By Tekita Bankhead
I know I’m not alone in the fact that the last few months have rocked my world. I have never received such a constant rush of bad news in such short periods in my entire life. For anyone with pre-existing mental concerns, this has been a perfect storm to trigger a total meltdown. For Black women in particular, research shows that chronic anxiety and depression affect a larger number of us in comparison to our White women counterparts, yet we are often less likely to seek and receive help. We are living in times many of us could have never fathomed, and our reality is truly akin to nightmares and worst-case scenarios that our anxious brains couldn’t even begin to conceptualize. My thoughts bounce around so much that I’m now convinced that this must be the emotional rollercoaster Vivian Green warned us about (Homegirl was ahead of her time).
I’m frequently on edge to some degree despite my best efforts to practice self-care in every single way imaginable. I go to my virtual therapy appointments regularly. I use all of the tools in my proverbial mental wellness toolkits; sometimes they work well, and other times, they take more effort than usual. I’ve been channeling some serious Solange energy and trying to yoga it away, nap it away, cook it away, hydrate it away, vitamin supplement it away, obsessively disinfect it away, paint it away, wine it away (LOTS of wine), and even pray it away. My prayers started out lengthy, heartfelt, precise, and thoughtful; now, on some nights, the tears and worries will only let me murmur, “Help us, Lord.” Some days, I’m able to share resources freely and not be overwhelmed by the news. On other days, I have to constantly mute phrases or words on my social media accounts (or take a break altogether), so I won’t be blindsided by another terrible incident or graphic video. Just when I feel like Black people have detonated one bomb in “the struggle,” it feels like 5 more grenades get thrown in our direction. Whether it’s the disproportionate harm caused by COVID-19, racism, or the consistent erasure of Black womxn in the entire fight, it has been unsettling to literally and figuratively walk on eggshells for months with no clear end in sight. Who can be a magical Black woman or a joyous Black boy in a world like this?
Our divine gifts are our greatest assets during trying times. If you have ever wondered if you had a talent that was truly a divine gift, you will always be able to tell by where it leads you. Even when you walk away from it. Even when you avoid it. Even when you vehemently deny it. Somehow your gifts always bring you right back to your true self, and for me, right back to God. My gift has always been writing. I can’t count how many times in the past few months I have hesitated to put my pen to paper about everything that’s happening in the world. The funny thing about writers is that our most intimate and efficient way of communicating our perspective is through our words. Writing is our most liberating, yet our most terrifying, tool. To write a feeling is to make it undeniably real. And the idea of making the current horrendous conditions of the world and of the Black community tangible with my words felt stifling, intimidating, and unproductive. I kept thinking to myself, “What’s one more article going to do but emphasize our agony?” However, as I began to journal, I wrote my way back to a sense of relief, clarity, and renewal. I wrote the light back into my darkened vision. Therefore, I must pass on that “light.”
Have you ever looked up the word “light” in the dictionary? If you’re anything like me, you might be astounded at how fitting all of the definitions are to our current reality. Merriam-Webster defines light as “something that makes vision possible.” Other related definitions describe light as “a spiritual illumination,” “to ignite something,” and “a particular aspect or appearance presented to view.” With every disastrous murder, policy, or public health outbreak, we have seen an equally affirming commitment to dismantling the current institutions that have fueled the systematic oppression and extermination of Black people for centuries. Activists on the frontlines, both from the past and today, largely agree that something feels different about this moment. This anger doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. This fire is raging on amid uncertainty. Our light has not been put out by anyone, no matter how hard they have tried. Our key, now, is to keep our light going strong.
Light is not only about the individual, but also about the collective; everyone plays a role in the light. By strengthening our lights, we all shine brighter in the fight for justice and equity. In my opinion, there are three important components of creating and sustaining light:
- The Switch (The Energy Source) – Every light needs an energy source and means for activation. Whether that’s a higher deity or a deeply seeded inner purpose, no light can shine without power. Whenever you feel that your light is starting to dim, in whichever way feels relative to you, always return to the source. This could mean spending more time in prayer, in mediation, or just deep reflection to cut out the external static noise and focus intently on your larger “why.” Sometimes our energy sources can get disrupted, so it’s important to check in with yourself periodically to maintain your energy reserves in whichever way is most useful for you.
- The Lamp (The Connections and Power Supply) – Lamps are an essential conduit to transform energy into light, and there is no way to get light without a fixture. Metaphorically speaking, lamps represent our support networks. Just as no bulb can be jammed directly into a light switch or a power outlet, there is no way to connect to your light without pathways from the “why” to the “what now.” This is where the strategic planning kicks in; you identify your allies, your advocates, and your village of loved ones who can keep you centered throughout the fight. These are the people who also connect you to resources and will remind you to unplug if it seems like your light might be starting to flicker.
- The Bulb (The Immediate Task/Goal) – This light is your most visible contribution to the world. This is your assignment for this season in the fight. When lights are turned on, they are a signal for action! What is your most pressing goal to accomplish before the light burns out? I think bulbs are replaceable because we all have multiple contributions to the fight and this world. Once one task is complete, installing a new bulb signifies a new task to undertake that is perfectly suited for the time. Additionally, if all bulbs are grouped together, each focusing on their specifically suited goal, the light is bright, enduring, and powerful.
This fight needs everyone’s light. We are entering into a new normal that many of us have never seen before, and it will require every single ounce of our collective power to sustain. Our lights will continue to fuel the movement while also illuminating the deception of incompetent leadership and broken systems. Black people are a chosen people. Don’t you ever forget that! We inherently carry a light that the world has not been able to extinguish, no matter how many centuries of the evil and hate they have unleashed on our ancestors. I implore us all to let them stay mad, while we stay lit.
Tekita Bankhead is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of the Pedestal Project, LLC. She is a registered nurse, entrepreneur, Student Affairs professional, and doctoral student. Her professional experiences focus primarily on mental health, social justice, effective coping skills, race-related trauma, and women’s empowerment. Tekita is a noted speaker, instructor, and independent consultant who delivers innovative educational workshops designed to tackle complex issues of inclusive leadership, cultural humility, wellness, and identity. Connect with Tekita on Instagram and Twitter @tekitaapplebum.