Changing the culture that leads to domestic violence.

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Black Joy

We are still coming out of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is such a bittersweet time of year- both holding space for and giving honor to those whose lives were stolen by domestic violence, and also celebrating the triumphs of how far we have come in the collective work day to day. DVN’s 33rd Commemoration on the Circle Downtown was a beautiful tribute and heart-wrenching memorial as we celebrated survivors and honored those whose lives were taken due to domestic violence this year. As we continue to do the important prevention work here at DVN through advocacy, education, and collaboration, I am looking forward to the hope that the future brings with the newest iteration of the Community Wide Plan. Though the launch of this new plan does not occur until January of 2024, there are a couple of things I am excited to share about now! The element I am most encouraged to dive deeply into is epigenetics and intergenerational trauma in the Black community. We are unpacking generational trauma and the ways that the trauma our ancestors went through gets passed down in our bodies. The Washington Post article “How does trauma spill from one generation to the next?” provides a helpful definition of this phenomenon: “Intergenerational trauma can stem from biology, learned behaviors and even the collective experiences of a group. Some research suggests that trauma can affect a person’s DNA and potentially influence the health of future generations far removed from the traumatic event.” 

That trauma responses and anxieties and many other struggles most likely get passed down and have tremendously harmful effects on us is a heavy load to bear. I recognize that even when I have not gone through the exact things that my great-grandparents did, I can be and most likely am affected by the ways their brains and bodies were traumatized. Presently, as a Black queer woman, I recognize that these intersections of who I am only compile various traumas into me and others who might identify as such.

The good news? The same article by The Washington Post states that “just as trauma can be passed through generations, so can resilience. But tapping into that resilience often requires a deeper understanding of the original source of the trauma and the routes of transmission through families and society.” The good news is that the generations that have come before me have survived by cultivating illuminous joy and maintaining an unbreakable resilience. These realities are also buried deep into the pathways of my brain and the fibers of my bones.

It is important to recognize that joy looks and feels different in every body. Things that might bring me joy are things that might not bring someone else joy. For me, this powerful resilience and heartwarming joy look like becoming a trauma-informed yoga teacher and connecting to my body and breath and mind, tending to my plants, cuddling with my partner, going on walks with our dog, deep belly laughs, and listening to music. This is the beauty of our humanness: diversity and variety, a uniqueness in the ways we express ourselves and find joy. 

Though trauma, generation after generation, wraps and weaves itself around me like a stubborn weed, JOY is a beautiful and flourishing vine that continues to grow and remain, imprinting resilience and healing and hope into the very threads of my being. Creativity, resilience, and healing are untainted elements that are also embedded into my body. Joy is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a feeling of great pleasure or happiness”, but to me, joy is so much more than that, much more than feelings. I have heard it shared that joy is limitless, a transformative reservoir waiting to be tapped into, a choice to be made. I have seen shirts that say “choose joy” and I have wondered at times- how do I make this choice, how do I choose joy even though I am struggling? How does someone choose joy despite chronic pain or depression or anxiety feeling overwhelming? When conflicts at work or home are stealing so much energy? What about when international crises are happening and feelings of outrage and helplessness are strong? How do we not give up and surrender to the confusion, sadness, overwhelm, stress, and pain? Joy. Joy is an answer. To exist in joy is to resist all of the ways that systemic pressures would otherwise send us to our end. Cultivating joy, borrowing joy from others, manifesting joy, pulling out joy from the depths. This joy is not just inside of me, this joy is also able to be pulled up and out from the inherent resilience of my ancestors. 

What a gift and a priceless inheritance: to seek and find joy by simply going inward. The way that my heart still beats in a steady and perfect rhythm, or the way my lungs can still eagerly inhale and forcefully exhale continues to pour life into my weary bones and discouraged spirit. On my worst days, I can lean into joy. I can find a still moment to sit in a chair with my feet planted on the floor, eyes softly closed. I can place my right hand over my heart and my left hand over my abdomen- inhaling and feeling my belly expand, taking up all the space it deserves to. I can feel my heartbeat, strong, powerful, resilient, just like me. I can tune into my body and notice where I might be carrying a bit of heaviness. I can inhale and send my breath to love on those places that need it most. For more calm because of heightened anxiety, I can inhale less and exhale more. Maybe a count of 4 to inhale and a count of 6 to exhale. I can signal to my body, using my breath and my presence, that I am okay, that I am safe, even when things around me might feel and be the most chaotic. Taking moments to care for myself by simply breathing and noticing that I am breathing. This is resilience. This cultivates joy and allows me to continue pressing forward to see another day. This is the undeniable strength and the beautiful gift of my ancestors. It is the gift I give myself and the gift I want to transfer to others around me.

My encouragement is simple: find your joy. Find something to be grateful for every day. The simplest or smallest things like the sunshine you see outside, or the flowers you walked by on your way to the grocery store. Remember what brings you joy and return back to it as many times as possible. What is something that little you loved as a kid? Go do that! I loved lying on my back in the soft grass and looking up at the bright blue sky and cottony clouds, trying to determine what shape or animal I saw in the passing vapors. And remember that finding and cultivating joy are not band-aids to fix a heavy world. The joy I experience tomorrow will not end systemic harms and cultural violence. The joy that I experience will keep me afloat and aware and tuned into my humanness, which is both tragic and hopeful all at once. So why not go lie in the grass and look at the clouds? Even for 5 minutes. What is the worst thing that could happen if you decide to do something that little you loved? I dare you to go and find your joy like your life depends on it. Because well, it does.


By Rebecca Berry


DVN Director of Strategic Initiatives