Geechee Gals Gettin It - Vol. 1: Tamika Middleton
Tamika Middleton, Geechee Gal
I’m from St. Helena Island, Seaside to be exactI have always identified as Gullah Geechee. I think maybe it was growing up on St. Helena, spending so much time at Penn Center, having your parents (Ron and Natalie Daise) come do presentations at St. Helena Elementary. I was always clear that I was Gullah Geechee, and that it meant something (even if I didn’t always think that “something” was positive).
Gullah Geechee means ancestral legacy and connection. It means standing in a lineage of resistance and resilience; Gullah Geechee means an indomitable people with an indomitable spirit. It means good food, and family, and Blackness, and land, and culture. Gullah Geechee is self and home.
I am passionate about Black people, and specifically Black women and children. I am passionate about preserving Black legacies of healing and resistance. I am passionate about liberation, and about us all acknowledging how necessary Black liberation is to all liberation.
I wear a lot of hats! I am the Organizing Director for the Atlanta chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. I am a doula and an apprentice midwife. I am a nonprofit consultant, though I like to think of myself as a social movements consultant, because I prefer to consult with organizations that are doing really important work towards liberation. I am an organizer to my core, through and through. I know my purpose is tied into that, because no matter how often I try to step away, I find myself doing it, instinctually. I know I’ve been called to be a healer–specifically in the Gullah Geechee tradition. My ancestors told me this in a dream. So we’ll see where that leads me. Along those lines, I coordinate an organization called Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, and we provide a space to talk about the necessity of healing and wellness as a part of social movement work and for addressing collective trauma. I’m a wife and a mama. I’m an unschooler, and I do a lot of thinking, talking, writing, building around self-directed education, and alternative educational models as libratory praxis. I’m working with a dope group of folks on opening the Anna Julia Cooper Learning and Liberation Center in the spring of 2017. I write sometimes, too, when I can get out of my own way. I have a novel in me somewhere. And I perform with a bomb ass Black women performance group called NALO Arts Collective.
I think all of this makes me terribly unsuited for capitalism! lol. Anything I do to earn money is always in the service of Black people. And I tend to lean more toward bartering, sliding scale services, that sort of model. I operate in a way that’s a bit Marxist, in that “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability” sort of way, such that I rarely turn anyone away for doula services or consulting services; I always try to find a way to offer them something, or find someone who can provide them what they need. It’s not the best way to run a business in a capitalistic society, but I always find that my needs are met, because my work is also a way I build community.
I think the advice I would have for other entrepreneurs is to stay true to yourself, stay true to your mission, and stay grounded and connected. It’s the only way to move through the world. And also, find yourself some dope Black women to keep you up. At the same time, for Black women, especially, don’t let people feel entitled to your labor. Despite the fact that I try to show up to the best of my ability, and most folks really appreciate that, there will always be folks who don’t appreciate it, because they feel entitled to it. To paraphrase Zora Neale Hurston, Black women are the mules of the world. People will take your work, eat off of it, THRIVE off of it, and render you invisible. DON’T LET THEM.
How to preserve and celebrate the culture? I think the answer to that question lies in that word “evolution”. There are people who want to make us into ghosts. The world would see Gullah Geechee Culture as a dead or static culture. But we are here. And we are alive. And WE ARE THE CULTURE (despite what some folks would have you think). We have to remember that we are the culture, and the culture is what, who, where we are. We are the ancestors; they are us. We honor the ancestors, the traditions, but we acknowledge that the traditions are alive. We talk to the ones that come after us. My kids are born and raised in Atlanta, but they will never not know they are Gullah Geechee. So we connect with each other, we build with each other, we commune with each other, we learn the traditions, we pass them on, and we talk about who we are today. There’s a DOPE thread of Gullah Geechee hip hop artists and musicians on Facebook. How do we inherently make hip hop something different because of who we are? As we leave the Corridor, what is it that we take with us? Who have we become? I have an interview project in my head to talk to Gullah Geechee folks under 45. Because really, no-one talks to us, except to put us on display, to have us perform. No-one talks to us as though we are actual, living, breathing, loving people. So I’d like to do that.