This blog has been living in my body & soul since October 2017. It was then, shortly after my 43rd birthday, that I traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to attend the ProDoula Annual Conference, dubbed “Speak Your Truth”. Despite my reservations about going to Kansas City after the NAACP put out a travel warning for that area, I knew that I had to be there to hear my sister speak. We had never met in person, but our hours of conversation via telephone and FaceBook had forged a kinship bond, that pulled me to show up for what I knew to be a historical event.
I was not disappointed. In fact, that night I and nine other Black women were divinely appointed by “Dr. Doula”, as she is called. Not only did she summon us to the stage and cast words of affirmation and insight upon us, she did it in a room that was overwhelmingly filled with White women. Women who in every other arena would have been the center of attention, watched as Dr. Doula spoke life into us, and made us speak it into ourselves. I stood there crying, profoundly aware that we were being initiated. Dr. Little Mason wasn’t teaching me anything about myself, or giving me any traditions that I wasn’t already a part of. She was simply letting me know that she already knew who I was, that The Most High had sent her “on assignment”, and giving me the charge to be more of myself from that point forward.
This was no ordinary keynote speech. Dr. Doula embodied the role of African griot and historian, as she told of her experience as a woman of highly melanated skin in the circles of birthworkers, which are predominately populated by White women. She was “singing my life with her song” as she illustrated the microaggressions and inherent bias that Black women in America face at the hands of our “well-intentioned” White counterparts. But more than that, she put on a clinic on what it is to truly doula someone. Those White women in the room, who on any other night would have been able to jump in and save the day with their White savior complexes, were in no position to do so. At that moment all they could do was truly “hold space” for those of us who were being restored and acknowledged, as well as our ancestors who literally birthed this entire nation, or fed it at their breasts.
By the time that her presentation was over, I was forever changed. Her presentation was so interactive, and I was so clear of my mission, that for a moment everything made sense. Dr. Doula was illustrating how Black women’s contributions had been erased from the history of childbirth in America. She collected tiny Post-Its on which we all had written the contributions of Black women to childbirth in America. And at one point she started burning them. That was just too much for me to take, in my stirring moment of self-actualization. I screamed out, “No! Don’t do that!” Yet, she continued. I realized that the burning and destroying of our history could only be stopped by us.
I jumped onto the stage and blew out the flame, sending embers flying. Thankfully Dr. Doula is as quick with her reflexes as she is with her wit! She quickly patted them away, preventing any accidents, and stared at me with the stare that African women have stared from time immemorial, to get folks back in line with the quickness! I did no such thing. She had given me a charge and I was going to keep it. I proceeded to snatch the papers away and start reading them out loud, one by one. Soon, others joined me and read the contributions for everyone present to hear.
Today, ProDoula released a video documenting this phenomenal event. I invite you to listen to it, and be forever changed as I was. Remember, as in the Sankofa symbol from the Akan people of Ghana, the bird turning its neck around. . .it is not taboo to go back for what you have lost!