Black In Neuro Week is upon us, a time when my Twitter feed fills with faces that feel remarkably familial. With each #BlackInNeuroRollCall post, my heart swells with pride, knowing that my love for and fascination with the brain is felt in deep measure by others just like me, and feeling seen in spaces where I once felt invisible. What a gift it is to bear witness to excellence.
This year, I had the honour of being asked to host a podcast episode as part of Black In Neuro Week 2021. When I first received the invitation, I was equal parts humbled and petrified. I wondered if I would meet the expectations of the stellar BIN executive board and organising team, if I would be able to create a safe enough space where our guests would feel comfortable to share their deeply personal stories with me, with each other, and with the greater BIN community. I felt the jitters of self-doubt the night before we were due to record, so I said a short prayer that our featured guests would feel the purity of my intention during our conversation. More than anything, I wanted them to feel seen and heard.
After a night’s sleep, the day of our recording session arrived. After introducing myself to our incredible guests—Shanice Bailey, Mani-Jade Garcia, and D Young—we hit the record button. Our subsequent conversation was the most organic and therapeutic conversation I’ve had in a little while, and I loved every single minute of it. I found myself steeping in their responses, wanting to fully absorb Shanice’s, Mani-Jade’s, and D’s words of wisdom.
I encourage you to do the same as you listen to their stories.
The transcript of our conversation has been prepared for accessibility purposes, with minor edits for clarity and brevity.
(Black In Neuro jingle)
Dr Asma Bashir (she/her): Hello world, and welcome to our celebration of Black In Neuro Intersections, or BINtersections. Today, we are honoured to bring you a special podcast episode in honour of Black In Neuro Week 2021. I’m your host, Dr Asma Bashir, and today we'll be celebrating intersecting identities and experiences as Black and queer, Black and disabled, Black and first-gen, Black women, Black immigrants, Black parents, and more.
I’d like to start to by paying homage to Kimberlé Crenshaw who first coined the term ‘intersectionality’ in 1989, describing how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics intersect, interplay, and overlap with one another.
We are thrilled to have three incredible guests who will be sharing their own stories with us. Shanice Bailey (she/her) is a Black woman of Caribbean descent who is nearing the end of her first year as a PhD student in Systems Neuroscience at University College London, in the UK.
Mani-Jade Garcia (he/they) is a Black-Indigenous-Latinx abolitionist, science communicator, and PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology exploring the relationship between Indigenous healing practices and mental health. Mani-Jade also works as an educator for the Racial Trauma Center at Genesee Valley Psychology, and as a researcher and evaluator with Social Insights Research.
Demarrius Young Jr. (he/him), also known as D, is a legally-blind Black man who just started medical school at Howard University College of Medicine.
First and foremost, I want to welcome all of you to our conversation, which I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time now. Thank you all for having this conversation with me.
Let’s start with our first question of the day. What does Black In Neuro mean to you?
Shanice, would you like to go first?
Shanice Bailey (she/her): To me, Black In Neuro means community. It means presence. It means empowerment. Actually, before summer 2020, I only knew about three Black neuroscientists, two of which were students—a Master’s student and a PhD student.
AB: Mmm. How about you, D?
Demarrius Young Jr (he/him): Going off of what Shanice said, it was—for me—community. I actually kind of fell into neuroscience research. Basically, I got a call when I was a sophomore in college about an internship that I applied for, like, six months before. I just happened to fall in love with it. I don't think before last summer, I met a Black person who also did neuroscience, so it was really cool to see all these different people in different places doing these cool things that I was interested in. And at that point I was pretty much interested in everything. It was really cool to see that community come together, especially online, during what was happening at that time, with the social uprising, the death of George Floyd, the death of Breonna Taylor, things like that. It was cool to see a community come together.
AB: Very much so. How about you, Mani-Jade? What does Black In Neuro mean to you?
Mani-Jade Garcia (he/they): To me, Black In Neuro is so much. It's belonging. It's a feeling of hope, joy, home, rebirth. When I discovered Black In Neuro, I was just back on social media after a long break, going through—in my personal and professional life—lots of change and feeling very lost, and invisible.
