I Am Free - Standing in Our Power (SiOP)

By Hope Lehman

Donate to the powerful work of SiOP here: http://bit.ly/1XfLfJC

Last week I decided to reconnect with spirit and pull a few tarot cards from my “Daughters of the Moon Tarot” card deck. While doing my usual shuffling and meditation, a card fell out of the deck that featured a group of women around a table with a delicious feast (see image below). This card was actually placed in the tarot guide book by the individual whom I bought the book from online. They had set this card aside just for me. The women on the card immediately made me think of all the powerful women I connected with at the Standing in Our Power (SiOP) Transformational Leadership Institute three months earlier in New York. I didn’t think much of the card when I first saw it in the mail this past summer, but I now had a smirk on my face at the realization that my connection to SiOP was meant to be. 

My experience at the SiOP Transformational Leadership Institute this year came at a very pivotal time in my life. I had just deferred graduate school for a year and was navigating a shiny new job traveling all over the country to support young women of color and volunteers with STEM Education. I was enjoying the highest salary I had ever had before and was getting opportunities to connect with Black communities all over the country. However, as I got deeper into the work, I began to feel the stress and toxicity of the work environment. I was exhausted all the time, unavailable for my own self care, disconnected from my friends and family, and experiencing resistance from leadership on how to improve the work environment. I was deeply conflicted about leaving the job. As a 28 year old woman of color who is the oldest of 11 siblings from a working class welfare background with parents that have struggled with addiction and mental health - I am supposed to build a better future for the next generation. How could I give up financial stability and this unique experience? 

This is the context in which I entered the SiOP Transformational Leadership Institute in September 2015. I was struggling with the question of how long I should stay at my toxic job and reflecting on how I really wanted to spend my time making a living as a woman of color dedicated to social change. SiOP gave me the space to face my demons and provided a safe place for me to truly decompress. I remember falling asleep on a couch in this beautiful farm house we were staying in during break. I just curled up in a ball and let myself sleep in a strange new place. My anxiety is usually triggered by new living quarters and I often cannot rest my first few nights in a new place. However, I felt so held by the facilitators and community of SiOP that I felt free enough to relax. This moment means a lot to me as it was a reminder to give myself permission to rest.  

Facing my demons came during the deeply transformational “Affirmation Exercise” at the institute. We had to come up with an affirmation that we were going to take back with us. During this activity I began to really analyze why I accepted the shiny job in the first place and how it fit into my overall goals as an artist, social entrepreneur, and political educator. Throughout the retreat, I kept sharing my crazy experience at the job over and over again. I realized that I had been venting about this job for months. I was venting because I was searching for answers and validation. I did not trust myself to make a decision. I immediately connected this distrust to my childhood as an older sister taking on adult roles within a welfare dependent single parent household traveling between the upper/ middle class white town of Davis, CA and low income people of color neighborhoods of Sacramento, CA. My mother was struggling to find herself and taking on her own entrepreneurial endeavors within the majority white hippie community of Davis.  However, her goals never panned out in the way she had hoped and the family constantly critiqued the decisions she made. I had internalized this distrust of her decisions and realized that, as my woman of color role model, I had an internalized distrust of myself as well. 

There are no words that can describe the experience of realizing something so deep. I am emotional even as I write about it now. Ultimately, I decided to submit a resignation letter to my job the Monday after the institute. I was still nervous about risking financial instability, as I did not have another formal job lined up. However, my spirit knew I had to get out of the toxic environment. To stay grounded in my decision, I recited the affirmation I developed at SiOP , “I do what is best for me, I am free”. 

Since SiOP and leaving my job, I have plunged into the adventure of self employment. I am now directing my skills, talents, and passion toward building a stronger foundation for my business, Fresh to Def Collective - a social justice enterprise that honors the legacy and culture of people of color in the United States through wearable art products and community consulting.

The road a head is not all butterflies and rainbows. I continue to have my off days when my anxiety is triggered as I figure out my next career moves. However, I am grounded in knowing that I am now apart of a network of incredible powerful intergenerational women of color warriors all over the country that I can turn to for guidance and support. Healing spaces like SiOP are crucial to the work of social justice. The personal is political as we often must, first, face ourselves before we can face the world. I am deeply thankful for this lesson and look forward to counting to find my place within the movement for liberation.  

#Ashe  #IamFree

Donate to the powerful work of SiOP here: http://bit.ly/1XfLfJC


2015 Holiday Season

Hello Beautiful Community!

I am excited to share that I will be focusing on my passion project Fresh to Def Collective for the remainder of the 2015 year. I need all of your help to spread the word about my fashion and art social enterprise so that I can make this the most abundant holiday season yet! 

Place the following dates on your calendar to come support us at awesome holiday events in the Bay Area.