The ability to successfully work across a range of disciplines is one of the themes emerging across the range of young change-makers that have appeared on Grenada 40 to date. In an era in which the concept of a ‘job for life’ is fast becoming a distant memory for many, so our generation has seized upon opportunities to build multifaceted work identities.
Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe illustrates this well. She’s the director and co-founder of social action collective Groundation Grenada, a yoga instructor at her family-run Spice Harmony Yoga Studio in Calivigny, St George and, until recently, she was also director of public relations at the Grenada Goat Dairy Project, the St Patrick -based project that raised a record $63,000 in donations through crowd-sourced fundraising on Kickstarter.
The Groundation Grenada movement
Malaika defines Groundation Grenada as “the meeting point of all of my interests”. Groundation is an interdisciplinary movement towards stimulating growth and thriving in Grenada and beyond. While the current focus is on high-quality written articles, a radio and video series are being developed. Malaika and her co-directors Ayisha Sylvester-John, Kimalee Phillip, and Richie Maitland are also in the process of expanding beyond the digital space to work on collaborative projects, host events with the eventual aim to build a space to facilitate other people’s actions.
A concern for social justice is a common thread that runs through much of Groundation’s work but the collective also has a strong focus on the creative arts. In the past they have used performance art to explore issues including domestic violence, high rates of unemployment and teenage girls being kicked out of school.
Groundation has also hosted visiting artists and in 2013 partnered with Caribbean art and culture magazine, ARC Magazine, to host an event in St George’s that showcased a range of artist performances and the screening of video and short film works by several Caribbean and diaspora-based artists.
It’s not ‘giving back’ – it’s just living
When asked how she manages to juggle so many activities Malaika, who is also an artist, confesses that she’s in the middle of clearing out her “commitment box” in order to prioritise where she expends her energy. “I used to hear people say to me, ‘It’s so great that you’re giving back’. I couldn’t really understand that as a concept. For me what I do is really not about give or take, it’s just life. It’s just living for me,” she explains.
Born in Grenada in 1987 but raised partly in the US, as a child Malaika says she was constantly surrounded by fresh ideas and, most importantly, conversation. She cites being made aware of the value of her voice and opinions as a definitive aspect of her upbringing. “In fundamental ways, I felt that my parents trusted me and my decisions and I still feel like that’s the case. That has made a huge impact in helping me feel like it’s natural for me to be an active member of the community,” she says.
Her commitment to community activism is underscored by a certain mindfulness, perhaps cultivated by years of practicing yoga. Malaika was drawn to the discipline as a way of dealing with pain management; although she is a yoga instructor, she suffers from fibromyalgia a long-term condition that can cause pain all over the body.
Malaika confesses that, to a certain extent, the diagnosis was a relief. “I thought, ‘now I have prescription to live my life the way that I want to because, if things are potentially going to hurt, I might as well put my energy into what I want to do.’ I can’t really sit at a desk for a whole work day, that’s just not going to work for my body,” she says.
Change at a grassroots level
The condition was spotted by a professor while Malaika was an undergraduate at Smith College where she was a Mellon Mays fellow. The fellowship encourages young people of colour to enter the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning, although, having recently completed a masters at the University of the West Indies, she doesn’t seem to be convinced about the prospect of doing a Phd. Rather Malaika seems to feel more suited to making a change at a grassroots level.
When she announced her intention to return to Grenada after finishing her degree at Smith College in Massachusetts many people, including – to some extent – her parents, were shocked. “What drew me back was that I was passionate about the fact that we can be a sustainable island. I wanted to focus on the idea of how we feed ourselves, not just physically but how we can feed ourselves creatively and in terms of our social engagement with people,” Malaika says.
“There is something really powerful about seeing yourself represented and seeing yourself represented well,” explains Malaika. She uses the term symbolic annihilation to describe the way in which not seeing oneself can work on one’s psyche in a way that you don’t think that you are worth seeing and becomes a means of sustaining social inequality.
Developing conscious tourism
When Malaika co-founded Groundation in 2009 with her partner Richie Maitland, the blog was only intended to be a space to document their activities which included work with people who were displaced by Peter De Savary’s Port Louis development. Mt. Panday “squatters”, people who had moved to the capital from the country to do low paid jobs only to be moved what has been argued to be substandard housing in areas like Beausejour.
As the island’s tourism offering faces another crossroads, Malaika is keen to re-start a nuanced discussion about tourism and its impacts on the island. It’s driven by a desire to consider the potential of a tourism that really focuses on Grenadians developing Grenadians and making this the foundation of the island’s appeal.
She says, “What Grenada is facing isn’t just a skills gap, it’s an inspiration gap, it’s a gap in relation to what we see as possible. We have complex stories, we’re not just the image on the postcard, we’re not just ‘that place the US invaded’. We are so many things. For me that’s central; shifting that and allowing us to see ourselves in a far broader way.
“Who wouldn’t want to visit the Carenage as a cultural mecca with beautiful buildings dedicated to dance, a thriving museum space, a stunning library and a promenade,” she asks, referencing the vision of fellow Grenadian, young architect Irina Kostka. “Who wouldn’t want to come to a space that is an island but also this beautiful knowledge and cultural mecca. Let’s start by taking care of our own and then let’s innovate from there.”