With a spacious banquet hall and several carpeted nooks above it, John Wesley United Methodist Church at 260 Quincy Street in historic Bedford-Stuyvesant was the setting for a day of communication, inspiration and healing for women and men. Dubbed “The Mother Wit Conference 2018,” Healing on Fertile Ground, the event’s leadership team strove to present the various facets of fertility.
The phrase “mother wit” in the conference name refers to the deep common sense and know-how with which most people come to Earth. The workshops, panel discussions and the keynote address were accented by mother wit. The subtitle, “Healing on Fertile Ground,” speaks to the need for the essential elements of earth, fire, air and water to be in a pristine state within the human body and in the environment in order for people to thrive.
This conference came together from the contributions of visionary and producer Shawnee Benton-Gibson, LMSW/FDLC, whose talents include spiritual counseling, energy work and storytelling. Ms. Benton-Gibson explained: “Every year, I intuitively select a theme for the Mother Wit Conference and this year what came forth was ‘Healing on Fertile Ground.’ The vision, energy and vibration of this theme were alive and enlivened in every conceivable way on the day of the event. There were moments when the fertile ground of authentic sharing and storytelling produced the fruit of release, relief and restoration.”
Other key conference contributors include Dr. Torrian Easterling, who is the Assistant Commissioner of the Brooklyn District Public Health Office of the Center for Health Equity. Easterling served as co-producer and facilitator of the plenary session. Ashley “Ash” Marie Straw served as one of the conference coordinators and a performing artist within The Mother Wit Performance Ensemble and the Playback Theater performance. The Playback Theater uses improvisation to depict a moment in a person’s life. Shantel Gamble was the other conference coordinator. Ms. Gambles’ passions include holistic health advocacy and the use of alternative healing modalities.
Kinyofu Mteremeshi-Mlimwengu was the facilitator of the Red Tent Women’s Circle. Ms. Mteremeshi-Mlimwengu holds a Bachelor’s degree in Community and Human Services and a Master’s degree in Education. “Kinyofu Mlimwengu’s two focuses are reproductive self-care of women and the social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral development of their children.” Lasting approximately one half-hour, the Red Tent Circle sessions ran throughout the conference. The Red Tent is a luxurious, round enclosed space that is covered in several large, primarily red, colorful cloths. The Red Tent is symbolic of the womb. It is the space for women to discuss womb health, children, family and realizing dreams.
The Mother Wit Conference operated from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Highlights included concurrent half-hour Red Tent sessions, the lushly imaginative The Womb Museum, curated by Shomany Gibson and Omari Maynard of ArtFul Living, where art covered the small space from the floor to the ceiling; keynote by Dr. Karen Althea Maybank who is the NYC Health and Mental Hygiene Deputy Commissioner and Founding Director of the Center for Health Equity, five concurrent workshops, panel discussions, The Mother Wit Performance Ensemble and the closing ritual. Kudos go to quilters Veronica Johnson, Pam Jones and Rita Strickland whose lavish quilts decorated the banquet hall.
There was much heart and disclosure at the event from presenters and conference attendees. During the panel discussions, Anastasia West and Paige Bellenbaum, in separate panels, revealed their postpartum periods involved an aversion to their infants. One married couple, Lucien and Tracey Humphreys, described their ordeal of living through the loss of their baby. All panelists agreed the common condolences for the loss of a child ring harshly in their ears.
Keynote speaker Dr. Maybank did the uncommon by having her public address cover her effort to have a child though unmarried and over 40. Maybank began by explaining her “career successes such as being Founding Director of the Center for Health Equity and launching the Office of Minority Health were not accomplishments that defined her life.” Rather, having a child within the bonds of marriage was more important to her. Maybank detailed the highs and lows of finding a man who agreed to fertilize her eggs “the old-fashioned way,” only for the man to back out of the arrangement a few days before the appointed date. Maybank, with controlled emotion, described how, at age 47, her physician dissuaded her from having some of her eggs freezed. At age 50, Dr. Maybank is reconciling herself with her current state of childlessness. Such is the state of industrial or high-tech society. This writer was apprised by a Nigerian national that in the rural areas, it is common for women to bear children in their 60s.