What is a community?
This question has permeated the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds for much of our lives. The three of us come from different backgrounds, different experiences, different worldviews; and we've collectively had many years to grapple with an answer.
Now, as we reach the end of 2020—a year that has included a global pandemic, an international uprising in support of Black lives, and a national election—the concept of “community” is more fraught than ever.
Despite this challenge, the three of us have come together to humbly offer a response. At its best, we believe a community is a place to experience deep vulnerability. A place to laugh. To cry. To mourn. To celebrate. A place to safely explore the full depth of what it is to be a human being.
So it is perhaps fitting that we begin this second volume of the Tilt West Journal with an essay. As poet Ross Gay explains, the word essay is derived from the Old French essai, meaning a trial, an attempt. With this publication, we curators—in partnership with our many contributors–have attempted to give some artistic form to the word “community.” We have attempted to put language around both a topic and a year that might only be truly understood by having lived through it.
When we initially met in the spring of 2020 to discuss this volume’s theme of Art & Community, we were intent on including as many voices as possible—representing a colorful tapestry of experiences. As the months rolled on, however, the tenor of this theme took on an even deeper significance.
Over the course of this year, we have attended protests and rallies, both peaceful and violent; we have gathered at a distance; we have mourned lost lives; we have voted; we have listened; we have watched; we have cried. We have tried to find a sense of normalcy while unearthing the ways in which previous understandings of “normal” have fallen short.
This kind of upheaval is confusing. It's painful. It's difficult to rationalize. And yet, it's an opportunity. It offers us a chance to shift our perspective as our world tilts in a new direction. Our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation: each is a community trying to reach the full depths of itself. We've seen those depths—in peaceful vigils, in people confronting their own wounds, in strangers coming together for a common cause.
A community is also a living, breathing entity. Breath is what keeps it alive. But, for a long time, some of our fellow community members haven't been able to breathe because of the knees on their necks. They haven't been able to breathe as they've been turned away at the ER. They haven't been able to breathe because of the stress that they endure simply by existing. And yet, they still often make a way for others, even if they have none of their own. They make art. They redefine and remake community.
For all of us who want to aid with this process of transformation, it's time to look upon our community again. With empathy. With hope. With commitment. With accountability. We believe that every artist, writer, and community leader in this issue will help us all attempt to gain a new perspective.
As you dive into the depths of this journal, we hope the spirit of community will be stirred within you.
We leave you with a Congolese proverb:
If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.
Brenton Weyi, Brandi Stanley, and Derrick Velasquez,
Art & Community Issue Editors