It’s been a while, but I’m resurfacing with a healthy recap of my time at the Spirit of the Creatives retreat in Lousiana this past May. So get comfortable and have a read below. There are bunch of photographs, too. 🙂
Arriving in Louisiana
After a long road trip from New York to Louisiana, my friend and I arrived in NOLA ready for resting. I would be assisting Rina with the 5-day Retreat event she was putting on, so we met in anticipation of the week ahead.
Before arriving at the plantation, we made several stops to pick up things for the retreat. One one of the stops was a the Black Star Caffé where the owner, Baakir greeted us with a warm “welcome back home.” This was the first time we’d all been there. As we listened to his stories of how he and his Caffé came to be our lunch was being prepared in the kitchen. The salmon sandwich and the lemonade herbal drink I had were yum. On our way out he graciously donated two gallons of his delicious Yimilade herbal drink for all of us to enjoy at the retreat.
Stepping Onto The Plantation Grounds
On our drive to the plantation retreat site in Napoleonville, I sat in the car wondering what it would feel like to be walking on grounds where African ancestors were enslaved. I wondered if I’d sleep well at night or if I would lie awake from the presence of people or things I couldn’t see.
When we arrived at Madewood Plantation we were greeted by a sun on the brink of setting, huge columns of the mansion plantation house and Miss Angie, the co-owner of Madewood. She gave us a tour of the plantation house and then showed us to our rooms in a house across from it.
There were old paintings of white folks on the walls and they were unsettling. I had no interest in looking into their eyes. I had no interest in wondering about whatever thoughts and actions they may have carried when they were breathing.
But aside from those paintings all of the bedrooms were gorgeous. The beds were so comfortable I wasn’t surprised we slept so well that night. Despite our good resting, I still felt bothered by the paintings of the next day. And when I walked around I wondered about what may have happened on this patch of grass or at the top of those stairs or under that tree.
A Blessing and a Cleansing
I was so relieved when Yoruba priestess Ifáseyì Bamigbala arrived with her husband and team to perform a ritual that would bless and cleanse all of us and the space. And bless and cleanse they did. That night, as with every night of the retreat we had wine and cheese followed by dinner. In the days after the Yoruba ceremony, I felt more at peace walking around. I no longer noticed any of the paintings of the white folks. Just like that. It was a disappearance.
Retreat Day 1
On the first full day of the retreat, our morning began with hatha yoga led by our instructors, Essence and Belinda. Les Bohemes provided us with tote bags that each contained a yoga mat, a big sketchbook and coloring pencils. With our yoga mats all spread open and lined up around the room, we moved through each pose and encouraging word Essence and Belinda uttered with intention. After yoga, we ate breakfast at a large dining room table and later enjoyed workshops with poet and performance artist, Floacist. She led us through a series of activities where we exchanged and sat in each other’s energies—first through words and then through human touch. We were led through a series of several writing activities and prompts, after which we got a chance to share what we had written. Next, we moved into a one-story structure outside of the plantation house that appeared to be a kitchen where enslaved Africans may have cooked. I noticed paintings again. This time, the people in them were Black. And this time I was comfortable. In honor of the moment I wrote poems in response to what I saw. We were finally here.
That last workshop with Floacist ended with us standing on the 2nd floor balcony overlooking the grounds. In one long line we stood side-by-side and one-after-the-other, into the trees, we read the last free-write we had written. Though we weren’t looking at each other it felt powerfully like we were in this together—whatever ‘this’ was. We officially closed with each person hugging each other. Needless to say, Floacist’s workshop was one of my favorites. After the workshops, we had optional AIReal Yoga followed by dinner festivities and a sharing circle where we got to know each other better.
Retreat Day 2
The next full day, we had workshops with photographer and producer Saddi Khali. I’m at a point in my development as a photographer and entrepreneur where extra meaningful boosts and learning experiences as I move forward are necessary. Saddi took us through the powers of storytelling and interpretation through photographs. After selecting from photographs he laid out on the floor, each of us talked about our choices and what meanings each photograph held for us. We discussed how we could create different stories other than the ones we’ve traditionally been given. Simply put in his words: we have the power to give things meaning. People will just have to respond to whatever meaning we put out there.
We went on to share our stories and talk about barriers that we’ve often faced as creatives, and how we as people can often be more committed to our hardships than we are committed to our goals and visions. Later, Saddi instructed us to write a list of goals we wanted to achieve and lives we wanted. We were to write this in the present tense. In a separate activity, we were instructed to write down what he calls our “ghosts.” Ghosts are some semblance of obstacles and barriers that challenge our growth. After his closing presentation on decolonizing beauty, we burned those ghosts in the ‘slave kitchen’ I spoke of earlier. Phylicia smudged each of us with sage as we crossed the threshold of burning our ghosts and leaving them behind us. I got to build more with Saddi after the workshops and I felt challenged to step my game up photographically.
