How 5 Women Are Redefining What Black Joy Means to Them: "I Know What My Magic Is About"

Self-care has never been more important than it is right now, and that's especially true for Black women, who have had to juggle work, family, personal lives, and more amid ongoing racial trauma while also living in a pandemic. According to women's rights organization, Black women have faced an even greater burden and were more susceptible to burnout since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It's enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed, which is why figuring out what Black joy means to us has also never been more important.

I spoke with five Black women about how they redefining what Black joy means to them, and in my conversation with each of them, learned how they've been intentional with their self-care practices. From how a publicist and political strategist finds joy for herself to a fashion stylish and mom explaining how seeking Black joy means maintaining strong faith and a steady commitment to prayer, these women are taking care of themselves with their own set of rules. Keep reading to see what Black joy means to these five trailblazing women.

Ty-Juana Flores — Arts Administrator, Boston, Mass.
Photo Courtesy of Fena Fenelon

Ty-Juana Flores — Arts Administrator, Boston, Mass.

"Black joy is important because of preservation of self. Historically as Black people, the odds have been against us, and in order to preserve yourself you have to find ways to center your development, your growth, and your purpose. You can do that in many ways — it's not just throwing in a bath bomb, burning candles, or having a glass of wine (which I also love). I've gotten into the practice of waking up an hour before my daughter to meditate, look at my planner to see exactly what I'm going to do, stick to that plan, and know when to say 'no.' I'm a libra so I love balance! Structuring my day is really important as is knowing when to stop and reflect.

It took me really stopping in life and evaluating [not only] where I am but who I am, because as humans, we are constantly evolving. I knew I needed to ground myself. I was doing a lot and was a part of a lot of projects. That, to me, is preservation of Black joy. As creatives, as thought leaders, as innovators, we get pulled into so much because of our passion for what we do, and I don't think we stop enough to say, 'Is this the right path for me?' I believe in a higher power, but I also know that some people don't, but it's really just saying, 'How do I ground myself so I can move forward?' In some ways I've done that — like in meetings where I want to respond to certain things and I say to myself, 'Does this deserve my energy?' But then you battle with your authentic self. In general I have become really good at stopping and centering myself so I can better assess how to experience Black joy. You can experience Black joy in many different ways.

I just became a homeowner and that's brought me a lot of joy. I am a design-lover so that's brought me joy in building my space and knowing that I'm passing on generational wealth [to my daughter] and incorporating my culture and community into this house. What's brought me joy on some days [laughs] is learning from my daughter. She's a pre-teen so there's a lot of learning there for me; so the joy that we share being home has been interesting and informative for me not only as her mother but as someone who deals with college students and artists, as well. I can learn in so many ways from that.

Part of what I do as an Arts Administrator in higher education is support Black students, which has really increased my love for Black joy. Living during the current political and social experiences we're having right now, especially last summer, I not only was walking through that as a Black, Afro-Latina woman, but I was also supporting a community of young people who are experiencing it themselves. I think last summer was a period in time where I said, 'Wow, we are amazing people, we are resilient, we are strong, and that can't come from nowhere but our ancestors.' It can't. We were given the blood to get through that so that we can get to where we are right now. I am so much more grounded in Black joy and how strong we are as a people because of that lived experience not only through my lens but through these young people who are out there protesting, studying for their degree, and also trying to live their life. Black joy erupted in the last year for me."

Natasha Joy Gordon — Consultant, Bronx, N.Y.
Photo Courtesy of Natasha Joy Gordon

Natasha Joy Gordon — Consultant, Bronx, N.Y.

"I'm a go-getter and am passionate about providing quality education for students, and I'm now passionate about people living their best life on purpose. But with that comes a lot of pouring into other people and supporting them. Before Covid-19 shut us down, I was having a series of burnouts. I realized as a Black women, I am constantly overworking myself.

Currently, [finding Black joy] is having a schedule down to the hour and making sure it includes the things I want out of life. I do this practice with my clients when they analyze their schedule [and how, many times] none of the actionable items match the values or wants in their life. So now you have a misalignment of actions and a misalignment of values. Having a schedule of the items I want in the day and being purposeful about my unwinding time [is key]; I take my unwinding time seriously. Being intentional about my lunch, my breakfast, reaching for a new project, regarding people's time and my own — that's my foundational way of self-care at this point, is how I use my time. Devotionals in the morning so it can lead me throughout the day, and two hours of pouring into myself and reminding myself that I have what it takes to get through the day.

I [also take my lunch break and make the most of it], whether that's reading a book or watching a YouTube video, or working on something until it becomes something larger. In the evening, I reflect on the day, what worked for me and what didn't, and unwind. Music has been the catalyst to my unwinding because it literally transforms me. It's an immediate mood-lifter for me — I currently have a 'No Worries' playlist! I create playlists for the seasons in my life, and right now I'm in a 'no worries' season. It has everything from Lil Baby to Bob Marley and focuses on not worrying and being proud of yourself."

Vanessa Lundy – Fashion Stylist, Boston, Mass.
Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Lundy

Vanessa Lundy – Fashion Stylist, Boston, Mass.

