When things feel particularly heavy and out of control in the world –– like say, most of 2020 has been –– for many, there’s an almost suffocating desire to emotionally numb. Black women are intimately familiar with this heaviness –– like fighting to be heard and seen in the workplace despite still making 21 percent less than white women or coming to grips with the fact that Black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers during childbirth.
Emotional numbing is a powerful, and often necessary, defense mechanism to protect against physically and emotionally painful situations, such as being forced to live under the guise of white supremacy. But while disconnecting from others can feel useful while navigating the omnipresent images of Black death littering social media, it can morph into hiding from oneself and denying one's needs altogether if left unchecked. It can also delay our healing –– the ability to move past the trauma to become healthy and whole again.
2020 has shaken Black women, in particular, to the core. A bright light has been cast upon the white supremacist structures we’ve long discussed only in group chats and friend’s living rooms –– like racist work environments––all while being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Black women are nearly twice as likely as white men to say that they’d either been laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic. If ever there was a time to go numb emotionally, this would be it. However, if this has taught us anything it’s that despite so many things being out of our control we do have agency over how we show up in the world. Healing, from both individual and societal trauma, is paramount if we hope to not only survive, but thrive in a world that feels increasingly untethered. Deun Ivory, Trinity Mouzon Wofford, and Gina Danza –– three powerfully gentle Black women –– are using joy as a means to inspire their healing-centric work.
Growing up in Dallas, Texas Deun Ivory always knew she’d become a creative. “Creating has been like breathing for me, even when I was a young child,” she explains with such conviction you know to immediately believe her. She describes a childhood filled to the brim with an array of creative pursuits––dancing, acting, singing. “My mom allowed me to explore all of the layers of my identity. She was extremely supportive in allowing me to be me, and that really set the foundation for the way that I am right now.” Not surprisingly, Ivory, who currently resides in Los Angeles, is now a creative visionary and multidisciplinary artist.
Best known for her arrestingly beautiful visuals that center Black women, Ivory says her life’s work is rooted in healing –– last year, she started the body: a home for love, her non-profit that is “wholeheartedly and unapologetically dedicated to and invested in the collective healing and wellness of Black women.” Ivory describes herself as a voice for Black women. “I’m meant to empower and also affirm Black women in their worth,” she says –– something she lost as the result of early childhood trauma. When asked if this moment, particularly the lack of justice and media coverage given to the murders of Black women, like Breonna Taylor and Oluwatoyin Salau, has given Ivory a renewed sense of urgency, she quickly answers no. “I’ve been about protecting Black women and have been doing this work for a while, I’m glad others are waking up but I’ll always be here.
Like Ivory, there’s a nearly unmistakable throughline from Trinity Mouzon Wofford’s early familial experiences to her current role as co-founder and CEO of Golde, a multi-faceted wellness brand. When asked to describe her childhood during a recent phone call, Mouzon Wofford pauses before going on to say, “I was raised in a very feminine household –– with my mother, her sister, and my grandmother. They all were very interested in health and wellness and I grew up on all the healthy crunchy stuff in upstate New York.” By the time she was a teenager, the transformative power of bringing intentional awareness to one’s physical healing was deeply imprinted on Mouzon Wofford.
“I was raised by a single mother with a severe autoimmune disease. My mom switched over to a more holistically minded lifestyle. While I had always been raised around wellness that was the first time I understood the world of wellness, outside of the cultural thing that I had grown up in. And that was really powerful,” she explains.
So powerful in fact, that Mouzon Wofford decided to pursue a career in the medical field. However, when she became aware, during her time at New York University, of the impenetrable financial barriers most Americans face — including her mother — to this life changing type of care things changed. “It really gave me pause about the idea of going into the medical field. I realized that if I was going to build something in wellness it needed to be for everyone,” Mouzon Wofford says recalling this moment of realization. The current global pandemic has had a drastically disparate impact on Black and brown communities. Nearly 1 in 3 Black Americans know someone who has died from COVID-19, and magnified our lack of access to adequate health care. “This moment has forced us to really reckon with our daily lives and what really matters and what we’re prioritizing,” Mouzen Wofford says.
