Tonita

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“People often tell me that I’m strong. I used to wonder what they were seeing because it was at those times that I felt the most vulnerable. I believe that what they are seeing is not just me, but the mothers, aunts, grandmothers and ancestors surrounding and supporting me and keeping me standing when I feel like collapsing. I grew up in West Philadelphia where there was always a neighbor sitting on the porch watching our for the kids. We were free to play but if we even thought about getting into trouble or staying out too late, one of the porch ladies would either call us out or call our parents! When I got older, I would take the time to sit on their porches with them and listen to their stories. Their stories of grief and loss and love and restoration and perseverance gave me a foundation today that is hard to shake. I have experienced deep loss, love and near financial ruin in my years here but I have also discovered a deep connection to my ancestors. I hear their wisdom, I listen to them and I remember their stories. They hold me up when I feel like collapsing and it’s their strength that people on the outside often see.”

Sandy

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“Something that makes me feel powerful in my life and in my work is something that I’ve come to the conclusion very recently is that I can affect things around me in a very specific way that I never really thought about before. I used to sort of allow the wood or the work or whatever situation to sort of mold me and I realized that I don’t have to put up with that. I can make things change to my liking. I don’t know why that’s such an epiphany but it is – and it’s something that’s very useful in my life and useful in my work and it’s something that makes my art much better than it used to be because I don’t allow the material or the situation to affect me as it used to now I can control the entire process, and that to me is a very powerful thing and very exciting to find out.”

On Vulnerability

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I have met with 70 strong women for the Strength Source Project so far – and today I was  reading through the responses and reflecting upon them – and looking at the portraits I have taken.  When I look at the portraits I often look at the eyes and I see a range of emotions; sometimes I see pain, or joy, contentment, confidence, warmth, peace, caution, an air of “oh hell yes I have made it this far”, and of course – strength. Sharing your story and putting your feelings out there takes courage – you are making yourself vulnerable and opening up to other people, including people you have never met. I think that in an increasingly hostile world it is so important that we maintain some vulnerability and the willingness to remain open. The #metoo movement has gained such force and momentum because so many women have decided to share their experiences with others.  I am grateful to all of those women, and I am grateful to all of the women who have shared and participated in this project.

Tessa

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“One thing that I’m doing in my life right now that feels like a risk and feels like it takes a lot of strength to try again for – is moving in with my current girlfriend. I’ve only lived with one partner before and I was really in love with her and it was really, really heartbreaking when we broke up and when I had to move out. It feels really scary to be trying again, but I’m also really hopeful and feel like it’s a risk worth taking.”

Helen

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“I was thinking about things that make me feel strong and I thought about when I get a good grade or when I went to the women’s march and then I realize that those don’t make me feel as strong but it’s just proud of myself and I realize that what makes me feel really strong is interacting with other women that I know are really, really strong and women that I’ve grown up around and have been influenced by. And I think that one of the things that really both makes me feel strong and I can see affecting me in my day-to-day life is I feel like the strong women around me make me feel stronger than anything else.”

Marilyn

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“I’ve ridden bikes at various times in my life but just recently I’ve gone through a fractured tibia and I had to not walk on my leg so I was on crutches for six weeks and then physical therapy and I also had an operation on my heart which meant I was inactive and then had to build up my strength. So every time I get on my bike..and power my way through.. I feel like I am empowered like I am pedaling my way back to life, pedaling my way back to strength.”

Poppy

To me, pottery is just another perspective on life. Like anything in life, the more time I spend working on a wheel, the better I become. Although, there were some setbacks along the way, but I did not let them stop me. I learned from my own mistakes, sometimes others’, and made sure that I will not repeat them. When things do not go well, I keep telling myself that as long as I keep trying, things are only going to get better. But sometimes there are times when starting over is a better solution than to keep forcing myself to do the same thing – because deep down I know that it is not going to work out. Also, when you redo something, you are not starting from zero. You know what to do and what not. For instance, it took me five major attempts to form a 40″ amphora vase. It took me a lot of effort and time, then it fell over. But, I didn’t quit; I got right back on the wheel and started throwing a new one. This one turned out to be better and stronger than my previous one, but there were still some technical flaws. As I always tell my friends, practice makes improvement, not perfection. Pottery makes me more resilient.”

