April 27, 2023

Activism, Authority, and Softness with EbonyJanice (Episode 11)

EbonyJanice:  The more I started to really think about in my highest imagination what would freedom look like, how would it look like in my flesh, and the beginning of that was acknowledging that I am worthy of freedom in this body.  And I shouldn't have to wait for heaven to experience that.  And/or other language that I would use is I shouldn't have to wait for my great grandchildren or my great, great grandchildren to experience that in my body.


Nicole:  Welcome back to Multitudes where we explore multi-dimensional people and their stories.  I'm Nicole Carter, and if this is your first time joining Multitudes, I am so honored that you're here.  Today's conversation is with EbonyJanice.  And the first time that I heard EbonyJanice speak, I found her to be so activating, magnetic and inspiring.  Ebonyjanice is doing such dynamic work, shifting culture and conversations around activism, social justice and racial justice.  And her mission is to empower people and to truth, minister to the brokenhearted and equip people to pursue their passion, purpose and freedom in lavish and extraordinary ways.  I just love that.  And in today's conversation, we talk about EbonyJanice's story, her upcoming book, All the Black Girls are Activists.  We also talk about womanism and feminism.  And we discuss what does it mean to be an activist and how does that relate to softness and ease.  And we also get into the meaning of titles to colonizing authority, religion, romance, relationships.  And you can explore more of EbonyJanice's work at ebonyjanice.com and also on Instagram as well.  And you can also find me at Multitudespodcast.com and on Instagram at multitudes.podcast.  There are a lot of gems in today's conversation.  So, let's get started and I hope you enjoy.

Welcome, EbonyJanice, I am so excited to have you here today on the Multitudes podcast.  You are an inspiration and a magnetic voice and presence.  Thank you so much for joining.


EbonyJanice:  Thank you for having me.  I was saying off line that I'm so proud of you for launching this project and really just looking forward to whatever it will become in the future.


Nicole:  Yeah, thank you.  That is a new project and thank you for supporting Multitudes and I would love to jump right in and talk about all of the projects and all of the things that you do.  You are an activist, a multi-faith preacher and a hip hop womanist and I just want to talk about all of these things.  What does it mean to you to be an activist, to be a hip hop womanist?


EbonyJanice:  Yeah.  So, I identify myself for sure as an activist.  Shameless plug, I have a book coming out in July that I'm certain we'll talk about called All the Black girls are Activists, and part of the reason why I identify as an activist is because I just think my very existence and like the intentionality around being my actual self is my radical resistance and that is activism.  That by showing up as myself things will change.  And things will evolve and because liberation and freedom are such high values of mine, just the pursuit of -- ongoing pursuit of freedom and liberation, you know, that -- that in itself makes me an activist.  And part of my socio political and spiritual religious praxis, which I use for freedom making and towards the movement for liberation, is womanism, which is a coined by Alice Walker in her book In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens started in 1983.  She has this four part definition that I deeply identify with.  It's basically a language that she coined for black women who were doing gender equality work or feminism, you know, for, in other words.  But understanding that feminism didn't really speak to black feminist work it had been really whitewashed and watered down in a lot of ways.  And really exclusionary, you know, like intentionally excluding black women and finding and in its ethic and so womanism -- in the fourth part of the definition she says womanism is to feminism as purple is to lavender.  And so, she's basically saying that womanism is black women's deeper shade of purple, deeper feminist work.  And so, I deeply identify as a womanist because of the definition and because of the way that it's evolved over time to be even more inclusive of the black femme or black non-male, you know, particularly experience.


And so, as a hip hop womanist, though because I entered into womanism from a theological perspective, because womanist theologians really took on that naming of womanism and used it in their theological work to basically say, centering black women in the religious experience, saying God has not forgotten black women, even if this text, this sacred text, specifically the Bible at the time of its origin.  But even if this text has not spoken specifically about our black femme experience that we know that God hasn't forgotten us.  And so, that is the way that I entered into this womanist space.  But I was simultaneously raised by hip hop and the church.  And so, it felt impossible for me to exclude hip hop, from my naming, so I consider myself a hip hop womanist because I've been using hip hop since I was a little girl and using the lyrics of hip hop as sacred texts that there's wisdom there of what we should be doing, and there's a mirror of what we should absolutely not be doing.  If that isn't what the Bible is, I don't know what else, you know.  I don't know how it's done.

So, I identify as a hip hop womanist and it is like I said, a book, my socio political and my spiritual religious tool that I'm using to completely immerse myself in as a way to talk about and to live into what will it look like for us to be free and to actually experience liberation.


Nicole:  Yes, thank you for that.  I would love to talk a little bit about you mentioned as a little girl, you were listening to hip hop and that has been so influential on your becoming of a hip hop womanist.  Can you talk about your childhood and also the influence of your elders, your grandmother and that impact on you as well?


EbonyJanice:Yeah, I'm originally from Sandusky, Ohio, which is a -- when I was growing up there, a very small, predominantly white town in northeast Ohio.  The most famous thing Sandusky is a there's an amusement park there called Cedar Point.  And so, I grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, and a very raced experience, meaning I have a conscious memory of being clear about my race, that even if I didn't understand blackness specifically, I have very early memories of realizing that I was different from my classmates who are mostly white.  And also that I was different from my classmates specifically that were white girls.  


And so, that experience really informed me growing up to, you know, even identify as an activist, because I have been since I was a little girl thinking about equality because I experienced things that was not fair.  This is -- we are not equal, we are not having the same experience.  And when I say not fair, I mean, first grade, you know, I have a conscious memory of things that seem very insignificant if you just think about it in passing but it's a big deal when you understand the systems that created this reality.


