Leeza Joneé - Breathing, Aware

Photos & Writing by Ivan GIlkes

I learned about The Breathing Space after scrolling through many pages of Instagram and stumbling on the profile of founder Leeza Joneé. After I read the story that she wrote about her conversation-focused meet & greet for Sad Girls Club I knew that this was someone we had to feature.  We made plans to meet after a short correspondence.

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On a rainy evening after an exhausting day, Joneé met Tanya and me at our store, we chatted a bit and then ended up at Y/N, a cute cocktail bar near ISO.  There we got into conversation about The Breathing Space and how it came to be while also covering topics including career, movies and television, music, reading, growing older, and self-care. Conversation flowed and what was special was the way that Joneé was able to guide conversation through relation. It’s evident that this skill has enabled her to work in creating The Breathing Space.

Joneé grew up between North Carolina and Long Island in two very different environments. The first was with her mother in the small city of Goldsboro, North Carolina. There she had people in her living room, surrounding her life constantly and this fostered the idea of conversation and community. As an only child Joneé craved a sense of company, so this environment left a lasting impression on her. After her mother’s passing she lived in Long Island with an aunt that was more of a guardian than a parent and Joneé had to take on a lot of life lessons on her own. Despite this, Joneé learned, grew up with a strong sense of self, and a desire to create spaces where people would be able to enjoy company and conversation.

It makes sense that The Breathing Space, nearing its two year anniversary on March 29, was started as a place for “healing in community.” The concept is simple: a topic is chosen in advance key individuals are selected to share their experiences relating to the topic. A greater conversation breaks out as people discuss this topic. The event is broken into two segments, with an intermission and two additional opportunities to mingle and engage in smaller conversation on the outsides of the timeline. Past topics include online vs. irl (balancing life on and off social media), “what does it mean to be a person of color”, and health & wellness. When in New York, Crown Heights based bar Ode to Babel hosts the event - a great choice due to the fact that it looks like a bigger version of a living room that one may find in one of the nearby brownstones.

The Breathing Space is an open space that doesn’t focus solely on one point of view and thusly women, men, people of different ethnicities, and orientations are all invited to participate. I think that this sets The Breathing Space apart, as it advances a collective conversation as opposed to amplifying a singular point of view. As these events are about communication, Joneé realized that what she offers is a place for individuals to realize they’re not the only one that may be feeling a certain way with regards to the topics they’re discussing and then an opportunity to continue that conversation, be it there or with someone they met that night elsewhere. Joneé provides The Breathing Space as a community-building network where someone can meet another person so that maybe they don’t have to grow by themselves as she had to do in the past.

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As the night went on, I asked Joneé what she was in support of (as we’ve done in the past), and she answered definitively owning yourself. She shared that she was had to make time earlier for a nail appointment that she uses as time for herself and her self-care. She additionally goes to movies on her own and uses art, specifically sketching, as a part of her self-therapy. Knowing these things, I completely see why owning yourself is her answer. If you can’t be aware yourself and take care of yourself, you can’t heal. And if you can’t heal you can’t grow; and grow, more importantly, with others. As The Breathing Space enters its third year, I’m sure that Joneé is going to find other creative and human ways to help people become more aware of themselves while getting to relate to others, and I’m excited to see how that happens.

Ivan Gilkes1 Comment