By: Darrie Matthew Burrage and Trent Norman
One of the most subtle and pervasive features of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) work is its weight – the heaviness! “oppression, injustice, microaggressions, prejudice… whoa, those are some heavy topics.” The heft of JEDI sometimes shows up in our bodies as sunken shoulders, sluggish vocal tones, and fatigued, drooping eyelids from the weight of the work. The word heft implies work, movement, use; and connotes the experience of living with the full impact of the subject matter. Heft is what we do with weight.
What makes JEDI content carry such heft in our consciousness? Is it the real-world circumstances of the lives connected to the topics we discuss? Is it how complex environments, systems, and histories impact those communities? Is it also pondering our own place in all of those large and looming realities?
We are well-acquainted with the heft of JEDI work whether we lead or participate in it. What remains undetected or dismissed, though, is that the JEDI heft can be counterbalanced with lightness.
Assata Shakur speaks to this by sharing, “Part of being revolutionary is creating a vision that is more humane. That is more fun, too. That is more loving.” With JEDI being a revolution of its own, Shakur invites us to materialize a world we all can savor, celebrate, and that speaks to the good nature of our spirit – fostering joy alongside our justice, not merely as a result of it.
Alan Moore punctuates Assata’s words remarking that “a revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.” Imagine taking the act of dance and laying that over the interplay between people in the JEDI experience. Dancing certainly necessitates effort and skill; AND dance emits delight, glee, and pleasure. If you dance with others, that joy then becomes something that can be shared with others. That sharing is ultimately connection. Now, of course, in response to this concept of dance, we may wonder with shadows of guilt…
“Who am I to gleefully dance while others are being brought to their knees in struggle?”
“Who has time to dance when there is so much important work to be done?”
“How does my dancing actually help others, if at all?”
might be the reason why we customarily embrace JEDI with heaviness as opposed to lightness: the heft of JEDI feels like a more thoughtful consideration of others, whereas a more light-weighted approach to JEDI feels irresponsible and unsuitably selfish. In other words, incorporating lightness into our JEDI work can be perceived by others as us taking the work too lightly. attraction to JEDI’s heft speaks to our instinctual benevolence to be considerate of others. Those acts are valiant and endearing. However, if we dared to experiment with the notion of collective JEDI joy, we might consider the dance Moore describes a bit differently:
“Why dance?” It might seem frivolous but examining where and how our own joy manifests will help us locate those points of joy in our JEDI journey. If I do not know my joy when I am walking free, I will not know my joy when I’m at work. The jazz dancer learning a hip-hop routine has a foundation to build upon — foot placement, body position, muscles tuned to a certain type of movement, understanding of rhythm. That frame of reference can become the foundation for adaptation to a new style of dance.
“Who am I in this dance?” Identities are complex — their intersections, their expressions, and their interaction with the identities of others. Thus, how we handle our heft and weave joy into our JEDI work can be met with complex reactions from others, depending on their identities and our own. While those reactions may vary, we must account for our identities by discerning whether the occasion is more suited for us to lead joy, welcome it, or simply honor it when joy appears from others. And it is important for someone with more privileged identities to consider making such a shift in power from oneself to marginalized persons whenever possible — uplifting their lead of the dance.
“What if I dance alongside those who struggle?“ Dancing alone has its own set of rhythms and movements, but when we dance with others our connection to them creates another energy. While the reasons prompting the dance may not always be joyful, this act of connection is immensely important. That connection doesn’t have to diminish the meaning. If we think of the Cueca (the national dance of Chile) done by the Arpilleristas (mourning Chilean women who lost a loved one and dance in their honor and memory), the dance symbolizes grief, loss, and anger at the hands of a murderous dictator AND symbolizes solidarity, unity, strength, and facing oppression with others. In the struggle with others, there is power; and that connection can be a source of joy.
“What if the dance was actually the important work to be done?” As it happens, the dancing protest against the policies of Augusto Pinochet, led to the creation of a song that helped shed a global light on those policiesThe song tells the story of humans dancing together in protest. Let that image rattle around your mind for a moment. Dancing, in this example, IS the protest. Derreck Bell’s fictional exploration of the Electric Slide done as protest, offers us a glimpse into the idea of solidarity in the form of dance. In Bell’s fictional imagining of black women dancing in the street doing the Electric Slide (which, coincidentally became real-life during 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests), he accounts:
Seeing them do that dance is like–well, it’s like Liberation Time. Somehow, dancing in those lines with everybody doing the basic steps, goin’ backward and forward and turnin’ at the same time, well, man, that gives ’em somethin’ to work with. They sense a freedom to be free–to improvise like their bodies are musical instruments. And what I’m sayin’, this is true of fly chicks from out on the avenue and dignified professional women, including judges, doctors and legislators. They all get down, as we both know. Their expressions are too much. “Hey!” they’re sayin’ without utterin’ a word. “Hey, world, this is me as I am right now! This is even me as I may never be again. This is about celebratin’ me. Dig it? Me!”
