What home means in the midst of a pandemic and protests
By Josh Miller
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
What makes a home? I recently heard someone say, “Home is where your feet are.” Maya Angelou says, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” In a recent conversation with my dear friend Hanna Benjamin, she described home as, “the place where we are with our family; a place that changes throughout the day as we create new environments for play, to eat, to live.”
Some homes we are born into, others we find later in life. We make them, they evolve and they may or may not be the place where we sleep. Homes can be the thing that lay the foundation for supporting our health and wellbeing, a launchpad for our dreams or a place we seek to escape, whether it’s because of the physical space, the people we share it with or the community it sits within.
I lived in the same house for 18 years as I grew up. My relationship to it, as for many, is mixed with memories I cherish and ones that are painful. Getting my sisters ready for church involving outfits, hair, makeup, jewelry, nails and shoes, regular Thursday baking of sweets with our babysitter, making movies in the backyard with friends and long explorations in the woods outside our neighborhood are all connected to the concept of “home” for me.
Long story short, I was outed as gay to my parents as I headed into my junior year of high school. Being gay was considered a choice and a sin by my parents and the church — my Mom’s view has fundamentally changed since then — and my junior year was a constant battle for how I should live, how I could show up. At the beginning of my senior year, things came to a head. The choice was: move out and stay in the Chattanooga area and figure things out on my own or move in with my extended family who invited me to live with them in Southern Indiana to finish high school. I chose to move, uproot from the home I knew and to become part of a new one, an opportunity I am forever grateful for. It was that choice that eventually brought me to Louisville, KY, the place I now call home, where I live with my fiancé Theo Edmonds. My journey so far embodies Arlan Hamilton’s words in her book “It’s About Damn Time.” Hamilton says, “You have to look at your experiences and understand them for what they are: an education built just for you.”
When I think about creating and making meaning in a home, whatever that looks like, I also think about courage. Courage to take risks and be vulnerable so that we’re creating a place by ourselves, or together, that helps us “walk into our own story and own it, [where] we get to write the ending,” as Brené Brown says. Courage is required for having difficult conversations about sharing space, for challenging those limiting inner narratives that can hold us back and for taking a leap and launching a new business or embarking on a new venture that may use our home as the springboard.
2020 has felt like we entered the twilight zone in many ways. COVID-19 upended our lives and meant that “home” took on a whole new meaning for each of us. Home became a school, a workplace, a gym. Our boundaries around who saw our home changed as we stepped into Zoom meetings from bedrooms and kitchen tables.
In Louisville, KY, this also meant the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot by LMPD who used a no-knock warrant to enter her home and was one of the final sparks that lit a fire and launched a movement for racial justice.
Protests, arrests, looting, learning and reflection and calls for change on what it means for a city to be a “home” for everyone ensued. Not only did it make us rethink what it means to be safe in the places where we sleep, but our connection to the community, the city as the home we collectively share. My heart broke for my Black friends and family, knowing that in many ways, my understanding of home existed in such contrast to theirs.
Over the past few months, all of these experiences have pushed me to ask the question, how do we find harmony in making and sharing space in the ongoing search for social, mental and emotional health and wellbeing? For now, much of this takes place wherever we call home.
Erika Paramore, a Louisville-based psychotherapist, said that for many of her clients, old traumas were being brought back up. “They are wanting to connect to someone who they can talk to and not feel judged,” she said. “They are reevaluating what their needs are and practicing self-reflection with someone who knows them.” With the shift to primarily engaging with clients through teletherapy, Erika described how interactions have evolved. “Clients love showing me their home, their cat walking across the screen. We’re getting to know each other in a different way. Clients who cannot be at home may sit in their car for the session for privacy.”
Erika noted that themes and some bigger questions have emerged throughout the months of COVID-19. “There is a fundamental sense of vulnerability. How do we protect ourselves? Am I good enough? What do we connect to? Loneliness is that feeling that reminds us to reevaluate our connections to others, like kids who were used to seeing their friends at school every day.” It’s all changing.
Erika’s recommendations for how people can stay mentally and emotionally healthy included:
Exercise and movement, especially if you can do so outside. “Being out in nature has such a connection to mental health,” she said.
Sleep, which is when we repair.
Find a routine to reduce decision fatigue. I know for me, my morning routine was paramount throughout COVID-19.
“What we focus on is what we become,” she said. “Get your news and information in a contained way. People struggling the most right now are focusing on fear and blame, not care, repair and self-protection.”
Don’t make major life decisions within a year of a crisis.
