How do you tell a story that’s already been told?
You tell it again.
There is nothing new about the bounty on black bodies in the United States of America. The pain is as black as the blood is black, but the shame is red, white and blue. There have been a record number of murders of black and brown men due to police terrorism. Our youth are bound up in a predatory irrational fear that views them as villainous and kills them before they ever have a chance to grow. As a community, we grapple with what truths to teach them, and which to protect them from, and all the while we are spiraling downward into social unrest. We are calling for a healing within our communities. In honor of July being Minority Mental Health Month, we sat down with a few change agents working within the community. We discussed care within advocacy and activism, mental wellness, what it looks like, and how we can take care of ourselves while we take care of others.
Kymani Jade, youth advocate, teaching artist, and the creator of the Nu Afrikan Artivist Movement met with special guests Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi, writer and curatorial fellow at the School of Visual Arts, Nikenya Hall, certified energy healer, mental health counselor and adjunct professor, and Kahlil Koromantee, life coach, author and educator. During our hour long discussion on the issues of public lynching, social media consumption, politicizing pop culture, finding wellness while we are weary, exploring the questions of how we can find balance and grounding; and who do we turn to when: “how are you” and “I’m fine” are not enough. In our first ever studio production, we are bringing this exchange to broadcast television to share with our wider viewing audience. Watch the videos from the original taping on July 8th, 2016 below:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
The energetic and psychological trauma we bear is reminiscent of the genocidal impact of the African Holocaust. The current visual culture of consuming horrific images of the hunt on black lives, gives way to an atmospheric tension, and an emotional and spiritual desensitization, which we quickly begin to feel in the increase of suicide rates among black and Latino women. In the next video, we challenge the strong black woman and man tropes and delve into ways in which we can begin to deal with racial battle fatigue. There is strength in vulnerability and a strategy of resistance in direct, emotional and spiritual connection. We talk about emotional literacy as a tool for mental wellness and how having the language to discuss our emotionality is a coping technique. And, we touch on the value of allies and white engagement, when checking in is the difference between acknowledgement and dismissal.
It is no easy task to confront the disposability of our lives, when the color of uniforms take precedence over the terrorism of entire communities of color, especially queer-identified people who all too often get left out of our conversations. With the gravity of mental illness furthering the detriment to our society it is imperative that we engage in self-care. In the next clip we review how many of us are seeking out safe spaces online and using social media as a means to connect, self-preserve and self-medicate. We must remember that in coping, it is okay to take a break, to disconnect and unplug, so that we may plug back in with our collective. Additionally, we can choose to stop sharing the violent attacks to our psyches, and better manage the content we engage with. We can continue to engage texts and examine books, as much as we do sound bites and memes. Part of therapeutic practice is to define what mental wellness and self-care look like and feels like for each of us, and with that self-awareness, we can begin to identify what role we can play in our work towards liberation.
We conclude our conversation with defining mental health as Hall identifies, “It is the active state of achieving balance.” Onyewuenyi calls on each of us to be actionable. And, Koromantee shares local New York City resources for the incarcerated and recently discharged.
In the end, we are evoking the activist at the dinner table, the advocates on the stoops and the artists in their cubicle offices, to come together, bring your picket signs, paintbrushes and your chewed up toothpicks, with your anger, your calm and even your disdain. Connect. Get involved with community organizations and agencies, and most importantly, go home and love your families. Learn and relearn the language of affection, remember to be tender with one another and always, to take care.