For the last 9 years, The BREATHE Collective has been operating under the leadership of its two co-founders, Ashley Ellis and myself, Quandisha German-Ellis. Taking on the mantels of black women before us, we thought we had to do it all on our own. Two black women with a vision-- breaking generational cycles, healing generations forward and backwards, charting new paths, and dreaming of a future where young people are liberated, free, and healed-- we were simply doing the best we could with what we had and the work we co-created had great impact. Even still, we knew that if we wanted to go further in this journey, we could not go alone.
After taking a much needed sabbatical, we returned much more aligned and clear in our vision for The BREATHE Collective. We recognized that as our work was shifting, how we needed to BE in the work also had to shift. We made a commitment to not do it alone! So as we took some time to rebuild the Collective, the first thing we wanted to do was expand our team. In 2023, we have been able to do just that. We welcomed our Project Assistant, Carmen Dixon, Admin Assistant, Shanice Williams, and our Community Specialist, Shaniqua "Nini" West. Throughout the past few months, we have been able to build something beautiful, special, and sustainable. Our team dynamic has shifted the way we get to this work in a huge way. They have been the backbone of this operation and has helped us expand our vision.
During the month of July, we decided to take the entire month to pour into our team. We closed off our calendars and made a brave decision to create space to focus on building our team. This was a big deal for us because for years, we've been contracted throughout the country to come in and help shift team dynamics within others organizations and schools, but now we had the opportunity and resources to turn inward. This time we were able to pour into our organization in same ways we've been doing for others for so long. This was a huge milestone for us, so naturally we wanted to create an intentional space where could engage in some rest while also creating space for us to work together. We should also mention that this would be the first time, our entire team would be together, in person. We do not live in the same city, so we don't often get to be in the same space together. This would be transformative.
We wanted to be intentional about the space in which we gathered. We decided to host the Team retreat at The Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Magnolia House has a deep and rich history. It was one of the most important stops in Green Book because it operated as one of the only hotels for Black people between Richmond, VA and Atlanta GA during Jim Crow. During this time, they housed some of the most prolific singers/performers of our time such as Tina Turner, Satchel Paige, and Ray Charles. The Magnolia House had been closed for more than 25 years before it reopened in 2021 and is now operating as a Hotel, restaurant, and living museum. Each month they host jazz music events and it's a community space for organizations/businesses to use to convene.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with warm welcomes from the staff who were eager to share the history of the space. We felt so honored and connected to the history of the space. They gave us a tour and shared more of the history with us. They preserved Green Books where you could see the hotel as a listing. While we were connected to the space, like much of African American History, it's a reminder of the trauma many of our families had to endure in order to simply live. It is why we are so intentional about our own healing, while it seems we are so far removed from racial segregation, it wasn't that long ago. And we still see the effects today. When we heal, we are healing from the seven generations before us, and for the next seven generations ahead of us. Many of us left inspired and reflected on the ways we get to share the stories of our legacies.
Over three days, we grounded deeper in our vision and mission for Justice and liberation. We reconnected with ourselves and honored the time with a team photoshoot-- check the update our website. We have been reimagining the work and our growth of our organization this year and had the chance to unveiled our new brand strategy! Deepening our connections, we engaged in a team building and most importantly we solidified the inaugural cohort of the Peacekeep(H)ers Justice Fellowship. Each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we had the opportunity to sit down with another and break bread. We sang. We danced . We shared stories of our past, present, and future. We dreamed. We had the opportunity to to just be. And that was healing all in itself.
We came back from the team retreat on fire! It felt like we knew each other a little more. There's a nuance to sharing space in person, the small convos, the random Tik Tok voice overs, etc. Spending intentional time with your team is so necessary to relationship building, it is where we get to be vulnerable and connect with one another in ways that aren't possible on Zoom. Those random side chats turned into new ideas that will essentially move the organization's mission and vision forward. We are looking forward to creating time for another team retreat at the top of 2024 to connect in even more deeper ways.
- The BREATHE Collective: Disha German-Ellis + Ashley Ellis