Black Joy: Finding Balance in our Healing Journey with Simone Donaldson (Episode 4)

I think it's so important that we balance our healing journey with both understanding, acknowledging, as well as living in the joy that is our blackness. And so my hope is that individuals are really intentionally tapping into black joy, and allow that to be the thing that perhaps breaks through the racial trauma. It gives you a pathway towards the healing that we all so deserve and need in this life. So we can live our full life, not just surviving, but truly, truly thriving.

Simone Donaldson is a Consultant, Therapist, and the founder of Agapé Lens Consulting and Therapy, with over 12 years devoted to mental health, racialized communities, and youth. She offers consultations to private, non-profit, and public sectors, to help guide and implement equity, cultural humility, anti-black racism, mental health, and wellness education, through program development, workshops, leadership coaching, staff development, and speaking engagements. She also prioritizes Black youth 12-24 for psychotherapy and counseling, through a warm, honest, and mindfully present approach. Simones' practice is grounded in trauma-informed principles, an Afrocentric lens, attachment, holistic, and strength-based practices. She believes true healing manifests when we become our most authentic selves, allowing us to thrive and live out our purpose.

Opening Remarks:

This is our monthly series called "Racial and Intergenerational Trauma for ACB Youth w. Simone Donaldson." We have three episodes out already, that you can find on our blog. This series covers topics about racial and intergenerational trauma; how to prevent it, how to cope with it, and where you can find help within the community. In our first episode, we had our introductions to who Simone Donaldson is, her work with the community, we talked about racial trauma, we talked about intergenerational trauma, how those things work with our communities. In our second episode, we described the lack of representation in the educational system. In our third episode, we illustrated what mental health was like in the black home, within black families, black youth. And for all three episodes, we mainly focused on how we can get help from the community, or how the community can support us. But through this last episode, we really want to discuss how black individuals, black youth, black families can autonomously find black joy.

SWY: How would you define Black joy? What is the significance of it for Black youth as they experience racial and intergenerational trauma?

SD: When I think of black joy, it is a disrupter to the ideologies of white supremacy. Every single day, we are violated with these ideas; that we're not good enough, that we only can express ourselves aggressively, that we're less than, that something is wrong with our blackness. So black joy is essentially resistance. It really allows us to sit in our blackness unapologetically, honoring it and celebrating what our ancestors have done, what we are doing today. And just really allowing us to explore the greatness of what it means to be a black person, and to preserve our traditions, our cultures. To also share that with the world, so they recognize how truly great the black community is. So that's what black joy is, for me. It's a disruption as well as resistance to white supremacy.

SWY: When it comes to black youth, experiencing trauma, what does that mean for them? What does this black disruption of white supremacy mean for them?

SD: It means showing up as our full selves and honoring who we are, and unapologetically so. So for black youth that can mean anything as simple as and as small as the children; when they’re doing “show and tell”, being able to go with an artifact that's from their homeland that talks about the culture and the richness of our history, to showing up with our natural hair and doing all these crazy, different, creative things with it. And ensuring people don't just go ahead and touch that crown, but really ask permission to do so and recognize that this is a sacred space for me, this is something that I hold out in its highest regard. Also, even wearing our clothes in a particular way, like our traditional clothes to school or to work, wherever we may go.

These are ways that we show up and can show up as our full selves. It's about how we show up, how we think about ourselves, but also how we share it with the world so that these ideas that are really interrupting the truth about who we are; is disruptive. And so really, it's just about us coming as our full, wholesome selves without any hesitation. But of course, with racial trauma and how it causes internalized racism, it really does have a huge impact on how we feel we can show up, which is why it's so important we do the work to also address the trauma, address the uncertainty, address the anxiety, the depression that it often comes with. Alongside, living in black joy, living in our blackness. This is the balanced journey that we're really contending with and that's important to help us through this healing journey.

SWY: In a holistic sense, what tools would you suggest to access Black joy in our mental wellness, physical wellness, spiritual wellness, and social wellness?

