Recently I turned 40.
While many women dread growing older, I’m running heart first into this luscious decade.
My future feels wide open. Joyfully I get to take the blessings from my hard-earned life lessons as I move forward knowing that the answer is in the journey.
During my 20’s I fearlessly experimented.
Listening to my spirit, I gave away all of my things, hopped on a Greyhound bus with $86 in my pocket and moved to Alabama where I worked with towering figures in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.
They pushed me into leadership and guided me to tackle the weighty issues of systematic racism, sexism, environmental injustice, and poverty.
I was ready for the revolution – trading in my chemically treated bone straight perm and fade-into-the-background attire for combat boots, African clothes, oversized denim and wild curly locs.
I was diving deep into myself and falling in love with whom I was finding.
They say that in order to fully love and be loved by others you must first fully love yourself. And I came to find this as older, wise women embraced me and I was drawn into a powerful Sister Circle of dynamic black women from many different backgrounds.
Influenced by the men and women who joyfully embraced our African heritage, I received a new name in a naming ritual and rushed immediately to make it legal.
Oya is a powerful goddess/Orisha from the Yoruba people in Nigeria. She represents transformation and revolution.
It was also a time when I believed that I had to be poor to be ‘down for the people’.
Living simply, with not a lot of things and dedicated to the struggle, I flowed with the belief that in order to do my best work I had to live in poverty.
My role models were those leaders of the Civil Rights and the Black Power Movements. I expected them to be super humans living their lives solely dedicated to people, change and the struggle.
But the pedestals upon which I placed my mentors crashed on top of me. When a male comrade of privileged means within the organization hit me, there were no consequences for him.
I learned his male privilege out-stripped my value as a female and that sexual oppression could rear its ugly head anywhere – even among the most virtuous of organizations.
And in our hard work, I also saw that nepotism stood the test of time, where families in leadership seemed to be more equal than others.
The idealism of my twenties flowered into an understanding that the most exalted of leaders are only human, after all.
During my 30’s I found my political voice, which threaded through the work I did with prisoners and their families and the Detroit youth whom I mentored in cultural arts.
Simultaneously, I joined women’s circles, created wild art and started my own line of honey-based bath and beauty products to affirm the deliciousness of self-love.
I felt balance being birthed – I continued to fly the flag of social justice, but my full ‘woman-ness’ was emerging.
It’s the power of this self-love and leading others to it that inspired me to found the Detroit Women of Color International Film Festival five years ago.
The films explore the deep shadow sides of powerfully charged issues such as racial identity, sexuality, spirituality, and love.
The festival provides a space for women of color to tell our own stories through film. Screening-after-screening, I noticed a curious phenomenon, the audiences (especially women) sat riveted after the showing in order to discuss their wellspring of emotions elicited by the viewing.
In the last few years, I’ve been shaped by yet another dimension of a textured life well lived – the sweet simple acts between two human beings that nourish and support. I have been the caregiver for my mother during her challenge with cancer.
When I facilitate workshops with young girls and women I ask them what world do they want to create.
As I stand on the threshold of new decade, I ask myself the same question.
I want to embrace my forties with the same enthusiasm and openness as I did when I was in my twenties. Now I have the growing wisdom of experience and self-love to navigate my journey.
Image credit: Frances Lane