Black Joy

How we heal: A conversation with Negarra A. Kudumu

It was 2015, a few months after I graduated college. I lay in bed immobile with grief. I could not get Sandra Bland out of my head.

As hard as I tried, I could not eat, sleep, or drink it away.

Finally, I reached out to a mentor for help. And she referred me to an Ifá Priestess who instructed me to build an altar for my ancestors, nothing complicated, water and a lit candle. The experience pushed me through a door that shut tightly behind me. There was no turning back.

That is where my healing journey began. But unfortunately, violence against Black folks, especially by the hands of the state, can make all my progress seem futile some days.

The good thing about healing, though, is that it is neither linear nor absolute. And how one gets there is deeply personal and unique to their needs.

For Negarra A. Kudumu, her healing journey has allowed her to create a spiritual life that centers all the things she loves. A world-traveler, lover of global Black culture, and practitioner of several African diasporic spiritual traditions, Kudumu founded Crossroad Healing Arts where her offerings meet at the intersection of art and healing. Through that, she curated Thee Communiversity, an online space providing “ongoing education about African and African rooted spiritual traditions with a focus on mutual aid and community building.”

During our conversation we talked about the relationship between art and healing, making spirituality an everyday part of your life and why protecting your peace is the best way to care for yourself spiritually.

Can you talk a little bit about the connection between art and healing?

When I think about art, specifically, what artists do, what curators do, what writers do, there is an element of creation there. Artists are creating works inspired by, based on research derived from a thing, curators are creating exhibitions, writers are creating texts, there is a creative spark that happens at a certain point that leads to the making of a thing. And while we often don’t get to see the artistic process, we do see the output.

On the spiritual side of things when you are a spiritualist or priestess… you are looking at a situation, assessing its current condition and figuring out what you need, and want to do in order to shift those conditions to be more favorable for you or to be more favorable for the person at hand that you’re working with. And that’s not a process that’s open to the public either…this individual began this journey that involved ancestral veneration, familiarizing themselves with their family’s ancestral spiritual traditions, maybe they got initiated into something…And then their life began to progress and take a different turn…I found early on as I was formalizing my practice…what I as a spiritualist, as a priestess had in common with artists was that making and that ability to shift conditions.

It’s 2023, and it feels like we’re in this constant loop of collective grief. I’m thinking in terms of another highly publicized death of a black person by police, not to mention violence we’re witnessing more locally in our communities. For Black folks who may be feeling lost or hopeless, where do you think is a good place to start for spiritually caring for themselves?

One simple thing that I think I would advise all black people to do is, anybody who is sensitive to really just the high levels of death and destruction that are shown to us on a regular basis, is to severely monitor your media content, whether it be TV, radio, or online. Sadly, we live in a society where violence is glorified, where the new cycle is never ending…

I don’t believe that, particularly for black people, but for anybody that it is healthy to be constantly processing black death and destruction all the time. It is not. What it does is it traumatizes us, because we already come from lineages of people who were enslaved. We already come from lineages of the people who were being abused and tortured. We don’t need to see it, to know that it is a thing.

That’s a really good point. I [don’t] watch the videos, but somehow the details end up on my [social media] timeline and that is very unhelpful for my mental health. Before we end, do you have any other thoughts on spirituality as a means of liberation and healing?

Liberation is not a one stop shop, it’s an ongoing practice. Particularly black folks here in the United States, we live in a system that has historically made it very clear that it is not in support of even our survival, let alone thriving. If your goal is to be as free as possible, free in mind, free in body and free in spirit, then it’s something that you’re constantly working on…

For anyone who is thinking about a return to their spiritual traditions, and by their spiritual traditions, let me be more specific, if I’m speaking about African American people…the spiritual religious reality of African American people that predates for some of us, our forced conversion to Christianity is Conjure, also known as Hoodoo…or people [of the] diaspora in the Caribbean and Latin America there are any number of traditions that are representative of that…

When you look for those traditions, they are always happening in community. And you have to begin to prepare yourself for the shift from a very individualistic way of moving and being, to a communal way of moving and being and seeing yourself not just as an isolated person who is just doing for self, but someone who is within a community.

As Kudumu emphasized, we are not meant to heal alone. It can be daunting but reclaiming the spiritual practices of your ancestors is your birthright. To learn more about how to begin your journey into African diaspora spirituality and connect with folks on a similar path, Kudumu’s Thee Communiversity comes highly recommended. I would also suggest checking out A Little Juju Podcast, which Kudumu has also been featured on.

The time to heal is always. Start today.

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham (she/her), affectionately known as Dani Bee, is Reckon’s Black Joy Reporter, and a Chicago-born, Mississippi-raised writer based in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2021 Lambda Literary fellow, her work has been published in MadameNoire, Midnight & Indigo Literary Magazine, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere.

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