So for example, I have a conscious memory of being in the first grade, realizing that the school desks were not made for my body.  I have these, you know, thick little track star thighs at like six, seven years old.  And the reason why I have a conscious memory of this is because I was just ashamed that my white girlfriends could cross their legs under their desk, and I couldn't cross my legs under my desk.  And again, like just as if you just mentioned that offhand as a little girl, that seems so small and insignificant.  But when you get older and you realize how everything is thinking about one particular group of people or kind of people, and as a result of only thinking about that group of people or kind of people it's excluding an entire other group of people or kind of people, and that that is discrimination.  There is, you know, there's body discrimination inside of that.  There's racism inside of that.  There's, you know, there's all kinds of things inside of that.  And so, a lot of -- like I said, a lot of that the way that I grew up in this space really informed so much of my activism.  Additionally, I grew up with a lot of really rich white friends, or their parents are rich.  So, they benefited from that.


So, when I say rich, I mean like, own part of a beach rich, you know, like, money, money.  Like I have a friend, a childhood friend, whose parents paid the majority of my freshman year of college tuition.  Like money, money.  And so, not just race and not just my gender but I also grew up with this clear awareness of a class differentiation, right?  So, it's a lot of things happening in this small, predominantly white Northeast Ohio experience where I'm having -- I have a privilege because I have access to certain things, but I understand that my access is a direct result of being in schools with these wealthy, you know, a lot of wealthy white kids.


And -- so, that is major.  The other piece to, you know, make that connection you asked me about, you know, my family, particularly my grandmother, my grandmother is originally from Talladega, Alabama.  She is the daughter of sharecroppers.  The only one of her siblings who didn't grow up picking cotton ever.  She never picked cotton, but the rest of her siblings did.  Because for some arbitrary defining of smart my grandmother's parents said, Emma Jane is smart, she needs to go to school.  


And that really is so huge because my grandmother's parents or my great grandmother and my great grandfather making that one decision is the reason that you and I are having this conversation right now, you know, generations later, because my grandmother went to school her expectation was that her children would go to school, which made this expectation.  It's a non-factor.  Like of course, we will go to school and then from my generation, me and my cousins, my siblings it's a given that we will pursue deeper, you know, realms of education of knowing in our career, whatever, whatever.  And so, this bringing up my grandmother being from Talladega, Alabama, the child of a sharecropper, I'm making this connection with the way that I was raised, which of course is drastically different than my grandmother, but I'm making this connection with the way that I was raised because a part of my consciousness then is because having a grandmother who had access to a certain amount of education, who's from where she's from, brings race into a conversation a lot, you know, as a young girl, because the type of church that she decides we will go to, and then, you know, our family for generations will go to this kind of church is a church that is deeply invested in blackness, is a church that's deeply invested in liberation and the movement.  Is a church that's led by a black man from the south as well.  So, at this southern black Christian upbringing that's informing so much of my life, who I am as a black person, who I am as a girl child, who I will be as a woman, who I am as a -- as a religious scholar, who I am so many ways, right?  It's being informed by, being raised by these southern black people who grew up in the deep south, you know, with families, still, their siblings picking cotton.  And also growing up in this privileged space that I had access to those privileges as a result of, you know, my proximity meaning geographically, right, not my body but my proximity to whiteness].


Nicole:  Yeah, absolutely.  I'm curious about with your upbringing and with your grandmother and going to your church, was there a point in which you knew that you wanted to become an activist or do liberation work and, like, were there conversations that you had or was there a moment that you thought, okay, my experience I want to turn into my life's work?


EbonyJanice:So, the two answers to that is, there is no moment that I thought, this is as a young girl, this is what I'll be when I grow up.  Like that this is the work that I do because honestly, I didn't see it as some separate work that I would do like as a career.  That -- that wasn't a thing.  It was like this is just what you will have to do in order to create the existence that you know is possible for yourself and for your peers.  And I want to make that distinction because there is a moment when I realized that there's a social justice machine happening.  Meaning there's like this -- I actually call it the socio -- social justice industrial complex, where people realize oh, you can make money talking about this.  And the unfortunate thing is even that a lot of people who were benefiting at the time of my revelation of this, a lot of people were benefiting from this were not black people.  So, the people who are benefiting from the violence that happened to marginalized communities were then having this revelation that they could benefit again from saying that were trying to fix those issues.


And so -- but like I would use my grandmother as example.  My grandmother and my mother as well growing up we had so many different people come to live with us that were -- were not their children or their -- even blood relatives.  And so, my grandmother and my mother, you know, both similarly, would bring in, you know, other people's children to come stay with them.  And -- not as like foster care, you know, they weren't getting like the foster care check.  You know, it's just like, oh, there is need for this.  Make sure that this child has a place to live and is able to go to school and is fed and -- and from very humble, you know, financial background.  So, as a grown woman, look back at my mother and my grandmother bringing additional mouths to feed into the house and I think how are you doing that?  


How were you affording to -- like, how were you affording to take care of somebody else's child?  It's wild to me to think about it.  And -- so, I'm saying that to say, then I realized that, oh, there is an institution, there is a, again, that industrial complex, right, like there's this whole institution and ideology and system set up to make sure that certain people can do this kind of work, and call it philanthropy.  And call it something, right, a humanitarian, right, like to call it something. But that black people didn't necessarily have that privilege.  It just was in order for us to survive and to make sure that our community as well, we will have to exist this way.  So, it was just a way of being.  And then I realized, oh, this is what other people would call the work.  That's not what we were calling it.  It was just this is the way that you will have to exist.  If you want your sisters to be well, if you want your children in the future to be well, if you want your cousins to be well, if you want your community to be well, this is how you have to exist.  And then also be a dentist, be an orthodontist, be a doctor, you know, whatever.  That will be your career, this will not be your career.  This is just the way that you have to exist.  So, there isn't a moment, you know, that I thought this is what I will do for my life because I just kind of always knew that this is what I will do.  And I'll speak to that very briefly in a second. 


 But there is a moment where I realized, oh, there is a problem with the fact that there are other people actually benefiting from both the cause and the cure.  And that's a problem for me.  And so, just speaking a little bit to my childhood though, I have been a member of the NAACP since I was a little girl.  I grew up singing in a choir called the Martin Luther King Day choir.  


