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Session 258: The Importance of Black Joy

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

Where in your body do you carry joy? Isn’t that a profoundly beautiful but maybe also difficult to answer question? But it’s an important one and one I want you to spend some time thinking about. To help us dig a little deeper into what Black joy is and why it’s important, this weel I’m joined by Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggets, the author of Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration. Tracey and I chatted about how to get in touch with joy, why joy can sometimes be hard to access, the importance of Black joy, particularly when things are difficult, and she shares a beautiful excerpt from her book.


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Session 258: The Importance of Black Joy

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 258 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the conversation after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: Where in your body do you carry joy? Isn't that a profoundly beautiful but maybe also difficult to answer question? But it's an important one and one I want you to spend some time thinking about. To help us dig a little deeper into what black joy is and why it's important, today I'm joined by Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggets, the author of Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration. Tracey and I chatted about how to get in touch with joy, why joy can sometimes be hard to access, the importance of black joy, particularly when things are difficult, and she shared a beautiful excerpt from her book. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: I'm so happy to be chatting with you today, Tracey.

Tracey: I am so excited to be here.

Dr. Joy: So, so excited, so we will get started. I'd love for you to begin by saying a little bit about what inspired you to write and release the collection of essays that you have in this book.

Tracey: I think the initial inspiration was the work that I had been doing myself in therapy. I had been working with a therapist about grief and trauma and doing some deep trauma work, and she posed a question to me that I couldn't answer, as therapists are wont to do. Which is, what does joy feel like in your body? At the big age of 40-something, I could not answer her. I knew that I'd experienced joy but I couldn't touch it, I couldn't access it. That began the long work of being intentional, of figuring out what joy felt like and creating moments of joy and I happened to write one essay that I had about joy with my daughter in the rain, dancing. And that was published and then that began the whole journey to this book.

Dr. Joy: I love that. You've talked before about how connecting with your daughter's joy has really helped you to have a fuller experience. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Tracey: Absolutely. She is what I often call the freer version of myself. There's a lot that in the stuff that I gathered over the years (that I'd learned how to tamp down or parts of myself that I learned to hide) that she doesn't have. She doesn't have those boundaries, those fences if you will. And so oftentimes I look to her for what liberation and joy can be. It just so happens in that one instance, we were trying to stop our greenhouse from flying away in the middle of a storm and it started to rain, and she started dancing and I started dancing. It was spontaneous, we were having our Gen Z-Gen X battle, and I think at that moment, to be able to say oh wow! To connect the freedom to the joy that we were having in that moment.

She is my little mirror and I get to see how joy plays out for her and how intentional–she is so intentional about her joy. Every day she writes the things that she really would love to do and she writes in her joys. Not her schoolwork, but she writes in “make waffles with mommy” or writes in “I want to go play at the park” and she's intentional about it and it taught me to be intentional. Today, I am going to... Whatever my joy looks like for that day.

Dr. Joy: I love that. This is me now trying to sneak some free parenting advice from you, Tracey. I often feel like there is a very undue burden on us as black parents around how to really protect our kids’ joy. It feels like we have to have some very difficult conversations with them. I feel way too early, but it is also in their best interest to have the conversations early, just around stuff like racism and stuff. I would love to hear from you how you are working to try to also protect that joy for her.

Tracey: I am definitely a work in progress when it comes to that. I have a lot of grace for my parents and my grandparents who were harder on us because of the fear of what could happen once we stepped outside their doors. I don't think I've always had that grace. But as a parent now, all of those sensations, all those thoughts that I have about how they're going to receive her freedom when she steps outside my door, it's scary. There has to be a balance. I mean, we've had racial violence hit pretty close to our home and so I've had to have those hard conversations with her about why someone thought it was okay to enter a grocery store and kill our elder cousin. That's hard, hard and it's mostly hard because I have not yet worked out my own grief around it and so now I am tasked with helping her navigate her grief.

