Staying Woke & Well: How We Navigate America Today

By Chelcee Johns. Photography by Eric Michael Ward.

I remember hearing the sound of my boots against the Manhattan pavement as I spoke with a lover during a protest of another Black body murdered by police. The moment of disassociation while shouting “Black Lives Matter.” A sincere moment of disbelief that the words still needed to ring America. I remember sitting in a midtown independent theater watching a Black Panther documentary while the Troy Davis execution was decided and moved forward. The nights I stayed up till 3am watching the live streams of Indie news media in the aftermath of Mike Brown or Rekia Boyd or our trans sisters often killed with barely any coverage. Working as a journalist, the constant stories to be written about injustice often felt overwhelming. What I still feel is how easy my eyes water when remembering. And we don’t have to go back so far, see how the media is handling the reporting of the Las Vegas shooter (we send prayers to the families). Or any Trump headlines. The moments in bed wanting to, as Evelyn from the Internets, would say “Call in Black.” As Solange would say, “I got a lot to be mad about.”

Living and retaining joy (that is resistance) in the country we live in right now is not always easy. What is easy is choosing to not engage. I’ve heard many say they, “just can’t.”  Because engaging takes work, self-protection, and so much more.

Here at BGIO, as we create space for women of color to breathe easy we also know that means tackling the real issues women of color face. This month we’re nurturing our minds, bodies, soul and spaces by exploring what it means and looks like to Stay Woke & Well.

I remember spending a few months not in the headlines, I had not yet  figured out how to stay woke & well. When I was “extremely woke” I was heavy, protesting, engaged but slightly depressed by the constant injustices or Trump headlines or allies that didn’t really get it. So, I disappeared from the scene altogether; but it only took a few weeks before guilt set in.  Disappearing isn’t (always) healthy either. Because the truth is I and I believe a lot of you want to be active participants in staying politically and socially engaged.

The realness of avoiding the comments section or having to unfriend that old associate from Facebook or even “brothers” that have taken up patriarchy over listening or realizing your fav entertainers might be problematic - there’s a certain amount of energy this work needs and takes. How do we give to the country we, even in hard times, do love to some point. There’s a way. There’s a route and we’re working through it this month.

While we often talk about “Staying Woke,” we don’t discuss the realities and sometimes affects fighting for  justice can have on our wellbeing and how we must actively, intentionally curate our wellness. We use the catchy phrase, but the reality is even the literal definition of staying woke invites a need for some wellness. No ever wants to always “Stay Woke.” Maybe staying woke not only means keeping informed and conscious; but, learning to keep well while doing so.

We may need to look at our language and thoughts of resistance and truly find the ways in which we resist in our personal lives; and, not feel guilty if our personal resistance does not mirror others.

 It’s hard to stand on the frontlines when your personal frontline isn’t well, it’s hard to push for a country if you aren’t also pouring into yourself. But, it is indeed possible to do both and do it well. We’re going to take a look at how this month. We’re going to engage even when it seems daunting (I mean could 45 chill on the tweets).

This year my personal resistance includes financial wellness more than it ever has, knowing that if I’m financially well I have the access and excess to support organizations and hopefully help campaigns for the right individuals we want to see in office. But, that also means I may not be in the streets as much. It means taking care of my emotional space, so I can then hold space for others; be it my immigrant, queer, Muslim friends - all the gorgeous intersections we hold and how they are affected in the current political landscape. It means learning how to have constructive dialogue with those desiring to be allies. But is also means I regulate how much news I intake and when. That I have a personal debriefing that allows me stay to knowledgeable, allows me to feel through what staying knowledgeable can mean (frustration, fear, sadness) and yet... not letting it own me.

Are working on Staying Woke & Well? We’d love to know what this journey has looked like for you and wisdom you’d share. Pitch your story at editor@blackgirlinom.com.

Chelcee Johns is a digital nomad, Detroit native, editor/content strategist and word & world-loving soul. She is based between Harlem and Detroit, and recently called Bali home for a year. Her passion for the power of the written word & highlighting often policed narratives has led her to work in publishing for the past 7 years with organizations such as Moguldom Media Group, Serendipity Literary Agency, the New York Times and writing for the likes of Ebony. In a rupturing political climate and blooming social change, BGIO is the place Chelc is able to create a community of safe space in our collective stories as Publication Editor. She is empowered by the (inner)work! With that said, her self-care go to is journaling, prayer and meditation.