Black Joy

Black vulnerability is a super power | Black Joy – July 29, 2022

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How do you embrace the pauses in your life?

When I say pauses, I’m talking about those quiet moments before or after your 9-5 and your personal to-do list is at least somewhat done (because we aren’t superhuman and should be gentle with ourselves.) Do you read a book, sip your favorite tea or wine, do yoga, meditate or watch your favorite show?

If you feel like life is too busy for all of that, know that you have a right to put your Black wellness first. And there are so many ways to do that.

My newsletter honoring Black Mental Health Awareness Month highlighted a Huntsville artist who paints through the discomfort caused by his post-traumatic stress disorder. This time, I’m introducing y’all to a Georgia artist who is spreading the therapeutic vibes to thousands of folks through his public painting events.

Forward this newsletter to your friends and fam so we can unleash our inner Bob Ross together.

– Starr

The strength of vulnerability

In just a year’s time, Elijah Wade has created an oasis of art, music and healing vibes in Atlanta.

The 26-year-old artist and father of two is the founder of Paint N Sit, a weekly event where attendants spend their weekend afternoons unleashing their creativity – for free. Only a handful of friends and family joined him during the first event last year. Since then, thousands of people have gathered for this therapeutic experience. Paint N’ Sit’s anniversary event at Old Forth Ward Skatepark on July 16th drew about 1,500 people alone. Elijah’s network of more than 100 local artists set the mood as people paint to save the forest or just have a good time dancing together.

Elijah said people have created their own “Paint N Sit family” at the events. That’s because he has built a reputation over the past year of cultivating a free, no-judgment, drama-free zone, which is a requirement when you are building up a community through art and vulnerability.

“Vulnerability, I’ve learned, is our greatest superpower when it comes to building community because we’re putting all the things we feel ashamed of out on the front street saying, ‘This is who I am. I’m a person who messes up just like you’re a person who messes up. We can meet somewhere through something.’ And that ‘somewhere through something’ is art for people who come to the event.”

“We’re all being vulnerable with art,” Elijah continues. “Not everyone is an artist, or [talented like] Picasso. You may not have painted in five years. But this is a safe space to be vulnerable and to create whatever you want to create, whether it’s music, art or conversation.”

Paint N Sit combines Elijah’s love of art and the outdoors. He hopes those who attend discover the therapeutic effects of both like he did in college. His job at the time hosted a nighttime painting event and he became so hooked, he started painting and sipping wine in his room during his free time.

Before that, Elijah hadn’t played around with art since high school. So the comfort of painting during his college years felt like revisiting an old friend. But this time, he was beginning to experience the freedom art gave him. Art has no boundaries, he said. It can be whatever you make it. And just like art, he can be whoever he wanted to be. This experience taught him the importance of release and vulnerability as a Black man.

“Vulnerability is something that we, especially as men, almost hide and push so deep that we don’t have to deal with it,” Elijah said. “I feel like we don’t have enough spaces to go to for men to come and commune openly that doesn’t feel like church and doesn’t feel like someone is talking down to you. We need an open forum to come and be like, ‘Hey other men in this universe, I’m dealing with these problems, and if any of you want to give me some advice to help me maneuver these problems in the best possible, positive way, I appreciate that.’”

In college, Elijah was an athlete who wanted to play overseas. But Elijah said it was vulnerability that molded him into the man he is today: an artist who likes to sit in lakes, rivers and creeks, who enjoys the outdoor barefooted and climb rocks, go on hikes and explore.

But embracing his authentic self didn’t always come confidently.

“I had an ideology of how I wanted people to view me,” he said. “Vulnerability is high risk, high reward. But you have to be willing to stand on your risks because one thing about vulnerability is that it comes with something on the other side. Are you willing to accept what’s on the other side, whether that’s someone else looking at you a certain way and not folding on who you are?”

The beginnings of Paint N Sit occurred after Elijah’s college days and through his desire to help his community connect to art without breaking the bank. So in July 2021, he hauled 15-20 pieces of artwork to a local park and wrote on a piece of cardboard, “Teaching myself the art of detachment. Pay what you feel (the artwork) is worth or take a piece for free. My paintings have brought me joy. Now, hopefully, they will bring you some joy, too.”

He sold all but three pieces of artwork that day. To continue his mission of spreading the joy, he hauled art supplies to the public park so they could paint with together for free. Back then, Elijah only hosted Paint N Sit every two weeks and had to temporarily stop the event once the weather got cold.

Paint N Sit’s popularity boomed during a dark point in Elijah’s life. A mass firing at an Amazon plant left him jobless. He scavenged for another job, but his applications were being denied – a problem Elijah has never faced before. He felt himself sinking into a depressive state. Whenever Elijah finds himself ill, connecting to nature is his medicine of choice. But he couldn’t relieve the stress due to the cold.

