This interview reminded me of why I love doing the WCW segments. I came in thinking that I knew a lot about the person I was interviewing only to find out that I didn't know a damn thing about Ray Xy!
Now, mind you, we met this summer on the Vicky Ro's Lip Sunday videoshoot, but I saw someone who was determined and focused. Ray is very protective of her people and ready to defend them in any way, shape or form.
But her story tells you of her resilience and her resolve to better this world. A very kind soul.
So I give you this week's Woman Crushing It Wednesday... RAY XY!
Because you started dance about 5 years ago, would you say that you’re a professional dancer?
I wouldn’t call myself a professional dancer because I’m still learning. And the people I’m learning from, they’ve had years and years of experience. My experience is from working with choreographers in the city. I’m new in the industry, but I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities. Opportunities that I would have not normally expected. So it’s been interesting.
With regards to the activism, how long have you been doing that?
I’ve been with Keep6ix for a year. My background… I have a legal background. That’s what I went to school for, but I’ve never really did much with it. I think my interested for advocating for people that have been criminalized… That came from experience. Having friends and families who have gone through the system… Some of my own experiences as well in seeing the over representation of BIPOC individuals in the system and the systemic racism filled that… And when the pandemic hit, there was an ask for assistance for help and… I reached out and basically said that I graduated as a paralegal and I had a legal background. And what started off as me doing simple work, turned into me writing a lot of the programs and facilitating a lot of various workshops. Yeah, it sort of created a snowball effect.
Before that, had you gone into anything similar?
Yes and no. I’ve always been outspoken with regards to my beliefs and my opinions. I’ve always been one to speak on emancipation and diversity and inclusivity. At one point, I wouldn’t say that I would’ve taken it to where I am now, but I’ve always been outspoken. Prior to that, I was into Bully breeding... American Bullies. And there’s a huge stigma with regards to American Bullies and Pitbulls. And in a way, I guess you can say that I kind of did the activism on that side as well. Coming up with a campaign to show the softer side. And did photoshoot with kids with the bullies and more family home photos to bring out the softer side to fight that stigma that is associated with having an “aggressive dog”. So I guess you could say that I was an activist in my own way, but not to that extent.
I personally thought that you were doing this activism thing since high school, organizing marches and things of the sort.
No? So what is the contrast from you coming up until now?
I definitely my series of challenges growing up. I left home when I was 16. So I was forced to grow up. And that came with a different sense of maturity, but I also created my own barrier. So me growing up on my own… I was finding myself. That’s the best way to put it. The people that took care of me were the ones from the hood and those people from the hood are the ones that were criminalized. And with my affiliation with those who took care of me… They took care of me, the best way they could and that might not have been in the most legal matter. And because of that, I’ve seen a lot of people that I’m close to go through the system or die. So I’ve always been outspoken, but never had a way to channel that, as opposed to now where I’m given a platform being asked to take it away, giving me reins to do what needs to be done. It sorts of allows me to channel as I’m navigating through my own journey. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve seen where the system is fucked. It’s the best way to put it, right? (laughter)
(laughter) Facts. With regards to the hood, which neighborhood were you at?
So I moved from place to place. Obviously being 16, there’s not many resources that were available. And I had to figure things out on my own. It started in Mississauga. Cause I’m from Mississauga. From Mississauga to Toronto, Rexdale predominantly, Dixon… A couple of places throughout. And then I came back to Mississauga. But during that I found myself with the individuals that… There were those who were very genuine, but there also those who you would say led me down a wrong path. And in trying to find belong, I don’t want to say that I put myself in certain situations, but… How do I say this without incriminating myself? (laughter)
I was exposed to a lot. Right? So I kind of used those experiences to make a change so that other youths who are deemed “at risk” youths don’t have to find out the hard way. That’s the best way to put it.
I hear you. Can you tell me some of the difficulties you’ve experienced being 16 and a young woman?
Being 16, as a female, without no parental direction and basically going from friend to friend, you would think it was the coolest thing.
Some 16 year olds would think that.
There’s no rules or boundaries. There’s no limit. It was confusing. I acted out, for sure. Going from place to place, I ended up going, for a period of time, living with a friend of mine. We lived in 2 bedroom apartment with her folks, her sister and we ended up taking someone else too. So we had 4 girls in a room and then her parents in the other room. And that was interesting. Because it was 2 black girls living in a white household. So it was a culture clash. Overtime, when everyone is confined within a small space, it becomes very evident. I’ve always been grateful for that. It was not easy. And one of the parents or the step father was going through substance abuse issues. And that resulted in us having to hide anything of value to make sure that it was not traded off. We learned how to take care of ourselves. And as females, there’s also men who have other ideas in their minds. It was also, how do we protect each other? I’ve always been the more protective one in the group and I’ve always been that way. I was always the fighter. I was always getting into fights. It was not me being a bully, but fighting those doing the bullying. In high school, my fights were about me jumping into something that was already going on. Outside of high school, it was again, protecting those that are around me. And to this day, that is my mentality. When we go to a club or event, I’m always looking around my surroundings. I mean, you saw it at City Hall…
I did! I did! (laughter)
(laughter) I’m very protective of those that are close to me. So it’s always about being careful. I’ve had a few interesting experiences. I’ve had experiences where I had to jump out of moving vehicles. I had some near death experiences. I mean, overall, it kind of just shaped me. Kind of who I am. Interesting story I guess.
