We are in the midst of the biggest civil rights movement of our generation. Whatever you believe, and wherever you may stand on the spectrum, the reality is this--many people are sick and tired of police brutality disproportionately targeting Black people and systemic racism that runs deep in parts of our country’s culture.
People all over the world are coming together to take a stand. These are very intense times for anyone who is tuned in and paying attention. Many of you may be wondering, as I am, how we can show up and be supportive of Black people and people of color everywhere.
I wanted to join the protests in the streets. But at 34 weeks pregnant, I decided I need to keep me and my baby safe. I instead teamed up with my friends to use our collaborative artistic skills to produce a peaceful protest photoshoot.
That day, I learned a valuable lesson:
Sometimes, the best gift and highest form of support you can give another person is simply the quality of your full attention.
Today, I’m going to share my experiences from that day as well as share several ways you can give the gift of the quality of your full attention through active listening.
Last Friday, we gathered at my friend Ashley’s home with the intention of doing an artful protest shoot that celebrated melanin skin. My friends modeling in the shoot picked a phrase that resonated deeply within their hearts. The phrases included the following:
Protect black women.
How many weren’t filmed?
My skin is not a sin.
We all bleed the same color.
Our amazing artist Dancy Turner lovingly painted each phrase across their chests. As we prepared for the shoot, we relaxed on a lovely shaded patio in a lush garden, caught up on each others’ lives, and asked our muses how they were feeling during the powerful rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
They disclosed that this was a very overwhelming time for them. They shared that the movement, while entirely welcome, also made them pause and question why it took so long for the subjugation and suffering of Black people to come into full focus for others.
They reported that other clothing companies, many of which have seldom or even never contacted them for collaborative work in the past, were suddenly blowing up their DMs, wishing to create together. It added to their emotional fatigue of an already intense historical situation for them, and came across as disingenuous.
"Sometimes, the best gift and highest form of support you can give another person is simply the quality of your full attention."
Some shared that the movement, and all the various confrontations of systemic racism and police brutality, re-opened all their personal traumas that they had been suppressing for many years. They said that the pain was nearly unbearable.
One even said she thought about harming herself.
All the while, I watched the emotions surge through their eyes. Sometimes I would briefly repeat back what was shared with me. But mostly, I listened.
They didn’t need me adding my two cents. They didn’t need me to try and spin the situation into a positive. They didn’t need me to placate their feelings.
They didn’t need anything from me, except my acknowledgement and the quality of my full attention.
Here are several ways you can be supportive, to someone who is hurting, through active listening. These techniques can be used for anyone at any time for any reason, not just during a civil rights movement, but in the home, in your personal relationships, in your community.
Don’t look at your phone, don’t get distracted. Take a deep breath. Be there with the person. Gaze gently at them and be curious about what they have to say, without judgement or too much inner dialogue.
Listen to hear, not to respond.
You’ve probably heard this one. Often times when we are listening, we are doing so with the intention of responding as soon as the person is done. When someone is in pain, it is imperative that we absorb everything that they are saying and that we do not make it about us.
Repeat back what was said to you.
Keep it brief and short. This demonstrates that you are actively hearing the other person. If you are unclear about something, ask questions.
Hear me, don’t fix me.
Often times we want to provide a solution to peoples problems. But in some cases, all the person needs is simply for us to hold space and to let them vent their feelings and frustrations to us. Unless the other person asks, do not try and provide quick fixes. Do not try and put a positive spin on things. Accept their feelings and the person as they are in the moment.
I’m so grateful to our muses for opening up, for becoming strong and vulnerable in our conversations and for trusting us with their truths.
In times like these, when all we hear is noise from the media, heartbreaking reports from the news and fights between Black Lives Matter protesters and All Lives Matter defenders, sometimes the best thing we can do is reach out to our Black friends and ask them genuinely how they are feeling. Then it’s time to stop talking, and just listen.
Special thanks to my amazing friends who helped make this peaceful protest shoot a beautiful reality:
Photos: Javier Luna
Muses: Kyrstin Nicole, Mariah Rosen, Ashley Rose, Jessi Jae Joplin
Body Paint: Dancy Turner
Makeup: Ian Simmons-Francisco
Mimosa Squad: Jordin Bertsch-Neuvert and Keilani Francisco