As the weather began to warm up, he started to see his job loss as an opportunity to go all in on his art and revamp his community events. By March, Paint N Sit was back in full force and thanks to his social media efforts, he gained a loyal following and enough donations to keep Paint N Sit running on an every weekend basis. If you want to be one of those donors, you can hit up Elijah’s GoFundMe or you can send your coins to ElijahWade11 on CashApp or Venmo.

“So the idea of Paint N Sit really was the result of all the work I did to try to get myself out of a depressive state and share more of my light that I was holding inside for myself,” Elijah said.

While Paint N Sit is all for bettering people’s wellbeing, it’s also dedicated to helping people better the community around them. Last Saturday, Elijah took Paint N Sit to the woods by partnering with Defend Atlanta Forest, a coalition of grassroot movement groups and people who are fighting against the deforestation of the South River/Weelaunee Forest into a police training campground, according to Defend Atlanta Forest’s website. Based on Elijah’s Instagram videos, the event was bursting with joy as people grooved to the tunes of a local artist to protest deforestation.

“I’m naturally a very anxious person. So I’m always thinking about scenarios that could possibly play out,” Elijah said. “But in nature, I feel an overwhelming peace where I can just sit and listen to the water or the wind in the trees. I find stillness.”

While nature will always be Paint N Sit’s starting point, Elijah is growing his vision beyond the outdoors and into the classrooms. At the end of the school year in May, he announced on TikTok his willingness to bring Paint N Sit to students. He quickly learned he was filling a need in the city, as teachers swarmed into his inbox. Thanks to Elijah, kids who don’t have an art program at their schools were able to spend their last days in class being creative and learning another way to communicate their needs.

“Just seeing what these young artists can create is wild,” Elijah said. “It’s a way for them to express things that they might be thinking or feeling that they don’t necessarily know how to speak on.”

Elijah is currently looking for an indoor space to host Pain N Sits during the winter so he can keep the good times rolling. Email Elijah if you know a spot in the Atlanta area. If you want to keep up with how Elijah is growing Paint N Sit and future events, hit up his TikTok and Instagram.

The spiritual fitness of fatherhood

Elijah is all for empowering the next generation. In his stream of TikTok videos, you’ll also see Elijah uplifting his sons, 3-year-old Malikai and one-year-old Israel, as they ground themselves through nature and encouraging words. I love this video of Elijah and Malikai repeating affirmations in the mirror as they work out their muscles:

I am smart

I am strong

I can do anything

“If I know something feeds me spiritually, then I feel like, especially with having sons, they need to see me being spiritually fit so they know there’s something in this world that can feed them the same type of way,” Elijah said. “So, I take them to the waterfalls with me. We usually walk over to the lake across the street in the morning and put our feet in the water because it’s good for them to understand that they are part of everything that they are experiencing as a being on this earth.”

One of Elijah’s favorite moments of joy involving Paint N sit happened when he watched Malikai sing his favorite song in front of a crowd of 400 people. His oldest is becoming quite a confident child and is excited to see the person he and his brother will grow in to.

“I don’t look at them as like my sons sometimes,” Elijah said. “I think God placed me in their life as their first helper. It’s not my responsibility to tell them what they’re supposed to do or be in life. I’m just giving them the tools that helped me figure out who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do in life.”

Express(ionism) yourself

You don’t have to be Jean-Michel Basquiat to play with your creativity. I believe we all have an innovative energy inside of us – whether you consider yourself artsy or nah. The medium doesn’t matter. Some folks are talented with art and design. Others talents show out through pen and paper (wink….kind lol) And I don’t leave out y’all in the STEM field either.

If you feel like your imagination’s muscles need a workout, Elijah offers these tips to break through the blockage:

Play around a bit: As Elijah mentioned above, anxiety can be annoying sometimes. All that overthinking about how your vision will come out can fog up your imagination. When Elijah finds his mind getting busy when starting a painting, he will grab a separate canvas and start mindlessly doodle or scribble for about 30-45 minutes to get the ideas swirling around in his head out on a canvas.

“It just allows me not to feel so judgmental about what I’m making,” Elijah said.

Be your own muse: “There’s a quote that I live by that is actually the definition of sonder. The definition says every person is living a life as vivid and complex as yours. So I take that into my art, like, ‘Hey, every person that creates art, that’s not your art. That’s not your lane. That’s not your avenue. That’s what they had in their mind. So be confident that what you are about to put out (creatively) came authentically and genuinely from you.”

Have fun: “I know this sounds like a cliché, but if you’re not having fun creating art, then this thing that can be so freeing and a de-stresser is becoming like a requirement. So even if you have to take time away from it, take time away from it. You’ll come back with a new vision or a new passion.”

Spread your creativity through Black joy. See ya’ Friday!

Jonece Starr Dunigan

Jonece Starr Dunigan |

Jonece Starr Dunigan (She/her/hers) is a journalist who gives the microphone to communities that are often ignored by mainstream media. Guided by empathy, her reporting centers the stories, movement work and voices of Black, brown and queer people. Her writing strives to amplify and empower readers instead of exploiting them of their traumas.

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