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5 Ways I’m Centering My Black Joy and Protecting My Peace

Self logo Self 7/9/2020 Paris Alexandra
© Marina Esmeraldo/Adobe Stock

Joy is the human expression of gratitude, laughter, and celebration. Black joy, specifically, situates itself within the Black experience, often as it relates to our collective self-preservation in the face of constant racism and trauma. As a Black woman, I can experience joy and Black joy simultaneously. Black joy is an affirmation of our humanity, our breath, our love, our laughter. But Black joy couldn’t exist without the presence of anger.

Anger gives us the fire to create the world we want to see; it’s often rooted in a deep love for humanity and hope for better days. However, I’ve found that I need to process my anger so it’s not “hot” anger that will overwhelm me, but “cold” anger that gives me a greater sense of purpose. Both are valid feelings, given everything that’s happening in this country and the world at large, but for me, cold anger is where the potential for change and growth really lives.

Artist and community organizer Chaka Mkali provides an insightful distinction on the relationship between hot anger and cold anger. “Hot anger is emotional, like an uncontained fire that will overtake you and eventually burn you out,” Mkali tells SELF. “Cold anger is calculated, allowing you the opportunity to think and strategize. You’re in it for the long haul.” That cold anger doesn’t snuff out my Black joy. Instead, it makes my Black joy even more meaningful.

When I give myself permission to just be with the entirety of my emotions, Black joy rests at the center. It means I am no longer asking for the construct of whiteness to validate my worth and have instead deemed myself worthy simply because I exist. Thus, self-care and Black joy become a radical embodiment of liberation, as Audre Lorde famously expressed. Here are the tools I use to cultivate my Black joy and protect my peace.

1. Yoga

I’ve used yoga as a continual practice to support my self-care journey over the past 14 years. After a 200-hour training, I became a registered yoga teacher and cofounded BK Yoga Club in Brooklyn. As a Black woman experiencing very visceral attacks on my humanity, meeting myself on the mat has become an essential part of my day. Some days during yoga, I am actively cultivating joy, while other days I am being present with my feelings of anger and sadness. Yoga is an invitation to be with it all.

2. Breath work and meditation

Intentional breathing and meditation help me affirm and connect with my existence. The practice of meditation allows me to sit with the complexity of my emotions, observe my thoughts, and pause. My morning meditation practice includes sitting with myself in silence for at least one minute, focusing on taking deep inhales and exhales. This pause gives me the opportunity to shift from a reactive response to my emotions to a more proactive one, while also creating space for joy and new possibilities.

3. Community self-care

My individual self-care practice wouldn’t be possible without community self-care. While I may continue on the path of self-transformation, my personal experiences of internal and external oppression are connected to much larger structures and systems of oppression.

“There is no ‘I’ in wellness,” Rebeckah Price, wellness advocate and founder of IRISE Yoga, tells SELF. “If we cultivate a practice of self-and-community care, then by default, we are able to reclaim spaces of joy. Our collective joy is directly connected to the collective ‘we’ in wellness.”

My goal throughout this season has been to be accountable to my healing journey with like-minded friends on the same path. At BK Yoga Club, we started a weekly virtual support group called Hey Sis, Let’s Check-In, in collaboration with a therapist. This was an opportunity for women to process the uncertainty of quarantine and feel less isolated. I also recently joined a weekly book club centered on relationships, co-created another wellness check-in group, and engaged in community-led meditations and discussions. All of these activities have supported me in developing stronger relationships and feeling more connected.

4. Therapy

The impact of COVID-19 and racism in this country is a huge load to carry, and it’s important for me to remember that I don’t have to carry it on my own. A vital part of continuing to cultivate Black joy for me is talk therapy. Therapy gives me the space to be with the vastness of my emotions without labeling them as good or bad. In therapy, I have been able to process my process.

“For Black people understanding the historical and systemic displays of oppression, abuse, and neglect, it is imperative that we have a space where we can find solitude and healing,” Monica Thompson, L.C.S.W., therapist and founder of Clinicians of the Diaspora, tells SELF. “When you choose therapy, you’re choosing yourself.”

5. Creativity

My creative and wellness practices are intricately connected to my self-care practice. As a poet and songwriter, I find joy in telling stories. The more we tell our stories, the more we are able to see ourselves in each other. As a mover, dance is a celebration and visual representation of my joy. When I move, I am celebrating the people who came before me and all of who I am in the present. Creativity gives me space to re-imagine Black joy and invites me to envision a world that is yet to exist.

Cultivating Black joy is not a linear process. We must protect our joy and meet ourselves with gratitude, patience, and love. While these are the tools I use to move through my experiences while carrying the intention of joy, yours may be different and change over time, as I’m sure mine will, too. What matters most is carving out that space to seek and nurture your Black joy, as tough as that may be. Ultimately, Black joy is necessary for our continued ability to thrive.

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