You know how I talk about wanting to build a community? Part of it is pushing through fear, asking questions, and learning about the people you want to build a community with. It’s challenging but rewarding at the same time. In this interview with Masada Jones, she touched on building a community through her project The Kindred Project. I find it to be an important and a big project to take on. I’m really thankful!
I met Masada through my day’s work. It wasn’t until this year when she and Ani, from Humanity, invited me to share my story in front of a group of women of color, that I got the big push to create a community for me, for you!
The takeaway from the event was that we seriously need more spaces like this. It’s a space where I hear your story and you hear mine. It’s a space to share, to be, to connect, just the way we are. If it weren’t for Masada’s effort in bringing us together, I’d still be twiddling my thumb in the corner thinking about how to take over the world without really do anything but to dream this dream. I thought it’s appropriate to kick off my interview series with Masada’s story. She’s shared a bit into who she is. Thank you, Masada. I appreciate it so much. I know others can, too!
And before we get started, in case you’re wondering, she’ll perform on at a show called Bodied. You have to check it out.
Let’s do this!
Tell us about yourself. What’s your heritage background? I identify as a black woman, born and raised here in Lowell. I always felt the need to give back so I started youth work since I was 19. I’ve been doing this ever since. I love working with young people because I have a lot to learn from them in terms of always making everything that I do fun. I miss working with them directly now that I coordinate Big Brothers/Big Sisters where I work with them at a different capacity. I miss working with them directly because they kept me young and fun. LOL. Now it’s just different. I’m much more of an adult these days.
How’s being an adult going for you? I don’t like it! I don’t like it! It’s kind of weird for me. I know I’m an adult, I’m turning 30 this year so I very much know that I’m an adult. I’m not doing things that are creative and fun anymore. I’m not surrounded by young people. I’m just surrounded by adults. Which is fine. But it’s really different for me.
What is it that you miss about working with young people? I really appreciate teachable moments, having small conversations with them, where I feel like they could’ve handled some things differently. Asking them, “Oh that was interesting, why did you do it that way?” Kind of being able to bring up something new for them. Honestly, I like being around teenagers. They’re just fun and their energy, they’re enthusiastic. I vibe well with them.
What was it like for you when you were a teenager? I find I was very creative. As a young person, I was involved at UTEC at an after school job. I was involved in everything. I was on the double dutch team, I was in the creative writing group, I did young women’s programming, and I was a peer leader. Those years were very fun for me.
I can see why you transition to giving back to the young folks. Yeah because I benefited a lot, too when I was younger.
What does play look like to you? From a youth worker’s aspect, we do a lot of ice breakers. Everything I do has to be a little bit fun. Fun ice breakers get some energy flowing. For example, Dance For Peace is next week and I really miss doing large, fun, ice breakers with young people. It’ll look like we’re running around a room like we’re doing something silly. Play is not being afraid of looking silly. You can’t be afraid of being silly or looking a little foolish because it’s entertaining the young people and you have to keep them engaged.
Favorite ice breakers? There’s so many to choose from. A quick and easy one that’s not very playful but I do with adults, too is Two Truths and a Lie. With young people, to get them up and move a bit, we play a game called BS. It’s focused on eye contact. If you didn’t get the game right or you move out of turn, we always say “I FAILED”. And we clap for whom ever have to get to the middle and say “I failed”. It’s awesome because it’s okay to mess up. It’s a game, it’s fine, the world hasn’t crumbled.
Thanks for sharing that. I think of play as a way to interrupt all of that. There should be tons of room to mess up and play. What about outside of work, what does play look like to you? It’s probably making music. I love to sing. I don’t do much of it anymore. My best friend would play the guitar and I would sing and freestyle. I’d have a good time. I truly enjoy performing. You asked if being an adult is difficult and I thought since I started working full time, it became more and more difficult to be creative and do things I love that did look like play. In working with young people, I did have that sense of play, now that I don’t work directly with them anymore, it’s non-existent.
Play is not being afraid of looking silly.
What do you embrace about yourself? I really don’t know. I guess I embrace that I truly value communication whether with young people, my peers, or in a work setting. I appreciate communication and growth. I always want to be sprouting. I value growth, communicating, brainstorming, and having a sounding board. I know that I don’t know everything and I’m comfortable saying that. I’m always down to grow.
When you’re most connected to yourself, what does that look like? How do you feel on your best and worst day? I try to be connected to myself every day. Authenticity is important to me, and I want to be unapologetically me in the spaces I find myself in. Sometimes it is me sitting bored in a meeting because it is boring or it is me having a lively conversation about being Black in Lowell. On my best day, I get to drive with the windows down and I do lots of smiling. On my worst day my allergies are flaring up, and I am not smiling LOL.
If we wanted to be friends with you, what do we need to know about you? I would say approach me; I am very friendly! Let’s try to have a conversation about us and where work is not the main focus.