I think the biggest thing, I don't know if I have parenting advice to give except to say that the communication lines are constantly open. There was one instance where my daughter was having a tough day and there wasn't a whole lot that I could offer her except hugs and kisses and love because she was just not having a good day, like many of us. But I heard her in her room. I happened to be in another part of the house but I heard her saying “I am calm, I am safe, I am well.” She was saying it over and over again and that's a mantra that I had taught her, that she'd seen me do when I was having a tough day. I think the biggest thing is keeping those lines of communication open and also trusting that they are listening and hearing and taking it in. That's where I am right now with this preteen. It might change in five years when she's 16!

Dr. Joy: Understandable! At the start of your book, you feature a Toni Morrison quote: There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. Which is such a beautiful and powerful quote. I'd love to hear what about that quote resonated with you, enough for it to be at the start of your book.

Tracey: I think in the moments when I allowed myself to sit in the fear of what it would mean to put this very intimate collection of stories out into the world, Toni Morrison's quote (and her body of work in general) was a reminder of why it was necessary or is necessary. Because there were moments writing this book where I’m like I don’t know if I should put this out, or I'm giving so much of myself in this book in order to talk about what joy looks like and how it lives alongside all of these other big emotions and feelings we have. I think I had to keep coming back to that quote, like we do language. As artists, as writers, it is our responsibility, our task to chronicle, document what is going on in our world and also to use the art as a way to help people heal as we're navigating whatever it is going on. Today, it's a pandemic and racial unrest. Yesterday, it was another thing or it was all those things. I think that was why it was important for me to open the book with that because I want everyone to be reminded of that also, that this is what we do. We do language, we tell the stories, even the ones that are very hard to tell.

Dr. Joy: You have been, I feel like, a lean mean writing machine for like the past year plus, even though you've been doing it much longer. I wonder how this collection of essays is different than the other work that you’ve produced this year.

Tracey: It's very different in that I think with this, because I was telling so many stories from my own life, I felt a kind of liberation on the page that I have not felt before. I gave myself permission to just tell it and to be as vulnerable as I possibly could. Not in an effort to spill the tea or write or to get back at maybe people in my life, but mostly to get it out of me. And also to help other people realize that they are not alone in the journey and that joy is still possible. As a matter of fact, it is our birthright. And that it can live alongside all this other stuff you might be feeling in this moment.

It was very different. Some of the essays were written in different forms prior to the book deal. But even going back into the essays that maybe have been written in some other form, I still put something different on it. I don't even know if I know like the language for what that something was but I just came to the page very open to hearing what I needed to say. That's something that I can't say I necessarily did in my previous work–or maybe I did in like small doses but not in this sort of surrendering stance that I had when I've set aside writing this book.

Dr. Joy: If you feel comfortable sharing, Tracey. I can imagine writing a book that feels this personal and you've already talked about like working through some stuff with your therapist, which is how this whole thing opened up also. Were there pieces of the book that you found yourself writing and then having to go back to your therapist to talk about? Like what was that process of working with a therapist at the same time as you're writing this very personal collection?

Tracey: For sure. My therapist probably knows every story in this book, whether she's read them or not because sometimes I would even bring small passages to her and we would talk about what it brought up in me to write that. That was very helpful because sometimes when you're writing very intimate details, you can get kind of lost in the sauce. I mean, this still needed to be a book that people could gain some... It's not prescriptive, but there is like an instructive quality to it. Like I had to be able to come out of that story and be able to say, where is the joy in this? How was I able to access it? And that had to be a very real thing that I wrote and sometimes I didn't get there until I brought it to my therapist. My therapist was very much an integral part of this writing process for me. I don't think I could have gotten to the end of the book, had I not had those weekly sessions.

Dr. Joy: I love that. I love that it was a supportive place for you to work through some of that stuff. Looking back, is there anything that you left out of the book that you now wish you would have put in there?

Tracey: I can't say there's anything that I left out (because I got a lot in it) that I would have put in. There are still some essays and chapters that make me like a little nervous. I don't think there's anything I would have taken out and I don't think there's anything I would put in. There are 36 essays in the book, there were about 40 that I wrote. There were some that I held back but the reasons for that were just about the flow of the three movements–resistance, resilience and restoration–and not necessarily about any fear I had or anything like that.

Dr. Joy: Got it. I wonder if you can just give us a basic definition of what joy looks like and feels like to you.