Jenny

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“Ever since I was a child I’ve dreamt about going to Europe. For a long time it seemed like that was all it would ever be, until last year that is. When I was on the bus touring London that first day I still couldn’t believe that I was an ocean away from everyone I knew. I was traveling with a group made up of mostly strangers in countries where English was a second language and this was a first for me.  All of my life I’ve had my family and friends basically right around the corner so if anything went wrong I could call them and someone would come and help me.  A few days into my trip I got lost in Italy. I was in the Vatican and I took a wrong turn.  Not only was my tour group nowhere to be seen but I soon discovered after asking for directions that I was surrounded by people who didn’t speak English …I was on my own, an ocean away from my family and friends, yet I didn’t panic. I came up with a game plan in case I missed the bus and just headed in the direction I believed our meeting spot was. You have to understand that I have no sense of direction so for me not to freak out was a big deal. I made it to the designated spot before our group did! We all laughed and discussed what they would do if they were left behind (many said they’d panic). I gained some confidence in myself after that. Before I left everyone kept telling me not to get lost because I wouldn’t know anyone there to help me, I would be totally on my own. I’m actually glad that I did in fact get lost because it showed me that I can rely on myself to get out of trouble.. that I don’t always need someone else to save me.  I had an amazing experience with strangers  and saw some breathtaking places. I felt so alive on that trip! It is definitely something I will never forget!”

Kyriakoula

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“When I was around twenty years old I was starting at the Archeological School of Athens where I had an opportunity to study abroad for a semester. This was in 1983, and I decided to study in East Germany because it cost a lot less money than studying in West Germany. So I embarked on that journey to East Germany and it was the first time that I was going outside of Greece. I did not do my homework and did not realize that East Germany was not like West Germany. I arrived without the correct currency, so I had no money, and I had to make this journey to the university – which was a 48 hour journey. So there I was, really young, with no money, and facing 48 hours of travel without knowing what I was going to do. I found my way around, asking and knowing little German – what train I was going to take. I was traveling day and night and meeting different people and having conversations with them. These people, they fed me for two days – from stop to stop. I slept anywhere that I could find until I reached my destination. That was an experience for me where I felt really strong and had come into my own — because if you know me, you know I am a really tiny person (she is 4 foot, 11 inches tall) and I was going to the land of giants. And I looked half my age at 21. So to be able to fight off any situation and to be able to arrive safely — that was quite a journey.”

Angelique

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“The single greatest gift I have ever given myself is to have forgiven and to allow that forgiveness to shift my story. I caution you, the reader, that my story can be triggering to folks who have a similar experience to mine. Still, I persist, In April of 2004 a man drugged my drink. 4 men tortured me as 1 held me down. 11-hours lost. I woke up in my apartment with a map of bruises in the shapes of hands and ropes. 5-hours in a rape kit at Long Island Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. The kindest thing anyone said to me that day was the x-ray technician. While examining my hands which were broken and had no skin left on the knuckles, she said, “Well, one thing is certain, you fought like hell.”

My investigator reported to me each week of how evidence had been picked up and then promptly disappeared.  I have never felt more defeated. I moved to a new neighborhood and attempted to play make-go-away. I nearly drowned in alcohol and denial. 

In 2007, a moment of clarity lead to a new way of life in which I emerged from a zombie-like sleep into a recovery awakening. Through therapy, meditation and a spiritual foundation I was able to recover all of my memory of the lost 11-hours. It took years to be in the right frame of mind to remember. I was relieved to get the missing pieces back and left with a choice. I had read the articles which had said I did not owe forgiveness to these men. Other women told me I was not obliged to forgive. While I do not disagree, my insides craved it. 

With the help of an incredible therapist, I went back to the memory one more time. The memory was of my consciousness floating above the scene. I gave my soul permission to sink into my body in that memory. I forgave my body for having the experience. I forgave the hands wrapped around my neck, arms, and ankles. I forgave each man who now had a face. I forgave them for wrapping my body in a tarp and intending it for the East River, and I thanked the driver for the change of heart who helped me escape. As I exited the process I realized that my story had been shifted. It was not that 5 men had attacked me. It was not that God had let it happen. It was that 5 men cannot kill me

Today, I live a life of service, healing, and education. I am a teacher of Reiki, meditation, communications and all things empowering. I help people to realize their access to power. In my understanding strength is the action that we take through the power that we receive. My power is my perception, and my strength is the action of love and vulnerability I share with my fellow humans with an unguarded heart. Each day, I remember what I am: unstoppable.” 

  • Angelique has dedicated her life to healing. She is a Reiki master and healing specialist. You can learn more at: www.heartevolver.com