I will never forget the first day I met Alexis Pauline Gumbs. I had heard tales far and wide of her genius, her sweetness, her glorious spirit. On a rainy Durham afternoon in July, dressed in all white and seemingly prepared for all things, Alexis mothered me. She ain’t know me from a can of paint — well, besides an introduction by Ebony Noelle Golden that I can’t quite remember. I don’t remember much from that summer day at Duke University, but I remember Alexis, and I remember what she said to me:
breathe. you don’t have to stop crying, just keep breathing
I once thought I would never be a mother. I didn’t believe I had a lick of nurturing spirit, or that I deserved to be responsible for another life, or that the body I inhabited was even capable. It’s amazing how many ways you can be proven wrong. Still, I was not convinced that I could care “properly” for a whole ‘nother person. Then Sydnie Mosley told me about this book she was reading: Revolutionary Mothering. She told me that it redefined mothering for her and made her realize she had been mothering her whole life. She told me I had to read this book, because I too was mothering.
I have been longing for the language of mothering for a while it seems. In 2015, I attended a Move The Crowd summit where Latham Thomas spoke. She asked us what we were “womb-ifesting”: what were we carrying, nurturing, growing in darkness that would take time before it saw light? I carried womb-ifesting into my journals for months but somethin’ just ain’t feel right. After all, wasn’t I the one who had cared for so many babies after they had crossed into the light of life? How many infants and toddlers had run through my living room, colored on my floor, fell asleep on my chest as I sat in rocking chairs? My work was beyond the womb. My greatest collaborations are now starting kindergarten, 2nd grade, 8th grade; they are the ones who invited me to listen and love in new ways.
So I tried on mothering. It fit like a sparkly catsuit on a Saturday night dance floor, but I knew I wouldn’t be wearing it alone. I decided to engage those most affected, our team, in a conversation around adding the language of “mother” to our mission. Did they believe in mothering? Would they be willing to mother? Do they see themselves mothering in their PURPOSE work? This rich dialogue carried us around the world and back again, and Tara Daniels posed an important question: What happens when people associate trauma with the word mother? *in my Alicia Keys voice* Moment of honesty: it was not so long ago that I associated pain with my own mother while also aligning great joy to others who mothered me.
It is the revolutionary nature of mothering that can hold our trauma rather than hide from it. Mothering makes space to sit in the contradictions. Mothering can “fail” you and move forward with you. Mothering does not know everything and even in the moments that feel clear, mother can get it wrong. Mothering can misunderstand, fall, and will need support too. We in PURPOSE have begun investigating what our mothering lives like. If “mother” makes you want to run in the opposite direction, let us know. But know that we are committed to mothering, an act that might be a bit different than what you’re running from, and we hope you’ll try it with us.
Our work lies not in our skillset/s. Yes, there are many things we can do, will do, might learn to do, but every collaboration is actually about a vision and a journey. That is why we use the language of sojourner rather than client. We want to take the ride with you, swerve when we need to, enjoy the cruise control, help fix the flat tire. Our relationships are rarely about us, or you, or your partners, or your venue, or your revenue, or your followers… we commit to caring for the vision you set out and calling out when that vision may no longer serve you. We are always listening for what the vision needs, desires, deserves. How can we make sure this purpose thrives? PURPOSE mothering visions for and with you. We want to help you plan now so things are a bit easier later.
Just to be clear, we are mothering, not mammy-ing. We do not coddle or concede to those with power. We will never give them all that they want nor defer to their comfort. Our mothering looks like holding folks accountable to act in alignment with what they speak, to commit to clear values, to care. We know that everybody can’t always show up fully, can’t always reciprocate all that we give, and sometimes that means we lay out a platter of the most delicious pies and vegetables you’ve ever known… and then we walk away. Mother wants to give you preventative medicine. We can only hope folks take at least one bite, digest it, and find remnants in their bloodstream. And if they just shit it out, well then that’s more goodness returning the earth.
Mothering listens deeply and loves unconditionally. Mother does not expect you to earn respect or trust; your value is inherent. Mother understands that humanity will always outweigh excellence, and that by holding space for you to be fully human, we are always supporting you in being your best – whatever your best is right now, in this moment.
Mothering is responsive AND clear. Mother tries to honor what you express and mirror your vision back to you. Mother also knows when action needs to be taken, even if it opposes what you want, and will guide you toward that action. Not force, but guide. And in PURPOSE it is our intention to guide folks towards the most strategic actions.
Mothering is what we been doing. And now we want you to know that. We want you to understand the deepest truth of how we work.
PURPOSE Productions supports artists and organizers in the mothering of PURPOSE-full work that seeks to unify and develop our world community.
Don’t worry – we’ll dive into some of those other words another day. Until then, we appreciate the journeys you share with us.