Since taking over as Executive Director of Community Change Inc. in January 2014, one of the questions that I am constantly asked is how do I manage living in Maine while heading up at organization based in Boston? Such a commute might seem abnormal to many but based off the number of fellow commuters who ride the Amtrak Downeaster along with me, I am hardly alone.
There is actually a term for us: “extreme commuters”—folks whose daily commute is longer than 90 minutes each day. When the stars align and there are no delays, my commute is about 2 hours and 25 minutes each way. The stars rarely align and, as you can imagine, this winter my commute has been extremely interesting. However, I rarely commute daily at this point; instead, I go down and stay over for two to three nights depending on the week. Seeing as how I head up a small non-profit, my overnight accommodations are hardly plush. I generally alternate between the local youth hostel and an inexpensive “boutique” hotel.
Many may wonder, why ever would one subject themselves to such logistical challenges all for a job? Well, the work that we do at Community Change is not easily replicable—our focus is anti-racism specifically working with white people. The opportunity to head up such an organization in many ways was a dream come true despite the challenges of location. Yet I do work that matters deeply to me and while I most certainly could head up an organization closer to home as I did for many years, it would hardly be the same.
On a personal note though, this job and the extreme commute have been my pathway back to myself. Living and working in Maine had started to take a toll on me and. to be honest, I didn’t realize how much so until I took this job. I hadn’t realized that the cost of being the Black person in almost-always-white spaces had caused me to stuff myself down to the point that my true self was almost unrecognizable. To live in a space where one is always the “other” is hard because rarely can you be comfortable in your own skin. You are always in a flight-or-fight mode once you walk outside your house. Even doing “fun” things have the potential to spiral into something less than fun when you are the other.
Over the past 14 months as I have navigated learning not only my job and organization but the actual city of Boston, I have become very aware of how much lighter my spirit feels when I am out of Maine. Even in a city such as Boston that has its own complicated racial history that is not always favorable, to be able to navigate in spaces where I am not “The Other” is a breath of fresh hair. To go into meetings and see myself mirrored matters; to have other Black and brown-skinned directors to connect with has meant a level of support that I needed but could never obtain in Maine. To walk into my board meetings knowing that I don’t have to measure every word because to make a mistake will be an indictment on all Black bodies and “proof” that I don’t deserve my position is a huge weight off my shoulders. I could go on.
All this of course leads to the next question: Why are you still in Maine? Life is complicated and when you have kids and a house, as much as we might want to just up and leave, it can’t always happen at that time. If I had my way, I would have left Maine 14 months ago, yet at this stage in life, it’s a bad look to jump without planning ahead. So eventually I do hope to leave Maine and after 14 months of shuttling my stuff back and forth, I am taking the baby steps of laying down roots in Boston by looking to rent a room so that I can have a semi-permanent place to lay my head on the days that I am down there. (Hey, Boston folks, if you have a lead on a room on the T line, let me know…I am serious) Ideally, I can make the full leap by fall 2016 but that depends on pesky back-end and boring adult details like money, home repairs, money…you get the point.
So yes, I do have an abnormal commute and sometimes it can be tiring, but living and working in a place that feels like a prison cell is far worse. At least a few days a week, I get to feel fully alive and free before I have to go back to my cell called Maine where I wear my mask and feel my soul slowly oozing out.