Though I don’t remember the conversation verbatim, I do recall my husband saying that for us to be married I had to move to NY – that that was what he wanted. I’d been in D.C. while we dated, and by the time he proposed, he was based in NYC. And so I left my networks, endangered my job, packed up my stuff, and moved back to NY 3 weeks before our wedding date.
I didn’t love DC when I got there. But it grew on me, and I grew into it, and I made some amazing friends. DC represents a time in my life when I really grew into myself. I was in my best health. I had been entrusted with a ministry. I became aware of the then dire scenario called my financial (in)stability and I addressed that situation head on. I grew up a bit in DC, and my trips back to DC are frequent and always fun, be it for work or for personal reasons.
So on Thursday, Imena and I made our way to DC on Amtrak – our first trip on the train without grandma, which came with its challenges. I was a bit nervous, but felt as if we handled it so very well. People ask a lot “What’s it like traveling with the baby?” Well, with my baby, my answer is, “She’s a baby. And I’m really blessed.” Imena is amazing! She’s fairly chill, extremely cute, and she is a baby – not a toddler. Do not confuse the two. She doesn’t really throw tantrums. She’s not kicking the back of your chair. She may reach and grab, but her arm span is like 12 inches. Though she is super fast and fairly strong, I do a good job of managing her outreach to strangers, and I keep her fairly occupied with toys and interaction with me. So a note… to all those travelers who think “good baby” = “quiet baby”… You’re wrong. Move to the quiet car. At 7 months, Imena babbles and is fairly chatty. I’m actually impressed that she handled being on my lap for 4 hours. She can crawl and is used to a lot of floor time and independent play at home with my mom all day.
Once we got to DC, we met up with friends at an old familiar eatery within Union Station. Within the group of friends was our host for 2 nights – Bridgette. Auntie Bridgette is the best! Now, just about each morning in my regular life, I just find a way to shower – usually while Imena either sleeps or cries… those are the only real options. Both mornings in DC, Bridgette came in and offered to hold and play with Imena while I showered. (On the first morning, Imena cried. On the second, she seemed to have adjusted to the new – though temporary – routine.)
On Friday morning, both Imena and I made our way to an event hosted by a friend. Now, here’s an important note about our timing in DC. We were in DC during CBC – Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference… I have long described this series of events as the Freaknic for policy wonks and Hill-types with high melanin count. It’s actually inaccurate and a little unfair of me since I have yet to attend any official CBC Foundation events ever in life, but not one person has ever disagreed with me either, so… there’s that. Anyway, as with any series of events in the arena of Blackness, there are OFFICIAL events and then events that leverage the mass convening of the Blacks in one place for an amount of time. My friend’s event was a much-needed, well-organized breathing and truth-telling space for Black women electeds, future electeds, and operatives. During the event, we were asked what we would do if we let our light shine its brightest, if we had no fear. It was a really affirming moment for me, and my response was simple: If I had no fear, I’d release the anxiety that I’m not doing enough – not seen enough, and I’d let my light shine its brightest where it’s supposed to – in support of and to amplify other bright lights.
After that, Imena and I enjoyed lunch with my friend and her godmother. Then we met a friend who is just the embodiment of radiant pregnancy in that she is actually expecting a little human, she was also starting her first day at a new job that day, and she’s going to release her first book next year. She’s a new friend, and I was very appreciative of her taking the time for some one-on-one personal conversation because we met in a very focused work space last year when I was pregnant.
Friday night was the main event! A friend and former colleague invited me and Imena to the preview night and party for staff of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Thanks to Bridgette, I was appropriately dressed. (Being dangerously underdressed was a theme of the trip. I just underestimated everything.) Look… EVERYBODY NEEDS TO VISIT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICA HISTORY AND CULTURE. Just go. It’s not just for Black people. It’s not just about slavery. It’s not just for Americans. We had an amazing time!
(Side note: I’m getting really lazy about this blog. Like… I’m already too far into my head presuming that you’re getting bored reading and I am fairly ambivalent about how entertaining I feel I need to be to keep your interest… so feel free to stop here and encourage me to stick to v-logging. I think I’m more engaging in conversation, no? Like… This is just a lot of words… lots and lots of words, and I’m not even uploading pictures for you. I’m sorry (not sorry) readers…)
Even while I worked at the Smithsonian, I was skeptical of NMAAHC as a project. Honestly, it was BEFORE I worked at the Smithsonian that I had my questions. In 2005, when most of y’all didn’t even know there was to be a NMAAHC, I was a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and read an article about the hire of Kinshasha Holman Conwill as Deputy Director of a Smithsonian museum -NMAAHC. And I guess this is when the #representationmatters folks get a point or 5. I’d seen Kinshasha at a community arts event in the Bronx and liked her vibe. She was informed, informative, insightful, and inspirational. I sent the article to my father who had no idea what arts administration was or why I was pursuing it or more importantly how I’d support myself on whatever salary it would provide. (We’d had similar discussions when I informed him I was going to stop taking courses at Pitt’s College of Business Administration and major in Africana Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences.) So Kinshasha became my poster child for Black cultural management possibilities FIVE YEARS BEFORE I started working at the Smithsonian. (Wow!) All that magical build up to say that in the real space of my mind, I had nothing but questions about the need and implications of a museum of African American history and culture on the National Mall.
