Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 6: Dr. Candace Speaks!

Hello, friends! Welcome back to the blog! I hope you enjoyed learning about Dr. Linda and seeing the world of OT through her lens. I have been having so much fun putting together these interviews and showcasing amazing individuals, both students and practitioners, who love OT. I certainly have learned so much about occupational therapy this month through the unique perspectives of the lovely individuals who have shared their experiences. I am so thrilled to feature the last person I have for you all this evening. Dr. Candace is a current occupational therapist that I highly admire. We were privileged to meet through the wonderful organization of COTAD National before I began applying to OT school. She has been cheering me on through my journey of getting accepted to and matriculating into OT school. Dr. Candace has poured lots of wisdom and encouragement into my life and has challenged me to be my best self throughout the two years that we have known each other now. So friends, I present to you Dr. Candace as our final feature of the Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series to conclude this series.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Dr. Candace: Candace Chatman, OTD, OTR/L (she/her). I am an occupational therapist based in Southern California. My area of practice began in pediatrics and I have transitioned into academia as an assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy at the University of Southern California. I am a Seattle native that feels more like an Angeleno since moving here in 2003. My passions are God, my family, and friends, finding fulfilling work with children and families- whether that be in practice or the community- and working towards a more equitable, accessible, and diverse Occupational Therapy academy. 

IreneWhy OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Dr. Candace: When I was 17 years old, my family adopted my niece, who had Down syndrome. I cared for her and our relationship has helped direct major parts of my career with families and children. I started my professional career as a high school special education teacher and special equation coordinator in underserviced areas of Los Angeles. I always knew that I would not stay in that career as I wanted to have a larger scope of expertise in a more flexible job trajectory. I learned about occupational therapy after having decided I would transition to nursing. It was a medical field I could handle and I knew that there would always be a need for nurses. While taking pre-reqs for nursing school, in a Lifespan Psychology class, an occupational therapist spoke about her pediatric clinic and the work she did around the world with children and increasing their access to meaningful activities.  I had never heard of occupational therapy during my time taking care of my niece or during my time as a teacher. I loved that it aligned with my desire to provide care in a more holistic way- not just in the classroom. I wasn’t sure at the time that pediatrics would be the area of occupational therapy I wanted to focus- I was a bit burned out from teaching- but I was clear that I wanted to be an occupational therapist. 

IreneChoose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Dr. Candace:

Person-centered – We work with living, human, beings… people. Not labels, conditions, diagnosis, socio-economic status, clients, patients, or consumers. So our work must be centered on the people- their wants, needs, concerns, strengths, and removing barriers to those wants, needs, and concerns.

Advocacy – Using our voice and skills to make a change in complex systems- whether it be voting, writing letters to senators, calling insurance companies, or providing parents clarity about their rights in IEP meetings.

Flexible – We must be ready to grow and change our perspectives, our understandings, and our actions as the contexts around us change. We must be almost malleable as nothing is really fixed or predictable. 

IreneWhat is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Dr. Candace: The depth and nuisance in the field. I think that’s why people don’t know what we do unless you’ve worked with one of us. There is so much we can do. I love the passion and the drive of OTs. I love the potential also. Collectively, we could do so much. I think this is why advocacy is so important so that we can get funding for all the areas in which we provide care. I also think this is why no matter what we do, we need to do it as occupational therapists first. This is such a valuable field but that puts us at risk for other careers poaching the OT scope. This is why we need to go out there with all the things that we can do and with our entrepreneur mindset and our knowledge and ability to apply the IT process and let people know that we are occupational therapists first and that specific area of work second.

IreneWhat are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Dr. Candace: My plans currently are to continue to create an academic landscape that is holistic, accessible, equitable, and diverse as the communities we serve. The promise/attempt to create a holistic, accessible, equitable, and diverse OT educational landscape cannot be in words only- get the students in, and then the students will sort it out.  We have to apply as much as we know about pedagogy, teaching, and occupational therapy to create an academia in which all students can be successful- whether they identify as black, indigenous, people of color, or have a disability- visible or invisible-, LGBTQIA+, male, etc. At the 2022 Spring Academic Leadership Conference, the demographics of the field of occupational therapy confirmed that occupational therapy is largely a white, female field. Changing academia will help move us towards the vision of a more diverse workforce. 

I would like to revolutionize supporting OTs to be fieldwork educators. Fieldwork educators are an extremely important part of the occupational therapy education. I’m grateful that my job allows me to address the needs of clinicians which will hopefully impact their work as educators to occupational therapy students.  

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy: Candace Chatman, OTD, OTR/L.

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below! 

Dr. Candace: I believe in you and I know you can do it. Keep your eye on your dream and your goals and your community.

Dr. Candace is truly revolutionizing OT as we speak. I love the integration of academia and OT and how you discussed the interplay between the two. It is so important, and I also aspire to do work in academia further down my career trajectory to help advocate for the underheard voices who I believe have the power to break down multifacetered barriers present in OT. Thank you for your words of affirmation as well – that is true mentorship! 😉 It was so exciting to spotlight the voice of both a licensed occupational therapist and faculty member at USC today!

Well Renrenspeakers, thank you so much for tuning into the blog every Saturday this month for OT month! I am honored to have shed light on this amazing profession that I am currently pursing through the perspectives of my guest interviewees this month. I really hope that you all took something away from the stories that were shared on this platform. I have so many ambitions and plans for OT, so reading about other students and practitoners’ visions and aspirations was very inspiring and fruitful. It illustrates that there are so many passionate folks who are currently active in making occupational therapy an accessible, equitable service for all people across the lifespan regardless of their demographics, backgrounds, and experiences. For more resources about what OT is and all of the exciting things happening in the field, I strongly encourage you to visit AOTA. I also encourage you all to connect with the folks featured this month or myself if you are curious and eager to learn more about OT.

