Around the World and Back Again

I write you this final quarterly report from the Bronx, New York City, United States of America. It’s hard to believe that mere months ago I was in the middle of the Tankwa Karoo desert dancing underneath a metallic butterfly with a bunch of strangers. If you’d ask me a year ago, I never would have thought I’d spend my 24th birthday floating on the river Seine in Paris drinking Rosé with a franco-chilean old-school skater who I’d met through my friend and skate activist Emilie de Valicourt (who I met through Instagram!). Or that I would watch a sunset on top of a mosque in Old Delhi, or freestyle rap and sing with a jazz-punk band later that evening with an old friend from South Delhi. 

In the past three months, I’ve skated with women who are 30+ years old in dilapidated  500-year-old Spanish-colonial buildings throughout Mexico City, participated in the world’s first international conference about skateboarding’s positive social impact, and come home to a country I barely recognized.

Home. After over a year of purposeful travel around the globe to explore women’s skateboarding movements in ten countries across four continents, I am back in the city in which I took my first breaths. After a year of finding home in myself, in my bloody knees, on the cold concrete floors of skateparks where I slept some nights, in my big wet brown eyes staring back at me from countless mirrors. All of the smells and sights and sounds. The constant change of homes, languages, time zones. Each country, specific purposes and incredible outcomes. I still can’t believe it’s really over.

To be honest, I have held off on writing this report because I am still in denial about the fact that my Watson year is truly over. How can I package all of what I’ve learned into one report? The transition back to USA culture and lifestyle was rough; it still is. When I first came back to New York City, I felt frustrated by how time consuming the job search felt. I was hungry, desperate, uncertain of my next steps. I feel I haven’t had enough time to just sit with my Watson year. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I may spend the rest of my life unpacking my Watson year, that those lessons will continue unfolding for as long as I live. Yet how can I come to terms with this sadness I feel over fading memories, a sense of irresolution, of not having done enough? Where does this insecurity come from? What can I do to maintain that Watson spirit of openness and flexibility, acceptance and resilience? How to unpack that wide eyed wonder? That feeling of exhilaration as a I fly to an unknown destination, a new place that is nothing but a name and a time zone and the hostel I’m staying at for the first night? Perhaps I don’t have to.

I think what’s been most challenging about coming home is realizing just how I’ve explored outside of the box I used to live in. I realize that the way for me to keep my spirit alive is to embrace the everchange. My Watson year showed me that despite not having control over my circumstances, I do have control over my responses. I have control over my own destiny. Success is inevitable. By the time I’d arrived in London, I’d replaced the outside gaze with an interior one, thus rejecting the externally imposed fear of inadequacy that the outside gaze is rooted in. At times it’s hard to tap into that energy because my current circumstances do not enable me to move as freely as I’d like. But that Watson spirit of serendipity and endless possibility remains. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Skateboarding into the sun was/is about transnational community building through skateboarding. This project is about people who explore their bodies and souls through skateboarding, people who and especially women who are invested in asking difficult questions about freedom and time and womanhood and agency and choice. It is about showing up as our true selves, recognizing our ability to be ever changing, ever expanding, flowing sources of our own love and healing. Everywhere I went, I met women who defied, who created, who defined, who chose themselves and stepped into the destinies they chose for themselves. And for so many people I met, I was that woman. One of courage, one who heals, one who challenges, uncovers, transforms. An alchemist. A healer. An educator. A time traveler. A home.

Watson was my year on, my year in, a year to dedicate myself to breaking down every barrier, -ism, identifier, and exploring who Kava the soul is outside of the political terms I’ve always relied on to define myself. I realize now how little time I’ve dedicated to simply sitting, simply being, simply learning and exploring and doing things for their own sake. Time and time again, I broke myself down completely and slowly rebuilt myself into someone I respect. I came into this year seeking a sense of purpose and learned that if I do not set out with a specific WHY, I will struggle to find the HOW

What is my why now? I am dedicated to unleashing human potential and expanding the landscape of possibility for marginalized peoples at local and global scales. I want to be an educator, a bridge between generations and cultures and languages. I believe in every child’s capacity to succeed and want to invest in this legacy, one that lives through the people I touch and teach and learn with and from.

 What contributions can I make to the world with my quirks? Where will I be guided if I make the most honest and true mistakes I can? What new avenues for personal liberation unfold when I accept myself as wholly human, and therefore wholly flawed? How can I invite the shadows into my practices of self love? And where can I grow from there? From darkness? From and through the root?

Post-Watson, I am now an elementary school science teacher at a charter school in the South Bronx. I skateboard to work every single day (save for when it rains). Every day, I awake before sunrise and see people dying of addiction and starvation in the streets. I strive to ensure that my youth do not face the same destiny and encourage them to dream ambitious dreams and develop a strong sense of curiosity about themselves and the world. I’ve gotten involved with a lot of local skateboarding communities such as Quell Skateboards (a women’s skateboarding podcast), Queer Skateboarding NYC, Black Femme Skate, and Good Hearted Goonz (a collective of dropouts from the collective-turned-brand Brujas who seek to use skateboarding as a tool to improve mental health and cultivate community in the predominantly Black and Latinx and low-income communities of Uptown and the Bronx). I’m still involved with Xem Skaters and Doyenne and continue to support Meninanda, a Mozambique-based girls skateboarding project I founded in July 2017.

* * *

I am irrevocably changed by my Watson journey skateboarding into the sun, in introducing me to hundreds of wild women around the world who use skateboarding as a tool to empower themselves and their communities, this year expanded my capacity to love, rely on myself while also being vulnerable enough to ask for help, direction, and guidance from stranger-friends. During this year I experienced profound sadness at the deplorable conditions of human indignity across the globe; I watched sunsets from atop temples in India and sunrises over Table Mountain in South Africa; my heart broke wide open with every gunshot on the other side of the township, with every flash of scarlet that flowed from my skin and left their mark on concrete all over the world, with every insult or negative energy hurled my way; I skated alongside women who believed in themselves so much that they chose to go against the grain and expose themselves to criticism and even violence because they were a woman who chose herself. The hundreds of people I met over the course of this year honour their passion for movement through embodying fearlessness and resilience through skateboarding. I met 9 year old girls who of prodigal talent and 59 year old women whose long white hair formed silver comets as they whizzed past me skating the deep end of the pool. 

This year, I saw myself in the mirror and failed to recognize myself. I looked into the wet brown of my eyes and realized I had never noticed the jagged mahogany ring that separated two slightly different shades of brown. I met myself and saw myself change dozens, if not hundreds of times over. Sometimes I saw myself in the third person, saw someone else fall out of my body and onto pavement. Skateboarding confronts me with my own blood and shatters the illusion of dissociation by reminding me: “you are here, now.” In every country I went to, I thought about Kava the soul and tried to disentangle myself from my attachment to my past and to this story I was telling about myself. I’m black, I’m Dominican, I’m ____. I am tenacious, I am resourceful, I am exuberant, I am compassionate, I am home.  and how this  of myself as a black, latina, poor, ____, ___, ____ person hindered my access to my own soul. Who is Kava the soul? Who am I beyond these designations, reservations, boxes? I’ve spent my whole life thinking about whether the glass is half empty or half full, but during my Watson year I found myself asking, “what if there’s no cup? What if there is only water?”

I am incredibly humbled by the amount of dedication and fire and passion I witnessed as well as instilled in others through my own love and belief in the power of skateboarding to promote positive social change.

Thank you for investing in me. I feel so honored by your love and patience and faith in me and my project. I look forward to continuing on this journey.

THE END IS NOTHING, THE ROAD IS ALL.

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