Black Joy

Ya ancestors don’t play about you | Black Joy – November 11, 2022

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The good news just keeps getting better (and Blacker), y’all! Along with launching our new Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, we’ve created FOUR more opportunities for us to connect with y’all.

Starting next week, we’ll be in your inboxes every Monday morning with an affirmation and a song to get your head right for the week 🧘🏾.

✨For our Black entrepreneurs in the house, please check out our Google form to help us grow our Blackity Black Friday shopping database.

✨ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” hits theaters TA-DAY! I know y’all’s premier outfits are about to be on point. Email us photos of you and your crew so we can show off your Wakanda pride on social media. 🙅🏿‍♂️🙅🏾‍♀️

✨ And if you’re into cosplay, check out Daric’s project that dives into the Black cosplay community.

Now that I’ve given you additional ways to spread Black joy *cranks up Salt-N-Pepa* 🔊

Let’s talk about death, baby!

Let’s talk about an-ces-try

Let’s talk about all the healing and thriving it can bring

Let’s talk about death!

Don’t worry. Ain’t no morbid vibes taking space this week. It’s almost Thanksgiving – a time to enjoy our beans, green, potatoes, tomatoes by gathering with loved ones and honoring those who are no longer in the land of the living. We celebrate both when we cut up to funny, uplifting stories that have been passed down the family line.

But beyond Thanksgiving (and funerals), I feel like we tiptoe around conversations about death. And due to our discomfort, we don’t embrace the full power of our bloodline.

What holds us back from honoring death traditions, especially the indigenous rituals our ancestors may have practiced? How can we incorporate those practices into our lives now? We’ve got some guidance for you. Let’s bulk up our knowledge together – share this newsletter with your friends and fam.

– Starr

Tap into somebody who can do both (in your lineage)

Veronica Agard, founder of Ancestors in Training, smiles as she poses with pink and white flowers framing her face.

Y’all know how Beyoncé said she carries hot sauce in her bag (Swag!)? Well, that’s Veronica Agard but from a spiritual angle.

“I am that girl that has Florida Water or essential oil in her fanny pack at any given moment while roaming the world because I don’t know who’s gonna come with whatever energy and I’m just gonna have to change my mood real quick,” Veronica said.

You gotta be on top of your own energy as the founder of Ancestors in Training, a platform challenging folks to view their time on Earth as an ever everlasting legacy that our descendants can tap into beyond the binary life/death.

Veronica accomplishes this mission in multiple ways: On the Ancestors in Training Instagram, you’ll find a stream of empowering affirmations like “if trauma can be passed down so can love and joy”, spiritual tips such as the anatomy of an ancestor altar and journal prompts encouraging you to discover the roots of your family tree by tapping your elders.

Ancestors in Training also hosts multiple workshops, like the upcoming Community Circle Space on Sunday and December 11 which will focus on making room for traditions that foster joy by peeling back generational trauma. Veronica doesn’t just host events, she’s curated a syllabus of books, podcasts and resources for those who attend the workshops or collaborate with her on ancestral work.

Back in August, Veronica finished her rites of passage in Ifá, a Yoruba religion and system of divination from Nigeria which recently gained popularity due to pop culture’s admiration for its gods, known as Orishas. She earned the name Ifáṣadùn, which means “Ifa sprouts joy.” But Veronica pulls from multiple African diaspora religions to make the magic happen, including Voodoo, Santeria and Candomblé. She has seen folks demonize religions built on resistance.

“Our ancestors, who were brought over here against their will, somehow made a way because Black people will make a way when there isn’t a way.” Veronica said. “And one of the ways we did that was by figuring out how to be in relationship with the land. Especially in the South. Especially with herbs. Especially by being the community healers when we weren’t allowed to go to quality doctors. We had to become our own doctors, our own therapists, our own healers.”

In the debate between religion and spirituality, Veronica reminds us that you could have ancestors who did both. They are your folks who went to church on Sunday and did seances on the side, Veronica cackled. You can read more about Veronica and how spiritual journey led to Ancestors in Training in my article on our website. For now though, here’s a snippet of our chat:

Starr: For our spiritual newbies, how can they start honoring their ancestors?

Veronica: Build an altar and be careful: You want to call on your benevolent ancestors. The same way you don’t want to just invite anybody into your house and you don’t want to invite just any ancestor to your altar because not every spirit, ancestor or both that comes down is going to be in your favor.

Find a community: Whether that community is like the people you subscribe to in the Ancestors in Training ecosystem, including myself or fellow folks who are just now starting their relationship. Don’t be alone when you’re learning new things or unlearning, depending on where you fall on. I think we learn better in community as opposed to isolation.

Starr: Since Sunday’s Community Circle is about alleviating generational grief, can you tell us about how we can start healing our lineage?

Veronica: Start with yourself. Because doing the work for yourself, is a form of healing for your ancestors who could not afford that luxury. Some of our ancestors could not think about their own self care, rest, pleasure or joy because of how the world was set up at the time.

You’re not healing yourself as a means to fix yourself, but you’re arriving to a place of understanding that you were already whole to begin with and the world took that away from you with capitalism, all the ‘isms,’ So a part of our journey in this lifetime is to get back to wholeness within ourselves, for ourselves. Then you can start to understand what you know want your legacy to do, and that becomes generational healing for those who come after you.

Sometimes people think generational healing is only going backwards. And I’m like, ‘Yes, but also start with you so that you can go forward and that becomes the inheritance, that becomes your legacy. And then that becomes a tool of generational healing.

Starr: What advice do you have for those who are starting their own spiritual journey but rely on #spiritualtiktok or Instagram?

