Lay Down, Baby
We live in a culture that praises over-achievers who have a relentless work ethic. Our matriarchy was built on solid, double-shift, night job, full-time college student, single mother, sleep-when-I’m-dead labor. I routinely stayed awake for two to three days at a time. I would brag on social media about being “the architect that builds through the night, so my children have a dream to wake up to.” I was clueless, and bone tired. At the end of a 48-hour workday, I hugged my daughter and yawned the words, “I earned this sleep.” She side-eyed me and said, “You don’t have to earn sleep, Mama. You just get to rest.”
I had to ask myself, do you really believe you have to earn sleep? The answer in the marrow of my bones was yes. I was living an unsustainable life.
Days later, I met Briana Simmons, a staff member from Soul 2 Soul Sisters, while she facilitated a workshop on reproductive justice. I was impressed with the work Soul 2 Soul Sisters was doing. I leapt at the opportunity to participate and enrolled in the Facing Racism cohort.
Facing Racism gave me language for my experience as an educated Black woman and mother in America. In the assembly of Soul 2 Soul Sisters, my narrative was fact, a shared experience. The choir was preaching to me. Five weeks later, I walked away clear on all the ways in which Anti-Black racism had shaped my parenting and fueled my desire to prove my worth.
I thought I was instilling a spirit of excellence and the work ethic my children needed to be successful. Facing Racism taught me that the perfection and relentless productivity I demanded of everyone around me was a function of white supremacy. I remember how irritated I used to get if I walked in and found my children napping, watching television, or playing games. Before Facing Racism, I made no allowances for rest, stillness or playfulness. Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome robbed me of rest, joy, my sense of safety, and longevity. It was time for drastic changes.
I started by attending a Self-Love Saturday for Black Womxn event hosted by Soul 2 Soul Sisters. A one day retreat facilitated by the Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey, the idea was to rest communally. The retreat began at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. True to form, I worked until sunrise. I had a dozen reasons to cancel. I can sleep at home. Why do I need to drive 45 minutes away to lay down when I’m tired now? I procrastinated until 8:30 a.m., and then something said, “this day is going to change your life.”
I arrived fifteen minutes late, to a room of nearly 30 Black women, without pretense or pomp. Everyone was dressed comfortably in sleepwear. Some of the most powerful Black women in the Denver Metro area were milling about, grabbing bagels and coffee. So many of them were my closest friends. This felt like the homecoming I didn’t know I needed. The atmosphere was holy. Tricia Hersey, a statuesque sister with a “bet her macaroni and cheese is certified”-look, challenged us to reimagine the framework around our rest practices. Many of us had none. We laid our armor down and held space as each woman detailed how traumas, education systems, microaggressions and the daily onslaught of anti-Black racism was utterly exhausting.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, my grinding days are over. Because this nation is built on the criminalization and commodification of Black bodies, our rest is an act of resistance. As Black and Brown communities are disproportionately impacted by Coronavirus, the mission of Soul 2 Soul Sisters is more necessary now than ever. The work of combating Anti-Black racism is the linchpin to ensure adequate and accessible medical care for the most vulnerable. Because our nation places capitalism above the lives of its citizens, rest is an act of liberation. For every whip that ever split wide a brown back, rest is ancestral healing. Praise be to Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey and Soul 2 Soul Sisters for showing us the way. I have abandoned the notion that I must always be doing. I no longer demand perfection and constant productivity from my children. We revel in peace and play time. Do that and nothing more, today.
What I desire for them and all of you is deep, connected rest. Look at your neighbor and say, “Lay down, Baby.”
— Confidence Omenai is a playwright, poet, voice actor, speaker, writer, life coach, and the CEO of Only Confidence Inc.