Carolyn Holbrook is the contributing writer in the Winter/Spring 2021 Catalog. Below, read her writing that appears in the catalog.
In gratitude, we welcome Carolyn Holbrook as the featured writer. In this essay, Carolyn invites the reader to fully face our reality and its systemic implications. Such a turning-towards is necessary if we truly want to enter the work of tending, an integral process on the way to genuine healing. We encourage you to find a comfortable space and contemplatively take in the truth of her words, necessary for a time as this.
Reflection questions can be found at the end of Carolyn’s essay; use them throughout these months as part of your tending.
Carolyn’s full text appears below her bio.
A Time for Healing, A Time for Reckoning ©
Contributing Writer Carolyn Holbrook:
Carolyn Holbrook is a writer, educator, and longtime advocate for the healing power of the arts. She is the author of an essay collection, Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify (University of MN Press 2020), a chapbook, Earth Angels (Spout Press 2020), and is co-author with Arleta Little of MN civil rights icon, Dr. Josie R. Johnson’s memoir, Hope In the Struggle (University of MN Press 2019). Her personal essays have been published widely, most recently in A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota (MN Historical Society Press 2016) and Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota (MN Historical Society Press 2015). She has received awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board and a MRAC Next Step grant. In 2016, she was awarded a 50 over 50 award from AARP/Pollen Midwest. She was the first person of color to win the Minnesota Book Awards Kay Sexton Award (2010). She is Founder and Artistic/Executive Director of More Than a Single Story for which she won a MN Women’s Press Changemaker award in 2015. She teaches creative writing at the Loft Literary Center and other community venues, and at Hamline University, where she won the Exemplary Teacher award in 2014. Learn more at https://www.carolynleeholbrook.com/.
A Time for Reckoning, A Time for Healing ©
“We prepare for life as it unfolds, not our ideal image of it.
That is literally, the only path forward.”
Angel Kyodo Williams
I wrote an article for the Minnesota Women’s Press several months ago. In it, I shared a belief that we are in a time of healing, though at the time, that may not have seemed to be the case. At least not on the surface.
As we all know, the state of our planet, our bodies, our political landscape, in fact, the soul of our nation were all amplified in 2020. The novel coronavirus called COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March and has become the largest and deadliest pandemic since the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. Large numbers of hospitalizations and deaths were reported around the world and, surprisingly, the United States has led with the largest numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
And then, shortly after Governor Walz issued a stay-at-home order in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly virus, another pandemic moved front and center on May 25th, Memorial Day. The tragic killing of George Floyd — at that time, the latest example of the uniquely American form of racism in which large numbers of unarmed Black men and women are murdered by law enforcement officers with no consequence to the killers.
The murder of George Floyd was videotaped by seventeen-year-old Darnella Frazier who caught all 8 minutes and 46 seconds of the police officer’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck while he pleaded over and over, saying that he could not breathe until the end when he called out for his mother. The video went viral and was seen around the world.
The murder of George Floyd was so blatant and shocking that it woke the world up to this phenomenon that African Americans have lived with for over 400 years, since the first slave ship, the Man of War, landed on the shores of Jamestown, VA in 1619. And it is well documented that with the landing of that Dutch slave ship came the first law enforcement officers in America – groups of armed white men called “paddy rollers” who were organized for the sole purpose of monitoring and enforcing discipline upon Black slaves.
George Floyd’s murder caused people around the world to stand up and demand the end of the decimation of Black bodies despite the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. But the murders continue. In fact, some that occurred shortly before the death of George Floyd were uncovered. Most notably, that of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery who was stalked and gunned down by a white man and his son while he was out jogging near his home in Brunswick, GA, and the horrific murder of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an EMT who was killed in her own home by police officers who had mistaken her home for the residence of a drug dealer. Later, just three months after George Floyd was killed, 29-year-old Jacob Blake was paralyzed from the waist down after having been shot seven times by police in front of his children while trying to get into his car after having broken up a fight. And there is no doubt that many more whose names we may never hear, are being shot and killed regularly. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. At the time of this writing, 263,468 individuals have died and the numbers are predicted to increase exponentially over the holiday season.
It is no secret that the outgoing president has fueled the negative environment we are living in today. Even before he was elected in 2016, he continually encouraged his followers to undermine the peace and hopefulness that Barack Obama’s presidency brought to the world. – he started the “birther” movement in which he claimed that President Obama was not born in America and encouraged his supporters to believe that Obama was a Muslim which, in the eyes of trump and those who think like him is code for terrorist. Mr. trump has also inflamed unrest by denying climate change, systemic racism, and the coronavirus, even going to far as to make the pandemic a political issue, undermining well-documented science and discouraging his supporters from taking care of themselves and their loved ones by doing the three very simple things that will help to get it under control, even mocking individuals for wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance from others, and blaming local governments instead of climate change for wildfires that have raged in the western part of our nation.
Still, I maintain my belief that we are in a time of healing. It became clear in the early days of stay-at-home orders from many governors when the air became cleaner, less polluted. Today I believe that, more than any other time in history, we have an opportunity to finally heal our hearts and the inbred systems of racism and economics that cause food insecurity, health disparities, educational achievement gaps, housing inequities and more – we have an opportunity to heal ourselves and the earth.
Even though we seem to be living in a time of crisis after crisis, I can’t help noticing that nearly every day I get at least one email from someone who is offering healing in some form or another. There are healing meditation circles everywhere and a growing number of dialogue circles where participants are more willing to be real in their conversations about the difficult matters around social justice. Poets, writers and artists, many who felt blocked during the early stages of the pandemic and after the George Floyd murder are now creating beautiful works with words, music and visual art. And finally, the results of the 2020 Presidential election have shown the world that the majority of the American public is yearning for a return to decency, democracy, racial justice, environmental justice and truth that President-Elect, Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect, Kamala Harris are calling for. Healing may not come easily, though. There are still plenty of people who prefer discord and will continue to attempt to obstruct rather than promote justice and peace.
I believe strongly in the healing power of the arts, which is often quiet. People often ask what led me to become a writer. The answer is easy. I was the quiet one in my family. My journal always listened, even when the louder voices overpowered me. Now, as a writer and a teacher of creative writing, I use the quiet power of words to tend to this healing work. Also, as an arts activist, I enjoy bringing people from disparate racial, ethnic and artistic backgrounds together, using the power of the arts to create environments of civic literacy in which BIPOC writers along with other artists and individuals from non-artistic disciplines can discuss issues of importance to them in their own words and their own voices.
Kindness, compassion and respect prevail in these powerful conversations that are often quiet, and audience members from many communities engage with us. The public discussions are often followed by writing workshops that invite participants to explore these topics with other interested people.
I love the word “tending.” It implies kindness, compassion, and remaining steadfast in the face of injustice. It shows that we change the world through our everyday actions whether those actions are teaching, writing, or the daily passage of our life experience down to the next generation. That tending is often quiet. While others are blustering and yelling, the healing is taking place quietly and steadfastly. I recently saw an anonymous quote that has been sticking with me. “Sometimes it’s not about the act of praying, or what you think or say when you pray. Sometimes it’s about what you learn while waiting for the answer.” I believe that when we sit in the quiet we find the healing.
- In what ways have the arts been a portal to your healing?
- What stands out to you in Carolyn’s essay?
- What is the importance of tending and accepting within the journey to healing?