Last month I stayed on an old plantation in North Carolina.
Before it was a retreat center, it was a school campus. Before it was a school, it was sharecropper land. Before it was sharecropper land, it was a plantation. A site of terror for the breaking of unruly slaves.
I traveled to this place with other healers and organizers from all over the nation for a Healing & Safety Council Retreat for Black organizers with BYP100. An email had been sent out to the group prior to our arrival giving key information about the space. Honestly, I’d just left my job the week before and when I opened the email and it said ‘The water smells strongly of metal here,’ I stopped reading. I didn’t get to the part where it explained that the site of the retreat would be an old plantation. So, when we pulled into the grounds and I saw an old house that was that old, I knew where I was immediately and regretted not reading the email in full.
In addition to the water smelling strongly of sulfur, the land itself carried a very high vibration (and I’m not just saying that with good old Bay Area ‘woo’). For a solid portion of my time there, I walked around very quietly as if trying not to upset a baby. I felt like someone was trying to talk to me.
The healing work we came together to learn was about transformational justice. About working inward to make calling the police an obsolete option. We know that the harm that police cause in our communities, to our children and families is an act of terror and rarely (if ever) ends well for Black people (and that’s putting it lightly). We planted seeds together to build the technical strategies, the harm reduction approaches, the first-responder responses, and the flexibility to address instances of harm within our communities without ever calling the police.
Prior to doing this work we were grounded as a group in the knowing that we are all the answer to an ancestor’s prayer. There were several times throughout the material and our group grounding activities where I could’ve fell out and cried and caught the spirit—this was one of them. I thought about all of the times I walked around with my head down or full of doubt. I thought about my harming others instead of asking for help or grace. I thought about Black people, my people, every single one of us being an answer. I don’t have the words for what shifted in my being but I changed my mind. I think I had decided not to stifle the love that flows through me abundantly. Instead, to let it all wash over my people, each one an answer to a prayer. Each of us bearing the weight. Each of us, myself included, needing this outpouring of love that I was given and had been damming up for fear of fear (this is another essay in itself).
When everyone else felt the haze too, the heaviness that is ancestor spirit being in the room, we loved each other almost immediately. I’ve never seen so many loves of my life in one place.
I wanted to be as free as I could on this land. Feeling the spirit of these ancestors who toiled and bled and died and were separated from their families and their children on this land. I felt them inviting me to put my toes in the dirt. To be mad for them, spit and pull up things out of the ground in spite. But mostly to be free.
Every time I come together with my BYP100 family, I remember the importance of having spaces that are all-Black. Without my conscious inviting of a de-cloaking of all parts of myself weathered by the beating and harsh winds of the outside world, I began talking to people I’d never met the way I talk to my family. I began laughing and smiling without consciously covering the side of my mouth where a tooth is missing. If I was curious or upset or feeling strongly about something, it came out readily. For the duration of the retreat, I did not compete for anything and I felt whole and loved. This is also freedom.
I’ve been really shy and self-conscious/insecure about singing since I stopped being guided by my bursting heart (8 or 9 years old?) but in this space, on this land, I let it out, I let me out. I sang loudly and made music until early in the morning with other healers and organizers. Went inside of an old old schoolhouse on the grounds that had been half eaten by time and termites. Learned about the mightiness of tiny chiggers (not too personally, thankfully).
Throughout the retreat, healers of all talents talked about sensing things and even seeing things on the land we were on. I felt a little bit of jealousness beginning to creep up under my feet. I shook it out. I wanted to see stuff and hear stuff from the ancestors, too.
At the end of day two, I was overwhelmed by jetlag. I drank coffee, then water, then hot water. And when I couldn’t stay up any longer unless I was to become short and unkind to others, I excused myself for a nap. This nap would be the beginning of the floodgate of clear message dreams sent to me while I was on this land. I’d forgotten for a moment too long that this was the way I received my messages.
I dreamt that there was a fire. I only knew that there was a fire because I saw smoke. I walked out of my room (inside of a house where I lived but didn’t recognize as my own in my waking life) and saw smoke and the back of a small child as she was running and busting out of the swinging kitchen door, presumably to safety.
In the dream, I had things in my hand and turned back toward my room to grab things before getting out (I had my laptop and my backpack in mind to grab). I stopped almost as soon as I’d turned around toward my room telling myself calmly and clearly, ‘No. There’s a fire. This is a fire.’ And I left everything behind. According to my dream journal, I did grab a small precious thing (I don’t remember this part of the dream now).
I moved calmly and deliberately through the house as whitegrey smoke came into the kitchen, crawling up the ceiling. When I made the decision to leave things behind in order to get out, I woke up before exiting the house.
I woke up from the dream in a panic because I’ve had several foreshadowing dreams that have come true within a matter of weeks. I was afraid that literally this might be a warning about a fire in my home. I made a reminder for myself to check my fire alarms when I got home, to remind my loved ones to do the same, to be careful burning candles, to check my insurance policy, etc.
Returning to the group after the dream, my belly was still anxious. Even after making the list of things to check on to best protect myself. I talked with the healers in the group about it. Someone said that the child was my intuition. Someone said that smoke without fire means that I am afraid—could be with the new life changes I’ve made for myself (leaving my job without securing another one first). Someone said I’m having a hard time making a decision. I tried each one on to see which one might make my belly less queasy.
Reading my waking journal after the dream, I see the half asleep handwriting of a scrawled question, “Am I the fire?”
By the time we packed up to leave, I had made several offerings to ancestor spirits on the land. While waiting on my ride to the airport, I took a long walk out to the fields as far as the land extended in one direction. The old houses, the main campus, where the big house would be, were small from there. I thought about the distances that kept my ancestors (who I don’t know, but who feel like loved ones) apart. Even in a distance that took just fifteen minutes to walk. I thought about the invisible control that kept and keeps us from loving each other. I thought about what clever ways and subtle movements of eyes and hands had to say ‘I see you, I love you’ when communication was forbidden. When love was forbidden. When freedom was forbidden.
In this site of disaster and devastation, I felt the resilience of ancestors who would not ever break. Who gave and continue to give the spirit of indestructibility and possibility to us. I am eternally curious and grateful for their guidance.