‘You Don’t Have To Be The Bigger Person, Just Be Free’: Brandi Sellerz-Jackson On How Black Women Can Thrive

Brandi Sellerz-Jackson

We’ve all heard the self-care buzzwords and actions before, but what if taking a bubble bath and getting a massage isn’t enough? Healing internally is messy and difficult and requires patience, grace, and self-awareness. 

Renowned doula Brandi Sellerz-Jackson knows this and has been right where you might be, but she has the tools and experience to help you get through it. Her book, On Thriving, explores how Black women can thrive even when it seems unfathomable. Taking from her nuanced experiences as a doula and intricate experiences from her own life, Sellerz-Jackson shows us that it’s possible to navigate through difficult phases of great labor—which can make us stuck, limiting our ability to thrive. We all have a common experience of handling the great labor of balancing our relationships and mental health.

‘You Don’t Have To Be The Bigger Person, Just Be Free’: Brandi Sellerz-Jackson On How Black Women Can Thrive

Humans have traversed the difficult feelings of loss, grief, and general sadness while still trying to cultivate a meaningful and, hopefully, joyful life. In On Thriving, Sellerz-Jackson brilliantly provides bite-sized survival and thriving tools aptly titled “rich-uals” that can add positively to your life, aimed to limit the chaos in your life to make a sanctuary within yourself.

As a plant enthusiast, Sellerz-Jackson compares our thriving to plant life, focusing on the ebbs and flows of growth and the patience needed within ourselves to withstand change. With vulnerable storytelling, she invites a profound investigation of our past and graciously presents ways to thrive in the future and, most importantly, right where we are now.

ESSENCE sat down with the doula, healer, and author to discuss her book and how she continues to heal and thrive. 

ESSENCE: Why did you write this book?

Brandi Sellerz-Jackson: I wanted to write the book that I needed. I wanted to write a practical guide to self-care. Some self-care books are filled with fluff. I wanted to simplify the concept and provide a practical way to thrive in these spaces.

How do you thrive after making mistakes or going through adversity? The book talks a lot about that.

In the book, I talk about resilience and how I have this weird relationship with it. A lot of times, it’s been placed on us as Black women to get up and brush ourselves off. But I believe that the way to thrive is by gathering everything we have and returning our power. If you make a mistake, know that that mistake doesn’t define you. It doesn’t make you who you are, and you can proceed. When it comes to adversity, we can wake up every day. That’s a moment right there to start over. 

Can you talk to us about the importance of joy for black women?

I believe it’s our lifeline. We have to guard it like we would guard a diamond. There is so much noise around us that takes it. There’s so much that expects us to be strong and almost act as if and perform as if nothing fazes us. Our joy also connects us to the fact that we’ve all been there where we see each other; it’s what connects us. When I think of the moments when I was a little girl in the kitchens with my aunties, my grandmother, and my cousins, it was joy. And it wasn’t that they didn’t have things going on in their lives, but the thing that somehow allowed them to thrive was that joy and that connectivity. 

You also have referenced hiding a lot in the book. So how can Black women continue to show up as our authentic selves when, at some times, it’s not accepted or understood?

I want to first say that it’s easier said than done. But I believe that no one else is going to support our humanity. It’s the gift we give ourselves because no one else will do it for us. So, the first step to holding that humanity is acknowledging it, not holding ourselves to this standard that no one can achieve perfection. We are so used to Black excellence, right? But part of taking our power back is to let go of that. So that every time we remove the mask of perfection, we’re setting ourselves free. 

Audrey Lorde said, you know, we have to define ourselves otherwise others will do it for us. But I believe that a part of self-intimacy is knowing ourselves in such a deep and intimate way that when others try to tell us who we are and what we’re supposed to be, we already know what this is. I believe that and it takes time. I believe self-intimacy is one of the biggest gifts we can give to ourselves. Self-intimacy gives us a deeper understanding of awareness. 

Do we have to be the “adults” in situations even if we’re on our healing journey?  What does that concept mean to you? 

I think we need to figure out what that means. Like, what does the adult in the room mean? I was someone who was an adult long before I should’ve been. You don’t have to be the bigger person. All you have to be is free.

How do you hope this book will help others, specifically Black women? 

I want us to be able to define thriving for ourselves. I think this world defines it for us. And it looks like a lot of things have run black women into the ground at an early age. And I don’t want that for us. When I look at my mother, who was 49 years old when she passed away. That’s too young. 

I hope this book allows us to define what thriving means for ourselves. So we don’t have to keep feeding into all these expectations of what the world is telling us of what it looks like. We can let go of the things that don’t serve us and begin to pull in the things that do because I want us here for a long time. 

I’m rooting for us to be here. My hope for this book is that when Black women read it, they heal and see a practical guide to healing and thriving.

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