Tracey: In 2019, I had a severe health crisis that came on the heels of my elder cousin being murdered, doing a lot of racial reconciliation and diversity, equity, inclusion work on the campus where I taught. My body was just like, listen, we done, sit down. For eight months, I was pretty much in the bed, getting a bunch of tests done and all those kinds of things, as I was simultaneously going to therapy and doing this work. When she asked me that, we really focused on the embodiment of joy, the somatic experience of joy. For me, joy in my body feels like this warmth in my chest, it feels like a tingling in my stomach. There's the rising excitement that almost gives me goosebumps. Like I was very intentional (I keep using that word but I feel like that's appropriate) about really spelling out what joy feels like in my body.

When I went back to my therapist and I said “I got it, I got it, this is what it feels like,” she's like, okay, now you have a screenshot, a snapshot of what joy feels like so that when those other emotions are super big in your body–like rage, like grief–you have something you can access it. Same way if I said, Dr. Joy, what does anger feel like in your body? Most people can answer that, they can tell you. Or what does sorrow feel like? But sometimes it's harder to like pinpoint joy. For me, being able to understand what the embodiment of joy feels like is step one. Being able to call it up is step two for me. To be able to access it and be like, okay, I remember how I felt when I watched This is Us (because that's my jam.)

Dr. Joy: That's interesting that you describe that as joyful. Because it is great but it also is very sad at the same time.

Tracey: You know, the thing is the storytelling. Like I'm a writer so it's like, oh, like what are they going to do? Are they going to like...? I get so invested in how they craft the story, and that is exciting to me. So that if I am having a low day or a dark day, I will go to that memory about how I felt when Randall did such and such to Beth and it works. Like it doesn't take away the grief, it doesn't take away the rage, but it kind of right sizes me in that moment so I'm not going off the deep end. For me, joy is all of those physical, the adrenaline, the dopamine rush, all of those things. And for me as a black woman, it is all those things within the context of living in this melanin and what that entails–which is the reason why the black on black joy really does matter to me.

Dr. Joy: Why do you think it is often so difficult for us to recall what joy feels like, as opposed to really understanding what sorrow and grief and all those things feel like?

Tracey: For me, honestly, (Dr. Joy got me telling the truth here) I think it's because I didn't feel I was worthy of joy. I think there's a part of me that pushed it down. Like I'm not one that believes that joy is something we have to go out and find or that we have to conjure up. Maybe conjure but not in the way that often that's used, as if it's something outside of us. For me, joy is always present with my rage and my grief and my love and all those emotions. It's just that I have to make room for it, I’ve got to pack down beneath all the other big emotions of rage and grief and sorrow, and those are easily accessible.

Especially as black people, people of color. If you have enough experiences and encounters around race, it could feel like daily microaggressions, the constant trauma porn that we see on the social media, the constant conflict that we have to maybe engage with personally, it could feel so big that, yes, I can describe rage because I'm there most of the time. Yes, I can describe sorrow because I'm so deeply sad about X, Y and Z. Joy feels like something that is not accessible or that we're not worthy of. For me, that's why I went to the therapist. He would take me back to a point in time in my childhood where like, when was the first time you recognized joy? For me, I felt like joy was taken from me and so I had been striving to try to make room for it ever since but in really odd and destructive ways. I think to answer your question, the other emotions feel so very present in our bodies and in our minds that joy often, we either don't believe we're worthy of it or we just can't see it in the moment.

Dr. Joy: You know, the other thing that I've run into is people feeling guilty about joy. Especially when things feel really difficult like they have for like the past two plus years. Like there's so much grief, so much sadness, there's war, there's so much going on that it often feels guilty for people to kind of tap into things that are light hearted. But I think it's important for us to remember that that is what helps us to float in the difficult moments. You talk about like being able to recall a scene or something that made you have one of those deep belly laughs, like that is important for that reason.

