Okichie Davis Oral History

Dublin Core

Title

Okichie Davis Oral History

Subject

Okichie discussed her role in WWC as a member and co-organizer for self care. Practicing mutual aid, community care, and cooperative economics, Okichie details her survival throughout the pandemic.

Description

Okichie discussed her role in WWC as a member and co-organizer for self care. Practicing mutual aid, community care, and cooperative economics, Okichie details her survival throughout the pandemic.

Date

28 October 2020

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Ash Haywood

Interviewee

Okichie Davis

Location

Zoom via Philadelphia, PA and Decatur, GA.

Transcription

Ash Haywood: So my name is Ash Haywod. I am an archival fellow with the WWC this fall of 2020. And I am meeting with Okichie Davis. Would you mind introducing yourself

Okichie Davis: My name is OD. I am the co-organizer of self care for the WWC.

Ash: To just start off, can you tell us your journey into womanist theory and praxis, which is really what WWC is grounded in.

OD: So I really did not have language around womanism until maybe like 2014/2015 until I was introduced to womanism as a framework. I was not exposed to that language prior to that time. I actually was introduced to womanism in conversations over social media in the wake of black lives matter protests and the freedom summer Philly happened around that time. This was my introduction in the framework and the word of womanism. That was my introduction to the concept.
My personal journey into womanism was really birthed through reading and being introduced to Audre Lorde and also Octavia Butler. Reading their works and kind of sitting with that and internalizing that has really continued to lead my personal descent into exploring what womanism and how womanism fits into my life. And how I live out womanism in practice.

AH: You definitely started to address the second questions of scholars and practitioners who guided you in the work. Since a lot of this is so community based and focused, can you tell me what was your entry into WWC specifically?

OD: So I believe I joined the Womanist Working Collective in … I want to say either 2015 or 2016. I can’t recall exactly. I think it was 2015. I actually met LaTierra at a community event, the UHURU festival, in West Philly. She was tabling for Womanist Working Collective and I was there doing mental health screenings with my full-time employer at the time and I had taken a break to walk around and kind of see what some of the other groups and tables were. I came across the WWC table, got to talking to LaTierra and was telling her that at the time, being a recent transplant to Philly - like a permanent transplant, I should say, because I went to college at VillaNova so I’ve been around the area for a while but I’ve made the decision to move into Philly and to live in Philly in 2015 - and so having been a recent a transplant and wanting to push back against the gentrification and really be a part of the community and not just reside in the community and actually live in the community. I was looking for places and people to build community. I happened to mention to LaTierra that I had been looking for book clubs or various groups of Black women where I could build some community and she told me more about WWC, told me about the Burning Bowl ceremony that they were doing and invited me to connect with the group. So that was really the start of me being involved with the WWC. So yeah I’ve been involved since that time.

AH: You mentioned in that response what that connection and being placed in Philadelphia is, which by the way are you Philadelphia right now?

OD: Yes so I currently live in Philadelphia. I recently bought a home in Philadelphia.

AH: Congrats

OD: I live in North Philly, I live in Frankford, so it’s kinda like Northeast Philly. I’ve been living in Philly since I moved in 2015, but prior to living in Philadelphia, I was living out in the surrounding suburbs, like I said I went to VillaNova. So I’ve been in the area since 2008. I moved into Philly in 2015.

AH: Ok. Who would you identify as some of your community partners, either in Philadelphia and especially in your entry into womanist praxis. But also within the wider womanist community and maybe outside of Philadelphia.

OD: Do you mean in a personal sense, or within the context of the collective?

AH: Both and either. Yes, specifically within the context of the collective, but also if there are personal community partners who you consider still to be doing this sort of work?

OD: I definitely think that while I don’t think I would use the name official “Community Partner” I would say that some people out in the community that are doing the work in a way that I feel aligns with how I and how I feel WWC is doing the work are people like Saleemah McNeil, who is a wonderful marriage and family therapist and who the owner of Oshun Family Center. They focus on mental health, birth support, parenting support for Black birthing parents. I really feel that Saleemah is doing that of being focused and centering the black experience, specifically when it comes to birth work, maternal health and things of that nature.
Also really appreciate the work that they’re doing at Sankofa healing studio, so that’s Jacqui over at Sankofa. It’s a social justice-based therapy and approaching therapy from that social justice perspective. I really respect and appreciate the work that Jacqui is doing there.
And then of course the Black and Brown worker’s cooperative is not only a community partner of WWC, but more broadly just really on the ground doing the work of amplifying the community voices, showing up, and being there for the community. So I would say I probably identify through 3 orgs/people as some of our more consistent community partners.