Although I'm in Clinical Psychology, I have a neuroscience background, starting back in 2008, so I was really disconnected from the neuroscience community, and I was back on social media to actually expose racism in my former PhD program. [I] found Black In Neuro and found all of that joy, and hope, and positivity. And I feel like that really put me on a different path, because I felt like I could bring my full self to the community. I could engage with, as other people have mentioned, so many Black people from all over the world, interested in the same things that I was. I felt safe, and eventually because of that, that led to me getting involved with Black In Mental Health and Black In Data.
Eventually, when I needed material help because I went through a period of homelessness and not having a job in 2020 for several months, half the year, because I had built up such a feeling of community and felt trust, I decided to ask for help for the first time in a big way and did a GoFundMe campaign. The result was that I'm in this home now, where I'm able to do so much that I wasn't able to do before. So, for me, I can't say enough good things about Black In Neuro. For me that was like being out in the ocean and finding a buoy that was floating with some light on it, that really showed me that I still had a future and hope ahead of me.
AB: Wow, I could shed tears right now for that answer. I'm so happy to hear that you're doing well now, Mani-Jade, and I'm so happy to hear the responses of both Shanice and D as well because they speak to my experiences. I heard themes of safety and comfort, and I know that that was something that I was searching for as well last year, given everything that was taking place.
We should probably talk a little bit about the intersectional identities that we all have so that our audience knows, and they're aware. If there are people who identify similarly, then they can say, ‘Oh, that's cool! They're like me!’ And if not, I think it's a great way to also build allyship, so that people humanise individuals who might be different than [themselves].
I'll start—I am a Black Muslim woman. I wear the Muslim headscarf—the hijab. My indigenous roots are in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. I guess those are all of my identities. We'll stop there for now. Could everyone else briefly tell us about your identities, your respective identities?
SB: I am a Black Christian woman of Jamaican descent. So, both my parents are Jamaican. My grandparents are actually part of the Windrush generation. I think that's it.
AB: Who wants to go next?
DY: I'll go next. I am a legally-blind Black male. I'd also like to throw in that I'm from a very low SES family. I have albinism of the skin, hair, and eyes; the latter is actually what causes the legal blindness. I [also] want to throw in a definition: legal blindness is defined as vision that's 20/200 with corrections, so I've had surgery and I also wear glasses.
AB: Okay, thank you for sharing. And you, Mani-Jade?
MJG: I identify is Black-Indigenous-Latinx. My family is from Puerto Rico, but I grew up in New Mexico. I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, and I was a Jehovah's Witness until I was 30 years old, so we were missionaries and we moved around a lot.
I grew up near Mexican culture (Laughter), so I don't identify very strongly with Puerto Rican culture, on top of the fact that the word ‘Puerto Rico’ is a colonizer description, so for now I've just broken the identities out into the individual components. I identify most strongly with being Black. And then I also identify as a Two-Spirit person in gender, and that's a newer development that I'm open about this year.
AB: I'm so happy to hear that you're exploring that. Thank you all for sharing your identities and the intersections of all of your identities. Now my next question is, in what spaces do you feel you can best express all aspects of your identity? Every single thing that we've talked about, how does it crescendo into a space where you can be 100% yourself?
DY: I can start if everybody’s okay with that.
DY: I would say the space that I feel most comfortable in would probably be like—how do I put this... I grew up not necessarily in the projects or anything like that but definitely low-income areas, and that's where I feel most comfortable with all my identities, because that’s just how I grew up. Those are the people that I was around the most, the people who I grew up with. They accepted me. We played together. We went to school together. We did everything together.
Different people have different names. I like to call it the hood, other people like ghetto, hills, slums, bottoms. Whatever people like to call it, that's where I feel most comfortable, and that's where I feel like I can express all of my identities.
AB: May I ask a follow-up question?
AB: Where did you grow up?
DY: I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.
AB: And how often do you get to go back? I assume now you're based in and around Howard University campus, right?
DY: Yes, I actually don't get to go home very often, just because before I was in school, I was actually doing research, and everybody who does research understands you just don't get to take time off, you miss a lot of stuff. I maybe got to go home once every two [or] three years just because it's so hard to take time off. But now, I'm back up to once a year, so I'm pretty happy about that.
