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Epi 23: How Essence Fest Taught Me to Honor My Gifts and Other Life lessons
Episode 235th July 2023 • Joyfully Black • Joy Dixon Paul
00:00:00 00:21:10

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Join host Joy as she takes you on a captivating journey through her experience at the Essence Festival, a celebration of the Black culture, music, food ,and more.

This week, Joy shares the top three lessons learned from the festival. From the power of sisterhood that transcends boundaries to the choice of either letting statistics paralyze or motivate you, and the importance of honoring one's unique gifts, this podcast episode explores the transformative potential of unity, resilience, and self-discovery. Tune in toas Joy highlights the incredible experiences and lessons she gained from this empowering event.

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Throughout the weekend, I took note of what I was learning from being in this space. Not just from the panels, of course, but what I was observing while being in this intentional space from a Black brand that has celebrated Black womanhood in the form of this festival for the past 29 years. And I have so many fun memories and positive interactions to hold on to, but I just got to share my top three lessons I gleaned from Essence this year. So the first lesson the power of sisterhood. So many people say that the Essence Festival is where you go to fill your cup and find joy. I mean, I know one of the panelists said it. It might have been Taranji P. Henson, but don't quote me on that one, now, but I saw this firsthand.

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During that time, the women I stood in line with gave advice to one another, helped navigate the app for a few senior ladies, held a friendly debate about music fandom, and just really had a grand old time. I even befriended two women who are besties from Toronto and Philly, and we ended up just clicking and even doing a whole photo shoot outside the convention center and staying connected throughout the entire weekend. Oh, and speaking of photo shoots, honey, I somehow ended up taking pictures of several groups of ladies, and I just absolutely loved how strangers that were attending the conference would walk up and say, “Sis, why don't you try this angle?’ or “Wait” and they run up to the woman in front of like there was this Big Essence, the logo right outside the convention center. And they'd walk up to the lady, get her picture taken, and say, “wait, let me fix your hair.” You’re gonna work this picture!” just the way we would with a beloved girlfriend.

I noticed this because sisterhood is a powerful force that transcends boundaries and unites women in this bond of shared experiences, support, and empowerment, which is what the Essence Festival is all about, right? And within the black community. In particular, the power of sisterhood really takes on this unique significance and strength because there's connections that are forged that navigate through the challenges and the triumphs of just being a black woman. And I really see black sisterhood as a testament to resilience, to love, and this transformative potential of unity, which is something that, not surprisingly, the cast of The Color Purple spoke a lot about too. And I have to mention this because in the face of adversity, just in our everyday life, black women often turn to one another for solace, strength and guidance. And despite what some reality shows display, and we know which ones those are listen, I watch reality TV too, so it's not a knot.

But for real, despite what some reality shows display, black sisterhood can offer a space for healing and self-discovery and really create an environment where black women can freely express their thoughts, feelings and fears without judgment and provides a platform for storytelling. I mean, how many times have we relayed stories to our girlfriends or our sisters, our cousins or people who we really look up to in our sister circle, sharing experiences and offering advice that's grounded in the deep understanding of the challenges that are faced by women that look like us? Black sisterhood just affirms, and it validates the lived experience of its members, really fostering this sense of belonging and self-worth. And this weekend, I got a chance to see the affirming presence of black sisterhood up close and personal, and it was a sight to behold. Now, the second lesson that I gleaned was making the choice to either let the statistics of black women paralyze you or motivate you. This came up in one of the panel discussions, and my mind is that the name of the panel is escaped me at this moment. But listen, it is evident that the ODS are not in the favor of women in society right now, especially black women. And when it comes to black women, there are just several alarming statistics that highlight the hurdles that we may encounter in areas like health and economic security. And yes, it is important to acknowledge the existence of these statistics and really understand the systemic issues that they represent. However- comma, it is just as crucial not to let them paralyze us. We have a choice here, and instead, we can use these challenges as motivation to drive, change and empower black women. Something that I've thought about is that these statistics are not a reflection of the potential or worth of black women, but really more of a reminder of the work that still needs to be done. And as we all know, the sisters are working Honey! From oh, gosh, I met Mama Glow. I was so excited. So, like from Latham Thomas, who she's coming to mind right now, who's working to improve black maternal health outcomes with her doula training and a new initiative that provides free doula services to pregnant people, to policymakers who are teaching how closing the racial wealth gap leads to Black joy. Now, these things are so amazing, and these are just a few examples of work that Black women across the diaspora are doing.

