Black Joy

You can’t break our souls | Black Joy – July 1, 2022

Get a weekly dose of Black Joy in your inbox every Friday. Subscribe to the Black Joy newsletter here.

Whew, y’all.

The past couple of days have been a whammy since the U.S. Supreme Court showed all its ghettoness by overturning Roe v. Wade. To make things more awkward, we’re supposed to be commemorating our nation’s independence on Monday. I guess if you’re a straight, white man there’s reason to celebrate.

I’m challenging myself to find humor in it all. Like how it was blue skies and sunshine during Juneteenth, but the forecast predicts storms this holiday weekend here in Alabama. Our Black ancestors are being petty as they speak their peace, y’all, and I am here for it.

But real talk, I’m here to honor those heavy emotions, especially for those who:

I’m also here to remind y’all of what Queen Beyonce said in her anti-capitalist anthem of the Summer: They can’t break our souls. The revolution doesn’t exist without Black joy. So I hope you take the time to reclaim all the energy, peace and happiness.

I curated this newsletter with the intention of inspiring our readers to seek community care as we also liberate ourselves through self-care. Both can exist at once. We can’t heal our communities alone because we are a village. So share this newsletter with your folks who need to take some deep belly breathes in and let a loud “woosah” out.

Let’s get free, y’all.

– Starr

We keep each other safe

Movements don’t stop just because of a court ruling or state ban.

Like the Black activists before them, Southerners aren’t ceasing the fight for reproductive justice. Finding community is important when you’re battling against systemic issues dedicated to our oppression. So I chatted with two Alabama freedom fighters who’ve developed a deep friendship as they take care of their communities in different ways.

Jenice Fountain founded Margins: Women Helping Black Women in 2018. The organization pushes back against the systems harming Black mothers by providing multiple services in Birmingham, Ala. Margins operates three 24-hour food pantries, distributes household items for the parents and backpacks full of supplies for kids in Birmingham City Schools.

The bulk of Jenice’s work is crowdfunding for mothers who are in need of housing, money for utilities, gas, food, etc. Jenice also helps empower people’s bodily autonomy by providing information about abortion access, pregnancy tests, condoms and Plan B. Those in need of emergency assistance can message Margins on Facebook and Jenice will take care of you.

While most hot takes about Roe. V. Wade have focused exclusively on abortion access, Margins is showing folks what southern reproductive justice really looks like – which can’t exist without centering Black and brown people. Low-income people of color have always lived in a post-Roe reality due to lack of access, but also the maternal mortality rate for Black women is three times higher than white women. Then there’s the systemic, economic and gender-based injustices that plague marginalized communities.

“People think of reproductive justice as abortion, or even if they don’t think of it as solely abortion they may think of it as abortion and maybe childbirth. But it’s literally everything else following that because if I can’t feed my child after having one, that’s still stripping me of my agency,” Jenice said. “It’s not autonomous of me to carry a pregnancy if I can’t take care of that child post pregnancy. White feminism doesn’t lend an ear to that because white women aren’t on the bottom of that struggle.”

Dominique Villanueva is making sure everyone eats after co-founding Fountain Heights Farms alongside her partner Christopher Gooden. In 2017, Dominique and Christopher looked beyond the stereotypes stigmatizing a historic Birmingham neighborhood and got to work by transforming their yard into an urban farm. Fountain Heights Farms now has four community-based farm lots and an aquaponics learning center. The urban farm not only distributed more than 10,800 pounds of free food to their neighbors in 2021, but they also empower community members by training up the next urban farmers and educating them about land loss and retention.

Jenice and Dominique came into each other’s lives while experiencing the collective grief of the pandemic in 2020. At the time, Dominique just gave birth and was rushing to get back to work because her husband wasn’t working due to the shutdown. Her family was struggling to make ends meet to the point that Dominique couldn’t afford bottles for her baby. After learning about Margins through a mutual aid Facebook group, Dominique reached out to Jenice to see if she could spare a couple of bucks for bottles so she could feed her child and get back to work.

Jenice showed up and showed out. Margins gave Dominique enough money to keep the lights on and her fridge full for the month – all without going through the hurdles of proving her income or being asked for something in return.

“Black women are told that nothing comes for free. If it does, you should feel guilty and try to pay it back,” Dominique cried. “So of course I started going through all these motions, like ‘Oh, I can pay it back. I could do this or that.’ And she was very clear about saying, ‘I didn’t do this for any kind of transactional reason. You needed help and I helped you.’”

Jenice and Dominique have clicked ever since. And as mothers who each have three children, they can relate to each other a lot. They chatted with Reckon about how they show up for each other and how they find joy despite these dark times:

What inspires you about each other and how has that inspiration impacted your movement work?

Jenice: Her dedication to maintaining her peace. I think she does that through obtaining tools, whether it’s through any amount of counseling or just calming herself by herself. She’s really intentional about how she moves through the world and her impact. Dominique always reminds me like, ‘OK, well, how are you feeling? How is this impacting you? How are you going to be after you’ve overextended yourself? I make space for myself in my feelings. I make space to rest and heal. I make space to find more joyful things.

Dominique: Her dedication to her own liberation and the amount of grace she gives to herself as she learns more. She has this really loving and giving spirit. She’s also very clear about her own beliefs, and what that means and defining it for herself. And encouraging other people to also define their own liberation… I think one of the biggest gifts is being able to define myself outside of being a partner, a wife, a mother. I have watched Jenice do that.

How have y’all been finding liberating joy despite being so up close to the aftermath of the fall of Roe v. Wade?

