A Year of Rest | Guest Stories

Meet More of Our Recipients of Rest

In partnership with Rachel Cargle, The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and Miir we’re giving away A Year of Rest, 365 nights in total, to those fighting for change. We’ll be sharing our recipients’ stories in the hopes of amplifying their voices and inspiring meaningful action in our community and beyond. 

Here are this week’s recipients of rest as described by those who nominated them:

Amber Canty
Amber Tamm is one of the most inspiring individuals I know. We met working together at a pie shop in Brooklyn where I learned her amazing story and witnessed her incredible drive and passion. Amber is a talented florist, horticulturist, and advocate for food sovereignty for low-income New Yorkers. She is also outspoken about the racism and oppression facing Black farmers, Black food service workers, and the general Black community in her native Brooklyn. Though she is undoubtedly an inspiring figure, she has also experienced unfathomable personal tragedy. Five years ago, Amber’s father murdered her mother and she was left without parents at a pivotal moment in her teenage years. She has not been able to attend college and has had to find ways to provide for herself in a world that can be particularly untenable to folks without a degree, let alone Black women. Amber has said that developing her connection with “Momma Earth” has given her purpose in light of her grief. Her mission is to facilitate the development of better food systems in the New York area. It is a testament to her ambition and work ethic that she has managed to secure funds to buy farmland upstate AND get the ball rolling on a project to cultivate agricultural space in Central Park. She is nothing short of remarkable and works tirelessly to be able to do what she does. If anyone deserves a break and a chance to Getaway to commune with the Momma Earth she so deeply loves, it’s Amber.

Antoinette Davis
Tonie is a senior staff attorney at ACLU of Washington, my supervising attorney, and my friend. Tonie embodies what it means to dedicate your life and work for something bigger and she does it daily with excellence. She is on the frontlines of protecting civil liberties and justice. She fights hard for education equity, workers’ rights, LGBTQ+ rights, access to healthcare, criminal legal system reform, and so much more. This work is exhausting, but Tonie shows up daily and chooses to be such an incredibly protective force for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in Washington state. As my mentor, she recognizes when I need to take rest for myself and gently pushes me to prioritize self care.

Ashley Gantt
Ashley is not only a mother but she has been one of the soul starters and leaders in the BLM movement in Rochester N.Y. where she leads rallies, marches, protests, educates, and travels every weekend—all while being an amazing mother. She has made it very clear that she is tired but she will not stop fighting for racial justice in Rochester! She is one of the founding members of freethepeopleroc and deserves self-care and rest in this fight because it is a long fight! Her Instagram and Facebook speak volumes for who she is and where her heart lies in this fight for Black lives.

Ciara Elle Bryant
Ciara has been an incredibly hard worker ever since I met her in college. As a Black artist, she has been working to increase visibility for other Black artists throughout history (especially women), change the narrative, and uplift contemporary Black artists so that everyone can rise together. She is routinely tired, but doesn’t take a break. Recently she was featured for a show she curated. Seeing her name in the headlines has been amazing—she is finally getting the recognition she deserves and I am so so proud! But, knowing that she’s been going at this nonstop pace. I hope she knows that she is loved and appreciated and she most definitely deserves some time to reflect, rejuvenate, and rest.

Chantel Johnson
Chantel is an amazing Black female farmer and activist who gives back to the community to help people experiencing food scarcity. She has another job being a caretaker as well. She is incredibly hardworking. She shares her experiences really vulnerably on Instagram. I learn so much from her. She has been in the media sharing her experience as well. She is truly a Renaissance woman.

Ismahaan Aden
Ismahaan is on the front lines of education. As one of our nation’s finest, she is the diversity + inclusion liaison for HC Public Schools in Maryland. Ismahaan gives tirelessly to those around her, including showing up daily with vigor for her students, who by the state’s standards have been deemed “at risk.” She has been fighting hard to decolonize a system (and a curriculum) that frequently oppresses its Black and brown students—all while obtaining degrees, participating in internships, and taking care of her family.

Katherine Bonilla
I would like to nominate my sister and I. We are both founders of Time Of Butterflies, a non-profit focused on guiding and supporting individuals who have experienced abuse, especially women of color. Through the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests we have continued to provide therapeutic resources and support through our organization. Our focus is to create a path of healing for others.

Kerry Ellington
Kerry is a true community organizer whose work and life goals are the same—to build a stronger community and a more just society. With a focus on the ending injustices perpetrated on the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States, Kerry is a warrior spirit and has a seemingly bottomless well of energy. She finds strength at least in part through her own life experiences at the intersection of multiple identities that are marginalized in U.S. society. Kerry works with New Haven Legal Assistance organizing around affordable housing. Kerry works hard to focus on liberating youth and adults from the structural racism embedded in so many of our systems—housing, education, and policing. Kerry loves the natural world, and would draw energy from a restorative break. You’ll be helping Kerry; the City of New Haven, CT, and broader US Society, all at once, if you can lend her a place to refill her well.