“Be careful of the comparison-trap. Things like ‘I shouldn’t be sad because so many people have had it worse.’ If you’re having a hard day, validate that. Focus on where you are without comparing it to others.”
As Erika describes, we’re all experiencing a full range of emotions, much of which are taking place in the home we share with others, adding a layer of complexity to not only navigate them for ourselves but also with those we love.
“The kids miss their friends and their teams. We organize Zoom dance parties, virtual video games and social distancing bike rides,” said Dayna Neumann reflecting on time at home during COVID-19. “There have been major meltdowns over distance learning, angry outbursts born out of frustration and lack of exercise and frank conversations around the dinner table about depression and anxiety. My 9-year-old daughter asked me at dinner one night, ‘Mommy, what is depression? Have you ever been depressed?’ I answered her questions with science and honesty.”
I’ve been thankful to see my friends living courageously in the way they are educating their children about current events, mental health and what it means to use what you have to embody what you stand for, including your home.
“With everything going on, I definitely have a different perspective than some of my other White friends that do not have a Black child,” said Hanna Benjamin. “I have to worry more about Wynnie (her adopted Black daughter) in a different way than my biological children because of the color of her skin. This is a problem and something we should be doing something about.”
She went on to say, “We’ve done a lot of chalk art which has been great to do and let the girls have some fun in the midst of the pandemic and protests. I wanted to put something out there that showed where we stand and what our family believes in. We did it on our steps (in Norton Commons) so it was visible from across the road. I hope it brought about curiosity for people to talk about it, to look it up, to feel like they could be brave and speak out about what was going on. I feel like so many people just stay silent because they don’t know what to say, or they get nervous or uncomfortable. Right now, I’m talking to you holding Wynnie and I’m not getting it perfect, but what she’ll care about is that I’m saying something because I care and I want change.”
Hanna described her conversation with her 5-year-old Copeland (Coco) as they started to draw.
Coco: “Mommy, what are you drawing?”
Hanna: “There is some stuff going on right now and I’m writing what I stand for. It means I believe there needs to be justice, and there is protesting going on right now by people who want it too.”
Coco: “What’s a protest?” (Went inside and watched footage from the protests and talked about it more)
Coco: “Tell me more about what happened?”
Hanna: “A Black woman was hurt. And we need the people that did it to be punished for it.”
Coco: “I hope they get in trouble. Can I make a card for Breonna? Because I’m so sad that someone hurt her.”
Going outside with their chalk, all three girls drew alongside Hanna. #JusticeforBreonna #SayHerName. Coco added a lot of hearts.
One thing I’ve been reminded of is that we each have a role to play, and your home can be a catalyst for education, for engagement and for communicating the values you hold dear. Like Hanna said, I hope it encourages people to speak up and engage in different ways. I’ve seen people taking courageous steps throughout COVID-19 and as our city works toward racial-justice.
With changing needs and new opportunities identified within the marketplace, this has also been a time for new ventures. This includes the launch of new businesses out of the home and a focus on self-improvement and growth as people experience layoffs and are actively re-envisioning what their future looks like.
In addition to my work at IDEAS xLab, the organization I founded with Theo and now lead as CEO, I felt called to launch Josh Miller Ventures. It is a leadership coaching practice that embodies my values of courage, curiosity, creativity and connection, and leverages what I’ve learned over the years to support other people in unleashing and harnessing their potential. After finishing Lauren Zoeller’s Balanced Boss Academy, an 8-week program that puts structure around coaching or consulting practices grounded in impact, I started my one-on-one Courageous Leadership Coaching practice in the midst of COVID-19 from home.
Since the launch, I’ve had conversations with leaders from various backgrounds and sectors, all with different goals for what they want to focus on when it comes to being courageous. I’ve conversed with those who are in the early stages of their career with a vision for where they want to be in five years, a team leader who wants multiple people to receive individual coaching that can then be brought back to maximize their collective impact together, a business owner who wants to create a more stable foundation on which to move their 130+ employee company forward and someone who wants to leverage their courage to evolve their public speaking and storytelling.
It’s called Josh Miller Ventures for a reason. To me, a venture – or a daring journey – requires courage. And now, more than ever, courageous leadership and actions will help us make it through these uncertain times. Courage to stand in and name our values helps build trust and a sense of belonging with teams, our families and the communities where we work and live. To create the type of inclusive home we need, we need to not just survive but thrive.
Learn more about 1×1 Courageous Leadership Coaching at JoshMiller.Ventures