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In August, the MMI Grantmaking and Capacity Building (GMCB) team hosted its first-ever Leadership Respite Retreat for grantee partners in Gatlinburg, Tennessee at Big Elk Lodge. The GMCB team invited nine arts leaders at eight grantee organizations for a three-day wellness retreat to encourage true rest and relaxation. Arts organization leaders give so much of themselves to their communities, and MMI was delighted to facilitate some space for those leaders to pause and to breathe. 

This week we're sharing reflections written by different members of the MMI team. Today, our INE Program Director, Brianna Harrington, reflects on what "self care" really looks like, and why its impact cannot be overstated.  

In alignment with the Black Rest Matters initiative of our Call & Response campaign, the MMI GMCB team hosted our first Black Rest Matters Respite Retreat for our grantee partners in August. Over the course of three days, tucked deep in the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains, amongst a small but mighty group of 15 (including eight organizational leaders and five MMI staffers) a truly transformative experience took place. 

To fully understand the impact of this retreat, it is most important to understand the leaders. Our grantee organizations are led by some of the most selflessly dedicated individuals that you could have the pleasure to meet. Working endlessly to meet the needs of the young people and families involved in their organizations, maintaining full time artistry in addition to full-time employment for some, all while managing home and family commitments tends to leave virtually no time for rest let alone self care. Understanding these daily demands, MMI enlisted the services of Holistic Life Coach, Jackie O, who led various sessions of self-care practices  tailored to the needs of our attendees.

Having had the opportunity to participate in meditations, breathwork, light yoga, and a sound bath, each person walked away from this retreat with their own transformative moments, significant memories, and realizations. As a facilitator of this experience, the most transformative moments were not my own, but the shifts that I witnessed. Having the opportunity to spend so much time strengthening existing relationships and building new relationships with our grantee partners allowed me to get a sense of each individual's path to this moment of respite. Observing the paradigm shift from the belief that self care was a selfish moment to be “earned” to the understanding of self care as a right and act of resistance of the systems we work to dismantle daily, is an opportunity that I am grateful to have shared with this group. 

Self care is, by nature, an act of self preservation. An act of self preservation that illustrates the understanding that while the work must go on, we must rest in order to do the work. As we concluded the retreat we shared reflections and heard from leaders who now understood that their inclination to resist taking an hour to eat lunch during a busy day or the aversion to simply enjoying their favorite TV shows because it felt “lazy” was in fact, a detrimental practice. Maintaining high levels of stress with no form of self care to restore the internal balance can have extreme effects on both mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Since the retreat, our partners have reached out to let us know that the tools they gained during this experience have allowed them to build their own self care practices. Integrating these practices, however small they may be, results in an improved daily experience. Being able to contribute to the self care journey of another person is a truly rewarding experience, one I didn’t anticipate when I joined MMI. I look forward to continued ripple effects from this experience and the opportunity to continue this revolutionary work with this extraordinary group, one day at a time.

If you missed yesterday's reflection from Dr. Rychetta Watkins, you can read it here! Come back tomorrow for a final reflective piece by Tawanna Brown, formerly our Community Grants Program Manager, and more photos from the weekend! Black rest matters.