After following in her activist parents’ footsteps, Blair Imani reached her breaking point organizing protests in college. She shares how rediscovering spirituality helped her let go of toxic expectations and heal. Blair realized education was a more sustainable way for her to impact change as a historian and creator of the popular Smarter In Seconds educational video series. She discusses learning self-care, listening to your values when making decisions, and embracing practices like yoga and meditation. While still devoted to intersectional advocacy, Blair now approaches it with intention, only taking on projects aligning with her ethics. She offers insights on finding calm within chaos and being mindful of how your actions affect others. Blair is the author of the bestselling book Read This to Get Smarter.
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Blair Imani: [00:00:00] We can treat difference and marginalize it, or we can embrace difference and allow ourselves to see and experience a full breadth of the human experience instead of one narrow normative aspect.
Jonathan Fields: [00:00:13] So my guest today, Blair Imani, she grew up in a house where sitting quiet in the face of any level of injustice was just not an option. Whether it was advocating for the needs of a sibling or standing up to right a wrong in her community. Her parents set a powerful example and invited Blair to always rise to the challenge. And that’s exactly what she has done. But along the way, Blair has also discovered there are different ways to make a difference, and we each need to figure out how to take up the mantle of change while also honoring our unique circumstances and needs. And that includes acknowledging our own very personal, psychological, and physical well-being. And building on this realization over time, Blair transitioned from organizing and activism on the ground to focus on education, but in a way that only she could do harnessing the power and the reach, the interactivity and visual impact of social media by creating these short and punchy and informative and entertaining bursts of wisdom and inspiration. She calls her smarter in second series, which at this point has even become a bit of a movement. Now a writer, mental health advocate, award winning educator and historian living at the intersections of black and queer and Muslim identity. Blair is the best selling author of Read This to Get Smarter, Making Our Way Home, and Modern Herstory. Her scholarship spans intersectionality, gender studies, race and racism, sociology, and United States history, and she has presented at Oxford and Stanford and Harvard, serves on the board of directors for the Tegan and Sara Foundation, and has been featured in The New York Times and tons of other outlets. So excited to share this best of conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.
Jonathan Fields: [00:02:07] You um, from what I understand, grew up in, uh, Pasadena. And, uh, while you have been in different places, that is someplace that you seem to have returned to later in life. Um, okay. So people can’t see your face, but I just saw your face, and and there was a look.
Blair Imani: [00:02:24] It’s like, Pasadena. It’s so funny. Me being 18 and moving across the country to the South Coast, as I like to call it, the Gulf Coast, to go to Louisiana State University. At that moment in my life, I never, ever, ever thought I would return back home. And then living in a few different places Washington, D.C., Brooklyn, New York, a different part of Brooklyn, New York. I realized that I was extremely homesick, and it’s hard to shake off having grown up in one place with one season and then moving across the country to experience hurricanes and winter. I also live very close to my parents. I live in their back house that’s been converted to a full house, so I think a little bit of the look is like the sheer joy of being back home, but also like the sheer everything else of being that close to your parents. But it’s been a it’s been a journey like them seeing how much of an influence they’ve made on me and the things that annoy them about me are the same things that they do that annoy me. So it’s like that beautiful being an adult around your parents vibe.
Jonathan Fields: [00:03:27] It’s that fantastic dynamic. It’s like you’ve gone out into the world, you’ve grown, you’ve changed, you’re becoming your own human being. And then as soon as you get back into, like the family dynamic, it’s like, oh, we’re here again.
Blair Imani: [00:03:38] Yeah. Like, why am I asking permission to leave? I like, I keep telling my parents, like mom and dad, I lived across from the projects in Brooklyn and you felt like that was fine. So I’m going to drive myself to the gas station alone.
Jonathan Fields: [00:03:51] That’s too funny. Um, so, uh, after being a lifelong New Yorker, I’m actually more in Boulder, Colorado right now where, um, I know was also the site of your TED Talk a couple of years back. But you know what’s interesting about Brooklyn? I think New York City in general, especially like some of the more neighborhoody parts of it is it really is. I think a lot of people have this perception of it is so big and it moves so quickly, and people are so impatient that, you know, you have to kind of like leave a part of your humanity behind. But I feel like actually, once you’re there for a while, you settle into, you realize there are really these beautiful neighborhoods and, you know, people and people know you. And in a way that in towns sometimes where it’s a little bit more spread out, where in theory, like a smaller town, this is where, you know, like everybody’s in everyone’s business and everyone knows everyone. But there’s something kind of magical and very deeply neighborhoody, especially parts of Brooklyn. I in particular in New York. That’s almost counterintuitive if you haven’t experienced it before.
Blair Imani: [00:04:46] Oh, yeah. You would think that everybody in New York, especially from what you hear, is standoffish and doesn’t want anything to do with you. But the moments of solidarity and the collective, collective eye rolls that you get when the train is late, or when you see a giant possum-sized rat scamper across you and you’re just like, wow. And everybody else is like, oh, that was also gross. But also the moments of solidarity, like when something horrible happens. I think that not just when something horrible happens, but when people need to stand up. I mean, the pots and pans banging during the pandemic like that is why I want New York to be seen as. I mean, of course, nobody should have to go through like the whole layers of being a healthcare worker and having to experience a failure of the public health system. But in those grave and dire moments, I think that’s writ large. What is so beautiful about humanity, and that’s what I try to hold on to whenever I feel like, oh my goodness, everything is horrible. I had a next-door neighbor named Mr. Kevin and I called him Mr. Kevin because it just felt like the appropriate polite thing to do. He called me Blizzy-air instead of Blair. Um, and I would walk outside and he would be, you know, he had a moving job, he had a few different jobs. He was also a cook and his neighbor like his, we partially moved into the apartment we were at because his neighborhood, like his house, was so pop and like he had a barbecue all the time. We were instantly friends with everybody. I’m pescatarian now, but when I wasn’t back then, we just brought out some like defrosted chicken breasts and we were like, hey, neighbors! And they were like, throw that on the grill. It was it was just beautiful. Um, and every morning before I would go to work, Kevin would let me know which way was the safest way to walk to the train. And it was just like that kind of care. Like one time he he was like, Blair, there was a stabbing over here, so watch out. And it was just like looking out for people. And then folks in the neighborhood, too, that were all kind of connected to Mr. Kevin in one way or another. Like there was this one young kid, I think his name was Christopher, and I had to park really far away from my apartment. I also drove in New York because I’m that much of a Californian.
Jonathan Fields: [00:06:39] You were one of the three people in New York?
Blair Imani: [00:06:41] Yes, I was.
Jonathan Fields: [00:06:42] Right. Right.
