October 14, 2022

Episode 5: Navigating Inner Worlds with Jean Alicia Elster

 

In this episode, we wade into a conversation with Jean Alicia Elster. Jean Alicia Elster is an author of young adult novels and children’s books. A native Detroiter and former attorney, Elster has published a number of books including – Joe Joe in the City, Who is Jim Hines?, The Colored Car, and How it Happens.

 Together, we celebrate the work of Ida B. Wells-Barnette. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Over the course of a lifetime dedicated to combating prejudice and violence, and the fight for African-American equality, especially that of women, Wells arguably became the most famous Black woman in the United States. As a skilled writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of African Americans throughout the South.

We explore how Wells-Barnette’s practice of courageous truth-telling connects to Elster’s role as a writer of young adult fiction. Jean also shares how we might better take care of our inner child and take much-needed time to process. 

 

In this episode, we talk about: 

  • How people and community reinforce our sense of self
  • The importance of life lessons and overcoming obstacles
  • How to take care and protect our inner child

 

Resources: 

 

Transcript

​​[00:00:00] Jean Alicia Elster: When we’re born, we’re given this life that we live in. So given that we’re just dropped in here, what do I do? How do I make the most of that? And I keep that message in front of me. What kind of world have I inherited? And how do I navigate within that world?

[00:00:30] (upbeat piano music)

 

[00:42 ] Michaela Ayers: Hello there, and welcome to Black Her Stories, where we tap in to the lineage of Black women artists who inspire us and shape our stories. Join us for nourishing conversations with leading writers, storytellers, and entertainers that center the lived experiences of Black women, past and present.

Together, we’ll explore what possibilities exist when creativity meets history, when we harness our creative power to unlock our purpose. I am your host Michaela Ayers.

Daydream with me for a moment. I invite you to bring to your mind an image of yourself as a child.

[01:47] Michaela Ayers: What do you look like? How do you like to play? What were some of your favorite things? 

Now, allow me to introduce you to a smaller version of me. With hot combed hair braided into a crown adorned with bright barrettes. She dresses herself, and proudly wears every shade of pink. Under the hot summer sun, you can find this mini-me on her banana seat bike, riding through the neighborhood. The baby of the family, she is the most tender, curious, sweet thing.

 

[02:31] Michaela Ayers: If you’ve listened to other episodes this season you’ll know that the themes of mothering and reparenting have come up a few times. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before my own inner child came out to play. My memories of being a young Black girl, and the way this inner child still lives within me now, inform today’s conversation with Jean Alicia Elster.

Jean Alicia Elster is an author of young adult novels and children’s books. A native Detroiter and former attorney, Elster has published a number of books, including Joe Joe In The City, Who’s Jim Hines?, and The Colored Car.

In 2014, The Colored Car was selected as a Michigan Notable Book by the library of Michigan. It was awarded the Midwest Book Award in children’s fiction, and it was chosen as an honor book for the Patterson Prize for books for young people.

A 2017 Kresge Artist Fellow in Literary Arts, Elster’s most recent work is How It Happens, which was awarded a 2022 Independent Publisher Book Awards bronze medal for young adult fiction. 

A spirited storyteller, Jean Alicia is frequently invited to speak at schools, libraries and conferences throughout the state of Michigan and across the United States. 

In the weeks since this interview, some of the ideas that flowed through our conversation have floated to the surface of my mind. There are two big themes that I’d like to share with you.

The first is perceptions of self. As a Black woman, I’m always curious about the point where the inner world and the outer world meet. In our shared reality, how we are perceived by others influences how we perceive ourselves.

As you listen, consider how your appearance affects what people assume to be true about you, and to what extent can you control this perception?

The second is a sense of somebody-ness. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once shared how his mother instilled a deep belief in his own dignity and self-worth from an early age. For those of us who grow up steeped in messages that we are less than, not equal to, a validated sense of self is what keeps feelings of internalized inferiority from festering.