AH: Ok and what would you say, especially looking at your first few years with WWC, but even currently. What have been some of the most impactful experiences of projects you’ve worked on and had.

OD: I’d say in my estimation, the most impactful projects that we’ve undertaken have always been our mutual aid project, so I would say our safety net pool which we have, we accept donations for, and we accept applications for folks in the community who may have financial need. And being able to, through donation, redistribute income to our community members who really need it without doing all of the gatekeeping that a lot nonprofit orgs do when it comes to direct mutual financial aid. So I’d say our safety net program, our food delivery program that we ran over the last few months in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, and then of course the uprising that happened in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and a lot of the community supermarkets and stores shutting down and boarding up their windows and closing up show. A lot of our communities were becoming food deserts overnight. WWC being able to mobilize our resources and our larger network connections to deliver food to people for free. To buy food and just deliver it to people who needed it in the community and keep people fed and we ran that program for several months until we didn’t have the capacity anymore to afford it. But still continuing to show up for the community in direct ways. And that was what was most meaningful to me is being able to directly meet the needs - financial and nutritional needs of a community without gatekeeping is really meaningful to me and that’s where I find the most purpose in the work we do.

AH: As I was looking through the digital archive, I think especially some of the most recent projects that are directly related to mutual aid also included things like the school supply drive. Was that one of the projects that you worked directly on or could you talk more about?

OD: Yes, so the school supply drive was supposed to have been, I would say, because due to COVID it didn’t get off the ground the way it should have this year, But we are re-structuring it to roll it potentially over the next year. The school supply drive is something that I have been personally organizing since, maybe 2015 or 2016. I am a mental health therapist and I used to work in community outpatient and while there, kind of identify this need for support during the school year for a lot of our parents were struggling to pay for school supplies while also having to pay for uniforms and just kind of really having a challenge meeting the needs of their children in this particular way. So, I mobilized my agency and the larger community and our networks to hold a drive and it’s usually a 4-6 week drive to raise money and collect donated supplies to then disperse in the community to specifically to our participants who were coming to that mental health agency. So that they would not have to worry about being able to afford school supplies for all of their children all at once to start the school year. So really being able to give them things like backpacks and pencils and highlighters. All that basic stuff that their kids need just to get through the first month or so of school to give the parents a little bit more time to spread out those costs so that it’s not such a burden all at once.
So I no longer work with that agency but that project is something I continue to work on. Bringing that to WWC once I kinda stepped into the role of co-organizer was my hope for this year, but of course you know viral pandemic don’t really work to anyone’s schedule. So having to put that on hold, but hopefully being able to offer than and bring that back to the community next year once we have a better feel of what the school system and year is really looking like for Philly. I think a lot of things are still up in the air right now.

AH: Absolutely. I think another event - and correct if I’m wrong - the helpers and healers event. Has this been a multi-year project or was this year’s the first?

OD: This year’s event was actually the third healers and helpers event. It was the first virtual event that we put on, We restructured it in response to COVID 19 to get from the in-person event that it usually is and brought it to the community as a webinar and online offering. Which was very successful and we’re really excited that we’re able to hold on to that event and not have to cancel it because of the pandemic.
The healers and helpers event is specifically an event for inviting the conversation about mental health within the community in Philadelphia and also allowing folks to be introduced to people in the community who are doing mental health work in a low stakes kind of way. It can be really daunting to pick up the phone and call someone who you don’t know and talk to them about your personal stuff and hope that they’re a person who you connect with. The HH event is a way for members of the community specifically Black members of the community who be introduced to, so for me usually when we do the in person event, we do it in a kind of speed dating, round robin style where all of the helpers are sitting at a table and all the community members get to go around and chat with them briefly. So kind of like a job fair style. Meet folks, see how they feel about the person, vibe with a little bit in a low stakes environment that way if they decide, they can decide without having to pay the fee of scheduling a first session whether or not they’re gonna connect with this person. So we’ve done that event the previous two years in person. This year we had to pivot to virtual in order to still be able to bring the event to the community.

AH: I’m excited to hear how successful the virtual event this year and also understanding that COVID has impacted things like the school supply drive. What are the priorities for WWC’s growth and sustainability in your view?

