“On Her Hustle” is a series of interviews with women of color artists, entrepreneurs, healers and activists who hustle hard for our communities. Colored Girls Hustle uses this series to amplify the work, talent, and passions of other women and girls of color. Click here to read more about our series and to nominate someone to be interviewed.
This month we’re featuring Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist, doula and scholar. Read her full interview below to learn more about how she’s hustling hard for her community through poetry, scholarship and black feminism.
Colored Girls Hustle: You call yourself a “queer black troublemaker.” We love that! Tell us: what trouble do you create?
Dr. Gumbs: The first time I heard Beverly Guy-Sheftall speak she said “I am a Black Feminist, that means that I am constantly disrupting the systems of racism, sexism, and homophobia.” That resonated deeply with me. I see my presence in the world and my inspired and collective actions as disruptive to all enslaving and genocidal systems.
On an everyday level I have noticed that the most troublesome aspect of my life (when it comes to other people) is my practice of doing the work that I am here to do in ways that critique dominant approaches to work, life, family, intellectual practice, creative production, and community building. It troubles the way other people look at the limits they have imposed or accepted in their own lives. My intention is that this is a trouble that can be liberating for all of us.
Colored Girls Hustle: What are three verbs that you would use to describe yourself?
Dr. Gumbs: This morning?: Shimmy, Shake, Shine.
Colored Girls Hustle: What does the word hustle mean to you and how does it apply to your life?
Dr. Gumbs: To me hustle means GET IT DONE. It acknowledges that there are not always systems designed to support an inspired purpose of the actions involved in that purpose, but there is ALWAYS a way to make it happen. Hustle is about making it happen anyway by every means necessary. For many of us who hustle, creating new ways of doing, being and understanding how life gets done is part of our purpose on the planet.
Colored Girls Hustle: How might Toni define hustle?
Dr. Gumbs: “The best way to do it is to do it.”-Toni Cade Bambara
Colored Girls Hustle: What might Audre say about hustle?
Dr. Gumbs: “Poetry is not a luxury.” –Audre Lorde
Colored Girls Hustle: How might the Combahee River Collective talk about hustle?
Dr. Gumbs: “Our politics evolves from a healthy love for ourselves,” and “We are ready for the lifetime of struggle and work ahead of us.”
Colored Girls Hustle: While we’re on the subject of definitions… please give us the Dr. Gumbs dictionary for the following:
lifeforce, everything that requires and supports growth.
the creative power of love in practice, centered on and radiating from the love of black women and black femininity
(not a luxury!) a practice for being present in the complexity of love
COMMUNITY ACCOUNTABLE SCHOLAR
an intellectual who does passionate purposeful thinking, communicating and creating in collaboration with and in the service of the genius of oppressed communities
the abundant, grateful and accountable responsibility of being alive in the presence of our ancestors and all those no longer living
Colored Girls Hustle: To those that say poetry is a luxury — what do you say?
Dr. Gumbs: Audre Lorde says (in the essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury”) that “poetry is the skeleton architecture of our lives.” On a syllabus for a poetry class that Lucille Clifton once taught at Duke University she quotes Mary Oliver saying that poetry enhances the possibility that we MIGHT say the right thing to the right person at the right time.
Poetry, whether written down or repeating in our minds and hearts, is how we imagine, create and transform life. Our lives are unimaginable to us without it. Our relationships are unimaginable without it. The radically different future we deserve that honors everyone we love is unimaginable without poetry (the practice of being present to the complexity of love/lifeforce/all).
If you love someone, if you are breathing right now, if there is sensation somewhere in your skin, there is a poem in your perception of that phenomenon. Poetry is everywhere. Poets are just the people who intentionally practice making it visible to themselves and others.
Colored Girls Hustle: If you could produce an ancestral, intergenerational convening of Black Feminists to do a public performance on freedom, who would you choose and why? What might they create together? #BlackFeministImagination
Dr. Gumbs: I think of my everyday life and every event and experience I create as exactly this. I love that. This is an ancestral, intergenerational, convening of Black Feminists, publically performing freedom. Yes!
So everyone is invited. All the ancestors named and unnamed: my great great grandmother Rebecca, my grandmother Lydia, my grandfather Jeremiah, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toni Cade Bambara, Marsha P. Johnson, Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Melvin Dixon, Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beam, Rudolph Byrd Sakia Gunn, Nayo Watkins, Vera Martin, Cheryll Greene.
All my elders who think they are ready and who think they are not ready: Alexis DeVeaux, Barbara Smith, Cheryl Clarke, Kim Pearson, Doris Davenport, Gloria Joseph Jacqui Alexander, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Mary Anne Adams, Akasha Hull, Kai Barrow, Lea Salas and my parents to name a very few.
And the bridge generation of chosen older siblings: Aishah Simmons, Cara Page, Nikky Finney, Lisa Moore, Martina Downey and more.
And all of our peers: You, me, Jessica, Jessica and the other Jessica, Julia, Moya, Reina, Renina, Ebony, Kelly, Khahlia, Fallon, Mai’a, Danielle, Almah, Eric, Darnell, Maria and everybody.
And here is what we will do:
We will hold hands and help each other stand from wherever we are sitting or have fallen. We will gently press our foreheads into each other’s foreheads one at a time for as long as it takes. We will be saying the words from the Combahee River Collective Statement. “Inherently valuable.” Until we get it. Until we all the way get it through our thick and brilliant skulls.
Colored Girls Hustle: You cultivate and nurture intergenerational community and conversations. How do you do that with the Mobile Homecoming Project? Why are intergenerational communities important to you?
Dr. Gumbs: Basically we do variations on the performance I imagined above. We dance, drum, listen and make poems. We create media and distill mantras from the wisdom of our community. We share video clips, mantras and images at intergenerational events. We create events like Queer Black August where everyone can love up on each other and share their own stories.