SD: As mentioned before, the black identity is constantly annihilated through things like microaggressions. This leaves us thinking, questioning ourselves, as well as making us feel as though there's something wrong with us. And it's silencing; it’s silencing our thoughts, as well as verbally, we’re being silenced, as well as emotionally, we're being silenced. I think it’s very important that we carve out intentional stillness time. And this time is going to allow us to become much more in touch with who we are, truly who we are, and not about who others say we are. It's going to allow us the time to explore parts of ourselves that are hurting, as well as the parts of us that are growing and flourishing, and really give us moments of joy and peace.

So we could do this through prayer, you could do this through journaling, you could do this in a variety of ways. And some of us do need to possibly do it through professional support. So carving out time for ourselves, in the midst of a therapist, for instance, just so we could unpack some of the concerns that we have, but also be reminded and validated for our experiences, and celebrate with us, and honor who we are. I think those are very crucial pieces when we talk about mental/emotional wellness when looking at black joy. As well as, being mindful of what we are taking in, what we are watching. What are the things that are actually creating or perpetuating the narrative of who we are versus the ones that elicit joy and laughter. I think of things like “Blackish” or “A Different World”, for those who know; know! But these are shows that bring about representation as well as ideals that we want for our future, oftentimes. It allows us to laugh and just release all these hormones, these happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin, etc, which are really helpful to our overall well-being. So that's for mental/emotional wellness. Of course, there are so many more things I could discuss, but those are some of them.

When we think about physical health, I think about how much we are entrenched in music and dance. If there's nothing else that our people know how to do, it's how to take in music and just allow it to overtake our bodies, and dance and sing. It doesn't even matter, if you know how to sing, you’re still going to sing the song. And I think we have to recognize that those are actually so important to our wellness. And so carving out again, intentional time, for us to explore that. And listening to our traditional songs. When we're going for a walk, maybe listening to specific music that reminds us of who we are. Music is truly, truly healing and similarly, so is physical activity. And it doesn't have to be an exercise routine, it could literally just be having a “dance party Friday”, in your home with the family. And making sure that is a tradition that you create in your own home, I think things like that are really important.

And then even our eating; we have to go back to the days of eating at the table because when we eat at the table it allows for conversation to flow, we're not just passing each other by, we're not just living in the distress and trauma that we're experiencing every day. But it gives us a pause. And it gives us an opportunity to reconnect with one another. And also when we're sitting at the table, we could then even take the time to just mindfully eat. Think about the food and talk about it because that's what we also do. Unfortunately, sometimes we're judgmental about it. But oftentimes, we're also like, “Mm, this is really good. What did you put in it?” You can start talking about the recipe and learn where the food originated. And I'm sure there are stories upon stories that families and parents could share with their children around that.

Then I think about spiritual health. Many of us are grounded in a variety of different religious practices, for instance, we have different faiths. The question is, how are you connecting with one another around that? I remember growing up and I grew up in a Christian home. And I remember there were times when we would play what's called “Sword in Hand,” and it was really about who could find a certain book in the Bible the fastest. And then we'd read it, and we would talk about it. So finding ways for the family to bond over these traditions, over these things that we hold as our highest values are very important. And then for those who aren't so religious or aren't faithful, connecting to nature. Even if you are someone who has faith, connecting to nature... Some of our families come from places where there used to be palm trees and lakes just down the road. And unfortunately, we don't have that, necessarily here in Canada so readily available, but they are there, so maybe finding a private and sacred place where you could go by yourself, and/or with the family to just reflect and to just be still.