"One of the first self-care things I decided on earlier in the pandemic last year was that I am going to stay grounded in my faith regardless of what's going on. If this is the new way of living, I need to adapt. Adapting has been a big thing for me because we focus on what we have control over. I get to choose joy in this house and I get to play Black films — I watch Soul Train, In Living Color, and A Different World. I literally seek joy and remember where we come from and how great we are regardless of what's going on out there. As far as self-care, I do a staycation every two months. I leave the children at home with someone and I go to a hotel for at least 24 hours. That gives me time to reset. Because we're all going through the pandemic and the kids are struggling with school, everything is not the same so I have taught them about boundaries and self-care.

We still live in a world that is trying to tarnish our legacy, our beauty, and us as people. As a Black woman in America some of the things that my family, friends, and myself want are basic things: to be left alone, to not be judged, [for people to] not steal from us and not give us credit, to love what we produce [while also loving] the people producing it. I seek Black joy because I constantly see things that keep trying to tell me different than what I know my magic is about.

Faith and prayer. I have been praying consistently for the last two years. I started taking faith seriously in October 2018 because that's all that I had at the time to help with what I was going through. Prayer is big for me because it's shown me results from nothing else but my faith and being concentrated in that. It's helped me show up better as a mother, have more patience, caring, and understanding, and [allows me to] give myself grace and extend it to others.

I also like to sage a few times a week. I love candles, and even though I'm a mom of two, I make sure I get a lot of alone time. If I'm working from home, I have two bouts of reset moments: a half hour where I put my phone away, and I also put a timer on my social media so I don't go past an hour."

Jessicah Pierre — Publicist and Political Strategist, Boston, Mass.
Photo Courtesy of Marvin Germain

Jessicah Pierre — Publicist and Political Strategist, Boston, Mass.

"The fight for liberation can't only be fueled by anger — it has to be fueled by love. A lot of times when we talk about love, activism, and resistance, it's framed in a way like love for the oppressor. People take Martin Luther King's quotes out of context, because 'The only way to drive out hate is with love' is not about loving the oppressor or loving the system that continues to disenfranchise us. It's about loving ourselves. If we are not tapping into our joy, what are we fighting for? If we don't have a vision for what our people and our lives can look like past the resistance then we won't actually know what we're fighting for, so we're just fighting with no end goal in mind. Manifesting joy is important because you're creating that sense of joy in the moment and in the fight, which is essential for building resilience, because we've been in this fight for generations. Black joy is key to our resilience, and key to our persistence and our existence. If we didn't have joy we would have been wiped out as a people. And that's what's amazing about Black people — through anything, we're able to find joy. That's how our ancestors survived by finding joy through music, singing, connecting with each other and through community. Joy is the key to not only surviving but truly healing and thriving. Black joy is what has sustained us.

Last year, I was done being triggered. I'm tired of witnessing people like me being treated like animals without an ounce of care in the world. I was done fighting from a place of anger. Anger is an important emotion, but self-care is acknowledging the anger and expressing the anger in a healthy way. I went to one protest. My fight is going to be pouring into my people and pouring into myself, and that's just as revolutionary as going to a protest and holding up a Black Lives Matter sign.

I get up in the morning and I pray, I read my devotionals, I journal, I do yoga, depending on my mood I read affirmations, I burn some Palo Santo or some sage, and I clean. Cleaning is a huge part of my self-care routine. My favorite days are Sundays because I have declared Sundays my sabbath and I don't work. I sleep in on Sundays, I'll make tea and write in my journal, read books, listen to podcasts, listen to music, clean the house, watch church, cook a nice meal, and spend time with someone I want to catch up with. I organize my space, and feed myself physically and spiritually. I'm adamant about keeping Sundays sacred and I'm adamant about setting boundaries so that things that are not sacred don't infringe on my Sundays. I also want to get deeper in my mediation practice because I struggle with being present in the moment. Right now I am in the process of exploring tools and reading different books seeing what works best for me. A shower or a workout can be a meditation. I also got a Tibetan singing bowl and that's been really fun to add into my routine."

Khalisa Rae — Author, Educator, and Journalist, Durham, N.C.
Photo Courtesy of Tish Yvette

Khalisa Rae — Author, Educator, and Journalist, Durham, N.C.

"I feel blessed to have a support system of girlfriends where we can encourage one another and not have to constantly be 'on.' We can just be ourselves and have fun. I'm grateful for my partner, my kitten, and the life we have made together. For me, it's important to take time for myself and that typically looks like not taking on so much and indulging in pampering myself with a bottle of wine, eating snacks, calling my friends, and watching something entertaining. I also spend time organizing myself by preparing my outfit and meals the night before I start my day.

My self-care routine includes a variety of things. I like CBD oil and I like to try things that are healthy or natural to help me relax. I also enjoy lavender essential oils, incense, fidget spinners, stress balls, yoga, and exercising to dance videos. My self-care routine also includes eating superfoods, making myself smoothies, enjoying a nice bath, and switching the 'Do Not Disturb' on my phone for a few hours or days at a time. I really take that time to rejuvenate."