see it for myself. It was a beautiful movie, and it made me realize how much I was fed up with the American film industry. I discovered I had had enough of the food mainstream media has been feeding all of us.

I had been having these feelings of disinterest and dissatisfaction for a while; whenever I was looking (hopelessly) through Netflix for a show to watch, or seeing the shows that reign on social media. My face has been stuffed with the food of shows with storylines about the same peoples in the same places doing the same things and it has gotten tiring. I came to a realization of actually how much I had enough of the mainstream media making the same works with the only new parts being the names.

Mainstream media, through these similar movies and TV shows, don’t only give little representation to certain groups but also overrepresent other lives and lifestyles. There are real people that identify with the standard images we see on the screen and the constant repetition of these images hurt them if they can’t relate fully to the character i.e. being white but not always being the center of attention, or being conventionally beautiful but not having an easy life.

Crazy Rich Asians is a great example of the fact that not every person we watch has to be a white person living a life of all that comes along with being white. There is too much culture and difference out in the world to keep replaying the same old tropes over. Insecure, a show that is “black in a way that doesn’t bother explaining itself”, is currently my favorite show not just because it is a brilliant piece of work but because it feeds me everything I’m starved off by mainstream media. I get lead characters that look like me but also do not because even though they are black/women, they are complex and multifaceted. The writers and creators have left far behind the basic notions of who, in this example, black people are and how they live and the industry needs to catch up. I didn’t get all the jokes in the movie (which I absolutely loved because that was new and stimulating) just like I don’t expect everyone on the planet to get the humor of The Office. I think that that’s not just good but should be a more frequent experience when we engage with entertainment because the world is so much bigger than us and whatever we’re used to.

Mainstream media can be so much more than the dominant joke formats and faces that I’ve been seeing since I was old enough to understand television. There is no point in me consuming the old concepts when I am provided with characters and plots that stimulate and enable me to think about new ways that life can be lived and people can exist. I realize that I am simply unsatisfied with eating up the same flimsy tropes over and over again after getting a taste of what it is like for mainstream movies or series to give me fresh stories. 

I can’t be the only one.




Briefly: Electric Giraffe

A highlight of the San Diego’s Art Around Adams art walk:

I met Russell the Electric Giraffe and the man who built all of it. Russell has been at festivals, met Obama, but mostly just roams wherever people are.

At 1700 pounds and 17 feet tall with its neck raised, it’s the beautiful product of a painful process.

The coolest part about all of it is that it can be touched and ridden; it’s not just to be looked at. It looks well-used. “There’s the magic,” he says about little kids getting excited to touch it since they’re usually told not to.

“Kids in 6th grade thought I was a show-off. It’s one thing to be a show-off and another to prove it.”

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