Meet the EHF Fellows: Sonya Renee Taylor


(audience claps) (speaking in foreign language) – I’d like to just take a moment and honor my ancestors,
very specifically, my mother who passed away five years ago today. So I’m inviting the spirit in love and light of Terry Lynne
Hines into the space today. I’m gonna ask you all to do
me a favor really quickly. I know you have things in
your hands but I want you to take your hands and put
them together like this. Create some heat, some friction, feel some things, right? Make them real warm and real hot, and then I want you to take those hands (everyone laughs) and I want you to put them
on your heart, like this. And I want you to just take a second and be present to your heartbeat, to that thing inside of your
body that has you be allowed to be here in community today. That (speaking in foreign language) that the Creator gave you, all right, that you are sharing
with us by your presence. And then I’m gonna ask you
to listen from that space. Because we can’t create
an equitable spaceworld, we can’t end the sort of tragedy of rape and sexual violence. We can’t create a block-chain that doesn’t replicate violence
and oppression in the world if we don’t build from this place, right? And so, the work that
I do is as the founder and radical executive officer of The Body Is Not An Apology. We are a digital media
and education platform focused on radical self-love as the foundational
tool for social justice and global transformation. Essentially I just mean
that we can’t build any of those things we said we wanna build without building the infrastructure first
inside of ourselves based on our relationship
with our own beings and our own bodies, and
then translating that work into the work that we do
in the world to create a more equitable, just,
and compassionate planet, ’cause that’s the one I wanna live on, I don’t know about y’all, but that’s, that’s what I wanna do. All right so, I wanna share
about sort of how we started because I don’t think it matters as much what we do as how we do it, right? The spirit in which we create the things. So, many years ago, about 2010, I am a performance poet by trade. If you didn’t notice,
I’m a little theatrical. I like to say I came outta my mama with jazz hands, which was
really uncomfortable for her. (laughing) But as a performance
poet, about six years ago, I was in Tennessee
preparing for a competition with a team of folks and I
was having a conversation with a friend who was afraid that she had an unintended pregnancy. I’m nosy and I get in your
business if you let me, there are a couple of people in the room who will attest to that. Who have I, raise your hand if
I’ve gotten in your business. Yes, look at that! Oh, I’m in so many people’s
business, it makes me happy. And so, I asked her what
made her make the decision to have unprotected sex
with this casual partner, that had her in the
situation that she was in? And she shared with me that because of her disability,
she had cerebral palsy, it made it difficult for her to be sexual and so she didn’t feel entitled to ask the person to use a condom. And my response to her
in the conversation was your body is not an apology. It is not something you offer to someone to say sorry for my disability. And when I said those words, I believe that language has the
possibility to create, right, obviously it does ’cause
we wouldn’t be here today if it were not for a word that created the opening end space, right? And so, I opened that space with Your Body Is Not
An Apology, and I knew that it would become a
poem, and so I’m gonna share the poem with you
that this idea came from. The body is not an apology. Let it not be forget-me-not
fixed to mattress when night threatens
to leave the room empty as the belly of a crow. The body is not an apology. Do not present it as a disassembled rifle when they have yet to
prove themselves more than common intruder. The body is not an apology. Let it not be common
as oil, ash or toilet. Let it not be small as
gravel, stain or teeth. Let it not be mountain when it is grass. Let it not be ocean when it is sand. Let it not be shaken, flattened
or raised in contrition. The body is not an apology. Do not present the body
as communion, confession. Do not ask for it to be
pardoned as criminal. The body is not a crime, is not a gun, is not a spill to be contained, it’s not a lost set of
keys, a wrong number dialed. It is not the orange burst of blood to shame white dresses. The body is not an apology. It is not a father’s back hand. It’s not mother’s dinner late again, wrecked jaw howl, it is
not the drunken sorcery of contorting steel, round tree. The body is not calamity,
the body is not a math test, the body is not a wrong answer, the body is not a failed class. You are not failing. The body is not an apology. It is not a cavity, not
a hole to be filled, to be yanked out, not a
broken thing to be mended, be tossed, the body is not prison, is not sentenced to be
served, is not pavement, is not prayer. Do not present the body as
gift, only receive it as such. The body is not to be prayed for, is to be prayed to, so for the ever more
tortile 10th-grade nose. Hallelujah. For the shower song throat that crackles like a grandfather’s Victrola, hallelujah. For the spine that never healed, for the broken heart that
didn’t either, hallelujah, for the sloping pulp of
back, hip, belly, Hosanna, for the errant hairs that rove the face like a pack of misplaced wolves, Hosanna, for the parts we have
endeavored to excise, blessed be the cancer, the palsy, the wound that opens like a trapdoor, praise the body in its blackjack magic, even in this. For the razor wire mouth. For the sweet God ribbon within, praise. For the mistake that never was, praise. For the mistake you never were. For the bend, twist, fall, and rise again, fall, and rise again, for the raising, like an obstinate Christ. For the salvation of a body that bends like a baptismal bowl. For those who will worship at the lip of this sanctuary, praise the body for the body is not an apology, the body is deity. The body is God. The body is God, the only righteous love who will never need repent. Thank you. From those words, a movement was birthed. And from that movement,
a company was birthed. A digital media and education platform focused on how we
transform our relationships with the body so that we
can transform the world. To the place where all of our bodies are allowed to live in the
divine, equity and brilliance which we were inherently born into. You don’t have to become, you already are. Our work is to remove the obstructions that keep us from blossoming
into the most radical, unapologetic transformative versions of ourselves that the
Creator has destined for us. Thank you. (audience claps and cheers) (lively music)

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