Brave Spaces

by Annalisa Enrile
June 9, 2020

I barely survived last week and not because I was on the front lines of the daily protests, or because I dodged plastic bullets or tear gas or went face to face with a line of unyielding police. On the high risk side of the pandemic, I wasn’t sure how to navigate the streets despite the fact that I have protested all over the world. So, I offered myself in another way- I worked with sister-colleagues to create brave spaces.

We always talk about safe spaces where people can say what they want, where they can be vulnerable and work through things without fear or judgement. Safe spaces are important ,but they aren’t enough now. We have to build BRAVE SPACES. Brave spaces are also safe, but they challenge us to do more. They challenge us into action. A brave space happens when the talking is done and the planning begins.

So, Renee, Melissa and I spent a week where every day, sometimes twice a day, we opened up a zoom room and waited for people to enter. Every day we spoke to faculty. Twice we talked to students. Twice I held groups for girls and women. I’ve done clinical work. I’ve been an activist. I am a great friend. In other words, I know how to listen. Or I thought I did.

But, in Brave Spaces, you must listen deep- not just to what the person is saying, but how their body is speaking, how their breath is measured and how the room responds. You must hear your own exhale when something said resonates so indelibly that it feels like someone read your mind…or your soul. Yes, you have to listen to heart beats and tears and raised fists. You have to listen so deeply that you can respond back not with the perfect words, but with the needed words. It will be hit or miss, but hopefully less of the latter.

So, what did I hear? I heard anger and fear and outrage. I heard a lot about white guilt and privilege. This was hard because it was genuine. Questions were authentic and you can’t not help people asking for help. The contrast were the stories from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) participants. We talked about how to raise black children and how it felt to see images of black people being killed by law enforcement and what needed to change. I often wondered how the conversation would have been with one or the other but feel that communication as a whole is needed to heal society as a whole.

Listening, hearing, affirming, empathizing, collaborating….all of this was an emotional labor I was not prepared for. I was spent and exhausted, barely able to process the weekfor myself. Then, on Friday, I mustered the last bit of my energy to do our webcast, “Say Something.” We were interviewing my goddaughter, Malia, a senior in high school who missed out on her senior year rituals because of COVID19. She spoke with such eloquence and grace about these milestones she missed. And, then when we asked her about the current civil unrest, and how this related to her participation in her school’s Pilipino Cultural Club, she said quite simply, “Yes, we are supporting the black community. We have to be in solidarity.” Then, she gave us examples. Renee asked her how she got through it. She said, with a slight giggle, “I stay positive.”

All of the sudden, I was still tired, but I was hopeful. Filled with it. Believed in it. Overwhelmed with hope. We used to live in a world where people ignored the suffering, the oppression. And, maybe there are white houses where people still ignore what is happening, but the WORLD HAS CHANGED. Painstaking political work and organizing has bloomed in the midst of violence and bloodshed so that it is impossible to ignore racism, implausible to not feel compelled into action.

All weekend, I let myself rest. I engaged in what Audre Lorde called Radical Self Care. She said caring for ourselves so we could serve the community was an act of political warfare. So, I sat by the ocean. I had a social distanced lunch with friends. I slept in, watched movies and ate what comforted me. Then, I woke up this Monday morning, brave space built, fire in my veins, ready for revolution.