Dr. Amanda Kemp on cultivating a tribe of the heart in polarizing times

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

Listen to the full conversation below:

This moment we inhabit, of seismic shifts and unprecedented chaos, is birthing a creative class who frame the scaffolding of our future through the power of their imaginations.

This week’s storyteller, Dr. Amanda Kemp, is a card-carrying member of this emerging guild. Her new book Say The Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community is reminiscent of Alice Walker’s essays of social justice, Anything We Love Can Be Saved.  Amanda’s vibrant reflections offer a way through the pain of racism to the healing work our world demands of us.

Poet-performer. Playwright. Founder of the Theatre for Transformation. She conducts racial justice, art and academic residencies at universities throughout the U.S with her distinct brand of performance-lecture. Most days she simply calls herself a mentor.  Blending racial healing and mindfulness, her journey out of the New York State foster-care system, through the halls of academia, and into theatre of the streets, has been a long walk home.

Infused with an irresistible mix of black girl magic, Amanda is at once strong and vulnerable, playful and wise.  Our conversation turned to the endurance of women of color.  With a birthright of resilience, they bail us out again and again. Not for praise, or even for altruism, but because their unshakable telescopic view of time is fired in the kiln of overcoming.

Kemp wrestles with the tension of activating her individual power in the face of exploitative systems like capitalism and patriarchy. Her work is evolving to support women of color in that tension. How do you reclaim your collective power in the context of oppression? “It’s a challenge,” she acknowledges, “but I believe in strengthening the mother to strengthen the whole.”

Our keenest observers of the human condition sensed that more polarizing times were coming.  The outcome of 2016’s presidential election, for example, was no surprise to Kemp.  As she felt the polarity in America rising, she steadied herself. Our clip begins as she considers: “what hill am I willing to die on?”

For her, and for the community she’s cultivating called the Tribe of the Heart, it’s the hill of oneness. Hers is a community that refuses to deny our inextricable connection; a tribe that holds the tension between justice and compassion. It’s a defiant spiritual community that rejects the warm bath of separation readied for us by our culture.

Amanda articulates her vision for this tribe: “we create with each other. We drink in each other’s energy, passion and compassion.  I see us listening to our inner selves and each other. I see community organizers and prayer warriors exchanging wisdom. We play, rest, eat and clean together, and let compassion fuel our efforts to change society and ourselves.”

There is an emergent opening.  So many of us are awake. Despair comes when the culture—the collective—lags behind. Creating these tribes of the heart, coupled with a long view of time, offers us a way forward. A softening.

Leaders, artists, and re-imaginers, women of color like Amanda have been fortifying space on that hill for generations. Holding on with big hearts and profound moral courage.  It’s exhausting work. Reinforcements are needed.

It’s time to take our place beside them.

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