As you listen, reflect on the people in your life who reinforced this sense of somebody-ness in you. How did these early affirmations influence the person that you are today?

[05:45] Upbeat piano music 

 

[05:46] Michaela Ayers: So without further ado, let’s dive into my conversation with Jean Alicia Elster.

[05:52] Upbeat piano music 

 

[06:00] Michaela Ayers: So I always like to start with gratitude. I’m just really grateful and excited to have you in this space, and thank you for being willing to share your story.

So I’d love to start out with just getting to know you. I’m curious, what inspires you to write young adult fiction?

 

[06:17] Jean Alicia Elster: Well, I really did not start off wanting to write young adult fiction, but when I became a writing consultant and a freelance writer, my cousin who illustrates children’s books, she told me about an opportunity to write the testing passages for a national testing service.

And they give you a list of items that you can and cannot cover. And basically it’s anything negative that would make the students veer away from the test and not do their best and not focus on the questions at hand. And that I found interesting. I said, okay, here are things that, you’re trying to uplift young readers, in this instance young test takers, so I thought that I would try to develop a motto of writing for young people, which is: do no harm. Because I want anything I write to be uplifting.

And just like for the test takers, I want, when the young readers read my books, to leave the experience, if not a better person, at least a stronger person. So I think just that task of writing those testing passages for young people inspired me to write more for young people.

[07:42] Michaela Ayers: I really appreciate that offering of your motto in terms of do no harm, because I’ve been really interested in that idea in the context of telling Black history, telling stories about Black ancestors. And so I would love it if we could go back in time to when you were eight or nine or, you know, the age of maybe your audience and, how were stories about Black history told in that time?

 

[08:10] Jean Alicia Elster: That’s an interesting question because much of it was oral history. My parents were students at Wayne State University post-World War Two when there weren’t that many Black students on campus, but the ones that were there were really the future leaders of the Detroit area or Southeast Michigan.

 

So when I was a youngster, I often heard about what these professionals, what they were doing, because they were, most of them, doing dynamic things in whatever profession they chose, whether it was education, law, medicine, engineering, whatever it was. They were the groundbreakers during that time, because this was really in the heart of the civil rights movement in the fifties, early sixties.

So stories of about Black history were really stories about current events and current history to me. But I also remember as a child, my parents brought home a coloring book and it was called Color Me Brown. And in this coloring book, there were the stories and the histories of the Black history icons of the previous generations.

And I was probably seven or eight. And, and so that’s when I was really introduced to some of the precursors to the folks that were in my parents’ age group, and coming along with them.

[09:44] Michaela Ayers: Well, and I think what I hear in that is this kind of sense of aliveness that Black history, because of that, where you lived and because of the time that you grew up, it was like, this is currently happening.

And I also appreciate the playfulness, like getting to draw, getting to color, getting to imagine. And I find that to be, one, just like a beautiful way to learn about Black history and also, not necessarily my experience, I feel like my experience with Black history was first learning about enslavement. It was like roots.

And so what’s coming up for me through these conversations is thinking about how to tell stories about Black history in a way that is, to your motto, to do no harm and to affirm the identity of that child as they’re developing, as they’re learning, as they’re coming in contact with the world as a Black person.

[10:37] Jean Alicia Elster: Right. Right. I love the way you say that because I was raised and it was almost subliminally to believe that there was nothing I couldn’t do. But no one came right out, they didn’t have to say that because I saw it being lived. And we were fortunate to live in a neighborhood where all of the folks around us for blocks around, were doing just that.

And I just saw that as a natural thing, that if you like to work with your hands and whatnot, you could be a master plumber. And one of the neighbors across the street was an engineer for the city of Detroit. And one of the men at our church was one of the engineers that developed the tunnel that connected Detroit to Windsor.

So everyone I saw was achieving whatever they wanted to do. And of course, as I got older, I realized more of the obstacles they had to overcome, but the initial, the initial thought, and what I saw, was that they were using their talents. They were contributing to society. So subliminally that’s what I was being told.

