Living Out Radical Peace & Joy: A Summer Reading List

By Dominique M. Brown. Photography by Deun Ivory.

Joy is cooking in my kitchen, in my underwear, dancing to Beyoncé, while holding a wooden spoon dripping with BBQ sauce. Joy is watching somebody else take pleasure in the taste of a treat I put my whole self into. “Put my foot into,” as my mother would say when she really outdid herself in the kitchen. For me, joy is the simplicity of reading while the sound of ocean waves (real or digitally produced) wash ashore.

The themes outlined in the following books offer some divine insights into how we might live out radical joy in practical everyday terms.   

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In her newest book, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, adrienne maree brown makes the case for the pursuit of pleasure as an act of resistance for black folks, brown folks, queer folks, and many other marginalized identities. In light of the historical and contemporary traumas we have faced, what could be more radical than seeking to live fully in our bodies?

As a black woman in a larger body, it was especially revelatory to be reminded that I, too, am worthy of physical pleasure. That my body is worthy of thoughtful exploration and deep love, from myself and others.

What I took away from this text was a challenge for me to dig deeper into what brings me pleasure, complete with practical tools. Never has there been a time in my life when I’ve looked more forward to doing homework. 

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The Life Changing Magic of Tying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is less of a book and more of a cultural phenomenon complete with an accompanying Netflix series. Organizing guru Marie Kondo invites us to re-imagine the spaces we live in by seeking to surround ourselves with the things that “spark joy!” Much (arguably racialized) backlash has attempted to discredit this sage advice, however, when examined more closely, Kondo’s wisdom is deeply rooted in the ancient Shinto spiritual tradition.

Summer is a great time to step back and reexamine our relationship to our physical possessions. It is also deeply satisfying to walk into a newly reorganized room with new imagination for the possibility of what could be.

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The next book on my list is by theologian Barbara A. Holmes titled Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church. This book is definitely not a light read, but it is a thoughtful and well-researched dive into black spiritual practice. This incredibly voluptuous and inviting text treats the subject matter of the “black church” with incredible care.

 It provides an invitation to draw on the complexity of contemplative practice as it has been cultivated over centuries in the United States; from the pain of enslavement, to the sustaining power during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, and reinterpreted in this current moment through Black Lives Matter and other social movements.

The black church is envisioned as being bigger than congregational denominations, but as an expansive set of experiences inclusive of African traditions, folk wisdom, and the complex tapestry of informal and formal spiritual structures created by and for black survival, as well as for human flourishing for centuries.  

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The last book on my list isn’t really one book, it’s one author. If you haven’t already, take some time this summer to read literally anything by bestselling vulnerability expert Brene Brown. I’d start with The Gifts of Imperfection. Her work tackles heavy subjects like shame, which, according to her research, plagues women in some insidious and particular ways.

Thankfully, she articulates how we can build collective resilience to the shame we accumulate from the socio-cultural forces that shape self-perception. I believe overcoming dis-affirming shame based in oppressive social structures is at the root of living a radically joyful life.

Joy isn’t something out there for someone else to experience, but offered to each of us as our inherited birthright. Remember to take a moment to bask in the organic natural human gift that is your life to richly experience.

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Dominique M. Brown is a holistic educator, culture scholar, storyteller, and wellness practitioner who is passionate about the power of dialogue to transform collective consciousness. It is her personal mission to pursue work that generates deep connection through bridge building. In her research and educational practice, she works with others to develop counter-narratives to dominant cultural norms in order to generate spaces of healing. Find her on Instagram @browdq