Mothering in the Black Lives Matter movement

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2014 Black Lives Matter protest in New York City. Image: Otto Yamamoto/Flickr

When I was preparing to give birth, I learned that a steady breath was essential to keep the oxygen flowing to the baby. I remember my senses going wild once in labour. I was drenched in sweat with encouraging voices inaudible; the room was spinning. I wanted to sleep, but the pain wouldn't let me. Survival was my focus; I knew I could not scream. I had to let the pain hit, breathe, let the tears fall, and visualize my ideal outcome.

Inhala, exhala, visualize.
Inhala, exhala, visualize pain.
Love. Dedication. Exhaustion. Resilience. Rebirth.
Giving birth to a child, Giving birth to a movement. Breathe in, breathe out, visualize.

These are moments that alter the world as we know it. Mothering has been a laborious process, rooted in joy, gratitude, and love so deep it renews my faith in Spirit because I know I draw from the depths of the universe to deal with ghost pains from the trauma, new pains from the heartbreak. The most powerful thing that I could do in that moment to ensure our survival was to breathe and trust my body.

Similarly, the pain that comes with the labour of love in activism has caused me to lose my breath and doubt my survival at times. I have felt like I could die from the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain that has come with creating spaces where the voices of the most marginalized can live and thrive. I have often felt suffocated within the walls of a white supremacist world that lies and hides behind politeness and fake news. Like hospital walls, boardroom walls often close in on me, making me sick to my stomach.

Many times, I want to scream. At the top of my lungs every time our spaces are taken or when our hard work is undone. In Ontario, Black Lives Matter Toronto's advocacy resulted in millions of dollars of funding committed at the municipal and provincial level, the creation of an Anti-Black Racism Directorate and countless public programs, offices, and positions; members of the BLMTO movement organized the Black Lives Matter Freedom School, encouraging parental and caregiver involvement in abolitionist work, pushing for equity in education and police-free classrooms, and of course the win of an armed and uniformed police-free Pride.

Then, upon the election of Doug Ford's Conservative government at the provincial level, we began to see a rollback of all the hard-fought wins for our communities.

In times like this, I feel like I'm back in the hospital, full of pain, trying to give life, while scared for my life and that of my child. Sometimes I see red, drenched in sweat, encouraging voices inaudible, and wanting to sleep but being kept awake by the fear that  my sons and I could be killed. In these frustrating moments, when I feel exhausted and ready to die, I breathe through the pain. In my third year of receiving guidance from Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Maria Montejo, I have learned again and again how to breathe new life into this world. Maria tells me I have the power to bring Spirit into the physical form. This connection between motherhood and activism, the job of manifesting joy and life in the physical form, is connected with my breath, with transformation.

It has been a year since I first started writing this. And in that time, a process of radical transformation has occurred within me. I have taken critical steps to communicate and model healthier lifestyle choices to my sons.

I am practicing a radical love that centres me and confirms my worthiness. Writing this helped me see how the patterns of activism -- of minimal sleep, high stress, poor eating habits, and repeated exposure to unchecked abuses of power -- has made me sick. Loving myself and modelling love of self for others has freed me to mother in the healthiest states of mind and spirit that I've ever felt.

From this pain, through breath, will come new life. The truth is that the boogeymen will not listen to our screams because they don't care to hear us. But if we breathe, love ourselves, and transcend to the realization that we have the power to give birth to new education systems, new streams of funding, new sustainable ways of organizing, then screaming at them becomes irrelevant. By being adaptive we won't need to be screaming, because we will be busy building a world where our people hold power and are free.

I have drawn boundaries of what I am and am not willing to give of myself and my family to push forward the movement; it is not a love lost but simply a clarity around misplaced feelings of guilt, shame, anger, fear, and sadness. When I advocate for the rights of our people, I'm advocating for the little girl that has not had her needs met.

I have experienced immense pressure as an Afro-Indigenous Latina, teenage mother, and organizer to prove my worth to everyone around me. The last poem I submitted for public viewing was published eight years ago, in an effort to heal my inner child from that self-judgement. Today, my inner child has found her voice and she is raising herself and her sons with trust, love, compassion and permission. Permission to unlearn/relearn is to let the young girl in me play and also cry. It is permission I have vocalized with my sons and many of the youth I work with along my journey. They have now seen me cry, breathe, and process emotions many times. They in turn have felt permission to feel and even cry.

I celebrate the young spirit in me with bright lips, funky nails, large hoop earrings, and big curly hair. She is writing poetry again. Soon, I will take to the stage. I am mothering me, my sons, and my many children in the movement. My goal is our freedom; the strategy: self-love.

Silvia Argentina Arauz is a Nicaraguense Latina with African and Indigenous roots. She is a mother, writer, educator, and ancestor who has dedicated much of her and amplification of pro-liberation models coming out of grassroots organizing. This essay originally appeared in Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada, published by University of Regina Press. It is excerpted here with permission.

Image: Otto Yamamoto/Flickr

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