[11:54] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, I think the thing that’s coming up for me is just, the power of the community that surrounds you and also the power of the environment, right? Like what you see, who you see, how you see them, what stories are told about them, and how that informs your sense of self. Like what you think you can achieve and especially, you know, thinking about young people, I think that’s just so powerful. 

[12:20] Jean Alicia Elster: Definitely. 

[12:22] Michaela Ayers: Well, and I understand from your story that you’ve grown up here, so I’d love to know like, how has living in Detroit fed your creativity as a writer?

[12:29] Jean Alicia Elster: Probably because with most of my books, Detroit is at the core of the narrative. And things that I experienced as a child or, I’m really big on oral history, so oral histories that I’ve taken, of mostly family, because they all grew up here. So, Detroit just organically forms the core of the stories and the narratives that I tell. And the fact that I was educated here, I was educated in Detroit public schools. And then also I surround myself with the art of artists from Detroit.

And that just feeds my creativity, feeds what came to me growing up in the city. So it’s a very powerful force. I’m glad you asked that question because as I’m answering it, I’m realizing what a powerful force the Detroit vibe is currently having and has had on my writing. Even if it’s not a particular thing, the vibe is around me and feeding me and I can look around and I, I see different things.

I see a piece by Valeria Davis called Warrior it’s number seven in her Warrior piece. Some other pieces, she has scarred women, a sculpture, and all of these things when I look at them, the vibe is just there.

[14:00] Michaela Ayers: I love this idea of the Detroit vibe and how it could have, you know, there’s different versions, right?

 

It could be art, it could be music, it could be history, it could be, you know, so many of the different kind of cultural exports of a place. And I always love, I mean, I think I find it just so interesting to talk to people about, particularly this place, because it holds so much, it seems to hold so much meaning to their identity in a way that I haven’t encountered every place that I’ve lived. So I’m really grateful for that.

And I would love to begin to weave our conversation into the story of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, your icon, who you selected. So Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a legendary civil rights leader whose lifelong dedication to fighting injustice led her to become one of the most famous Black women in America during her lifetime. So when you think about her, what three words come to mind?

[15:05] Jean Alicia Elster: When I think about her, I think of writer, activist, and feminist.

 

[15:14] Michaela Ayers: Writer, activist, and feminist. Which one of those words feels like the most resonant or the most juicy for you?

 

[15:23] Jean Alicia Elster: I liked that, juicy. The most resonant, the most juicy is writer because, when I was in law school, and I’m not one of these folks that was called to be a lawyer, you know, it was never my lifelong dream to be a lawyer.

So when I was in law school, I was always plotting how I was going to fit my love of writing into my life as an attorney. So during that time, and this was during the time when Ebony magazine was a part of every Black family’s house, I mean, you could not go into a Black home and not see an Ebony magazine.

So at one point I was reading through Ebony and they had an ad. You could get a set of books. They worked with the New York times to publish a set of books that encompassed all different aspects of Black history from slave narratives to post-war or to writers and writings about the civil rights movement.

And so I, of course, I ordered this set. At the time, for me, it was very expensive, but I said, I’m going to order this thing. There are about 20 volumes in this set. And one of the volumes was a book called On Lynchings by Ida Wells-Barnett. And I read this book and the thing that stuck with me was when she wrote about how, and she was an anti-lynching Crusader, and she had written an article, because there had been a lynching recently, and she wrote an editorial basically saying that these whites are lynching Blacks for supposedly having illicit sexual relationships with white women. But she basically said that these relationships aren’t rape, that these white women are inviting these Black men into these sexual relationships.

Well, you can imagine that did not go over well when she published that. And when the editorial was published, according to her book, she was in New York, visiting friends in New York city, and it caused such a ruckus that the word got to her, don’t come back to Memphis because if you do, you’ll be killed.

Not only that, but they destroyed her publishing business. They destroyed her printing presses, just everything. They ransacked the whole business. And she commented how, because she spoke the truth, her livelihood was taken from her. And that stuck with me. I said, okay, here was a woman, she was a journalist, a writer who made her living doing that.

