By Jade Perry,
The current iteration of my work as a “millennial womanist” started as an approximately six person online book club, a website domain name purchase, and a post about “inheriting mysticism from my Christian other-mothers”. Up until that point, my M. Ed journey in Higher Education / Student and subsequent years spent working in university contexts had me informally considering the many ways in which students of color learn and / or unlearn toxic theological lenses that might impede upon their identity development. Additionally, my own “biomythography” [i] writing allowed me some space to unpack how I was unlearning toxic theological lenses. I didn’t go into any of this work considering that I would be contributing to the emerging millennial womanist framework and I didn’t understand how quickly the work would expand. However, I realized that if I needed more formal space to question how the Christian faith intersected with the lived experiences of Black women, queer people of color, persons with chronic illnesses & disabilities, etc., others might need it too.
Thus, the online book club grew to a closed group platform whose formal outcome is to support “those who are seeking solidarity, community, and intersectionality as they navigate feelings, experiences, and questions that come with theological shifts”. It is a fully affirming, recommendation only space, with a community library, and dialogue series on a range of topics. The domain name purchase, jadetperry.com, became a way for me to do autoethnography work around matters of inherited spirituality, womanism, and more. Perhaps most surprisingly, the post on inheriting mysticism from Christian other-mothers grew into co-founding a non-profit called Mystic Soul, which seeks to center the voices and indigenous spiritual practices of people of color “from the Christian tradition and beyond”.
Currently, I am working with other millennial womanist scholars to consider theory on sexuality for Black churched women, curating a specialized list of resources for holistic wellness, and more informally, supporting the spiritual processes of faith & community leaders by offering intuitive tarot readings & pursuing reiki certification. The “sacred platforms” on which I stand most often often bring me into “hybrid” (interspiritual & interdisciplinary) spaces to work with visual artists, storytellers, scholars, preachers & ministers, reiki healers and acupuncturists – all working towards the collective healing & wellness of Black women. It has been a work of healing justice and decolonizing spiritual practices. It remains difficult to find a singular definition for this type of work, because it is continuously revealing itself.
[easy-tweet tweet=”…I noticed the structure that my mother, Grandmother, aunts, great-aunts, were navigating.” template=”qlite”]
Two of the hallmarks of millennial womanism, as imagined by Liz Alexander and Melanie Jones, is that it “recognizes social media as a methodological resource for womanist work and witness” and “creates sacred platforms to do ministry & advocacy without waiting for traditional institutions to receive us”. This is essential for so many reasons. In the charismatic Black churches that I grew up in, I remember the women in my family giving testimony to their own socio-spiritual realities & relationship with God. These were powerful moments and I knew that there was something life giving in their words. However, these words were always held in tension with the flow of the program and power negotiations vis a vis how much space Black women could take up to use their prophetic voice during testimony time. In the various churches I found myself in, these moments were held in tension with hesitance in encouraging formal religious education and many times, outright denial of access to the pulpit. These were the same women who were simultaneously serving faithfully on the usher’s team, the hospitality team, teaching children’s church, curating worship experiences, most often with little to no compensation. As a Black millennial woman, I noticed the structure that my mother, Grandmother, aunts, great-aunts, were navigating. I have no doubt that this informed the approach I take to re-envision what might be a “sacred platform” for the healing & spiritual preservation of Black women.
So, I approached my spiritual activism work with an ethos similar to that of interdisciplinary millennial womanist & popular R&B singer, Solange Knowles: “We aren’t thanking anyone for ‘allowing us’ into these spaces… until we are truly given the access to tear the got damn walls down” [ii]. I don’t believe that the assertion here is that gratitude is inappropriate or that access to additional opportunities are unnecessary. I believe it channels an ethos connected to the millennial womanist framework of “moving beyond respectability politics with an intentional call for recognition and reciprocity”. Moreover, I believe millennial womanism envisions our work by moving through walls, when necessary, and at times, disregards the niceties that keep walls intact. My observation is that much of this energy is spent instead to fund each other’s projects, promote each other’s works, utilize social media as an access point, assert the integrity of reciprocity in the form of receiving due citation, compensation in check form at keynotes, and in offerings via payment e-applications.
One reality is that spiritual activism and faith advocacy through relationship building, autoethnography, and social media has its own set of struggles. However, it is a way to make information a bit more publicly accessible. It allows us various touch points for working in interdisciplinary fashions and might be a key to reimagining hierarchies of knowledge, if only marginally. In essence, I’m saying that while it comes with new challenges, we do not have to continuously wait to be “put on the program”, to channel a phrase from the Black church. We have the possibilities to curate the program. We have greater possibilities to see where our work has (or has not been) cited. We have opportunities to allow (or restrict) persons from accessing our faith based work alongside our Snapchat selfies and cash application links for reciprocity in payment and “e-offerings”. There is something beautiful about this, as it becomes a subtle statement that all of our facets are worthy to be recognized & invested in – inside and outside of what we “produce”.
[easy-tweet tweet=”Millenial womanism finds additional ways to honor & to express new iterations of the work, in real-time & current sociocultural climate” template=”qlite”]
To be clear, I deeply appreciate the witness of the women of faith in my family & fictive family. It is their work that taught me that the “oil” of Black women’s healing capability & spirituality is intergenerational and unbound by time. Similarly, I marvel at how the works of womanist preachers and scholars such as Dr. Renita Weems, Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, Dr. Katie G. Canon, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas et al. have helped me to see myself in Biblical text, and to reaffirm that engaging the spiritual journeys of Black women is a matter of deep integrity. Their expression of womanist understandings of the Divine are what prompted me to begin, first, a personal decolonizing spiritual practice and then, to explore what it might look like to allow some of this process to happen in more public forums. Millennial womanism is necessary in our current time and it does not replace the groundwork that has been laid, nor seek to assert itself as “more” crucial. Millenial womanism finds additional ways to honor & to express new iterations of the work, in real-time & current sociocultural climate. Thus, it is an honor to be considered as a part of this work and it is an honor to support my sisters who are likewise engaged.
i. Biomythography is a writing framework explored in Audre Lorde’s work, Zami, a new spelling of my name. It infuses lived experiences and events with mythology & spiritual mysticism. Lorde, Audre. (1982). Zami, a new spelling of my name. Trumansburg, N.Y. :Crossing Press. ii. Knowles, S. [@solangeknowles]. (2017, May 17). We aren’t thanking anyone for “allowing us” into these spaces…until we are truly given the access to tear the got damn walls down. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/solangeknowles/status/864868516670910465
Jade T. Perry is a writer, speaker, storyteller, higher education professional, burgeoning mystic & co-founder of the nonprofit organization Mystic Soul. She writes & regularly contributes to a variety of online platforms on topics such as culture, spirituality, holistic wellness, womanism, and more. Her mission is to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion! You can find her work on jadetperry.com.