You know, I grew up with, you know, in a church, like I said a little bit ago that is being led by a southern black man with a deep investment in, you know, in diasporic black wellness, and with missions, not even necessarily in the sense of missions for the purpose of conversion, but missions for the purpose of like, how do we take care of our fellow man across the globe?  And so, that's the way that I was raised in -- in a missionary baptist church, where a part of the actual mission and vision statement was taking care of people, but particularly black people across the globe and what -- what would that look like for us, and a pastor who had traveled to Africa before, that was a thing that just felt readily available to people.  And with black history programs, and not just in the month of February.  


And so, I grew up extremely conscious in a lot of ways because of my elders in the church, and in my family, right?  I wasn't necessarily learning this kind of history in school.  But these things were important to our local community.  They're the black people in our local community.  And so, I do not have actually a memory of a time when it wasn't being taught to me or preached to me that not only was my -- because I grew up in the Christian faith, even though I don't particularly identify as Christian any longer but there's still a major part of my being, that it wasn't just my Christian responsibility to take care of myself and my community, but that it was a part of my moral duty to take care of myself and my community.  And when I say my community, I do mean, there's an emphasis on making sure that all black people in particular were well, and without that, you know, the deep ethic of intersectionality, right, like I understood that if my people were well, then, you know, everybody will be well.


Nicole:  Right.  Yes.  I appreciate you talking about the idea of this is a way of being and this is what you're seeing that your community is doing for each other and seeing that this has also been named, it's been institutionalized.  There's ideas of systems around that I think that's so interesting as well, especially in terms of thinking about being in connection with giving titles to yourself and the idea of authority and who has the authority to do this type of work.  You have all of these beautiful titles hip hop womanist, multi-faith preacher, author, founder of the Free People Project, Dream Yourself Free and Black Girl Mixtape.  And how do you now relate to the idea of having titles and having a sense of internal authority to operate in the world the way that you do?


EbonyJanice:  Yeah, titles, honestly they mean very little to me at this point in my life, because I don't want to do anything, but thrive.  You know, there's this quote, what is my dream?  I don't dream of labor, right?  You know, I'm finally there, which is amazing, because -- we're both Capricorns, right?


Nicole:  Yes, we are.  Yeah.


EbonyJanice:There you are.  So, you know Capricorn like strategy girl and, you know, okay, that is a real thing like we cannot get -- we can't outlive that, you know, we cannot run that.


Nicole:  Totally.


EbonyJanice:Capricorns, we'll just be thinking about the strategy.  We will be thinking like, how can I get this money, how can I be well.  It is just the thing that we're always thinking about.  And even though that is still so much a part of my being I've done so much healing work around being busy, and what will it mean for me to be successful and to be well, and that has drastically changed so much really in the last, you know, five, six years for me, what it means for me to be well, what success will look like, what it will feel like for me.  And so, because of my investment in that I have so, so much less of an investment in what people will call me as far as titles right?  


If you -- if you were to call me something, I would love people to be like oh, ebonyjanice, she's such a soft, you know, but very clear black woman, you know.  ebonyjanice, she is a deeply seated, you know, she's -- you could just tell that she's so seated in herself.  I would like for people to talk about me like that.  I don't -- I don't love for people to start with, oh, ebonyjanice, here is her titles and these are things that she does, like ebonyjanice, she exists so fully as herself.  Even if that person is telling somebody about me doesn't even like me, you know.  That isn't necessarily the highest priority for me but that they -- that they linger in the fact that like, you know, she is really -- that is really who she is and, you know, that's a thing.  And so, that -- those things were very important to me.  But I actually came to this from a very structured, you know, academic perspective first before I embodied it and that is that I was doing a lot of work naming that we needed to decolonize authority.  


Then I launched Black Girl Mixtape, because I realized that that authority is colonized that somebody showed up on the scene and put their flag in certain ideas and certain ideologies and said, I know something existed here already, but now I'm in charge of it.  And so, now in order for you to be credible, you have to go through these steps or you have to be certified through me, or you have to have my stamp of approval.  


And so, I had this question, who authorized the authorizer?  Like, who told you that you were in charge?  And do we actually even agree that you are the one who will make us credible?  And so, some of this very quick example that I often give is in the state of New Jersey, there were a group of West African women that were suing the State of New Jersey because they were not being allowed to braid hair unless they went to cosmetology school and got their license.  And the issue is they found -- in this particular lawsuit they found that the majority of the cosmetology schools in the State of New Jersey didn't even have a program for hair braiding.  


You want me to pay upwards of 14 plus thousand dollars to come be licensed to be able to braid hair.  But there isn't anyone who is there that is credible enough to teach me how to do the thing that the world wouldn't even know about if it wasn't for me and my people.


So, this idea of Senegalese women having to get licensed in the United States of America to do Senegalese twists is like are you mad?  And so, that's some of the like, that was bringing me -- I had this theory and then I started to have to think about like, this theory of like a colonized authority.  And then all of these things started to come to me like, oh, this is colonized authority that you would have to get licensed as an African person to braid hair in a country that largely has only the awareness of this practice because of you and your people in your first place.  


And/or that if you want to get licensed to, or certified to teach yoga in the United States of America, the larger portion of the institutions that would certify you are white led, which is just laughable, right, you know, and so -- and it is -- I'm not saying laughable in the sense that, you know, white people shouldn't teach yoga or learn yoga or, you know, or be inside of these institutions because I think that yoga is a very beautiful practice that all people are welcome into.  But the idea that the majority of institutions licensing making -- saying you are credible are white led.  That is preposterous, and it is very audacious and that is, you know, to me was the proof of like, okay, authority is a colonized reality in the first place.


So, what makes me credible is not because I have these degrees.  You know, that's not what makes me credible, because I know a lot of people who have gone to school and they know a lot of things but what does that mean about their ethic, what does that mean about their practices, what does that mean about their actual integrity when it comes to creating theory and, you know, what does that mean, right, what is informing in fact, if you are racist, and then you are a scientist, and you create a hypothesis, right, so much easier for you to move in any direction that will prove your theory or your hypothesis.  So, what's -- what's informing that?  