AB: That's good; so, you were able to go back in 2021 hopefully?
DY: I was able to go back in 2020, I spent about a little bit under a month with my mom [from] Thanksgiving to Christmas.
AB: That’s good.
DY: Very happy for that.
AB: Happy to hear that as well.
DY: Thank you.
AB: How about Shanice? Where do you feel you can best express all aspects of your identity? I'm sorry I keep on making Mani-Jade last! How about you go second this time?
MJG: Either way works for me! (Laughter) There are two places so far. One is, I work for a research company called Social Insights Research, led by Black woman, and that environment is the most safe I’ve felt ever in a work environment, to just be really open and bring my full self to work, to the interactions that we have. That's a very pleasant experience.
The other one happened recently, and that was at the BlackInX Inaugural Conference. I held a ‘Joyful Healing Space’ event. We did some singing, stretching, meditation, and discussion. That really felt like 100% Mani-Jade (laughter) was there at that event, and that just happened, so it's a relatively new experience for me to feel like I can really truly be present all the way.
AB: I am so happy that you brought that up because I was there for the ‘Joyful Healing’ session at the BlackInX Conference and, wow! What a transcendent, beautiful experience that was! But let's move to Shanice: where do you feel you can best express all aspects of your identity?
SB: Definitely with friends and family, but a more recent space where I felt able to express my full identity is when I'm with friends in the African-Caribbean Research Collective. This is a group that was established last year, because a report came out saying that out of almost 20,000 studentships awarded across the UK by UKRI (UK Research Institute), only 30 of them were awarded to Caribbeans. Those 30 took to social media and basically found each other, and through that this group was established. It's essentially a support group and we meet once a week just to talk about how everything has been that week. We laugh together, we cry together. It's just a space where you can be seen and understood.
AB: I think we're all searching for that, so to have that is such a blessing. I like that each and every one of you have that space. Alright, next question: What are some of the positive experiences or opportunities you've had because of your intersections? Then we can dabble in what might some of the challenges be, but let's start with the good. What are the things that have happened to you, because you happen to identify with a particular group of people and associate with a particular group of people?
MJG: I can start. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to be Black as in the last year. (Laughter) I get to partake in all of this Black In Neuro, Black In Mental Health, Black In Data, Black In X, and I really want to emphasise the leadership of Black women because I think I've really been able to enjoy that. And feel what it feels like to be led by Black women and their thinking, their approach to life, and their epistemology, you know, what's even real and true. And it's made me very happy that I don't have to experience that from the outside (laughter); that I could be on the inside of that.
The other thing is, in terms of my identity, my gender identity: before I found my apartment that I'm in now, I was in a sublet briefly, and it was all queer, Black artists that lived in the house. Living there is when I was able to realise that I was the same (laughter) as these people. I didn't know that before but I was drawn to the place. I'm also very happy to be part of this group although I’m new and I'm learning a lot.
I think the creativity, and the ability to think really differently, is so present in these communities that it's very stimulating to me, and it gives me a lot of hope.
AB: Mmm, agreed. How about we have D next?
DY: Earlier, I touched on how I came from a low SES background. One of the things that has really been helpful—in that I also am legally-blind—is the use of services from Rehab Services. I happen to be from Missouri, and I was actually able to go to college and have, like, 80% of my college and my college expenses paid for simply because I was legally-blind. I've also been able to have accommodations that are really helpful. For example, for me being a med student or pre-med, we take a lot of tests, so having that extra time on tests and having the ability to be able to think through questions a little bit more—because it's not like my vision really affects like my intellectual capability—but having that extra time really does help.
It helps because I [also] get access to more material resources. For example, where I live is situated perfectly and I get a nice little discount on my apartment complex because of my disability. Even now, paying for medical school, it's almost the exact same situation as undergrad, where almost all of it is paid for because of the combination of my socioeconomic status and my disability.
Those things are really, really helpful because you get access to things that I did not even know existed.
AB: How did you find out about what was available to you because of your disability?
