I woke to the sound of a text asking if I wanted to make some extra money picking someone up from the airport the following evening. My friend sending the text said that she thought of me because I shared with her that I was starting my own scholarship fund to pay for my upcoming Master’s program at Columbia. Rather than be discouraged about the costs, I have instead been inviting in opportunities to earn extra money to replace the voice that said pursuing my purpose was too expensive. I said yes, asked for the details of my ride, and crawled back into bed. Little did I know that I had just entered into the space of miracles!
My passenger would be Sitawa Wafula as she embarked on the California leg of her #FlawlessRoadTrip. Based in Kenya, Sitawa is an advocate for transforming the conversation about mental health and what is possible for those who experience mental illness. I also learned that I would be picking up Sitawa on behalf of the Flawless Foundation, an organization committed to dismantling the silence and removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Sitawa would be speaking at a salon series with the Pollination Project about mental health as a cross cultural phenomenon.
As I researched this amazing woman, the organizations and their missions, I was blown away that I had been chosen by the universe to welcome Sitawa to California! 14 years ago I ended up in California to escape from the destructive grips of a family that had been unwilling to address mental health. I never knew what mental illness looked like, but I knew something about the abuse and instability in my home was suspect. The silent shadow of mental illness was too suffocating. Then one week before I even knew of Sitawa I told my counselor that I accept that I grew up in the presence of mental illness, and also had my bouts with it as well. The shadows and secrets of mental illness taunted me with visions of a world without me. I was a wound collector. Now, I accept that even though I grew up in denial and normalizing, I get strength and healing from passing through. I took on the title of emotional justice advocate and declared that I am going to live a life of expecting miracles!
I greeted Sitawa at the airport with a welcome sign attached to two collages. The pictures I chose for the collage were sourced by my inner child, who I now fondly call little brown girl. I used to relate to little brown girl as a saboteur or enemy out to undermine all of my endeavors with fear, anxiety and insecurity. I couldn’t see her as the beautifully fragile part of my spirit that simply wants to be loved and reassured that she is safe. One of the gifts of acceptance and passing through is wholeness. And now that I am in love with little brown girl, I sometimes call on her to come out and play! She chose some powerful pictures and quotes that she believed the little brown girl in Sitawa would also love. We’re all a little fragile.
Sitawa and I connected right away! Instantly, we were kinfolk that reconnected after time had separated us for generations. She told my husband over the phone that I was returning to Kenya with her and that he can visit me sometimes. We used the drive to Marin to catch up on life moments that were as parallel as they were unique. Sitawa is so generous in her sharing that such generosity becomes contagious and compulsive. One has no choice but to share, and in the sharing transformation happens.
This kind of sharing is radical generosity. Yet, there are some that are afraid of sharing the intimacy of their stories. There are families, groups, countries, and continents that are plagued by silence. They collect their wounds, shame their shadows and deny their beautiful fragility. It is in these spaces that mental health becomes nutritionally deficient because we do not accept what our collective and individual needs are.
It is out of sharing that Sitawa discovers her power, again and again, and empowers others. In the presence of Sitawa I got to experience wholeness, rather than the fragmentation demanded by the world. In her presence little brown girl can come out to play or reassuringly share what has hurt her. My light and my shadow harmonize and coexist without judgment. There are not many people in the world that have that kind of presence. The few that can generate these spaces of authenticity, acceptance and transformation are the healers of the world. And when healers come together, magic and miracles happen!