Tracey: Absolutely. That guilt piece is huge. I had a conversation with someone and they were saying that sometimes they feel guilty because their ancestors, their great grandmother didn't have the options that they have. Our ancestors are rooting for us. They want us to have these feelings and emotions that maybe they weren't able to tap in. And also, they knew how to tap into it despite! Like they were the ones that taught us the resilience that we now kind of identify with. And so, yeah, the guilt piece is huge. I remember 2020 professionally for me was a great year and how do I say that? How do I say it was a great year for me? I cracked down doors and did this. How do I say that, knowing full well that people lost so much in that first year of the pandemic? So I get that, one hundred percent.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. I know you and I have also had conversations around how to protect that. In what spaces can you share like, oh, I actually had a really good year against the backdrop of so many other things going on or people losing their jobs. Can you say more about how you also work to protect those things that feel joyful to you?

Tracey: Yeah. I think one of the things I emphasize–I'm not just emphasizing this because I'm on Therapy for Black Girls–therapy is the thing that was my constant reminder. When I would go off on a tangent about how I felt like some friends weren't really able to embrace what was happening to me in the moment or whatever, she would remind me that I don't have to be ashamed of, I don't have to hold back. But that I can set boundaries as to who is actually safe enough for me to share this joy with. I think I'm still learning that, I think I'm still trying to figure out and be okay with some spaces not being the space where I can say all the things I'm thinking, all the things I'm feeling. But from our conversation, that's where my sister friends come in, that's where my girlfriends in the group chat... My group chat, despite what everybody's going on, when the book came out, folks was just like, yo, I was in Target, I saw it. I took a picture, here you go! Like people were cheering me on and so that gave me the safety that I maybe could not have expressed it somewhere else.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Tracey after the break.


Dr. Joy: You talk a lot in the book about your relationship with your sister friends and your grandmother and your aunties and other black women. I'd love to hear you talk a little bit more about how your connections with other black women have been a space for joy for you.

Tracey: Absolutely. I think I first observed it in my grandmother. When I was like two or three years old, my grandmother watched me while my mother went to work. She had a girlfriend, Miss Violet, who was fabulous. Miss Violet would come over, face beat to the gods, and they would laugh and cackle and talk about like Young and The Restless and play Stevie Wonder and The Miracles, and they just had this dynamic.

It's me at 40-something looking back in hindsight, I don't think I recognized at two and three what was happening. But now that I know the backstories, now that I know what my grandmother might have been going through and the stories that are not so great, it makes that observation of her girlfriend dynamic richer. Because I understand that that was her safe space, that was the place where she could lay her burdens down, so to speak. For me, that was a starting point. My dynamic with black women over the years has always been me seeking that safe experience and sometimes I've had that and sometimes I have not. I joined sorority, I've done all of the things that we do as black women, but I think it's only been within the last decade or so that I can say that I've been able to create or craft these relationships that feel really safe and really wondrous in all the ways that black girl relationships, sisterhoods are. And I'm grateful for that.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. You mentioned earlier the importance of black on black joy. Can you say more about what that is?

Tracey: I get a lot of comments from people outside of the culture or community. Like why do you have to put black and race on joy? Why can't we just have joy? The way that I clarify that or define it is joy is a universal thing that all human beings have access to. It's our birthright. But black joy is all of those wonderful things within the context of the very specific experience I have as a black woman, black people have in this country, in this world. I don't choose to ignore the residue of the transatlantic slave trade or Jim Crow or any of these things that we've experienced. What I learned and what was exciting about writing this book was that our ancestors been knowing, like they’ve been knowing how to access that joy. The old hymn: This joy I have, the world didn't give it and the world can't take it away. This undercurrent of joy, even when black happiness wasn't accessible.

I make the distinction in the book between happiness and joy. Like happiness is this temporary, momentary thing, sometimes it's external. Whereas joy is the undercurrent that can always be present, even when the situation or the circumstances aren't particularly happy. Our ancestors understood that and they understood how to move those more traumatic experiences through their body. They would rock back and forth in church, they would wind and do their thing at the juke joint, like all of these ways. They just didn't have the language of bilateral stimulation. They didn’t have that but they intuitively understood that joy was theirs, they could access it, and nobody could take it from them. If that meant hand games on the plantation, where they got touch and intimacy in a way that wasn't exactly seen as that, then that's what they did. The black on black joy matters because it's a particular and distinct experience in context that lives outside of the general experience.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I think we see it in so many different forms now. Like I think the clearest example is the jokes from Black Twitter any time something ridiculous happens. It is very much like this shared language and I live for those days because you know the memes are gonna be so hilarious. I think that there are some very particular ways that we continue to do that with one another.

