“I come as one, I stand as 10,000” -Dr. Maya Angelou
When I was a graduate student in England, I was approached by an artist who asked me to pose for his drawing class. After some hesitation I accepted and when I walked into the studio I realized I was the only black person in there. Immediately I remembered centuries of black women trapped in the often violent gaze of others. And there I was perpetuating this historical atrocity… posing with all these eyes gazing on me and capturing every contour of my body with their charcoal pencils. What was I thinking? But then it dawned on me…this was an opportunity. An opportunity to re-write some history and do some teaching.
It turned out it was a speed drawing class, where I had to switch bodily positions every two minutes as they furiously sketched away. And I could also use props. So I gathered some colorful silk scarves and wrapped them around my wrists like chains and pulled them apart in strong movements of liberation while shouting names of the nameless women who had endured and survived and thrived and soared…and I flooded the space with empowering words as I would swing my hips or twist my waist–FREEDOM! LIBERATION! POWERFUL! REDEMPTION! Needless to say, the budding artists said they had never had a model like that before! I would argue nor since!
I came as one but I did stand as 10,000! Everyday I stand with others hovering around me. Like Dr. Angelou said, you gain strength and confidence from those who came before you and who you now stand on the shoulders of and whose words you carry with you through life. Words that help you be who you are. Words from my mother, my father, my grandmother; words from poets, writers; words from dancers and singers; words from the psalms, the gospels, God-stories.
Who’s in your 10,000?