All of those years of skepticism were dismissed in one night – being in the museum and seeing the work come to fruition. (It only took me about a dozen years to come on board!) It’s amazing! Just go!
On Saturday, my friend and Imena’s godmother invited us to a brunch – one of those events planned in conjunction with CBC. She had mentioned the brunch and I’d tried to get out of it. Our short time in DC was getting really full, and I have a tendency to over plan, especially with the baby, and then end up overwhelmed not having executed anything well. But La’Tasha insisted. “I’m putting you on the list anyway” her email read. So (again… GROSSLY UNDERDRESSED) baby and I made our way to brunch, which was hosted by Planned Parenthood and was freakin’ amazing! FANTASIA was there!!! Fantasia!! Did I mention Fantasia???? Because she was there! She was there nearly 5 feet from me sangin’ and making eye contact with me and my baby. Fantasia.
Now, La’Tasha is a force – a big flippin’ deal – in the reproductive justice space, especially when the conversation turns to women and girls of color and LGBTQ populations. It’s not the first time I’ve ridden into a swank event on La’Tasha’s coat tails. But this was over-the-top amazing! We were already VIP, but recall: I showed up to this brunch with my baby… in her stroller… oh! With our luggage because I planned on going to Union Station after this event. Thankfully, one of the event coordinators moved us to a head table because the accessibility with the baby would be easier. That’s how we ended up high-rollin’! I was completely overwhelmed, and it was one of the times in which having a rock star baby came in really handy.
Imena is amazing! As long as I keep her fed (and I did have to miss Rep. Elijah Cummings and Valerie Jarrett speak) so I could nurse her… which I did in the lobby of the event space in a plush chair protected by the sternly smiling faces of Planned Parenthood staff to anyone – from the public to the secret service – who even glanced inappropriately in my direction. Oh, did I not mention that I had forgotten my covering scarf at the head table and had to nurse like… without a cover… in public… at a swank event… at an event space open to the public? Yeah. That happened. Even though I completely understand the challenges that some moms face with covering while nursing (and yes… there are challenges!), I’m very pro feed your kid, cover your breast meat. I compare it to people who chew with their mouths open. Like… yeah… you’ve gotta eat, and I don’t have to look, but let’s all just try to get through this thing called life as humans without being ridiculous.
Finally the “work” part of my trip… I met with my new program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at Union Station before getting on our train. Work Work Work Work Work…
The time in DC was so amazing that I really thought, “Should I move back here? This is amazing!” But then I reminded myself that this was an extremely exceptional experience against the backdrop of CBC and NMAAHC’s opening. As a matter of fact, upon reunion with my husband I shared with him how amazing everything had been, and while there were times when I thought, “I wish Joel were here” I felt more strongly that it was appropriate for me to have the experience I was having and for Joel to do what he was doing, which was starting a new chapter in his life by attending the fall convocation for his first semester in seminary. (It is a whole other blog post, friends. I’m happy for him though.)
So back in NY with my husband (whose allergies were acting all the way up), our little family had a leisurely Sunday. I woke up early and went to the supermarket with Imena. We watched church online, and then Imena and I went shoe shopping with a cousin in town from Atlanta on business. It was free form weekend fun. Then we went to a friend’s community theater production. Imena did her best. She really did. I think she thought the dialogue was an invitation for her to communicate with the actors, but whenever there was singing or dancing, she was completely captivated and silent. That was actually pretty cool to observe. My baby likes singing and dance. Yay!
It’s 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning. I’m watching Beachfront Bargainhunt on HGTV and my husband and Imena have just joined me in the living room. This is life. It’s sweet. (I also have no clue what my child care solution in the next few hours is going to be… my mom is with her best friend (and my godmother… see the cycle here?) who is in the hospital. I didn’t call my aunt yesterday to work out a schedule for today and I hate the same-day “Can you watch my kid?” foolery. I think I’ll work from home or call out, but I do have a morning call and I was in DC on Thursday and Friday. Maybe I’ll take the morning call, call my aunt, make my way to my mom’s to get her car… augh! who knows. To bed!