You know, your education doesn't automatically mean that you are credible.  I'm not throwing education out because education then is a part of the range.  But what else is there is my lived experience.  I have a degree in cultural anthropology and I took this -- I took two classes as a matter of fact, with this one particular teacher and in both classes she touted -- in both classes she was bragging about the fact that she had her studies in African American religious studies.  And -- so, she has her PhD in African American religious studies, a white for the record.  I'm only noting that because at some point in both classes, she's telling me this, because she's also telling me that something that I'm saying isn't actual -- it isn't real language


And so, for example, in this one class, I remember her telling me she never heard of this specific language, the black church.  Ma'am, you are not credible.  You -- I don't care about your PhD.  You're talking to a black woman who grew up in the black church that -- and telling me that because you have a PhD in African American religious studies, that you think you're more credible than me to tell me about black church experience, and you're just not.  So, that for me is like when I put forth this theory of -- of what I call the range, you know, what actually authorizes me?  You can't think that education is going to trump lived experience because even from an anthropological perspective, we understand participant observation.  


My participant observation study tells me that this is the way that, you know black, people exist and/or, you know, or this particular group of black people exist, right?  And so, your reading in the book is not going to trump participant observation.  And so, there's education makes me credible, my lived experience makes me credible and my ancestors makes me credible.  Those three things authorize me together.  And -- but the only one that cannot authorize me by itself is education, because my lived experience will trump that at times, and my ancestral knowing will trump that at times.  And I say ancestral knowing because I'm a deeply spiritual person.  That's part of the reason why I identify as a woman is because spirituality is a part of that.  


But there are things that I only know -- there's no -- there's no way that I could know it.  I didn't live it, I didn't read it, nobody told me this story.  But there are things that I could only know because my ancestors knew it.  There are things that I've only experienced deeply in my bones because my ancestors experienced it.  And so, my education, my ancestors and my lived experience those three things authorize me and make me credible.  Therefore, I don't know that there will ever be another title that will feel as important to me as what it means for me to be a deeply seated, soft, fully and fleshed me, right, like those things feel more important to me than all the other titles that feel important to other people when you're about to ask them to give you money to do something professionally.


Nicole:  I love the idea also of taking away the authority of what it means to have a particular title and just leaning into what you feel most resonates with you and I feel like that is just a really beautiful way to think about decolonizing authority is taking the power away from having a particular title.  And I would love to move to your book and all the themes that we've talked about.  But first, I do want to ask a little bit about your spirituality and how that's changed over time and how that relates to the idea of decolonizing authority growing up in the black church that also has influences of colonized authority and how you've reconciled with that.


EbonyJanice:Yeah, that's a good question.  So, I got to acknowledge this, and I don't know that I've ever said this publicly.  So, this is not a repeat of anything I've ever said somewhere.  I grew up in a very, in a lot of ways conservative Southern black Christian experience.  And this is important to note because you could automatically just make some assumptions about what that meant for me, for my body, for my preachment, for, you know, what that will mean for me.  But I have to give my pastor of my youth, Reverend [phonetic] Eddie Henry, who unfortunately transitioned in 2020 due to COVID.  I have to give him credit for being one of the most progressive Southern Baptist, black male preachers that I maybe have ever known.  Because I have been preaching from a pulpit since I was eight years old.  And a young girl in the Baptist Church for the record in the 80s that is unheard of, 80s, early 90s.  There weren't even at the time when I was growing up, even the women who had been licensed they couldn't preach from the pulpit.  That was a part of the practice.  


They would have to take like a stand and put it down not up in the dais like separate from the actual book or the actual pulpit.  They would take, like a music stand kind of and put their Bible on that and get another microphone and move it to another part of the front of the church.  They couldn't stand in the pulpit and preach.  And even at some point, in my childhood, even once women did get licensed to preach, they would have to sit.  They couldn't sit in the -- if you know anything about, well, church in general, but particularly the black church there's the -- it's called the dais but there's the main seat which is where the pastor or whoever is going to preach sits there.  And then there's usually on the other side of the pastor seats for associate ministers and pastors and elders or from, or higher dignitaries and the church to sit there.


And the women couldn't sit there.  They had to sit in the choir stand.  So, that is my -- that is what's happening denominationally when I'm growing up and -- but I was allowed to preach from a pulpit, from the pulpit at eight.  And then there are times when -- and we laugh about this now because I think about what was happening across this institution of the Baptist Church.  And I think why did Pastor Henry let me act like this, where I have been deeply spiritual since I was a little girl.  So, there are times when I felt compelled to say something, you know, that this is what I believe God is saying right now.  You will call that -- you'll call that the prophetic.  I felt compelled that God is saying something right now.  And I would get up and go get on the microphone during church.  And on more than one occasion my pastor let me do this.  And I'm saying let me because even though I would love to have a conversation about like, well, who can let you be led by the Spirit, but the institution says that women especially women, but especially girls, you know, little, you're a little girl how dare you, you know, who authorized you?  You're not credible, right?  You need to be authorized.  You need to be certified.  You need to be approved of by somebody, this -- this governing body. So as a little girl you have to, I will have to have permission.  I didn't have permission from a person.  I didn't have verbal permission.  


Obviously, there's an unspoken permission because Pastor Henry used to let me act like this.  And so, I've thought about this a lot in the last several years, particularly since Pastor Henry transitioned in 2020, how my deep appreciation for the fact that that -- the institution was very contrary to what was happening for me.  It was actually very revolutionary for me to be having this ability to teach, this ability to preach from the pulpit, this ability to speak and move in -- in certain ways that wasn't necessarily in alignment with what the denomination was saying was appropriate at the time.


And so, that's important to note that I'm having this very progressive Christocentric religious experience because at which point, which was in my late 20s, at which point my theology starts to shift.  I don't particularly identify as Christian, even though the Bible is still a portion of my sacred text, but there's other texts that I consider sacred text.  For example, Beyoncé's lemonade is a sacred text for me, particularly the visuals.  Of course, Beloved, of course, The Color Purple, Daughters of the Dust, right?  There are so many other contemporary texts that really speak to my wholeness, to the sanctification of who I am, to my divinity, to me as a divine being, and that isn't necessarily fully expressed and fleshed out in the Bible, which is the reason why I find these other texts to see me as whole.  And I -- my definition of holy is hope.  So, these other texts can see me as whole, then they must be holy.