I really enjoyed hosting Occupational Therapy Speaks this month, and I hope you all return soon to Renrenspeaks for new content! In the mean time, go and thank an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy student for their dedication, hard work, and drive!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 5: Dr. Linda Speaks!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! The end of Occupational Therapy Month is here, so to conclude this month, I have a special treat for y’all! Today is DOUBLE FEATURE SATURDAY! The final two interviews will be featuring two of my favorite occupational therapists making big moves in the field! First, my new friend and fellow African sister, Dr. Linda, will be joining us today. I met her through mutual connections from my current school. She is such an energetic, kind soul with so much passion for the field. I am also always rooting for fellow Africans killing it in and diversifying OT, so I am so honored to feature her today on the blog!

IreneWhat is your name? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Dr. Linda: Blessings everyone, I am Dr. Linda Sadiki Materu, a pediatric occupational therapist currently working at an outpatient clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. I am Tanzanian-American, born and raised in East Africa, and have lived in California for most of my adult life. I relocated from California to Arizona to complete my doctorate in occupational therapy degree at A.T. Still University. I believe in God the Father, Yahweh, His only begotten son, Yeshua, and the person Holy Spirit. Outside my professional life, I love to travel, listen to music, visit different restaurants, and have COFFEE.

IreneWhy OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Dr. Linda: After relocating from Tanzania, I decided to change my career from business to health care given the opportunity out here in America. Growing up, I was always fascinated with the sciences. However, I felt like there were few health professions to pick from. At first, I was looking into becoming a physical therapist; however, a destiny helper (as I would like to call her) introduced me to OT. Just like the majority of people, I did not know what OT was and to me ‘occupational therapy’ sounded mundane. However, after doing my research and completing observation hours in different settings, I knew it was my best fit. I never thought I would find a career that was so rewarding yet so fun. I believe OT is what I was created to do.

IreneChoose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Dr. Linda:

Diversity – OT as a profession is so diverse, as there are different specializations to choose from and limitless practice settings to work in from traditional to non-traditional. Also, OTs work with diverse populations of different ages, social-economic statuses, cultures, languages, and religions which empowers us to be more creative and to make meaningful connections.

Holistic – OT is among a few holistic careers – i.e. it addresses a person as a whole -the mind, spirit, and body, which is essential in promoting optimal health and ensuring independence when engaging in meaningful occupations.

Impactful – OTs are able to make a difference in their clients’ lives by adopting ways and creating a safe environment. Being able to witness our clients’ progress from being dependent to achieving independence or even simply learning a new skill and the joy it brings to them and their loved ones is very fulfilling.

IreneWhat is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Dr. Linda: Oh my, that’s a hard question because there is a lot I love about OT. However, if I were to pick, I would say how creativity and science collide. OTs are knowledgeable about body functions through anatomy, kinesiology, neuroscience, and psychology and are able to creatively use simple everyday items to compensate or remediate function.

IreneWhat are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Dr. Linda: While completing my studies, I developed a passion for sensory processing disorders (SPD) that led to my doctoral capstone project on using sensory-based approaches to manage the effects of adverse childhood experiences. While completing this project, I realized that there was little research to justify the positive effects we bring to our clients through the use of sensory-based approaches. Therefore, I desire to complete other research projects on this topic to add to the body of knowledge to ensure SPD is recognized as a disorder in the DSM. In the future, I would love to work with an international NGO to advocate for policies that are centered on children’s health and wellbeing in Africa, while promoting our profession.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Dr. Linda: Yes, please feel reach out to me via email lindamateruotd@gmail.com or IG @_broken.crayon

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below! 

Dr. Linda: Words of encouragement to fellow members of the human race.

“Broken crayons still color” – Shelly Hitz. 

Simply put- in spite of everything that a person has done or been through they still have purpose and value, and God is able to use our brokenness to create something beautiful. For pediatric OTs who haven’t learned this trick yet- to facilitate an appropriate pencil grasp, use a broken crayon 😉

Dr. Linda, thank you for your words of encouragement. They were so comforting to hear and I know I needed that word in my life right now! Also, your IG handle makes so much sense to me now! She is truly a pediatric OT – her creativity is beyond me. I am very excited to see the work that you plan to achieve in the motherland. I remember when I visited Ghana specifically and volunteered at a community home for children and adults with various disabilities. It made me realize how pivotal OT services could have been at that site and how I could aid in advocacy for the members’ wellbeing and quality of life through an occupational lens. When you make those strides, take me with you!

Renrenspeakers, thanks so much for tuning into the blog! I have ONE MORE FEATURE for you all today! Please tune in later this afternoon to the blog for Part 6, the final feature of my Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 4: Matthew Speaks!

Hello, friends and Happy Saturday! I hope you have been enjoying my mini-blog series, Occupational Therapy Speaks, each week delving into the world of OT a bit more through the lens of current OT students! The next person I have for you today on the blog is my good friend Matthew. I met Matthew in one of my human development classes in undergrad — little did I know he was also an aspiring OT like myself. We were always put in the same group discussions and I always admired him because he inquisitively challenged the perspectives of our group discussions. We’ve been able to maintain a supportive relationship with one another through our check-ins where we spill all things OT and life. We were meant to reconnect after undergrad because now we all get to hear more about his beautiful perspective on OT!

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Matthew: Matthew Kawakami (he/him/his). I am a 2nd Year OT student at SJSU. I am from the Bay Area in California. Some of my favorite occupations are watching YouTube, running, slacklining, and researching pop music statistics. 

IreneWhy OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Matthew: I first found out about OT when I was doing a high school project. I had to present about an interesting career path and chose OT. I watched a few videos of pediatric OT and it looked super fun! Then in college one of my friends told they were interested in OT. Talking to her made me want to see what OT was like. After observing pediatric occupational therapists in person, OT seemed like a career that fit many of my interests. I wanted to work with people, I did not want to work sitting in an office, and I liked learning about both the human body and psychology. To be honest, I did not fully understand what occupational therapy entailed until I started OT school. Now that I am almost done with the academic portion of my program, I like that OT prioritizes the client’s agency, I like the breadth of the field (many different settings, populations, and diagnoses) and I like that I get to be creative.

IreneChoose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Matthew:

Dignity – OTs help clients maintain their dignity as their level of functioning changes. OT is about meeting the client where they are and helping them do what is important to them.