DY: I first became aware of it... I have a younger sister and she has a different father than I do, and also my brother, and her father's mom worked for Rehab Services for the Blind in the state of Missouri. I believe she actually told my mom about it, and my mom was like, ‘Oh, okay!’ We didn't actually know about all the services that they provided. We just knew that there were services that they provided. Once I was able to become eligible, they actually told us about all of the services they provide. There are also third-party services such as Alphapointe. I got really, really lucky in that I lived a mile away from where Alphapointe is. There are also others around the country, but I know specifically there’s one in South Kansas City.
And then when it comes to accommodations, because I have been disabled my entire life and my grandmother also helped raise me—my grandmother is, or I guess was because she just recently retired, a special education teacher—I knew about accommodations because I had been in my own IEP (Individualised Education Plan) and 504 meetings since I could remember. My grandma always made sure to have me involved in those meetings. So the accommodations, I had all of my life.
Then, there [are] resources you just find, for example, the apartment complex that I live in now. It was really helpful because when you talk to other young professionals who live in the DC area, it's very expensive, so they have housing programs that help people. There’s specifically one for people who have disabilities that are too young to go into nursing homes.
It mostly snowballs, but I do understand it is hard to find the first one. For me, I happen to have a lifelong disability so I've been like this since I was born, so finding out about them is more like a snowball effect.
AB: I hope that what you've said though has planted the seed—in case someone else identifies similarly—to start the snowball, to start looking for things that might be of benefit to them. I'm very happy that you shared that.
Shanice, would you like to tell us about some of the positive experiences or opportunities that you've had because of your intersectional identity?
SB: Yeah, the most positive experiences that I've had, have to be inspiring other Black women and Black girls. For me, I'm constantly looking for role models, looking for Black female PIs (Principal Investigators), for Black female postdocs, or just anyone in those more senior positions, and the absence or the lack is very loud (laughter); it’s very loud. So, I aspire to, I guess, progress in my own career, so that there is that visibility for those who come after me.
That has to be the most positive thing; to be able to speak to a Black girl who's kind of interested in science, [who’s] not really sure, who isn't that confident in their ability. To be able to encourage them, empower them, and tell them, ‘You absolutely can do this. You can be here.’ And it's not because I'm exceptional that appears just I've managed to, you know, navigate the many obstacles.
I'm here, you can be here. You belong here just as much as I do, or anyone else does. For me, that has to be the most positive experience.
AB: I think that's so beautiful that that's the ultimate positive experience for you. Thank you for sharing that.
How do you all hope academic spaces will change in the next decade? You close your eyes and you picture 2031—which is a very strange number to say out loud and have it be 10 years away—what do you see in the academic spaces around you?
SB: What I would love to see in 2031 is more support for carers [and] more financial support for those who want to start a family. Many of us have heard of the phrase of ‘working twice as hard’. Even now, even though I'm at the beginning of my journey, I am very aware that working twice as hard, because I am a Black woman, is not particularly compatible with having a family.
Even though I'm at this early stage, this is really what I'm thinking about. I want to climb and get to the top, but what will I have to sacrifice to actually get there? That's something I really want to see change.
AB: Let's just steep in that for a second, because that was poignant. That was really heavy.
We are told that we basically have to make a trade in so many ways. First of all, you have to sacrifice your mind, your body, some aspects of your sanity—because in certain spaces, you will be gaslit—and still, the desire to have a partner, have multiple partners, [and] have children just seems less and less feasible to do both well when you have to give so much of yourself to prove yourself over and over and over again.
SB: Yeah, it’s that exactly.
AB: Gosh. Yeah, I feel you in every way.
I know, Mani-Jade, you’re a parent, right? I think you can actually speak to a little bit of this.
MJG: Yes, I have a 17-year-old—just turned 17-year-old—child, and I've been a single parent through this entire process of trying to get an education, so Shanice, I feel (laughter) very deeply what you're saying. Honestly, it has affected my relationship with my daughter in ways that I'm not happy about, being so involved in working. I think twice as hard is generous. I think we work ten times as hard and get maybe like 1% of the credit for what we do. So, I feel Shanice’s statements in my bones.
AB: I'm sending out warm vibes to all of you right now.
MJG: Thank you.
AB: How about you, D?
DY: In 10 years what I would like to see is more of like a complete overhaul of the entire education system.
