We had the good fortune of connecting with Ayesha Walker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ayesha, how does your business help the community?
BE-IMAGINATIVE is an Emmy-Award Winning collective of exceptional artists, powerful healers and impactful community leaders who are dedicated to healing the immense grief of our Black, Indigenous and Brown communities through multidimensional storytelling. BE-IMAGINATIVE is a living, breathing process and prayer, an affirmation and a call to action for us to recreate the stories and the destinies of our people by way of the imagination.
BE-IMAGINATIVE was born out of our need to be a different kind of activist. Our model consists of community healing retreats, artistic interpretations, and community celebrations that strategically focus on the narratives of disruptive hope, healing, agency, and love. Our work is rooted in the collective honoring and celebrating of our ancestors.
As a western society, we often do not do well with grief. We sometimes bottle it up and keep going as though nothing happened, suffering in silence and in silos. Our work is meant to support people in the collective grieving process. We invite communities to show up with an openness and to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Business is wild. It is the hardest yet most rewarding work I have ever done in my entire life. And I see why everyone doesn’t do it. Sometimes I feel as though I am hang gliding and smooth sailing. Other times, I feel like I’m riding a bull. When I look back on the 5 and a half years that we’ve been in business, there were so many times we didn’t see the light. We didn’t know how we would make it through some of the challenges and obstacles that came our way but we somehow knew that we would. Every obstacle we’ve ever had ended up being a gateway to a new way, a new experience, granting us greater opportunities, greater relationships and even greater impact. I attribute this success to the Most High, the ancestors and our village who see us through. This work is truly anointed.
One of my biggest lessons in this work is authenticity. I’m thinking back to a couple of Fridays ago, we had a powerful event in collaboration with our partners SOL Development and KQED Arts hosted by the Oakland Museum of California. I walked into that event, with my kid, an emotional wreck. I chose not to hide it. I was to open part of the event with a speech, introducing our award-winning films we were screening: KQED’s When the Waters Get Deep and Dear Beloved: Music & Storytelling with SOL Development and BE-IMAGINATIVE. But I was soaked in grief that day. I was so hurt that I couldn’t even speak. But something very powerful happened.
My village held me and my kid as we stood in our vulnerability and the authenticity of our pain. Something moved in me, in us. We surrendered. We watched our films together — reminding us of our resilience. We cried together. We held one another in the process. We didn’t have to perform. We didn’t have to pretend or numb ourselves. We didn’t need to abandon ourselves and our experiences to hold space for our community. We could just be – in all of our authenticity and still embody medicine. When speaking, our words came out even more powerful than I could have ever imagined. And with the powerful music of SOL Development, we were spiritually bathed and anew. By the end of the day, we were dancing and playing — basking in pleasure and fun. We walked into this event in so much pain, and walked out in pure joy. That’s the power of our work and that’s what Shirley Johnson, MFT calls “the alchemy of grief”.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My bestie is coming to town and we’re about to go on a week-long experience. It’s about to be LIT!
First, we’re going to dinner at Ensarros and we’re having Ethiopian food. We’ll go back to where we’re staying and we’ll talk and goof around all night. The next morning, we’re going to the grocery store and packing a cute lunch. We’ll go to Tennessee Valley Beach in Marin County for the most beautiful 2 mile hike to the beach. We’ll chill on the beach all day, lay in the sun, bathe in the ocean, give offerings, and head back to the car after the sunsets. We’ll walk/run 2 miles back in the dark while looking out for coyotes and bobcats. When we get back to wherever we’re staying, we’ll go our respective ways and call it a night.
Other things we’ll do that week: we’ll go to Natrully’s in Richmond to buy crystals and palo santo sticks. We’ll go to Point Richmond or Point Pinole for a hike, we’ll go to my mom’s house for a big meal and party with all my favorite family members. We’ll go take dance classes at the Malonga Center, go work out at the gym with CatFitness, or go to a Kundalini Yoga class with Shirley Johnson. We may chill indoors, I’ll give cardology and astrology readings, cook dinner while I end up preaching some sermon . Then we’ll scream at each other reminding one another to do our shadow work. We’ll goof around like teenagers, reminiscing about the good old days. We’ll move slowly and recover from all of the fun we had during the previous days. We may go to Markus Books or some dope ass event at Agency Oakland, Joyce Gordon Gallery, CoBiz Richmond or the Black Music Incubator. We’ll leave the kids with a trusted family member and head off to Brown Estate in Napa then go have dinner at Morimoto. Maybe another day we’ll go eat at Bissap Baobab and pray they still have Cuban salsa parties. We may go have coffee at Red Bay then go chill at Lake Merritt in Oakland all day. The possibilities are endless in the Bay Area.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
*This shout out contains sensitive information*
I choose to honor Ancestor Malidoma Patrice Somé. I learn so much about how to connect with my ancestors, my community, my artistry and this world through his wisdom.
Many of us continue to experience premature death of loved ones due to issues that disproportionately impact us especially as black, brown and indigenous folk, like me, who come from inner city communities. Loss and grief are no stranger to us. Malidoma reminds us that the immense amount of grief we hold means we have an abundance of ancestors who are waiting for us to tap into their collective spiritual energy, giving us insurmountable support in our collective healing processes. This means that we must lean into one another, grieve together as a unit and tap into our collective power.
In his book, The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community he wrote, “Death is not a separation but a different form of communion, a higher form of connectedness with the community, providing an opportunity for even greater service.” My relationship with my ancestors will never be the same since having met Malidoma and being introduced to his work. Ancestor Malidoma really helped to lay the foundation for me and my relationship to my purpose. We choose to continue his work through BE-IMAGINATIVE by facilitating the process of learning and teaching one another how to be human again, how to be authentic and honest with ourselves and one another as we make a difference in our own lives, the lives of our families, communities and our world.
So much love to the spirit of Malidoma Patrice Somé. I don’t think I would be who I am today without his wisdom.
Other: IG: @eshiitaughtme
Lionell Andrews KQED Arts Brian Freeman Chloe Jackman Felicia Lamb Smeeta Mahanti Samantha Tyler Ayesha Walker