The Covid-19 pandemic was a rollercoaster of emotions and frankly a lot to digest. In March of 2020, life as we all knew it changed forever. I never stopped, never paused, I just continued to plough through. Rolling along with every change in both my work and personal life. I kept myself busy from morning until night with zoom meetings, new recipes, workout clips on YouTube, and staying connected to those outside the four walls of my apartment with social media. When I look back, it seems like a blur, like part of a bad dream that is slightly comforting because I was one of the lucky ones. On top of the pandemic, there were the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black lives that mattered that I grieved for.
Staying busy has been a security blanket for me my entire life. If my mind is active, and I am engaged in a project, I do not have time to think about what is wrong or not working or a worldwide pandemic! I got through by popping in my headphones and going for long walks through my neighborhood during zoom meetings. I never stopped working, I just pivoted and continued. Some days were downright exhausting and felt longer somehow in the virtual space, but I got through it, or at least that is what I told myself.
Once 2021 came along I was completely mentally and emotionally fried. I shut down at work, no longer could I explain why Black lives mattered to my colleagues or how we should respond as an institution to the Black men and women being murdered by the police. Family and friends kept reminding me that I had a paycheck and was able to continue working during a pandemic. “Be thankful,” they said. Truthfully, I was burned out. I was out of new ideas, and every project felt as if I was adding more layers to my already heavy load. I received an email regarding the NYCAIE roundtable Face-to-Face virtual conference and decided to register. It was at this conference that I came across a post for the Black Women’s Wellness Retreat. I clicked on the link and spent the next two hours applying. I needed this. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I needed it. I had not traveled anywhere since 2019, and the last time I traveled it was for work not pleasure or a retreat. I also could not remember the last time I had focused on my wellness and truly making myself my priority. One of the questions asked if I had ever been to a retreat? and my answer was unequivocally no.
“Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth. It is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.” University of California, Davis.This definition of wellness really resonated with me. The words that stuck out were active, choices, change and growth. I made the choice to focus on my wellness and attend BWWR2021.
On the first day of BWWR2021, I arrived at Target in Brooklyn around 8am. One by one, beautiful Black women artists and educators arrived. A little apprehensive at first, we all began to quietly speak to one another and then excitement filled the air. Every single step of the weekend was organized, thoughtful, and beautifully executed.
From the moment I arrived at the Charm & Peaceful House, I felt my body relax and peace embrace me like a warm hug. The group of women in my house—artists, educators, actors, writers, musicians, dancers, designers, and just badass strong women—were open, strong, and were in a process of change and growth. The house we stayed in was over one hundred years old and had a one-acre garden in the backyard. It had history and bones, while being warm and inviting. There was a huge back porch with a chandelier, cozy furniture, and a dining table. That porch became our stomping ground and haven for the weekend. We took our Zumba & yoga classes there, ate our meals, and got to know one another on that porch. Our first evening there, curious and friendly, a deer approached as we sat on the porch. I took it as a sign that we were meant to be there at that moment, and we were welcomed.
There was so much love and care put into the planning and schedule for the BWWR, from the welcome from Toya Lillard (whose Facebook show Black Women are Reliable Sources, I am completely obsessed with), to the Zumba class and virtual dance party the first day, to the snacks, care packages and healthy meals. Everything was done with thought and care. I liked that we had the freedom to participate in as little or as much as we would like to. We could attend virtually or participate in person with the women in our houses.
One of the highlights for me was the virtual reiki session. I will admit that I was skeptical at first, but the hood healer aka Reshena Johnson was nurturing and professional. I felt relaxed and ready to let go and be present for the weekend. On Saturday, myself and the ladies of the Charm & Peaceful House decided to spend our house community gathering time going on a hike. We drove to the Falling Waters Preserve and did a 3.5-mile hike in the woods. We celebrated one another, we rested when we needed to rest, and we continued. We walked the entire preserve and spent time by the river and waterfalls just taking it all in. I will never forget this moment. Being in that space with other Black women who come from similar backgrounds, seeking rest, seeking peace, and getting all that we needed and more from the waterfalls. Taking the time for ourselves, our wellness, supporting and guiding one another, respecting ourselves and each other. The feeling of accomplishment I felt when we all passed the threshold at the end of the hike is beyond words. That afternoon, author jessica Care moore came over to the Charm & Peaceful house to share love and sign copies of her latest book We Want Our Bodies Back. It was an idyllic afternoon. That night, we had dinner with the “Saugerties Lighthouse” crew at a house overlooking the lake. We fellowshipped together while eating dinner, laughing with full bellies, and dancing. We took in the talent show, lifting one another up, and celebrating ourselves. It was truly a night to remember.
Since that night, I have not been able to get that lake house out of my mind. How could I create this feeling of peace and wellness when I returned home? How could I spend more time in nature, taking care of myself; mentally and physically? How could I make time for my wellness?
I realized that I always had the time. It has been my choice to put everything and everyone above myself, I have created this feeling of being busy and not having time. But there is always time for what we make a priority. I found the time to take this trip (despite mentally canceling at least 10x ‘s a day before leaving). I find time to do my job and to take care of my family, but I cannot find the time to take care of myself? Time, I found, is a choice. There is time to do the things our body and minds crave, but we must make it a priority. We must make time to rest, to grow, to change and not make excuses or cancel on ourselves. We would not do it at work, and we would not do it to the ones we love, so why do we do it to ourselves?
It has been a few weeks since I attended the BWWR 2021, and I have not been able to stop talking about it. I felt loved, I felt seen, and I felt appreciated. I was in community with other Black women for the first time since the pandemic, and I made the time for myself and my wellness. I owe it to myself and to those women to continue the wellness journey, to rest and retreat when needed, and to take care of myself. It is only when we make the decision to do this that we can be there for others and truly manifest what our heart desires. I am forever humbled and grateful for the opportunity and experience that the NYCAIE Roundtable provided me with this.
Born in Miami, violinist Lakeisha Frith is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Humanities. Ms. Frith began working with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony in 2005 as the String Orchestra Assistant and as an instructor in the GMYS Preparatory Program. In 2006, she started running a 3-tiered string program with upwards of 60 students at Pinecrest Elementary School. In 2015 she was promoted to Assistant Executive Director of the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, her duties included managing the preparatory, summer camps, and grant compliance. In September 2016, Ms. Frith became the Manager of Education at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts where she works in conjunction with resident companies, arts partners and Miami-Dade County Public Schools to enhance the arts education experience of all students and teachers throughout Miami-Dade County. Ms. Frith is an adjudicator for The Children’s Trust Young Talent Big Dreams Competition, a panelist for Miami Dade Cultural Affairs, and a member of Women of Color in the Arts. Lakeisha Frith maintains a private lesson studio and enjoys teaching and performing.