Lisa-Stephanie Valme
Lisa-Stephanie has devoted her entire life to working as a paraprofessional, teacher, youth programming coordinator, and volunteer for BIPOC communities in Miami and Chicago. She is working toward her second master’s (her first is in education) to decolonize clinical counseling. She is constantly concerned about her own light-skinned privilege and actively fights colorism. She goes above and beyond for her kids, providing transportation, food, emotional support, etc. In the time of COVID, she has continued to work with these communities and adjust her entire lifestyle to minimize any COVID risk for them. She loves the forest and the outdoors and was an avid camper before moving to Chicago and starting her second MS. She never rests! She deserves this so deeply and will so deeply appreciate the opportunity.

Marlon Dubuisson
I’ve known Marlon since our paths crossed at college and he is truly such a light in so many people’s lives. He has always taken kindness as his first action, but his passion for justice and doing what’s right never wavers. He works in local politics in Virginia and hopes to make strides in his career to keep fighting for everyone to receive equal treatment, care, and kindness throughout America. Marlon has protested for 14 weeks straight. He has organized multiple protests at his old high school, demanded the plight of Black students be taken more seriously, fund-raised, put himself on the line, worked with the local NAACP chapters to bring speakers to these events. He would just shrug off all of this as ‘the least he can do.’ But it’s so much more than that. He has had to watch his Black brothers and sisters die at the hands of racism and police brutality. He knows that when he goes to these protests every week, he may not come home. But he refuses to quit. He wants to fight for the revolution for himself, his family, his friends, his teammates, for all of America. I truly believe that he could benefit from this weekend. Having time to recharge and really consume the beauty in nature when he’s been fighting for justice would really improve his mental health, and give him the strength to keep going.

MarTaze Gaines 
Taz Gaines is one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable organizers I have ever met. They are a member of SONG, BLM, Sunrise Movement and probably more organizations that I don’t even know about. While a lot of folks over commit and under deliver, the opposite is true of Taz. They’ve helped lead a Defund the Police training through Sunrise in coordination with other orgs this summer to name one accomplishment among many. Having been an organizer as an undergrad in Morehouse, Taz continued that work in Nashville as a grad student at Vanderbilt, and now they are back home in Baltimore where I am sure they will leave their mark multiple times over. During all of this work they’ve also started a podcast called “A Dose of Healing” with the purpose to share some healing with others. Taz gives so much of themself to the work, it’s truly astounding. This year has been incredibly hard for Taz but they have remained diligent in their work, never failing to deliver on what they’ve committed to. Taz has taught me and others so much through songs, stories, kindness, and compassion. They care passionately for their communities, friends, and families. They truly deserve some care themself.

Mercedes James 
Mercedes is a rock star! She has her MPH and works as the assistant director of research integrity at UT-A. Her leadership in the research and ethics space is so important, we know this space has historically and continues to, harm Black communities with unethical research practices. I’m not going to tell her story, because that is hers to tell, but she had the deck stacked against her growing up and has truly overcome so much, and with so much grace. But more than being one of the most successful people I know, she is kind, thoughtful, generous, loves her family and friends, consistently helps those around her grow and learn…. and she is tired. Mer would receive this gift of rest with so much joy!

Mmaolisa Ezekwenna
Mmaolisa is an international human resources and diversity & inclusion practitioner. She’s been working tirelessly for years to launch and lead diversity initiatives and workshops at American Councils on International Education for both local and field employees. These include individual, intersectional panels and resources for her NGO’s underrepresented groups including Black, Asian / Pacific Islander, and LGBT+ folks. She also co-leads anti-racist trainings with Little Lights, an NGO which has been performing anti-racist and community work in Southeast DC for decades.

Phillip Marcus
Phil has dedicated his life to educating Black and brown students in the NYC public school system. He started his career as a teacher and is now an assistant principal. He works in one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged districts in the city. In spite of those challenges, he is committed to giving his students an education that not only respects and honors their histories and cultures but gives them the tools to build better lives themselves. He inspires students not just to do well for the sake of passing the state’s exams but for the sake of pulling themselves and their families up despite a constant onslaught of racial, socio-economic and emotional violence associated with being a poor, Black or Hispanic student in America. Phil works tirelessly. Most importantly, he mentors other teachers and encourages them to use their powers and skills to help uplift their educational communities. He challenges his colleagues to be broad thinking, anti-racist, and to make clever use of their time and resources to help support the population they teach. He’s my hero!

