SistersInMotion is a Montreal Based Organization Committed to Empowering Women of Colour
They do this By Fostering a Connection to Each Other, Creativity, and Nature
“SistersInMotion is exactly how it sounds. Sisters on the move. We’re in motion. We’re moving, we’re here, we’ve been here, we’re still gonna be here,” explained Dona La Luna, one of SistersInMotion’s founders.
The organization hosts workshops and shows where people perform spoken word poetry, among other creative acts. There was also a SIM poetry workshop held in conjunction with Montreal Pride this year.
La Luna, along with Malek Yalaoui and Harleen Bhogal, were responsible for bringing together the first SistersInMotion show during the summer of 2016. It mainly featured spoken word poetry and musical performances.
The location of their first show, Jardin Cra-terre, is an urban farm space bordering Parc-Extension. “It’s really close to the train tracks, so it’s a really industrial area and they drew maps to help everyone find the place,” said Stephanie Lawrence, who participated in the first SIM show. It was also the location of their most recent one, on Sept. 8.
La Luna said that fostering and encouraging a connection to the Earth and the natural world is part of SIM’s goal as both a movement and organization. The distinction between the two is subtle, but relevant in understanding the purpose of a group as multifaceted as SIM. They pulled the first SIM show together in only three weeks, and La Luna all three helped in curating the artists.
Lawrence is a Montreal based spoken-word and hip-hop artist who performed at the SIM show on Sept. 8. She started writing in high school as an outlet, and has been putting out her own self-produced music for the last year and a half.
Both use the words magic and magical multiple times in their separate descriptions of SistersInMotion’s first show. La Luna mentioned the decorations for the night came from her apartment and included twinkly white Christmas lights, and a hodgepodge of lamps. They both mention how empowering it was, the first night of an event by and for women of colour.
La Luna said she was surprised by the number of people who came to the first event. As the set up was being finalized she impressed by the line up of people waiting to be let in and make their donations. Lawrence said everyone was seated on lawn chairs or on the grass and that there was a stage with hardwood boards and a microphone on it.
“I definitely had a glow about me, cause it was really good energy, and the crowd had really good vibes and was very appreciative and warm. The organizers really helped to make us feel safe and to hold the performers really well and that’s something I really appreciated because it doesn’t happen at every event that I perform at, that there’s that level of energy. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it was by and for women and femmes of colour,” Lawrence explained.
Part of what made her feel that way was that the organizers specifically made a point of telling the audience that many of their performers that night were not only new but likely going to be sharing intense personal testimony, and with that in mind, to be sensitive and appreciative.
“It’s a movement and organization that works to create healing and transformative spaces specifically for Black, Indigenous women and/or femmes of colour through creativity, through connection to nature, [and] through connection to each other,” La Luna said.
La Luna and Yalaoui both had similar ideas about wanting to create an event by and for women of colour and decided to combine their shows in a conversation that took place over Facebook Messenger, which La Luna said was in the summer of 2016.
“I also have to give credit to Harleen […] who started a writing workshop called Unraveling in Rhymes. She was also an integral process for this to begin because that’s where Malek and I met for the first time, where the three of us met for the first time. The three of us were actually part of organizing the first SIM, and the second SIM as well,” said La Luna.
Lawrence also met the other three through their involvement in Montreal’s poetry scene.
“There’s lots of people who put on events for different groups and that adds to the diversity of the scene and that’s why Montreal is a relatively well integrated environment in terms of the arts scene. But I can’t really think of anyone, to the best of my knowledge, that does events by and for women of colour only,” she continued.
She agrees that knowing the event is by and for WOC allows her to present material she may have not otherwise felt comfortable showing to a different, less specific audience.
“It’s the most welcoming environment. It’s an incredibly welcoming environment and I don’t know why anyone would be nervous but if they’re nervous it’s completely valid,” said Lawrence in encouragement of potential new participants in SIM.La Luna noted that women and femmes of colour rarely see themselves represented in the world, unless they go to specific spaces intended for POC.
“It’s still something that is very much needed and I’m very honoured to have continued this work for as long as I have,” said La Luna.
La Luna said the project has taught her valuable lessons about what it means to be able to ask for help unashamedly, something a lot of women and femmes of colour struggle with. She said that it has also taught her about what it means to build community and a sisterhood within the frame of an infrastructure where multiple truths can exist concurrently.
“I’m a different person than I was two years ago, this project has taught me a lot about the self-actualization process, [and] about being able to maintain desire,” she explained.
La Luna said that SIM promotes healing through the catalyst of creativity and connection to nature, land, food, our stories and our ancestors. When she says our, she is referring to POC.
“I am seeing a bit more representation in the arts and culture scene but we definitely have a long way to go. I do believe that the momentum and the movement is building and gaining a bit of speed and support.”
Through her work with SIM, La Luna has learned a lot about the different contexts accessibility presents itself in and how, depending on the resources one has, they can be easier or more difficult to implement.
“If [practicing accessibility] is successful that helps to create a particular container where there is a level of diversity and representation that is there. Automatically for me our bodies existing is in itself impactful and in itself empowering. To see each other and to see ourselves reflected in the space creates a certain level of safety.”
She mentioned that this is in contrast to spaces where she has been the only woman of colour and feels like she might be judged, or needs to police her own tone or behaviour.
“Being explicit about our intentions and goals about the space allows everyone to understand why we’re here and what we’re doing here and how were gonna get there together. Simple acts like requesting trigger warnings for example is a big way to help people prepare themselves to receive intense vulnerable, authentic narratives from people.
You are still in this society despite this container being as intentional and as thoughtful as we can make it, but there’s no guarantee and we know that and so we do our best.” said La Luna.
She said that everyone is completely welcome to just walk away or put in their headphones if they feel triggered by the content presented by the SIM performers.
“At the end of the day no matter how much we try to create a safer container, the level of safety is never guaranteed and that is a reality that we can not fully guarantee that one or multiple people will be triggered. That’s just the reality of life,” said La Luna.
She mentioned that being able to draw on personal power is, “part of the journey.”
“A part of it is really figuring out as individuals how to take care of ourselves, as women or femmes of colour we are always thinking about the other. We grew up in service, we’re serving our fathers or father metaphors,” said La Luna.
She thinks it’s very important for people in those demographics to think of themselves, just sit with themselves and think about how they can help themselves. In her opinion women and femmes of colour are rarely encouraged to do so.
“So what are the ways we as individuals can cultivate no matter who we are but specifically as women and femmes of colour to be able to develop the muscle that helps us be okay should something be wack, helps us to figure out how to take care of ourselves. I think that when we move towards that space, when we’re able to have those tools then the container will ultimately be safer, because ultimately we are responsible as individuals for our emotions and how we react to things,” La Luna explained.