Context – OT helps clients in a way that is relevant to their context/life. OT is not copy and paste. It is understanding what a client needs as a whole person based on their social, physical, and cultural environment.

Problematic-Fave – I love OT, but I know that OT is not perfect. I love that OT is client-centered, but I also know that OT has a lot room to grow when it comes to properly addressing anti-blackness and ableism within the field. I think it is important to acknowledge the problems in order to help something you love become even better.

IreneWhat is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Matthew: I like the idea of being client-centered and understanding that our purpose is to improve the client’s quality of life according to the client. I think the medical system can focus on telling the client what they need to do, but I like that OTs listen to the client and ask what do you need? (I think one of my professors told me this line in class).

IreneWhat are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Matthew: My plan right now is to graduate and finish my fieldwork level II placements. After that, I am not sure what the future holds, but we shall see. I hope that I can be a part of the movement to help diversify OT, and increase access for groups traditionally disenfranchised due to race, class, disability, etc. I also hope I can be a part of the change to make OT spaces safer and more supportive for Black, Brown, and disabled students, practitioners, and clients.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Matthew:

Email: matthew.kawakami@sjsu.edu

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below! 

Matthew: Thanks to Irene for asking me to share!

Matthew, thank YOU so much for sharing! OT as a problematic-fave – I FELT THAT ONE HEAVY. That is a great descriptor. Though I am also with you in terms of loving all things OT, I also acknowledge and stand by the amount of work that needs to be done in this field to be as inclusive as it aspires to be. That is why advocacy is huge and awareness/promotion early on is so important. I think as we challenge our own internalized biases and -isms, we will continue to be the transformative change that is necessary to make OT thrive even more. I am happy to hear that you are almost done with the academic portion of your curriculum! An OT in the making is among us!

Thank you once again, Renrenspeakers, for tuning into the blog today. I hope this interview gave you another perspective on what OT is all about. Stay tuned for the NEXT lovely OT that I will be highlighting next WEEKEND for Part 5 of my Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 3: Kayela Speaks!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! You know what time it is! For the next feature on the Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series this month, we have our lovely guest, Kayela, who will be sharing her story with us. Kayela is literally one of the kindest, most honest, and humble folks that I have been so privileged to have met in my grad school career thus far. I promise you, as soon as she walks your way, your mood is instantly brightened because she is such a light! I am so excited for you all to get to learn more about her and understand why I admire her so much!

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Kayela: Kayela Santiago (she/her). I am from Maui, Hawai’i but currently reside in Arizona, as I am a 2nd-year MSOT student at A.T. Still University, Arizona. I am an Aunty of 3 precious little girls, and I enjoy spending time with loved ones. I’m a lover of animals, sightseeing, puzzles, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities. I enjoy hiking, fishing, diving, off-roading, exploring waterfalls, and swimming. I am also a lover of food.

IreneWhy OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Kayela: During my freshman year of college, I unfortunately tore my ACL and meniscus playing soccer and underwent 2 knee surgeries and long months of rehab. The difficulty of putting on pants, rolling in bed and showering were just a few of the battles I faced. While I was receiving PT services, I was sure I’d follow that career path because all I wanted at the time was to return to playing soccer. I experienced frustrations towards these tasks, which I thought were so simple at the time, therefore leading me toward OT. I realized how important it was for me to feel independent in what I do on a day-to-day basis and not have to rely on my parents to assist me. It was definitely frustrating having to rely on my parents to care for me post-surgery and during my recovery. The tasks that I was doing prior to surgery were a breeze, and after that experience, I realized I wanted to help people by returning them back to their everyday lives as independent individuals, as well as incorporating their hobbies and bringing meaning into their routines and everyday activities.

IreneChoose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Kayela:

Holistic – This particular word to me is important as it captures every aspect of an individual and not defining nor capturing the individual as their diagnosis. We as OTs look at an individual as a whole and consider the environment, emotional/social supports, spiritual/religious backgrounds as well as cultural backgrounds and incorporate all areas into their plan of care and treatment.

Inclusivity – This is such an important word to me as I believe we create a safe space for every individual. During treatment sessions, we leave all judgements at the door, and we provide a safe environment in which our patients feel heard, welcomed, and accepted no matter the differences amongst us.

Diversity– Every individual brings unique skills, knowledge and perspectives from their cultural backgrounds. With this in mind, it’s so important to provide an engaging environment where all individuals feel like they belong. It’s important to me that we provide equal care and opportunities to every individual.

IreneWhat is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Kayela: The most beautiful thing about OT to me is the ability to create change, and be the change in a patient’s life. My favorite quote relating to OT is “Occupational therapy practitioners ask, “what matters to you?” not, “what’s the matter with you?” by Ginny Stoffle, AOTA president. We as OT professionals not only create rapport with our clients but we create therapeutic activities that are most meaningful to our patients, therefore inspiring, motivating, acknowledging and empowering them toward success while recognizing barriers and assisting them toward independence. The progression and support that we provide is what makes me the happiest as we instill confidence back into our patients.

IreneWhat are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Kayela: As a future OT, I plan on moving back to Maui. Being that Maui is such a small island, I think being able to bring a fresh perspective and new lens on OT can help any setting that I work in. Before attending ATSU, I was a soccer coach for kids 2-11 years old and I remember parents asking if we provided sessions to children with disabilities. Sadly, the owner’s answer was no. Therefore, in the future, I want to be able to create an after school program/soccer club that includes children with disabilities and educate parents on approaches that can be utilized with their child at home as they are developing through each milestone to be successful in their occupations and school-related tasks.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Kayela:

Instragram: @kayelasantiago

Kayela! Wow. First of all, all power to you in undergoing knee surgery in college. I am sure that was a very taxing experience not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Paradoxically, this injury led you to this field, illustrating that we are able to come out stronger and better than before! Also, I absolutely love that quote by AOTA’s former president! I read it when I initially was doing more research about OT as a prospective student, and it just solidified everything that I wanted to contribute to healthcare. Thank you for sharing that. I think this quote accurately reflects the vision of OT and all that we have to offer. And lastly, I love your plan for OT in the future! It is SO important that all kiddos regardless of ability have the same opportunities to participate in sports like soccer to enhance their social participation in life!

