It’s 11:50 on Wednesday night, and I’ve just finished talking on the phone with my husband, who is currently stuck in traffic while trying to cross the Williamsburg Bridge to get home to Brooklyn. It turned out there was a construction tie-up, but of course I immediately assumed the delay was because of the heightened terrorist alert and the police checkpoints that always go along with that. I felt suddenly nauseated and worried about him, myself, and everyone else who lives in so-called “high-risk areas.” Trying to go about a normal life with the awareness that you could, at any point, be blown to bits, or suffocated by a cloud of strange chemicals, or made deathly ill by a white powder, is next to impossible. Most days I simply ignore the stockpile of water at my house and the first-aid kit in my car and pretend that nothing is wrong, but there are times, like today, when the reality is impossible to ignore. And days like this—when the alert is at orange and you have to cross a bridge or get on a plane—are hard. I have no idea how they do it in Israel.
Earlier today, I found myself on yet another airplane, this time headed down to Naples, Fla.—where the weather is a thousand times nicer than it’s been all spring in New York—to photograph women at the Spa Odyssey business retreat. Organized by a remarkable woman named Linda Spradley-Dunn, the conference, now in its fourth year, brings over 400 female executives of color together in one place (this time it’s the Ritz Carlton in Naples) to listen to speakers, hold seminars, indulge in spa treatments, and generally have a good time while networking up a storm. Linda has also decided to start a travel magazine (called Odyssey Couleur) that targets the affluent traveler-of-color, which is where I come in. I’ve been brought down here, along with two other photographers, to shoot some stories for the second issue, as well as provide the magazine with much needed stock imagery. There just aren’t a lot of stock photos of black people getting spa treatments, or of multicultural groups hanging out on a beach, if you know what I mean.
This particular group of women is truly remarkable not only because they have overcome incredible odds and succeeded in what most people think of as the exclusively white, male world of the high-level executive, but also because they are all so supportive of each other. They prioritize helping women who may be just starting out in the business world; they take time to really listen to each others’ stories and share pieces of themselves. Tonight, after a sumptuous dinner hosted by Mercedes-Benz (who wisely realize the marketing potential of a retreat like this), an emcee got up on stage and, to the pulsing sound of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” got the majority of attendees up and on the dance floor—not just for that one song, either. They went straight into the “Electric Slide”—which everybody knew; nothing like a group dance to foster solidarity—and then on to Parliament’s “Flashlight” … the hits didn’t stop. I stood dumbfounded, camera in hand, and watched while at least 300 affluent and very adult women of color threw their hands in the air and celebrated themselves. And then I pulled myself together, began taking pictures again, and even started dancing myself. Nothing like a room full of dancing women to rid you of your post-9/11 paranoia.