I Sell The Shadow: Supporting The Substance to Change The World

3 Nov

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The end of a spectacular night

A rainy evening at Madiba Harlem at MIST was the scene for the introduction of a new dream being manifested. In her black dress and red accessories, Lisa Russell’s red and blue feather earrings reminded me her vision is taking flight. The need to create is a natural impulse humans have. In these precarious times in our global community, that impulse is the key to much needed solutions. What attracted me to Lisa’s work then is her dynamic use of creativity to address international issues. With over 10 years of experience producing films and creative projects for various UN/NGO agencies, she has kicked off an innovative artist initiative named “I Sell The Shadow”, aimed at developing meaningful relationships between creative professionals and UN/NGO agencies.

“I sell the shadow to support the substance” is the inspiration for the initiative’s name. It is a quote by Sojourner Truth, the famous African American abolitionist and woman’s rights activist who sold portraits of herself to fund her work. Lisa has worked with young and adult artists who use their talents to further change on a global and local level. On October 22nd, the launch weaved together both stunning performances by artists, videos and highlighted examples of issues that are being worked on by both the respective artists in their community work and global organizations. In Madiba’s theater space after an hour of networking, the audience was captivated by Chesney Snow, beatboxer and actor. Without warning, he began to beatbox some of the sickest beats that had the whole crowd engaged. It was incredible to hear a melody of different sounds coming from this one voice.


Lisa Russell stood behind her camera, wearing her filmmaker hat in tandem with hostess, and alternated between shooting and facilitating the flow of the event. She introduced the show and expressed the importance of creating opportunities for creative artists and NGOs to work in partnership. “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible,” Lisa stated, quoting Toni Cade Bambara, driving the point home. She shared the work she has done producing films on pressing global health and development topics in the world’s most remote places, citing how often she questioned herself about whether she should be the one telling the stories. Lisa understands well the thin line between raising awareness on issues and exploiting people’s suffering for media. Her sensitivity, work with various artist activists, and connections to the United Nations has confirmed her notion that the professional and artistic worlds must intersect to give advocacy work an authentic voice. In collaboration, the narratives are flipped and are empowered by those who are actively working on the ground.

Soré Agbaje and Ramya Ramana’s collaborative spoken word piece echoed the reasons MDG2, one of the U.N millennium developmental goals tackling lack of education, is being worked on tirelessly. These two young women wrote and performed this piece at a rally for A World At School, an international campaign aimed at making education accessible to all children. They specifically gave voice to the 31 million girls worldwide who are disproportionally affected. Timothy DuWhite took the stage and delivered a riveting poem about HIV/AIDS, highlighting the global epidemic from a personal perspective. Melissa Garcia Velez told the story of her undocumented youth status with her body, performing a powerful dance solo piece. The push and pull of her body movements made the struggle many undocumented people face so visceral. I felt her story in my own bones.

Tahani Salah, Soré Agbaje, Ramya Ramana and Timothy DuWhite.

One part of the presentation that moved me to tears was the International Youth Day Video on Mental Health and Youth. Edited by Lisa Russell with music by Ray Angry, the images by folks around the world describing their struggle with mental health touched me personally. Sahr + Ricardo, consisting of Fela’s Sahr Ngaujah and guitarist Ricardo Quiñones, did a musical piece about liberation and freedom, setting the stage for Liberated People. Special guest, actor and activist Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Wire, 24) spoke and introduced his company, Liberated People, a lifestyle brand designed to inspire people to act. The night closed with two poetry performances from Shane Romero sharing an exquisite love letter to the Sudan, Savon Bartley bringing Mother Earth to life in a piece for climate change and Jaime Philbert’s solo dance piece.

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A captive audience

I left the auditorium in a bit of a stunned silence as the gravity of our world’s most pressing issues hit me. The theater full of people came out buzzing, a mixture of high level U.N professionals and artists. The music for the networking after was provided by Africology, one of the sponsors of I Sell The Shadow. Additionally, this event was also sponsored by Trendy Tripping, Urban Word NYC, Women Deliver, Jacaranda Health, World Beatbox Association and Liberated People. Once again, the revolution was made irresistible. Through witnessing this powerful kick-off, I was inspired to continue my own work. As for “I Sell The Shadow”, it has certainly begun to make waves. The momentum keeps building with the upcoming screening of Lisa Russell’s award-winning short film PODER! followed by live performances and networking on November 21st. Check out the link and get involved:

RSVP for November 21st’s PODER! screening and event

I Sell The Shadow – Official Website

Coming Home Soon!