Retreat Day 3
Ciprianna, blogger and founder of Urban Bush Babes was the last facilitator to join us. In the hours before Cipriana’s workshop began, we had Mala workshops with Essence and Belinda. They led all the yoga sessions for the week and like those sessions this was equally a treat. They provided each of us with 104 mala beads, a gemstone and a thread on which we placed them all. It took all day to finish putting all the beads on the thread and in the evening they would be saged and adorned with intention. But back to Cipriana. She facilitated a conversation on obstacles and things necessary for progression towards success. She presented on her personal story from childhood, to working a job that she eventually left to devote her time to her Urban Bush Babes site, to all of the opportunities that came flooding in from the universe when she made that decision. She also shared some of the recent obstacles she overcame on her path to succeeding.
Each of us left the workshop having written down at least 2-3 things we would achieve within the next 6-12 months. Some of us will carry those goals in our wallets and some of us will have them taped our walls. Since we now have a private Facebook group for the retreat and a directory with everyone’s contact information, I hope we’d be able to support each other in seeing all of those goals through. For the sake of accountability and sharing my 3 goals were: 1) Learn how to drive and get my license; 2) Book at least 20 photography clients that aren’t already my friends or family; 3) Have at least 1 poetry manuscript 1st draft completed. Two people from the retreat generously offered the possibility of reading through my manuscript and giving me feedback on my poems.
Retreat Day 4
On Thursday, we had morning yoga, free time and lunch. Their groundskeeper, Mr. Freeman joined the rest of the Madewood staff in preparing the space for our evening Crawfish feast. A few evenings before I learned that Mr. Freeman was part of the 7th generation of his family that had been on that plantation. I was surprised by the sudden emotion I was consumed with when I heard those words. We were at dinner when someone mentioned it. It rocked me so hard I had to leave the table and go to my bedroom for a short while to get myself back together. He was born on that plantation and had just turned 67 the day of our Crawfish bowl. His ancestors, some of whom were enslaved on that plantation and some of whom were not, stood in the lines of his face, in his hands, in his walk. His house even sits to the right next of some of their graves.
At some point during the retreat, I wondered more about what it meant to be staying on a plantation, now a national landmark and still owned by a white people, specifically a white couple. The paradox and conflicting nature of supporting this space didn’t dawn differently once I was actually on the plantation.
That evening crawfish was served with potatoes, sausage, corn and vegetables. We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mr. Freeman, the mainstream way and then the Black way, a la Stevie Wonder, and he smiled and we ate cake and we laughed. Over a fire and burning sage, retreat participants shared their last pieces written in Floacist’s workshop after dinner. Some of us had henna on our hands, legs or backs courtesy of Phylicia Ghee’s talented hands. We’d all be leaving Friday morning and afternoon so this was really our last moment of togetherness in this way.
Winding down, my trip out of Napoleonville was delayed and my photographic plans hit a bit of a snag with the car troubles my friend and I had. We had to leave the car at the mechanic for fixing and didn’t get it back until the next evening. We didn’t leave on Friday and Miss Angie was great about us staying over longer until things were fixed up.
I’d like to re-express my gratitude to the people who helped me get down to Louisiana. I was able to attend this retreat with the generosity and support of my friends/chosen family, their friends and Rina. I saw the advertisement for the retreat shortly after my photography session with Saddi and I just had to be there.
If you’re interested in attending the next Spirit of the Creatives Retreat, this time it won’t be at the plantation in Napoleonville. Instead, it’ll be in Downtown New Orleans! Workshops will be led by the amazing poet, singer, songwriter, activist Aja Monet; visual artist and photographer Phylicia Ghee; and vegan chef and author Bryant Terry. The dates for the next Retreat are April 10-April 15, 2016. If want to attend start saving now or make a plan to come up with money. Be sure inquire about the payment plan. If you register, tell Rina you heard about it from me. 🙂
As far as the Black women farmers and gardeners photography project, I’ll be publishing another post on that soon so keep an eye out for that!
I promise to post more regularly. I’m going to designate at least one day of the week so I can stick to a schedule. Inspired by the amazing Numa Perrier’s launching of her new blog this summer and her decision to bless us with a new post every Saturday, I’m designating Sunday as the day you’ll always find a new post here.
It’s possible and super likely I’ll also post other days but for now I’m going to baby step my way into it with Sundays.
Thanks so much for joining me here and reading this. If you know of any cool retreats happening throughout the year, please feel free to drop them in the comments.