Writing saved C. Imani Williams' life, and now her writing might help save someone else.

Queer, Black Womanist Bares Her Soul in 'Reflections of a Survivor'

BY JASON A. MICHAEL

Writing saved C. Imani Williams' life, and now her writing might help save someone else. As a survivor, Williams is using her voice to share her story of love for family and a betrayal that runs deeper than blood ties.

"Writing with Writers Black Art Collective provided a salve and a community of creatives who make the group different than a networking spot. We do a lot of healing arts work through a variety of writing genres. It happened organically. I reclaimed my voice and a lot of strength in that space," said Williams about overcoming her struggle.

The freelance writer, creator and social justice activist has co-authored "Reflections of a Survivor: An Anthology," arranged by Melony Hill. It is the first project to be released under the Baltimore-based organization, Stronger Than My Struggles.

The organization was founded to empower and inspire those who are facing extreme adversity in life such as disabilities, chronic illness, low self-esteem, domestic violence and addiction, to name a few.

The book features 15 essays from six different writers who have proven through their daily lives that they are survivors. It is available now for purchase online for around $20. Other contributing authors include Arlene R. Major, Amanda Harrinauth, Alexander Sing, Melony Hill and Ciara Lovelace.

Although the Detroit native resides now on the West Coast, Williams began her journey as a local activist in the LGBT community. She has a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Eastern Michigan University and a Master of Fine Arts in creative non-fiction writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles.

Williams is the administrator for Black Artists Connected, a Facebook group where people of like minds can share information. She is also the co-founder of Marijuana Melanites, a diverse group of prolific artists advocating for the decriminalization of marijuana.

Back in her hometown recently for a book signing, Williams spoke with BTL about her survival and why it's so important for her to share her story.

It's been a decade since you left Michigan. What have you been up to?

I've been suffering a lot of grief and loss. I had a granddaughter that was born in 2007 that transitioned three weeks later. And my mother got sick in 2010 and was gone within seven months. I also went through a divorce at the same time I lost my mother. So I've suffered a lot of grief and loss and I've just really been trying to survive emotionally and financially.

What do you miss about Detroit?

Community. Everywhere that I've lived since here has offered some unique perspectives and experiences, but there's no place like home. I think Detroit prepares you for making it anywhere. It may not be easy but you stand a better chance if you have this foundation.

Detroit is a tough city. How did your time here serve you and help you develop the skills to survive?

Detroiters get it done no matter how hard it is or how impossible reaching a goal seems. We find a way. I like to connect with people in terms of a soul, spirit basis. I think that those relationships are very important. And Detroit kind of nurtures that. If you don't find it on a corporate level, for me the arts community works. The point is there's a strength and unity that is found among Detroiters who care about the city of Detroit, and particularly those of us who are '70s babies. Things have changed drastically over the last 30 years, but the foundation that I received as a youth has served me well.

How has co-authoring this book helped you?

As a contributing writer I think I have reflections of being a survivor that have given me the opportunity to not only process my story for myself and deal with all the ins and outs of what has happened, but to put something together that I hope will help other people who are the black sheep in the family. It's for people who have been marginalized and disenfranchised to help them get themselves back. It's a process. It's a lonely process and you have to dig deep. So for me to be a survivor and be a part of this project where people are sharing so personally and so deeply, it has been a blessing. It's been a healing process.

Why is sharing your survival story so important?

The story started out in my journal after losing my father in 2005 and then my granddaughter and it carried over when my mother got sick and I attempted to work with my only sibling. I have been published in anthologies before but this is personal on a different level. I needed to get this story out for my survival.

In what way do you hope to help others?

I intentionally sought a graduate degree in counseling and then a later one in creative writing because I do believe that I am here through my experiences to help others as a healing artist. Creative writing is a very big part of that. I offer creative writing workshops and I also offer jewelry design workshops, which can be helpful to people who have been through trauma. I'm trying to introduce people to healing arts so they can help themselves and others. It's about paying it forward.

What would you say to someone who is struggling to survive right now?

My advice is to get quiet, to mediate on it and find someone they trust that they can talk to. That may be a health professional by trade or even a friend who can lend an ear and help point toward resources. It is most important while you're going through trauma that you don't just keep it to yourself. You have to be proactive in your self-care while handling the situation, and meditate.

C. Imani Williams lives for good ice cream, grits with salt and cheese, humanistic and feeling essays, and lovely gifts of poetry. Connect with her at imanistories@gmail.com or at http://facebook.com/UrbanBushSista/.
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