“Ebony was good at seeing people…”
I’ve avoided visiting Facebook for the last few days in fear that I’d see another colleague or friend post about you being gone, Ebony. I’m definitely in denial. I visited your page to read your last post over and over again, searching for your voice. I read through all of our emails exchanges: about the first time we got together in 2009, our lunch hang-outs, you checking-in on me on my fellowship assignment, and sharing news and announcements about career growth. I am confused and angry. Someone who radiates such presence can’t be absent like this; you were gone too quickly.
I met Ebony in 2009 when I was still in undergrad. Another wonderful arts leader, Selena, who at the time oversaw our multicultural arts management internship in NY, introduced us. Selena knew how anxious I was about understanding the matrix of the art world and shared that there were two folks who were interested in creating an arts professionals network in the Bay Area. After returning to the Berkeley that summer, I met with Ebony and Adam. Both were warm and on the path to creating something we all love and recognize as Emerging Arts Professionals. Then, it was “SFBAEAP”—I jokingly called it “SF Byaahheapppe.” (It was good that we rebranded!)
I volunteered with them in 2009, and began attending several EAP gatherings. I’d often be the awkward one in the room: shy yet overly enthusiastic and completely unsure about how to “network.” I was there to find a mentor, and of course, to enjoy the free snacks. Ebony always took the time to warmly welcome everyone, including me. Years later, I got lucky—she became my mentor; someone I’d call and meet with to chat about things happening in my life, in school or at an internship. We’d exchange lots of laughs together and imagine an arts universe that was inclusive. I used to joke about how I constantly annoyed her and basically strong-armed her into being my mentor. I’d say, “You can’t get rid of me!” And she’d always respond, “Why would I want to?!” I really wanted to be somewhere in her orbit, she was just so cool.
Ebony was good at seeing people—I mean really seeing them. Seeing someone’s potential, one’s ability to grow and change, one’s bravery, one’s humanity. This was something so rare in a world where we often feel like we had our heads down, just grinding.
I owe a lot of my drive and success to her. She was an incredible leader, one who led not for the ego, but because she really believed in what we could achieve together. She provided the tools to navigate the art terrain and created access for us to connect as a larger community.
There’s still a hollow feeling in my chest, as if I am still catching my breath. I know I’m avoiding the inevitable of crying and missing you. I could only hope that we all aim to emulate your kindness. I can still hear her hum “mmhmmm.” I loved the way she’d affirm your ideas. Let’s try to affirm and help each other—you know, the way Ebony would want us to: with grace, foresight, and care.
Thank you, Ebony, for being so wonderful to so many of us.
Patricia Cariño Valdez
Patricia working with her cohort in the first round of the EAP Fellowship program