Jenice: Just having that space to lean in on where we’re not always focused on why we’re upset, but also remembering joy is revolutionary, too. So finding those spaces for things we can do or even just getting our kids together…Reflecting on the ways in which my work is still going to help folks retain their agency in my neighborhoods certainly has been helpful. My friend used to tell me, ‘The world is on fire. So you’re gonna have to be able to put it out, you have to do what you can and then you’re gonna have to also remember that you’re a person outside of trying to put out the fire.’ So, I reach out to friends. I reach out to some of our clients I’ve built relationships with and we just hold on to each other.

Dominique: Being able to get our kids together and you know have them ordering the most expensive thing on the menu at the Chinese restaurant. Not in a way that’s entitled. We are raising our children and enabling ourselves to expect joy and beautiful things. And so, often that’s reflected in an 11-year-old ordering duck. It made space for them to be able to have expectations and not feel like they’re hindered by all the things that hindered me and that we’re still being hindered by, like poverty and racism.

Do you have any words for anyone who may feel lost, miserable, isolated, or anxious right now due to the SCOTUS decision?

Jenice: While it may be structured this way, we’re not winning our power from government. We get it from movements. There’s always a movement pushing back against everything we’re dealing with. I push us to always organize. There’s more of us than them.

Dominique: Black people have had limited access to these rights for a long time and we have found ways to survive outside or in spite of, and I think we need to continue to support folks who have been doing this work.

Speaking of support, here’s where you can open your wallets and purses for Fountain Heights Farms. To fund Margins’ programs, slip your cash via the organization’s PayPal and Venmo.

Only hueman

Nallah Brown is on her way to guide Black people as they heal.

The 25-eyar-old HBCU grad is heading to Mercer University School of Medicine in Georgia this fall to start her clinicals to become a marriage and family therapist. But sis is already pouring out wisdom and affirmations through her Instagram Hueman Like That, where she prides herself on being a sensitive, Southern soul.

Nallah is essentially giving us permission to be in our feelings, see them as signals to our needs and to communicate those needs in compassionate ways.

“I think of this as my own personal goal to deconstruct what perfectionism means and how it lives in a lot of these different systems we go through as young individuals,” Nallah said.

“Hueman Like That is a philosophy of honoring ourselves as sentient beings and being OK to feel the way we feel.”

Nallah was inspired to become a therapist while studying journalism at Florida A&M University. She was volunteering with a transformative justice program that taught emotional intelligence skills to teens who had been through the juvenile justice system. The philosophy of the program was that every conflict is a tragic expression of an unmet need. She then started to see herself educating her community about emotional and mental wellness. So she switched career paths.

Becoming a therapist honored Nallah’s values of community, connection, relationships, emotional and mental wellness and education. She wants to provide trauma-informed care as she helps her clients connect with themselves and each other in kind and compassionate ways.

The wordplay of “Hueman” Like That acknowledges the different shades of our Black skin and how Blackness and strength are not monoliths. Growing up, Nallah was labeled as the “cry baby” and “drama queen” of the family. Now she’s helping us punching back against the strong Black woman stereotype.

“It’s a journey for me to stand in my truth of knowing that my sensitivity is truly a superpower,” Nallah said. “A lot of us are expected to think of being strong in one way: unemotional, insensitive, this stoic resilience of ‘I can take all the pain and keep going’ kind of kind of idea…. It’s actually very courageous, beautiful, raw and all these different things to be sensitive as you are strong.”

Nallah laid out some mental health tips for our readers who feel hopeless right now:

  • You are what you consume: “We have access to a ton of information at the tip of our hands at any point in the day. What we consume affects us moment to moment, second by second, and that’s something to be mindful of and intentional about. What are you consuming and how much are you consuming? If at some point you’re noticing things are starting to change within you based off the social messaging you’re receiving, that’s a beautiful opportunity to take note of that and pivot by asking ourselves ‘Do I need to continue to consume this right now? Or do I need to take a break?’”
  • Go lay down: “I feel like liberation and joy goes into restoration – restoring that peace, restoring that ease, restoring that relaxation. It’s kind of hard for us to cultivate joy when we’re in a high stress state of being and dysregulated. To get into that rest and relaxation state, think about what is your thing. Is it listening to music, binge watching films, going for a walk, talking to a friend.”
  • S-O-S please: “I’m such a big believer in asking for help and saying, ‘Ay, I need ya.’ Who do you feel seen by and feel connected to talk about these things that are on your mind? We’re collectively in this together and you do not bear this pain alone. We bear it together.” A side note to this tip: Nallah pointed out that you should be mindful of who you request help from. It’s normal to reach out to someone close to you, such as a sibling, parent, partner, best friend. But if that person doesn’t have the emotional capacity to hold you or the emotional maturity to understand your feelings, then it’s best find someone else to vent to.

The bright side

Illuminate the doom and gloom with these bright spots of the week:

  • ALL RISE for JUSTICE Ketanji Brown Jackson, who’s officially the first Black woman supreme court justice after being sworn in on Thursday.
  • Usher swoons us with his falsettos during his NPR Tiny Desk concert
  • AND THEN Usher made a bop with City Girls. Grab y’all’s skates for this one. It’s time to hit the rink!

The bright side

Illuminate the doom and gloom with these bright spots of the week:

  • ALL RISE for JUSTICE Ketanji Brown Jackson, who’s officially the first Black woman supreme court justice after being sworn in on Thursday.
  • Usher swoons us with his falsettos during his NPR Tiny Desk concert
  • AND THEN Usher made a bop with City Girls. Grab y’all’s skates for this one. It’s time to hit the rink

Release ya’ anger! Release your mind! Reclaim ya’ peace! Then organize! See ya’ Friday!

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.