Forming Bonds during #HASTAC17
Can you imagine being offered an all-expense paid trip to Orlando Florida to speak on a panel about your personal experiences? Imagine the day finally coming, and after making your way through T.S.A, you look back to say your goodbyes to your family. You board the plane, strap yourself into your seat you feel your body elevating. As the plane takes off you realize that this is not a dream, and that you are about to embark on a journey of many possibilities. My excitement grew each second that we inched closer to our destination. As my heart rate increased I yearned for the plane ride to end, so I could see Florida for the first time on my own. Finally the plane ride ended and I prepared myself to be open to the unknown. However, what I didn’t prepare myself for was the relationships I would form during the HASTAC Convention, as well as how those relationships would impact me personally.
After the plane landed, I practically skipped out of the Airport, and into a cab with members of The Futures Initiative Team named Frances Tran and Michelle Morales. Frances took it upon herself to pay for my cab ride to the hotel, which was heartwarming for me because in my opinion, kindness is a bit uncommon in New York. In that instance, I felt as though I had gained a sister, someone who was looking out for me, even when I didn’t expect it. While we rode to the hotel I felt like I was flying on a cloud, and my heart was so full of emotions that I became overwhelmed with happiness, and I was on a happy high.
Upon arriving at the hotel I called my loved ones, and then I decided to shake off my New York armor, and explore Florida. I spent most of my first night in my hotel room until later when Lauren Melendez flew in. Although we were tired, we went out in search of a meal that would satisfy our food cravings. While walking down the long, dimly lit blocks of Florida in search of food, I began to see myself in this new and inviting environment. Once again I was in shock that The Futures Initiative Program really chose me “Cherishe A Cumma” to attend the 2017 HASTAC Conference. All of these feelings began to come over me, but the feelings subsided after being treated to IHOP by Lauren. It’s funny how the little things can warm your heart, but she didn’t even realize that by her paying for my meal, I felt so welcome in a new environment. That familiar feeling that occurred when Frances offered to pay for my cab ride started to bubble up inside me again. It was hard for me to identify what was happening to me. I was asking myself “Why are you so warm all the time”? Are catching a cold? Do you have a fever? However in due time, my body revealed to me the culprit of these warm sensations that were sporadically occurring.
Day # 1
Hours seem to disappear and before I knew it I was outside with Lauren and Kalle Westerling looking for transportation to the University of Central Florida college campus. As we waited for the bus we spoke about the massive birds that we saw flying in the sky. Through our discomfort regarding the birds flying above, we formed a bond and we were able to share a few laughs during our wait. After getting of the bus I was once again overwhelmed with happiness, but this time it was because of the amazing scenery that could be found on the campus. I had to stop and take pictures, but I made it quick because we had to get to the Opening Plenary on time!
As we walked into Classroom 1, I was amazed at the turn out at the Opening Plenary for the speakers Tressie McMillan Cottom, and T-Kay Sangwand, Anastasia Salte. All three women provided great answers to the questions that they were asked, and I found myself particularly drawn to Tressie McMillan Cottom. I loved the way she spoke without fear or intimidation of academic spaces that can often make people second guess their intelligence. I saw her as this strong woman who was feeding my soul, and then she mentioned Afro- Futurism and I let out a mini scream! I thought how could it be possible that she would speak on a topic that I did a PowerPoint presentation on just a few months ago? At that moment I felt like it was meant for me to be in this space, sitting in this seat and to hear her speak these words.
After closing remarks I asked Cathy N. Davidson if I could introduce myself to Mrs. Cottom and she said yes. In that moment I raced like a bat out of hell to talk to her. She was warm, caring, understanding and said what I needed to hear, exactly how I needed to hear it. If I never knew the feeling of bliss, I found it in that moment when we spoke, and the advice she gave will forever resonate deeply with me.
For the rest of the day I explored the campus with Lauren, Mike Rifino and the rest of The Futures Initiative Team. We attended a session where Frances and Danica Savonick posed the question “What does a Feminist Classroom Look Like?”, and we were asked to draw our idea of a Feminist Classroom. This exercise got my creative juices flowing, and I channeled my inner Picasso to make a stick figure drawing, which was chanting to a classroom of full of students about the rights of women. Lauren and I compared drawings and found that although our art skills weren’t amazing, the messages we provided in our illustrations made a major impact. After the session was over we went back to our hotel to regroup and prepare for our panel discussion that was scheduled for the next day.
My panel members (Lauren, Mike, Kitana Ananda, Jenny and I) and I met downstairs in the lobby area to go through our panel discussion before the big day finally arrived. We practiced our respective parts until we all felt mentally and physically prepared for the next day. That night I found myself thinking, how could I possibly put into words how much this program has done for me? How can I explain how this program had aided my development as a writer and a speaker? As I sat in my room I tried to narrow down the words I would use to describe my experience as a part of The Futures Initiative Team. I pulled out my flash cards, and wrote down all of my experiences with hopes that my words could do my experiences justice. However, all the preparation in the world could not have prepared me for the day that followed and ,the emotions that I would display during my five minute slot at the panel discussion.