Then socially, of course, I think we have to be very mindful of who is in our space. Who are the people that we could rely on to make us feel better? Really start taking down a list of the people who make us feel better when we're in their presence, like authentically feel joy, when we are around them. They make us laugh, they encourage us, they build up our self-esteem. Who are these people? I think it's so important that we identify these individuals. I also believe in the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. And so I truly, truly endorse mentoring. I truly believe that this is the key, one of the biggest keys, that we will have in terms of moving our people forward because it helps with representation. As well as recognizing that we are to carry each other's burdens, which I believe is truly at the core of humanity, and very central to Afrocentric care, which is what I follow very closely in terms of my practice. So I really believe that having mentors around us, whether you're young or old. Sometimes, we think about mentoring, and we think about our children and the youth only. But as adults, we have to remember that we too have experienced the same racial trauma they have, and if not longer. So sometimes we're even more lost in this survival, and the anger and the sadness of what is anti-black racism; white supremacy. And so we also need individuals to remind us of who we are, we need people to remind us of where we can go, what we can do, and get ourselves out of this box of what black means. What racial trauma has done is, it's told us that this is black. This is what black people do. This is who we are, and blackness truly is different for everybody, because we're not a monolith. We come with many traditions, cultures, ideals, etc. So it's really important that we're around people that feed us joy, as well as show it to us, mentor us around it, and just really allow us to give ourselves permission to feel joy.

SWY: And I really wanted to touch on a few things that you said, was when you're sitting down with a family, how many times are we doing that these days? Technology has taken over a lot of our lives. I'm actually going to try that, intentionally sitting down with the family and just learning who we are, and the culture that we came from, our background, and stuff like that. And when you spoke about just physical dances to the music from where you came from, and from where your culture came from, I really appreciate that. That's something that I do personally. So that gives me a lot of joy.

SD: There's just something that's different about listening to music from your homeland, whether you're from the Caribbean or from the continent, there's something different about when you're waking up when you put that music on, it just touches your heart, and then it starts touching your hips, and you just can't control yourself. And that is okay because we are to live in that. And truly, it has so many medical benefits for us; it really repairs our brain and our minds because of what we're releasing, the toxins that we're releasing. And so it's really important that we actually recognize how we can utilize what we already have as a strength to help us through this journey. It's so important. There's just something about music and dancing!

SWY: How do you engage in Black joy, living in a toxic or chaotic household?

SD: That goes back to some of what I had mentioned earlier about who the people around you are, that allow you to feel safe, as well as allow you to feel joy. They make you feel like you could be your most authentic self. And often when I'm talking about relationships, I talk about recognizing who your safe people are and who your mentors are because those could be two different people. So I would really advise these individuals to tap into those people first and foremost because it's really difficult to move through this world alone, as it is. When we're thinking about racial trauma, anti-black racism, and intergenerational trauma, which often is the reason why we find chaos in the home. It feels like there's nowhere to escape and go, and so we need those spaces, we need those people who we can rely on to remind us that we could get through this. We can make it through these hard times. As well as help us to learn and grow through the pain. And again, sometimes this might mean a professional individual, as well as individuals in our lives that we may go to religious places with or people that we go to school with. But I think first and foremost, identifying those people in your circle that really allows you to feel safe and allow you to learn and grow and also be yourself regardless, is so very important.

And then on top of that, I think finding spaces that allow you to also feel that same way. So whether it's a group and sometimes we have to create these groups ourselves, but maybe you find a group or you find a program that you could engage in, so that you're reminded once again as to what your true history is, for instance, and what it means to be a black individual in this place. But balancing that with the joy and strength of who we are, and not just all of the struggle, because when we live in only the struggle, it really means we're not fully living; essentially. And so black joy, once again, is here to disrupt and it's here to be resistant to white supremacy. How do we do that if we are only focused on their agenda? When we're only living in their reality? It's so important, again, that we're just intentional. I'm gonna say intentional a few different times throughout this interview, because truly, it's something we have to pause and give ourselves permission to do, intentionally! We can't just wait for it to happen. I often talk about fighting for our joy and it's because, in this particular struggle of anti-black racism, joy is not easy to find. And so in order for us to find it, we have to recognize what is consuming our day-to-day. Is it anger? Is it sadness? These things aren't necessarily bad to feel. So we're not talking about toxic positivity, we're talking about addressing the concerns, but balancing that with finding our joy! Finding our light! Finding the things that make us hopeful! That is what that joy is all about.

