A Letter from Sarah Bellamy | Breonna Taylor, Say Her Name

Greetings Dear Community,

I write today, on the heels of an exciting announcement from Penumbra, to address the work ahead and the why of it. Last night was another night of gut-sickness and heart-brokenness and rage for black folks in America. We now know formally that the officers who killed Breonna Taylor will not be held accountable for her death. Our grief is deep-for her family, for our community, for our nation.

This is the perpetual message we get from America: You are not safe here. You will not be protected. If you become a casualty of this country, your loved ones will have no recourse. There will be no justice.

Our bodies already know this. It is one of the reasons why so many of us are sick.

This is why Penumbra is evolving in the way that it is today. Many people already fundamentally understand the intentionality behind this evolution and the critical need for Penumbra to do this. They get that this is what truly enacting our mission looks like. After all, Penumbra is not just about powerful art, it is about valuing the black people, the black community, that creates that art.

As black people, we experience a constant state of threat living in this country. Our human bodies-finely tuned to survive danger-respond as they should. When we perceive threat, our stress response system kicks in flooding our bodies with adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine. This cascade of hormones supercharges our bodies to fight or flee to save ourselves. This is taxing and when the threat passes, we need to rest. Typically this is when the parasympathetic nervous system would come online to calm the stress response system to bring us back into our normal state of being. It would allow us to well and truly know that the threat has passed and that we can go about the business of life once again.

But in the United States, the threat never passes. We stay on high alert. We can’t focus on living because we’re focusing on surviving. This has disastrous consequences for our physical, emotional, and mental health.

Social epidemiologists, clinical psychologists, and academics have proven the link between the constant stress of racism and chronic illness. Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, poor maternal and fetal health outcomes, certain cancers, all of this can be attributed to experiencing racism in this country. It is not lost on me that these are the very diseases that make black and brown people more susceptible to COVID-19 than white people. We see layer upon layer of injustice, generation after generation; and our bodies know.

This is why the Penumbra Center for Racial Healing will offer a full fleet of culturally specific, holistic services to help regulate our bodies and return a sense of calm and safety to our knowing. The old ones used to call it “a laying on of hands.” Their wisdom inoculates us today. Penumbra is bringing somatic healers, psychologists and psychotherapists, body workers, and other wellness practitioners to our curriculum development. We are backed by science and ancestral blood-knowing. We are well equipped to rescue ourselves.

The power of our personal and collective healing must also be realized and made sustainable by effective policy change and increased accountability in the world around us. That is why we are bolstering our racial equity work and partnering with powerful entities in healthy equity, criminal justice reform, education, and climate justice. The racism that keeps our bodies sick operates in every sector of our society and these four sectors represent a crucible of pressure that assails black communities across the country.

Racial healing requires racial equity. Enacting racial healing means that our bodies might finally be able to trust this country, trust its people, and trust the resilience gifted to us by our ancestors who survived its brutality and negligence.

I want to ask that those who identify as black, indigenous, or people of color take time and space to express grief and sadness and disappointment in ways that leave you feeling unburdened. Penumbra is leading a number of healing circles with clients at this time, and if this feels like it would be useful for your workplace, please reach out to vanessa.nyarko@penumbratheatre.org for more information. We must not operate as though we are okay if we are not. That only layers more trauma onto our already besieged bodies.

Many white patrons of our theatre appreciate Penumbra for our powerful art. Thank you for that, for seeing us and our lives and our creative resiliency. Thank you for allowing the translation of our experience into art to move and even change you.

Now I ask you for more. Seeing us is not enough.

I ask you to care that we are well.

I ask you to care that we are safe.

I ask you to work with us to build a sense of safety and protection in this country to which we have contributed so very much.

Our bodies know that we are not nearly done with the death that has long hunted and haunted our community. But thanks to dreams like the Penumbra Center for Racial Healing, our bodies will have a space of refuge, our spirits will be enlivened by vitalizing art, and our hands will be put to good work with actionable tools to increase equity now and for the future.

This is what it means to stand fully in our mission.

Stand with us.

With abiding love,