Renrenspeakers, that is all we have today! I hope you were able to take something positive away from Kayela’s story today. Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful aspiring OT that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 4 of my Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 2: Melin Speaks!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! We are diving deep into the next feature I have to share with you all for the Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series this month! The homie and colleague, Melin, will be speaking to us today about her personal experiences sharing how OT initially spoke to her as well as her exciting plans for the future of OT! Melin is a beautiful, sweet soul inside and out who has such a desire to advocate for OT through various avenues. I am thrilled for you all to read her interview down below!

Irene: What are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Melin:  Hi everyone! My name is Melin Guerrero (she/her) and I am from El Paso, Texas. I am the first in my family to attend college and pursue a career in occupational therapy. For me, growing up on the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico has had a huge impact on who I am today! I feel like I have a super power, a double identity. Not in a Hannah Montana type of way, but more so being fluent in two languages and being a part of two cultures. On a Saturday afternoon, I could pick between watching telenovelas with my mom or a 90s show on Nickelodeon with my twin sister. Aside from my upbringing, I am a huge football fan, go Greenbay! I have visited 5 out of 30 NFL stadiums and hope to visit the remaining ones once I graduate. My favorite Disney movie is Encanto, which was recently released. I love how it has a big emphasis on family and identity. Plus, let’s not forget about the songs!

IreneWhy OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Melin: During high school, I struggled to find a profession I wanted to pursue. All I was sure of was I wanted to be in the healthcare field but the sight of blood made me woozy, so nursing, phlebotomist, and technician were all out. I began to think, Is it even possible to be in healthcare and not deal with blood or open wounds? until I was introduced to an OT student and the rest was history. However, my interest did not turn into my passion for OT until I worked with the City of El Paso to develop the first program in the city where all abilities and talents were recognized and valued. I introduced participants to the fundamentals of sports, and through this, I was able to gain a deeper appreciation of the value of occupations and their ability to assist individuals not only in overcoming challenges but also making them feel included. I witnessed my students gain confidence, experience moments of success, and make lasting friendships through the simplicity of playing a sport.

IreneChoose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Melin:

Creative – OTs use a variety of arts and crafts for all sorts of populations. It allows clients an outlet to express themselves. By doing a simple snowflake craft during the holiday season, children are working on bilateral coordination, fine motor skills, crossing midline, and many other skills. 

EBP – Evidence-based practice allows occupational therapists to select the most effective treatment techniques. It helps answer the golden question asked by many clients, “Why do I have to do this exercise?”

Evolving –  Occupational therapy is an evolving profession that over time has grown and become essential. It is going to reach new heights such as trauma-based care, pelvic floor, and adaptive sports. 

IreneWhat is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Melin: There are so many beautiful things about OT, it is hard to only pick one! Ultimately if I had to choose, it would be that it is holistic. It takes into consideration the whole person by being aware that both body and mind need to be taken into account.

IreneWhat are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Melin: Ever since entering graduate school my plans for how I want to revolutionize the field of OT have been constantly changing and evolving everyday. One day I really want to focus on adaptive sports but then the next I want to explore the roles OTs can play or have in colleges and universities. Education is one of the 8 types of occupations that we do not hear about enough with the young adult population.  They face many unique challenges when transitioning from high school to undergraduate or undergraduate to graduate school. There are also a lot of things in between that can get lost such as identity, roles and responsibilities.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Melin:

Instagram: @agua.de.melon

Email: melinguerrero@gmail.com

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below! 

Melin:

A letter to my first-generation college students,

Being the first is not always easy. Being the first means you are going into an uncharted territory without any map to guide you. There will be individuals that will be a hindrance toward your growth, belittle you and discourage you along the way. But, always remember that you are capable, you are strong and you are paving the way for future generations. Keep pushing forward, si se puede!

Yall, Melin is FREAKIN awesome. I’ve always been in such awe of her. I absolutely love the letter at the end and know that she is already a huge inspiration (and will continue to be) to so many first-generation college students who are currently going through the difficulties of navigating university and trying to define their occupational roles. Also, how cool is it that she is a twin?? There are TWO of these great individuals just existing on this earth? Lastly, having a double identity is so powerful and I know will make a tremendous impact on how she will forge relationships with future clients and communities.

Well Renrenspeakers, I hope that yall felt as inspired as I did today reading Melin’s perspective on OT. Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful aspiring OT that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 3 of my Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 1: Aegia Speaks!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! The first person I have kickstarting my mini-blog series Occupational Therapy Speaks this month is my good friend and fellow colleague, Aegia! She was literally the first person I met at our grad school orientation last July. As I nervously sat down wondering who I was going to click with that day, she sat at the same table as me and we hit it off! Little did I know we were birthday twins until later that day, so I knew we were destined to be in each other’s lives! Aegia is a very dedicated, passionate future leader of OT. I am so excited to showcase her today in the interview down below!

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Aegia: Aegia Mari Baldevia (she/her). I am a 1st-year doctor of occupational therapy student at A.T. Still University. I love working with people despite being an introvert. I currently work as a Reading Therapist for children with learning disabilities. Outside of the professional world, I love spending time with my family and friends. I enjoy dancing, arts and crafts, and fashion. I am a big believer in the power of kindness. I truly believe that one small act of kindness each day can change the world. 

Irene: Why OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Aegia: Since I was young, I knew I wanted to work with individuals with disabilities. Before I knew OT existed, I already had in my mind that I wanted to work with people to help them become the best versions of themselves. I wanted to help people reach their full potential. To be completely honest, when I first heard about OT, I just brushed it off. I did not fully commit to the idea of becoming an OT until I was a sophomore in college. I would say that my dad was really the person who helped solidify the idea for me. I told him what I wanted and what I did not want. He listened and told me to try looking into OT again. I am not quite sure what happened, but after looking into OT a second time, I fell in love. The rest is history.

