Gia M. Hamilton, cultural practitioner and entrepreneur, has worked at the heart of art, healing, food security and education to help build sustainable communities for the past 20 years. Hamilton, a native New Orleanian, received her Bachelor’s in cultural anthropology with a minor in visual art from New York University and her Master’s in applied anthropology from City Univeristy of New York.
Gia M. Hamilton
is In Wild Air
Shamans, healers and griots have held culture and stories of communities for centuries. In a world of big data and technology, I am constantly contemplating the place that these archetypes have in the contemporary canon. The urban shaman understands the chaotic often times unexplainable energy of the environment and can point out ways to reframe our experiences so that we feel more connected. VUCA ( which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) seems to represent this transitional time between the beginning of this technological age and the age of full integrated human knowledge. The urban healer—such as myself—looks at organizations and groups the way a holistic doctor approaches the body: as complex systems operating on an external and internal level as well as from micro to macro and back and forth. In order to address root cause, we must first establish the pain, trauma and imbalance. Within organizations, I find that when our systems remain inequitable and based on a unilateral power structure we cannot possibly benefit from shared and integrated learning and therefore holistic problem solving. And finally urban griots exist to listen first, to observe and pay attention to the signs of the time and to accurately, passionately and skillfully deliver stories and qualitative data that allows for comprehensive decision making that evolve cultural and societal norms.
As we continue to merge with technology, our brains, actions and thought processes shifting, it is the healer, the shaman and the griot who will ultimately tell us what it means to be human and act as the witness while creating the moral and ethical lexicon. I am always on the lookout for my tribe, when we see each other there is a greeting in our concrete jungles and urban surroundings that allows us to know that we feel, think and breathe the people, the place and the universal truths that exist all around and through us.
I gave birth to four people. I sometimes call them little people, not in the sense that they are not whole, just not big yet. I gave birth to four sons and each birth acted as a catalyst for greater knowing and my inner wisdom to emerge. They don’t know it yet, but they are my teachers. They don’t understand it yet, but they chose me.
On any given day my tasks range from wiping runny noses to putting together an excel spreadsheet of the weekly schedule, then revising said schedule, then confirming said schedule again to make sure everyone is where they say they should be or want to be or at least where I can find them. I am a benevolent dictator, kind and loyal, I allow input. I foster independence. I require community involvement. We develop trust. Humour is a requirement. Self-righteousness is the devil’s tool. It requires concentration and just enough of a stoic expression to impress that you do not give shit or that you might do just about anything, thus be reckoned with. I give hugs and kisses. Compliments are a joy. Nasty attitudes are both sided. I must apologize. They know I’m not perfect and that hurts sometimes. They know I make mistakes and I turn them into great conversations. I rap with them and b-box with them. It is important to run, and tickle and jump and laugh and cry with them. They are in the process of leaving and becoming benevolent dictators of themselves.
I wish I had my oldest sense of self and “fuck it” attitude. I wish I had my second oldest son’s focus and drive. I wish I had my third oldest son’s creative edge and sheer strength and I wish I had my youngest son’s charm and rhythm. We all need therapy, there’s a jar for saving for that in our house. We all need space, so we retreat to quiet spaces in our house. We all need to know that we are connected, so we share meals with fresh flowers and cloth napkins and home cooked food. We all need to make a contribution so we pick chores like lots and pray for the chore we least mind. We all need to cuddle and be touched with love and tickled until we cry.
Door of No Return
I stood in Congo Square in New Orleans, my hometown and paid homage to the my ancestors who were once allowed to gather in this place on Sundays only. Before leaving this place, I poured libation as every good spiritualist knows to do and left to take a trip to Laplace, Louisiana the brain space of the largest slave revolt in American history which took place in 1811 during a march from LaPlace to New Orleans. Along this journey 45 minutes north of New Orleans, I tried to imagine what the journey had been like, to march, drum, stop, and rest but most of all contemplate the possibility of your morbid fate. Once in LaPlace, I saw the markers, small and insignificant to the layman. In the middle of a busy highway, in a place that almost no one would see or think to look was a placard that read, “Slave Revolt 1811 …” It started here.
Weeks later, I would board a plane for the motherland but make a conspicuous stop in Paris to visit a friend. The trip was longer than any other international trip I could remember and then, finally, I set foot in a place that was so familiar and yet so foreign. My cafe au lait skin spoke of my foreign origins. I explained, “Mon père est sénégalais et ma mère est créole. Je suis né à la Nouvelle-Orléans.” There was an accepting smile afterwards and then my polite greeting of “nanga-def ...” and more delighted grins would appear.
