Black w/ Plants: Toronto Q&A with Kortney Morrow

January 2019–January 2020, Black with Plants will publish q and a on mental health + community building with botanists, college dropouts, horticulturalists, plant care specialists, natural hair experts, social justice advocates, sound therapists, etc. across the thirteen hardiness zones in the United States and African diaspora.

What do you want readers to know about Toronto? psychological wellness?  Or a creative project that you are working on? and the role of community building, and its impact on mental health?
 
Toronto is a  booming, liberal, diverse city. It’s truly been a joy living in Toronto and if I was going to have kids and raise them, I’d really want to raise them there. That’s not to say it’s a utopia — Canada has its own brutal and unresolved history with indigenous First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Affordable housing, police brutality, and rising fascism are very present. But the basic social services that help prevent incredible disparity are still functioning. That’s important to me. The people I’ve met in Canada are also extremely into nature, all-year round. Composting is a regular practice, weekend camping or lake house trips are routine (especially amongst the wealthy), the city runs free buses between downtown and the closest National park, and it’s like everybody knows how to ice skate.
 
What about the opportunity to display foliage, etc. online (specifically via IG) first interested you in committing your time and energy to plant care-taking?
 
When I was little, my grandma used to wash every collard green leaf before preparing a meal. I remember her soaking and scrubbing each one with such care. Then there was ten-year-old me standing next to her severely lacking the patience to ever follow in her footsteps.
 
What I would do to go back now…
 
Last year I got the chance to interview Zella Palmer, The Chair of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture. I hope to never forget her wisdom. She said, “Here we are, black folks trying to figure out how to farm. Our ancestors took a lot of that knowledge to the grave. Part of it was because there was a lot of pain. You didn’t want to pass it down, you didn’t want to talk about it. Uplifting sometimes meant throwing away.”
 
My relationship to the earth is tarnished — I’ve thrown away a lot. I’m terrible at keeping my plants alive. I sometimes can’t even remember if the food I’m eating comes from the ground or a tree. Seeing people of color on Instagram and in-person taking care of plants and our environment really made me take a closer look at why this practice was absent in my life. Why did the outdoors scare me? Why didn’t I know the native plants in my area? Why was I relatively oblivious to nature’s healing properties? Why was I eating seasonal fruit all year long?
 
Recently I found out Kelis sold one of her million dollar mansions to buy a farm, grow all her food, and feed her kids that way. That’s the wave I’m on. I don’t have a milli, but I’m looking for that grand notion of reclamation. Keeping a house plant alive would be a start. 
 
Community engagement is a significant obligation of direct service. With that in mind, can you tell us about your experience in engaging with your contacts  day-to-day? Do you notice services rendered positively affecting your contact’s psychological well-being?
 
In 2019, I left my job as a fundraiser for a local nonprofit in New Orleans. The more resources that I brought in for the organization, the more black, brown and queer youth could develop their writing skills and become published authors. My self-worth was directly tied to the amount of money/resources I was bringing in, and I embarrassingly got burnt out working 60+ work weeks.
 
Moving in with my brother and helping him and his wife raise their kids has been my “community engagement” for the past year. Every moment we have to collectively chose what we want to pass down. We have to talk about our vision for the world and build backward from there. It’s the most futuristic, imaginative, dynamic work that I’ve ever done — and I’m just the auntie.
 
My nieces’ parents have been brilliant at incorporating nature into her city life. They go on nature walks almost every weekend, letting her take as much time as she wants. We often spend thirty minutes walking up and down one street. She wants to know what kind of tree she is looking at, why the leaves are changing colors, where the squirrels go at night, how the cherry blossoms bloomed, why the ducks dip their heads in the water, etc. She also has a great relationship with people, especially on our block. Sometimes community engagement starts in your own home, on your own street.
 
Would you be willing to share a memorable moment from 2018?
 
In 2018 I had the chance to attend Winter Tangerine’s Summer Workshop. I spent four days writing and creating in NYC with about twenty other brilliant artists. My workshop leader, jayy dodd, pushed my writing to new heights. When I read the poems I created then, and I’m like, wait– who wrote this? It was there that I realized, not only do I want to pursue the craft of poetry full-time, I want to live my life like one big epic poem. Everything is blank and I get to fill the space with whatever I want. There are no rules, but every word matters. Every move matters. In 2019 I’ll be starting my first year at The Ohio State University, pursuing my MFA in Poetry.
 
Your perspective is invaluable. Thank you for distilling your talents, sharing your time, and a contributing to the local economy. Can you tell readers a little bit about your perspective on securing space for psychological healing and/or wellness?
 
Investing in your psychological healing/wellness is one of the best investments you can make. Without actively cultivating your own psychological wellness, other people can dictate your life…your emotions…your decisions. Tune into who you are, what you want, and live your life on your own terms.
 
I think there’s beauty in sharing and connecting on Instagram, but I also think there’s a tendency to over-glamorize healing. Too often self-care work is tied to capitalism. People spend dollars trying to find balance, buying fancy face lotions and scheduling vacations. Sometimes self-love is saying no to that extra freelance gig, spending an hour chatting with your neighbors, drinking more water, cooking a meal, etc. Self-love isn’t actually all that glamorous and maintaining psychological wellness is a basically full-time job.  

Final thoughts from Kortney Morrow (@iamkortney):

I guess I’ll end on a challenge. There’s this love note floating around twitter that says “you are worth so much more than your productivity.” Try taking that to heart every day. Can you separate your self-worth from your “outputs?”

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