I have a very particular story when it comes to education. For example, when I was in high school, I actually had to transfer out because my entire school district was on the brink of losing their accreditation, so I want that to not happen. There was just such a drastic difference [after] I transferred to a private prep school because I was really good at track at the time. So, I want a complete overhaul (laughter), starting from pre-K, all the way up into higher education, because I feel like poor kids—especially poor Black and Brown kids specifically—don't get the opportunities to be great in academia. It's so inaccessible. How I like to explain it is, it was basically a combination of luck and a little bit of talent that wasn't even related to education, that got me to this situation. And I don't think that that should happen. I don't think that that's fair. It's really expensive to get an education; even on basically a full-ride, I still struggled in college and I'm only able to do well in med school or, you know, do what I'm supposed to do because they provide my cost of living for me. I just don't think that that is okay. I want it to be more open and more accessible.
I want little Black kids to actually be able to continue on and not have to worry about how they’re going to pay [for school]. I had to worry about textbooks or access codes; I want that to not happen. I want little Black kids who are interested in science to be able to not have to give up opportunities.
Like, I could only take paid internships. I don't think that that's fair; those are few and far between. So, it's just stuff like that. I want a complete overhaul so that it’s fair.
AB: Yes, yes, yes! I agree with absolutely everything that you've said. I think that's the only way to honestly move forward because the promises that were made in the last year were very small tokens of, “We see we've done wrong; let's try to fix it,” when I think massive, massive change—like you said, D—needs to be made in order for it to be actually equitable. Simply giving a couple of scholarship opportunities at the graduate level is all well and good, but if someone has been robbed of opportunities since they were in kindergarten, as you said, then they're playing a losing game and it's really not fair.
Okay, I love this question just because I think it lets me know a lot more about each and every one of you. What do you think is the most important lesson you are learning at this stage of your life? It can be a professional lesson. It can be a personal lesson. It could be a little bit of both, but what's something that you're actively trying to better about yourself, or better about the world around you, or better how you navigate the world?
Who wants to start? We can also take some time to just think about it.
MJG: I don't mind starting. I think the biggest lesson I'm learning—in the last year especially—is trust. Trusting myself because, following up on everything that's been said, especially in the last question, I think another one of the strong messages that we're bombarded with in academic spaces, is that we are not to trust ourselves. (Laughter) We are to trust, some ideas that are foreign, honestly, in every possible way—spiritually, morally, ethically—from who I am, and how I operate in this world, and what I believe in, and [what I] think is important.
My journey in these spaces has affected my personal life because there's been so much time that I've spent in these spaces trying to get that degree and the credentials I need to do my thing, and so I feel like I'm remembering how to trust myself. That's the first thing. Looking back on the decisions I've made, I've never really regretted decisions I've made at all, even if the decision didn't work out, but I have very often regretted doing things that other people pushed me to do that didn't really vibe with who I am or what I believe.
Then, the harder—I don't know if it's harder but it's equally hard, at least—is trusting other people. Because of the bad experiences that I've had, it's difficult forming new relationships in professional spaces to know if I can trust who I'm with. Especially when I talked about asking the community for help with the GoFundMe campaign, [it] was pretty , at first, humiliating to me to have to do that, to have to open myself up.
I grew up the way D did; I grew up extremely poor and I worked my whole life since childhood and I was always able to provide for myself. When I was in the place for the first time in my life where I couldn't do that, it was a growing moment for me to be able to just open up to the BlackInX community and other people I interact with on Twitter; they ended up donating over $8,000 for me to get into a home, [and] get furniture for my home. I can I live near my daughter now for the first time in a very long time. And so, it's taught me a lot. There's a lot of complexity inherent in trust and healing. When I talk about it, I actually feel like my fingers tingling. It's very visceral for me—learning to understand what trust is and how to engage in it, and then how to be trustworthy myself in return.
AB: So, there are three elements there: trusting yourself, trusting others, and being trustworthy. I like that. How about our next person? I won’t pick on anyone, don’t worry. But for whoever is next, what do you think is the most important lesson you are learning at this stage in your life?
SB: I'd say, I am learning two big lessons at the moment. I say at the moment, but they are lifelong lessons, actually, they’re just rearing their heads in different ways.