Irene: Choose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Aegia:

Adaptability: I chose Adaptability because a big part of OT is helping people adapt to changes in their own bodies or their environment. Change, whether it is abrupt or gradual, can be very uncomfortable. Occupational therapists play a part in helping people lean into those changes and thrive. 

Advocacy: I chose Advocacy because OT requires genuine care for the community. The community does not only involve the patients that we see, but it involves every individual that needs help. While we may not be able to provide therapy for every person, the least we can do is get people in touch with resources that will be able to help them. 

Identity: I chose Identity because occupational therapists do wonders in ensuring that patients find themselves even when life feels foggy or dark. Because of how client-centered OT is, we shed some light on the individual and what is meaningful to the individual. The therapy session is all about you and what we can do to help you improve your life.

Irene: What is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Aegia: I love the fact that OT is holistic and client-centered. I find that working with someone to help them become more independent or more confident in their circumstance is a very beautiful thing. To put it simply, we work with people to help them increase their quality of life. I want to be part of every bit of that.

Irene: What are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Aegia: I hope to see OT be more involved in helping immigrants and refugees transition into life in a new country. I believe that occupational therapists have the skills to help both individuals and families find their footing in a completely new environment. As an immigrant, I saw the struggles my family and I had to face. I know, if given the opportunity, occupational therapists can find a way to smoothen the transition. The first step to achieving this goal is to teach others about OT and advocate for my field.

Irene: Can folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Aegia: If anyone is interested in learning more about OT, they can reach me at aegiamari@yahoo.com.

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below! 

Aegia: If anyone in Arizona knows someone who would benefit from free occupational or physical therapy, they should look into the OT/PT Center at A.T. Still University. They can call (480) 219-6180 or they can go to atsu.edu/ot-pt-center.

Wow, thank you so much Aegia for shedding light and letting us get a glimpse into your journey through discovering and pursuing occupational therapy! I also have a very soft spot for enhancing the integration of refugees and immigrants into new environments, for my parents went through very similar transitions. I am so excited to see the work that you will do in this emerging niche of OT. Also, thanks for plugging the OT/PT Center too! I can co-sign in saying that it is a great community-friendly clinic that I have had the privilege to work at.

I hope Aegia’s blog interview warmed your hearts as much as it did mine. Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful aspiring OT that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 2 of my Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks: Mini-Blog Series Loading!

Hello, friends! Happy first day of Occupational Therapy (OT) Month! This is a beautiful month for our profession. Though we should be celebrating and advocating for OT all day every day, this month augments our profession even more. That being said, I have a special announcement for you all! I bet y’all were wondering what the NEXT mini-blog series I would be hosting would be about, huh? 😉 No worries – I am back with more content for you!

To celebrate the beauty and diversity of occupational therapy this month, I will be kicking off a new mini-blog series called Occupational Therapy Speaks, highlighting a new person on my blog every Saturday! These incredible individuals will be sharing their experiences and love for this profession. So tune in to support each individual showcased on the blog this month and read their amazing stories!

I hope that y’all are as excited as me to learn more about the profession through the lens of some fabulous folks currently transforming occupational therapy!

Peace and love,

Irene

*Note: cover image can be found here

Black is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 4: Meet MELISSA!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! The calendar declaration of Black History Month is coming to an end, BUT that does not mean that the celebration of our Blackness ends here. I am here to present to you the LAST (whaaaa, I know, I am SO sad too!) installment of the Black is Beautiful mini blog series for this month! One of the most inspiring people I know that I am featuring today is my sweet soul sister, Melissa! Let me share a bit about this beautiful human being before we get into it!

I have been so privileged to have gotten to know Melissa these past few years on a deeper level. Being another Congolese sister of mine, we have very similar upbringings. Our families are long-time friends. This connection has been a blessing since it has allowed me and her to foster our own friendship over time. I was so excited to hear that she was attending school in SoCal way back when I first began college. Though we did not attend the same university per say, her proximity to where I was located was perfect because she got to spend a few holidays and breaks with my family. There, our bond grew stronger. I honestly view Melissa as a sister who I dearly admire. We have beautiful memories together, and she is a fashion ICON yall! My favorite thing about her is that she is truly symbolic of a humble and gentle spirit. She is one of those people with who you can feel such radiant energy exuding from her. Let me stop bragging now – I want you to read about all of the exciting accomplishments we are going to uncover today about her in this interview!

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Melissa: Hi beauties! My name is Melissa Mulengwa (she/her), and I’m the Owner & Founder of Mama + Mimba Maternity (and most recently, Mimba Chic – yay!). I’m a 20-something forever fashionista and blossoming entrepreneur. I LOVE fashion + style, and expressing myself visually through clothing. I’m a first-generation immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have a background in public health & women’s health, and for a long time in my undergrad career, I honestly thought I was going to go to medical school to become an OB-GYN (I just couldn’t pass organic chemistry – if you know, you know, haha!). Although I ultimately decided to go to business school to get an MBA, I’ve loved and always known that I wanted to work with pregnant women. But I had absolutely NO idea that I would start a business at this point in my life, let alone a maternity boutique.

I’m not a mother just yet, and I’ve never been pregnant before (although I’m SO excited for that part of my life when the time comes). But I know that God placed it on my heart to open a maternity boutique that would inspire women to feel beautiful & powerful throughout their motherhood journeys. Through Mama + Mimba (and now Mimba Chic), I’m learning what it means to be a mama, how beautiful pregnancy is, and how truly amazing women are. It’s so special to me that I get to combine my passions for fashion + style and working with pregnant women in two lovely spaces, and I’m so happy I get to share this journey with you all.  I’m so excited to share chic maternity fashion, uplifting words, and inspiration!

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Melissa: The 3 words that come to mind when I define “Blackness” are: melanin, glow, and unique. I chose these words because they are the words that perfectly capture all of the beauty, strength, and power that is Blackness!

MelaninMelanin is such a beautiful word to me, and is the very thing that gives us our vast range of beautiful skin tones. It is what gives each of us our own unique stamp that allows us to stand out among others, and to be deeply rooted in our Blackness. I love my melanin, and my beautiful, chocolate brown skin!

