I’ve shared this story quite some time ago; however, now that our following has increased from a few friends and family members to supporters across the country (and globe!) I felt as though it was pertinent to communicate the magnitude of this message again. I want to reiterate the importance of kindness being more than niceness, which is something that is critical to our mission at Kind Cotton.
Growing up I was a part of a tremendous dance company called Figures in Flight, directed by a remarkable woman, Susan Slotnick. I know what you are thinking…pageants, stage moms, stick-figure chain-smoking white girls on pointe. Well I am here to tell you a far different narrative of what it means to dance.
Were my parents the first ones to drive us to rehearsal and the ones standing at every show cheering us all on? Absolutely. However, all the other pre-conceived notions you may have about what it means to be in a dance company can be tossed right out the window. Susan created something incredibly unique. It was more than just dance. Figures in Flight was a way of life and although I am now 20 years removed from being a part of the magic she instilled in all of us, the values remain.
She did not care who could lift their leg the highest or point their toes the hardest. She cared that we came together collectively to create something beyond moving our bodies. We were a family and she established an atmosphere that allowed for tremendous love and incredible amounts of understanding. A beautifully diverse family that took stock in one another’s lives. We saw each other for who we were and valued the differences amongst ourselves. We learned about our friends’ cultures and traditions. I celebrated Kwanzaa and Passover. I attended bar mitzvahs and quinceaneras. There are so many times throughout my life that I wish everyone had these experiences. I wish people from all walks of life loved someone who was different from them in order to see that we are all human and our divergences make us unique. Susan taught us that kindness is love.
Saturday rehearsals were not simply running routines over and over. We had philosophy lessons, mindful meditation practices, and opportunities to share with our peers without fear or judgment. It was through her instruction that our art grew and took shape. She trained us to practice kindness, but to do so in a way that meant more than simple pleasantries. It was more than saying hi to a stranger. More than holding the door open for a friend. Kindness embodied empathy and compassion.
She taught us an exercise in which we would line up face to face without talking. We would then look into the eyes of the person standing in front of us and simply be with them in that moment. It was breathtaking. Guaranteed water works EVERY SINGLE TIME. If you have never done this, I urge you to try it with a partner or friend. There is something incredibly powerful about sharing a moment like that with another person. It genuinely brings out the humanity in everyone; something I think we could all use a little more of right now. When truly seeing someone, you cannot see past their joy. You cannot see them without seeing their pain. It is the ability to empathize with these experiences in order to nurture true kindness.
In our adult lives, Susan changed the course of her teaching to focus on men who had been incarcerated; forming a new dance company, Figures in Flight Released. I was fortunate enough to attend one rehearsal with her. This is dating back prior to me doing any sort of internalized, deep rooted anti-racism work and even at that time, something seemed wrong. These predominately Black and Brown men were some of the most beautifully talented people I’d come in contact with who had their humanity stripped away because of broken systems. Systems that urge to destroy, not repair. Systems with the sole purpose of disproportionately locking Black men away (1 in 3) as opposed to educating, supporting, and providing equitable educations. Susan showed us then and continues to champion the idea that kindness is justice, not niceness.
So you may shop for neighbor, exchange pleasantries with a stranger, buy flowers for a friend, but if you aren’t actively pursuing ways to break the systems that have been oppressing others for centuries; if you aren’t attempting to empathize with the pain that’s been caused; if you are actively taking part in enjoying a culture, but won’t allow the very people who make up that culture share their joy, I would challenge you to rethink your definition of kindness.
Surface level niceness is not kind and there is a lot of work to do in changing the narrative surrounding what true kindness means, which is the inspiration behind our latest tee: Kind, not nice.
Every item we release is carefully crafted, designed, and thought of with great love. Each time we release a tee we want you all to know its story because our products are more than clothing, they’re our inspiration and hope for creating even a little bit of change. And as always we want to thank you all for being on this journey with us.