Veronica: Practice discernment, please. Because this is an era of scammers and people making fake pages. Somebody who offers spiritual readings isn’t gonna DM you talking about, ‘Oh, I have a message from the ancestors.’ That’s not how this works. You who is seeking the reading has to go to the practitioner. The practitioner will not come to you. If they do, check the page. Make sure that everything is spelled correctly. Tap on the three dots (on Instagram) to make sure you can see their about section and where they are located.

Number two, still do your research in spite of whatever anybody says, including me. Use what people say as a launching pad or stepping stool. Especially if they offer resources, follow up on resources. Also, see who people are in relationship with. Who are they learning from? Who are they following?

Some people do this, but I don’t do this. If you see an altar on my social media, that is a community altar, but it’s not my altar. It’s not my ancestral one or any of my other ones. In this moment that just passed with Dia de los Muertos and Fèt Gede, which is Haitian Day of the Dead, and with the age of the internet, we’re seeing a lot of things that, in my opinion, we’re not meant to see unless we were there at the event. I think there are some things that should stay off the internet, especially ceremonies and people’s altars. If somebody really knows how to try and cause me harm, I gave them the information to do that.

Stay rooted in ya self

Photo on left: Jay Brissette (left), their partner Miguel Ruelas (right), and their 4-year-old child Azul (bottom left) pose for a photo during a Dia de los Muertos ceremony. They are standing in front of a mural of butterfly wings.

Photo right: Azul, who is 4, stands next to an ofrenda during Dia de los Muertos. The ofrenda is decorated with birghtly colored marigolds, pictures of deceased loved ones and food offerings.

As a Black and Mexican family in Los Angeles – Jay Brissette, their partner Miguel Ruelas, and their 4-year-old child, Azul – Dia de los Muertos has become a beloved holiday. Their ofrenda, or altar, honors their cat who was hit by a car earlier this year, friends who have passed away,

Jay and Miguel’s grandparents and Azul’s twin sibling who died due to a miscarriage. Since ofrendas can also amplify social justice issues, the family included the names of Native American youth who were killed at residential schools and the Black lives lost to police brutality.

The holiday gives the family space to commemorate those losses and their legacies in a culturally responsive and age appropriate way for Azul. Last week, the family attended a memorial for a friend who recently died. Since the death happened around Dia de los Muertos, Jay said the rituals helped guide the conversation with Azul.

“We didn’t want (Azul) to be completely detached and confused by death,” Jay said. “It’s helpful for our kid to be able to have a practice to fall back on. Having this season happen right now, and being able to plug into all these places to talk about this person and have them be able to acknowledge people who have died in a more public, communal way I think has been really helpful for them in processing what that means. Death is big for really big people. So it’s a big thing for a very small person.”

Azul, a Black and Mexican 4-year-old, admires an ofrenda during a Dia de los Muertos ceremony.

Before Azul, Dia de los Muertos helped Jay and Miguel become more grounded within themselves. Miguel grew up in a strict, Catholic family who celebrated All Souls Day, which was more about celebrating the church and the saints than their indigenous roots, Miguel said. He didn’t experience Dia de los Muertos until he visited Mexico City in 2006. Among the grand altars, an ofrenda honoring trans ancestors caught Miguel’s attention. It was a moment of validation for Miguel who is trans.

“Often what gets said is, ‘Trans people didn’t exist. This is a new thing. This is very trendy right now,’” Miguel said. “But they’ve existed long before I did. Not only did they exist, but now there was a space where we were honoring them. So, I did feel a deep connection because that’s something I continue to carry with me and that I am now passing on to my own kid.”

Around the same time Miguel was connecting with himself, Jay was exploring spiritual practices after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. Jay’s friends welcomed them into Yoruba ceremonies, Samoan rituals and other indigenous traditions. This was a different energy than what Jay had experienced while attending Catholic school, where Jay felt closed off from their authentic selves. Jay was familiar with Dia de los Muertos growing up, but didn’t participate in the holiday until they became older and started interacting with other Black and brown, queer people who were breaking away from Christianity. So indigenous traditions played a big role in Jay’s spiritual journey, which also coincides with them coming out as a nonbinary person.

“Through queerness, coming into myself and having friends that reflected that identity back, I really opened up to different spiritual practices because prior to that, I wouldn’t have wanted any part in any thing like that,” Jay said.

Now, Dia de los Muertos is enriching Azul’s life, too. Jay describes Azul as a funny child who’s full of laughter, and the kid is bringing their personality to a holiday that’s already shaping their view of death from a cultural lens. This year, the family attended ceremonies where Azul and other kids made stops at different ofrendas and sang to the dead. Azul is currently passionate about telling folks about the power of the cempasúchil. Jay said Azul is still working out the details behind how the flower guides the ancestors.

“At first [Azul] was like, ‘Oh, they’re coming,’” Jay said. “When we had more conversations, now they understand they’re not physically coming, but it’s a way for them to visit us. We can call on them, and we don’t see them, but we can still talk to them and they can be there as a support.”

“For various reasons, I’m not close to my biological family. So (Azul) doesn’t go around them very much,” Miguel said. “It’s important for me to make sure they still have opportunities to interact with their community, - the trans community and keep that cultural connection to being Mexican.”

During one of the ceremonies, the family admired an ofrenda honoring transgender people. Miguel said the celebrations gave back what was taken from them during the pandemic. This will be the first communal celebration Azul will remember – and the family wants to make it count.

A Black person with a big afro wearing a green and white shirt smiles as they sit on top of the world while listening to music.

Daric is back on the 1s and 2s with a playlist honoring our roots. We’re celebrating Black music across the diaspora because our Black joy and pride is worldwide!

Know your ancestors don’t play about you and keep spreading Black joy. See ya’ll next time!

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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