Joy. A simple yet powerful word. Joy has become a priority for me, especially since March 2020. Joy is happiness, fulfillment and deep pleasure. As a leader, a parent and an advocate for change, centering joy isn’t always easy. Still, it is a critical part of sustaining the work I choose to do as the director of diversity, equity and culture.
Before I arrived at LJCDS, I worked in interpersonal violence. My small yet mighty team of five carried the pain and trauma of hundreds of survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking. This work is difficult, and once the lockdown of 2020 went into effect, it only increased. As the leader of this team, I began to see the wariness and exhaustion taking a toll on my staff. Burnout is real and common in the field of violence prevention and response. And when you layer on a global pandemic, political unrest and America’s reckoning with racial injustice, my team was barely hanging on.
I would lie awake at night thinking about how I would lead them through the most challenging year that any of us had ever experienced. Our work was centered on pain, violence and trauma, and we were losing hope. We needed to shift our focus—centering joy and connection was the goal, but I had no idea how I was going to do it.
How do you center joy without being flippant? One of my favorite scholars/philosophers, Audre Lorde, writes, “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers, which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”
Joy is a critical part of survival, resilience and connection. I brought this quote back to my team and proposed that we take turns sharing “Joyful Moments” at our weekly staff meetings. As a team of all women of color, we centered the joy of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities/individuals as a direct response to the harm and violence we witnessed in the news daily. We understood intergenerational trauma in deeply personal ways, and because of this, we wanted to foster intergenerational resilience. We shared Mexican opera singers, Black cottagecore, AAPI fiction, QTPOC Etsy shops, Latinx surf clubs, BIPOC artists and all things Beyoncé. Our joyful moments changed everything—engagement was up, perspectives broadened, connections were deeper.
The world is still rough, the pandemic is still here, and we continue to see so much pain and trauma in our news cycles. Although I am no longer with my team, I carry these joyful moments with me and strive to create new ones wherever I go. I recently had the opportunity to attend the NAIS People of Color Conference and in almost every workshop I participated in, self-care was addressed with a specific spotlight on creating opportunities for joy. BIPOC communities and leaders are recognizing how building the capacity for joy is a critical part of sustaining our efforts in social change.
My joy requires intentionality because it’s all too easy to get dragged back into the trap of hopelessness. As I lead efforts for LJCDS to become a more inclusive, diverse and equitable community, I know there will be growing pains. Fostering joyful moments at LJCDS is also part of this growth because the more we can do to lessen the threat of our differences, the stronger our connections will be to ourselves, each other and our community as a whole.