Blair Imani: [00:06:43] Um, and then I learned there are so many places to park in New York. But in this one case, there wasn’t. And I was, you know, it was late at night. And then Christopher, who I know, and he was like, do you want me to walk with you? And I was like, thank you. And I thought that was so dope because it was just like a level of kindness or like Blair, I saw somebody trying to steal your package. So I have it. I’m going to give it to you later today. Like it was just that type of immediate family. I really miss about being in New York, for sure, and I’m definitely missed during the pandemic. So one of the nice things we did before we left, uh, was we didn’t take any of our furniture with us when we moved cross country. So we were just like, hey, friends and family, come into our apartment and take what you want. And folks were really excited, and Mr. Kevin did call us a few times to make sure we’d settled back to LA. Um, but I hope he’s doing well. And that’s just like a gem of a story that I will never forget. Yeah, I.
Jonathan Fields: [00:07:32] Mean, it really is so beautiful. It sounds like also, I mean, you come from what sounds like a pretty tight-knit family. I mean, it sounds like close to your folks, and it also sounds like you grew up in a family where, you know, if you look at the work that you’re doing in the world right now, there’s a fierce devotion to issues, to ideals, to to individuals, to communities. And it sounds like the seeds of that for you were planted in the earliest days within the family. This is not something you came to later in life.
Blair Imani: [00:07:55] Oh, no. I mean, as a kid, I definitely didn’t realize my parents were as fierce and righteous as I know and understand them to be today. I didn’t really witness that until I got to college, and I saw how checked out other people’s parents were, and I was like, oh, my parents are awesome. But of course, I didn’t realize in the moment because it was all I knew. And I mean, whether it was my mom just kind of helping people, just even if it was like somebody had a hard time figuring out how breastfeeding worked. And my mom was just like, hey, let’s help out. And there wasn’t really mommy blogs back then because it was like the 90s or my dad and my mom. They’re both just commitment to service. Like there was a situation of domestic violence with one of my younger sisters, uh, friends, mothers and my mom and I and my dad and my younger sister. We all just went over and helped her move out of the house, and the family came and lived with us for like a few months. And it was awesome because it was like, oh, extra siblings, extra mom, you know? But in hindsight, there are very few people who simultaneously have the resources to do something like that. And then also the dedication to community to do those things.
Jonathan Fields: [00:09:01] Yeah.
Blair Imani: [00:09:02] Um, and we don’t really keep in touch with that family as much anymore. I think it, in hindsight, was like the vulnerability that they went through might have been like a little bit embarrassing to have needed somebody in that way. But regardless, like it showed me what you do when people need help and when people might not be able to articulate that they need help. And if you have the means, like we have an extra bedroom, of course you can stay with us. And I did not recognize how profound those things were. Even my dad, he works with folks with developmental disabilities, and he’s always referred to referred to the people that he takes care of as clients. And even when you say take care like that also implies a hierarchy, whereas a client really implies that this is somebody who is being provided a service, and there’s that professional expectation there, and it’s not saviorism, it’s very like egalitarian. It’s very like professional in the sense of this is just something you’re doing for folks. And, um, when I was a kid, at times, I think during when I was a middle schooler and I had a little bit of a little privilege frosting on myself where I needed to be brought down to size. My parents had us go and serve food during the Christmas, you know, like lunch before we opened our presents, because my parents really just wanted me to understand these different dynamics in that they weren’t going to raise a classist kid just because the people that I was growing up around were, were classist. And so in the moment, I was just like, well, my parents are very intense and nosy and into people’s lives. And in the present I’m like, oh, wow. Like, this is I came by it honestly. And, uh, they’re even even other layers to that. Realizing my dad didn’t talk about his activism until I was in East Baton Rouge Parish prison, having been arrested at the protests in 2016. And I’m calling my dad, fully expecting to get like a talking to about how we shouldn’t change things from outside. We change things from inside. We don’t get arrested. And he was like, well, it’s time you knew. I was also in the struggle. And I was like, what? And he’s not really sat down and talked to me about it since. I think it’s a bit painful for him, but it just shows you like there’s so many, there’s so many things that we carry along our way and it might feel new to us, but it definitely comes from somewhere, even if we don’t realize it in the present.
Jonathan Fields: [00:11:16] Yeah, I think we absorb so much of us, and often not. Not because of what our parents say to us, but what they model, like the behavior that they actually show up and say. They don’t say, this is what we do, they just do it. And then we observe them repeating it over and over, and it just becomes normalized. It’s like, well, that is the appropriate way for us to move into the world. Um, I know from from what I understand, your your dad, I guess, when he was younger, was also a conscientious objector for Vietnam. Your Uncle Vernon was a Black Panther. So there’s a strong sense of advocacy of doing the right thing, of social justice and activism that’s built-in beyond the sort of like day to day take care of your neighbor, like, you know, be compassionate, honor the humanity and other people. It does seem like there’s a bigger energy of actually proactively taking action to make change. That’s always been there.
Blair Imani: [00:12:01] Oh, 100%. I remember, like my aunties and grandma would get on. Us a little bit about. We didn’t go to church all the time and I’m like, clearly we didn’t go to church enough because I’m Muslim now. Whoopsie. Um, but I still am deeply spiritual. But my parents were like, well, at that time, I didn’t realize in the moment that there was some embezzlement going on at the church that we were going to. And I think my parents became very disillusioned with that, as is as makes sense. And they were like, well, you know, part of being Christ-like is doing these actions. It’s not about going to church and being ridiculed for not wearing for wearing white after whatever holiday, or not wearing stockings or a certain type of hat from a certain label. Or especially with my younger sister Chelsea, who’s autistic and bipolar like she struggled with sitting still. And it’s like, you know, there wasn’t that same grace and compassion that you would expect from religious folks to have toward a child who struggles sitting still, with that expectation being difficult for a lot of folks, uh, there was a scorn of why can’t you control? And so my parents were like, you know what? This is all very uncomfortable. It’s also far let’s not do this. Let’s just use all of this money that we would donate to, like actually showing up for community and like, bringing people into our home when they are going through a crisis and just being present for people helping out in ways that go above and beyond. What like might be an expectation but is right. And if you can do it, you should do it, especially if it’s to help one another. So it was very much that. But I remember a talk that I had in the car with my mom, like, mom, we should be going to church more. You know, I was talking to Auntie So-and-so and my mom was like, yeah, well, you know, like because my mom is she’s just so fiery. She just says it like it is. And it was just like, you know, well, that’s it’s BS if you are, if you’re claiming to do one thing, but your actions don’t match that. And if you’re only helping people in theory and not in practice. So my parents are very much practical people. During the pandemic, they were immediately like, who needs assistance? They immediately started a pandemic garden because they were just like, they’re so good at like uncertainty. They were like, oh, this is very uncertain. A pandemic never experienced that before. Here’s how we’ll approach it immediately, making sure that, like, friends and family could get toilet paper and food. And so I still have a long ways to go to, like fill the shoes that they’ve set out. But I just deeply admire their commitment to helping people because it’s even like a memory I have of my mom. Uh, there was this, like these two boys that were just, like, wailing on each other. And my mom just, like, pulls up to them and was like, hey, are you guys related? Like, is that your brother? And they were like, yeah. And she was like, go home. And they were like, oh, sorry. And they stopped beating each other up. And I was just like that. That could turn into I’m calling the police. And then the police are getting involved. School-to-prison pipeline. But my parents very much represent just like showing up for people in ways that are compassionate and loving. And I try to embody that. But I feel like I’m still a work in progress, and sometimes they are too. But aren’t we all?
