Creating Space For Conversations That Matter
The Breathing Space— A place to just be.
By Leeza Joneé
My upbringing was not very traditional.
I’m an only child who grew up between two households; one whose living room on any given day was a therapist's office, an after school program or even a venue for birthdays and baby showers. You name it, the door to my mother’s home was always open. As a kid, my mind always wondered as I was surrounded by people with such infinite and varied backgrounds. In 1997, I lost my mother. Losing her is the origin of my depression. I moved from what seemed like a home in a sitcom into the household of my godmother who didn’t necessarily believe in such an open door policy. I no longer had that space, that community. Holding onto the desire of kinship, my mother has been my biggest inspiration for curating space.
Before there even was a “Breathing Space” I was presented with this idea of cocktails and conversation in 2016. It was meant to be more of a social outing. A party styled meet and greet, so to speak. When I realized, especially for myself, all that could be taken away from this experience, I knew I wanted it to be more curated. I wanted to hone in on topical conversation that established a deeper connection to an open forum. There is power in socializing and, more importantly, healing in community (thanks to Michael Tonge of The Culture LP for putting into words what I had already felt), if done well and with intention. I began to build on The Breathing Space with the objective of bringing conversation back to the social scene and making uncomfortable dialogue less taboo aka “grown folk business”. The Breathing Space has certainly served as a healing space for me. I am forever moved by discovering new lived experiences that allow me to meditate over my own.
So how does one entice a group of people, millennials at that, to congregate in a social setting and keep their attention within group dialogue? Alcohol. I’m kidding. A libation or two and good food may take the edge off however, to me, a familiar vibe is what does it. An intimate space, that maybe resembles a homies house with no pressure to look a certain way and no policing of verbiage along with some funky sounds— a place to just be.
I learned that any great discussion starts with a subject. So with looking to curate a conversation, I began with a topic. I pay attention to the discourse around me, the way people communicate with each other online and the themes that surface in everyday conversations; even the calendar plays a role in deciding what should be talked about.
I make sure to leave each topic as vague as possible with my own short list of subtopics, leaving room to allow guests to openly contribute and express similar or opposing experiences and opinions. I started out with “What Women Want” in the month of March 2017 for Women’s History Month. From there, the topics have ranged from balancing life on and off social media, music, sex, dating, what it means to be a person of color and, most recently, mental and emotional health. Each topic features a special guest speaker. I look for someone uniquely or specifically familiar with said topic and not for the sake of monopolizing a conversation but someone open to receiving a broader understanding as well.
My favorite part of the night is fellowshipping with everyone both before the conversation and during intermission. What’s a dope social scene without music? Our musical coordinator, Niara Sterling, curates the vibe of the night so funkily. Incorporating a curated live DJ set makes the overall experience less rigid.
The vibe created just couldn’t work without music, as music, within itself, is therapeutic.
The reaction to The Breathing Space,online and in real life, provided me with insights to understanding why this space is so important. Some have called it “group therapy,” no matter how deep the topic and I realized, I wanted people to leave feeling good with something to think and talk about.
Hearing the words, “I didn’t even know I needed to be here” has become the catalyst to making sure I create a space for a meaningful exchange. A necessary space for conversation that matters. I have a goal in life of bringing people together and keeping them connected. I am thankful for The Breathing Space for continuing to allow me to do that.
Up next, The Breathing Space is curating a dinner series and providing additional merch. Previously, we sold out of our soft launch of candles, in partnership with Cortnie Vee AJA candles and tote bags embroidered by The Griggs Brothas.
When I first started this piece, I think, subconsciously, I wanted to be safe. So I delivered a safe article... but safe is an inconvenience. For anyone like me, experiencing their own bouts with depression and anxiety, safe is an untruth and would be a disservice. Growing up, I never thought that I may actually struggle with mental health. To me, mental health issues only looked like “A Beautiful Mind” and some comedian in a straitjacket. Until I started to unfold for myself, I realized that the questions I had about my life experiences could not be answered alone. What if we just spoke up and someone responded with their own story that sounded so much like, “me too” or it made you step back and ponder on your own way of thinking? I created The Breathing Space with this in mind.
Connect with New-York based writer and creative Leeza Joneé and check out The Breathing Space below: