CooXooEii Black: Faith to Leave, Faith to Stay

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

I’d spent 20 hours in the car when I crossed the Mississippi Bridge into Memphis— I found myself 1,500 miles south of the Wind River Reservation. I was tired, hungry, anxious, and irritable. I didn’t know anyone or anything about the city of Memphis. All I could ask was, Where did I move? Was this a mistake? 

In the spring of 2020, I received an acceptance letter for the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of Memphis. So in August of 2021, I packed everything, downloaded music and sermons, and drove. As the giant beams of the Mississippi Bridge wrapped around my car, I was overwhelmed with the significant shift in my life. Crossing that bridge meant I was fully independent for the first time—I had to pay my bills, buy groceries, prepare meals, and cook. Those are basic adult things, but before that, I lived and ate at home or lived and ate on a college campus as an undergrad (grad students don’t get those luxuries).

Advertisement

Memphis is a unique city—the home of the blues, the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, Beale Street, world-famous for its BBQ, and the Trail of Tears cuts through the city. As a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, I was interested to learn about the tribes that originally inhabited this land. Or, as Joy Harjo might say, “the first poets of this land.” The first poets to occupy western Tennessee and the Memphis area were the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. 

Yet, despite that history, Memphis is one of the most segregated cities in the country, and it has some of the poorest counties/neighborhoods due to a history of slavery and racism. Local people in power repeatedly eradicated attempts at economic gain by the Black communities.

I wasn’t comfortable in the city, so the first two months in Memphis were rough. I constantly cried out to God— I believe you called me to come to this city and this program, so why do I not feel at home here? I wanted to go to the comfort of the Rez, but a part of me had faith in God’s guidance in bringing me to Memphis. 

Thankfully, God knew what he was doing the entire time. So, with the recommendation from the head pastor at Foundations for Nations church, I joined Kingdom Church here in Memphis, and my new church family showed me the beauty of living in Memphis. I’ve had some of the best BBQ, some of the best tacos, I went to an NBA G League game, and I went roller skating at a rink that reminded me of the movies ATL and Roll Bounce. 

But, more importantly, Kingdom Church has helped me grow in my faith, and through that, I started to trust in God’s plan for my life. I finally felt at home in the 901.

Advertisement

Pursuing an MFA degree is a remarkable thing. I’m surrounded by incredible writers who transform the page into beautiful works of art. It’s rare to be in a group of talented people who constantly push you to grow as a writer. I would not have gotten this experience had I stayed in Wyoming. 

My main area of study is poetry, and in a typical school week, I might write one or two poems, read one book of poetry, and give poem critiques to three of my classmates. The program holds me accountable for writing and reading regularly, which is essential to improve as a writer. 

I’m also required to take classes outside of my genre. I’ve learned that my writing doesn’t end with poetry, but because of the gifts given to me by God, I can write creative nonfiction and fiction as well. In fact, I plan to continue writing in all three genres.

Currently, I am the only Indigenous student in the program. Still, I hope to see more Indigenous creatives pursuing MFA degrees, especially considering how many talented artists we have across Indian Country. Being the only Indigenous student is a challenge I accept. Yet, it is not a heavy burden because I don’t speak for every Indigenous person; instead, I only tell my stories. This program has taught me to look at my obsessions, the things that show up over and over in my writing. So far, those things have been family, tribal history, faith in Jesus Christ, the reservation/ land, and my personal experiences. 

Despite my initial struggle in moving to the south, there is no place I’d rather be than right where God wants me in Memphis, Tennessee. I often get asked what I will do with an MFA in creative writing. The truth is, I’m not sure yet. My goal is to be a full-time writer and get paid to write. In the same way, I have the faith to stay in Memphis, I have the faith God will provide for me in the future, and I believe he’s been giving me glimpses of what that will look like. I have two paid writing gigs, I’ve had a poem published, I recently got a creative nonfiction essay accepted for publication, and I won a book award which means I will have my first book of poetry published in December 2022. I don’t say all this to brag. I say this to say look at how amazing God is. I also say this to say while I don’t have this all figured out, I invite you on this journey with me. I plan to share my trials and triumphs through this column— I hope to inspire and teach. And besides, at the end of the day, I have a place and a people to return to if need be. 

May we all have the foolishness to do with God’s grace what others claim we cannot. 

Related Posts

Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?