– as told to Tamara Pridgett
Only about two years ago the F-word was a dirty word that few wanted to associate with. But recently famous COOs and celebrities (hint: Sheryl Sandberg, Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé) have almost literally sang its praises. Although, many are wary of the “celebrification” of feminism, many agree that it’s done a lot to degenerate the stigma surrounding it and perhaps opened more people up to learning about the depth and nuances of feminism because much can be learned from those who have dedicated their careers to evolving and moving the movement.
Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs is one such person. A self-identified Black feminist, she “walks in the legacy of other self-identified Black feminists like June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Demita Frazier and Alexis De Veaux.” Creating her own work and sharing the works of her predecessors—specifically, Audre’s Lorde’s self-affirmation: “I am who I am, doing what I came to do“—Dr. Gumbs is stirring up the movement by empowering Black women to build coalitions and to find their voices.
Location: Durham, North Carolina USA
Profession: Black Feminist Love Evangelist, writer, educator, artist, poet (founder and director of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind Community School, Mobile Homecoming—an experiential archive of Black LGBTQ Brilliance and Brilliance Remastered—a service for community accountable intellectuals.)
How did you get started?
I started writing poetry as a healing and affirming practice when I was in elementary school. As a teenager I started to facilitate poetry-based workshops for and with other teenagers. Now I continue to mobilize poetry and the words of Black Feminists in order to create transformative educational spaces and experiences where people of all backgrounds can love themselves and each other deeper and prepare to change the world together!
What’s an average day like?
I wake up early in the morning so I can have time to myself to meditate, dance, stretch, write down my dreams and write poetry. Then the day might consist of a number of things. I might be at home writing. I might be facilitating a workshop based on Black Feminist wisdom for people in my community. I might be facilitating a workshop at a school or community organization in another city or interviewing a brilliant LGBTQ person of color or drawing on the floor with markers to dream up my next workshop, retreat or project.
Why do you do it?
I do this work because it is my destiny. I am on the planet creating rituals that teach me to love myself and that give my communities opportunities to come together in love. I believe that I am playing my role in helping our species come into alignment with the rest of the universe.
Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:
I am my own boss, so if I am dissatisfied I have to look at myself critically. There is no one to blame. The beautiful thing about that is that I get to fully design my experience, which is an important and rare form of freedom. I get to create my own schedule, but I have the tendency to be more demanding of myself than I would be of someone else. I am a recovering workaholic and so I am still learning to balance my passion and urgency with self-care and relaxation.
Your greatest achievement so far?
Last summer I co-designed and facilitated a journey called Combahee Pilgrimage where 21 Black Feminist came together to return to the Combahee River where Harriet Tubman led one of the most successful slave uprisings in history. About 800 enslaved people in South Carolina burned down 35 plantation buildings, flooded the rice fields, stole themselves into freedom, joined the Union Army and turned around the Civil War! That event was also the inspiration for the Combahee River Collective, a Black Feminist Lesbian Socialist Organization that had a major role in defining contemporary black feminist politics. That journey was amazing because it combined everything I love; it was hands on learning, historical immersion and community building all at once.
Other achievements that stand out are receiving a “Too Sexy for 501-C3 Trophy” for finding alternative ways to fund my community projects, being asked by a pregnant mother in my community to teach her daughter about Black Feminism on the day that she had her ultrasound and being asked by a 10 year old genius in my community to lead an afterschool workshop for her and her friends at my house.
What might be next for you?
I have a set of books coming out over the next few years. Watch out. The next one up is Stay Black and Live: Love Letters to Quirky Black Girls.
On “feminism” and Black Feminism
…My legacy as a Black feminist is about creating a radically different society in which people are viewed as inherently valuable, not because of their labor but simply because we are all interconnected and priceless. Black feminism is not about getting the world that currently exists to accept us and other oppressed people. Black feminism is about working to create a world that deeply honors all of us by abolishing all institutions that demean and entrap us and creating deep loving networks of support, creativity and abundant connection. I also love being Black and I love the word Black so if I am ever faced with a choice between saying the word Black and not saying the word Black I am going to say it loud. It feels so good and I trust that people of all backgrounds who want to collaborate with me will support how much I love and affirm the magic of Blackness (and so far that has been the case.)
Why should young people care?
I think that young people should care about Black feminism because they deserve to live in a world where they are able to abundantly be themselves. It is a waste of their time to try to conform to a system that consistently dehumanizes even those people at the top of the social order. I think young people should care about Black feminism and the process of changing the world based on an unruly love for each other because they want to be free. Not just free to buy expensive things, but free to achieve an inspired destiny that none of us can even see from here.
What would I say to the youth ‘dem?
If I could say one thing to young women and girls it would be something that a wise Black woman named Judith Hawkins said to me once. She said, “Money comes and goes, but you can never get your time back.” And it is true. What we spend our time doing, who we share our time with, what we make time for, and how we feel during that time in our lives is EVERYTHING. Be sure to prioritize filling your precious seconds on this planet with sustainable life-giving LOVE!
What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?
- Moisturize with something that smells amazing (aromatherapy and hair love combined!)
- Sleep in a silk scarf (gorgeousness combined with helping to keep hair hydrated)
- Respect the self-determination of your hair (hair has it’s own moods and environmental responses, just like we do!)
- Build relationships and community that are affirming and supportive of your needs from the ends of your hair to the soles of your feet. (My partner Julia helps me comb through and moisturize my hair after I wash it and it is a beautiful bonding experience and a great time to watch TV on the internet :)
Fun Fact: I have dance parties every day by myself in my office. I turn on the music and dance like no one is watching (because no one is!)
To learn a bit more about Alexis and her work, check out this interview she did with Crunk Feminist Collective about her book, 101 Things That are Not True About Most Famous Black Women Alive. There’s a lot of great insight in the interview like, “Understanding that I don’t know what it’s like to be any of these women also means that I don’t get to judge them for not being how I am or how I would want them to be if I was making up their lives…”