Loved on by Black Queens in Albuquerque, New Mexico

I had the awesome opportunity to facilitate a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico
No, I am not someone who has facilitated a conference in experiences past
But I’ve done similar facilitator roles
Like…
teach a lesson
re-teach a lesson
lead a meeting
train new hires using a curriculum
initiate uncomfortable conversations with ex-boyfriends
listen to their whack-ass arguments and use the asinine responses to build my case, come back with rapid fire, and ensure we never forgot my initial points
debate with my mother, in attempts to bribe or convince her with a scheme
Go back and forth, deliberating intellectually with teachers-in elementary school
Yep, qualifications of a facilitator if you ask me (shoulders shrugging as my head tilts towards the right)
I am a participating member of MEDICC, an amazing organization focused on health equity in America through implementation of the Cuban public health model

Lil’ ole me was asked to facilitate because of my engagement with youth, youth development and health equity-sounds a lot fancier than it is, trust me.
I was as nervous as a thief in a Wal-Mart line as the “greeter” asks to see your receipt and the items in your bag to ensure you aren’t stealing Axe spray and Duracell batteries

I again had never played the facilitator role, and understood that I was going to be standing in a room of highly educated professors, researchers, attorneys, doctors, healthcare professionals, funders, community health navigators, a congressman, Ms. Navajo Nation, the Vice President of the Navajo Nation, funders, investors, and sweet baby Jesus himself.

I have always thought I was smart, but honestly (don’t judge me), I’ve compared me being smart to people who hadn’t been to college. Yes, I’ve suffered from the
I’m smart, you’re impoverished,
sling a fancy word here, or there
string together a well-formulated sentence
and say it in my White voice with a condescending “nanny nanny boo boo” tone

Boy was that attitude out of the window
These people were all smart FA REAL
The jig was up!
I had prepared for the conference by participating in planning meetings and being in constant communication with the committee, so I had a good understanding of the expectations.  Nervous I still was
I felt like I wasn’t good enough to facilitate such an event
I’m a baby, and grown-ups were gonna be in the room
Soaking up the same oxygen as peasant Ashley!
In true insecure fashion I went shopping for “grown woman, yet young and trendy business attire”
I went to Nordstrom Rack and picked out the most
“professional,
but look
-it’s young and has a flair of boho”
clothes I could find
I even bought a pair of grown woman business casual grey, suede-like slides with a gold accent on the heel
And to ensure I remained comfortable yet business casual, I splurged on a pair of Lucky Brand, leather black ballet flats
I was ready to SLAY-grownup addition

Because everything I do is at the last possible minute, I went shopping the night before my flight was scheduled to leave-and failed to try on any of the girl boss items I selected because I was too lazy to take my pants off at the store

I arrived home from tutoring and errands around 9pm that evening and was ecstatic to star in a Wendy Williams “classy women” makeover.  I was pumped to model off my new look for my hilarious-yep uh huh looks good-or laugh at you if you look stupid-babe a licious.
Dress #1
Bright Coral, sleeveless with a lace applique of the same tone.  Knee length, classy.  Just classy (whips out church fan and waves it while crossing one leg over the other and bouncing my foot) The dress was a-line with a conservative v-neck.  Did I really like it?  Nope.  But it rang, “listen to me, I’ve got myself together, may I have your attention please” on the rack.
Tried it on in front of the boo; looked horrible
Did not compliment my shape AT ALL and I couldn’t for the life of my figure out who it did look good on.
I even spun the front, to the back, hoping that the tags were just sewn to the wrong side
Nope, it looked even stupider
“Babe how does it look?”
-“Ok”, he lied.
1 dress tossed in the “this isn’t gonna work” pile
Dress  #2
Navy blue, peek-a-boo shoulders with navy blue bows, accenting the sleeves that ended just above the elbow.  The dress had a nice fit without being formfitting.  It relaxed against my curves while having structure and was also knee-length.  The dress was grown up, yet adorable.  It was giving me, “I’m adorable, innocent and a grown up-look at my bronzed shoulders though” vibes
It was literally adorable.  Not my style though
1 dress in the “this is cute, but not for Ashley” pile
At this point my lip pout was forming and I was feeling disappointed in my selections
Like getting a booster (translation: a professional apparel shoplifter-a personal shopper with a hell of an employee discount) who showed up at Christmas with dork clothes instead of the latest fashions you thought would be in the bag
Dress #3
Black sleeveless, scooped neck with thin white lines that ran both vertically and horizontally to form squares, with a busy, pink-toned floral print that ran along the bottom on both the front and back sides and grazed my knee caps
The dress was literally shaped like a rectangle
But the pattern was cute and uh, classy
Tried it on, it swallowed me
I started to cry
Babe laughed
“Ashley did you try any of this on?”
What kinda question was that? “No”.
“Baby what am I gonna wear, all of this looks horrible”-this is not verbatim I used lots of adult choice words as I kicked the ugly clothes around
Traumatized.
It took me back to when I was young, and my mom made me wear the
“Ugliest,
Old-ladyish
rob you of your youth,
I’m trying to embarrass you and make sure you have both no friends and no boys looking in your direction”
clothes, she could find for church.

