LIFEBEAT FOLLOW-UP: KISHALYNN ELLIOTT
I sent these follow-up questions to KishaLynn Elliott on December 29, 2021. Four days later, the Spring Valley home where she lived with her wife and son was completely lost to fire. I followed her posts on Facebook and was relieved to learn that, although their possessions were consumed and they couldn’t live there anymore, they were all safe and unhurt. I was certain that she had many more important things to deal with than to answer questions for a blog post. I emailed her to say as much. I didn’t ask her to meet the deadline, and I let her know she didn’t have to respond at all. But she did respond. And she was generous in her responses and in her quest to find healing from this devastating event in her life.
So let’s take some time to catch up with KishaLynn since she was on the 4th episode of LifeBeat: Conversations with Purposeful Womxn back in November 2020 (watch the episode). The first section of this post is the standard Q&A as I’ve done in previous posts. For the last question, which is open to discuss anything she wants to mention, I’ve compiled her story about the fire, its aftermath, and how they’re doing now. This Q&A was conducted by email, and KishaLynn provided her answers on January 30 and 31, 2022.
Lizzie: My first question to all the guests was what are you great at cooking, and your answer was that you can cook up a good story. What’s something from your childhood that you have fond memories of eating?
KishaLynn: First of all, that was a damn good answer of mine! And 100% truth. I’m not the domestic type, for sure. I burn water. It’s interesting that you ask about childhood and eating, because I have an interesting history with both. To answer it specifically, I would say I have a fond memory of eating “Crab Shala” with my 12 foster siblings in Florida when I was 8 years old. It was a spicy spaghetti with crab legs in it. I shared this story in my book, CHILDish. I’ve never had that meal anywhere else or with anyone else. I have more than a few food-related memories from childhood. You asked for a fond one though…
The movie you could watch over and over again was What Dreams May Come. As we’ve endured the pandemic, many of us got very familiar with streaming services. Any favorites that you watched in the last year?
I’m more of an internet person than a TV person. But I’m married to a woman who loves TV, and so I watched plenty during the pandemic, and before it! My favorite streaming service is Netflix. I have been a Netflix member for 20 years. I came out because of Netflix—which allowed me to order every lesbian movie ever made at the time and have it discreetly delivered to my house. I called it “research,” but by the time the credits rolled on If These Walls Could Talk 2, I was definitely coming out as a lesbian. I can always find something to watch on Netflix, and so I always open Netflix first. Through the pandemic, while working from home, I binged The Great British Bake Off.
Your earliest childhood memory was your mother reading to you. What’s the last great book you read?
The last great book I read was The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. My [Black Leadership and Abundance Center] BLAAC business partner, CaMesha Reece, is a yogi and she introduced me to this book, which defines and inspires one to embody these 10 guidelines for an enlightened way of living. It was so good that as soon as I read the end of it, I flipped right back to Page 1 and re-read it immediately.
We talked about the social media live event you created in 2020 called Say Their Names Live. Did it happen in 2021? How did it go? Are you planning for it in 2022? I know the list continues to grow which is disheartening.
Yes, there was a 2nd annual #SayTheirNamesLive Call to Action on Juneteenth last year, and there will be a 3rd on June 19, 2022. Because yes, the list keeps growing at the disproportionate cost of too many Black lives. In 2021, pledges grew to 120. I read the names of 80 Black women killed by police since 2013 at the PowHER Kappa Theta Epsilon Sorority conference. Then I went live for 20 minutes on Facebook and Instagram to read the names of 383 unarmed Black people killed by police since 2013. It was, as it is intended to be, a healing and powerful experience. A lot of the participants this year were White, and it caused me to pose interesting questions to myself and enter into fascinating conversation with others about the impact of the event. I wondered out loud if it was making a difference. Was I honoring these slain Black people and taking a stance to change the circumstances that ended their lives, or was I just creating an avenue for performative activism? Ultimately, I found the answer in two ways. First, I listened. And everyone told me that #SayTheirNamesLive mattered to them. Not a single person called me in, or out, about the action. I was needlessly judging myself harshly, as I do. Then, I watched. I watched the #SayTheirNamesLive posts. I spent hours watching every post and stream I could find under the hashtag. As I watched, I looked for something, anything to be wrong about it. But all I saw was something so right. There’s a moment in every single video where the person reading names gets it. They feel it. They feel the injustice. They know that it’s not right. They know they could read all day and still these lists will keep growing unless we do something different. It’s more than disheartening—it’s disgusting. I believe if we heal together, we’ll stand together for change. That’s why #SayTheirNamesLive is a call to healing AND action. We stand together and heal, we let these names take up space in our consciousness and in our internet feeds. Then, we feel empowered to get to work—the real work that continues when the stream ends. It happens. I see it in my videos. Yes, I watch those, too. And I’m damn sure not dancing for fake internet points with #SayTheirNamesLive. I’m there, grieving, lifting up the names of the slain, using my voice to help make their deaths not be in vain. I stay on top of these numbers—it’s heartbreaking work.
At that time, you were also getting ready to debut a short play with Soul Kiss Theater. Tell us how that went and if you’re still doing playwrighting or any other writing.