And even after her business was destroyed, she still earned a living as a writer because she was writing and giving speeches and things of that nature. And that stuck with me. Because it told me I can make a living as a writer. So she became my role model. 

So I practiced law for a few years, I passed the bar, I practiced law. In fact, I still pay my bar dues. But after a few years, when I decided to become a professional writer, it was because of that example that I had from Ida Wells-Barnett.

[18:53] Michaela Ayers: I think if I could dig into your share, the thing that really stood out to me is, there will be obstacles. There will be people who push back and maybe don’t want to hear what you have to say, but the willingness to keep going, like her persistence is such an inspiration and just how quickly life can change for a person like that.

Just like that [snaps], in a moment. And she had several moments like that throughout her life. You know, when her parents died suddenly of yellow fever and she had to start taking care of her siblings. When she decided to become a teacher and then, you know, becoming a writer. So I feel like the development and the empowerment that she was willing to take on at such a young age, I find that also to be really interesting.

[19:37] Jean Alicia Elster: No, that’s well said. That’s excellent. Yes.

 

[19:41] Michaela Ayers: Well, and you mentioned one of her books, On Lynching. So, what would you say has her writing taught you about the role of hardships and struggles in one’s life? Like the importance of those kinds of crucible moments, those difficult experiences?

 

[19:59] Jean Alicia Elster: Well, that’s an interesting question because I have a children’s book series, the picture storybook, the Joe Joe In The City series. And Joe Joe is a 10-year-old boy and he learns life lessons. He learns to overcome various life traumas or difficulties when he reads about heroes from African-American history. He reads about their difficulties and how through overcoming them, he can overcome whatever he has to go through. 

 

And I got the idea for that book when my son was 10. Now, I didn’t pattern Joe Joe after my son, but I knew about 10-year-old boys when I was writing the series.

And we were at a mall and we were either at Macy’s or Target or something like that. And we were standing in the line to go to the checkout, and he was standing over to the side and I looked over and I saw he had his hands in his pockets.

And I left the line. I ran over to him and I said, Isaac, take your hands out of your pocket, they’re gonna think you stole something. And that I think was more of a traumatic experience for me than for him, because after I said it, I realized, oh my goodness, in the eyes of the world, and I was seeing it as his mother, in the eyes of the world, he is no longer a cute little boy. He’s going to be viewed as a potential criminal. 

[21:35] Michaela Ayers: Right. 

[21:37] Jean Alicia Elster: And that stuck with me. So that was the basis of my writing that series, because I wanted something that parents could use to help prepare their children to overcome, to be strong. To be whatever their vision is that they want to be.

I wanted to write that. And that series was written 20 years ago. We’ve been celebrating the 20th anniversary of that series. In the trilogy that I just finished, it’s Who’s Jim Hines, The Colored Car, and my most recent book, How It Happens, which just came out in September, I address certain difficulties or struggles in life.

And I liked that you asked this question because that forms the core of each of those books.

[22:27] Michaela Ayers:  Well I guess, what I want to, I want to kind of come back to one, like, we all, as Black people, oftentimes, we are racialized at a younger age. So when you told that story about your son and the awareness of how he’s being perceived no longer as a child, but now as a potential threat, as a potential criminal, as, you know, whatever stereotype that is projected onto a Black male body, he’s now moving through the world as that. And that could be frightening. 

 

And I think, kind of weaving us back into Ida’s practice of telling stories about how Black people were perceived and treated, mistreated, discriminated against, murdered, telling those stories in her way of as a journalist, not to shy away from them but to say that this is the racial reality. Like, these struggles are not of our own making and we can still wake up and do the things and use the gifts that we have to create the lives that we want for ourselves.

And I feel like her life really embodies that.

[23:39] Jean Alicia Elster: That’s true. Very, very true.