Jonathan Fields: [00:14:58] Right. Exactly. You know, I think we end that work in progress, you know, like the moment we take our last breath, if we’re really being honest. I’m curious. Also, growing up in that household was sort of like the fierce devotion to service to others and compassion. And also with the younger sister, who is autistic and living with bipolar as the sister in the household. What was that dynamic like? How do you feel like that dynamic shaped you, influenced you like did it make you step into the world, into your relationships, into life differently?
Blair Imani: [00:15:27] Oh, 100%. I also have three additional siblings. They’re very private people though, so I don’t usually discuss them, sure, but I don’t even know if they’re cool with me saying their names. But I love them as well, and I know Brandon’s cool with me talking about him publicly. He’s he’s absolutely amazing. I think that, like, you know, there was just moments where I saw people lead in ways that didn’t match their ethics. Like I was talking recently about what it was like to be called out of class because a teacher did not know how to handle Chelsea. And I remember looking at this adult and being like, dude, you’re asking like an eight-year-old, what’s up? We ended up moving away from that school. But I also remember, like my mom having Chelsea enrolled in two schools at one time, just in case she got kicked out of one because there were not a lot in the early 90s, like there were not a lot of protections for for kids with with disabilities. There was like the Ada. But like, I remember my mom having to fight tooth and nail. And so we ended up moving to Carver Elementary. And Liz Hollingsworth, who was the principal at the time, she was so amazing. There was a point where we were on a vacation, and Chelsea became really dehydrated and ended up having her first seizure while we were watching Pinocchio. And I like, you know, that was kind of a moment where I feel like I had to be. I like, you know, was using all my, like, emergency stuff, like, okay, like, get mom here, like call 911 all those things. And Doctor Hollingsworth when we were at school the next like, you know, however long it was till we were at school came up to me on the, on the playground and just kind of like found me and was like, hey, Blair, I heard what happened with Chelsea. That must have been really scary. You were really brave. If she has another seizure, do you want to go to the hospital with her? And I was like, yeah. And she never had a seizure again until during the pandemic because she was dehydrated once again. But I never had to think about it again. I was just like, okay, this adult has approached me in the best way possible, where I don’t feel like I’m being called in or have to go to the principal’s office, which was, you know, stigmatizing and told me that it was going to be okay. And that also like that made me feel like I could still be a kid, like I could still play on the playground and still have these responsibilities that so many of us had. Um, it also taught me a lot about, you know, so, so often people say like voice for the voiceless. And it just taught me that, like, it’s not that people are voiceless, like there are some folks who are non-speaking or, you know, communicate in ways that don’t involve speech, but it doesn’t mean that those folks are like, defenseless in all those things and the ways that many of us are made defenseless in systems of oppression. But with Chelsea, I felt, I think when I was younger, like one, I never felt like there was anything wrong with her because that was just like, this is my sister, period. I did encounter people, unfortunately, who were ableist even at a young age, parents who were ableist. But I always understood it as, oh, clearly they have issues. Not that my sister just existing is the problem. So I think that was healthy because I know adults today who struggle to understand disability, neurodiversity and act in ways that are appropriate and humanizing just all of the time. And I think that honestly goes to my I love this story. I’ll keep telling it forever. My dad, when we were outside of church, this is one of the reasons why we stopped going to that specific church. There was a person who was having, I think, like I’m not sure what the proper terminology is, but like was maybe having like ideation was having, you know, a moment where they were having a hard time emotionally regulating. The person may have been schizophrenic and was having a delusion and like acting that delusion out. And we were outside of church and I remember like this just group of people on the steps of the church, just kind of gawking at this person and feeling very like, what do we do? Or like, oh, what’s wrong with them? And just like reviling. And my dad just walked over and was like, hey, what’s happening? And I remember thinking as a kid like, wow, that person can see something that’s invisible. And my dad’s the only one out of all these people who can see it, too. And so my dad was able to, like, de-escalate. And because he worked with the regional center, was able to get that person some care. Whereas I think a lot of folks response would have been to call police and involve police. And I just remember thinking like, wow, my dad’s the only brave person to go and talk to this person who’s experiencing something none of us are and handle it. And that was just kind of like my mindset. It was also like when we would go to McDonald’s, my dad, we would go through the drive-through, and my dad was always like, let’s go to the restaurant. And whenever there was somebody who was unhoused, what my dad would do. And one of these lessons that I did not like or understand in the moment, to think about how much setup went into these lessons. Uh, we were at McDonald’s. My dad walked into the store and. He came back in the car and he didn’t have any food in his hands. And I was like, what? And he was like, do you see that gentleman over there? And I was like, and there was an un-housed person. My dad was like, I gave him the food that I was going to order for you because we have food at home.
Blair Imani: [00:20:16] And I was like, Uggh! And now in hindsight, I’m like, wow. Like the amount of, like, effort it took to make me appreciate what we do have at home, that we have food at home, and that there are people who need things that I might want, but that I don’t necessarily need, and that what that person needs supersedes what I want, even as a kid. Just genius. So anyway, that was kind of the environment I grew up in. And it just like, of course I came out the way that I have come out because there was so much intention that went into it. Um, but going back to Chelsea with the voice for the voiceless thing, there was a point in middle school where, like, I spoke to a group of middle schoolers today, actually, and they were like, Blair, you’re so cool. And I was like, that’s wild that you think so. Because I didn’t have any friends. I was like, always sitting by myself. I actually used to eat lunch, uh, as fast as possible and then go sit in the library and read the Guinness Book of World Records, and then try to memorize all the words in the dictionary. And when Chelsea, who’s two years younger than me, started going to middle school with me, I noticed that she would stay out on the playground and not care if people didn’t invite her. And I was like, oh, like, wow. Like, you know, I had this kind of like ableist infantilization of Chelsea at that time where I was like, wow, she just must not notice that she’s not being included. And at one point Chelsea was like, uh, we were talking about a party that she didn’t get invited to. And I was like, oh, that’s so messed up. Like, I’ll talk to her to make sure that she invites you. And Chelsea is like, well, why would I want to go if she has to be told to invite me? Like, why would I want to go somewhere where people don’t want me there? And I was like, wow. And so Chelsea taught me so much about like self-advocacy and being okay with not being included. Because why would you want to be somewhere where people don’t want to have you? And learning to love myself and then also like Chelsea would, you know, like if if push came to shove, Chelsea would like, defend herself with, with with arms, with hands. And it was just one of those things where it was very deeply formative for me because I had such a, I think, different outlook, like I felt connected to somebody at all times, like I knew going into the workforce that I will be taking care of Chelsea our entire lives, you know, like that’s just a fact. And so when I make a life decision, even moving away from home, like I knew I would have to move home eventually. And it’s funny because when I first moved back home, uh, talking about shifting dynamics, I was like, trying to take care or like tend to Chelsea in the same way I did as a kid. And Chelsea is extremely independent and doesn’t need me as much anymore. And so I’ll, like, sit in her bedroom and she’s like, Blair, are you bored? Do you need something to do? You can leave. And so it’s just been a journey and an experience. But she’s intensely private, like she does not like being on my social media, and I respect that. And it’s just it’s been really cool to grow together and to see a whole community grow together. The last thing I’ll say, because I know I’ve been talking forever here, but is that one of the girls that Chelsea was very close friends with is now a teacher in Atlanta, and she primarily teaches black students who have developmental disabilities, cognitive disabilities. And I just remember the drama and the politics of this very lily white school, very, you know, wealthy school and us being there and them having amazing resources. But like the kids that would invite Chelsea to include Chelsea and the ones that wouldn’t, and how a lot of those kids that did include Chelsea ended up working in helping professions or like joining TFA, and it’s just been really beautiful to see. And I think with McKenzie, shout out to McKenzie, like living those values in her current career. It’s it’s really cool to see how, you know, we can treat difference and marginalize it, or we can embrace difference and allow ourselves to see and experience a full breadth of the human experience instead of one narrow normative aspect.