Val Thomas-Matson
Val is the Executive Producer and Co-Host of Look, Listen and Learn, a new Mr. Rogers-style children’s tv show produced BY and FOR Black and Brown families. She was able to finally secure funding to produce season 1 of the show last year, and the show is now offering positive media representations for Black and Brown children on YouTube and on local Seattle-area government stations. Truly, though, LL+L has been Val’s goal since childhood. She was born in Seattle’s historically-Black Central Area and experienced firsthand how systemic racism and structural inequities in education impact Black families. As she says, “she fell through the education gap.” The only time she really had adults telling her that she was special and worthwhile just for being herself was from Mr. Rogers and other kids tv hosts. And yet, she rarely ever saw people that looked like her on TV. So as she grew up, Val made it her mission to make sure that Black children had access to programming that affirmed and inspired them. Beyond this, there is also everything that she does for those around her personally. She has always been a caring and engaged auntie to young people around her. She maintains and sustains a deeply connected web of friends from across the country. And she is an inspirational and generous boss to our small staff at Look, Listen and Learn. Val deserves the opportunity to rest, to recharge, to reflect. By extension, all of us would benefit from Val’s bolstered strength, resilience and wisdom.

Need an escape to nature to recharge? Book your Getaway today.

A Year of Rest | Guest Stories

Featured Guest: Mariane Leon, A Recipient of Rest

Mariane Leon, one of our Recipients of Rest, is a body justice advocate and photographer. We hosted Mariane at Getaway Brazos Valley in October. Here is Mariane’s thoughtful reflection on their work, their connection to nature, and what they’ve learned about grief, community, and rest in the last few years.

I wouldn’t call myself an optimist by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a realist with a burst of enthusiasm every once in a while. As a journeyer of self-love and a body justice advocate by way of photography and virtual diaries, it’s teetering on this fine line of positivity and critical thinking that keeps me grounded.

I would love to use 2020 as an excuse, but my complicated relationship to social media, Philly-raised grit, and my unrelenting attempts to love myself are definitely to blame for my personality. In all fairness though, 2020 has been… a year. As I sit back and take yet another moment to reflect, I can’t help but feel the heaviness in my chest as my “mile a minute” thinking slows to a singular place: exhaustion.

In all the pain felt in this year, as a fat, Black femme living in an insufferable world, I often find myself desperate for rest. I don’t just mean 8 hours a night, I mean rest. Rest like boundaries. Rest like doing nothing. Rest like not having to explain myself or argue for my right to exist. Rest like being unbothered. Rest like not being on the 12th Zoom call of the day. Rest like being so disconnected that I can finally connect to myself again.

Needless to say, Getaway was right on time. It didn’t take much convincing when I got the notification that I had been nominated and chosen for a Year of Rest. The idea of being whisked away into peace and quiet was nothing short of ideal. I was in the middle of planning a partial cross country road trip from Philly to Texas and while I had no real idea of where I would be, I was certain of the day I’d Getaway: October 22nd.

For most, that’s just a random day, but for me it’s anything but random. It was a chance to grieve the loss of myself in dark moments. The loss of relationships as I reclaimed space. The loss of stability as COVID tore the outdoors, employment, and physical connection from me. And last, but most certainly not least, it was a chance to grieve the loss I have carried for three years (and counting) of my beautiful mother.

Ah, got ya. You’re reading about loss and you may want to turn away. There’s sadness here, yes, but there is so much more. Grief is such an interesting thing. While some might think – “why would you want to be sad on your Getaway?”, others might understand that there is no better way to process sadness than tucked away amongst the trees.

If I have learned anything over these last three years, it’s that grief sucks, but it’s not our enemy – resistance to it is. Grief is inevitable and we take its gifts for granted sometimes. Grief has given me a wonderful circle of fellow grievers on and offline. It has given me tools to sit within the communal grief of the Black community. Beautiful, vibrant humans who are finding joy, connection, pain, and discomfort throughout their lives, literally laughing through tears and inside jokes that may be considered morbid to those outside of these not-so-exclusive grief clubs. 

Grief has given me perspective on all the Hallmark movie things I used to roll my eyes at about time, love, and getting older. Grief has given me so much pain that I can’t help but I feel less afraid of what I can and cannot handle. Grief has also given me an appreciation and understanding of the complexity of emotions. My mom (who I affectionately called “mamadukes”) is who I now, more than ever, longed to have on this earth to hold me through these trying times but I am just as grateful that she doesn’t have to live through even more pain. It’s hard to accept both can be true because grief isn’t a binary of sad and happy or staying put and moving on. Grief is fluid and forever – much to the dismay of those living with it, but there are ways to cope, process, and survive.

At Getaway, I tucked myself into one of the most comfortable and beautiful beds I have ever laid in, shrouded in trees and silence to cope with my grief. I made sure to pack my grief essentials for the night: a Loss deck, a grief tincture, a journal, some meditative candles, and some CBD. While I still wanted nothing more than my mamadukes to pull me to her chest, I was still held warmly by nature itself, easing my mind with the soft hum of its existence.