 

[23:40] Michaela Ayers: And I think, I guess I think I’m just kind of sitting with the role of the inner child more and more, in Black history, and how it shows up. And I think what I’m also noticing, at least in how you’re setting up your stories is like, it’s putting that child into a certain environment, but then leading them through the obstacles towards the uplift, like towards that moment where there’s that affirmation of self or affirmation of what can be achieved.

 

[24:09] Jean Alicia Elster: I like the way you say that, because I like to have a protagonist that is either, throughout the book, in this 12-year-old kind of preteen age. Because at that age they’re asking, and I like for them to explore, what kind of world have I inherited? And how do I navigate within that world? 

Because when we’re born, we’re given this life that we live in. So given that we’re just dropped in here, what do I do? How do I make the most of that? And I keep that message in front of me. What kind of world have I inherited? And how do I navigate within that world? 

I keep that with me, cause that’s what I like to explore in everything that I write. And in most of my books, it’s with someone about the age of 12, but even when I have adult characters and things are thrown at them, it’s like, oh my gosh, okay, you know, this is happening in the world. I didn’t ask for it, but now how do I make a way through it? And I explore that quite a bit in How It Happens, my most recent book.

That’s one of the things that I enjoy discovering as I’m writing, that, is that you really don’t stop asking that question, don’t stop asking, how do I navigate? How do I make the best out of this? And so if I live to be a hundred, I’ll still be writing new things because there’s so many things that I want to explore. And as I, as I mature in life, and as I see my children maturing, and you see things differently, and as I see my friends moving along in life and, oh, this is how they did it. You know, I just find that, I find that fascinating.

[26:05] Michaela Ayers: I really enjoy this question cause I feel like I could even see, Ida’s story in it. Like, what kind of world did she inherit and how did she navigate it? I feel like it’s just inspiring to think about what she was able to accomplish with that question, especially as a journalist, because I feel like, you know, I wonder how many other Black women journalists she saw around her at that time? Probably not very many. 

And then to have the audacity, the bravery, the courage to do that anyway, to threat of death, right. To threat of her livelihood. And, you know, the research that she did, that we could have a record, you know, I feel personally very taken care of by her, in terms of just being able to understand how we got to this place, like how I got to the world that I’ve inherited.

So I guess I’m curious for you, when it comes to asking this question and the worlds that you’re building for young people, how has her approach, how she’s lived into that question, how is that really informing your creative practice?

[27:13] Jean Alicia Elster: Well, I think the fact that she brings the world around her into her writing, that probably informs my creative process more than anything, because, as I’m talking to you and as I’m looking at the body of work that I’ve created, that’s what I’ve done. 

I’ve brought my world, my family’s world, into my books. And, so just the fact that she, she wrote about what she was living and what was happening around her, I think that has probably informed my creative process, probably in more ways than I realize.

[27:57] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. Well, and she is considered the loudest and most persistent voice of truth. And I think, especially in this moment, you know, as a Black woman, why is it important for us to cultivate that inner courage, to say the things that other people may not want to hear?

 

[28:19] Jean Alicia Elster: Well, I firmly believe that if we don’t tell our story as Black women, other people will try to tell it for us. And do we want that to be the record of us as Black women? Or do we want our inner soul and inner being to inform the record of what people fifty, a hundred years from now are going to see and understand us in this moment and in this time?

I want the way I see the things and the way I was raised to see things and the things that I was exposed to, I want that to inform a story and a narrative that people read to understand what went through this Black woman’s mind. 

And many times you’ll, you’ll see a Black character, especially a Black female character, and it just doesn’t ring true, or it rings in a stereotypical way. And I, and I know that that writer, giving them the benefit of the doubt, probably didn’t even realize they were portraying a stereotype. This is just what they know. And so I want what I know as a Black woman to inform the characters that someone is going to read about and incorporate into their mindset.