Jonathan Fields: [00:23:55] Yeah. And allow ourselves to be changed by it also and not sort of say like, well, I’m quote normal and they’re not or like, this is the way that we’re supposed to be and like, you know, but actually just allow ourselves to just kind of like all be human beings existing as we are and to change and be changed by the experience of relationship, no matter who that relationship is with. So when you grow up in that environment and then you head off to LSU, you know, clearly you’re not just going to leave behind. This advocates impulse like this is a part this is like a part of your DNA at that point in your life. So rather than just saying, I’m going to go all in on my schoolwork and nothing else, you’re like, yes, end. Okay, so I’m going to study history. I’m going to go deep into the areas that I, that I care deeply about. And at the same time, there are things happening in the world around me, even local, right here on campus that I care about. And I can’t not step into some sort of leadership and activism and advocacy role. And that sounds like it really. It becomes a central part of that experience for you at the same time.
Blair Imani: [00:24:55] Oh, 100%. I had such a like liberal arts college. I thought that all schools were liberal arts colleges like. And so I went to LSU, which is very much like a down home southern like folks would have like gun racks locked up on their cars. Like you’d have folks who, like, would go mudding. You had folks who went noodling, which is when you stick your arm into and get catfish to eat your arm. Then you pull it out and you fish, which I experienced and stuff for that too. Crawfishing. And not to say that’s the only thing going on, but like it was a stark contrast from what I had experienced where. And I’m so glad I went through it because, you know, kind of in that, you know, the experiences I had had. Whenever you have a shift in worldview, you have to reckon with the fact that for a big part of it, because of confirmation bias, you think what you’ve gone through is the best way to live, and then you have a different way of life and you’re like, oh, and I think because of like this West Coast coastal, you know, the coastal elite thing, like when I was growing up, there was High School Musical and I was like, oh, this is just like my school. And that was kind of exported other places where it didn’t match, folks. We had one person who was a teen who was pregnant at the school, and it was like a whole to do. And I had folks at LSU who had their kids who were bringing to class because child care wasn’t. I mean, they do have more child care now since I’ve left, but it was just a stark contrast where like that was really common, or folks dropping out to go work on an oil refinery because they like it was a better opportunity for them then to finish a degree like it was just a different understanding. I also had a lot of class privilege where, you know, somebody’s house in the neighborhood got occupied during Occupy Wall Street because they were executive for Wells Fargo. And so a lot of the folks here didn’t experience job loss or their complete lives being upended during the financial collapse. Whereas at LSU, you had folks who experienced Hurricane Katrina and then the financial collapse. And so it was a different level of oppression that didn’t always go across racial lines. And so it was a very growing experience for me. I also remember, like crying on the bathroom floor to my mom being like, I want to drop out. And she was like, well, I think this is a good experience for you and I. So I’m so grateful to Doctor Victor Stater at LSU in the history department, and Doctor Lori Martin and the sociology department, and Doctor Finley, who’s actually officiating my wedding. Doctor Finley, who introduced me to my fiance, who I met at LSU for for having my back because Doctor Finley, for example, as I was attempting to hold these protests that school and live my like, you know, chain, let’s chain. I’ve suggested so many times it never happened. But I was like, whenever there was an issue like, hey, the campus isn’t doing that. I’m like, we should chain ourselves to the the chancellor’s desk. And they were like, Blair, we’re not doing it. And I’m like, well, okay, well, I’ll come back to it another time. It never happened. But whenever I did inevitably cross the line into having a conflict with a teacher or the administration, Doctor Finley would always be present. And there was a point where he was just showing up, and I finally introduced myself to him because he was just, like, supportive. And there’s been so much writing about black faculty and faculty of color, filling the role of not only mentoring and being there for students social emotional health, but also having to teach and publish and all that stuff. But LSU was such an experience. I went into it completely thinking, oh, I know everything. I have so much to offer, nothing to learn. Which is hilarious because it was college. I also because the school I went to was such a preparatory school where so many people’s parents taught at Caltech or worked at JPL, that I tested out of a lot of the things, or I would be taking like sophomore year classes. And we had already studied that in high school. And so I was like, oh, like I felt like I was an average student this whole time. But we were just doing really, really, really difficult stuff. And so it enabled me to both party and have a good time, learn the, you know, tried and true art of day drinking and not getting hungover, which I can’t do anymore because oh my goodness, my my liver is not the same in these late 20s. Um, and just learn how to party and have fun, but also how to advocate in ways that made me aware of these issues. I had never met anybody who had gone through conversion therapy, whereas being at LSU, my first friend in my political science class had that experience and just it being different context, and then also being able to look in hindsight and say, you know, my upbringing wasn’t as affirmed as I believed it was because, you know, I had this, like kind of nostalgia glaze over. I was like, oh, no, it’s totally it was amazing. And then I’m like, oh, actually, no. Like there are ways around, especially fatphobia and diet culture that were so enmeshed in LA. Like, I remember people and I don’t want to trigger anyone with with an eating disorder. So I won’t like, get into specifics. But I remember people practicing like disordered eating at school and that being something normative or like skipping lunch, being a fad versus going to LSU and people being like, so comfortable about eating. And that was something that I desperately needed to be comfortable with that I still had to work on. And I was working on with nutritionist Jillian Young during the during the pandemic to, you know, get to a healthier place with food and having a relationship with food. But it’s just one of those things that like part of having that good life is not believing that you have everything to teach, nothing to gain in a situation, and then also just trying to grow up. But I was definitely trying to, like, live out like this. Many protests a year, this many things, but also just trying to have fun and find myself.