I mean, shoot! I’m thinking about a making a movie! I won’t get into details as to what led you to jumping out of a moving vehicle, but one day I will ask… With regards to your upbringing, who would you say was your biggest influence?
After I left home?
After you left home.
After I left home, the woman that took me in became my “mother”. Not necessarily the best influence based off her own past, but through that, I got my brothers. My brothers that you see me post on Instagram, those who live with me… Those are her sons and we all grew up, within the course of the last 10 years, together. She’s had good intentions to some degree. As someone who had to also grow up on her own, they were not necessarily the best intentions or the best way of influencing. Because I got myself into my own situations following her footsteps, I guess if that’s the best way to say it. That was really the only real influence I had. I was so focused on having somebody as that figure. Especially because I have a lot of emotional trauma and I’ve felt a lot of betrayal from my own parents. And so I tried to find that replacement. So at that time, this was just the norm and I didn’t see anything different. Obviously now that I’ve grown up, those thoughts have changed. So I’m forever grateful. She’s given me my own family which I’m grateful for and the experience… I saw something different. I saw what I didn’t want my life to be like. It’s easy to say that I grew up a certain and that’s why I am the way I am or you can say I grew up a certain way, so I’m going to do things differently.
You let me know if you want to answer that question or not… But I want to ask… What led you to moving out of your parents’ house?
So in short… Difference of opinion. My parents were very religious. Extremely religious to a point… What’s the best way of saying it?
Extremist is the best way of putting it. It was their way or no way. And me being 16, I don’t think it’s right to force any child to make a choice at that age. And it was funny because they’d say they’re not forcing me to do anything, but if you’re not forcing me to do anything and it’s the only option, then you’re forcing me to do it. And again, I’ve always been that rambunctious child. If you told me not to do something, I’m just going to do it because you told me not to do it. And they did everything they could. They sent me to LA to stay with family. They sent me different places to kind of remove me from my neighborhood or school. Having like “interventions” with all the older folks and people…
Hopefully, not church members…
Oh yeah! Church members! That was great!
Prayer meetings were involved too, I’m sure.
Yeah, the whole nine! The guilt tripping… All of that. And I was somebody very stubborn. Being Caribbean Jamaican, when you’re younger, you get your ass beat. As you grew up… And not to excuse that behavior, but me because I was that rebel child, I was disrespectful. Eventually, I felt like that punishment turned to anger because I was not reciprocating the response they wanted to receive. And it wouldn’t bother me. Someone might say that I was abused, but I wouldn’t say that. I could tell now that it came from a place of anger. It was a build up. They would constantly search my room, pop up at school, and search my locker. They’d pop up at my friends’ house to see if I was there. There was a lack of trust. It was almost like I was suffocating. Eventually, it got to a point, where my mother being the Jamaican woman that she is would be on the phone with relatives and friends and talking about Rachel is unruly. And it got to me asking her why she was talking to people about me and it always got to that. My mother sent me to LA for the summer. And when I was planning to come back, I realized that there was no return ticket for me to come back. So eventually, I ended up raising trouble out there and the family out there basically wanted to send me back home and that’s how I got back. So I got back in the middle of September. My grandfather passed away in October. And initially, my mom was refusing to pay for my ticket to go to Jamaica. My aunts argued with her saying that I should be going. During that time while I was out there, there was a lot of guilt tripping about me killing my grandfather because he was stressed about me causing trouble. So when we came back, I was over it and I was of the mindset that I couldn’t stay any longer. And so one night, it finally escalated to a point where I don’t remember how it started, but I remember when she had one of those beer mugs from Beauty & The Beast. She used to drink her tea in it. And she broke that mug against me out of anger. At that point, that was my breaking point and I blacked out and I guess, it got really physical. I don’t remember. This is all from my sister telling me. All of my aunts lived in the building and my sister called them and they came running up. The police got called and they took me from home. That was the day I left home. The funny thing is that the police dropped me off at Square One. They never took me to the police station. They asked me if I had anywhere to stay and I said that I did so they dropped me off at the Square One bus terminal. At that point, I didn’t know where I was going to stay. While at the terminal, I bumped into a friend of mine and I made a few calls with her phone and one of my friends was at Famous Players and she told me I could stay by her and that’s basically it. I never had contacts with my parents. I could count on one hand how many times I spoke to my parents in the last 10-11 years. I didn’t have any of my IDs. I was basically starting from scratch. I kind of just had to do whatever I had to do to provide for myself. So yeah, it was interesting, navigating that. And basically, throughout the odd times that I’ve spoken to them, it’s been the same thing. And I had been insistent that I was not going to conform or fake the funk so I could have that family.