13 Aug

I will be coming home in mid-October and am looking for work involving prenatal, labor support, postpartum and reproductive health. I would like to work alongside another midwife as an entry-level midwife (I will be sitting for my licensing exam next year). I am also available as a birth and postpartum doula, open to various positions that involve educating young women and women in general. I would be open to providing childcare as well. I will be most likely coming back to the South Bronx area for a while for this chapter of my life. Any suggestions or leads are welcome :)

Becoming Ynanna

10 Aug


This month makes 2 years that I’ve been Ynanna. The change from going by my birth name to my chosen name started late in 2011 and manifested itself right before my nervous breakdown in September 2012. I knew when I walked home two summers ago from my therapist’s office that I needed to change my name. “Carmen” didn’t feel like who I am. Or at least not who I am completely. I needed to have a balance of light and darkness. Like Inanna and Ereshkigal.

Ynanna is my spelling of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, sensuality, lust, and warfare. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She is the embodiment of all the phases and parts of feminine energy. Her most famous myth is a metaphor for the ultimate spiritual initiation into wisdom, expanded consciousness, and adulthood, in which one willingly faces their shadows and their demons, to embrace both sides of them and be complete and stand in their power. The story goes that Inanna went to the the Underworld dressed in her finest attire. Ereshkigal, Inanna’s older sister and the Queen of the Dead, is not happy about this. She instructs her gatekeeper to strip Inanna of everything, symbolic of having to give up everything in the descent into the unknown and darkness. Inanna is then killed, and rises from the dead after three days.

I believe my healing journey brought me to the point of such profound transformation. I became very conscious of my wounds when I was graduating from high school, so this change of vibration had been 9 years in the making. That’s what taking on a new name is – a complete change of the wavelength I vibrate on. It is connected to why curse words strike chords in conversations – they carry a certain energy and history to them. Names in particular carry our life force. They carry our history and destiny. I hadn’t considered this until I pledged for my sorority and was establishing the chapter at New Paltz. We as a group of women were setting the tone for the women who would become our chapter sisters by choosing to call ourselves the Orisha Chapter. As I studied in the Black Studies Department, I understood how countries that had been colonized underwent name changes that caused a separation from their primordial identities. Examples include how Quisqueya became Dominican Republic and Boriken became Puerto Rico. Though they are the same land, the names they now go by define them as colonized and so goes the history of these countries. The change of name was a change in the course of their self-determination.

Before Afro-descendant and indigenous people were killed and robbed of our lands, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual faculties, we were very conscious of how we named our children. It was understood that a name carried a person’s destiny and their livelihood. That still goes on today but not as purposely at times. I believe that when I was named Carmen, it was very intentional. I carry the story very close to my heart because I know it means a lot to my grandmother, my mother and family. I will not ever stop having a part of Carmen in me. However, when I am called by that name, I feel like a ghost is being called. As though my own Underworld is being summoned. I experienced a very profound sense of death when I was violated in 2010 and kept saying that to myself. I felt like I was dying. Around this time, I also began to lose my home, relationships, jobs…being stripped of everything to be more of who I really am. My mental health was deteriorating quickly and it was scary to reach and be so intimate with my demons and shadows. I found it harder and harder to explain to people that I was changing quickly.

It was a godsend to be away from people who have previously known me as Carmen for this year of my midwifery training. I’ve had the opportunity to be Ynanna fully. I really enjoy being Ynanna. It feels more like who I am and what my destiny is meant for. It encompasses my large spirit. I felt that changing my name was my rebirth, my rising from the death that truly threatened to snuff out my light. Ynanna is stronger, courageous, healed, more complete. I feel that becoming Ynanna was my initiation into my spiritual adulthood. I just hope that more folks who have known me as Carmen can transition to calling me Ynanna. It makes me happy to be called by who I feel I am now. Though, I have to admit that there are sometime when being called Carmen feels comforting, and only by certain people. It is certainly an interesting dynamic to live in. I liken it to Inanna and Ereshkigal. I must have both entities inside me to be whole and complete. It hasn’t been easy for myself to transition. I had moments where I’d ask myself if it was a good idea to shift. If I was or sounded crazy. If I was okay. Realizing that I had people around me who also made this type of change gave me the courage to become Ynanna.

Becoming Ynanna has given me the ability to embrace both my darkness and my light. Having taken the descent to my underworld many times, my name is a reminder of that strength that I have gained on this journey to being in balance with every aspect of who I am – both Carmen and Ynanna.

Nuestras Madres Jóvenes: On Teen Mommas and The Miseducation of Our Young Women

7 Jul

Women in labor are so strong. It never ceases to amaze me. The young mothers take my breath away most. They have quickly become my favorite mommas. My practice will definitely be geared towards young mommas, especially teen moms. Teen moms need such special attention and respect. They have decided to go through one of the hardest things in their young lives.