Tracey: Absolutely, it's distinct. That can't be duplicated in any other realm. What Black Twitter does with like Thanksgiving at a black family’s house. And like how we all have different experiences but somehow there's this thread. Black people aren't monolithic but we know blackness when we see it and like that's what's being pulled through those tweets, pulled through all of the memes and stuff. It feels like community, even though it's big and it is global and all that.

Dr. Joy: How do you want people to understand and engage with Black Joy?

Tracey: Good question. I think I want people to read this book and decide or maybe even just understand that the pathway to healing is very much connected to how we experience or access our joy. I have these three movements–like black joy is resistance, resilience and restoration–but the biggest chunk of the book is around resilience and restoration. It’s around healing. It’s around like if we never saw the issue of racism and our black joy as far as it being something that we wield as resistance, takes a long time for us to see like the fruit of that. It is immediately an opportunity for us to heal from some of the traumatic things that we experience as black people. I think I want us who read this to begin that work of identifying what joy feels like in their body and being able to call it up and then being intentional about riding in their joy and making it a priority because it expands you. Joy makes you bigger so that the rage and the grief and the other stuff can't take as much space because you've made room in your body and in your mind and in your heart and your spirit for joy to take up more space. But there's work that you have to do up to that point and so that's what I hope.

For those who don't identify as black, I tell a story to describe what I hope for nonblack readers. That is that when I lived in Philadelphia, we used to go to a Greek Festival. Me, my husband and my daughter, we loved this Greek Festival. The dancing, the food was delicious, we enjoyed it so much, but we never decided to take the stage and dance alongside them. We never told the person who was making the baklava that maybe they should add a little bit more this or that to it. We simply sat in the presence of this cultural experience, enjoyed it, ate well, laughed, but we didn't try to center ourselves in that experience. That's what I hope for nonblack readers because there are some universal themes around joy that they can gather, but that also that they can sit in admiration of how our joy shows up.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Tracey after the break.


Dr. Joy: You already have referenced the we've been knowing kind of thing. Chapter Eight of your book is called We've Always Known: Black Somatic Experiencing. Before you give us a treat and read a little bit from that chapter, I’d love to hear why you felt like it was important to write about the ways that our bodies intersect and interact with trauma.

Tracey: I think first and foremost, because I had a very distinct experience. When I was sick for those eight or nine months, the one thing that held me down, once I had exhausted all the movies on Netflix, I started watching standup comedy shows back to back. Random, people I would have never watched before, but it was something about like the laughter. Every day, I’d turn on one or two standup comedy specials and I would laugh. And in those moments, I felt better, the pain was less. I began to recognize the power of my laughter and humor and joy in that moment and so I knew that I had to talk about it. One thing I didn't want to do was to position it like it was something new, like it was like, oh, I have this big revelation about joy. As I began to do research, I realized, no, my ancestors had been doing this. This is the basis of how we've survived and thrived since we've been brought to these shores. That was like the main two reasons I think that I wanted to write about it.

Dr. Joy: Will you read us an excerpt?

Tracey: I will. I just talked to you about doing the research and like trying to understand how I was processing my own trauma but then also like how our ancestors had been knowing. That's where I'll start here.

I learned about the real ways disease is fueled by trauma. I could finally connect the dots between the PTSD I already lived with, the breakneck speed at which I was working, the racial violence that had recently touched my family, and my body’s complete breakdown. But before I could throw a pity party and cry out, “Why me?” I shifted my reading and conversations to the ways in which the body can also restore itself. The way movement and meditation can shift the nervous system back into a healing state.

And it all sounded incredibly familiar.