GlowIt’s truly magical how our skin just naturally glows, especially under the sun! I remember sitting down and having an honest conversation with my baby cousin when she was younger (she also has chocolate brown skin), and telling her that she is the most beautiful person in the world (and always will be) because she naturally glows like the sun. Seeing her face light up as a big smile stretched across her face after I told her this was truly the cutest, most special moment I’ve ever had with anyone, aw!

UniqueBlack people (and Black women especially) are truly the most unique and beautiful beings on the entire earth; from our hair textures, skin tones, and body shapes, to our style and personalities, we as a culture and as individuals are just so phenomenal and powerful!

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Melissa: To me, the most beautiful thing about being Black is the elegance, power, and beauty that we so naturally carry in our walk, our talk, our style, and how we show up in the world every single day. We carry with us the stories and experiences of those who came before us, the hopes and dreams of those who will come after us, and the strength and courage we need to live in the present moment. The joy that reverberates from our hearts as we carry on the legacy of our culture from one generation to the next with such grace is just so beautiful to me, and I’m so grateful to be a Black woman in this life!

Irene: How do you keep your Blackness beautiful on a regular basis?

Melissa: I keep my Blackness beautiful by practicing self-love and self-care daily. For me, self-love and self-care look different during each season of my life – in the current season I’m in, self-love and self-care are pouring into my journal whenever I feel most led in the mornings, as well as writing down all the hopes and dreams that I’m praying over (as this is my favorite way to speak to God); maintaining my health and fitness (including drinking 8 cups of water daily and doing my mini workouts + taking walks); being consistent with my daily and nightly skincare routine (the goal is for my skin to look like a glazed doughnut all 2022); listening to uplifting music that inspires me to love myself and the woman I’m becoming (and also if I just want to whine my waist and be THAT GIRL in my room, haha!); watching YouTube videos featuring my favorite fashion girls (Monroe Steele and Highlowluxxe are my absolute FAVES!); and lastly, coming up with amazing fashion looks & concepts, and doing editorial-style photoshoots. 

Each of these activities makes my heart fill and burst with joy and allows me to truly see and feel how beautiful my Blackness is, always!

IreneWhat is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Melissa: One of my favorites is called “Cleva” by Erykah Badu – this song is my JAM, especially whenever I wash my hair. I love how its beat just hugs my soul, and its lyrics make me feel so beautiful as a Black woman in the simplest, truest way possible. My favorite lyrics from the song are “My dress ain’t cost nothing but seven dollars / but I made it fly / and I’ll tell ya why / ‘cause I’m clever…” To me, these lyrics (and the rest of the song) tell me that Black women are honestly the coolest, flyest people on this planet, and that it doesn’t take much effort to embody that. Our existence is just that, beautiful + clever. 

Irene: How can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or we can support?

Melissa: Yesss! I’m the proud Owner & Founder of two beautiful brands: Mama + Mimba Maternity, and its beloved (and new) sister brand, Mimba Chic. I created both brands to inspire mamas-to-be to look and feel their absolute best during their pregnancies with stylish & functional maternity fashion. Through both platforms, I also hope to bring more representation of Black women in motherhood & maternity wear spaces. Below is a bit more about each brand:

Mama + Mimba Maternity is an online maternity boutique that uplifts & empowers mamas-to-be with beautiful, elegant, and chic clothing. Our maternity dresses are carefully selected and curated with love to compliment a woman’s natural glow from within. At Mama + Mimba, we inspire women to feel beautiful during all parts of their motherhood journeys. Thus, all of our dresses can be worn before, during, and after pregnancy! Hooray! Shop with us at www.mamaandmimba.com, and follow us on Instagram @mamaandmimba! (Also, if you’d like to learn more about me and my inspiration for starting Mama + Mimba, watch our introduction video on YouTube!)

Mimba Chic is a platform that inspires mamas-to-be to live their best and most fashionable lives during their pregnancies. We help mamas bring out their beautiful, natural glow with stylish & functional maternity fashion. From helpful tips on the most comfortable maternity basics and maternity casual wear to invest in, to the cutest maternity dresses to wear for special occasions, we provide mamas-to-be with our top recommendations for the best fashion pieces they need in their maternity wardrobes. Who says you can’t be fabulous, fashionable, and pregnant? Check us out at www.mimbachic.com, and follow us on Pinterest at @mimbachic!

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Melissa: Definitely! To follow along my personal journey and love for all things fashion + style, follow me on Instagram at @melissamulengwa!

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Melissa: My daily reminder to myself (and to you) is to choose love, and to show up in love, always. You were beautifully crafted in your mother’s womb by God to be the amazing person you are, and the world deserves to see you glow! And always remember that your Black is (and always will be) beautiful. 🙂

I don’t want these to end, ah!! Now do yall see why I was in such AWE at the beginning? Melissa is a self-made woman, okayy! A whole entrepreneur, making her dreams a reality every day! It has been so amazing to hear her talk about these dreams when we were young ones in college, and to have actually manifested it into a reality is so empowering to witness. Check out her businesses. She has put in so much work building her businesses from the ground up. If motherhood is in my future, I will definitely be supporting because fashion stops for no one — I must be stylish at all times! Also, I LOVEEEEE me some Badu! “Cleva” is also one of my all-time favorite songs by Ms. Badu! You’re so right, it does make for a great hair-washing song! I swear my deep conditioner penetrates better with “Cleva” in the background (lol). Thank you so much, Melissa, for letting me feature you today. It is truly an honor to have you on the site and for you to share such exciting news with us!

Friends — I don’t want to say it BUT this technically does conclude the Black is Beautiful mini blog series that I have planned and executed for this month. I really had so much fun interviewing my lovely friends this past month. Each and every individual interviewed is so special to me, and I really hope that you all were able to learn from them and also support their various businesses, projects, and aspirations. I am so touched that you all took the time to read my blog series this month. Yall’s support, affirming words, and shares have truly made this process even more worthwhile. I hope that by reading this series, you all have learned a little more about why Black is SO beautiful and the many forms, shades, and narratives Blackness presents as.

