Lessons from the ‘Occupied’ (Struggling, Partially Employed, Barely Mobile) Mom

I wrote about Tawana back in December after her hurting honest ‘Occupy’ letter landed her – and her gifts as a spoken word poet – in the blaze of the public stage. Blown away by her pluck and artistic talent I noted, “Honeycomb and I, we’ve not met yet, but I look forward to that day.” That profile on her is the most popular on Shetroit.com to date. People are intrigued by, well, the same things that intrigued me.

Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty showing her colors

Last weekend, more than three months later, I walked into the Women & Girls’ convention at the Coleman A. Young city county building in downtown Detroit and straight into the hug of Tawana.

She bustled up and said, “You’re Becca, aren’t you?” We spent the afternoon together reveling in the rousing women-centric gathering convened by Councilwoman JoAnn Watson and the AFL-CIO’s Tina Abbott.

I found out in person that Tawana ‘Honeycomb’ Petty is petite, brainy, sweet and very matter-of-fact with a humility that brings with it a whoosh of vulnerability … the kind that makes you wanna see to it that she gets everything she deserves. And, about now, that’s the world on a silver platter. But she doesn’t have that and, if you ask her, she doesn’t need it.

The pressing question, of course, for any one who followed Tawana’s saga, is how’s life since she posted her famous/notorious FB Occupy letter/meme last fall (later picked up by Huffington Post) entitled “Why a Single, Struggling, Partially Employed, Barely Mobile, Black Mother Of A Teenage Son Has Yet To “Occupy”‘?

“People assumed I was doing well – nobody considered me struggling [as a performance artist],” she said wistfully. “When I put myself out there, I gave others the courage to say “I’m struggling too!” She adds with some disbelief, “Now everybody wants to hear what I have to say.”

As the title of her FB letter signaled, that fall – last fall – was a painful, rough-and-tumble time in her life. In fact, the whole edgy experience of seeing others’ reactions to her plaintive explanation of why she couldn’t be part of Occupy Detroit – along with the shadowy lilt of her poetry, revealed to her that it was a ‘purging’ time in her life.

Some details of the performing artist’s life have changed – she has a car now (at least for the time being), has more employment – doing work she loves at the Boggs Center. To her dismay she’s still living with relatives in the burbs, which, as nice as it is to have family to rely on, dampens her creative muse and says her writing is suffering.

Yet the most significant change transcends any predicament she finds herself in. Tawana simply doesn’t see herself as ‘struggling’ any longer. After the whole ‘Occupy’ letter thing, she says, she has a “bigger confidence.” It’s clear that being pulled through that knothole of total and absolute uncertainty has changed her thinking and, in turn, changed her life. During that period, she says, she could do nothing other than surrender – surrender to simply ‘what is’ and rest in the knowing that everything’s going to turn out for the best. She calls it ‘jumping into the fire.’

Having been in that painful place, screaming ouch in a very authentic, transparent and public way, and receiving the overwhelming understanding, support and comfort from the community has changed her life. She’s committed to returning to her poetry but, this time, moving it to a place of inspiration for other ‘at-risk’ women. That’s because, as she sees it, she’s not ‘at-risk’ anymore. What’s more, her 16-year-old son is doing well, even thriving. As a sophomore at Cass Tech he’s an honor role student. Not bad. Plus, says Tawana with more disbelief, son thinks mom is a female Dr. King.

She’s talking about introducing a second book this summer – it will be ‘strategic’ she notes with her poetry and short stories highlighting women’s roles within the community. This time, Tawana says of her poetry and spoken word, she’s focused on solutions and wants to hold that space for others who are going through the challenges she’s seen. She says resolutely and confidently, “Nothing will knock me off my square again.”

Then, to punctuate her mission, Tawana recounts a favorite teacher – in 3rd grade – who had her young students sit in a circle. She showed them a poster. The poster said “Friendship develops the moment when one person says to another, ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one.””




About Becca

A transplant to Detroit, Becca Williams is wondering what's all this fuss about Detroit and its metro area? Eight mile, suburbs, lots of 'zebras,' pitting who against whom? She just says, "Let's get the women together and we'll figure it out." So here it is: Shetroit.com: Women Dreaming Detroit. And another thing, she comes from Chicago where the whole metro area was referred to as 'Chicagoland.' It's a big hug that says, "We share a land. We're community." From now on, Detroitland. Click here to read more about Rebecca

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