In December of 2017, my co-conspirator Cassandra Dallett (the other 1/2 of MoonDrop Productions) and I held the most magnificent reading. It was a reading inspired by the San Francisco Exhibit: The Black Woman is God created by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green. The Black Woman is God Exhibit celebrates Black women, culture, and spirituality through musical, performing, and visual arts. Our inspired performers paid tribute to these divine artists. We heard stories about pain, laughter, and light. We heard music that made us crave our old crushes and ignited us to dance it out. We watched women receive honors for their community organizing work with The Black Panthers. We held sorrow and moved in joy. It is a balancing act to be Black in this world. I think about the collective healing our space provided for me. I think about these special moments during deep grief.
It is February 28, 2021, and I’ve spent my Black Futures/History Month interviewing Black and queer activists, advocates, healers, and peers around the topics of racism, identity, mental health, and their experiences in various movements. This is research for my upcoming article for the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, and it is also so much more. Their luscious voices are in my head like a lullaby. Sometimes we are laughing. I ask one old friend their pronouns and she says,“she/her/hers and she be doing too much.” Sometimes I hold space for their pain. One Black healer tells me she refused to move forward in her education to become a licensed clinician because of the racist and violent practices she was learning. Sometimes I hold space for our pain. We talk about the American Psychiatric Associations’ (APA) apology for upholding structural racism and the history of runaway enslaved people being diagnosed with a mental illness, Drapetomania, for wanting to be free. Read that again. Black people were diagnosed with a mental illness for wanting to be free. What does that say for our collective mental health treatment? I knew about Drapetomania, but there is so much of our Black history that I’m learning that has been loosely documented and frankly earth-shattering.
I want to uplift Vanessa Jackson, an amazing Black activist who wrote, In Our Own Voice- African American Stories of Oppression, Survival, and Recovery in Mental Health Systems. Her work uncovers and explores scientific racism, segregated mental institutions and uprisings, and interviews with African-American psychiatric survivors. There is some shame to be released for learning your true history in your mid 30s.
This month has been heavy on my heart with the anniversary of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder and the recent murders of two young Black men-Josh Cooper and Andy Retic. As we reach the last day of February, I sit in my grief as a I process more historical trauma and witness more recent loss. I am grateful to my Black therapist and Black coach who both hold space for me to process my grief in different ways and support my forever healing journey. I also sit in my truth. Black Futures Month Never Ends. It may be the end of the month, but it is not the end of the Black Experience- no matter what the calendar or white supremacy dictates. What does it mean to move through and not run away from the painful truth? When the past replays as the present and the present was already tough, I look toward my own intuition and sit with guidance from those wise folks I admire. I also try to attend as many Black collective healing spaces as possible. I highly recommend Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective aka BEAM’s Heart Space and their other programming that is inclusive of ALL Black Folks (queer, trans, non-binary).
I think most people are familiar with Audre Lorde’s quote:
Audre Lorde, a self-defined “Black lesbian feminist warrior mother” wrote A Burst of Light after being diagnosed with cancer… again. She wasn’t talking about bubble baths or Pilates, people. She was speaking about caring for yourself in the face of a world that is hostile to your identity, your people, and the way you live. This is what is radical. This is what gets erased when it becomes a catchy quote for an Instagram Influencer. Most people only use the above quote, but they don’t read the rest of piece which gives so much more context to what she really means. It is foundational to my own practice of thriving and connecting to joy in the face of my own grief.
This wise woman also said:
The power of believing and working towards something we have not yet experienced AND mobilizing that hope toward our futures is radical. What does joy mean for me?
- Laying out in the sun listening to Hip-Hop at Lake Merritt and watching children play.
- Dreaming with my partner about our future home (a dreamy Victorian with an open concept kitchen and an epic bathroom).
- Sending flowers to my writing mentor, Lyzette Wanzer, who just got a publishing deal from Chicago Press for her Black hair anthology entitled: Trauma, Tresses, & Truth: Untangling Our Hair Through Personal Narrative.
- Calling my mom to say I love you.
- Curating and sending Bachelor memes to my co-editor L.D.
- Seeing Thato Ramoabi’s beautiful Black twin boys giggle and make an entrance on Zoom.
- Meditation and writing affirmations.
- Co-creating and facilitating collective healing spaces for BIPOC folks.
- Mindmelding with my writing and facilitator co-conspirator, Briana Gilmore.
- Asking my ancestors for strength and connecting to my spirituality.
- Finding time to disconnect.
- Sitting in the redwoods.
- Scream-singing all the words to Apple’s Y2K playlist without shame.
- Bragging to the world that my friend Jenee Darden won 3 journalism awards this year and should be celebrated.
- Listening to D-Nice Spin on Instagram and slow dancing with my love.
Joy means adding to this list every day. Joy means reclaiming my power. It is a balancing act to be Black in this world. I am still imagining and creating something my ancestors and I have not yet seen while living on this earth. I am here in this time for a reason. I believe that in my soul.