SWY: What are some ways that Black joy can support and influence the bond between youth and their parents?

SD: So I think the first thing that needs to happen is parents need to gain an understanding of their children and youth and know that they too, can feel stressed out. Even though they're not paying bills, they're not the ones taking care of the home because of anti-black racism. Unfortunately, the stressors that they feel both in the home and outside of the home are very real. Racial trauma is very, very real. And I think children also need to be reminded that their parents are human and that they too are living in the face of racial trauma. And so sometimes their parenting techniques, which are based on fear, unfortunately, for the safety of their children may seem harsh, but it's not because they hate you and don't love you. But they too, are trying to find a way to survive in this world that is constantly telling them, they're not good enough. I think once we have those kinds of understandings in the home, it really will allow for much more compassion and self-compassion. It'll allow for more forgiveness as well so that we could truly heal as a community.

But some practical ways that I think we could really show this is for parents to be a little more vulnerable with their children. Talk to them about some of their fears and anxiety, regarding anti-black racism, what the struggle was coming to Canada, why they did what they did. The thoughts that sometimes go through the minds of fear that they sometimes have, obviously, child-appropriate. But I think as parents and as adults, even if we're not parents, being able to share those stories is so very important, not just the struggle, but also the ones that are wrapped up in positive memories. So what are the things that you remember experiencing at home, like the games that you used to play outside or the fond memories you have of your family members or friends growing up? These are things that parents need to start doing, again, carving out time, intentionally, to spend with their children and youth so that they are engaged in cultural traditions, memories, stories of the individual that stands before them. Often we, also as adults, present as the “strong black this and the strong black that,” because this is how we're made to feel we have to be. The pressure comes from society, and as informed by society, we as a culture take it up as this is the way we're supposed to be. And so things like therapy, for instance, become stigmatized in the community, because it's looked at as a weakness. When we start doing the work on ourselves, we're so much better able to support those around us.

And then for the youth, also creating time with your parents. I know when you're at a certain age, it's hard, and it feels like a chore to try and engage your parents. But I think, again, “I am because we are” African proverb, which I truly, truly love. It talks about us really taking on the burden of one another and recognizing that we're so connected. Truly collective healing is one of the strongest tools we have on this earth, in terms of moving us through this struggle. So I also encourage youth, as well, to reach out to their parents and say, “Hey, Mom/Dad (whoever) can we go on a walk, I want to talk to you about x, y, z, let's share in this dance, let's share in this music.” Also, youth and children taking initiative to engage with their parents, asking them about the stories of them growing up, is just as important joining them in the kitchen, for instance. Our ancestors were storytellers, and so when they're cooking, or when they were sitting in the yard, they were telling stories constantly, whether they were made up stories, like the “Anansi stories” or they were stories from their childhood. This is how we educated each other. This is how we bonded. This is how we got closer because we saw the human side of one another and we were there to support each other, in a particular way. Whether again, you're at the stove cooking, you say, “Hey, Mom/Dad, can I cook with you?” Tell them your story about the games used to play with your siblings; simple things. These things are really helpful, in terms of carving out and fighting for joy. And just recognizing black joy still exists; it can exist. It allows us to be stronger when we're out there in society and they're trying to tear the family apart, much less the individual.

SWY: Thank you, I really resonated with a lot of things that you said. I do agree that as a youth when you ask your parents about certain things, it brings them joy to know that you're interested in hearing about those things. I know for me sometimes I'll just be curious, all of a sudden, just ask my mom some random question. And she laughs at me and she's like, “Oh, why do you want to know that,” but then after she becomes happier.