[29:51] Michaela Ayers: Well, and I think something that’s coming up for me is, you know, there’s so many different ways to be a Black person. There’s so many beautiful ways to be Black, as I like to say. And yet we do often come in contact with the stereotypes. That’s kind of the unfortunate, dominant effect. And I think what I’m hearing you say is that authenticity, 

 

[30:14] Jean Alicia Elster: Right.

 

[30:15] Michaela Ayers: That you know, that we can only really be the ones to share. I think that truth is worth telling, even if it’s things people don’t want to hear. It’s still something that we need to share because there’s wisdom in that, there’s knowledge in that, there’s growth in that. The potential of that I think is what I’m really sitting with in your share.

 

[30:38] Jean Alicia Elster: Definitely. Exactly.

 

[30:39] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. Well, I want to try and tap into somebody who might be listening to us. Somebody who has been kind of overhearing our conversation and, you know, think about maybe somebody who is, one, learning how to take care of their own inner child still and/or, you know, taking care of a child, whether that’s a parent or uncle, aunt, caretaker, taking care of an actual child. What advice or wisdom could you offer them in terms of how to affirm and validate that, that inner child?

 

[31:12] Jean Alicia Elster: I would say, be open and be willing to share your story.

So, I’m not saying that you have to be a writer and that you have to write it down or anything, but just talk. Talk to them, talk to others and share, share the moment. If you are willing to share your story and share the same ones over and over again, I know sometimes my own children, after they read some of the things I’ve written, and they’ll throw back at me some lines from some characters that are in these stories, and I said, oh, great. 

One, I’m glad they read what I wrote. And two, it has become a part of them, whether they knew it or not, it has become a part of them. So our stories that we keep within ourselves, share them so that they can become a part of our children. Just share those things, even though it’s on your mind, you know, what are you thinking about? And why are you thinking that way?

You know, what made you think that way? Sometimes even understanding that gives you a lot of insight into the person. Just being willing to share your stories, I think is a powerful contribution.

[32:30] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. Well, I think what you’re sharing reminds me of something I heard on the very first episode, Phoenix shared that we’re healed by the power of our testimonies.

And I think that that’s true. Even, you know, young people like the more they hear our testimonies, the more that they hear how we think, why we think the way that we do. It’s easy to underestimate the power of that in terms of how one develops a sense of self.

There’s one other question that’s kind of coming up for me is, I guess, what would you say to your inner child now, like now that you know everything that you know, and have done as much work as you’ve done.

Like, what would you say to your inner child?

[33:13] Jean Alicia Elster: That’s an excellent question. I would probably say it all works out. Because I think when you’re a child, you do wonder a lot. I think that’s some of the anxiety of childhood because you wonder, you know, sometimes you honestly don’t see, I don’t know how this is gonna, but, so I would just tell my inner child, it all works out.

 

[33:40] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. I feel that sense of uncertainty in childhood, at least in my own childhood, I feel like there was a lot of knowing and not knowing. 

 

[33:52] Jean Alicia Elster:Right. 

[33:53] Michaela Ayers: And to your point around, like, how is this going to work out or, will I feel safe, will I feel seen, will people be nice to me? You know, all of these questions are, are very much alive.

And so, yeah, I think if I could take a pass at that question, it would be, it’s okay to be yourself. You know like, you’re going to be coming in contact with people who think that you’re one way based off of how you look and that doesn’t mean that’s who you are. And it’s okay to have feelings about that and be upset or be sad about that.

That doesn’t change who you are, who you have the potential to be. And I, I think as a young Black person, I think I needed to hear that and I still need to hear that, as a Black woman, I still need to hear that when I move through the world, that it’s okay for me just to be who I am and I don’t have to perform, or I don’t have to, you know, be the strong Black woman all the time. It’s okay not to be strong.

[35:03] Jean Alicia Elster: Exactly. No, that’s true. You can be vulnerable.

 

[35:07] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. And I feel like kids are so, they can really pick up on that vulnerability in a way that sometimes, it’s like energizing to be around young people because it seems more accessible for them to, to tap into that.