I know that as you think about the statistics, it is so natural to feel overwhelmed, feel anger, frustration and even sadness when we consider the ODS. It's okay to allow yourself to allow ourselves to feel and reflect on these things. And after we give ourselves that moment, that space to feel, we can then channel that energy into actionable steps. I must say though, for folks who find themselves still needing that rest and reprieve from the weight of it all, that's when we lean on one another, we tag another sister to continue to carry the mantle because of what affects one of us as Black women impacts all of us. And the progress we seek is progress that is truly built among the cumulative efforts of many. So during the festival, when I was just watching an amazement about the dynamic women on the panel, and also, frankly, just walking around all willy nilly, I'm so silly saying that, oh, I'm a rapper, I'm rhyming just walking around in that way. It just lets you know that we're not alone. We're all problem solving in our own corners of the US. And our own corners of this globe. And making that decision to motivate and rally ourselves in spite of these negative odds is something that I think will really impact us as we design the sort of future we want for ourselves and for the people that come behind us. And so the third lesson that I learned this weekend was to honor the gift. Now, truth be told, I've heard this phrase before. You have probably heard this phrase before. I even saw it on Ludicrous shirt during his Saturday night performance. This time, though, it hit differently as I considered what I witnessed in New Orleans this weekend. So throughout the festival, I noticed the Essence moderators gave their panelists and participants flowers during almost every main stage. And this literal gesture of, quote, unquote, giving flowers while a person is here to appreciate it was meaningful because so often impactful contributions are taken for granted. And I will say, as a person who deeply believes in honoring people, this was particularly touching to me. But then it dawned on me. Each one of the people that we saw on stage on a panel was there because they were honoring their gift. What do I mean by that? Oftentimes we hear this phrase, quote unquote, gifted individuals referring to people who may excel in a particular area. But the truth is, each and every one of us has unique gifts and talents. And these gifts can come in various forms, whether it's a natural aptitude for a specific skill, a passion for creativity, or a compassionate nature that brings people together. Honoring the gift is about acknowledging and appreciating the inherent qualities and abilities we possess. It's recognizing that our gifts are not random accidents, but rather a part of who we're meant to be. And oftentimes it is so easy to dismiss these natural abilities because of the ease at which we do them. But I think there are ways to honor our gifts and make the most of them. How? Well, one crucial step is self-awareness. Really taking the time to reflect on your strengths and passions, taking time to ask yourself, what activities energize me? What comes naturally to me? These are often indications of your gifts, and once you've identified them, it's important to cultivate and nurture them. And perhaps maybe yours isn't musical. Maybe you're an organization maven, or you're just really talented with administration, or you're the go to party planner for your friends, or a skilled seamstress or a whiz at Excel, or really great at bringing folks together. I mean, each of us has something and a common thread. I noticed that was each person before us this weekend honored their gift by taking time and effort into developing their talents. That may have required seeking out mentors, taking courses, or simply dedicating regular practice to refine those skills. Because remember, our gifts, they're not static. They can be enhanced and expanded with commitment and perseverance. I got a note, though, for anyone who is nervous about adding anything else to their to do list, these gifts don't have to be shared for monetary purposes. Identifying your gifts can really purely be for your own personal development. And as you're on this path to honoring your gift, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, especially with social media, where you can see what this person's doing, that person's doing but true fulfillment really comes from embracing our unique path. Each of us has a different combination of gifts. And our journey is about exploring our own potential and not trying to be someone else. After all, comparison is the thief of joy. I saw this with Tabitha Brown, my sister- my vegan sister in arms, and how I remember hearing how she used to try to mask the Southern accent that is beloved by millions a day through her inspirational videos. I say all that to say, comparing ourselves to others only leads to frustration and a sense of inadequacy. And by honoring our gifts, we can appreciate the value we bring to the world and make a positive impact. Now, I know I'm talking about honoring our gifts, as evidenced by the dynamic ladies in their chosen professions while they were at Essence. But once again, your gifts don't have to be shared for monetary purposes unless you want them to. Identifying your gifts can be to purely add to your own personal development and fulfillment. And when we fully embrace and utilize our unique talents, it brings a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction to our lives. You see, our gifts often align with our passionate interests. We dedicate ourselves to developing and utilizing them. We'll naturally find ourselves engaged in activities that bring us joy and fulfillment. And this engagement creates a positive cycle where we continue to grow and evolve as individuals. It's growth that comes from stepping out of our comfort zones. And sometimes we might hesitate to fully embrace our gifts due to fear or self doubt or analysis paralysis. But when we take risks and push ourselves beyond those perceived limits, we unlock even greater potential within us, embracing that discomfort and challenges where that real growth happens. Our gifts have the power to inspire, uplift and positively influence others. So why not let your light shine? By honoring our gifts, it really gets us a little closer to being Joyfully Black. Because when you're in alignment with your natural talents, which lends itself to your purpose, there's just an ease. And that's what I wish for you and why I just had to share what I learned at Essence Festival this year. And thankfully, the team in Essence is gracious. And some of the festival sessions are available online. I'll share the Color Purple panel and a few others in the show notes.

So, as you go about your day this week, I really want you to reflect on these lessons the power of sisterhood, deciding whether to let the pressures around us, these statistics, motivate or paralyze us, and, of course, honoring your gift. So I hope when you think about the power of sisterhood, you'll reach out to a friend this week, whether by text or phone, check in with her, let her know that you're thinking about her and that you have each other to lean on. I mean, I know even doing this podcast, so much of the support that I get, of course, from my honey, but from my wonderful friends who listen and also folks like you who listen and send encouraging messages of saying how much it's impacting you. And that really helps to keep me encouraged. I'll be honest, that helps keeps me encouraged and making sure that I'm providing a podcast that is really helping you all in your lives as you're on your own path towards mental wellness, self care, and, of course, staying in the Black.

And on that note, this is a reminder that we'll be back with season three and new episodes at the end of September. And in the meantime, just make sure you're following me on Instagram and then also DM me and let me know if there's any special topics that you'd like to hear on Joyfully Black. And if you need a Joyfully Black fix while we're on this break, you can also check out previous episodes at www.joyfullyblack.com. That's joyfullyblk.com. Until next time, stay in the Black, y'all.

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