Day # 2
The day of the panel was a beautiful day and the poster session that we attended went smoothly as expected. It was nearing the time of our panel discussion and my panel members and I were all making our way to the dinning commons to get some lunch. In the hours before the panel I found myself bonding more with Mike Rifino and Michelle Morales. Now don’t get me wrong we had a relationship before the HASTAC trip, but it wasn’t until we all spent time together, in this new environment that I found myself gravitating more towards them, and forming more bonds with them. I learned that Michelle is an absolutely genuine human being, who loves physical fitness, which matches up with perfectly with her healthy but beautiful soul. I also learned that Mike is naturally hilarious, but at the same time a brilliant thinker who is knowledgeable about many topics. I found it amazing how in one day I learned so much about The Futures Initiative Team members, and as we learned about each other we grew closer to one another.
While we were at lunch I spoke briefly with Kashema Hutchinson, and although she wasn’t physically at the conference I felt her essence with us. I imagined her cheering us on, and speaking so passionately about topics of interest, that thoughts of her made me eager to speak at our panel. After lunch we all made our way back to Classroom 1 to set up for our panel discussion. While setting up I had the opportunity to speak with Kitana and I felt like we had a moment of commonality when we both spoke about being nervous to present. In that moment once again a bond was beginning to form that showed me a new side to another member of The Futures Initiative Family.
Before I knew it the room was full and it was time for us to speak, and not only talk but actually be heard at the same time. I listened to all of the members of my panel speak beautifully and as they spoke, I felt that warm sensation go through my body again. For the life of me I could not figure out what was happening to me, and I considered purchasing NyQuil when the panel was over. It wasn’t until it was my turn to speak, that the warm sensation completely took over my body. Next thing I knew it came pouring out of me and I began to talk and weep. I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I cried my words, spoke my emotions, and emptied my tear ducts in the process. My heart was so touched that I was afforded the opportunity to speak at an event of this caliber, that I could no longer contains my emotions. Mike and Lauren immediately went into family mode by consoling me, and encouraging me to carry on until I was finished speaking. After letting out all of my feelings through my words, and my physical guard was down, everyone saw me at my most vulnerable point. Mike offered me tissues, Lauren rubbed my back and I got through the event with feeling only a little embarrassed. After the Q&A session I was trying to run out of the room, and get some fresh air but on my way out I was stopped by Kitana, Michelle, Jessica Murray and many other people who attended the event, and they offered me supportive words. Kitana, Michelle and Jessica all gave me hugs and made me feel as though my moment of vulnerability resonated deeply with them. I was shocked because I did not understand how someone could understand me trying to speak through my tears.
Again, without realizing it my vulnerability allowed people to understand me, and bonds were formed between us. Those hugs made me feel stronger in my decision to let my emotions go, and be real about how I felt in that moment. They made me feel better about showing how truly grateful I am to be a part of The Futures Initiative Family.
After the panel I spoke separately with Lauren and Mike about my feelings during the panel, and they helped feel confident. They helped me realize that although I got emotional I was still able to convey my message to the audience. In about 20 minutes Cathy N. Davidson herself came to me and spoke to me very briefly. I had no words, but her words were perfect for the moment as she shared with me her happiness that I could be part of a program she created. I was humbled in that moment because not only did The Futures Initiative Program help me so much in the past few years, but the founder of the program used her words to express to me that she was glad I was a part of the program she created. Can you imagine how good that felt? I was at a loss for words because what does one person say in a moment as perfect as that one? Words can’t describe how the love and support I received from each member or The Futures Initiative family impacted me. However, the memories from that moment will always be precious to me because it showed me how much these people cared for me.
As the trip came to an end I was satisfied with the memories that I made during the HASTAC Conference. While flying back to New York I thought to myself nothing could make this trip any more special. That was until I saw Katina Rogers tweet about me at the HASTAC Conference! Once again a member of The Futures Initiative Team who I have bonded with, and think so highly of, held me in such high regard to tweet about me. This made me feel so special and was the cherry on the top of my Florida chocolate sundae.
All in all my trip to Florida was one of the most loving, eye opening, heartwarming trip I’ve ever been on because of The Futures Initiative Team. Each member whether they were there in Florida or not were in some way very supportive of me, and showed me in the few days we spent together how blood doesn’t define who your family is. During this trip The Futures Initiative Team felt like extended family members to me, and I thank each and every one of them for making my experience at the HASTAC Conference an amazing one. I love each and every one of you.