SOLHOT Saving Yourself First

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Here in the local community, I am a part of a phenomenal group called Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT). SOLHOT is a space organized for and by Black women and girls. Within SOLHOT, female student volunteers from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign come together with Black girls (6th to 12th grade) in the Champaign, Urbana, and Rantoul communities to share their stories and lived experiences, sing, dance, and cry through celebration of self.

In my two years of working with SOLHOT I have had the pleasure to witness the growth and development of all SOLHOT spaces. Currently, SOLHOT operates in 2 middle schools and 2 high schools, not to mention the many conferences and performances that are attended and given yearly, all in the name of Black girlhood celebration.

Each meeting, the volunteers and girls return to SOLHOT for a refreshing way to start or end their week while delivering new and invigorating discussions and activities. How is SOLHOT able to deliver something new and stimulating every week? Bringing something new to the table is accomplished through daily reflections that enable women and girls to fully participate and engage in the celebration of individuals and the collective space. Doing daily reflections is the most difficult task when trying to improve the group as well as oneself. Some of the hardest moments in the space include stories about past/present relationships, learning to unlearn, racism, facing and breaking traditions, recognition about the ways in which we are affected by our institutions, fears, insecurities, and many more deep and heart felt experiences. However, through these “difficulties,” everyone has the opportunity to mature, self-reflect, and celebrate our own lived experiences as well others. These most difficult times contribute to many projects, activities and discussions that challenge us to think more critically and analytically about why self-reflection and celebration affect every day lived experiences (positively or negatively).

One major principle of SOLHOT is to “save yourself first.” This particular principle is how SOLHOT differs from most girl groups, we are not in the practice of girl saving. In the vein of “saving yourself first,” volunteers in SOLHOT do not come into the space with the misconceived notion that the issues we face are more important than those the girls face. Nor do we enter the space trying to hide our concerns. If we do enter the space believing that our issues are more important, that we have all the answers or trying to hide our own struggles, SOLHOT will become unproductive and stagnant. SOLHOT cannot and will not function fully unless our truths are re-vealed, acknowledged and respected.

Since we (volunteers and girls) are all human, this can happen; however, this is when self-reflection and saving ourselves first is critical. Although I have been working with SOLHOT for two years now, it is still refreshing to be reminded of the importance of self-reflection. Since I do SOLHOT as a way of life, meaning I do not just participate in SOLHOT in the loosely structured afternoon space, I am always thinking about SOLHOT.

While watching the movie Devil (2010), I was reminded of self-reflection. This horror film is about 5 individuals who are trapped in an elevator and realize that the devil is amongst them. One of the trapped individuals was able to save himself because he confessed a sin he had tried to cover up and forget. Once he was honest with himself he was able to evade the devil and death. Of course this resonated with my experiences in SOLHOT.

In my mind , I screamed, “save yourself first!” When you address your own issues without trying to save others from theirs, then and only then will you be able to help others. Unlike the movie, however, it may not be the actual devil you evade, but the meta-phorical demons (issues) that we try and hide and forget. In SOLHOT, we recognize that it is imperative that we all actively engage in self-reflection for the sake of black girl hood celebration and personal well-being.

I myself have experienced the difficulties of addressing those “demons,” but managed to confront them when I took the time to reflect on the space as well as myself. A perfect example occurred during a SOLHOT session. Both volunteers and girls spent time sharing who we REALLY are as a way to really get to know each other and for us all to be vulnerable in the space. From the discussion we, the volunteers, initially thought we had had “the breakthrough” we had been striving for, however, the more I reflected the more uneasy I felt.

Then it dawned on me in an “ah-ha” moment. The reality of my reflection hit with full force and I feared what it truly meant. This “breakthrough” session started to look more and more like the ‘girl saving’ model we were tryingso hard not to follow. I realized while reflecting on the space and my personal intentions that I had become so wrapped up in how I thought the space should work for the girls that I didn’t take the cues they were giving me. In that moment, the space was not about the girls in SOLHOT and that is NOT SOLHOT. All the girls wanted to do was come to SOLHOT and discuss and hangout, yet we had required that they come and share despite not being totally comfortable. From that reflection I learned that it is not about me and how I feel the group should work. SOLHOT is about the girls and how they can learn from the space by just being there. As adults, we cannot justly inflict our own expectations and try and make them work out our way. SOLHOT expects us to be ourselves-period. Without self-reflection I would have continued to run the space how I saw fit and not how it needed to be run. As a result, I took a step back, re-grouped, and improved the space based on the girls’ needs not my own.

Reflection is difficult, but so very necessary, especially when working in spaces like SOLHOT. It is through reflection that our work is able to grow and improve. It is through self-reflection and “saving oneself first” that SOLHOT will be relevant and exist for years to come.

About Porshe Garner

Porshe Garner is a graduate student in Educational Policy Studies Organizational Leadership Program at the U of I.
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