What are some things you wish were in place that could help you play more, connect more, and celebrate more? Could we all just have Fridays off? I’d like that.
What are some other things that get in the way of you playing, connecting more? As an adult, it can be difficult to make friends. I see a lot of people out in the community who I want to be friends with. But it’s difficult to be like “I want to be your friend.” With some people, I feel comfortable enough to ask. But with others, I don’t know, I guess I’ll show you some Instagram love. That’s what it’s reduced to. But I feel like it’s difficult to create space for that as an adult.
What does connecting with friends and family look like to you? Connecting with friends, if a friend throws a get together. And we have a stimulating conversation about god-knows-what, that to me is “This was really nice!”
I leave feeling very pleased if we can have good food, good drinks, and a good conversation. I just love it. That looks like play these days. With family, it’s similar. My mom loves having cook outs. Folks coming over and we’re doing pretty much the same thing as I would with friends.
What are some of your favorite drinks? My favorite drink? I love wine! My favorite wine is sweet red. I drink some cabernets and Jameson and ginger ale. And water! LOL. Coffee and water LOL.
What kinds of wine do you recommend? I recommend sweet red, pinot grigio, it depends on what’s available at the store LOL. And the Jameson and ginger ale is my go-to drink with a little lime.
What gets in the way of connecting with people you love? I think about this often. A lot of my friends have moved away. So the different time zones get in the way. It’s making space to have conversations. I have to be diligent and text my friends to talk, to make an appointment. Creating space and making time for each other is a big deal. Everyone is busy now. It’s also the feeling that everybody is doing something always. You have to be very intentional about reaching out. I told my friend I want to be better at it. I’m very introverted. People in the community think “You’re introverted?!” I’m like “Heck yeah!” If I’m not out, I’m always home, not doing anything and I’m very comfortable with that. I’m limiting the work that I’m doing in the community. And this is the first time I have time on my hand.
You grew up in Lowell. What are some restaurants that you could recommend? I love Mekong on Broadway street. That’s my go-to. I can survive off spring rolls. I can have Vietnamese coffee and spring rolls, I’ll survive. I like Mill City BBQ and Brew. Sizzling Kitchen, my best friend’s restaurant. Those are my go to places if I’m going out to eat typically. And Moonstones in Chelmsford.
What are your must have items for an impromptu gathering? I’d have to say always food. That’s how my mom raised us. You’re gonna have food. You’re gonna have something to eat.
What does a stylish ideal celebration mean to you? Good music with my friends who will go in to dance with me. I want us to dance.
You were a part of FreeVerse! Could you share more about that? I’m one of the co-founders of FreeVerse!. I left when I went back to school in 2013. It was a group to help teach young people poetry and performance. I absolutely love FreeVerse. It’s me getting to share what I love with young people who I also love. It was awesome. I miss it. I truly miss working with young people directly.
What’s after FreeVerse? I’m a free agent y’all! I don’t know what’s next. I’m very used to knowing. Now I’m like okay I don’t have to know what’s next. LOL.
Maritza Grooms and I created the Kindred Project. We wanted to create a space for the Black and Latinx community in Lowell. We look forward to growing that but I don’t know what that looks like yet. We need community buy-in. We feel strongly about building these communities up because we’re not very seen in the community in terms of having our own spaces or leadership. I would like to see that change. But I don’t know if the community wants that quite yet.
What needs to be in place? That’s a good question. I think we’ve held community meetings where that’s been the question but they haven’t attended and we still don’t know. I don’t know. Some folx have said it’s too broad. Saying that we want to uplift, empower, and unite the Black and Latinx community is a broad statement. But I also say that it’s creating space. I don’t want to go in there and tell them what they want. Who am I?! I don’t know what both of these large communities want for the city of Lowell. But I’m willing to do the work and say “Hey y’all let’s do this together!”
This is a big project. Thank you for taking it on. Creating this kind of space is never easy. Through the Kindred Project, what does a community space look like to you? I think that it starts even as simple as a regular physical space that we can meet and feel like ours. Like space where we can create a flag where it represents you, for example. Physical space is important so people feel like we can have somewhere to go to. If you’re black and you want to do something that’s very black in Lowell where do you go aside from church. We do not have a physical space. Even if I wanted to go somewhere to be creative and be around people that look like me, where do I go?
Upcoming projects: I’m performing in a show August 19th. Ashley Cooper is putting together a show called Bodied. It’s live art with body painting. There’ will be different performers, a DJ, and a dance party at the end. It’ll be in Boston.
Authenticity is important to me, and I want to be unapologetically me in the spaces I find myself in.
Thanks for sharing a bit more about you, Masada!
If you’re interested in seeing Masada’s performance on August 19th, 2017, check out – Bodied
TeenBLOCK’s annual peace promotion event: Dance for Peace
Where Masada worked: UTEC