Olivia • Educator, Social Worker, and Writer
A few years before Olivia decided to relocate to Denver from Georgia, she made a commitment to diving deep into the inner workings of who she is and why to heal and to become her best self. Her self-work began in undergrad at a group therapy session, and her journey to reclaiming the discharged parts of herself continues to this day.
The first time I met Olivia, she shared a poem with me. It was a letter to her younger self forewarning her of the difficulties she would face as an immigrant from St. Lucia and how she would learn to view life from a racialized lens. In our second meeting, we discussed how she’s using a psychology-based motivational theory as a guide to actualizing. She also shared that self-actualization is never a final destination, but the state of constantly discovering one’s self and honoring who you are.
We both agree that Denver is not for everyone, but here, Olivia is thriving, grounded, and rooted. If you know her, you know that she is a force, a light, a beacon of joy and happiness, and someone who oozes vulnerability. Olivia is a plant mom, poet, zine creator, and faculty member at MSU Denver. Her advice to anyone who wants to heal is to simply engage in the work. She shared that self-work is a process and a difficult journey, but to start somewhere. When I asked Olivia to describe Denver in one word she replied, “Fertile.” Keep reading to learn what it means to be her here.
Tell me about yourself.
This question always gets me because I never know where to begin. Currently, here in Denver, I am deeply immersed in my self-work and healing journey. I have carved out space where I can journey inward to retrieve the parts of myself I discarded or rejected. I enjoy spending time in solitude in my apartment with my plants.
Professionally, I am a social worker and educator. I have built a career on advocating for and supporting first-generation students, students from limited-income backgrounds, students of color and those with other oppressed identities access the necessary tools to navigate education. Currently, I am in a new role as the Program Manager of EdConnect, a grow your own educator talent pipeline within Denver Public Schools. I am excited about rebuilding and transforming a district-wide pathway that encourages students, particularly students of color with seeing a career in education as a means by which to positively impact the world around them. This resonates with me so deeply because my own personal experiences as an immigrant moving through the U.S. education system led me to this work. I thoroughly enjoy empowering students in the realm of education access and mentoring. I also teach as an Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Social Work at MSU Denver. I started this position in January 2018 and since then, it has solidified my desire to become a professor.
Outside of myself, I have worked to cultivate meaningful personal relationships while building a community. However, I have taken time away from being in community circles. It was not easy to do so but reciprocity was lacking in the ways I needed it and I had to draw personal boundaries around what I could offer to the world. I did not want to take from myself to give to others when I was barely able to sustain myself.
My zine, Intersections was created by a group of queer women of color to provide a space for sharing and celebrating the beauty and diversity that exists within our communities and within our own identities while centering intersectionality. Although it initially started with three, the other two co-creators are no longer involved. The work that has been produced through the zine has been incredible and was the impetus in my decision to continue to create this space on my own. This zine has transformed into a space for individuals with marginalized identities to share counternarratives of how they are navigating the world in the multiple, intersecting identities. It is a brave space, centering the ideas and work of creatives placed at the margins of society. This is designed for us, by us. It was created for the sharing of ourselves and our narratives as we journey, celebrating healing, loving, and inspiring hope.
Who are you?
On the surface, I am Olivia; a dynamic individual holding multiple complex identities. Deep down inside, I am a multidimensional being. A vibrantly passionate life enthusiast. I have an insatiable desire for knowledge and understanding. I am wedded to my process of self-actualization and actively working on my healing. I am in flux. I am moved by the deep-seated feeling that I am meant to be a part of something bigger than myself. I also love and believe in people. I believe that people have the power to create positive change.
What does it mean to be you?
To be me means to exist between goofiness and seriousness. It means to aspire to move about vulnerably and autonomously. It means surrendering to the process of unfolding no matter the discomfort. It means standing out and speaking up when all I want to do is blend in. It means being labeled as a troublemaker by the outside world. It means showing up authentically, extending myself to the community, while risking being wounded. It means opening up when my trauma response is to shrink and hide. It means leaning into tenderness and extending grace to myself. It means relinquishing my desire to be in control and instead, trusting in the universe. It means to always be a walking target as a queer Black woman. It means reclaiming my body as my own, a home.
What does it mean to you to be Black in Denver?
Oof, another deep question. To be me here in the physical world means to exist as an act of resistance. Evidence of the resiliency of my ancestors. Being here means unraveling intergenerational trauma and being invested in my healing and that of my ancestors. It means to be open to wounding. It means unlearning to relearn. Being here means that I actively have to work on decolonizing my mind and body while simultaneously rewriting my narrative.
Being here in Denver means that I am able to breathe a little easier and commit fully to my process of discovery in the hopes of moving a little closer to liberation. I moved here in 2013 from Georgia to pursue my master’s degree at DU. The first thing I noticed was not feeling as restricted by the external confines of who I needed to be like I did in Georgia. I tell people that being in Colorado made me realize how heavy the invisible, weighted cloak of oppression of the South is. Before Denver, I lived in Georgia for 12 years. I was raised in Atlanta when my family immigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. The South taught me how to view things from a racialized lens. I internalized the oppression that was present for Black Americans at the hands of kids who looked like me. My newfound understanding of my Black body manifested in the form of self-hate and anxiety.
Starting therapy during undergrad at Georgia Southern set me on my journey to undo the damage that was done during my formative years in Atlanta. Since then, I have been able to intentionally engage in critical self-reflection and rewrite a narrative that wasn’t mine. So, as I am here, physically in Denver and spiritually in this world, I pour my energy into myself and those who have earned the right to witness me honestly and vulnerably.
What do you love most about living in Denver?
What I like most about being in Denver is how open and supportive people are in the creative community! The people I have encountered have always been readily willing to collaborate and connect you with others and resources! I could not have launched my zine, Intersections without the help and guidance of others.
I also love how Denver is saturated with community events and programming. Sometimes it can be overwhelming because I want to support everyone but it is hard to do when events are occurring at the same time.
How have your experiences in Denver shaped you?
My experiences in Denver have given me stability, a place to call home. I was uprooted from my original home when I was 10. I never quite felt like I belonged the 12 years I lived in Georgia. I went to 3 different middle schools and the ostracism I experienced as an immigrant always made me feel like an outsider. Even in high school and the two different colleges I attended, I felt like I was always an observer, witnessing how others were living. I craved to have meaningful friendships and relationships, but that was extremely challenging for me because of the trauma I experienced from being bullied. When I moved to Denver in 2013 solely because of the Masters in Social Work program at the University of Denver. I hadn’t even visited the city or the state of Colorado, but after researching the program for over a year, I knew that is where I wanted to pursue my graduate education in social work. I knew nobody and had to rebuild my support system. I still remember how anxious and alone I felt during that time. But my graduate education in the Graduate School of Social Work at DU further encouraged my self-exploration and personal healing journey. After my two years in grad school, I was able to step out of the DU bubble to find identity-specific communities, especially spaces where I could explore my Black queer identity. I have now been in Denver for 6 years and I feel rooted. I am still growing, discovering, exploring, unlearning, and healing.