Two years ago today, I wrote on Facebook:
"Black lives matter. That is what is on my mind. I do not trust what anyone in authority tells me anymore. I don't know what to do with any of this, except to bear witness, listen, and share what I am seeing and hearing."
Michael Brown's murder by the Ferguson police in early August 2014 and the protests that followed woke up many white people to the ever-present oppression and systematic racism that Black people face in America. At the time I was working on a series of paintings on the chakras and was just starting the initial sketch for the throat chakra. In our classes at Reflections Mystery School, our teacher Katrina Messenger read from Audre Lorde's work. "Your silence will not protect you." Young people marched in the streets, hands and voices raised. These had significant influence on the final form of my painting, now titled "Speaking Truth to Power."
Fast forward a few months and I had Oya knocking on my head. She is a powerful orisha spirit of change and the coming storm. She speaks with the voice of the hurricane and the watches over the cemetery. Oya wanted a portrait, and who am I to say "no." Then came Oshun for her sitting after I sat for a obi reading, and then Eleggua. And I soon realized that I was agreeing to a series of seven paintings -- a major commission from the orisha.
I should say up front and center that I am not initiated into any house or lineage of an African Traditional Religion. I am aleyo, and I am white. I have participated in a few Lucumi and Umbanda ceremonies, but my spiritual commitments lie elsewhere. The gods of my ancestors would be the Angle-Saxon/old Germanic gods, but they don't talk to me much. Or least they haven't as yet. As an artist, I will work with almost any deity or generative spirit who wants a painting. Once the work is done, we usually part ways except for the bit of their essence infused in canvas.
Throughout the last year, I've been doing a lot of listening to the people of color in my life, reading Black authors and social media, observing my own behavior and speech toward Black people, and educating myself about racism--both systematic and my internal prejudices. The presence of the orisha in my life over this past year and a half has strengthened my resolve to wake up and witness what is happening and to do my own internal anti-racist work. And I have no business honoring gods from Africa if I do not care about their children in the here and now. And I do care, but how can I make that manifest and real beyond a few keystrokes on a blog or brushstrokes on a canvas?
At this year's Lammas harvest ritual, my spiritual group Connect DC asked the question: what are you willing to sacrifice, to give up, to make sacred, in order to manifest a just world? And the answer became clear to me. What I can give up or give back in the course of my work is a portion of the money I make on my work. So, I am donating 35% of the income from any purchase of original artwork, prints, or derivative works of the seven (7) orisha paintings to the Black Lives Matter Network.
You don't even need to purchase one of my artworks to give. Just go directly to their website and donate. Or pick another program that is working to end oppression and racism in our country and give of your time and money to them.
The very best thing you can do is listen, learn, and then act from the heart. May the orisha guide you and bless you. Ashe!