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by Brittney Boyd Bullock

I recently attended the National Guild for Community Arts Education Conference, where I met incredible people working in the field of healing and trauma-related spaces. Now, when I walk into a room I always assess the environment and most times I’m looking for the seat where I want my energy to rest.

Before the session began, I chose a seat next to “Maestro” Jerry, not knowing it was the perfect seat for me. The session started, we introduced ourselves, and right off we began to build community by honoring our families and inviting our ancestors into the room. But that was only a small part of what made this session so transformative. During the day our two facilitators would drop stories to thread what we were learning during the session to everyday life.

One story resonated with me, and it was about Ronnie, Jerry’s baby cousin. Ronnie was the baby of the family and described as “crybaby." He would cry when something was wrong and he would cry when things were fine. One particular day Ronnie was crying from the bedroom, and Jerry’s grandmother asked him to see what was wrong. Jerry, who wasn't really up for it, said, “It’s Ronnie and he always cries.” After no movement from Jerry, grandmother headed to the room to appease Ronnie, and Jerry followed behind. Ronnie had a dirty diaper, judging by the stench coming from the room, and needed to be changed. So grandmother picked little Ronnie up, held him tight in her arms and patted his back until the crying stopped. Grandmother knew Ronnie needed comfort and was not at all concerned about the dirtying of his or her clothes, by now the “accident” had transferred from him to her. But it didn't matter because Ronnie needed comfort and love during that moment and she was willing and able to give it to him.

As Jerry told this story in much more detail, and as I listened, I thought: This is the perfect analogy for any person working with young people. It was apparent and self-explanatory -- when working with young people whether you want it or not you will get a little bit of their love, their challenges, their biases, and mess on you. And as practitioners and supportive adults, we always have to be mindful of this and willing to give comfort and compassion, even when it’s messy.

I get to work with truth-tellers. People who question processes and methodology; who call things out the way they are, sometimes lovingly and other times not, and who see straight through inauthenticity. Young people have the power to shift a room, and I get the privilege to share space, time and energy with them. What I’ve learned over the years is you have to be in tune to who you are, and to your self-healing and values if you want to be effective.

MMI Works has expanded its vision not only of the opportunities for young people, but also on the importance of how we as adults engage and interact with their best interest in mind. When we surround our young people and support to them to find their light -- not the light they think we want to see, but their true light -- we then start a trajectory of hope. When we value the sacredness of welcoming, we build relationships that help to support young people with their stories, goals and aspirations. That’s what we, at MMI Works, are always striving to do.


Brittney Boyd Bullock born and raised in Memphis Tennessee has worked as Project Manager at the Urban Art Commission managing the city’s largest public art archive and as the Partnerships and Community Engagement Manager for Crosstown Concourse & Crosstown Arts overseeing a variety of collaborative creative programs and exhibitions. She now holds the position of Youth Program Manager for the Memphis Music Initiative helping to build sustainable relationships with Memphis' youth while implementing youth-led and youth-driven programs. Her passion for cultivating trust and lasting relationships has helped to naturally create opportunities for collaboration with various communities, organizations, and artists that invite participation from a broad range of backgrounds and expertise. As a former fellow and now mentor of the ArtUp Fellowship, her interests in community engagement and social change has led her to an artistic practice that embraces the idea of redefining why to create, how to create, and for what purpose. In 2017, the Kresge Foundation awarded Bullock and community partner to implement a creative entrepreneurship project by using art as the vehicle for civic practice and social enterprise. As a freelance artist, she is most interested in art that questions and analyzes identity, culture, and the notions of power and ownership.