I believe that intergenerational relationships and community are how we know who we are in context and across time. It allows us to learn from each other’s hardest moments and to lift each other up when we can’t see our power. It is what gives us the breadth of perspective to understand this shared moment in time and what our role is in it.
Colored Girls Hustle: In February you co-created the Mobile Homecoming’s Institute on Erotic Power at Creating Change 2014. Tell us more about the institute: what was it about, how was it received, what did yall do?
Dr. Gumbs: I am going to quote myself and you can read more about it here: http://thefeministwire.com/2014/02/love-poem-legacies-activating-collective-erotic-power-in-the-name-of-the-lorde/
In celebration of Audre Lorde, the Mobile Homecoming Project (an experiential archive amplifying generations of Black LGBTQ Brilliance) facilitated a daylong institute on Erotic Power called “The Fullness” at Creating Change, the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ people in the United States as part of their sex justice track. More than 100 people attended the daylong institute, which included powerful story-sharing, movement, sound-making, poetry-writing, and a powerful ritual of release. 24 organizations that work year-round to connect oppressed communities to their fullness supported the institute with their resources and their attendance. LGBTQ-identified people of many genders, ages, ethnic backgrounds and experiences worked through the day to create a transformative space even though some of the practices (jubilant sound circles, west African drumming, screams of joy and the appropriation of decorative trees out of the lobby) were queer to the conference itself and certainly to the major corporate hotel chain where the conference was located. I left with a powerful sense of what it feels like to be fully embodied and to be holistically turned on in my relationship to my sexuality, my liberation, my community, my creative practice, my relationship and my growth.
Colored Girls Hustle: You’re been on a Black Feminist Breathing Tour. Tell us more about where you’ve been, where you’re headed and what you’re up to on this tour.
Dr. Gumbs: The Black Feminist Breathing tour is a breakthrough for me. Many people go on tour to promote products, books, albums etc, but for me the anti-capitalist self-loving breakthrough was to go on tour just sharing the spiritual practice of my breathing, sometimes with some words to go with it! The lectures and workshops on the tour are grounded in black feminist mantras that I repeat as part of my daily spiritual practice. (i.e. Audre Lorde’s “I am who I am doing what I came to do.” It has been beautiful to repeat those truths and elaborate on what it means to embody them with people all over the US and Canada as this winter turned to Spring.
Colored Girls Hustle: Why did you choose to become a doula and why are you choosing to share that journey with your mother?
Dr. Gumbs: When my mother (the incredible Pauline McKenzie-Day) gave birth to me she was pressured to have an unnecessary c-section. This was my mother’s first experience giving birth and it was also an imposed intervention and a disrespectful action that prioritized the convenience of the doctors over the power of my mother to bring life through on the terms that her body was ready to do it. It inspired her to take action and she educated herself about birth justice and birth rights and in her subsequent labors she had a strategy that included labor coaches and mostly laboring at home so that medical providers could not intervene inappropriately with her tendency to have long healthy labors. My mother’s fight to advocate for herself (keep in mind that she gave birth in New Jersey, a state that has actually charged mothers with child abuse and neglect and taken away their kids when they refuse to have medically unnecessary c-sections) also inspired for her to advocate for other people giving birth. I was proud to gift her with tuition for a full-circle doula training course on mother’s day several years ago.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that in addition to the ways that my mother turned the negative experience of being pressured to have an unnecessary c-section into an opportunity to empower herself and other people, there was also an opportunity for us to heal together from that experience (aka the very first time that capitalism/sexism etc.tried to disconnect us from each other AND FAILED).
In February we assisted our first birth together and what made it even more powerful, healing and sacred was the fact that my stepsister Kyla was the first new parent we got to support. We were able to be a part of the miraculous birth of my first nephew and my mom’s first grandchild and we were able to witness the power of Kyla’s transformation into a mother which was SUCH an honor and a blessing.
Colored Girls Hustle: You’re always up to something… how do you keep up with yourself?! How do you manage your self-expression, stay in the integrity of your passions and exercise self-care in the process?
Dr. Gumbs: Yes! Always up to something! The way that I am able to stay grounded in my integrity and care for myself is by having daily and weekly practices that are non-negotiable. Everyday I write a poem. Everyday I dance with myself. Every week I dance with my community three times. And there are more! I think that daily practices are important.
These are the ways I check in with my body and my spirit and ensure that no matter how busy or on the move I may be during a particular season I am still doing me and being me!
Colored Girls Hustle: Who or what is the source of your wellspring? From where do you draw your inspiration, your drive, your creativity?
Dr. Gumbs: I believe that the universe is a creative black feminine source of power creating us all by loving herself. That is the wellspring of my creativity and I am able to connect to that wellspring through quiet moments alone, all forms of art (especially music, art and poetry created by women of color) and through the challenging legacy of everyone who has activated a deep dark feminine creative practice during their journey on the planet. I am able to access this most immediately and consistently through the miracle-making of women of color and queer people of color, but I also believe that there is something dark, creative, transformative and feminine in everyone. It energizes and humbles me to see people activate those aspects of their/our destiny.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist and a time traveller and space cadet. She has a PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and she is the co-editor of the forthcoming collection This Bridge Called My Baby: Legacies of Radical Mothering. Alexis is the founder of the community-based educational initiative Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming project (an experiential archive amplifying generations of black LGBTQ brilliance) and directs Brilliance Remastered a service to support community accountable intellectual practice. Alexis just finished a multi-city Black Feminist Breathing tour activating embodied knowledge, repetition, meditation, poetry, movement and ecstasy and will be hosting a Black Feminist Breathing Retreat in Magnolia Mississippi July 4-6th, 2014.
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