OD: I think our main priorities as far as self-care is continuing to be able to identify and meet the needs of the community. Because that is why we’re here. That is why WWC exists, to be able to work towards creating a community, creating a society where we all look out for each other. Where everything is not this top-down structure, where only the few make decisions for the many, but instead a decentralized community based structure where we’re all able to show up for each other in a way that we’re able, that fits our capacity and that nobody is left behind. So I think for WWC, it’s being able to do that within the community while also recognizing our own needs as co-organizers, our own capacity. Being able to continue to build community, relationships with other partner organizations who are also doing the work. Spread out the load.
WWC is not going to be able to combat white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism all on our own. It’s really about building community bonds, bringing everyone into the folds, allowing everyone to have a role, and everyone to be heard so that this work is not so much of a burden for the few.
I think historically this fight for liberation has unfortunately fallen on the few who end up getting burned out because we continue to recreate that top down structure where we’re turning to just a few people, who are maybe visible or maybe financially able or whatever to do all of the work and in the end that’s not sustainable for anyone. Being able to undermine that and stay in our lane as WWC, do the work that we’re doing while also building partnerships with other people, other organizations, so that more of the work can be done. Identifying needs in the community that maybe we’re not able to fill rather than trying to fill them ourselves and stretch ourselves. Right? Who in our community is doing this work? How can we support them and build a network of community engagement, drawing more people into this fight, into this battle so that we’re all doing the work in our own capacity. I think that’s what it means for WWC to be sustainable, is to draw more people into the work with us rather than trying to do more of the work ourselves.

AH: I think that leads into the next question on the question guide, really wanting to know your own personal journey throughout this year of staying well. But especially your perspective as a mental health professional as well. What has sustained you? What is motivating you, both your personal life and your womanist praxis which I’m sure is influencing your personal life. How have the events of this year of 2020, of COVID-19 impacted that?

OD: I do believe that working towards this community network is not just important on a larger scale, right like on a macro liberation fight scale, but also on a personal scale. Being able to have people on your life who you can rely on, have community around you that supports you. For me that has been what really allowed me to stay afloat in the midst of COVID. Having family, having friends around me who are able to show up for me and who I’m able to show up for. That we extend compassion to each other, that we have frank and honest conversations about our capacity and being able to say shit is crazy right now and I just don’t have the energy to do X or to do Y. Being conscientious about that. Being able to respect each others’ boundaries, respect each other’s capacities. And also be willing to show up for each other from our own capacity has been really important for me.
Having a really small, wonderful network of Black queer people around me who we support each other throughout. Checking in with each other regularly, scheduling virtual happy hours once a week just to have time to talk, coming up with little emoji text codes that you can text to a person as a way to say “hey are you free to talk?” Being able to help each other out, send money so people can buy groceries, send money so that people can keep the lights on, ask each other and speak openly about whether the bills are getting paid right now. See how we can organize to help others, friends who have gardens who grow food, who grow herbs. Being able to say I have this, and you have that. Can we trade, can we take care of each other, can we drop food off for each other can we drop herbs off for each other. Being about to share the surplus. If I end up with a lot of X, being able to, once I’ve met my means, pass it on. I don’t need it. I don’t need to hoard this. I have community that I can share with because I know that this will come back around to me.

This is a very capitalistic idea and we kinda saw it at the start of COVID-19. People were very frantic and hostile and aggressive and hoarding things out of this scarcity, this fear that if they didn't have, they didn't know where they were going to get it from. So not having to experience that 1) because I have a clear political understanding of the United States and of what it means to be a Black queer woman in this country. So I've been preparing for something like this for years. And encouraging my communities to also prepare. To always as much as we're able to plan ahead for certain inevitabilities, because we know politically that we cannot rely on the government and this country to take care of us and look out for us. Not only preparing myself, but also organizing my community to prepare. In addition to that, knowing that you have these types of conversations with your community. You've been doing this kind of organizing, you've always been showing up for each other, so there's no need to have that panic because you know that you have a community that you can rely on when things get hard. If you have X, we're going to organize and try to find it for you. We're going to take care of you and in return, you're going to take care of the next person. So I think that's really what it comes down to. That system of community care, mutual aid, really looking out for people, that political organizing is not just on a macro level. It's also on a micro level. Having incorporated this understanding into my life over the last several years has really helped me to survive this situation. Not only in tangible way like money and food, but also emotionally. Having built really meaningful community connections.

AH: I think so many concrete examples you've shown of ways we can show up in community. Before we get to that final question are there things about your experience in WWC that I haven't asked about or that you haven't had the chance to mention.

OD: No I think we touched on everything.

Duration

28:40

Citation

“Okichie Davis Oral History,” Womanist Working Collective Archive, accessed July 25, 2021, https://wwcarchive.omeka.net/items/show/374.

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