I maayyyy have a little surprise to share on the blog in a few days – we shall see! Stay tuned just in case! 😉

Peace and love,

Irene

Black is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 3: Meet DESTINE!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! You know what time it is – the third amazing individual who will be blessing us with her presence on the Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month is here! Meet DESTINE! Before we delve into the interview, I must share a bit about my friend!

This lovely soul and I have been family friends for YEARS – like I mean our families have known each other forever. We both share an enriching, vibrant, Congolese culture. We have very similar upbringings and relatable stories that we both share on a personal level growing up as the children of Congolese immigrants. I remember when going on our family trips to NorCal, I made it a point to stop by her house to relive all of the fun memories that we would have whenever we visited Destine and her family. That includes playing ruthless rounds of Uno games that never seemed to end with my siblings as well as Destine and her siblings. Though we are physically far, I appreciate the continuous love that Destine continues to radiate and pour into my spirit all of the time.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Destine: My name is Destine Kyubwa (she/her). I am a creative, poet, lover, entrepreneur, and so much more! Within those curated identities, I’m a child of God to my core. Moving from that place spills into every aspect of my life. My will and purpose come from watering the seeds that have been planted in me since birth. My etheric calling began a few years ago when I dove into the wellness and spirituality world. With my deep passion for self-development, I’ve had the honor of utilizing my Marketing Degree with social media; more specifically Instagram and my email newsletter. I wholeheartedly cherish connecting with community online but also nurturing the safe spaces around me in real life. If I could describe myself in one word, I’d use intentional. Self-expression is everything to me! Getting the message out about living life fully and authentically brings me so much joy. (:

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Destine:

The first word I’d use that comes to mind defining “Blackness” would be rich! Being a melanin-rich person is a miracle! It’s a beautiful reminder that we were created by the hands of the Divine. I’ll forever remember the words from Bob Marley, “my richness is life, forever.” I always write about the notion that liberation is found where love is. Over the past few years, as a melanated woman – I rest in the knowing that living life can be a form of revolution. Living can be what creates the vision! From our presence, we build. From our will, we create the world we wish to see with respect to the past. Melanin absorbs sunlight. It coats every cell in our bodies. It’s literally an amino acid. Melanin-rich individuals are basically coated with the essence of life. What isn’t rich about that? I love us. Lol.

The second word that comes to mind is rooted. There is just something magical about hair that defies gravity. Beyond our physical attributes, I’d like to believe our “Blackness” is spiritual. How tethered are we to our purpose? How firm are we about living life on the terms of unshakable faith? How confident are we in our ability to break free from the perceived limitations of our “struggle?” We are strong, even when we are soft. To be rooted, is to be difficult to destroy. Our longevity in this material world comes from the spiritual roots we water as well. 

The third word that comes to mind is creative. Melanated creatives make the world go round! Our “Blackness” can especially be found in our joy. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, y’all know I’m so dang passionate about the power and beauty that comes from creating! Creating heals, transmutes pain and I can confidently say, sustains. Whether you find joy in poetry, creating content, dancing, singing, writing, designing, anything really – you can deepen your love for yourself or your journey in ways that are indescribable to others. Our ancestors sang. They most definitely moved their bodies. Your darkness or pain can be the breeding ground of creation. We transmute, transform, then remember our essence and the truth of Yahweh love. Creation can be a form of worship when upholding the will of God. It’s the way in which we serve our gifts to the world. I’m so honored to witness the beautiful creations made from melanated beings daily.

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Destine: The most beautiful thing about being Black to me is my heart. Living life in accordance with spirit is a blessing. I know true beauty can be found internally beyond my lovely complexion. I also know the uniqueness of God’s work is miraculous. Love rests in places that are unseen to the human eye. I strongly believe our hearts, our souls calling is what makes life, life. One beautiful masterpiece.

IreneHow do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Destine: I uplift my Blackness through connecting to my roots. I’ve had the blessing of growing up in a big family and spending a majority of my younger years around my Grandparents. Connecting to Congolese food, music, and trying to learn my native language has been a blessing forever ingrained within my heart. Getting protective styles done by my mom, friends and aunties consistently, has given me the opportunity to love my hair and grow in confidence with my crown. I personally keep my blackness beautiful by prioritizing what makes me feel real, raw, and true. Oftentimes that means wearing my hair natural and wearing less makeup on a regular basis. Freedom can be found when we disconnect from what the world tells us to be and focus on what God has called us to be!

IreneWhat is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Destine: SO. I found this song during fall of 2021 and I’ve been an avid listener of Maverick City Music for a while now. This particular song exemplifies the beauty in Blackness because it’s all about uplifting our uniqueness and God at the same time! If you love gospel music, you’ll love “Pretty Brown Skin” by Maverick City Music (featuring EUGENE KIING & Mav City Gospel Choir). 

Here are some lyrics to get a little feel of the magic. 

Pretty, brown skin

Pretty, light skin

Pretty, dark skin

I see African written in your DNA

Hello choco-melanin from the motherland

With your black skin

Never should you want it any other way

This is for them queens that’s rocking ’em kinky twist (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

From box braids to bantu knots and full lips (Ooh, ooh)

Them dreadlocks, crochets, afros and real hips (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

Them pom-poms and sew-ins with edges that’s real slick (Ooh, ooh)

Now catch this (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

Your black presence is necessary

“Your black presence is necessary.” Yes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to fully grasp the miracle that is our existence. This morning while reading Isaiah 40:28 – 31, I realized once again how powerful God is! The “creator of the ends of earth” loves us, created us, and has plans to prosper us. I was reminded that the power of God is “unsearchable.” If there is one message you get from this blog, I just want to remind you – even if the world doesn’t love you for you, God does! I love you. I pray these words find you well.

IreneHow can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support?

Destine: Thank you so much for asking Irene! I have seriously enjoyed my time answering these questions. You can support me through engaging with my work online and joining my newsletter for a more intimate space of faith-based writing. The newsletter is of course free of charge. It’s filled with inspirational journal prompts and just about anything God puts on my heart to share. If you resonated with my answered questions during our time here, you’ll resonate with the newsletter!