The first is how to rest.
AB: That’s a good one!
SB: I've known that's very important to rest, and being a first year PhD learning lots of new things, my schedule is extremely demanding; and I know I have to rest, but in my head, I've just thought, work hard, play hard. And because I just want to give my all to everything I'm doing, I’m working extremely hard during the week, and then, weekday evenings and workends, playing really hard—it's actually exhausting! (Laughter.) It’s exhausting, and I've had to learn that that is not actually how you rest. Resting involves stopping sometimes, so I’m learning to stop, learning to rest well, taking some time for myself. Not trying to just please others, though I love hanging out with people; don’t get me wrong, I love that! (Laughter) But me time is very important.
The second thing that I'm learning at the moment is I don't have to be perfect. (Laughter) I think my compulsion, to not even be perfect but to present myself as perfect, has slowed me down in so many ways. For example, if I'm starting a new protocol at uni, I will try and perfect every single part of that protocol, [but] actually you can't really make progress that way. (Laughter)
I heard on a podcast recently that you do not have to be perfect in every space 100% of the time to be considered good at something, and honestly, that has blown my mind. Sometimes you just do okay at something and that is fine, that is absolutely fine.
AB: I'm going to ask you a follow up if that's okay. Do you think part of the perfectionism—that I know I have as well—has to do with the whole twice as good, ten times as good as Mani-Jade said?
SB: (Laughter) It absolutely is! I’ve known that for a long time. When I go into predominantly white spaces, I'm very conscious that I could be the single representative. (Laughter) Therefore, I need to be the ultimate representative. I cannot make any mistakes. I must do everything flawlessly... but that leaves no space for being human, and for just being me. It's a heavy, heavy load to carry.
AB: Absolutely. D, I will get to you—there's just one more thing that I wanted to mention since we're having this conversation. I just thought about those three young men on the English football team who missed their penalty [kicks] in the Euro Cup final.
To share a small anecdote: I was watching live with my partner, and as the last penalty [kick] was missed, I just held my face and went, ‘They're going to crucify them. They're going to destroy them,’ because the three men that missed were all Black—Marcus, Bukayo, and Jadon.
It made me sad over the last couple of days to see the Twitter posts that they made come up, all of them acknowledging that they let the entire country down, when England hasn't been in a [Euro Cup] final in a very long time. (Laughter) The fact that England even got to that stage was beyond impressive, and those three young men contributed significantly to that, as well as other individuals, including Sterling, and their Captain as well. I don't want to go on and on about this, but it's just sad to me that all of them went, ‘We know you guys are going to go really hard on us because of who we are, what we look like, and our ancestry. We get it; we know what's going to happen.’ They too had been told you have to be twice as good, ten times as good for half of the recognition. And I think that's just really sad.
SB: I watched it as well and I felt that drop in my stomach because I knew the same thing as you've just described. I knew that was going to happen.
AB: It’s just sad that we can even foresee it at this point, but I mean, history is the best predictor.
D—what do you think is the most important lesson that you're learning, right now, at this stage of your life?
DY: I guess there's two, but neither one of them are particularly related to science.
AB: That's okay.
DY: One is confidence. I should have had way more confidence in myself when I was applying to school. Like, way, way, way more confidence. I really undervalued myself. I'm very happy with how Howard accepted me and everything like that because I went to a HBCU undergrad, so I was hoping that Howard would accept me but I didn't think that they would. So, that's one thing I just need to fix. I just needed to have way more confidence in myself, moving forward.
And then, another one is, there's actually a lot of power in the hands of the people. That was something that I just learned last year from watching the protests or from watching what's happening now, with people wanting to control their job situations and their living situations. There’s way, way, way more power in the hands of the people, and learning how to build that power, both individually and as a collective for things that we want. That has been really important to me.
AB: Mmm-hmm. I was wondering, because you mentioned Missouri, were you in Ferguson when the protests were also taking place a couple years ago?
DY: I was not. I'm from Kansas City, so that's about four hours away. I did go to Ferguson, about a month after everything that happened. I went to go pay my respects to the memorial of where Michael Brown was. I went to the murals. I actually spoke with a couple of locals who, before Michael Brown, that had happened to their sons.
