I have tried to put Lawanda Swan into words myself, but I’ve decided there is not much point in me trying when her words on their own are so poignant. So I will let her explain herself, but first let me add that you are going to want to read every last drop of this interview with a truly fascinating woman. Her words sing, and she inspires me to do better.
“I prioritize Black people.” This is how I respond when people ask me what I do. I smile, look them square in the eye and say “I prioritize Black people.” That unnerves the shit out of most people and I sometimes get a kick out of it. They don’t know what to do with those 4 simple words. Don’t know how to hold it. So they fumble it around a bit. Bouncing it off one knee and then another trying desperately to not let this conversation drop, but not quite sure how to keep it up in the air…without hurting themselves.
“Oh, that’s interesting. In what way?” This convo leads to a lot of what you will read in my bio so I can skip that. Then we usually go around a bit more until we get to a lull in the conversation and I patiently wait while folks figure out how to ask the question that always seems too inappropriate to ask.
“Why?” This is my favorite question. My most favorite question in the world.
“Because anti-Blackness is our default.” And…then that’s where the action starts.”
1. Tell us in a few sentences what you do. And why you do it.
Whew! That is both a short statement and a tall order! In short, I prioritize Black people and Black survivors of violence for a living by providing resources and hardship funding for those folks directly impacted by violence and oppression. I also work as an anti-oppression coach and consultant to support White-identifying people and White-aligned people of color in interrogating their personal and professional relationships with anti-Blackness and white supremacy. I do this work because I’ve been embedded in the anti-violence movement for over 15 years and we got it all wrong. Oppression is a disease and various forms of violence are offshoots or symptoms of the disease. I believe that violence exists because oppressive messages validates the actions of dominant groups to deny full humanity to marginalized groups. Until we address anti-Blackness, directly and with intention, we will never end violence.
2. What is your contact info (that you want shared) please include any active social handles, websites etc.
The Swan Center for Advocacy & Research, Inc.
Start By Talking
3. When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is…
Great question! The first thing I do is try to figure out what time it is by focusing on the shadows on the ceiling (I often wake up feeling like I overslept even when I don’t!). Next, I quickly say my morning prayers, and then I roll over to grab my phone. I try to read three new articles everyday. Two have to be pertinent to the field and one will be fluff. I then call my sister (I’m her back up alarm) and we meet in the kitchen for breakfast and begin our day.
4. My best business advice is….
…to rely on your authenticity and follow through. That’s your moral compass and where your self-advocacy starts. My work life has done a complete and successful 180 because I kept my eyes on my own paper, accepted and exalted my magic and talents, and forecasted a wave instead of trying to catch one. I am completely aware that I possess the power to influence radical change. I don’t take it for granted and I no longer run from it.
5. My professional goal for 2021 is…
…to support the normalization of institutions and organizations interrogating whether their environments are safe for Black employees and the centering of Black expertise. My goal is to continue to be a disruptor who reminds folks that Whiteness is a strategy formed from an incomplete thought. It is a failed experiment and, though some of us are are serviced by it, it ultimately serves none of us.
6. Supporting women in business is now more critical than ever. How can our community best support you?
This is such an important question and I appreciate it so much. This community can support me in various ways. One way is to donate to The Swan Center. We rely greatly on donor funds to supply our organization with resources to support Black survivors of violence. Another way is to consider 1:1 coaching to address your anti-Blackness and/or learning more about how this work can support organizations interested in addressing oppression-related climate concerns. Lastly, support me amplifying my work and the work of other POC anti-racism experts. Pay us for our expertise and believe our experiences even if it differs from the world you know.
7. Your Astrological sign:
Gemini…in every sense of the word! Highly communicative and creative, an overthinker, often mistaken for flirting, engaging personality, debating is a favorite past time, and nearly always late. Lol!
8. Favorite donut:
It’s a toss up between Maple Bacon and Sour Cream
9. Favorite podcast:
My own! Hah! I co-host Once Upon A Patriarchy with my good friend, Dr. Shannan Palma, a fairytale expert. We critique Disney cartoons and interrogate the ways they activate and/or rely on white supremacy and rigid social norming to exclude marginalized voices and their lived expertise. I also love Minding My Black Business by Dr. JaNae Taylor, WHOREible Decisions, Mob Queens, and any type of murder mystery podcast.
10. Favorite book:
Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Fire Next Time, The Color Purple, and Native Son
11. Favorite pandemic binge watch:
I’m watching everything because I never really had the time to watch TV before the world shut down. I got introduced to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, and Bridgerton while rewatching classics like Who’s The Boss, The Nanny, Living Single. I am also still watching way too many Christmas movies…in 2021.
12. When I practice self-care I…
…twerk, rest, laugh, and repeat. I surround myself with people who value my humanity over my productivity and hold me accountable for allowing the pieces of me that need comfort to be vulnerable. My self-care is wrapped up in unraveling all the messages I receive about being a Black, fat, nappy, loud woman and practicing putting myself back together without all the noise.
13. The place I am happiest is…
…in the backwoods of Mississippi with my family. There is something special about standing on land where which your ancestors dared to dream. Cell reception is horrible and time slows down. You are left with the essentials: people who love you, food that fills you, and blues that moves you.
14. People are surprised to learn…
…I was supposed to be an ESL instructor. This life was never the plan. I literally tripped and fell into this field.
15. 2020 taught me…
…to always bet on myself and give myself credit for the vision I have to change the world.