Self Awareness Month: Tonya I.

Tonya Ingram is the 2011 New York Knicks Poetry Slam champion, a member and co-founder of NYU's poetry slam team, a member of the 2011 Urban Word-NYC team, the 2013 Nuyorican Grand Slam team and the 2015 Da Poetry Lounge Slam team. She is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of Growl and Snare. Her work has traveled throughout the United States, Ghana, The Literary Bohemian, Huffington Post, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls,LupusChick.com, For Harriet, Buzzfeed, Afropunk, Rude Magazine, Cultural Weekly, The WILD, Upworthy, To Write Love On Her Arms, Youtube and season four of Lexus Verses and Flow. She has shared the stage with Hill Harper, Soledad O' Brien, President Clinton, Anthony Hamilton, Lynn Whitfield, and others. She is a New York University alumna, a Cincinnati native, a Bronx-bred introvert who recently returned from Los Angeles where she completedher MFA in Public Practice at Otis College of Art & Design. 

Q. What does self awareness mean to you personally?

A. Self-awareness is the ability to understand oneself during the missteps and miracles that shape our lives.

Q. What are your greatest strengths?

A. My greatest strength is sensitivity. Some may consider that a huge weakness, but I think the complete opposite. Sensitivity is a sixth sense. It is a gift to be considerate of life on such a level. I'm often teased for being too sensitive, but I perceive it as a value. It is how I feel that helps me understand and connect to people. It allows me to not overlook the overlooked.

Q. Name one old habit you are trying to get rid of.

A. Being ashamed of asking for help. I am very independent, probably to a fault. However, it is a great human characteristic to be able to ask for help. We can't do this life alone. There is no shame in admitting that. Recently, I have found myself needing to kick the habit of guilting myself. It is ok to be vulnerable. That is what people relate to. When I turned 22, I was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic illness. I did not understand what was happening to my body, to my sanity. I was hospitalized in the intensive care unit and felt closer to death than ever. It was during this time, I was greeted with so much care that it still baffles me til this day. I was not left alone during my month-long hospital stay. People were thinking of me. People were kind to  me. People came to see me. I needed help, and it was given .During Christmas, although I was stuck in a hospital gown, I was given gifts. I was not forgotten. The most powerful thing many of us can do is to repeat that mantra. I am not forgotten. Do not count yourself out. People want to be there for you. You are worth someones time.

Q. What steps are you taking?

A. I recently started a compassionate crowd sourcing campaign to help get an apartment. Since graduating with a masters degree and moving back home, it has been a difficulty making adjustments. I value my mental and physical health very much and asking for assistance during this time is what I need.

Q. What is your best attribute that you have to offer others?

A. My kindness. I may not have a lot, but I have that. I'm very soft spoken and I'm a huge introvert, but my kindness is large. I never want people to feel like they don't matter.

Q. Where do you find strength?

A. Primarily, I know, and find my strength in my relationship with God. I understand that there is no greater kindness than that which I get from God. Secondly, my strength comes from my story. I have lived such a full life in such a short period of time. I have experienced sexual abuse, chronic illness, and depression. I have watched the ugliness of domestic abuse find my mother. I have been a body who did not want to live any longer. I have been there. I have been there and I am still here. Of course, this is not on my strength alone. I know that this is because of such a grace that is on my life. I find strength in being able to tell  this story to people across the world through poetry. My story is a gift for others to know their strength. 

Q. What life lesson would you pass on to the next generation?

A. Do not be afraid to take up space. Do not be afraid to tell people what you need. You are not wrong for feeling. Feel, my friend. Feel. Tell your story because it is bigger than any of us and that is the miracle we all need.

I would like to thank Tonya for her time, honesty, and vulnerability. You can check out her amazing poetry at the links below.

Thank you so much for encountering this beautiful soul with me.

xxx Jo

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