Because of where I grew up, I'm used to the police following me. I'm a runner, so I grew up with the police following me everywhere I was going. Or if I was playing outside, I’m used to the police circling around the block, so that was normal. I thought that that was something that only really happened where we lived and where I lived, in neighbourhoods I lived in. But it was really kind of interesting to see that that was something that [was] widespread. The police follow all Black boys when they're going to the park or something like that, so it was just really interesting.
AB: Yeah, I know that happened to my brother, even while we were living in Canada, because we lived in the States for a period of time, and then we were in Canada; Canadian police are exactly the same. I'm sending love to you right now, because we don't deserve that. Nobody deserves that.
DY: Thank you.
AB: I want to keep things a little happy and light now, if that's okay. When was the last time you felt blissful? Happiness, joy, loving energy. I have a feeling I know what your answer is, Mani-Jade! (Laughter)
MJG: Yes, you do! (Laughter)
AB: Do you want to go ahead and start us off?
MJG: Absolutely! Hands down, the BlackInX Inaugural Conference. I was able to host a ‘Joyful Healing Space’ for an hour. It was just an hour; however, it's still carrying me.
I am an artist and musician. I love singing, so I really miss, in professional spaces, not being able to bring that part of myself. I often have thought I made the wrong decision and should have gone into music the way I was trying to, so to be able to overlap those two things, I think it set the tone for me for a magical, energetic... I don't even know how to describe it. I'm glad you were there because you can maybe add words, but there was so much joy. I felt like we were all really tapped into that collective desire to be well.
Shanice talks about resting (laughter), really being able to rest and just breathe for a second, sit back and breathe. It was a combination of me really being able to really be 100% present as myself, [and] I had a mentee there that sang with me, a young Black woman that I've mentored for many, many years, and we didn't even know that the other person could sing. It just kind of happened (laughter), randomly in another meeting, and I was like, ‘oh my God, I'm doing this thing! You want to do it with me?’ So, it was just pure bliss.
I tried recreating that in a more academic kind of setting and it didn't work at all. (Laughter.)
AB: Oh, really? That’s unfortunate.
MJG: Yeah, but it's okay, because I learned that I have to create my bliss on my terms, and with people that are like-minded.
AB: Yeah, I was very honoured to simply be in that space because, like you said, there was just an energy there, where I think everyone was ready to receive and to give in equal measure. It was just a vibe, a very peaceful time. I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. It was so beautiful, and thank you for leading us in that session.
MJG: So glad to hear that. Thank you for coming and for commenting on it, because I've been wondering how people felt, so I appreciate it.
AB: It was transcendent. That's the word that I think speaks to me.
MJG: Ooo! I just got tingles in my heart. Thank you. (Laughter.)
AB: I'm happy to do that! Okay, let's share the bliss! Who else has felt blissful recently, and what led to that feeling of bliss?
DY: I can start. Last week was actually my orientation for med school. I literally just started a week ago.
AB: Ooo! Congratulations!
DY: Thank you. I would say that was probably the most blissful I’ve felt. Like I stated early, the only thing I've ever wanted to be since I could speak was a physician, so it felt really, really good to finally be on the path. I struggled for so long to get to school and so it was just surreal. And Howard gave me a full ride to go there, so that just made it even better. My entire life I've been struggling to at least give myself the opportunity to go to school and I finally did it and got to go. Last Tuesday, was the first day actually got to like sit back and take it in, like ‘Oh, I did it like I finally did it. I actually did it.’
It's not like it's an impossible task, but it's never been done before, at least with how I had to do it and what I had to go through, so it's like never been done like this, and it's kind of cool because it isn't just people with disabilities but it's also everyone who thinks that something is impossible. Nothing is – it’s not necessarily impossible. Like my grandma used to say, it's not that you can't do it, you just don't know how to yet.
AB: Wise words from grandma! I hope you feel all of us supporting you as you embark on this journey. I'm excited for you. I hope everything continues to go as smoothly as it seems to have gone for the last week or so. I hope that you enjoy your classes and you make the connections that I think we all deserve to make.