And so, that happens for me, because I start to really think about this from this womanist perspective of how can I be seen as whole if the practice of this institution refuses to see me as whole and worthy?  And that doesn't necessarily mean that I throw away everything that I learned because that wouldn't make sense.  I am who I am as a result of so much of the way that I was raised in -- in the church, and etc., but also embrace portions of myself that this very white Evangelical influenced doctrine of the baptist church or, right, like the practice that creation is very white, evangelical, centered, and it's not Afro centric at all. 


And so, when I started to come into myself more, I realized that I needed any preachment or anything that really was going to be able to speak to my whole spirit, soul and body needed to be able to -- which is in the Bible, may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord.  And I found that Christianity and a lot of ways didn't have language for my body.  And my body is a black femme experience.  So, who sees me completely.  And so, naming myself Christian at that point didn't feel authentic anymore because if I -- even -- even if Jesus is still a thing for me, right, like even if I got -- said that I believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world, right?  And even if I said that, and then I said, I am a Christian, there is a story that you can automatically start forming about what that means about who I am.  And that is just not the truth.  There are things that I believe and there are things that I don't believe that definitely defies contemporary Christianity.  And I didn't want to be identified in that same vein because that didn't ring true for me anymore.  


But so much of that, like I said, was really informed by growing up in this very -- growing up with this very progressive in a lot of ways.  Now, trash in a lot of ways, problematic, you know, in a lot of ways, of course, but still having to honor the ways that it was extremely progressive for me to have permission to -- permission and even pushed in a lot of ways towards, right, like that I would grow up and end up having a career where I talk a lot, even though I'm very much so an introvert is not actually a surprise because these people have been giving me the longest Easter speech since I could talk.  So, here, you know, my church family and my local community and the community of my family has been basically saying to me without necessarily using this language, has been saying to me and affirming in me since I was a little girl, oh, this is what you're supposed to do.  You're supposed to be teaching.  You're supposed to be preaching. 


You're supposed to be empowering people, right?  That's what you're supposed to be doing.  And so, there's the both of that, but it's, you know, I just wanted to say that so much of that is informed by growing up in this space that even though there's a lot of tradition, that is problematic and, you know, that hopefully we're -- we're fleshing it out as we as we grow older and wiser.  So much of it was very, very progressive and influential and -- and who it is that I am and how I exist.


Nicole:  Yes, you were given that space.  And it was -- in a sense to me no accident, right, that Pastor Henry gave you this space so that you can become ebonyjanice today and you talk about how you are a part of a rebellion and this is part of your rebellion, as it pertains to where you were born in terms of the hierarchy of your family and in terms of the conversations that you've had and -- and that you're leading through your own rebellion of being yourself.

I do want to make time for what's next for you and the book that you have coming out soon.  We talked a little bit about softness, and I think that's really in line with your new book.  So, I'd love to give you some space to talk about All Black Girls are Activists and if you could share a little bit about what it's about and how it relates to softness.


EbonyJanice:Yes.  So, I wrote All the Black Girls are Activists: A Fourth Wave Womanist Pursuit of Dreams as Radical Resistance, because I have been having this experience but I had this really profound experience several years ago where I realized that so many of my peers, including myself have really been defined by our resistance work and that felt unfair to me that it's -- it goes back to what I was saying earlier the titles that other people think make me credible that's not actually how I want to identified.  I want people to -- Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes has a book where she talks about the strong black woman versus black woman who happens to be strong, strong black woman, one word versus black woman who happen to be strong, and so many black women that I know -- this is a stereotype, this is a trope the strong black women, that we are constantly being identified and defined by our strength, our ability to be resilient, our ability to endure.  That is exhausting.  How I want to be known, you know, the first thing that people say when they talk about me, I don't want them to be like, ooh, that's strong black woman.  I'm not denying my strength.  


Yes, I am a black woman that happens to be strong.  And I love that for me, you know, that I am resilient and that I carry a -- a strength just in my being and that is both ancestral and as a product of the many experiences that I've had in this life.  But that's not how I want to be defined, you know, like there are a lot of other things that I would love, you know, to come before you saying, oh, and also she happens to be very strong too.  And so, I started thinking about not creating from a place of resistance, but what would it look like to create from a place of my dreaming, my highest imagination?  Who would I get to be to if I didn't have to live into what Fannie Lou Hamer says, being sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I don't want everything I do or create to be because I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of that.  And so, I had to create this program, or this curriculum, or this workshop, or this -- or -- or I'm a ballerina, and inside of the ballet industry, I have to be doing diversity, equity and inclusion work that I just want to be a ballerina, right?


Nicole:  Right.  Yeah.


EbonyJanice:Which, you know, Misty Copeland has, you know, even talked about her own experience as being a first in, you know, in the time that she really entered into that space.  That got me to really just thinking like I said a lot about highest imagination and the pursuit of my dreaming as my resistance more and more started to feel very profound.  You know, it didn't just feel like this thing that I was saying, you know, or wishing for.  It felt like hmm, if I created anything, or if I was doing anything, or if I was being anything, what will my highest imagination of that be?  And using my dreams, my spirituality, my daydreaming, my visualization, using all of that as information to guide me into the future became this very real theory.  


And then I started to flesh it out.  What does that look like?  I use the example I talk about this publicly.  There's a -- in The Color Purple, Ms. Sofia's the famous scene in the movie when Oprah's character, Ms. Sofia, comes marching down the field to Ms. Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg and she says, you told Harpo to beat me?  And Celie and Ms. Sofia start having this exchange, where eventually Celie says, you know, this life be over, heaven be here soon.  And Ms. Sofia says to Celie, you ought to bash Mr. over the head and worry about heaven later.  And I was just thinking about that one day about that scene, you know, you ought to bash Mr. over the head, worry about heaven later and I thought that's the issue for so many black women in particular, I will say black people but for so many black people, black women in particular.  We have been just hoping for heaven as this idea.  We didn't think that in our lifetime in our body that we would ever experience enfleshed freedom, you know, that we'll really get to touch it.  And as a result, so many of my friends and my peers that I was asking some of these questions to or thinking through some of the things -- these things with they didn't even have the capacity to dream about because even when we would talk about dreams, somehow it would still come back to resistance, you know, like we're going to march to Selma still, we're going to still be signing these petitions.  