On my last day in Dakar, I would travel to Goree Island to meet a friend Joseph who had lived in New Orleans years earlier and he would walk me around the island to see the Door of No Return and where the creoles lived on the island and after I walked into the chamber, in tears, filled with anger and gratitude; I emerged and poured my last drops of water onto the dusty ground giving libration to the ancestors. We walked a few feet more before the eldest woman on the island—la grand-mere—summoned me over and Joseph translated, she called me her daughter and smiled at me. Her face was caramel not to different than my own and before I could speak she placed an amber necklace around my neck and welcomed me home.
A Family Photo
One of my favorite photos that I have reproduced so many times that the pixels have become a part of the story of the picture.
I sit, skin yellow like butter on top of my great grandmother’s lap, just a toddler, holding a pink play phone chewing on the cord, probably teething. She envelopes me with her embrace, black like coffee, toothy grin and full of pride. Her husband, my great grandfather, sits next to her stoic and strong. Head tilted forward slightly, holding his cane posing for the family portrait. Behind us is my older brother an eleven year old buck toothed, giggling boy with a powder blue blazer on. My mother, my beautiful fair skinned, curly haired, bright eyed mother in her lilac dress looks off to the side, she never fully learns to take a photo without looking away. My daddy, coco hued, large afro with a turtleneck that indicates that he likes jazz and may be a scholar: both are true. My aunt who looks a like a young Diane Carol, young and sprite, head cocked, 20-something and fierce. Next to them are my grandmother, renaissance woman, Edna, I say her name as often as I can remember to invoke her spirit. The world traveler, public health professional who built her dream house while midwifing babies in New Orleans into the world and caring for sick in their homes in the ninth ward and my grandfather, caramel colored, tall and handsome, towering above the family as if to stand his ground in protecting us all. I get to project my revisions of our history onto this photo. I get to erase certain memories when I glance at it. I get to remember togetherness and legacy. I get to aspire to this level of love.
Dance is my most intimate ritual, so much so that I usually don’t like to do it with anyone unless we vibe. I like to be social. Dance classes make me cringe. Picture a dark maroon red room, smoke filled with a house music pulsating through your body. Everyone is there for the same reason: to dance. Moving and connecting, sometimes it is sexual, sometimes it is acrobatic, it can be competitive or even hedonistic, but rarely, very rarely disengaged. Use all parts of your body to communicate and fully express an emotion, a cycle in life, a period or moment in time. No talking, just looking, more feeling, no possession. Dance with one partner and move with fluidity to the next like water flowing from pitcher to glass.
Dance is my first love. It gets me all excited and makes promises of total body spirit trance and I fall every time. When DJ Sabine or Jellybean Benitez spins rumba and house and drummers tap to accentuate the rhythms my body becomes some other form. And when my body becomes some other form, I transcend. I am no longer and I am liberated and connected at the same time. I am something. I am some thing. I am sum thing. I am something connected with air, bodies, floor, ceiling, space. In the middle of moving I know that a movement is new when I smile because I pulled it off flawlessly and I know it is familiar when I can move more than one part at a time to different off-syncopated beats. Hips bouncing, legs stomping, feet tapping and neck gyrating and arms swaying all around to each instrument. When I dance, I am lifted from normalcy and gifted with gravity defying power to lift, push and project my body in ways that feel alien and then I know what OutKast was talking about.
The Modern Matriarch
“When I dare to be powerful…to use my strength in the services of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — Audre Lourde
Matriarchy is described as a system or form of government ruled by a woman or by women; a form of social organization in which descent and relationship are reckoned through the female line. It is also defined as the female head of a clan or tribal line. The Modern Matriarch repurposes the traditional uses of matriarchy for contemporary cultural needs. It allows a new definition of happiness, success and celebrates creative expression in ways that ultimately balance the energetic force and allow us all to appreciate, recognize, and revel in the awesomeness that is the art of giving birth and nurturing a thing to fruition or person to their actualized self. The Modern Matriarch offers a proposal for an evolved way of thinking, visioning, and acting in our everyday life. It uses the inherent strengths of the female or yin energy to balance our collective and global chi. There is something powerfully complex to be learned when we study, acknowledge and celebrate the work of mothers and matriarchs; being biologically or physiologically female is not necessary to gain new perspective or shift from your old paradigm when learning to embrace the inner matriarch. The Modern Matriarch looks at archetypical signals from history and holds space for matriarchs to self identify, reclaim physical and conceptual spaces and to act with the intention of purpose work.
In my presentations that center Head, Heart, and Healing work at the core, I share that following our intuition, being acutely aware of our bodies desire to heal and mind’s natural acquisition of information; we can retool the ways of our ancestors and elders for a new way of existing in our complex and often times chaotic society. The Modern Matriarch utilizes the research from feminist theory married with womanist thought leadership and holistic healing techniques to present one woman’s story of transformation, shape shifting, and evolution with the hope that nuggets, moments of connectivity and vulnerable stories of growth with support your inner matriarch.