Oh my goodness! I have really exciting news to announce soon on IG but this space will be the first to hear. 🙂 I am a soon-to-be published author! I’ve been watering this seed for years now. It’s a poetry book filled with all kinds of spiritual depth and wisdom about scared rebirths. My Instagram will be the first place I announce it. @destinesunshine_

I would also love to add that my 1:1 coaching container, Sunshine Temple is open for all who feel the call! Sunshine Temple is for women who are navigating sharing their gifts online, nurturing your femininity in integrity, and desiring daily support through inspirational audios, journal prompts, and daily voxer access to me. My coaching services have shifted to help serve those similarly in the entrepreneur world. I recognize owning your authenticity in this world can be difficult for some on their journeys. My containers also provide a safe space for alchemical art such as sharing poetry or written works. Our expressions during these sessions can be a form of transformational healing. I’m wholeheartedly ready to serve you on your faith walk. @destinesunshine_

If you know someone who might be interested in my coaching containers, my posts on IG or my free newsletter, be sure to let them know. I will link all my information below.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Destine: I can’t wait to connect with you more deeply!

Instagram: @destinesunshine_

Email for newsletter: deekyubwa@gmail.com

Booking for 1:1 support: https://linktr.ee/destinesunshine

Venmo: destine-kyubwa

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Destine: Sweet love. Thank you for being here. I just want you to big up yourself in this moment because God knows you deserve it! You are not here by accident. God has a purpose for your life and those around you are beyond inspired by your light. This journey called life is a day by day phenomenon. I pray that whatever you’re building, longing for, or fighting brings you wisdom and peace. I love you for all that you are. 

Peace be upon you,

Xx Destine 

My goodness. It has been so rewarding to see Destine blossom into the ethereal being that she is today. I feel so refreshed learning more about her, and Destine, thank you so much for being so vulnerable in this special space! Your chosen words to define Blackness – rich and rooted – are some of my favorite words that I have heard thus far. I absolutely loved how you articulated these words in its relationship to Blackness. Melanin literally is derived from an amino acid – you are so right! ALSO can we just appreciate the fact that we were the FIRST to hear the wonderful news that you are going to be a published AUTHOR?? Thank you so much for sharing that incredible news with us! I am SO excited for your journey and you deserve every bit of the honor and fame that I know is coming your way. Please keep us posted on the book title so I can link it here!

Yall, I really hope you all have been having a blast and have been feeling enlightened by the featured folks of this month’s blog series thus far because I certainly have! Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 4 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene

Black Is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 2: Meet REFILWE!

Hello, friends! Today I am SO thrilled to announce the second lovely individual who will be blessing us on the Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month! Meet REFILWE! This beautiful person and I go WAY back. I am going to brag a bit about my friend before I showcase her!

Our undergrad brought Refilwe and me together! We have been good friends for about 7 years now – my goodness! Refilwe and I have so many college memories and life experiences together, from staying up until 4 am during our late-night talks/hangouts to traveling to different parts of California on fun girls’ trips. Honestly, I don’t really know where to start but I don’t want to digress too much because if I get into it I can write a novel on all our memories together. Refilwe is a person that carries out everything that she does with SUCH passion and intention. First of all, she is a headwrap and earring QUEEN. Her sense of fashion is absolutely impeccable. Her spirit is such a beautiful, dedicated one that radiates as she moves on this earth. Refilwe loves people with all of her heart, and as you will learn a bit more, her love manifests in ways that bless and uplift the folks in and out of her communities.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Refilwe: My name is Refilwe (Ree-feel-way) Gqajela (she/her). I am a daughter, sister, comrade, friend, organizer… I am a Black queer woman, South African Oakland raised immigrant, Pan African Black nationalist, communist… I am an avid watcher of television and recently enjoying all that anime has to offer #OnePiece #DemonSlayer Also I like tea 🙂 

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Refilwe: You gonna have me pull up an essay from college lol

The first word that comes to mind is love. When I think of Blackness I think of Black love, how full it makes me feel, and the active forces that work to challenge and disrupt it. Black love is a radical work and personal value that guides all that I do. 

The second word that comes to mind is struggle. One of our ancestors said ‘freedom is a constant struggle’ and they were very correct. To be Black is to be an aspiring free person in what has been made an unfree world. As a Black woman in particular who inherited the radical Black tradition of liberation struggle and the knowledge that my liberation would hesitate all others, I know I will be in constant struggle for and towards liberation. 

The third word then that comes to mind is freedom; *insert Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free*. She captures in this record so much of my feelings regarding Blackness and freedom.

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Refilwe: Whewwwwww! Well, being a part of a diaspora that touches all parts of this world and that actively works to understand and build relationships across shared realities and differences is pretty lit. 

IreneHow do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Refilwe: Shea butter. Honoring my momma. And organizing for the liberation of all Afrikan people. 

Irene: What is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Refilwe: Most of Nina Simone’s catalogue, but let’s go with ‘Young Gifted and Black’

IreneHow can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? 

Refilwe: Support the Black folks in your life every day. Your coworker, neighbor, student, etc. Listen and make space for them, don’t lean on their labor or voice when you can speak up, and hold your respective communities accountable for their antiBlack practices. Be proBlack — don’t just give up at ’not being problematic’. Move beyond the DEI trainings.

Irene: Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support? 

Refilwe: Nothing ready to be supported but hopefully I’ll have some personal project out soon. Still developing and learning from my creative voice. 

Irene: Can folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Refilwe: IG: @re.fil.oe and Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/refilwegqajela/ 

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Refilwe: I am trying out Linktree- check out my public but under construction link now: https://linktr.ee/RefilweG 

Thank you, Refilwe, for speaking to us today! Shea butter is amazing – I MUST agree! No wonder why you are always glistening! I am so honored to have had you be a guest on my blog today. Your soul radiates continuously, and I just felt it as I read your interview. Yall, I hope that you click on her Linktree and social media and connect to see all of the projects, work, and resources that she has to offer because she is a wealth of knowledge. I am so excited to hear and follow your creative voice as it continues to flourish.

I hope that yall enjoyed this blog interview as much as I did! Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 3 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene