As One Door Closes...

Jan 9 / Isabel Dennis
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I consider this week, the 1st week in January, to be the anniversary of the opening of two spaces in Jamaica that have had an earth shattering impact in my life - The SO((U))L HQ (the HQ) and Di Institute for Social Leadership (Di ISL).

After having to part ways with them last year in 2021, I wanted to show my appreciation for its impact in my life through this little memoir.

How it started...

Although these spaces weren't both opened in the same year, they were opened and managed by the same people - Afifa Aza and Georgia Love. The SO((U))L HQ opened first in Stony Hill and became a chic hangout for artists, musicians and music lovers. They held film screenings, theatre productions, art showcases and a number of other events centered on music and art. It was a space for deep exploration, analysis and imagination of life, the status quo and the possibilities for the future.

Independently funded and free to the public, Georgia and Afifa worked through the challenges of keeping the space honest, open and accessible to everyone. It was essentially an experiment in building a sustainable, self-funded community space. Barters and gift exchanges were how the space maintained itself but it was by no means an easy road.

Two years later, still dedicated to building community in ways that served the community, Georgia and Afifa opened another space in Allman Town called Di Institute for Social Leadership (ISL). This space was a dedicated learning space for young people in the neighbourhood and evolved from a homework center to a maker space where locals and foreigners would come and facilitate different activities for the youth. Di ISL functioned on the same barter/gift exchange model as the HQ and had similar challenges of sustainability and funding to maintain its accessibility.

The love, connections and life giving experiences that these spaces created were rare and that's what drew people to the spaces. However, the structure was not sustainable because the bulk of the emotional, physical, financial and spiritual costs of keeping the spaces open, landed on Georgia and Afifa. Eventually, this cost was too much for Georgia and she moved away from the daily operations of the spaces and took on a more advisory role.
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What I learned

Just after Georgia switched roles, Afifa and I crossed paths in Trinidad and Tobago and I decided that I wanted to support the daily operations of the spaces. I came to Jamaica ready and prepared to get in the trenches and learned five very important lessons that I think are worth sharing:

  1. I cannot give if I don't have enough for my  basic needs. On one had this sounds truly selfish and in some cases it may be, however, having created similar spaces in the past I knew that the best example I could give is by taking good care of me first. Once my basic needs - emotional, physical, psychological, financial - were met, then I could share the extra with anyone I choose.

  2. In a community, there must be a balance of give and take. Every member must bring something useful to share so that when they take, there will be something left for others to have. There doesn't need to be any limitations on what can be brought, but everyone needs to bring something to share - time, energy, money, food, resources, skills etc.

  3. People are complex, our collective and individual traumas need our attention and time to heal. This requires us to take time, move slowly and with compassion.

  4. Knowing why you are doing something helps tremendously when the pressure hits, but getting to the "why" is a wok. It requires complete honesty with yourself which can be very scary.

  5. Building sometimes requires letting go of ideas, people, things to make room for what is to come. Saying goodbye is sometimes the best thing for everyone.

Another door opens...

After 5 years at the HQ and Di ISL, I leave with more love, experience, passion and hope for the future. I give thanks for having the privilege of meeting, growing and learning closely with two of the most auh-mazing human beings I have ever meet - Georgia & Afifa.

I give thanks for the world history and music education that I received courtesy of Zanj and Afifa and the encouragement they gave for me to explore music and sound through my program on Zanj Radio.

I give thanks for the highs and the lows, the conflict and the magic, the love and the hope of learning to live at the HQ and look forward to seeing how our paths cross again.

This  week's meditation is a tribute to my time spent at the HQ and Di ISL and a special thank-you to Afifa Aza for doing the necessary work and being the incredible  woman that she is. As always, it it an hour of sounds rooted the Caribbean experience.

Left to Right: Afifa, Isabel & Georgia

Liked it? Check out Free Yuhself the Podcast for more like this.

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