My playwriting debut of No Easy Exits with Soul Kiss Theater was incredible. It was surreal to hear professional actors reading the words I wrote and bringing this story to an audience in a way that’s different from how I do it in my books and posts. I did end up writing a second play, Black Pegasus, which was featured in The Old Globe’s “Powers New Voices Festival” last summer. Unlike No Easy Exits, which was autobiographical and pretty dark, Black Pegasus was a romantic comedy and a work of inspired fiction. It was also my first paid playwriting gig! Not too shabby for a newbie. I may explore playwriting more in the future, but lately my creative energies have been deployed helping my coaching clients become published authors and trying to finish the sequel to my book, CHILDish. I’m also curious to learn screenplay writing, just so I can develop something to pitch to…wait for it…NETFLIX! 🙂
You gave a shout-out to your wife, Shelli, plus I know you have a young son. She was getting ready to go back to school. How has that been for her? How is your son handling the pandemic life?
Shelli is three classes away from completing her BA. I am super proud of her. During quarantine, she sustained an A-average in her classes. Now, she’s balancing school and motherhood with being back to work full time. She has incredible work ethic. Get it, boo!
Simeon is doing FANTASTIC. I am most proud that we’ve been able to protect him from severe trauma and for the most part sustain his normal routine. I drop him off at his school bus stop every morning. Given that I am a writer and my wife is a voracious reader, it’s no surprise that he can already read at the 2nd grade level in Kindergarten. He takes his taekwondo class two times a week where he’s a yellow striped white belt. He misses our old house but has been quite content in the AirBnB where we are temporarily housed. And, he’s pretty singularly focused on his passion for cars so was elated that Mama Shelli and Mommy KishaLynn were about to rescue a lot of his favorite pull back cars and Hot Wheels cars from the ruins.
As a parent, my biggest goal is to protect my child from as much trauma as possible, in hopes that he will not have to heal from his childhood the way I do. It certainly hasn’t been easy, especially when the pandemic hit traumatizing us all. But thankfully Shelli and I remain two steps ahead of the worst-case scenarios, keeping them away from my son. He did not have to run for his life from this fire. He did not even have to see the worst of the damage. That is the biggest blessing of all; it is invaluable to me and my traumatized inner child!
You discussed how you had just launched a new business, the Black Leadership and Abundance Center (BLAAC), in partnership with CaMesha Reece, an HR strategist and fellow coach. How is that going?
BLAAC had a busy and abundant year. On the corporate side of the house, CaMesha and I brought virtual restorative practices trainings and services to schools and organizations across the country. And on the personal healing side, we launched our signature service, “Balance and Flow,” which are dual healings consisting of both yoga and Reiki. It’s all healing work to us, and we’re seeing it make a difference everywhere we take it.
About the fire and its aftermath:
The last question I ask in these follow-ups is whether there is anything else they want to talk about or promote. KishaLynn’s response was, characteristically, up front:
I don’t know if you want to mention our recent house fire, but I don’t mind if you do. Not for fundraising or promotional purposes but from a healing perspective. I think it’s quite powerful to talk about what happened. I bring my whole-ass self everywhere I go, and even in this interview, I’m giving all the truth. It’s also the truth that I’m standing in this moment in time just weeks after my home and possessions went up in smoke and flames. And I’m still here…sharing my story, and my healing, with anyone who needs it. /
For those who are interested in reading more about her experience. This post on Facebook from January 5, 2022 tells the story of that evening. That same day, colleagues of KishaLynn at the Monarch School created a GoFundMe campaign that states, “Donations will help KishaLynn and her loved ones to meet immediate needs and to prepare for the journey ahead.”
KishaLynn also shared an email with me that she sent to friends and family on January 20. Here is a brief excerpt:
We are currently living in an Air BnB through mid-April. The enormous challenge of starting over lies before us. The GoFundMe is a part of a larger recovery plan that will help us reach our goal of securing permanent housing again in the coming months and rebuilding our lives over from there. Every dollar donated will help us get home for good, so that our lives as a family and my work in service to the community resumes.
I’m no stranger to the unhoused condition. I’ve experienced various forms of homelessness during my childhood. For the past eight years, I have worked at the Monarch School which serves unhoused youth and their families. Through that context, I am aware of how blessed I am at this moment, even through this significant challenge. While I am in the humbling position of asking and receiving at this time, my life is dedicated to healing, to service, and to making the world a better place, starting with my community. My problems will soon be resolved, and life will go on. So will my work advocating for people whose problems remain and can drain their spirits of hope through countless dark days and cold nights.
I know that sending “thoughts and prayers” has become a meme throughout our shared traumatic experiences with COVID. Please believe me when I say that your love, thoughts, and prayers are absolutely needed most—even more than money, a house, or new things. I feel them. I receive the positive energy in my lowest moments. And This Stuff’s Working!
Thanks to your support, we will continue rising from these ashes. Please be safe and be well.
With Great Love and Deep Gratitude,
KishaLynn Elliott on behalf of Team Elliott San Diego
Thank you, KishaLynn, for taking time to share your positivity and honest thoughts about your life, the challenges you face, and for continuing to put your creativity out into the world. I encourage you, reader, to donate if you have the means, or at least, send up some loving energy for the Elliotts.
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