2020 Taught Me to Breathe

2020 Taught Me to Breathe

My response to a scholarship prompt: 2020 was a challenging year in many respects. What have you learned about yourself that will enable you to thrive in school, your career, and in life? (250-500 words)

Breathe in. Hold. Release. 

Your breath. Your expectations. The pressure. To be “on” all the time. To be “productive” all the time. The pandemic was heavy with woe, and also opportunity– to slow down, to deepen our connection with ourselves and therefore those around us. As the world shared a brush with fatality,  I focused immense time and energy into my health. I ran, and ran, and ran. I found solace with my breath. And the perfect tree in a perfect park by a Bronx expressway where I sat for hours on end, befriending sounds of birds and passing cars. I cut out processed sugars and dairy. I ate berries. Kale, whole foods, and vegetables. I allowed myself to have faith that my body would protect me– because frankly I don’t believe anyone else could. During this same time, the news featured more murder by the police, more tragedy inflicted personally and institutionally– I did more research on eugenics, on the Tuskegee Syphilis trials, on indigenous methods of healing. I breathed in more knowledge, noticed where I held the tension in my body, and released the need to conform to any convention that was not in the well being of me, my family, or my community. As I learned so intimately as a first generation U.S. citizen and child of an extremely hardworking single mother– if we want change (both internal and external) it’s up to us.

Breathe in. Hold on. Let go.

Let go of previous definitions of normalcy. Let go of desires that do not hold prominent meaning– for life is too short to be wasting any second. Find stillness in your mind, and the answer will flow through you like a river. In 2020 I began my PhD journey. Prior to this, I was a youth program director for a girls center in Harlem where I taught a comprehensive and holistic sexual education program, organized college mentorship opportunities, and had conversations around art and resistance. “I can’t believe I get paid for this,” was my common thought as I worked there. Once March hit and we transitioned online, the programming continued– only now we had muted mics and floating icons. Today, I still mentor these girls (I don’t think I will ever stop) but I prefer one on one calls. I am using this opportunity as a PhD student and an adjunct professor as an opportunity to teach future teachers the critical tools and knowledge necessary to prioritize connection-making in the classroom. I share articles (Freire, Kincheloe, Quintero…) and tools intended to increase youth voice and agency and decrease traditional oppressive power dynamics in the classroom. So when the world does open back up, teachers are more prepared to ensure each young person rightly feel that they matter.

This virtual space is difficult. Drawn out. At many points, simply very sad (I really miss the physicality of class). But, this is also an opportunity for transformation. To let go of what does not serve us. To hold still in this space of recreation and learning, and then exhale into a new world with more mindful people that honor connection more than ever. With their students, with each other, within themselves.

3 thoughts on “2020 Taught Me to Breathe

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