 

[35:24] Jean Alicia Elster: Yeah I guess I view it in both ways, because I think young people today, I really think the current young generation does have it harder, because they are bombarded with so much more, at least than I was.

And I thought I was pretty well attuned to things that were going on because they were, my parents always subscribed to different magazines and we used the libraries and we, you know, they exposed me to a lot of things culturally and whatnot. 

But in today’s world, young people are bombarded with things even when they don’t want to be. It’s there, you know, it’s even hard to, how do you turn it off? How do you, how do you get these still moments? Sometimes you just need a moment to sit and just think, let things go through your head. But if you’re always being bombarded with stimuli, how does that happen?

[36:19] Michaela Ayers: Right. Yeah. Well, and I guess even if I were to think about a young person who maybe is currently listening now, who is perhaps being bombarded with information, with images, with different stories.

Yeah, what would you say to them?

[36:37] Jean Alicia Elster: I guess I would encourage them just to find a quiet space. And even if their household situation is full of people or whatever, claim a quiet space. So even if there’s commotion going around them, just kind of block themselves off so that they can sit back and just think to themselves.

Just say, I’m just taking this time for me to connect with myself. And if you can get a quiet space alone, that’s fine too. But either way, just kind of claim that space so that you can process it at your own level, at your own time. Because I know sometimes stimuli are happening and you have to react quickly. I know that, but sometimes you just need, I want to do this at my own pace.

[37:36] Michaela Ayers: Wow. That’s great. That’s really great advice, cause I agree. There’s something that comes when we have just a moment of stillness, you know. I feel like those are, those are the moments, at least in my life, that I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself.

 

[37:51] Jean Alicia Elster: Right? Well, when I was much younger, I was very interested in what they call the Desert Fathers.

And there may have been women doing it, but they referred to them as the Desert Fathers. And they would just go off into a desert and live in a cave or something. And I found that fascinating because then they would come out and they would write these profound things based upon the time alone that they had.

And somehow that stuck with me. And I don’t know how I found out about them, probably one of these trips to the library that my, my parents took me to. But I always felt that it was important to have time alone. As I said, even if there are people around you, because I know, sometimes when we vacation at the beach and there are people around you, but I feel like it’s just me and the waves, me and the water, you can kind of block it out. 

And so I just have always appreciated those quiet times that you make for yourself and how important those are.

[39:03] Michaela Ayers: Absolutely. Yes. Well, thank you so much.

 

[39:09] Jean Alicia Elster: Thank you! I just love these deep conversations. This is your gift [laughs].

 

[39:28] Michaela Ayers: As I reflect on my conversation with Jean Alicia and the gentle waves of her wisdom, there are a few ideas, still skimming the shores of my mind.

[39:39] Upbeat piano music

[39:42] Michaela Ayers: First, I want to return to this idea of inheritance. When we translate the world that we’ve inherited into our creative practice, it becomes a source of inspiration and a tool for self-empowerment. Stories from the past become the stepping stones that guide us through life’s many lessons as we chart a course of our own making. 

Second, I want to breathe into Jean’s guidance that when we detach from the endless distractions that flood our awareness, inner wisdom can be found. When we savor moments of solitary stillness, we find much-needed time to process and peace of mind.

A sincere thanks to Jean Alicia Elster for joining us in this episode, and an ancestral shout out to Ida Wells-Barnett.

If you would like to celebrate these artists, be sure to check out our show notes to learn more about their work. If there is someone in your community who has an inner child, that you are dying to hang out with, please send this episode their way. 

This episode of Black Her Stories was produced by Laura Dolch and me, Michaela Ayers. It was edited by Jennifer McCord. Our music is by artist, composer, and my dear friend, Chris Sims. 

For more episodes, hit subscribe or follow wherever you’re listening right now. And if you would like to get in touch, I would love to hear from you. Drop me a line at nourish.community. And in the spirit of curiosity, I’m going to leave you with a question.

If you could have a conversation with your inner child, what would you say? 

Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, please take good care.

[41:54] Upbeat piano music

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