Being able to have this experience was such a sweet reminder of all the ways we can find peace. The intimacy that comes with rest is deep. It stays with us long after we have moved on and busied ourselves once more, only to return again. The act of letting go, of being still, of turning off the noise to just be is critical. I carry this knowledge with me daily. I share it with my clients who are often looking for rest in their relationships with their bodies as they work to love themselves in a world that banks on their insecurities and self-hatred.

I will be the first to tell you I don’t know much, but occasionally the universe reveals its secrets to me through countless (and often repeated) lessons. Rest gives me the time, energy, and calm needed to return to the truth: I’m a small part of a larger stream of energy and consciousness. My inclination to find rest in nature deepens that truth for me. I always return to the noise of cities and systems, but I can see how giant redwoods connect to my windowsill bamboo plants and the same moon that kisses the furthest parts of the ocean can be seen from car windows on busy highways.

So, while I was sad as I pulled away from my little cabin in the woods, I know I’m infinitely tethered to the time I had there. For that, I am forever grateful and I cannot wait to return again.

Ready for your own escape? Book your Getaway today.

A Year of Rest | Guest Stories

Featured Guest: Marlene Boyette, A Recipient of Rest

As a registered and certified Trauma Informed yoga instructor and wellness practitioner, offering support to children within an elementary school setting, and to adults within, and beyond, the city of Boston on a full time basis, so much of my energy is focused on holding space for others. 

Although I do my best to be intentional about maintaining my own self-care rituals, over the last several months, the pandemic and the increase in racial tensions have brought about an increase in a need / demand for wellness services, meaning my workload has been almost tripled. As a Black woman, this all has felt like extremely heavy and necessary service, but I’d be lying if I said that some of my self-care practices haven’t suffered. 

Culturally, I know that many people of color are conditioned / socialized to believe that we must carry and endure the heaviness of all situations in life, never complaining, never (or rarely) resting. I thought that I had done my due diligence with retraining my brain to believe otherwise, through my training as a yoga instructor, but as the weight of everything began to show itself in my thoughts and the tension in my physical body, I realized that is not truly the case.

I know the value of and importance of self-care and creating space for respite. My home has always been my sanctuary; a location intentionally created to be a source of inspiration, a place where I rest, restore and find joy. However, transforming my space into a virtual yoga studio and office has made it challenging to experience it in the same peaceful manner. When able, I seek time to venture out and enjoy the green spaces within my neighborhood, which I’m blessed to have access to, but so many of my thoughts have been focused on what is happening in the world. Even in the spaces that had served as an escape, I noticed that I hadn’t been able to be fully present and enjoy my surroundings. This has been challenging because I have always found such peace when out and about in nature.

The announcement that I’d been nominated and selected for the 100 Nights of Rest program came as a complete shock, but was in perfect alignment with my needs at that moment. I had no idea about the giveaway, although I’d been following Getaway for some time and had daydreamed about finding the time to travel to an outpost. To be nominated by someone who had been such a big supporter of me as an individual, my work as a wellness practitioner, and someone who had been championing for me, even before I was certified, touched my heart deeply. You never know who is following your work, and very few folks will truly understand the depth of dedication that you may have to it. I was and still am deeply moved by the gesture and acknowledgment.

Traveling to New Hampshire for my Getaway House experience came at the perfect time. This trip allowed me the opportunity to separate myself from the act of service to others, in order to provide care to myself in a dedicated space. I decided to go just before returning to teach within my school community, after teaching remotely online since March. I was able to enjoy all of the elements that I love most about being outdoors and camping, which I hadn’t done in so long. Being at the outpost felt like a deep exhale to both my mind and my entire body.  Looking up at the stars while fireside brought me back to my childhood; back to moments that I would spend outdoors admiring the moon and the stars, which I view as my first experiences of mindfulness.

I was able to rise slowly in the morning, which I also do at home, but was so happy to look at the windows of the cabin and be surrounded by trees. I took the time to practice yoga and make breakfast, without the interruption of texts or social media or emails. Before heading back to Boston, I went for a hike and took in lots of fresh air, which is so much easier to appreciate when practicing pranayama (yogic breathing). This trip slowed me down, which was something I hadn’t realized I needed until I was there. Prior to the trip, I felt that what I was doing to take care of my own needs was enough, but the time away brought about the realization that I deserved so much more in terms of self-care.

Since I’ve returned home from my Getaway experience, I’ve adjusted my schedule and added more time to be outside, more time to detach from technology and screens and more time to practice yoga. I’ve been making an effort to recreate the experiences that I had in New Hampshire and incorporate them into my weekly schedule, so that even when I’m unable to physically get away, I have a retreat space available. That is until the next opportunity to travel to Getaway presents itself.

Need your own escape to nature? Book your Getaway today.