Chiraq. That is how the country and even some in Chicago view the West and South sides of Chicago. “Chiraq” is a place with more vacant lots than hope. But those who actually live there know that there is fight in these communities. And one of those warriors is my friend, Lakeesha “Keesha” Harris. She turns 40 later this year, is from Chicago’s West side, has six children and has a very big dream — to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. To make it there, she needs some support.
So we’d like to introduce you to our first “Broad to Invest In.” We wanted to know why Keesha is headed to Mount Kilimanjaro and what others can take from quest:
TBS: Why should strangers invest in your journey? How is this bigger than you?
LH: I am one of the mothers of color, out of many, who struggle to dismantle stereotypes about our motherhood and womanhood. In my own way, I represent freedom to dream and redefine our existence in the middle of chaos and despair. So in that way people who are interested in contributing to my journey are not merely investing in me but also the visual representation of freedom, healing and wellness.
I am part of the whole story that is Chicago. There is often so much focus on the violence that plagues our communities that it leaves little to no room for stories of change. I am a change agent who actively works in her community, investing time and energy, into the healing process of those around me. To invest in me is to invest in the health and wellness of any community that I reside and navigate in.
For example, I lead run groups for women and girls in my west side community. They watch me set goals, like my climb of Mount Kilimanjaro and they are, in turn, inspired to set their own major goals and accomplish them. Not only that I volunteer my time as a Reiki Master for community health and wellness days at Sage Community Health Center and in my home in Humboldt Park. Many of my clients have never tried such a modality of “alternative healing” but once they investigate and try it, I’ve been able to help them chang their minds about what healing can look like for them.
Additionally, part of the money that I’m raising for the climb is going to two very critical organizations that provide direct health services and advocacy for Women and Trans people, Chicago Women’s Health Center (Chicago) and Women with a Vision (New Orleans). I also plan to apportion some of the money to help an organization or group of organizations who are doing critical work in the health care of women and girls in Tanzania, which is where Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Africa.
TBS: What do your kids think of this?
LH:Last year, while I was training for the Chicago Marathon, they were very nonchalant. They’re teenagers and nothing that their mother does impresses or surprises them anymore. They’re more impressed with the mountain than the woman going up it. Yet, in small and intentional ways they support me. For instance, my daughter always makes sure that my running clothes are washed and dried. The boys play basketball with me and buy me salads to keep me healthy.
TBS: You are a reproductive justice warrior. Do you see this challenge as part of that work? You talk about going to the motherland.
LH: Africa is the seat of all existence. Through the anthropological digs of the Leakeys the world now knows that the oldest human was a woman (nicknamed “Lucy”) and discovered among the holy grounds of Olduvai Gorge, known now as Tanzania, solidifying Africa’s presence as the Motherland. We are “Lucy’s” greatest reproductive work and to set foot on that soil is to know that energetic power that is this great mother.
I’ll be making the journey with my friend Dr. Chinwe “Chi Chi” Oraka, to have enough gumption to train and go up that Mount Kilimanjaro? How revolutionary is it then for two Black healers from the Midwest to make this journey! The freeing of my body and mind to climb up a mountain in Tanzania is in direct correlation to freeing up of women’s bodies the world over. We can go anywhere do anything and we don’t need permission. We are women, strong powerful and capable.
TBS: I know you have been on the road to creating a healthier you for over a year. Do you see this journey as the conclusion of that road or part of that road?
LH: The creation of a healthier me has no end. Being healthy and fit is selfish and self-centered and a counter-narrative for women, especially women of color. We are taught to give of ourselves until we hit the grave or the mental ward of someone’s hospital. I actively reject that narrative for my life and I plan on at least doing this one thing solely for myself, which just so happens to benefit everyone around me. I actually enjoy running/biking/swimming/climbing/dancing and defining myself. It grounds my adult self and gives the little girl inside of me time to play before or after work. It’s a stress reliever and a filter for the oppression that I feel when I navigate this world in my Black body. By exercising I am living and, as a woman of color, when I live I place one more nail in the coffin of white patriarchal oppression, which I know is breathing its last breaths on the planet.
TBS: How are you training for this? You can’t go from smoker to runner to a mountain climb…or can you?
LH: I can do whatever I want to do. The rules of going from an unhealthy person to living a more beneficial existence are forgiving and flexible. You can go from making baby steps to huge leaps and bounds. Once I figured this out, I started doing exactly what I needed to do to gain control of my body. So yes, I can go from being a smoker to a runner of marathons (soon to be triathlete) and future mountain climber. The universe is vast and my body is a temple to create and recreate my existence, when and however I feel like it, until I’m no longer on the planet.
As far as training goes, I’m also in the middle of training for my first triathlon so I’m running five times per week, biking two to three times per week, and swimming two to three times a week. I’ve also recently included weights into my workout and I begin my mornings with prayer and meditation. I juice fresh veggies daily, I’m conscious about my water intake and I try my best to eat well balanced diets. As a Health Educator at Chicago Women’s Health Center, I do no more than what I ask my clients to do and that is to live and if you’re not happy with how you’re living rethink it and start again.
It’s never too late to start again.
We’d like to make this a regular feature at The Broad Side, so if you are a “broad” that our community should invest in, leave me your crowd-sourcing site in the comments. But first head over to Keesha’s site and support her call to magnificence.
Veronica Arreola writes the blog Viva la Feminista, where she tries to navigate and understand the intersection between feminism, motherhood and her Latinadad. You can follow her on Twitter @veronicaeye.
To contact Veronica for an interview or to book her as a speaker, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.