How about you, Shanice? When was the last time you felt blissful?
SB: I last felt blissful with friends and family, probably. I would say actually that my most blissful and most releasing time is probably during praise and worship to God. Feeling completely released, perfectly loved, understood. To know that He's listening to all my thoughts, all my concerns, and just loving me unconditionally. For me, there is no happier place than that.
AB: That's beautiful. Thank you all for sharing that. I know it's quite personal a question—I mean, this entire conversation is quite personal but that [question] in particular is close to your hearts, and I appreciate that you would share all that with me.
Our final question of the conversation: if you could send a letter to your younger self, what would the main message be?
DY: I would say if I could send a letter to myself, it would probably be titled ‘Don't Quit.’ Even though I never really quit on this journey, there were definitely times, where I was like, ‘This is it.’ I want to say, literally a month ago, before I started school, I [was] like, ‘Okay, this is it, I'm not going to school, I’ll figure out something.’ I had a lot going on, but it all came together at the very end, so I’m thankful for that. Very grateful.
I would definitely say, just don't quit. I went into science simply because I had a teacher that told me I would never be able to do it.
AB: Rude! Oh my gosh.
DY: Yeah. I would say that would be the letter: just don't quit. Keep going, no matter what. As long as you do what you're supposed to do, you'll be fine. That would really be the contents of the letter: just do what you’re supposed to do, and don’t quit.
MJG: I love what D said so much, so thank you for sharing that, D. I think my letter would say three things: believe in yourself, you are never actually alone, and remember who you are.
I've had to make a lot of decisions throughout my life, personally and professionally, that have put me through periods where I felt very alone. Like, I just didn't have a family or community there to support me. Sticking it out and believing in myself, reminding myself what my values are and why I'm doing what I'm doing, has brought me to, for example, this conversation, so I'm listening to people talk, I’m listening to D, Shanice and you, and feeling so happy. (Laughter.) It's such a privilege to be around people that that refine my thinking and remind me that I'm okay (laughter) and that I'm not alone.
I think that's what I would say. And ‘remember who you are’ goes hand in hand with ‘believe in yourself’. There's a lot of noise out there. There's a lot of people saying, ‘do this, do that’. And those are not the things that lead me to joy. Those have never been the things that lead me to joy, it's always been reminding myself what I’m about, what I bring to the table with my unique existence here on Earth, in relationships that are personal and private and in more public spaces.
SB: Yeah, I love what Mani-Jade has just said, especially ‘remember who you are’. I think the main message, if I was writing a letter to myself, wouldn't be too distant from that. I think instead it would be: remember where you've come from. Know your roots. I think a lot of the lack of confidence that I've had in myself is from not knowing who I am, not knowing where I've come from. I think a lot of people over the past year have done a lot of work in knowing where they come from, and I've done that too, and have found it incredibly empowering. When I think of the fact that my grandparents came from this tiny island in the Caribbean to England, and managed to accomplish so much so that my life is how it is now, I'm just inspired. How can I not see myself as resilient? How can I not see myself as a force to be reckoned with to be honest?
To my younger self I’d just say, know your roots.
AB: Well, I can't think of a more perfect end to this beautiful conversation. I've learned a lot from all of you. I actually jotted down a couple of the things that you've all said in terms of lessons that you're learning at the stage of your life.
Just to remind our audience—there were mentions of trust, of remembering to rest, of trying our best to not feel the necessity to be perfect at all times, [of] recognising the power of the people.
And then, as we concluded, talking about the letters that we would send to our younger selves—don't quit, believe in yourself, you're never alone, remember who you are, and remember where you came from.
I can't think of a better way to end this conversation. I thank all of you for participating in this wonderful event. Black In Neuro Week is such a beautiful celebration of Black neuroscientists, [of] Black individuals who are in neuro-related fields, and I'm excited for the rest of the Black In Neuro community to know all of you, to hear from all of you. I have a feeling that you'll have a lot of people feeling that tingly, joyous feeling that Mani-Jade was talking about after they listen to this episode.
Thank you, D. Thank you, Mani-Jade. Thank you, Shanice. And thank you to Black In Neuro for allowing us to come together in this space.
(Black In Neuro jingle)