Safe spaces as a body of work….

(Unedited) This week was a pause from engaging youth who are usually my focus. This week, I shifted my attention to 12 high school students who I’d never shared space with. 12 high school students who were invited to acknowledge, explore and share their stories. I was a co-leader, a teaching artist for a pilot program. This weeklong writing/spoken word/performance experience included therapeutic and clinical supports for teens.

At the onset, I accepted that it would flow organically, and though we’d established an outline for each day, how the program unfolded would largely be based upon what students brought to the table, and what surfaced during our days together. To this end, each evening I processed the day and created personalized writing prompts and experientials specific to this group of 12, and for some prompts, specific to what each person had shared. For me, creating and maintaining a safe space is specific to who’s in the space.

A common thread throughout the week:

What happened; and, where are you in the story?

This week was full of weaving introspection with verbal processing, and sharing.

I remember myself as both creative and therapist, and sometimes one takes a step up and the other takes a step back, and sometimes, they each surprise me and sit next to each other with their pigtails tied together.

It’s funny the things that I don’t write is that which is most profound.

Those are the things that often keep me up at night making shapes out of shadows on the wall.

Something to be said about knowing who you are, what you’re good at and not having to talk about it, but being about it. I am both clear and confident in what I bring to the work I do. I am very clear on creating a container to not only hold the work but to hold the feelings, unfolding and becoming that happens when youth engage creatively.

I am equally grounded in doing youth work and girl/womyn-centered work as I am in being a mental health counselor. It intrigues me how much more comfortable we are with the language of “mental health counselor,” than “therapist.” For the past four years I’ve predominately worked with Black girls on a daily basis, though interact with both boys and girls in a school-setting, but this week, I worked with both boys and girls in an arts setting, an arts center. Nonetheless, I am always engaging from a trauma-informed approach no matter if I’m aware of trauma narratives at the beginning of the work. For me it’s not if trauma narratives and/or trauma responses will surface, but what I’ll do if they manifest. How will I hold the space? How will I bear witness? How will I support participants?

This week, I thought I was taking off my therapist hat and solely being an artist. A teaching artist. But, here’s the thing, the older I get the less masterful I am at compartmentalization.

My lived intersections are always there. With clarity. Time. Age. Well not really age, just time. Not necessarily the same. Clarity gets clearer in the midst of disparate parts in motion orbing around a basic knowing that I am magic – unicorn. “Trust yo flynesssssssss!” Not like I’m the only mofo who’s dope, but, like…pop my wide spread collar, let loose my braids, pick out my natural, spray myself with glitter, slide into some neon green wedges and wide-legged breathable fabric bell bottoms and a glow in the light dashiki.

This week, 12 high school students, mostly not knowing one another, came together in a performance hall. They spent the week on stage, in the green room and in the hallways of the lower level of a state of the art, arts center.

They spent 5 days . . .

Writing/Digging/Sharing/Processing/Entering/Exiting/Opening/Expanding/Contracting/Imagining/Reimagining/On the surface/Down below/Floating/Pausing/ Reaching/Stretching/Crying/ Laughing/Becoming becoming becoming becoming.

A lot to be said about this week, but the thoughts I’m gravitating towards are about creating safe spaces to art, safe spaces “to be,” safe spaces to acknowledge/identify/manage both good and challenging experiences, safe spaces to gain insight and process, safe spaces to problem solve…safe spaces to forgive…

I’m a person who reads multiple books at a time.

There are books in all rooms of my home

and I usually travel with a book or two most days.

One of my current bathroom reads is “Body of Work,”

it’s about the threads that tie our stories together.

I’m often thanked for creating safe spaces. Even this blog, I’ve been thanked for creating a space where I invite other sistas to share their thoughts as featured co-bloomers/bloggers. Over the years I’ve envisioned, manifested and/or facilitated circles, retreats, workshops, gatherings, salons, series, vacations, getaways, fieldtrips…etc.

I’ve been thanked for creating safe spaces that not only bring people together, but for creating spaces where attendees have felt comfortable and brave enough to be vulnerable, share and bear witness. These spaces have been containers that have held folks truths, and have allowed participants to be relieved and get things off of their spirit. Often the share-outs are of deep seeded thoughts, feelings and experiences that are new revelations or things they haven’t shared with others, not even those closest to them. Often the feelings and experiences are those that have caused them great pain, displacement, shame and/or guilt.

This week, I realized that I’ve never fully processed what these spaces have meant to others. For me, these safe spaces have been acts of love, intentionality, purpose and responsibility. In many ways I was merely doing me, which included being compassionate and paying attention to details. Also, I get squirmish with compliments so I’m sure that has something to do with me never really processing it. But, in reading Body of Work, I’m thinking about how creating containers/safe spaces and inviting people into these spaces are an integral aspect of my, body of work.

Random, but not really:

I am…

Non-linear, yet cohesive.

Free. Flow. water.

i am still, water.

even in action, i am water.

paradox = fluid. wet, yet grounded.

In bloom,

nicole jhan’rea


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