Everything I was uncovering was made real in the stories I’d hear of late-night country juke joints where the swaggy twists and lusty grinding of bodies to the rhythm of their blues gave an inexplicable relief to a people who held back their grief out of fear of White terror and disregard. It was made real in my memories of church ladies rocking back and forth, front and back, in the Black churches of my childhood. The way they stomped a hole in the floor and screamed out in pure elation or agony, depending on the Sunday. I’ve come to realize that they instinctually knew how to move that trauma out of their bodies.

We gravitated to things like dance and sports and music, not just because that’s what White folks allowed us access to, not just because we were forced at one point to entertain them, but because, in a way, it was our saving grace. It was physiologically the way we healed ourselves and maybe that’s how we were able to not only survive with our humanity intact, but also retain our joy.

There’s something about the old hymns. The way those mothers of the church would sway to a beat provided by Sunday shoes and wooden canes. It’s like they knew. They didn’t have the fancy language, the academic jargon for it. They didn’t do any research on somatic experiencing and how moving the body in certain ways can help alter how trauma functions in the body or move it out entirely. They didn’t study polyvagal theory or read The Body Keeps the Score, so they didn’t tell folks that the quivering of their lips or the rocking side to side was creating bilateral stimulation which would later be proven to calm a person experiencing trauma-related anxiety. They just had the song. The rhythm. The meditation that came in the form of a repeated chorus or ad lib. The call-and-response that allowed them not only to talk back but also to talk it out. And in talking it out, even in vague “Hallelujahs” or dubious “Let him use yas,” they didn’t have to hold it. The pew was the canvas that could hold whatever they left there.

They knew.

Dr. Joy: When you said you were gonna read an excerpt, I did not know that you were gonna give us a word and a sermon on this here podcast. Beautiful! You know, as you were reading, before you would get to the point about like polyvagal theory, I'm thinking of this! Like, oh, this is what this is. You've already said we have been doing this before we had language for this and so when we talk about like all these New Age healing practices, they're really not so new age because we've had them all along. Like our ancestors have given this to us and have demonstrated this for us and we're really just kind of tapping back into it.

Tracey: Absolutely, and I want us to connect the dots. I want us to understand that what we're doing now with this idea of therapy, which back then was the kitchen table or the salon, that this isn't new and that our ancestors are like “go, run on, get healed.” Go on, baby. That's what they're saying to us. And that it's okay, we don't have to feel guilty.

Dr. Joy: At what point, Tracey, did you notice that the experiences you were having in terms of like the headaches and the triggers and the things in your body... At what point did you know that those were connected to traumatic experiences?

Tracey: Honestly, I did not know until I was on the table of an acupuncturist, getting what I thought would be just acupuncture services for pain. Like just to help me manage the pain of what I was going through. My acupuncturist took the needle–and I have been getting acupuncture so I wasn't scared of the needles or anything like that. She put a needle right near the clavicle or like around my shoulder. And when she put the needle in, I immediately wailed, I cried, I sobbed. It's funny to talk about it now because I was sobbing but I was also like looking at her like, what's going on? What's happening to me? I don't know what's happening. That was the first time. She said this is common, that sometimes people, I will hit a point and people will cry because there may have been some trauma or something that was trapped in the body. That was the first time. I had talked about it, I had read about it, I'd said, oh, yeah, “mind-body connection,” but that made it so real to me that there was something in my body that needed to be let out. I cried so hard but when I got finished crying, I felt such a huge relief. So that was the first moment.

Dr. Joy: You've already given us such a beautiful excerpt and there are other examples in the book of you writing so colorfully about like dance and church experiences and all of those things. Can you say a little bit more about how movement and different kinds of practices help you to address stored trauma? Like what kinds of things do you do?

Tracey: What I'm doing right now (which seems so simple but it's not easy for me) is I'm walking daily. I felt like this call, I guess, to walk, but I would do it for like a week and then stop for like some months. But what I'm finding is the walking... and my therapist said that's bilateral stimulation, your legs are moving back and forth. I felt such a calm, it was almost like a meditation for me. Yoga has been extremely helpful with moving stuff around in my body. And dancing, like me and my daughter we get fit in. We’ll turn on something, she knows all the songs from the 90s because she has Old Mawmaw. So we will dance and break it down and I find that the movement is so healing for me.