This downward spiraling trend continued for the remainder of the failed try on haul.
I was in full-blown panic mode, naked and crying that I had nothing to wear
Boyfriend was still filling the role of Mr. Chuckles
“You have a room, turned closet (a full bedroom), you have clothes.  Be you, it’s not about what you have on.  The stuff you bought isn’t you anyway.  Stop over thinking it”, he says.  As if it was profound.
I left my mess and went to bed, woke up and packed comfortable, regular Ashley clothes and was happy
The 3-day conference was amazing
I looked like me
I spoke with confidence
I listened to each person on the program
I listened intently
I kept the room focused
I made sure there was equity of voice
I ensured that the youth spoke and were heard
I kept time
I challenged participants to be engaged
To share
To listen, and answer what was asked
To be open to being uncomfortable
To talk about the things we needed to address but we tip-toe around as a society
To be action oriented
To leave with a clear objective
To listen
To connect
To think critically
To be honest
To trust the process
It was hard.  One of the hardest tasks but I loved it
At one point, I was struggling to keep the group moving forward in the direction we were trying to build towards together
I appreciated that strong, brilliant, supportive black women lifted me up
One of my sistahs/co-workers stopped the process and re-centered the room with her energy and guided meditation
It was needed and I thank her
She protected me
She covered me
The spirit in the room was shifting and I was reignited
Facilitating a collective planning session is a challenge when you have people from all over the US
From different backgrounds
Who serve in diverse communities with their own unique needs
Using differing methods to reach their target population

I needed to be lifted to continue cultivating the space and she saw that need
At the end of the conference, another beautiful black woman came up to me and encouraged me
The message she poured into me was truly for me
She praised me, she hugged me,
She watered me
I needed that
I received
She affirmed that I belonged in that room, commanding the space
She blessed me

I also connecting with a woman I love deep in my soul who I hadn’t seen since before leaving for Guatemala
She too supported me
Helped me
She gave a worry doll that she carried because I was on her mind while in Guatemala exploring
She doesn’t know this but I thank God for her
She is humble, brilliant, youthful, vulnerable, educated, poised, honest, real and beautiful.  I am so fortunate to have a relationship with this Queen!  To stand in the sun next to her feels amazing.

I met who I think is my soulie (translation: soul sister)
She too is black, beautiful, genuine, intelligent, humble, vibrant, radiates confidence, humorous and has a beautiful smile.  She reminds me so much of me, and we are on the same journey of finding self.  While listening to and engaging with her, I saw me.  I didn’t have to try with her; no countdown, no “I think I can” speech.  My connection with her was genuine.  It was real.

It felt amazing to be in a space with black women who possessed so much magic.  Magic they let spill over into my vessel.  Into the vessels of the rest of the women & men of different backgrounds and races in the room.  No competing, no tantruming, no stepping up onto rungs of the latter above the crowd to look down on anyone else over flared nostrils.  We lifted one another.

It felt good to be loved on by women whose traits and knowledge I aspire to attain and build.
Black girl magic potion was in the air
With my arms outstretched
Head tilted back towards the heavens
And with a smile on my face
I twirled in it

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