Six months in, my fellowship has brought the world to me (or vice versa). I have wandered the streets of England, Spain, and France in search of ideas, inspiration, and the rest of myself. I saw many things that expanded my perception of what could be, and spent the time needed to be alone, shedding away the sometimes heavy weight of a significant public persona.
It is a funny thing that we do to work so hard to build a recognizable identity, a tidy summation of who our character is, and what role we play in our society. We find our niche, and we define ourselves through it. When we become adept at navigating this role we play, we receive encouragement and support to take it further. I received this in the form of the Bush Fellowship I’ve been using it to shed some of the identity I built to gain it. Not all of it. Just the parts that I believed in too much. The parts that stopped me from pushing into new and fertile ground for personal growth. Yet with this shedding, I recognize that it is the strength with which I weave my story that is my greatest attribute, and the way that I can forge new paths, and learn new stories to tell.
My fellowship began with a clear focus on building capacity for public art spaces and supporting the artists that used them. It was the direction I was moving in for years, and something I had become exceptionally familiar with. My fellowship thus far has focused only partially on this, as a combination of the people I have collaborated with and learned from, and the current state of affairs in our nation has moved me in different directions. The passion that was focused on empowering people to express themselves has been redirected on empowering people to be empathetic and listen to each other. The feeling of urgency to explore this new path was overwhelming. There has been a clear and drastic breakdown in our ability to effectively communicate and empathize with each other, and this must be put back on track in order to give meaning, depth and agility to self expression as a means to empower and problem solve. In this process, I look hopefully towards art as a tool, but not as much of the focus or the goal.
The fellowship has made me reflect copiously on my role as a community leader and what the role of leadership is as it pertains to me today. Here is what I've come to understand about leadership-
Leadership is a service position. It is not glamorous. It is only honorable.
Leaders and rulers are not one in the same.They have different agendas. Leaders empower their communities. Rulers empower themselves over their communities.
Leadership is a gift bestowed upon you by your community for being a good and trusted supporter of people. It isn't something you can build on your own.
I've thought much about what kind of leader I wish to be, and I think I've figured that out. If you were asked to name ten great leaders from history, there is probably a good chance that more than half of them could also be categorized as "warriors". I think that's especially true today, as we as a country are at a call to arms against each other, and the demand for warriors is high. I don't want to be a warrior. I want to be a peace maker, and follow in the footsteps of those leaders that have sought to attain peace. As a nation, we are on fire. I will not be fuel for this fire. Fire only consumes. I wish to extinguish fire, and I believe the way to do that is by standing witness to those that burn, letting them be seen and heard, and offering the blanket that is respect and tolerance to extinguish their flame when the time comes. I have become heavily influenced by this approach after researching a man named Daryl Davis, a black musician that decided to write a book about the Ku Klux Klan, and in the process, got dozens of Klansmen to surrender their robes to him.
The issue off Racial relations is especially poignant in the region that I live, as the relationship between the Lakota people and those who currently occupy their homelands is so strained. This is more directly important to me because of two things that have been very prevalent during my fellowship- My collaboration and learning with the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, SD, and the passing of my father in law, Richard Bad Moccasin.
I have been fortunate enough to participate in, and learn from the amazing and world renowned mural/graffiti art focused programming taking place through the Cheyenne River Youth Project. I have learned so much from them, not only on art-related topics, but of how to be a better ally and partner to Native communities and organizations. The work I've done under them is some of the most rewording and joyous I've ever experienced. It has really been a catalyst for me to work more with Native communities and develop those often hard fought for relationships.
The passing of my father in law has served as a catalyst for this as well. The loss of this great and influential man left a hole in my family. In my wife and my daughters. With his passing, they lost quite possibly the strongest link to their culture along with the man they loved so much. It is not a hole I can fill, but I have committed as a husband and father to doing everything I can to support the connection of their culture to them. For me, that has meant Lakota Cultural training, study, and mentorship. This has become a hugely significant portion of my fellowship, both for these personal reasons as well as the insight it can provide in better serving my community.
So, That has been much of my fellowship journey thus far. I have travelled to Europe to experience street art from a worldly lense, and witnessed one of the largest public mural festivals in the world. I have painted alongside some of the countries finest graffiti artists on the reservation in an effort to celebrate the culture and youth of their community, and have taken part in strategic planning for the implementation of their Lakota Arts Institute. I have studied the culture of my family and the people of my region, and so much more.
There is so much more in store over the next year and a half. I've only scratched the surface. I look forward to seeing where the rest of this journey takes me.
Amidst all of this, when I reflect back on what I am most proud to have done with my fellowship, something simple comes to mind. I used a miniscule amount of the funds to secure a rental hall for the Bad Moccasin family reunion in Pierre, SD. We gathered together to celebrate, remember, and heal together. We reflected on Dad, we cried, we danced, and we spent time being good relatives to each other. Sometimes that's what leadership looks like. Like children dancing and aunties telling stories.
And lots of hot dogs and potato salad..