And so, it was like, oh, wow, yeah, this is the thing.  And so, the more I started to really think about, you know, in my highest imagination what would freedom look like, how would it look like in my flesh, in the beginning of that was acknowledging that I am worthy of freedom in this body, and I shouldn't have to wait for heaven to experience that and/or other language that I would use is I shouldn't have to wait for my great grandchildren, or my great, great grandchildren to experience that in my body.  The -- the -- the dreams of my ancestors, the wild imagination of my ancestors was not for me to still be talking about the same thing they was talking about, you know, 70 years ago.  Right now, I am in my very worthy body.


One of the ways that I get to honor my ancestors is to -- that is resistance, but its highest imagination, right, is to actually live into it.  You know, to actually, Tricia Hersey Patrick from the Nap Ministry says, this is not a joke.  I'm not -- I'm not playing what y'all going to say go sit down somewhere.  That -- that is revolutionary in a -- in an anti-black capitalist society that doesn't ever want your body to rest.  Because if your body is resting, the production of what makes this world go round, has to -- has to stop.  So, it's basically a protest to be like, well, the assembly line is down for an hour, then, you know, I'm going to sit down somewhere.  I'm going to rest.


And so, these ideas then started to come to me, which is what formed the -- the chapters of the book that I have a right to certain things that I have not historically been given access to.  And so, each chapter title is in pursuit of something, in pursuit of this idea.  So, there's a -- there's a chapter of course In Pursuit of a Fourth Wave of Womanism, where I'm introducing what I -- what I believe to be a fourth wave a womanism.  In Pursuit of Dreaming, which I just spoke to a little bit.  In Pursuit of Loudness, because black girls get critiqued and picked apart and -- and harassed on an ongoing basis for ideas that other groups of people can profit off of when they behave in these ways, but we can't when it's our very natural ways of being.  And so, this idea that loudness is ghetto or wrong, just speaking to that, you know, what does that actually mean. 


And then what does it mean for us when we choose our loudness and choose to live in a very loud, what might be considered loud way metaphorically and literally.  And then In Pursuit of Madness, because I have a right to my madness so much there's I got a lot to be mad about, you know.  And there's In Pursuit of Wellness, In Pursuit of Authority, In Pursuit of My Ancestors, right, there are these other ideas, but the softness piece, which I've used the language of softness quite a bit in this conversation, I have been talking about softness for years.  I don't take credit for being the first person to talk about softness, but I -- I have defined softness in this book, I think for the first time in a way that isn't just this kind of social media aesthetic, right, the soft life conversation that I think isn't nuanced enough on social media, because it's hard to do it that way.  Because that's not at all what I'm talking about when I talk about softness.  I'm not just talking about luxury trips, or spas and saunas even though I find deep value in all of those things, and I think that it's beautiful when they can become a part of our living.  When I talk about softness, I'm talking about regulating the nervous system.  When I talk about softness, I'm talking about being a full seated, and when I say seated, I mean, think of -- take your body and lean forward and see how that feels in your body.  Right?  The -- what is clenched in you, what are your shoulders doing, what is your neck doing, what is your body doing.  But a fully -- which is the way that so many of us exist.  We exist in this very clenched, forward, you know, like we're ready for to protect ourselves in armor.  Now...


Nicole:  Ready for action.


EbonyJanice:Now, sit back fully.  Relax your shoulders.  Release anything that's happening in -- in your stomach, in your chest.  Take a deep breath in, breathe out and what is your body feel like there?  I call that your fully seated self.  And what would it look like and feel like and what would you produce and create from your fully seated self that's drastically different from what you create from that alert, aware, ready to go, ready for action, right, like you said.  Those are two different people.  And so, I started to think about, you know, so, I'm defining really flushing softness out quite a bit in this book, and then why black women should have access to softness, right, and why is that revolutionary for black woman to get to be soft.  And then I use who I call my softness archetypes.  One example that I'll give is Toni Morrison.  Toni Morrison can talk about hard things.  Hard things from her fully seated self.  I mean, have you ever seen an interview where Toni Morrison even when she was reading somebody for filth where she was louder than this right here.  And I think I want to feel that.  I don't want to live in a world where I'm constantly triggered out of my seat.  And I deserve that.  I deserve that practice.  And not only do I deserve that practice, I deserve a community of folk who make my softness more possible, who make my vulnerability more possible, who don't see my softness as the opposite of my strength, because -- and that's why I use Toni Morrison as the example because I would dare somebody to say Toni Morrison was a weak woman.  What?!  Are we talking about the same Toni Morrison? 


And so, All the Black Girls are Activists is a collection of essays which I really call my love letter to black women and girls saying if you didn't do anything, but show up as your fully and fleshed self in your very worthy body, doing the work of regulating your nervous system, and creating and cultivating community that allows you to be you, you have already done enough.  That all by itself is you are very worthy resistance in a world that says your loudness is wrong, your softness is impossible.  You are not authorized.  You do not have the right to be well.  You should be ashamed of your body, right, like all these ideas.  To show up as yourself is -- if you did nothing else, it is your very worthy, incredible contribution to revolution and it will change the world.


Nicole:  I love that idea.  Not only is that enough, but it's more than enough.  It's the dream that our ancestors would have wanted for us.  I'm curious about how this -- writing this book has changed you and did you feel that you wrote it from your fully seated self?


