Reclaiming Spaces to Reaffirm Ourselves

*I write this article in Camden, New Jersey, which was once home to numerous Native American tribes, including the Lenni-Lenape. We recognize your struggle, and will fight to honor you.

**I write this article in Camden, New Jersey where numerous enslaved people were forced to work under Marmaduke Cooper and other slave masters. We recognize your struggle, and will fight to honor you.

I’ve recently been thinking about our relationship with space as marginalized people. If you are disabled, you grew up in spaces that deny the existence and validity of your body. If you are black, you are used to navigating spaces that demonize or fetishize your body. My question here is a healing one: how can we go about reclaiming spaces that have historically been oppressive to us?

This was the question I asked recently at the 2017 MACUHO Inclusion Summit, which took place at Delaware State University.

I attend a predominantly white institution in South Jersey, so as I walked on the historic grounds of Delaware State, a historically black university, I immediately felt a sense of deep peace. I felt comfortable. I wasn’t afraid.

This space, I knew, was one of the few in the US that was created for my body and just knowing that gave me a sense of freedom.

However, the land wasn’t always meant for my freedom. It was originally meant for my destruction through the institution of slavery.

Yes- in the early 1700s, Delaware State University was a plantation where a wealthy family owned numerous slaves.

I couldn’t believe it.

A land that was once home to whippings, depression, injustice and chains could turn into a space where black students learn, where black students dance, and where black students are freeing their minds and spirits.

That experience was a beautiful reminder of how there can be restoration if we build spaces for our bodies ourselves.

Today, I encourage you to reclaim space. Acknowledge the history of the space that you exist in, and create a way that other marginalized people can thrive there. For you, that may mean creating a club, starting a non-profit, holding a webinar, or actively pushing for equity in your workplace.

But, that can also mean starting an online support group, or simply acknowledging the history of oppression that exists where you stand.

At the summit, keynote speaker Catherine Kellman, the Assistant Director of Residence Life at Syracuse University, asked us to start off the day by acknowledging and honoring the Delaware Native American tribes that founded the land we were on.

Before the Constitution, before slavery- Native Americans were murdered and driven away from the land that they cultivated. We honor that land by acknowledging that history, and by making it our mission to connect in our struggle, and thrive as much as we can.

Because the truth is- when we reclaim space, we reclaim pieces of ourselves that were once lost. We reaffirm the fact that we’re here and we matter, and that is truly the best way that we can practice self-care.

 

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