Q&A: Poet and Activist Cleo Wade

The ‘Heart Talk’ author talks self-care and building community at the Ann Arbor stop of her ‘Courageous Love’ tour
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Cleo WadeTo her 430,000 Instagram followers and beyond, Cleo Wade, the author of Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom For a Better Life, is known for poetry, affirmations, and prose that get to core of knowing oneself and sharing love with others. To attendees of her Courageous Love tour, which is traveling around the country in an effort to build self-care and community, she’ll also be known for creating spaces that bring people together. Prior to the first stop of the tour, held at Graduate Hotels across the country, Wade sat down with Hour Detroit to discuss everything from upcoming elections to empowering women through accessible conversations.

Hour Detroit: Ann Arbor is the first stop on your Courageous Love tour. What are you looking forward to as you continue to travel across the country?

Cleo Wade: What I’m excited about in this tour is that it’s built for people to become friends. All great movements start in living rooms and kitchens, so when we were looking at spaces, the Graduate Hotel was the most amazing partner because it feels like a living room. I had a really great time writing my talk for this tour as well, which is called Self Care: A Pathway to Community Care. In each stop, we have non-partisan organizations coming to make sure people are registered to vote and know information for absentee voting and what’s on the ballot. I want everyone to feel empowered. In 2016, there were so many people who sit out the elections. That brings a sense of feeling that everything is happening to you. In this next voting cycle, if we can come through strong, we at least know we were engaged and did as much as we could to fight for the things we think are right.

How does the mission of the tour connect with the self-love you explore in your writing? 

Everything starts within. How we are able to show care for ourselves within, reflects the ways we’re able to show care outside of ourselves and our community. If we don’t learn to cultivate a practice of showing care for ourselves, then we walk into the world feeling really depleted, and we can’t be in the right heart space or head space to problem solve what’s going on around us. My mission is to help people create their own self-care practice so that they can tap into the best of who they are and show up as that person. For me, this tour really is about finding ways to cultivate that level of care within, creating spaces where you can come together, and then seeing what happens next, which I believe will be world changing — certainly community changing.

Why is it particularly important for women and girls to build community now? 

The foundation of our own identity has been created by men. There’s a lot of dismantling that we have to do to create the proper foundation for the next generation of women and girls. The reason for focusing on a new wave of female storytelling is because we’ve been operating in a deficit. For so long, every time you saw women depicted where culture is popular and visible, we’re competing and comparing. With women and minorities, we have been taught that we’re only allowed to take up so much space. We instinctually, through our social conditioning, feel threatened by the presence of another woman, or person of color, or oppressed group. We have a big hole to dig ourselves out of to be on an even playing field.

How are you working to make this conversation accessible?  

I had this realization earlier in the year that I was going to designate a huge chunk of my work to creating free spaces for people to be in community with each other. We need as many entry points as possible for getting into community, organizing with each other, and healing each other. I try to find the easiest entry points. We have to do whatever we can to feel connected with each other in real life. If that is my real goal, then I have to ask myself, ‘What are the best tools I have?’ For me, that is my words. If I could sing and dance, I probably would be doing open mic nights here (laughs). But my biggest goal is to bring people together to connect and be on their journeys together. My best tool to organize around happens to be my writing.

What’s your advice for people looking to find themselves through a creative path like you have? 

Spend time to intimately get to know yourself. A lot of the time, we’re trying to find ourselves in public spaces before we find ourselves in the intimacy of our own bodies and our immediate circles. That’s where we can start to waver as far as making the right decisions. That’s also when we start to enter this space of wondering if our actions or what we create is on brand. I tell people, ‘don’t think about your life as being on brand. Think of it as being on mission.’ Then your public works — art work, poetry, song, dance, running for office — always align with who you are. We’ve gotten into this strange, branded culture where we use that as a way to bribe ourselves to do things our private self wouldn’t be OK with. I think every creative has to always ask themselves what their goal is.

For more information, visit cleowade.com.

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