EbonyJanice:Yeah, I do you feel like I -- interestingly enough, I -- I've said this before, but not -- not in a really public way.  My book originally in my -- in my mind All the Black Girls are Activists was going to be a romance novel, which I think is hilarious.  And I wanted to write it because I was in this beautiful relationship with a beautiful man at the time that I was dating.  But this is like 2020, 2021 where the world is, you know, everybody's turning into Martin Luther King but nobody's really doing anything to change anything for real.  


And so, there's a lot of energy, a lot of violence, a lot of I'm being triggered a lot even in the work that I'm doing as a -- as an accidental anti-racism educator.  I will talk to this person that I was in this, you know, relationship with and I would just say, and he knew that this was the bulk of my income and so I would say to him, I think that I'm coming to the end of this soon.  I think I'm coming to the end of this soon.  I can't -- I don't think I can keep doing this.  And it was hard for me to -- he's also West African and -- and at this particular time in his life was like a working machine, you know.  He could work 90 hours a week, he probably -- which I forgot how to do it at the -- at the time.  He's not like that anymore.  And I will like take some credit for that but at the time that's who he was.  So, he couldn't understand like, you have to stop doing this thing that, you know, you make good money doing it and you get to do it from home, you know.  Like, what do you mean? 


And it was so hard for me to really get him to understand what was happening for me.  And then one day I was journaling and I wrote the words, if I keep doing this I won't get to be soft.  And we have been talking a lot about -- he has a lot to do as a matter of fact with my softness journey inside that relationship, and I called him and I said this is it.  If I keep doing this work, I won't get to be soft.  And that -- that was like a -- he was like I get that, you know, because we have been just having so much conversation around what it -- what my body feels like that, you know, that I really want to have a more softer existence.  


And this work is making it impossible for me to be the kind of soft woman I don't want to be.  And -- so, when I -- when I got that for myself and I felt like I could, you know, I finally was able to explain that to him, I started thinking about how often race talk and race work in the -- from the social justice industrial complex perspective how often it kept me from being able to be soft, and how often my inability to be soft was impacting my relationship.  This relationship that was very important to me. 


And I thought, I want to read a romance novel.  I want to say this, and I'm saying this on the record, that if I eventually write this romance novel, better nobody read this book before me.  But I was thinking, I want to write a romance novel where a woman is like a critical race theory specialist, you know.  And she -- which is under fire.  And, you know, this idea of like teaching critical race theory, which is not even taught in schools but okay, you know, in -- in elementary school or primary school.  Critical race theory is under fire.  So, she -- so, her entire career is under fire and she's then trying to explain to people that they don't understand critical race theory.  And so, that's so much of her work is trying to defend her work.  But she's in this beautiful relationship that suffering because of her work, you know, what is doing to her body, she's not able to rest.  She's being trolled online.  She's, you know, having people troll her at her job calling, trying to get her fired. 


 That is like all this stuff is happening as a result of this work.  And -- but she's in this beautiful love story then where this man just figures out, you know, how to love her anyway, nonetheless.  So, I was like thinking about this like, that's what I want.  I want -- I want to read a romance novel, where like this character is existing in this, you know, really chaotic race space, you know, race education space, activist space, but this lover is pursuing her and teaching her through their love how to be seated and whatever.  So, that's my -- that's my brief outline.


So, anyways, all those words to say that was the beginning of my thought process for the book like I'm going to write this romance novel.  It's going to be called All the Black Girls are Activists.  And then I realized that I -- I didn't really want to write a romance novel.  


Nicole:  What happened? 


EbonyJanice:I didn't really feel like writing a romance novel.  Okay.  So, this is -- and I'm done because I am a preacher.  So, I will talk about a little but what happened is my relationship was coming to an end.  Because my -- because this beautiful man that I was in this relationship with was moving back to his country, moving back to West Africa and he's moving to a country that the US government don't even want to give me a visa to visit there.  So, it certainly wasn’t like I could go live there with him.  So -- so, our relationship was coming to an end and I was sad.  And so, I was like, I'm not going to write this romance novel anymore, like just I don't want to write a romance novel.  I don't want to be in a romance novel.  And my romance novel's coming to an end.  So -- but more that I really started to think about it anyways, the more I realized that there were things that I really needed to talk about, and really flesh out in order for me to even exist in my body the way that I was imagining, right, I have these ideas in my mind but I haven't fleshed out the theory.  


You know, I haven't fleshed out what this will look like in practice.  It's just I want to be soft.  What is the practice of that?  You know, how -- how do I -- how do I tell black women that softness is a thing that they should have access to and I haven't fully defined it and I haven't fully fleshed out, and this is what that will look like, right?  The Capricorn in me shows up and it's like, I like the idea of it but what does it look like, and what will it feel like, and how will we know when we've arrived there?  


And so, that made it so much more important for me to really sit down and do the work of writing this book, because I can't get on here and tell you, you know, Nicole, that you are worthy of a loud existence, and I think real language or theory or ancestral support to back it up, you know, to -- to tell you like, this isn't just something that I thought about, you know, oh, this sounds good, right?  No, I've really thought about this and I've -- and I've looked to both my archives and to the elders who have written things, of course, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Bell Hooks, right?  Like, those are the easy go tos, but also to my grandmother, also to my aunts, right?  


Like, I've looked to the wisdom of what they did well and didn't do well and, you know, and brought all of that into this text and -- and have been living it out, you know, for the last several years in real life.  And -- and so, I don't know that it changed me because that's the journey that I have been on anyways, but I know writing this book made me feel even more sure that these were more than just ideas that I should be keeping to myself and to the homies.


Nicole:  I also think the idea of romance can be expensive and if this is a love letter to --




Nicole:  -- black girls and black women, then that is the romance novel to read.


EbonyJanice:  Absolutely.  I mean, my original idea though, there was going to be some sex in it, but.


Nicole:  It's just the part to it.  Yes, yes.  I love that.  I love the idea of, you know, you can have a novel later on and you can come back and talk about All Black Girls are Activists in novel format.  And --




Nicole:  -- yeah, I love that.  And I know we're getting close to time, and I'm curious about what are you currently learning about and what feels expansive for you right now to close on?