Jonathan Fields: [00:30:25] Yeah. Which is like a really interesting dance to do, because on the one side, it’s like I’m trying to be a conscious like citizen and, and be out there and, and affect change. And at the same time, you’re in your early 20s, you know, and you’re like, who am I? Um, what do I really believe in? And how do I actually just enjoy life to a certain extent? And it’s I’m so curious because I’ve, I’ve had this conversation or variations of a conversation with so many people who have a strong lifelong devotion to advocacy and activism, where on on the one hand, you’re like, I cannot spend another waking hour, not in some way affecting change. But on the other hand, you’re like, I need joy in my life. At the same time. I need to breathe. I need a sense of freedom. I need to like I found it’s this really interesting tension for people to work with.
Blair Imani: [00:31:11] So I I’ll show you the healthy and then unhealthy way I dealt with that. Um, I don’t think I’ve discussed my I’ve never discussed publicly my study abroad trip to Santiago de Chile. Um, and in that moment. So my mom, uh, she will self-describe as a party animal. So does my dad. She does all these knee workouts so that she can go on, like, dance marathons. And during the pandemic, she hired a DJ and then sent all of her friends disco lights so that they could, like, still party. So my mom believes that, like, it’s so funny because she’ll always say, like, you have to party now. Like you have to party while you’re young. But my mom is like, you know, she’s over 50 and she’s still partying. So I’m like, you can always party. But my mom would always tell me, like, you know, Blair, just make sure that you’re not giving yourself a quarter-life crisis. Make sure that you’re not burning out. And I did not know what burnout was until I was experiencing it. And that looked like my friend Simone. She had to take over planning of a protest because I slept through the protest, because I was so exhausted, because I was literally like, if I sleep right now, I’m not planning something that could do these things. And it was just very unhealthy. But when I went to Santiago de Chile, there was something called Miércoles Po, and po is a like something that is added as part of the slang in Chile and Blair Imani: Miércoles, you know, Wednesday, let’s hang out. It was this big party for all these different, you know, international students and you know, Chileans as well to come together. And I stayed in touch with so many folks that I met there, as well as my friend Brooke, who just got married. And so Brooke and I were roommates, and she’s from New Orleans and still lives in New Orleans, I believe she’s blonde, blue-eyed. She looks, you know, like stereotypically American. At the time, I had braids and I was like a whole head taller than Brooke. She’s very short, and we would just walk into places. I spoke fluent Spanish, and I’m trying to get back to that place. Um, Brooke spoke no Spanish, but Brooke was down to party, and so was I. And so we just looked like celebrities. And I feel like we tried to dress that way, too. At least we felt like celebrities. And I honestly feel like I was almost every evening inebriated because it was college. It was three months of study abroad. It was amazing. Um, and I still got A’s, but I then when I got back home, I felt this huge disconnect of like, you know, why did I feel the need to party that hard? And then how do I integrate that into my life? And I think I didn’t do it in a healthy way, as many folks in our early 20s tend to do. But it was just kind of this like duality. I didn’t know how to integrate partying and advocacy and being studious. So I had two different selves where I was just like a party animal and then, you know, trying to, you know, effect change. And then I started to, I think slowly but surely realize you could meld the two. But that’s when Black Lives Matter advocacy was starting to ramp up. This was 2013, where these conversations were becoming more common, and I was also trying to do advocacy around LGBTQ+ folks. And so, you know, in around LGBTQ plus identity, I felt, you know, I can party, I can be a drag king at this drag show and then also be raising money for this initiative that we’re doing. But I just kind of started to burn out from that 2013 period all through 2014, when I started a nonprofit called equality for her. I moved back home for the summer when I tried to become an influencer, and I was flat-out told I can’t be an influencer and be political at the same time, which is hilarious because that’s what I do. Um, went back to LSU and just started hitting the pavement, you know, like, uh, doing civil disobedience trainings, doing trainings on collective action, doing trainings on social media and that kind of crescendoed into 20 or 2015, when I was just so exhausted, I had nothing more to give. I was getting threats, I was terrified, I was not being honest with myself or my friends. Even I was getting threats because my name was in contact with all on these materials, and I would just cancel things and folks would be mad and resentful at me for canceling them, because I felt like I should shoulder the fear so that other people don’t become afraid of doing these things. And it was also simultaneously so frustrating because these are the same folks who were like, Blair, we can’t have a vigil. This will happen. And I was like, that’s ridiculous. It’ll. Be fine. Lo and behold, when we ended up getting those consequences that folks were afraid of, I felt two. I don’t even know. Like I was doing this like John Henryism superwoman thing where I was like, no, I can’t let people know. Like the strong black woman trope was really harming me at that moment. And so at this time, I’m dating this white boy from very small town in Louisiana, which I won’t name because everybody will know. But we ended up breaking up over spring break 2015 after I think his name was Walter Scott was killed and we were on vacation in South America or Central America in Panama. And I had such a visceral reaction to the footage of this man being killed, I think, as is a natural human response. And the guy at the time, he was saying like, why do you care? Like, this isn’t like you’re a different Black community than this person. Why do you care? And I was like, well, as a Black person, I care about Black people. And he was and I was like, if we have kids, we’re going to have Black kids. And he’s like, I don’t want to have Black kids. And I was like, well, we shouldn’t have been together for the past three years. So we ended up breaking up. And then that made me really realize, like the cognitive dissonance of trying to be someone integrating myself and then also trying to be with somebody who didn’t have the same values as me at that time. I converted to Islam, and it was that kind of like the healthier way of me being able to reconcile all these things was not feeling spiritually nourished, feeling like I was being so many things to so many people, to people who didn’t value me or my or my values, and then figuring out how can I choose myself. And in that way it was like really trying to choose a spiritual path. And so the first time I went to the mosque, it was mostly out of curiosity, but it was so beautiful and it just answered so many questions I had. It was also interesting because I had always had interest in Islam, but I was always afraid of looking into it. And I think sometimes when we’re afraid of things, it’s because they have a deep resonance with us. And that deep resonance scares us in many different ways. And I started just coming back and coming back eventually. Once I had converted, I had completely changed my lifestyle. I had like slowed down a lot. I was just more introspective. I was taking time to pray. I was trying to implement a practice of gratitude. I think I had gotten a little overzealous at a at a certain point where I was like, this is a great way of living. Everybody else should do it and had to, like, chill out on the evangelizing, of course. But I think a few days, if not the day after I converted to Islam formally by taking the the shahada, I met my my fiance, my now fiance Akeem, and a lot of folks think that I converted because of Akeem. But Akeem is actually a secular humanist. But it was one of those beautiful things where once I settled my own spirit and determined what my priorities were, then I was able to open myself up for new opportunities. And it’s been like a long road of growth since then and will continue to be, I’m sure, but I feel so much more settled in my spirit. I feel so much more just renewed, like I still get burnt out. But I also have a practice that I can rely on, of praying, of communing, of feeling interconnected with people, and then also just having this unapologetic force of love and forgiveness and just this reservoir that I can, like, dip myself into to feel whole again. And I didn’t have that before.