SD: And grab your parents and give them a hug. I think that's another thing that's missing. We don't because again, I think for a lot of our cultures, it's been a sign of weakness, and “we're too soft” or whatever it might be. But the reality is we all need to be held, every single one of us, as hard as we like to act like we are, we all need to be held with words as well as physical touch. And I think sometimes, just running to your parents and saying, “I love you, I thank you for all that you've done for me,” etc. Let's do those things. Let's practice it at home. If we could do it with a friend, if we could do it with a partner, a romantic partner, we should be able to do it with our parents. As awkward as it is, It can really transform things. That happened in my family, I had a family member who was very hard, in terms of not wanting to be touched and not saying, “I love you” to their children. But when they had their youngest child, that mother just transformed into something different. Now she wants hugs from people all the time because she didn't experience that before. It was weird and awkward, but her daughter broke the ice. Her daughter broke the ice out of the five children that she has, it was the youngest one that somehow came out as the most touchy/feely one, so to speak. And she broke the ice in making her mom feel much more comfortable and normalizing this idea of, “Oh, this is not just okay, but it's also it also makes me feel good. And this is a way for me to show love.” Which ultimately, allows us to experience joy.

SWY: How can you role model black joy outside of the home?

SD: We could role model black joy outside of the home by unapologetically showing up as our black selves. I think this is where we explore and exemplify the differences within our blackness because we are not a monolith. It's being able to show up with our traditional clothing to work, our natural hair, it's being able to use things like the Afrocentric model in our business plans and in our presentations. It's being able to bring our culture forward and showing the richness of it day in and day out. Whether you're young, whether you're a child, whether you are an adult, I think it's really boldly stating that “I am black and proud!” And this will look different for different people. But I think we just have to show up unapologetically as who we are. I think we have to realize ourselves as something more than what society has boxed us into. So exploring all these different areas of our identity, of our culture, of our traditions, as well as remembering what our ancestors did, to kind of get through those hard times, and sharing that with people. Sharing our true history, what we know to be real in our homes outside of our homes. And not being shy about it, but really speaking up and stop allowing society to silence our greatness. Whether it be the emotions that we feel, which we're allowed to feel like everyone else, the things that we have to say and know that it comes with so much value and that we're worthy, regardless of how people look at us.

Closing Remarks

SD: I wanted to end with this quote by Sojourner Truth which says, “I will not allow the light of my life to be determined by the darkness around me.” Now, the reality is this may have many truths to it. There might be many meanings, but when I look at this quote, it tells me two things. Number one, we have to be able to recognize that there is, unfortunately, darkness around us, and its name is white supremacy, its name is anti-black racism. And the struggle and racial trauma are very real. I think we have to be able to recognize those pieces in order for us to understand the impact it has on our lives. But the second thing is that we have a choice to choose joy, we have a choice to choose light. And we could fight for that. And I think it's so important that we balance our journey, our healing journey with both understanding, acknowledging, as well as living in the joy that is our blackness. And so my hope is that individuals are really able to tap into it, intentionally tap into black joy, and allow that to be the thing that perhaps breaks through the racial trauma. It gives you a pathway towards the healing that we all so deserve and need in this life. So we can live our full life, not just surviving, but truly, truly thriving.

We want to thank Simone for these amazing past four episodes and for sharing her knowledge and expertise with us about racial trauma and ways we can improve our well-being. We are so grateful to have you facilitate this community on our platform. Make sure to check out her Instagram for more information on this topic and the incredible services that she offers.

Program/Services Currently Offerings:

Guest Speaker/Lecturer/Mental Health Workshops: Black mental health (i.e. microaggressions, racial trauma, immigration), Self-Care, Self-esteem, Relationships, Grief (youth and/or adult specific)

Staff Development: Black Employee Healing Circle, Anti-Black racism Workshops, Mental Health Workshop/Guest Speaker about the same topics described above

Leadership Development: Coaching, Team Conflict/Consultations, Anti-Black racism workshop, Mental Health Workshop/Guest Speaker about the same topics described above

Counselling/Psychotherapy: Caseload and waitlist are currently full