Candice Antique Wicks-Davis and I met a few months ago at a concert that culminated the end of a two-week, highly sought-after music incubation program. Candice was one of the performers, and as she passed by me in a common area with brightly colored clothes, retro glasses, and bold African jewelry—I had thought she was someone else. This is a mistake that humans often make—confusing one person for another—but I share this particular interaction because I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed after I had grabbed her arm. I had mistaken Candice for another black woman that I was soon to interview, and somewhere deep down inside, I looked at this unintentional mix-up as the inherent, subconscious racism that exists inside of me—that exists inside all of us.
When we meet people that are different from ourselves, it is easy to group them into the category of “other,” failing to see the subtleties and delicate details of what makes them unique, one of a kind, and human. Because I had made this mistake (even if it was innocent), I made a commitment to myself to use my interview with Candice as an opportunity to talk candidly about race. When I listened back to our recording weeks later, I couldn’t help but feel immensely humbled by the richness of our exchange.
Candice is the creator of Edutainment for Equity, an organization that uses words, sounds, and spaces to make difficult conversations about race easier and more effective. Over the course of our conversation she shares the many experiences she has had as a black woman in America in which she has been made to feel silenced and disempowered. Her business is the marriage of her trials and tribulations as a person of color and her purpose: creative education.
Candice was born in Long Beach, California, to parents who highly valued education. In the early eighties, she was bussed across town to attend a well-regarded grade school in a white suburb. At this point in history, this neighborhood was highly segregated and Candice and her fellow cohort of color were treated poorly by both the students and the school staff. She remembers wondering at that point in her life why a parent should have to choose between identity or education—the two things that should never have to be a choice—but rather a guarantee. This is a privilege that white people have been afforded: not having to negotiate what we say or how we say things because of the color of our skin. Candice notes, “You can survive that way—but it’s not a way to live.”
Our conversation moves to some of Candice’s first jobs, working in the field of education and for various nonprofit organizations, while constantly having to edit the way she dressed, the tone of her voice, what she chose to say or not say. She shares with me that all people of color have to constantly think about how other people perceive them, which often whittles them down to two distinct personas: the person they have to be in the world and the person they actually are.
We chat briefly about the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates as a means of opening up the door to understanding why racism isn’t a symptom but rather the collection of generations of trauma, deep-tangled roots of inequality, and suffering. Coates writes in his book, “But race is the child of racism, not the father.” So many people are connected to the root cause of racism. In order to shift the current narrative, we—white Americans—have to be willing to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves where we can take personal responsibility. Slavery never ended but rather shifted to imprisonment. Candice notes,
“If people still have to hold and carry the oppression of suffering, how can you possibly think that you don’t have to carry the privilege and the responsibility for that. It’s both sides.”
Years into her work in the nonprofit world, Candice was laid off from her job. She was fired by her white female boss for no reasonable explanation other than Candice’s interpretation of this woman trying to control Candice and her way of being in the world. Candice catalyzed this experience as a means to free herself from the oppression that she had felt in this professional system, her intuition telling her that it was either now or never that she needed to go off on her own.
From this point forward, Candice’s job as an equality and inclusion consultant began. Wild opportunities fell into her lap, taking her all over the world to use creative expression as a means of exploring hard topics. She notes that “when you [allow] the body [to] guide you, it doesn’t lead you astray. What we call intuition is our inner divinity. Our bodies hold no boundaries, [you just have to get your] brain aligned with what the body wants.” I ask Candice how she hopes her work will leave a mark on the world to which she replies, “My desire is to make it so future generations can be whole and self-determining and not have to carry the weight of all of the trauma.” Knowing that she is only one person she adds, “Maybe we can shave off a layer of trauma in every generation.”
At the end of our conversation, I inquire if Candice has any words of wisdom to pass along to someone who has betrayed themselves and is looking to find their way back home. She is a deep sea of wisdom stating, “Trust your body. Don’t beat yourself up. Dream big. Allow your mistakes to be signposts. Relax and take your time. Don’t think about what the job is, think about what you want to spend your time doing.”
Looking back on our conversation and feeling the beautiful enormity of that which we spoke, I can’t help but feel gratitude for the unique perspective and guidance that she has provided for me during our conversation. That we, as human beings—no matter what our background may be—have the responsibility to manifest our full selves. And that act alone is revolutionary.
Candice Antique Wicks-Davis is an international singer/songwriter who got lost alone in Cuba, rocked stages from Tanzania to Ghana, and toured Iran and Malta speaking about human rights and equity. She is a creative entrepreneur whose work blends social justice, personal and professional development, and global citizenship seamlessly with her art. She is an adventurer who loves off-roading, hiking across rainforest canopies, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.