Jonathan Fields: [00:38:33] Yeah. I mean, so powerful. And it sounds like in no small way, your parents, the lens that they passed on to you about what faith is and isn’t it created sort of like an openness. So like they were like, look, it’s more about like the fundamentals. It’s how we treat human beings. It’s how we treat each other. And it sounds like a no small way. They laid the foundation for you to a bit down the road, step back into something that felt spiritual to you, that felt spiritually connected. It was different than like where you came from, than what you were like, brought up around. But it seems like it spoke to you in a way where at that particular moment in time, it brought you back to spirituality in a way that really resonated, you know, like it was like a DNA-level thing that said, okay, so. This is. And also this is what I need at this particular moment in time, because it sounds like you were there were so much outflow in your life. It was just constantly giving, giving, giving, showing up, showing up, sheltering, sheltering, protecting, protecting. And also like so often, like, people just end out utterly burned out and physically and mentally ill. When you reach that point where you, you latch on to something, whether it’s spiritual, whether it’s relational, whether it’s all of the above. And for you, Islam was was a part of that, coming back home to yourself in no small way, and also coming back to a place of calm and love and compassion as a new way of almost like looking forward at. Okay, so I still believe what I believe and I still want to affect change, but I’m differently informed and maybe I need to do it differently as I think about how I’m going to bring myself forward.
Blair Imani: [00:40:12] Definitely. I think that the biggest confusion was folks feeling like I had completely changed my parents. I now understand where my dad was cool. He’s a very chill man. He’s like, I understand. A lot of my friends converted to Islam in the 70s, you know? And so that was his point of reference. My mother, on the other hand, was like, Blair, you’ve converted to a completely different religion that we don’t really have a connection to. And you are dating somebody named Akeem, like what is happening? Like, she was very alarmed. And I understand that today. And it took her a little bit of time to see the importance of it. For me, outside of a lot of Islamophobic biases that many of us are fed and internalize. And so it was a growth time for sure, but it was also like a little bit of rebellion. I think my parents, they’re so chill, like and affirming and sex positive and body positive and all the things, like when I got tattoos, my mom was like, actually my first tattoo I got on a Hollywood Boulevard and it was really bad. And my mom was like, that’s really bad. And so she introduced me to one of her friends who’s a tattoo artist to fix it. And then I got my second tattoo, and then I got another tattoo in Chile, and my parents were just like, cool, whatever. When I wanted my belly button pierced, my mom was like, awesome, let’s get matching ones. And then she decided not to because she chickened out. But I got mine. And so for the moment, for my parents to be like, whoa whoa whoa, slow down soldier, uh, to be when I, you know, kind of shifted the way that I was looking at spirituality, joining an organized religion. Uh, for that to be the thing. Like that was an interesting moment. I understand where it came from now, but I was just like, you’re raining on my Muslim parade. Like, what the heck? But now I understand that, like, they saw that I was in a vulnerable place. They were concerned that I was vulnerable to, you know, just there’s like, that’s the really the time period where cults are really dangerous for people is when you’re feeling a sense of like fear. And I was in such a nurturing space. And once I was able to explain that to my mom in particular, that whenever I had a question about spirituality at this mosque, it was like, I’m not going to answer that for you, but I’ll give you a place to look and then we can discuss it wasn’t this is the savior and this is how you save yourself. It was like, why don’t you understand how your worldview collaborates with this spirituality, this religion, and then figure out what makes sense for you? So it was very healthy. But of course, my mom didn’t see that whole process. I kind of kept it from her. And then all of a sudden I’m like, whoa, surprise! And so that was definitely a long process, but it’s so intimately connected. I think what drew me to the mosque, in particular, was seeing the acts of service being done during Ramadan, seeing the emphasis on different discussions. Of course, I did have a bias that the grass was going to be greener in the different Abrahamic religion. I was like, there’s no racism in Islam, there’s no sexism, there is no like there’s nothing. There isn’t everything. Because humans are very brilliant at taking Star Trek, for example, and turning it Islamophobic or taking, you know, uh, Star Wars and making it sexist. Like, we’re very good at those things. We can also do beautiful things. And so it took me some maturity to let go of defensiveness around my belief system and then open up about, you know, like critically thinking about the things that I do cherish and agree with and the things that I want to have theological debate over and just fundamentally remember that I’m not a different person. I think when I first converted, I was like, I don’t do this anymore. I don’t do that anymore. I’m completely different now. Instead of failing, figuring out that way to walk into a new space and bring myself into it as well. But I think it’s something a lot of folks struggle with. I see college students struggle with it, where they completely absorb the identity of the school and kind of have a hard time relating to their folks back home. So it’s that process of newness, but I really just feel so settled now. I think it also helped to calm the chaos of, of my early 20s, to which was very needed.
Jonathan Fields: [00:44:01] You know, it’s interesting also because there’s I know you talk about identity a lot, right. And often what comes up is, you know, like I’m black, I’m Muslim, I’m queer, I’m a woman. And what’s interesting is when the thing that I don’t often hear, but I feel like it is such an important part of your story is, and maybe it’s because you don’t consider it an identity level shift. It feels like from the outside looking in, there was this there was a season of your life where you really identified super strongly as a, quote, organizer. And then there was this point of inflection, which is right around the moment that I think you’re describing now, where you’re like, okay, so I’m not walking away from the call to do something, but the mode that I’m bringing myself to, it’s not working for me anymore. Like on an identity level, I can’t be this person and be healthy and do the work that I’m here to do, and I need to switch and I need to step into being of service differently. Um, does that resonate?
