By Amanda Parris | @amanda_parris One of the first things I noticed when I met Clarissa Chandler several years ago was how she spoke. I was intrigued by this woman who had spent much of her adult life “working with women around experiences of violence and healing and resiliency.” Having lived only in busy urban cities and constantly being involved in work that is urgent, immediate and time-sensitive, I generally fail to notice how fast everything moves until I am confronted with those who take their time. I was reminded as I interviewed her over the phone one fall afternoon that Clarissa takes her time. Listening to Clarissa tell a story is a lesson in how to choose one’s words, tones and even punch-lines in a measured and deliberate way. I have had the pleasure of listening to Clarissa tell a few stories over the years. When I began The Ride or Die Project with my friend Keisha-Monique Simpson, we created a list of people with whom we wanted to discuss the idea and get feedback. Clarissa was one of the names on that list. It didn’t require a lot of explanation for Clarissa to understand what we were talking about. Although not a part of the Hip Hop generation, and in spite of never having heard of The Lox or Eve, the ride-or-die philosophy was familiar and recognizable:
Clarissa spoke about this deeply personal experience calmly over the phone. When describing the decisions made by this young woman, she didn’t use disparaging remarks or speak with regret as one might expect considering the outcome. Rather, there is a matter-of-factness to her story and a reflective and careful engagement as she considers the agency this young woman demonstrated:
The absence of judgment on the decisions made by this young woman and ability to see her life as one marked by a certain level of independence and undeniable determination is a reflection of the nuanced way Clarissa considers trauma and violence in the lives of women. She does not claim to understand the ride-or-die philosophy but she see’s it, and attempts to make that seeing pervasive and sensitive to the many layers that exist within it.
Clarissa grew up in Southern California during the transformative and tumultuous decades of the 60’s and 70’s where she experienced the end of Jim Crow segregation, witnessed the bus boycotts, the Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests and also went to school in the context of Cold War paranoia. This highly charged atmosphere of critique, questioning, challenge and change was part of what led Clarissa to question, critique, challenge and want to change the common experiences of violence she saw happening to the women in her life. “I wanted to find ways to articulate 1. What that experience is and was and (2.) what does recovery of moving on look like and what gets in your way.” Clarissa’s work has led her to investigate numerous strategies of healing such as psychotherapy, psychiatric intervention, therapeutic communities, spiritual healing, energetic healing, yoga, meditation, food and eating and physical movement. She is deeply interested in a form of self-care that encourage moments of deep rest.
One of the beauties of deep rest is it allows us to spontaneously know things. Like sleep integrates right? That’s where we repair, we integrate, our unconscious works and it just informs us, connects, aligns and gives synchronicity. So that’s what I think of when I think of the self-care thing, just give them something that will allow them to move into some state of rest… It’s something where it’s not about anything other than a moment. A time where you can rest deeply, laugh hard, have a good time, rejuvenate, move on.
I began visiting Clarissa regularly when I started to burn-out. I had recently finished co-facilitating a program for young women, I was supporting young people who were heavily targeted by the criminal justice system and I was starting to question whether any of the work that I was doing was having any kind of fundamental change. I was full and on the edge of burnout. She reminded me that it was ok to stop, to breathe, to say no and to admit that I can’t. She actually convinced me that these things were necessary and integral to my survival:
“The myth…you’re a strong Black woman, don’t let your shit show. So cry but don’t be crying in public. Walk. Don’t let them hurt you. You walk your walk. Until you get to the other side and if you fall apart fine but don’t be walking around in public looking like you could be injured. Now that’s a survival thing, that’s straight up survival. So your strong Black woman is about not putting out a persona where you become more of a victim. But simultaneously it means that as a group…we are more susceptible to death as a consequence of anything that happened to us. So if we are exposed to a set of illnesses we are more likely to die from that illness…It’s all related to our capacity to be vulnerable, cared for, our capacity to rejuvenate, to relax deeply, to let go of stress, to be in these states of rest where our bodies heal. So it’s not even so much do we have time to sleep and stuff like that, it’s like, when we are sleeping, when we are relaxing do we go to these deep, deep states of relaxation where every part of our ourselves can rejuvenate?”
The more interviews and research I do for The Ride or Die Project, I realize how elusive that space of deep rest is for many women. Alongside this need is also a recurring theme of isolation and loneliness. In the midst of so many women sharing similar narratives, it is striking how many of them live in silos, separated and silent in their experiences. I asked Clarissa why. It is a question she has been investigating for decades in her work: “I think that sometimes we fail to realize that abuse doesn’t unify us.” She talked about her years of experience in bringing Black women into programming spaces:
It is Clarissa’s commitment to this work and the way that she manifests this commitment in her own practice of relationship building, healing and support that made me ask her about what it means to be ride-or-die for one’s self; what does it mean to express that level of loyalty to one’s own self: