Today we’d like to introduce you to Ravina Wadhwani.
Hi Ravina, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I actually started writing poetry from a very young age, when I was growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I was always more geared toward writing in school and as a way to express myself at home. However, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I had a space to understand that I was always writing oriented. I took a creative writing class in high school and it was here where I realized that poetry was something I loved and was good at. I dropped it for a while when I started to pursue my undergrad and graduate studies on the East Coast. It was always something I was drawn to but had to focus on my career in mental health at the time. Poetry wasn’t seen as a serious interest until I had graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and was able to move to Boston and live right in the city. It was here that I found the Haley House Cafe- a super small and intimate but world renown open mic and feature space in Boston that helped me realize how healing and transformative poetry was. I remember lining up in the freezing cold in Boston to make sure I got a seat at the cafe every other Friday, without fail. I would come alive in this space being around artists of color. Here, I saw artists like Porsha Olayiwola, Oompa, Jonathan Mendoza, Melissa Lozada-Oliva and so many features who would travel from all around the nation to perform here. I finally had the courage to perform at the open mic here and it changed my life. I was going through a rough time and speaking my truth helped me transform my own trauma. I started writing again and brought writing workshops to elementary, middle, and high school students in the Boston Public School system.
After moving to LA post- graduate school & getting my masters’ in mental health counseling, I craved a community of writers and an open mic venue out here in Long Beach. I was finding that my career in mental health working with survivors of trauma was helping me write and heal through poetry. Through the universe’s ears, my wish came true. I was introduced to Never Speak Long Beach, an open mic and poetry collective of amazing people here who host an open mic every first Friday of the month (when things were open). I started attending in 2018 and was warmly welcomed into my poetry family. Through this space, I was coined the title ” The Silent Assassin”, because I tend to be more quiet and shy as I enter the room and then I transcend once on stage and really come to life through my pieces. Performing at Never Speak helped me land my first show as a feature with the Long Beach Literary Society where I performed and then ultimately landing me a spot at Community literature Initiative’s Poetry Publishing Class where I was able to go through a year of working on my pieces in a community of like-minded poets and authors who all aimed to have a publishable manuscript by the end of the academic year. I was signed to World Stage Press in 2019, and my collection of poetry and prose will be published in June of 2021 in my debut book. “Yellow”. My journey in LA has brought me some incredible opportunities through art, including speaking at the 2021 Women of Distinction event here in Long Beach where I was able to virtually perform in front of some of the most incredible women in the city. It shows me that poetry is valuable literally everywhere. As of recent, I was also invited to join Never Speak’s team as their newest member of the squad!
For a small-town girl from the U.S Virgin Islands, this is nothing short of a dream. I also found my other artistic family through a space called Aim 4 The Heart. We focus on emotional literacy and transforming and healing through our art. AIM is a magical space that has brought out my most authentic voice in my art. I have been fortunate to perform at several open mics around the city before the world closed. Now, I host writing as healing workshops, I co-facilitate teaching the first Long Beach Chapter of Community Literature Initiative, and I am consistently involved with Aim4the Heart as well. I am so fortunate to have had these opportunities. My most humbling opportunity thus far, however, was the worldwide streaming of my piece, Swallow, which was featured in the 2021 Pan African Film Festival’s Spoken Word Portion. Swallow is my signature piece about reclaiming what the world sees as “complicated” hard to pronounce names. It is a reclamation of our history and a tribute to people of color, especially because our names are so tied to our cultural identities and who we are.
More so than that, my story is one of trusting in self, and intuition and diving head and heart first into our art. I am just a testimony of a daughter of immigrants, born and raised in the Caribbean, then going off into the world and using art to heal, develop my identity, understand my experiences as a first generation woman of color, and use the gift of poetry to reach wider audiences.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It hasn’t always been a smooth road. I am someone who has struggled with the concept of “home” and find that finally in LA, I find home in people, memories, anywhere but places. I have found my artistic homes, where I feel like I can be myself. But finally, being here in LA makes me feel most myself which always pulls me back to my truth is that home is within myself. I remember struggling hard with issues of identity, womanhood, and how different I always felt. No one else in my family has pursued poetry and art as a major part of their lives. A lot of my family are hustlers. They’re corporate and into business. I was always the complete opposite & often struggled with that and feeling a sense of belonging anywhere really. My family immigrated to the U.S. for a better life and chance for their children to “be” something. In the South Asian community, art isn’t always understood or viewed positively as something people do with their lives. When I started to get serious about my craft, I hesitated to come out fully with it out of fear of how it would be perceived. Surely, I had a master’s degree in a really great field, and being a mental health therapist is a big accomplishment of mine.
However, my poetry is really what liberated me and helped me become who I am today. Writing helps me express my traumas my joys, my resiliency and my struggle. Some topics are harder to convey to others. My journey to writing my book cracked me open in ways I had never felt before. I had to go back to difficult times, hard struggles and times in my life where things weren’t so pretty, I’ve struggled with heartache, depression, anxiety and identity, and my art is my best place to heal through those things. At the same time, it can be pretty scary to come out fully with these experiences and share them with the world. However, my mentor Hiram Sims tells me, “You have to write like no one is watching over your shoulder.” Additionally, growing up, I was always seen as the shy girl who didn’t have much to say. Growing up in the Caribbean, there are a shortage of art spaces for youth to really find themselves immersed in. I come from a place with a lot of violence and trauma. I was fortunate to belong to a family that protected me and helped me find my way around the world. However, coming out and speaking my truth loudly is something that is often a surprise to people back home who know me as more reserved. I feel most free and confident on a stage and sometimes I struggle with sharing that with everyone. But there is no other place I would rather share my most intimate truths with other than through poetry and the stage.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My “day” job and career is actually in mental health and culturally specific therapy. I have worked in pretty much all settings including schools, organizations, hospitals, psych wards, group homes, after school programs, and working with kids who are system involved and trying to re-enter society after facing incarceration. My mental health work has taken me around the world from my home base in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United Kingdom, to the East Coast, and now in the West Coast. I have predominantly worked with individuals and families of color and folks most marginalized by the mainstream. I founded a social media platform that aims to bring together dialogue around healing for folks of color by folks of color with a lens on decolonization. I do speaking engagements and provide workshops around all things healing. My platform is @decolonizingourhealing.
However, beyond that, I have been most proud of my first book of poetry that is coming out in June 2021. I am most proud of infusing my career as an artist in the work that I do in mental health. I am proud of providing spaces for artists to heal through workshops and dialogue spaces. It is a niche I would like to see become bigger and grander as time goes on. I believe all artists and healers need space to confront what they’ve been through and use their art to impact the world. My identity as a South Asian woman being brought up in the Caribbean and having family all over the world in places such as India, Indonesia, The US, West Africa, and Spain has given me a worldview that is unique and sets me apart.
Having been incredibly fortunate to have traveled around at such a young age has given me a mix of flavors, experiences and memories and being able to have been exposed to so many cultures has overtime proven to be a strength of mine. I want to continue to be known as the artist that makes vulnerability dope again. I think my purpose on this Earth is to feel, and heal, and impact others by helping them do the same. It isn’t until we heal and express do we continue to level up within ourselves. A goal of mine is to create an artists’ program to be able to use art to confront trauma and to be a mental wellness coach on tours with artists as they navigate the industry. We lose so many artists to addiction, suicide, violence, and mental health issues that I feel like could have been prevented should artists gain a wider sense of community that really understands them as human beings first.
Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
The most important lesson I have learned along the journey is that we have to continue to go inwards and confront rather than retreat, and we have to continue to unpack the layers that so uniquely make us who we are. Society expects women of color like myself to “be” or “live” a certain way, when the truth is, we have to unleash ourselves from the expectations that weigh down on our most full selves. We have to embrace our uniqueness, amplify the parts we love, and consistently work on voicing the issues we are still healing through. Through community, this is possible. To feel supported, understood, valued and heard is a blessing and quite frankly has kept me alive on days when things were dark, dismal and felt like there was no way out. Community is everything. My greatest advice to any artist or person who believes in using their voice for a greater power, is to find your people. Having people who have your back and who continue to show up for one another can make the difference between someone feeling seen and appreciated for who they are and someone feeling isolated and misunderstood and alone. I’ve been on both sides. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that community, and the right people, are necessary to collectively move through the process of expression and healing together. I’ve been in spaces where I’ve seen some of the most magical, transformational things happen through art. Voicing truth, being vulnerable, forgiving self, repairing harm, healing from the deepest forms of trauma and finding one’s voice is all possible through art. Aligning with our most authentic selves is breaking cycles. This increases healing in this generation and the generations after. My biggest discovery is that I was sent here to break and to heal. Whether that is providing spaces for others or to find spaces to heal within myself, everyone is interconnected. Art can be a vessel that transcends language barriers, cultural barriers, breaks stigma, and transforms minds and hearts for collective change and healing.