In supporting teen moms, there is so much attention needed to their nutrition and knowledge about their bodies. I know for a fact they’re not going to get what they need from school or their communities. As a midwife, I must teach too. So so much. My age group of specialty is the teens through 25ish. I often feel like this is where most of us get lost in the mix. I have had the pleasure of having two teenage continuity of care clients during my training here, three other women who I served as a doula, and have gotten to be the primary midwife for dozens of other young women who needed the careful attention to educating that I have.

One young mother who stole my heart was the one that set my heart on fire. She and I were serendipitously connected. It was amazing that I just so happened to be in the clinic when she went into labor. The midwives went to go find me to tell me she was in labor. I went to her and told her that I would help her with the pain so she didn’t suffer. It was a beautiful birth and immediately I made myself available for her postpartum care. I gave her a crash course in her reproductive system during her postpartum appointments, complete with diagrams and a handout. I stressed to her that she needed to follow her dreams and never feel ashamed for being a teen mother. I could see the hope swell in her heart and her mother nodding at my encouragement through her tears. I have had so much fun growing with them. I feel glad to have made them so comfortable to trust me with their questions. I have seen how important the close care of their pregnancy has been and know this is an integral part of my work – to work specifically with empowering young women with knowledge, care and respect.

It breaks my heart that more women than I care to count have been miseducated and neglected when it comes to their sexuality and bodies. Because I know I am not alone, the education of our young women is vitally important. Sending a woman into the world unprepared with no knowledge of her body as it relates to society is dangerous. Straight up. You are literally feeding a little girl to the wolves by remaining silent. The fatal miseducation of woman must end. we must start taking those after us under our wings. Be the big sisters we didn’t have.

Additionally, it is time to demand comprehensive sexual education and empowerment for our high school women. We must give them the opportunities to make informed choices about their sexuality, relationships and have a healthier sense of self. This world runs the risk of having the cycle of disempowered women continue if we do not become our little sister’s keepers. Though I am not here to save anyone, I certainly will not stand by and let more women fall through the cracks. I will do my part as a midwife. I hope you will join me.


Las mujeres en trabajo de parto son tan fuertes. Nunca dejan de sorprenderme. Las madres jóvenes son las que más me sorprenden. Rápidamente se han convertido en mis favoritas. Mi práctica como partera definitivamente será enfocada en las madres adolescentes. Las madres jóvenes necesitan una atención especial y mucho respeto. Han decidido hacer una de las cosas más difíciles en sus vidas. Necesitan apoyo.

En apoyar a las madres adolescentes, mucha atención es necesaria en lo de su nutrición y conocimiento de sus cuerpos. Sé que no van a conseguir lo que necesitan en la escuela o sus comunidades. Como partera, tengo que enseñar también.  Siento que en la adolescencia es donde la mayoría de nosotras nos perdemos. He tenido el placer de dar cuidado particular a dos adolescentes durante mis estudios aquí, otras tres jóvenes que estuve en sus partos como doula y he llegado a ser la partera primaria para otras mujeres jóvenes quien necesitaban la atención cuidadosa y educación que puede darle.

Una madre joven me robó el corazón y me lo dejo encendido.  Ella y yo estábamos casualmente conectadas. Era increíble que pasó que yo estaba en la clínica cuando ella entró en trabajo de parto. Las parteras fueron a buscarme para decirme. Fui a ella y le dije que la ayudaría con el dolor para que no sufriera. Fue un nacimiento bello e inmediatamente me hice disponible para su atención en el postparto. Le di un curso intensivo sobre su sistema reproductivo durante sus citas postparto, con diagramas y un folleto. Destaqué que necesitaba seguir sus sueños y nunca sentirse avergüenzada por ser una madre adolescente. Pude ver la esperanza en sus ojos y su madre asintió con la cabeza. Me he divertido mucho creciendo con ellas. Me siento contenta de poder inspirar confianza y que se han sentido cómodas preguntándome lo que sea. He visto que importante ha sido la atención cercana de sus embarazos y es una parte integral de mi trabajo – enfocándome específicamente con empoderar a las mujeres jóvenes con conocimiento, cuidado y respeto.

Me rompe el corazón que mucha más mujeres no han sido educadas acerca de sus cuerpos y sexualidad. Porque sé que no estoy sola, es sumamente importante la educación de nuestras jóvenes. Enviando a una mujer al mundo sin ningún conocimiento de su cuerpo es peligroso.  Literalmente estamos hechando a las niñas a los lobos por permanecer nosotros callados. Debemos terminar este silencio fatal. Debemos comenzar a tomar nuestras jóvenes de bajo de nuestras alas. Tenemos que ser las hermanas mayores que no teníamos.