Like art and wellness, in Ivory and Mouzon Wofford’s lives respectively, discovering the healing power of nature helped Gina Danza break free from trying to live up to the crushing expectations placed on her by society. After a 10-year career in TV, Danza was tired of living what she calls a cookie-cutter life she craved epicness. To get it, she went outside.
“I never really did any camping or shooting until 2017 when I started taking nature photos. That’s when I started to get interested in the outdoors,” she says when describing how she became transfixed by nature. The outdoor and adventure photographer, who’s currently finding solace in the desert lands of Arizona, a place she says always felt like home, is equally passionate about exploring and empowering more Black folks to take up space outside.
“A lot of people look at the outdoors and they think it’s a white people thing. And it frustrates me because Black people need to release so much trauma and so much stress and where else can go that is capable of holding us in ways that are that essential to our wellbeing, like nature,” she asks, getting nearly moved to emotion.
Healing, physically or emotionally, isn’t linear; it’s a constant process of unlearning and relearning things that were once considered normal. Like, being sexually assaulted, or being denied access to lifesaving health care, or being the only, or one of very few, Black women in an entire industry. For Mouzon Wofford “healing is very much a process of acknowledging trauma and moving through it. I think that acknowledgment piece is really huge and it sounds simple but it’s really, really hard.” That acknowledgment, which could take weeks, months, and oftentimes years, is necessary for helping the scars trauma oftentimes leaves behind to scab over.
For Ivory it’s also imperative, especially in this particular moment of chaos and uncertainty, that we “listen to our body and give attention to our needs. When you feel your best, you attract the best, and you deserve that. Also understand that your health is priority –– and in order to operate as your best self, you have to carve out time for rest,” Ivory shares. In a time when the loudest call to action seems to be dismantling the racist foundation of America, it’s important that Black women remember it’s impossible for us to undo systems and structures we did not create. “I want other Black women to know that they are more than their trauma,” Danza explains.
All three women acknowledge that joy, uncovering it and committing to holding on to it, has been paramount in not only ushering them along in their own healing journeys but also inspiring their healing-centric work. For each of them, it looks and feels slightly different at times but it’s always there.
Ivory giddily mentions that dancing carefreely to Beyoncé and getting a puppy are two things bringing her joy right now, while Mouzon Wofford is reading books completely unrelated to current events, and Danza it’s exploring her new surroundings in Tucson. They also each mention their work. Not simply because of what they do, though they do each enjoy it deeply, but because they’re acutely aware of how it challenges the harmful truths spoon fed to so many Black women in order to keep them feeling small and unaware of their power.
“I find joy in sharing the art that I create. Using my photos to not only share stories about my life but also to awaken people to how Black people have been dealing with their traumas,” Danza explains. They’re each holding onto joy to not only stay grounded and hopeful during these fraught times, but also to fuel the work that too provides joy and healing to so many Black women. As we continue to navigate these particularly trying times, maintaining our physical and mental wellbeing, and of course joy, should be of the utmost importance –– it’s all we truly have control over. When asked what they hope to give Black women Ivory, Mouzon Wofford, and Danza, not surprisingly, want Black women to feel more like themselves, to heal. “If the only thing you do for you in 2020 is just check in with yourself, then that’s a win,” Mouzon Wofford says.
We are navigating unprecedented times. And while Black Americans are no strangers to struggle (see: the timeline of the last 400 years), things feel particularly catalyzing this time around. Protecting our joy feels especially vital. This is why R29Unbothered is teaming up with VSCO for the #BlackJoyMatters project to debut a series of first-time joint programming to amplify the Black experience. Black people don’t just deserve to be alive; we deserve to be happy. So we’re doing what we always do, and we’re leaning into the reasons we have to celebrate — no matter what.