EbonyJanice:Yeah.  I am -- this is like kind of pulling from what we were just talking about.  I say this often on social media, and I think sometimes people think I'm joking, but pretty much 80% of what I'm doing with my life lately is just reading romance novels.  And there's a point of me just reading romance novels all the time all day long, like every day where I felt ashamed of that like, I should be doing something else with my life.  I don't want to read romance novels all day long.  And then I realized that romance novels were doing a work in me of teaching me how to keep my heart soft, particularly as this -- this relationship that I mentioned, particularly as my relationship was ending is so easy for us often to just feel jaded and to feel disappointed and -- and to close.  


And I -- but I have been doing the deep work of keeping my heart soft and romance novels were a major part of -- have been a major part of supporting me through that, you know, even into this place of, you know, like, time has passed on much better, but, you know, at the time it was like, I'm going to hate everybody, you know.  And where I am now, that is a major thing for me that having a soft heart makes it more possible for me to offer empathy to other people in this -- in these times in this world, that daily it could just be so hard to exist as -- as a human being let alone a fully evolved or any evolving, right, version of yourself.  And so, yeah, that feels very expansive to me right now that I -- I get to create what I call my softness toolkit.  What else is a part of my softness toolkit, what else keeps me -- keeps my heart open?  Whether that's listening to my jazz music on vinyl, whether that's figuring out a way to have the slowest morning possible easing into my day and not just jumping right up into doing work.  What does that look like for me?  


What else keeps my heart soft?  Having tea and being very intentional about my tea time, doing my morning pages, writing my journal first thing in the morning, sitting down at my altar and having a real conversation with myself with my ancestors with my spirit guides.  Getting dressed every day, you know, which is something that I love to do.  You know, being naked all day long keeps my heart soft sometimes.  Or playing in my hair, or playing with makeup, whatever I think those things keep my heart soft and -- and that seems very superficial.  But what I think is very beautiful about that and expansive about that is like I said, when I can keep my heart soft, it helps me to be even more empathetic with other people who are maneuvering really hard things and feel like -- like I just directionless in many ways at times and -- and me because I'm doing this softness work or keeping my heart soft I am more intentionally seated in myself.  And so, I just don't take things as personal as I used to take them and that is of course expansive.  And I just don't have the kinds of judgment for people the way that I used to have them and -- and that has honestly made my life infinitely better.


And I even think that, you know, kind of closing on this kind of like self-care, self-help, evolving, primitive kind of language, it's still very revolutionary because once we figure out what it will look like for us to be free, hopefully, we'll arrive there and be able to be kind of one another, you know.  That's a -- that's a major part of the -- the issue in the first place is like we're talking about really basic things.  We're talking about, like racism, a part of it, you know, is a deep heart issue.  You don't know how to just be kind to people, you know, of course, it's deeper than that but that's a part of what's in it, like, even if you don't like me, you can't just be kind.  Even if -- even if you think whatever about me, you cannot just be kind, right?  And so, once we arrive there at freedom, at liberation and -- and do this -- this freedom work together, I hope that we'll arrive there and be able to be empathetic and not create whole new systems of oppression because some people deserve to be nice and some people don't.  Some people deserve our kindness and some don't, right?  Like, we'll just duplicate this all over again if we don't show up with soft hearts.


Nicole:  Right.  Yes.  I love that idea of imagining a world in which we are all walking around with soft hearts and -- yeah, that's something we can dream about into our realities.  And I have a feeling that I'll be seeing a romance novel from you someday, EbonyJanice.


EbonyJanice:  I think it’s very possible.  I have things up my sleeves all the time.


Nicole:  Yes.  Well, I'll be looking forward to following your journey and I would love to know how we can support you and find you online.


EbonyJanice:  Yes, please preorder the book All the Black Girls are Activists at ebonyjanice.com.  It's E-B-O-N-Y J-A-N-I-C-E dot com.  And preorders are really important to me because particularly for marginalized voices as a black woman, author, major book retailers look for these early numbers to decide how they're going to stock their shelves.  That will impact accessibility when it's time for the book to actually be on shelves in bookstores.  And so, at Ebonyjanice.com there are several different ways that you can purchase the book.  There's the Amazon link, the Barnes & Noble link.  The book -- there's a link for a small black woman owned bookstore called Socialight Society there -- that you can preorder the book from there.  I think the -- the bookshop link is there.  So, there are several links, several different ways anywhere you can get books though, you know, you could find All the Black Girls are Activists by ebonyjanice.  And that is a -- the major way that people can support me right now is either to preorder the book and/or to share the book.  Such a free way to say I support the possibility of this project just to sharing your stories, tell your friends, put it in your newsletter, talk about it word of mouth.  Say something nice about it.  So, yes, it's such a free way to participate and lifting this work and making sure that the world gets to see it and has access to it.


Nicole:  Absolutely.  Yes.  I will definitely put it in the show notes and everyone please check it out.  I'm so grateful to have had this conversation with you today, ebonyjanice, and thank you so much again for being here.


EbonyJanice:  Thank you for having me.  I'm really looking forward for real to see all the things that these conversations turn into and become and how they help us.


Nicole:  Thank you so much for tuning into today's conversation.  I love that EbonyJanice left us with so many gems and thoughts to consider including ways in which we can think about decolonizing authority in our lives and rethinking the importance of titles.  I also love the idea of a softness toolkit, prioritizing ease and embodying what it means to be fully seated in yourself.  And ebonyjanice mentioned a number of authors and books in our conversation and I have included those for you in the show notes to check out.  And also check out ebonyjanice's book coming out in July, All the Black Girls are Activists available for preorder now.  I have already preordered the book and I hope you do too for yourself or for someone who you might have had in mind during this conversation.  Links for preordering are in the show notes on my website and also on ebonyjanice's website.  And I'm also adding more insights of what I'm personally taking away from these conversations.  And you can find those on Instagram at multitudes.podcast.

The Multitudes podcast is produced by Nicole Carter.  And if you're enjoying the show, please leave a rating or a review wherever you are listening to this podcast, as it truly helps the show get discovered for new listeners.  Thank you so much for listening, and I will see you next time.