Entry #4- “The Gift of Me: Reclamation”

Maven Viesha “Vi” Andrews (they/them) is an alumnx of our inaugural Maven Leadership Cohort. Born and raised in Miami, Vi Andrews is a community builder, marketing professional, producer and photographer. After losing 200 pounds and transforming their life through health and fitness, they are committed to inspiring others through their own journey of self acceptance and making the most out of life every day. They are most passionate about seeking Black queer liberation through storytelling and supporting storytellers to help get their work to the audiences that need to see it. Vi now calls Miami, Atlanta and Mexico City home.

This is the fourth entry in a four-part series where Maven Viesha “Vi” Andrews shares her personal journey and the growing insight that has accompanied it through a written narrative and images from their emerging lens-based practice.

I was 22 years old when I “came out of the closet” to my parents. I had just moved back to Miami after graduating from Florida State University. Like most young people, my time in college provided me the opportunity to explore new parts of myself freely and far away from possible judgment of those who had known me all of my life. For me, this included interrogating the feelings that I’d held for years deep down regarding my sexuality. During my time in school, I created a life where I experimented with who I was and who I Ioved. I found a supportive community who was there to help me through the journey of discovering (and loving) my queer identity. By the time I graduated, identifying as a Black, queer woman became one of the most important parts of myself. But, no one back home knew this part of me. Moving back to Miami made me confront how I would navigate this “new” identity back home. Would I continue to hide this part of myself that I’d come to love soo deeply or would I share this with my family, regardless of the reaction? The decision came much quicker than I wanted. I had been invited to be a part of the inaugural cohort for Maven Leadership Collective. I was so proud of this achievement and wanted to walk into the experience fully. The night before the announcement, I decided to sit my parents down and through an unnecessarily long declaration, I told them that I dated women and was queer. Imagine my surprise and sigh of relief at my mother’s response, “Are we supposed to be surprised?”, followed by a big hug and loving affirmations. For years, I had been so worried about keeping the biggest parts of myself a secret from my family, and I was willing to continue that. It turned out that the whole time, they were ready to love and accept me fully, no matter what. I had underestimated my family’s ability to understand and make space for all of me.


I felt a similar internal struggle when I came back to Miami for the first time after moving to Mexico. Spending a transformative few months there changed me. I had discovered new parts of myself. My way of living had been altered and the manner in which I showed up in the world was bolder and bigger. I questioned what I would do with all of this “newness” back home. I was worried about how I would reorient back to the States, and most importantly, how this new version of me would be received by those who knew me before I left. I was hesitant, a part of me felt like people wouldn’t understand the experiences I had in Mexico or how deeply I had changed. While I thought about keeping it to myself, I knew that this profound journey of self discovery wasn’t something to just hide away.


Upon returning to the States, I decided that I didn’t want to “reassimilate” to the hyper-productive, self-sabotaging customs that had triumphed over me before. I had changed, and the gifts I received during my time abroad gave me the tools and courage to navigate this landscape in a new way. The process to show up in a new way within a system that is deeply rooted in people of color draining ourselves for its benefit is much easier said than done. I’ve been presented with many challenges, like setting hard boundaries with work and pushing back when they were not respected and being more open with those around me, sharing more of my discomforts and desires.


I’m grateful that my family and friends were excited and eager to hear all about my adventures. Being welcomed back by so many people made it easier for me to open up and share it all: photos, stories, and new habits I had picked up. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to return home, share my experiences, and inspire those around me to embark on their own wellness quests. It’s been encouraging to see the impact, whether it’s my parents obtaining their first passports and becoming world travelers in their late 50s, or friends pursuing more intentional lives—at home and abroad.


Outro


I often ponder if African American queer liberation is possible on others’ land and how we can ethically achieve our deserved pleasure without repeating destructive cycles. As I continue to seek those answers with community, I thank Mexico for holding me during such a transformative time and allowing me to undergo a change that significantly altered the course of my life.


While I found my freedom by exploring deep within myself while also immersed within the rich culture of Mexico, I’ve learned that self exploration doesn’t only happen through travel. You can foster it right where you are by taking advantage of the many tiny moments of slowness in our lives. As queer, people of color surviving daily in a hyper-productive society, accessing these moments can be challenging, but it is vital work. Be still enough to listen to what the voices deep inside are trying to say.


With the state of the world as it is right now, it admittedly is hard to write about self care, pleasure, and wellness. However, our liberation is dependent on us fully knowing who we are and what we can bring to the table to support each other. I was able to find answers for myself once I slowed down, embraced stillness, and allowed myself to follow where the universe was trying to lead me. I am better for myself and for my community because of where I’ve been. Looking back on my growth over the last few years, the community of support I’ve gained, and the self love I’ve nurtured, I feel more hopeful about what can happen when we take time to pour into ourselves. Intentionally slowing down is a powerful act of resistance. Now is a better time than any to prioritize wellness in whichever ways we can, in order to show up stronger in our communities. Our interconnected liberation is counting on our rest and wellness.