It's interesting because on the other side of it, it's stillness. The two things that feel very healing for me and allow me to be able to make room for joy in my life, feel very opposite. It is movement and it is stillness and being okay with the quiet in my mind as well as around me. But I move just to get the quiet. I'm determined to maintain stillness, but at the same time, movement has been an important part of that also.

Dr. Joy: You talked earlier, Tracey, about protecting your joy and like how only certain people can hold that for you. You also wrote in the book about choosing joy might mean leaving a place or a person that no longer serves you. I think that this is something that we often hear black women talk about, at least a little bit more commonly now. Which really is kind of setting boundaries but I'm curious to hear like what that process has been like for you. Because it feels very easy to kind of say, but I think it's much more difficult in practice. Can you say a little bit about what that's been like for you?

Tracey: Much more difficult. It's very challenging. I am a clingy person, you know. My personality is one that wants to hold on and that's for all the nouns–person, people, places and things. On the flip side of that, I think that I've also been one of those type of people that does things afraid. Even though there's fear around letting something go or leaving a place, if I have a clear call or understanding that I need to do a thing, I'll do it despite that fear, despite what I might be feeling in that moment. That's everything from leaving Louisville, Kentucky at 21 with $300 in my pocket and a budget rental van filled with my grandmother's furniture and moving to Chicago, the Southside of Chicago, with the hopes of something. I don't even know what I was hoping for. The migrations, my own personal migrations that I've had, have been all about being willing to let go even when I didn't want to.

With people, it's much more challenging for me because I tend to want to extend grace and give people the benefit of doubt. Also me recognizing that sometimes letting go isn't about this person did a bad thing to me. Sometimes it is just about it’s time, that the relationship has reached its natural end or its natural pause. One of the things that I talk about, choosing joy might mean leaving but it also does not necessarily mean that you won't return. And so me leaving Louisville and then I came back 20 some odd years later to kind of make peace with some of the reasons why I left, but I had to be ready for that. We have to be ready for that return piece of it.

Yeah, I'm glad that's the conversation that black women nowadays are more willing to set those boundaries because we've needed to. We hold up our mothers and our grandmothers and our great aunties for like sticking it out and holding on, but we don't often realize that they had different choices and sometimes they didn't have the choices. They lived during a time where a woman couldn't even get a bank account, couldn't even buy a home. I would argue that great grandmother is like, “Girl, you better go on. I couldn't but you can go.”

Dr. Joy: As we wrap up, I want to do some kind of rapid fire, but not super rapid fire questions. Just to kind of close this out. How do we translate resistance to joy?

Tracey: It's when we are strategically wielding our joy for a greater purpose. The example is the protests of Summer 2020. In the midst of like confrontation, there was also laughter and singing and it's a defiance. Like this is a part of my humanity you can't take away from me.

Dr. Joy: How do we translate resilience?

Tracey: That's that bounce back thing that black folks just have. Like we have had the worst done to us and yet we're still here. Which means that individually, we all have the power to come back from, overcome, transform, whatever challenges we might have.

Dr. Joy: How do we translate restoration?

Tracey: Restoration is all about healing. There is this power that joy has to soothe, to calm, to help us see bigger than the problems that might be ever present, and so it is a mechanism for healing whatever it is that we might be going through.

Dr. Joy: What words of advice or encouragement do you have for people who feel like they haven't tapped into the joy in their lives?

Tracey: I would say that it's okay. Number one, grace yourself and understand that you've been surviving and that's okay. But now we want to move past survival into a life of intention and agency and all those. Joy has never left you, you just have to do the work of digging it up and accessing it. But it's not out there, it's still very much in you.

Dr. Joy: Beautiful. Where can we find you, Tracey, and where can we find a copy of Black Joy?

Tracey: Black Joy is available everywhere books are sold, preferably black-owned independent bookstores if you can. An entry point to finding me is I'm on Instagram and and Facebook as @TMLGwriter or Twitter @TMLewis and that's where you can get me.

Dr. Joy: Perfect, and we will be sure to include all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining me, Tracey.

I'm so glad Tracey was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and to grab a copy of her book, be sure to visit the show notes at 258. And be sure to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now.

If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at

And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here