Community

Divisions & Connections

I’ve found ways to keep connections going, but it's required me to be more intentional than I was pre-pandemic.

This has been like a really interesting time business because so many people are reaching out and interested in supporting the work I’ve been doing since 2012. Having these new opportunities that didn’t exist a few weeks ago is exciting.

But it’s also been hard interpersonally.

There are a lot of divisions — specifically around race and wealth — that were very easy to ignore pre-pandemic that are front and center now. I’ve found ways to keep connections going, but it’s required me to be more intentional than I was pre-pandemic. There are a lot of things I can’t ignore anymore.

What I Can’t Ignore Anymore

I went to mostly black elementary, middle and high schools. Then in grad school, I went to predominantly white institutions. My parents are immigrants, and they raised me to believe in respectability politics.

The older I got and the more racial consciousness I gained

I was very often the only black person in the room. Situations would arise that made me uncomfortable. But instead of learning how to speak up, how to say that’s not OK or how to push back, I shut down.

I’d keep it tight to the vest and talk about it when I’d encounter another black person. The older I got and the more racial consciousness I gained, I came to understand that classism doesn’t protect me from anything and being a model minority doesn’t protect me — there are real injustices, and my feelings are valid.

But now white people in my community who want to be called allies are just now allowing themselves to reflect on how they’ve benefited from a harmful system that has denigrated people who look like me. It’s making me reflect on who is actually doing work and who just wants the “ally cookie” without doing any of the work.

I want to be around people who are on the same “burn it all down; build something better” wave that I was already on. I can’t go back to being the quiet Antonia. I’m Tomi, and this is what Tomi thinks and this is how Tomi feels. We’re aligned or we’re not. No pun intended, but it’s very black and white for me. Good enough isn’t good enough for me anymore.

How I’m Maintaining Connections During the Pandemic

I have pretty bad asthma, and I’m very risk-averse. So, I’m very clear on my boundaries. I have made it very clear with friends that I’m not one for social-distance walking. I’m not going to an open-air bar. But I’m great for a Zoom call, Zoom game night, a FaceTime, texting, phone calls.

I can still maintain connections with friends, but I’m not taking a risk to see you. I can see you from my phone and feel safe.

Also, as I work on scaling my business, I’m thankful for a friend who runs an amazing group called The Well. It’s a community of black women who are entrepreneurial and trying to figure out how to navigate these different places. She created a mastermind for people who have community-based businesses, who want to learn how to level-up their businesses.

Plus, I’m also still finding ways to stay in touch with friends with mater mea. I had an event series called Mom’s Night In. It revolved around a topic, and I would always have a therapist or mental health professional on hand to answer women’s questions. So on Thursdays from 8 to 10 p.m., as many as 20 or as few as four people would gather and share stories and ask questions, and that was a way of community-building as well.

So, I’m finding ways.