Are you still dealing with the traumas from your past life or have you been able to deal with them…
I think I’m still uncovering and doing some shadow work. And I realize that as women, we like to bury a lot of our feelings. And there’s a lot of emotional trauma we need to heal from and for me I found that in my past relationships, a lot of that trauma was coming out in those relationships. Lack of trust. Sort of creating toxic environments in terms of just the way I would speak or how I would react because that was sort of what I was accustomed to me. And it’s weird because looking at my parents, they’re the most loving couple I could remember. But with regards to how my interaction with my mom went, I’ve used that same interaction with those that are close to me. I’ve always been the one who had outbursts. I was always the one diagnosed with bipolar, borderline personality disorder. That involved doctors, therapists and psychologists. And during that time, I was always prescribed pills. It was to subdue my feelings of anger. But I remember that at one point and time, I had to be at Credit Valley every 3 months for a check-in with either a psychiatrist or psychologist. And every time I would see him, he would say that I was angry and every time, my dosage would go up. Then eventually, I couldn’t do this anymore because it was clearly not working. Someone suggested to do therapy, but now it was finding the right therapist. I started seeing someone who was good, but we didn’t really click. Then I started seeing someone else. And I don’t know, maybe it was my mindset at that time, but he was a male and he would often speak to me in a condescending tone. We would butt head consistently. Eventually, I ended up finding a therapist who kind of been able to work with me to do a lot of uncovering and help me looking through a lens and looking at perhaps what I might say to myself or my own insecurities and forcing me to find the supporting proof. In the sense that if I have an insecurity, but where’s the proof that says that’s actually true. And as I started doing that work, I started to realize that I may have told myself was me building that barrier and that shield and those are starting to come down. Now obviously with the amount of years being on my own trying to figure everything out, it’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m in that process of healing and allowing myself to open up to others and to kind of be more trustworthy I guess you could say. Which is something that’s been very hard for me. I’ve started the process to heal, and it’s an ongoing process.
People tend to lose people when they started speaking out against racism. With your activism, have you found yourself losing people in your dance circle?
Well, the majority of people that I surround myself with are individuals of color and those have also been vocal. The others have also been vocal and I’ve considered them to be allies. In terms of a more professional setting, there are a lot of barriers. Something like getting your makeup done; I’m fair skin. I like to say that I’m lightly melanated. But in comparison with my dancers who are darker in complexion, a makeup artist not having the makeup to match their skin tone. Or a stylist who does not know how to do black hair. We’ve always taken care of ourselves where we had to get our hair and makeup. And when you start working with directors or producers, there’s that certain “look”. So you see it for sure. Because of that I’ve always been open to assist friends with projects. The certain times that I’ve had to work on more professional settings, it’s been noticeable.
Let’s bring a hypothetical here… I’ll bring Nas and Lauryn Hill… If you ruled the world, what would be your dream for it?
Oh man… One that would universally recognize black people as royalty. Uplifting our Kings. There’s so much pressure that is placed on them as providers, protectors and head of the family and they’re not provided that recognition or the support because black men need to be strong. Opening up a pathway where it’s normal to show emotion. Diversity and inclusivity. I’ve always been drawn to more generalized community. So for me, seeing individuals that were criminalized come out of incarceration without having to go through the systemic barriers when it comes to transition and reintegrating back to society. A level of humanity, to be honest. We’re so out of touch with who we are or who we’re supposed to be.
So we’ve spoken about the activism, the dance and I’ve seen you as a videographer… With regards to those 3, where do you see yourself bringing those talent to next?
I think there’s an opportunity to combine and collaborate. Activism has become a passion of mine in supporting individuals and coming together as a community. Dance has been a creative way to tell a story and there’s so many stories to tell. I don’t consider myself a videographer up until Vicky’s Lip Sync Sunday, but that’s shown me that I could shoot my own little video and that could be incorporated into something like activism or shining light in some areas.
Do you have a particular project in mind?
I have been working on something. I started and then lost motivation for it. And now I’ve started getting back into it. It’s called the Rays of Agape. Ray being my name but also sunshine rays and it makes me think of warmth. Agape being the Greek word found in the New Testament meaning God’s love. So when I came up with this thought, I thought about how I could support friends and family members of individuals who are incarcerated, who don’t know where to go or don’t have a safe space. Or even can’t talk to their family because of a stigma with supporting someone inside. So it would be creating a safe space and platform where I could provide assistance and advice based on my own experience. I have others who have gone through similar experiences as well to speak on the Canadian criminal justice system. So I was working on it and I stopped a little bit. Now I’ve sort of gotten back to filming some videos so I’m hoping to start putting those out shortly. I feel like now that I’ve said it out loud, I have to do it. (laughter).
(laughter) I’ll make sure this is read. Now my last question… What would be your advice for someone who’s gone through or is going through the same situation you’ve experienced?
It gets better. Pray. Trust in the most High. Create a safe space with individuals who you can connect with that you can draw from. Those that I call… Those that are in my tribe are ones that I can reach out to at any point and time. There’s no judgement. We’re able to hold each other up. And I think it’s important to create that tribe and that village. Don’t conform to anyone’s sort of expectation. Be you. Be authentic. Be organic. Stay true to yourself!