Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? This question has always haunted my spirit. It’s from Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salteaters. It is also apt for today. That and what does being well mean for the public’s health, from a social justice lens, radical wellness too and not from experts alone, or those who have credentials, but from you the general public and with your fiction or nonfiction?

Who are your go to references for being radically well and how do you even begin to define wellness for yourself? Of course it led me down a rabbit hole, one where I am now obsessed with how people, those in fiction and non fiction, those with expertise and none, define what they mean by wellness.

I have been struck by the myriad of ways people define wellness, especially those focused on people of color. It matters to me these days that for the public, we define what wellness means, not just from what the dominant literature may tell us, but from everyday people who continue to struggle with answering the question: ‘Are you sure, sweetheart, you want to be well.’ So, from what I gathered from the Bettina Love’s profound book ‘We want to do more than survive’ wellness is:

A choice

A type of freedom that comes when you let go of your fears and move your anger into a space of healing.

Wisdom and being well is hard work.

Part of social justice work.

An inner life that refuses to be treated less than human.

Being vulnerable.

Finding the roots of your own Black Joy, Black love, and humanity.

Choosing to see ourselves beyond illness or disease.

Having an inner self that can be quiet and enjoy life.

Recognizing the pain of our ancestors knowing the beauty and resilience of that pain lives on in us.

Knowing who you are regardless of what is thrown at you.


Different for different people.

Healing that is unrecognizable to White people and different from them.

Being your best self while fighting injustice.

Fighting racism with life, grace, compassion.

Having mental space and freedom to dream, give hell, and retreat to one’s community of love for support, fulfillment, and nourishment.

Being whole.

Bringing your full self.

Joining others in the fight for humanity and antiracism in love and solidarity.

Confronting internalized White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Isamophobia, fat phobia, classism, ableism, and the rage that comes as a result of these hateful ideas.

Keep doing more than surviving with these radical wellness definitions in mind.

Keep Professor Love’s approach to wellness in mind.

I recently read from Toni Morrison, about relying on imagination when narrating about lives enslaved. About how imaginations can make enslaved people thrive despite their circumstances. About how it can also make life hopeful despite the hurdles in advance. Life for enslaved people were dire, desolate, despairing, and full of dread. Imaginations is the only place where freedom truly existed. At least for us the living at a time when celebrating Juneteenth is finally a federal holiday. That enslaved people could celebrate this day seems unreal but it’s real, though denied for centuries. So imaginations are all we have left. And so I imagine the following.

On this day 156 years ago, there is a dance you will dance knowing you are free. I imagine that’s what enslaved people did on Juneteenth day: Enslaved people danced. A hopeful stance. They reveled in trance. Savoring every chance. To finally rain dance. Finally dream dance. Finally ghost dance. Finally war dance. Finally bend and snap dance. Finally ballet dance. Finally tap dance. Finally sun dance. And finally folk dance. As they finally lifted themselves up despite all the hurdles in advance.

I imagine they danced all sorts of dance, because they were free. In place of their dire, desolate, despairing and dreadful state, they danced, to make it easy to forget they were still enslaved despite being free. We still carry their scares even today. So for me, even though freedom still seems far, I will keep dancing like they did on the first Juneteenth day and beyond. We are still the pleasant dreams of our ancestors. The stories they passed on. Of a time when dreams won’t be denied or hopes ignored. We still have miles to go.

But for today, for them, we dance. A hopeful stance. We too revel in trance. We savor every chance. We rain dance. We dream dance. We ghost dance. We war dance. We bend and snap dance. We ballet dance. We tap dance. We sun dance. And we folk dance. We lift us up despite the hurdles in advance. For them we keep dancing. (Inspired by Toni Morrison’s The Origin of Others).