Blair Imani: [00:44:57] I think had that understanding come when I also converted to Islam, I would have I would have saved money on therapy, let me tell you that, um, I think that it didn’t come until I had. So after I graduated from LSU, I graduated in the summer. I didn’t go to my own graduation. And then, which I regret in hindsight, because I was just such like a nihilist. I was like, no, I don’t care, I’m leaving it behind. Um, but now I’m like, oh man. But anyway, I also wish I had had a senior year like I was done, but I feel like I should have stayed around and just done like a victory lap, but whatever. So when I had graduated, I enrolled straight into Howard University School of Law. I was like, okay, I just I had let go of the organizer identity, but not that same ferocity and like unhealthy level of standard of productivity for myself. And I hadn’t fully reconciled my resentments and just I think a lot of the trauma that I had gone through, like I’ve talked about on, uh, a podcast, I think, with Sophia Bush about how one of the last protests that we organized in at LSU, there were militiamen who showed up, and this was in 2015. And like I had to look it up to even remember for myself because I had done so much self-gaslighting like, oh, no, that wasn’t that bad, whatever. And I’m also like still a little bit salty at the administration at LSU for not showing up better. But I think that they’ve done so much work since then. I really don’t have like any type of alumni relationship with LSU. If anyone’s listening, you can hit me up. Um, but I still had a lot of trauma that I was holding on to, and so I just tried to like barrel roll right through. I did seven weeks at law school, I hated it. Um, it wasn’t the law school in particular. It was just the law. Like, I used to work at a law firm when I was in Baton Rouge, and I hated it. So I don’t understand why I thought it was going to be different. So, you know, and then I babysat for a month. I started working at Heineken, um, worked there for six months, and then I started working at Planned Parenthood. And during that time, my first month there, there was the horrific shooting of Philando Castile and then Alton Sterling, and that happened in Baton Rouge. And one of my gender studies teachers had reached out to me and said that some of her students at this place, she volunteers, were planning a protest. And if I had any like, tips or recommendations which proceeded to have then I proceeded to have a, you know, a relationship of just mentorship with one of the students who was organizing it, Myra Richardson. We still keep in touch. She’s doing amazing things in Baton Rouge as well. And then I decided, okay, I have run away from the South. My job, ironically, at Planned Parenthood, involved me traveling to the South a lot, but I actually requested time off so that I could go back down and support the students there to. And they had a beautiful protest. There was like a very young man who was who preached there. It was very beautiful. And then, you know, as has been documented by AP, I got arrested at the protests that we were trying to disperse and we couldn’t. And there’s a whole thing about that. It’s hard for me to talk about it briefly as somebody who is characteristically brief and when I talk about stuff, but that was kind of the moment where I had tried to support from the sidelines, and it was so frustrating for me, as somebody who used to give trainings on civil disobedience, to take an arrest and do it in like, I felt like I was like this, I wore the wrong clothes. Like I did not plan for this. Like there is a method to it and I because life happens. And it wasn’t until honestly, I think 2 or 3 years after that that I completely let go of understanding myself in this very toxic construct of activism that wasn’t at all in line with what was healthy or productive or necessary or strategic. And I started to understand myself with what I studied, which was history. You know, being a historian, shifting myself from being in a, you know, in the streets protesting. And I have so much PTSD around that that it wasn’t effective. It wasn’t healthy. In 2020, I went to a protest that happened here in San Marino. And as soon as I saw, like the crowd of people, even though it was like a totally state-sanctioned event, I was sobbing and I was having such a visceral reaction to it. I was able to calm down by the end and like, speak as the students had asked me to, but it was so charged and I’m like, well, I can’t do this. It’s not healthy. And luckily I had already made that shift. And today I feel like I’m so much more effective in the way that I try to to teach about things. But I also am very honest and transparent about the fact that I didn’t have an understanding of what advocacy could look like outside of planning a protest, outside of doing these things, even though that’s not where I started, what I started doing was by creating materials. I worked with Equality Louisiana and Louisiana Progress, taking their white paper studies and turning them into infographics and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Coalition, that was my origin, was making these things into talking points and making those talking points shareable. And that’s what I do now. But I got lost along the way trying to fulfill a prophecy that was toxic for me.
Jonathan Fields: [00:49:48] Yeah. I mean, some really interesting foreshadowing there. Right? But it is I mean, to come back to it, it’s interesting also. So we had, um, we sat down with Parker Palmer a little while back on the podcast, and Parker is in his, I guess, early 80s now. And, um, you know, he came out of Berkeley in the early 60s and went straight into civil rights movements, but about five years organizing as an activist and hit this point also where he was so physically and psychologically and emotionally basically ill that he retreated to a Quaker center. Um, and he’s somebody who wasn’t, you know, like overly religious either. But he went there because he needed to sort of step out and figure out how to reconnect with himself. And what he found was something similar. He realized in that moment, he said, I’m not walking away from the fight. I’m not walking away from, you know, playing the role of actually like being a being a part of change. But I need to do it differently. And his choice was, you know, I’m going to write and I’m going to speak and I’m going to teach. But when you have an identity wrapped around this thing of being the organizer, being the activist on the street, it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to walk away from because you don’t necessarily validate those other modes of serving.
Blair Imani: [00:51:03] Oh, 100%. And I think that previous to this conversation, I hadn’t previously understood that this was like kind of bookends of like I deviated from my own path to try to fulfill something that didn’t match me. But that’s definitely what happened. And I think it was also fueled by when I converted to Islam. You know, there’s this kind of archetype of an organizer that I very much fit into. I had, you know, very curly afro. I’m lighter skinned, like there’s a lot of archetypes that we can see, whether it’s Elaine Brown, whether it’s Angela Davis, and then converting to Islam, like whether it’s Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali. Like there were these archetypes that I felt I was like simultaneously stepping into and fitting into. It’s one of those things where, like, even when I first came out and people were calling me like the queer Muslim, it took me a moment of self-reflection to get out of that and to understand that if I allow myself to be positioned as the archetype, I’m erasing the people, everybody else. And I’m also reinforcing this idea that it’s weird to or uncommon to be queer and Muslim when it’s not, especially if you look at statistics like surprise, queer people are born everywhere and in every context. And so I think in that moment I was like. So frazzled that I wasn’t able to think critically about how I was being positioned and how I was positioning myself as a result of that. I wasn’t looking at how narratives were being built, and I wasn’t thinking about how I was showing up in different ways. And I think that it took me really until the last six months to reflect on where I’ve come as an educator and to just really it was January. I was doing these videos that I’m putting out that are talking about, like the creation of my series Smarter and Seconds. And during that time I was like, oh, okay. At Planned Parenthood, my job was to take white paper studies and turn it into talking points and then make that accessible at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Coalition. My job was the same thing to, like, make this turn into infographics. So clearly this has come from somewhere. But I was so burnt out during those moments of life that I did not have a connection to those realities. And so I kind of had this double imposter syndrome of not recognizing the formula of how I got to this result, but then also feeling like, oh, I wasn’t capable, I shouldn’t have like this. I don’t fit in or I don’t have the qualifications. So it was all that mess. And I think that what has been a shift for me today that I’m trying to do is kind of a similar thing of, you know, when I converted to Islam, I had a new spiritual practice. What I’ve been doing recently has been getting in touch with a yoga practice. Um, Andrew Sealy, who’s a friend of mine who’s absolutely amazing, invited me to go to Costa Rica. And we went and for 7 or 6 days we were doing four hours of yoga and an hour of a sound bath, meditation, eating plant-based. And it’s funny that you talk about like the not non-religious to the kind of like religious spiritual side. I was such a nihilist as a kid, like, I, I only wear black. I lived out of Hot Topic. I was like so edgy for no reason. I was anti-everything and pro nothing and it was a mess. And so when I think about myself and I talked about this when I spoke to a Florida International University, how absolutely out of context it feels for me to say that I did that experience and that it resonated me, with me so much. Um, and so like after we get on this call, I’m going to do some stretching. I’m going to do some yoga. I think it’s just healthy for us to get into our bodies. And I’m going to be doing a lesson very soon, hopefully. On cultural appropriation in yoga and how it’s not just stretching and how it’s part of a very sacred practice. And I’m trying to like, just figure out what I need and it’s to be settled. But I also recognize today that there are so few ways that we are incentivized in our capitalistic society to settle, to take a break, to be mindful, to consider what we’re doing before we take actions. And so I’m trying to enforce that into my life, but also have grace with myself for the moments that I haven’t done that because it’s a practice that we’re not often taught how to do.