Además, es hora de exigir una educación sexual integral y el empoderamiento de las mujeres jóvenes. Debemos darles la oportunidad de tomar decisiones informadas sobre su sexualidad, las relaciones y ayudar que tengan un sentido saludable de identidad. Este mundo corre el riesgo de tener más mujeres perdidas si no nos volvemos guardianes de nuestras hermanas pequeñas. Aunque no estoy aquí para salvar a nadie, ciertamente no voy a dejar que más mujeres se caigan. Yo haré mi parte como partera. Espero que me acompañen.


Annie and Ray Kuntz, Wesley, Olivia, Nathan & Toby

24 May


“I think motherhood in and of itself is made up of both of life and of little deaths. When you become a mother the first time, the single-carefree part of yourself where you could think of yourself first dies.  Now every little decision you make, where you go and when, what you wear, who you spend time with, is influenced by that child.  When your children grow, each step of the way, a little something new is born, and a little of the old dies.  When I weaned my daughter, Olivia, on her third birthday, there died our sweet nursing relationship that we both cherished.  But there was born a new independence and stepping further into herself without the same attachment to her mother.  When my oldest son lost his first two teeth, I noticed those were the first baby teeth that appeared after feverish, crying nights.  And now they sit in a little green treasure box and my boy has two bit teeth in his smile.  My two-year-old son says the most adorable and hilarious things as he learns to speak more clearly.  Long gone are the “gagas” and “dadada” sounds that he first produced.  My two-month-old son has already lost the shakiness of a newborn’s cry, and those certain sighs and sounds that a newborn makes.  None of my children will ever be newborns again.  The relentless march of time leaves those younger versions of themselves behind.  Except in my memory.

 There is a painting of a woman giving birth at my work with the following words written on it: “I am a woman giving birth to myself.”  And that is what birth is that we often look over.  It is the birth of the child, but also the creation of this new mother.  I wish that our culture celebrated that fact a little bit more. 

I don’t think you become a mother just once with your first child. I think you become a mother over and over again, each child that is born, each major life shift for your children. It’s ever-changing, never stagnant. And once you are a mother, you can never not be a mother again.”


*Words cannot describe how much I appreciate this midwife and friend. Annie has been one of my preceptors since I began school here and has quickly become a great teacher and confidant. I am so proud of her and what I have gotten to know of her journey. It is my sincerest wish that she is blessed in all her endeavors as a woman, mother, partner and midwife. I love you Annie!

Griselda Rodriguez

23 May


*This sister and I connected at a conference when we spoke on the same panel regarding African hair and its politics. One simple picture full of the light she is carrying, I am happy to share her joy on my page.

Monica Franco and Lianna

22 May

this one!

“Being a mom is everything to me. It means giving 100% to assure that my daughter feels loved and secure at all times. It means working my hardest to give her the best life possible because she’s totally worth it.”




*I’m honored to have my beautiful cousin Monica and her adorable daughter Lianna as a part of my project. Aside from being a great mom, she also recently received her Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration. So proud of her :)

Stephanie Sierra and AJ

21 May

stefa 2

“I’ve spoken to many women who are 100% they don’t want children and I’ve always admired them for making such a big decision in their lives, because if one thing was certain in mine was that I wanted to be a mother someday. I started my motherhood journey about three years ago. My son is two now, but I’ve felt like a mother from the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test, the mornings that I spent talking to the toilet, and the first time I heard his heart beat. Motherhood has given to me the greatest feelings of happiness and fear all at the same time. Motherhood means sacrificing anything willingly for the well being of your child. My son has made me look at the world differently. I feel excited to watch him grow and be able to show him the beauty the world has to offer and explain the pain and suffering that comes with it as well. From the moment my child was born I knew I would do anything and everything to protect him and provide him with a nurturing home. He will always be a part of me just like I always be a part him and I would live my life exactly the same way over and over again if it means I get to meet my same child. Motherhood is love. Motherhood is fear. Motherhood gives everything more meaning in my life!”


*I met Stephanie during my undergraduate career and have stayed in touch with her. She is a part of my forthcoming bellycast project and I’m so proud of her transformation and blossoming mommahood :)

Jenna Mirza and Liliana

20 May


“Motherhood is unconditional love and acceptance: of my child and me. Liliana is to my existence as oxygen to my lungs. She opened my soul and allowed me to embrace all of the imperfections that this world has to offer because with her my life cannot be any more perfect.”

*So happy for Jenna! A woman I got to share poetry and lots of moments with in college, she is well on her path to continuing her great work with her social work background.

Missy Panda

19 May

Missy Panda

Here is a pic of me and my unborn baby boy Michael