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#lilBLK / Reflections on performing in/with pain

I know pain is not unique to being Black, or little, or a girl. But there is something peculiar about the pain of a little Black girl.

I don't know what came first: Consciousness of being Black, little, and a girl, or the sadness--a sadness so deep, old, and profound it haunted me.

Maybe the consciousness and sadness arrived at the same time; or maybe they were always there, growing like my limbs, and an insatiable desire to break out. Mama called me a wanderer cause I always was trying to break away. Maybe it emerged as I routinely sat at my bedroom window, held back from sitting on the fire escape, feeling the sun on my face through the industrial window bars and hefty lock.

I feared a fire.

At this window I would watch my neighbor release his coup of pigeons into the Bronx sky. They would come together one by one and create shapes in the air. A sort of dance. Their circular daily

dance. I was often overcome by tears.

Maybe the consciousness and sadness arrived when the newscasters tried to reason why Abner Louima was assaulted, brutalized, why New York City Police Officers put a broken-off broom handle in his ass in 1997, when I was eight. Or after 23-year-old unarmed Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times when I was ten. Or was it when my dad became a member of the New York Department of Corrections despite his original efforts to become a teacher, and I became an “officer's daughter,” and he bullied me into carrying around a sort of family police badge, just in case, for safety.

Ain’t no shaking the blues. Inherited, this sadness has always been too deep to be mine alone.

Maybe in one of these moments of abstract youthful understanding, this sadness solidified like concrete and staked out a permanent residence inside my most intimate spaces. Maybe then I understood an embodied understanding, inside my room, behind those window bars in the Bronx, watching those flying/dancing pigeons, all those years ago, that I was like those birds. But my body was my cage. And that in this cage of a body the closest I could get to dealing and not suffocating was to move. The closest I could get to flying or swimming within the pain was to let it all out, to dance my own circular daily dance.

How to cope with these all consuming questions, and the pain of knowing that your body was not protected as a little black no-body? Even if daddy said, “You are somebody,” and that he would protect me. I knew he couldn't, really. And I had no words to describe the pain--just movements. Just gestures. Just blank stares when asked, “Why you always ’acting out?’” “Showing my ass,” family members would say.

I unraveled in the ways many young black kids do, to cope with the pressures of both being and not being. I did my circular daily dance before I knew my life depended on it. Before I knew I had an audience. ​

But what happens when you begin to share these stories and attempt to share this pain on stage?

This is what lil BLK is: An attempt to tackle, work with, and move beyond the autobiographical. Through creating, developing, and performing lil BLK--my debut experimental solo performance--to learn to hold and perform with and in pain. The pain of living in a world where “ is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive” - audre lorde and surviving ain’t living most days when you reside in the margins. When a personal practice turns into a performance/show there is the potential to realize you are not alone in holding pain, and that there are others who are and do practice art as a means of survival and understanding. Sometimes this is enough to try again another day.

lil BLK. OnEDGE Festival Chicago