Jonathan Fields: [00:54:59] Yeah. So agree. Um, and just the idea of like, having grace for yourself, for the moments that you’re out of grace, you know, it’s sort of like, I think it’s so important. Um, so interesting that you’re exploring yoga now also, you know, like, it’s so much of the research now on trauma, on integrating trauma says you can’t just deal with it from the head up like you have to in some way, shape or form have an embodied practice to allow that to integrate into process through you. I think so many of us, especially over the last chunk of years, for a wide variety of reasons. We have unacknowledged trauma, whether it’s like big T trauma or little T trauma, that just happens a little bit every day. And then embodied practice, I think is such an important thing. So as you, you know, I think we’re having this conversation in a really interesting moment in time for you. The last couple of years, there’s been almost like what feels like a reimagining, like you’re like, I’m stepping into this next season of life in a very intentional way, making making choices about what to say yes and no, to not walking away from anything, but really revisiting what is that deeper thread that that keeps informing the way that I want to step into this work and this life. So you step forward on the contribution side as an educator, as a historian doing the work differently, you build a public platform. You, um, you like now have a tremendous following and create all of these amazing educational things from books to smarter and seconds, all these wonderful videos and imagery across social when you think about, okay, so how am I going to build this next thing out? Um, what I’m curious about is underneath that, I mean, you’ve got like all these specific things, the topics, the the insights that you have, the intentionality behind it is fantastic. And I feel like there are so many people and me, including raising my hand. I’m learning so much from what you’re putting into the world. My curiosity is this when you’re now in this mode of deciding, how do I want to step into the way that I’m creating my life, my work from this moment forward? What’s important to you about that?
Blair Imani: [00:57:06] Mm. Well, first, thank you so much for the affirmations. I really appreciate that. Um, I think what’s important to me, I have this framework that I created in 2021 about like my roadmap of priorities. And it’s like, is it ethical? Does it get me closer to my goals? Is it good for community? Is it good for myself? And does it make sense? And if it doesn’t satisfy those criteria and the answer isn’t always like yes or no. Like sometimes it’s like, I mean, is it ethical? Is definitely like the yes or no point like, but beyond that, like, is it purposeful? Not everything is purposeful. Sometimes I want to go see a screening of the movie jackass, because I think it’s hilarious when people consensually decide to, you know, do pranks and ridiculous stuff and just kind of have a laugh. I think that’s very important as well. Just like I was talking to my mom the other day, there’s a creator online, the Nutrition tea, and she’s taught me that, like, not every food you eat has to be nutritious. And so my mom was like, Blaire, you don’t need donuts. And I was like, well, nobody needs donuts. But donuts are delicious, you know? And so it’s like, sometimes we have to have a donut action in our life. I try to make sure that I don’t just say yes to every opportunity. One thing that has become very, uh, a very large concern of mine is, quote-unquote, selling out. And the way that I define that isn’t some folks have a very interesting threshold. Like if you’re if you’re getting money for your labor, you’re selling out and it’s like incorrect. That’s called labor and you should be compensated. But what I consider selling out to be is saying yes to something because of compensation, which is completely out of line with my principles. And so how do I avoid that fear of selling out? I make sure that I’m very diligent about what I do say yes to. And so I think that’s what I look at in general. I try to figure out, am I the best messenger for this? Can I include other people in this? Can I acknowledge and cite and pay other people in this? I think that a recently I just had a meeting today where it looks like I will be more involved in developing educational materials in other in new ways. And I think that right now I’m very detached from the outcome, which is one of my my mom’s favorite catchphrases is detached from the outcome because I feel like I’m walking in my like enoughness in my abundance. I feel very like I’m not chasing anything if I get more followers, amazing. If not, that’s also amazing. There’s plenty of folks that are in my classroom already beautiful. That’s. I couldn’t have said that always, you know, feeling like I was chasing the next thing instead of just being happy with what I have. I feel like I’m very happy with what I have. And if I’m deciding to add more things on, I get to be more mindful about them because I’m not exhausted and stressed and trying to figure out what works or like I’m I’m able to figure out what works instead of just being like, oh yes, another branch to hold on to, which is the desperation that so many of us are put into. And so, uh, in this moment, I just feel like. Is it? Is it something I’m going to be proud of in ten years? That’s one of the things I ask myself. Is it something that I would be embarrassed to discuss with my mom? I also have a friend and colleague, Dr. Shay-Akil McLean and sometimes I’ll just text Doctor Shay to be like, hey, is this like, is this good or bad? Because sometimes my own ego gets ahead of myself. I got invited to be on this reality TV show, and the premise I don’t think I can talk about because of NDAs, but I texted Doctor Shay to ask what he thought about it, and he before I could even ask the rest of the question, he was like, no. And I was like, great, because sometimes you need to be realigned with what makes sense for you and having a support system that will shut you down when you’re deviating from that is healthy, or just discuss it with you when you’re deviating. But I really just try to be proud of the things that I do. And then every day, if I have done harm in the moment, I try to acknowledge it before I go to sleep, because, you know, there’s that saying like, don’t go to sleep mad. I feel like, go to sleep with whatever emotions you have, but don’t go to sleep guilty. You know, you don’t want to feel guilty for something you could have righted. And then it also makes you be mindful in the actions you take. Should I do this, should I not? And also just giving myself grace that I will say yes to something that will not be what I imagined it to be. But let me make sure it’s not because I didn’t do my due diligence. Let me like it has to be some variable that I couldn’t have accounted for, and then trying to do that. It’s a process. It requires a lot of diligence, a lot of intention, but I really feel like it’s a great way to live because you’re only really accountable for our own actions. And when we really consider that and drill down to it, I feel like I’ve become a kinder person. I feel like I’ve become far less reactionary than previous than I’ve previously been. I’m not stressed in the same frantic and burnt-out way that I might have been previously.
Jonathan Fields: [01:01:31] Mhm. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it feels like a good place for us to come full circle in our conversation as well. So sitting in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?
Blair Imani: [01:01:46] Ah, I don’t know. There’s so many things. To live a good life is to. Treat every passing interaction with every sentient being you encounter as a gift and an opportunity, and something of consequence to be deeply mindful. Of the consequence of your action, and not just in a negative way, but in a beautiful. Profound way.
Jonathan Fields: [01:02:14] Hmm. Thank you. Before you leave, if you love this episode. Safe bet. You will also love the conversation we had with Austin Channing Brown about how we create the world around us, and how we bring ourselves to it from a place of equity, dignity, and justice. You’ll find a link to Austin’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and Me, Jonathan Fields. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor? A seven-second favor and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.