Dance, either in the metaphorical or literal sense, has us consider the potential of acting together and the powerful impact that is available to us in joyful solidarity. Believe that our individual needs and desires can be communally beneficial. Further, thinking of our JEDI work as a dance allows us to entertain what it might look like for us to find joy in midst of our JEDI journey. Here we offer some additional lessons that could help foster JEDI joy:
- Joyful Environments. Consider how environments tend to influence our mindset and accompanying behaviors. What would our JEDI-related discussions look like if they took place sipping hot London Fogs at a local coffee shop, on a walk around your neighborhood, or on a park trail? As an example, try asking your group to move to (or imagine) a living room space to have a JEDI conversation. A distinct setting that could feel more comfortable for people to be engaged. The goal here is to evoke an environment that establishes a mood that could manifest in the interaction and the thoughts are shared — an environment that hopefully evokes some joy.
- Joyful Communication. We sometimes underestimate how our words, vocal tones, posture, and gestures can influence the mood of interactions. When we facilitate JEDI-related conversations, the manner we communicate is contagious and our participants can reflect back the same energy they have gathered from us in their own behaviors. So, if we desire joy being part of our conversations, we must be conscious of how we are communicating joyously. Joyous communication increases the likelihood of others feeling those euphoric sensations and wanting to communicate in that same manner themselves.
- Joyful Synergy. the story is happy or heartbreaking, it truly makes a magical moment when others remark on our experience with empathy. Part of fostering JEDI joy is cultivating moments where people, including ourselves, can make others feel seen, understood, and not alone in their . Empathic responses can be encouraged as well as celebrated when they occur, which encourages others to also take part in this type of connection. Even in a virtual setting, using the Zoom platform as an example, exhorting people to use the “reaction” function to express thumbs-up, applause, and hearted responses can make those sharing their thoughts experience the joy of feeling acknowledged.
- Joyful Spirit. A quick story to tell: Back in the day, Trent went to see the movie Finding Nemo in the theatre with two colleagues. After the movie, Colleague #1 asked, “What did you think?” Trent and Colleague #2 launched into a social justice examination of the film. Critiquing the messages about family, bravery, masculinity, gender roles, etc. As the trio left the theatre and got into their vehicle, Trent now asked Colleague #1 what they thought. In response to the extensive critique that was spoken prior, this person said with some guilt, “I thought it was just a fun movie.” The lesson here is everything can be examined from a JEDI lens, and indeed that is a skill that can be useful in understanding the world around us. AND it’s also okay to enjoy the movie just as it is.
- Artifacts of Joy. Our hearts soften and warm when we are reminded of the things that bring us joy. These artifacts of joy can be environments, activities, memories, and of course, people. Deepen your JEDI discussions by inviting people to share the activists, for example, they admire; or the circumstances that bring them gratitude; or the causes that give them hope for the future. Perhaps ask your group to bring a physical item that brings them joy to each JEDI conversation you host. Those items could represent what makes the injustices they face and the discomfort they feel worth their perseverance.
Poet and essayist, Hanif Abdurraqib, wrote, “If I am going to be afraid, I might as well do it honest. Arm in arm with everyone I love, adorned in blood and bruises, singing jokes on our way to the grave.” What would it look like for our JEDI work to both generate and incorporate the joy Abdurraqib describes here? — a joy experienced connected “arm in arm” with others. This is solidarity. This is community!
This article is an encouragement for us to tap into and promote what makes our lips smile, our eyes widen, and our postures lean forward in the JEDI work we do. Our Human-First approach at Integrated Work is focused on accepting “the whole” of the human experience: human hardship as well as human happiness. And as facilitators of this work, the weight of JEDI calls us to hold its heft and its lightness, together. So yes, there are times in our JEDI work when we cannot appropriately hold both hardship and happiness evenly (nor close together). However, JEDI is a work that may never reach finality, so the health of our spirit cannot wait for that end to come! Tears of sorrow may come (dropped from our own eyes and others’) but let us not take for granted that tears of joy can rehydrate our spirits. May we all be reminded that our Joy Endures Despite Injustice; and this, too, is part of our JEDI journey.