This time last year I was engaged in what became my most powerful inspiration of 2023 – meeting and being in conversation with John B. Smith (writer, advocate, and community organizer) for Mile 18: One Year Later…A Conversation on the Labor & Love of Belonging hosted by RedLine Contemporary Arts Center. Being in real time and space with Mr. Smith brought me closer to the ever-present spirit of Dr. Martin L. King Jr., a hero in my world. I say this because Mr. Smith was among the last men to spend time with Dr. King – a couple of hours shy of his assassination.
The gift of seeing another day affords me the added gift of being alive to remember and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy again. I am reflecting on the conditions of our lives today, social change as a path to more love, and our tense relationship with fear. Dr. King once said, “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” I am holding that thought close as I lean into this written journey of remembering and checking in.
Remembering: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” (Martin Luther King Jr.) These words transport me back to November 2023 when I returned to the Keshet Center for the Arts for my second creative development/community residency in Albuquerque, NM. Little did I know that crossing paths with twenty or so youths (ages 8 – 17) would turn me upside down in beautiful ways, allow me to let out a gargantuan exhale – release all fear for a moment in time, and experience a conversation where I felt and witnessed a future in hands that held so much curiosity, care, kindness, and a commitment to humanity. These youths, members of KP3 (Keshet’s Pre-Professional) Program, are sparks for me as I continue my journey through The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging. Their courage and foresight to create new lanes for shaping a more connected world are inspiring. And WE would not have been able to inspire each other had time not been carved out for us to sit together to genuinely engage in creative activities, conversation, and listen to one another.
Checking In: My audacity to hope may have been shaken more than a couple of times along the way but it is fiercer than ever. “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.” (MLK) It has been 3 years since the January 6th Capitol attack and the start of a highly visible moment of ongoing senseless killings of Black bodies, both of which initially sparked The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging. In this moment I am especially thinking about Tyre Nichols, 29 years old, and how a year ago he was brutally beaten by police in Memphis, TN – the city where Dr. King was assassinated.
Our current societal landscape holds many trials and triumphs, setbacks, and victories. As we navigate divisiveness due to political tensions, civil unrest and war, a fight to defend Trans lives, and a rise in mental health challenges, to exercise one’s right to vote in 2024 elections is more critical than ever. All of this influences the work I do. It keeps me anchored in my purpose of pushing back on ongoing abuses of power to inspire hope through dance, particularly WITH community.
Remembering: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” (MLK) I meet adversity by actioning through the arts. This moment is connecting me to The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging as me trusting faith. Each new state I visit. Each new community I enter. Each conversation and workshop I facilitate. The unknown is far greater than the known. While I can articulate the work’s ecosystem, its framework and the outcomes to emerge from it, there is so much unknown. And I am not afraid. Trusting the process (i.e., faith) is the only way I can mobilize and free myself to create. Letting go of what I cannot control, living in the now, holding what I create as sparks and not solutions, and believing that something can be different – possible – is the true manifestation of The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging.
As I reflect on the legacy of one of my heroes – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – I remember watching documentaries and reading stories about his tireless efforts and the constant obstacles that he faced. I remind myself to keep dreaming and actively doing. By weathering the storms to learn from them, celebrating the wins, and fully trusting the power of art and artmaking, I am doing the work. And I have so much gratitude for being able to do the work WITH others – community.
“No person has the right to rain on your dreams,” said Dr. King. My dreams for greater humanity and a more inclusive world cannot be taken from me. I am 9 states, 61 community engagements, 7 choreographic rituals and 2 stage productions into my multi-year, multi-outcome journey that is The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging. It is already a vision realized for what can be possible when dreaming and going out on faith. 2024 will be a year that will include activities in Missouri, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. alongside ongoing activities in the state of Colorado. I am fortunate for art as it has saved me time and time again, brought me together with others, and made possible a vehicle for stitching together dreams and visions of a greater sense of belonging.
Pictured: Helanius J. Wilkins. Costume: Jasmine Lewis Design. MUA: Pure Joy Artistry. Photography by: Jeremiah Hutchens. Helanius J. Wilkins/SALT, LLC ©2023.