The Seeds of Joy

Healing While Black 2023

July 6-8
Various venues, St Pete
Details here

I’d like to open this article about the power of transformation in art and healing, a symbiotic system in our lives that we might not notice.

Healing is a beautiful motion picture, whether it’s moments or a whole story – and art is a remedy for the soul to move, be seen, and to express beauty in all mediums.

I had the honor to meet with Mental Health Counselor Dr. LaDonna Butler, the Founder and Executive Director of The Well for Life.

She is a lively spirit with a focused goal for healing in BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) communities around the nation while basing her organization in St. Petersburg.

You can read a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity. Her unique voice highlights her altruistic personality.

LaDonna Butler – photo courtesy of The Well

Dr. Butler – This is an exciting time, every year that we have a chance to think about Healing While Black. It is our annual summit, in recognition of National Minority Mental Health Month, which is the month of July. The hottest month there is!

This is the time that we get to talk about mental health, especially amongst Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

And in response to that, The Well, which is a space that is centered in healing and well-being, calls the question of Healing While Black. What does it look like? What are the strategies and what’s the power invested in it?

I get excited every year when we’re choosing and leaning into what is necessary and what’s bubbling up in our community. And the theme of joy showed up for us in real ways. There was so much. There were so many things that came, I will say, over the last few years, but specifically last year, as we were BACK. Right?

We were outside again, but still grappling with all that had occurred over the last couple of years with COVID, with an elevated focus on the impact of violence in our community, the impact of raised awareness of strained race relations. All those things came and bubbled up and we fought hard. We had the conversations. We leaned into diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging.

We can still have these conversations and we can do it with joy. So, I’m excited. Our theme is – Joy is the Assignment.

The work is still heavy. The work is the work. But joy is the assignment and the work. Joy really provided a base for the summit.

We say joy is an act of resistance. And joy is an act of restoration. Joy is a strategy so that we can keep doing the work – and doing it in a way that allows us to be sustainable and not get burnt out.

We are creative beings in St. Petersburg, Florida – and art has always been a way of expressing the thing that has no words, the thing that is set in our bodies. So through art, through music, through visual arts, through poetry, through all kind of movement – and even through the musical selection, through the deejays who serve as curators of that. All of these are expressions of where we are and how we are as a people.

Thursday, July 6 is our kickoff at The Studio@620. That night, we’re going to party together as a community – because we can celebrate our joy, we can celebrate our work. We have 13 poets throughout the Tampa Bay area in one place, so if you don’t have your pass for Poetic Joy, you’re going to miss out.

Friday, July 7 is the summit, our professional development and professional summit day at Eckerd College. We are so grateful for colleges and universities that can lean into conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging.

This year, we’re so excited about the Saturday brunch series where we have three brunches, one location. So at The James Museum, we’re able to have safe spaces for Black women – a Brown Girl Brunch. And sacred spaces for men – a Brunch of Brothers. Then a place for all of us to gather in all of our diversity, our uniqueness, and our various experience – and we call that A Brunch of Us.

Joy Haugabook’s “Imagined by Joy” photography exhibit will be featured at the James Museum

Throughout the entire weekend, we have immersive arts experiences for everyone to enjoy. We are showing the inaugural exhibit of photographer Joy Haugabook, called Imagined by Joy. She’s been able to see joy where some have only seen tragedy. That’s going to be at The James Museum.

Then we’ll have a panel conversation to discuss the intersection between art and justice – and another conversation where our art therapist will be in the space to help people have a greater understanding of the power of the creative. And that’s all during ArtWalk – and the Festival of Joy on The Deuces, at Deuces Park. You cannot beat that.

And I’m excited because if you’ve ever seen NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, we’ve curated something like that inside of The Well, which has a boutique feel to it – so people will be able to navigate in and out of The Well and see the work of Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, and she’s going to talk about her art exhibit, Imagine Blackness.

I think we’ve done it all – whether virtually or in person, we have curated experiences for everyone. On Sunday, July 8 we’ll rise and meet the Sun at Flora Wylie Park – our centered spiritual opportunity for all of us to be able to get settled.

And we’ll end the conference with a good ol’ Gospel brunch because the Black church – no matter your religious orientation – the Black Church historically and currently serves as an organizing body to get messages out to help anchor for strength and hope. And so we have a Gospel brunch where we will have the opportunity to celebrate in community right back where we started, at Studio@620.

So I’m excited and I’m hopeful that as people are leaning into mental health awareness, especially during times like this. We can have a conversation and it does not always have to be heavy and it does not always have to be hard. And we can celebrate.

We do this because our stories matter. We are leaning into understanding that we are worthy of good mental health and that happens through connection with our story and each other.

When we come together – those who have lived experience and those who have learned experience through university and academic preparation – we can enhance our ability to be well. And we do this because we really are worthy of investment. We can invest the time, the energy, the finances, right? We can lean in, make the investment for a weekend worth of fun in the community.

I personally do this because I know that I have been weathered doing this work. I’ve been tired. I’ve experienced health complications taking on the weight of all of this. And I’ve made a conscious decision that I can still do the work – but I can do it with joy.

And as I got that inside of my cells, I wanted to invite other people along this journey with me. And as I’ve been talking about my journey, my strategies, my story, my investment, I have the opportunity to join in and listen to others who are making very similar investment.

Money is not the thing. If you want to grab an Essential Joy Pass (donation-based), and if there is a paid event that you want to come to, you simply need to send a message directly to The Well, and we will reach out to additional sponsors to make sure that you have access. You do need to ask because, you know, capitalism is real and people need to be paid for food.

We want you to show up, and I’m excited to partner with you in this work. Are you coming? That’s the question.

I really love the title of The Well, because the ‘well’ signifies this water that is living, is for everybody to come drink, and be fulfilled and filled in the spirit. I can’t forget her expression of relief and feeling seen in that moment. 

My professor Dr. Gary Lemons at USF rooted the desire to invest and seek communion with the Black Community as part of my everyday life. He made me realize we are all family, regardless.

Dr. Butler – We are family! You named it. We are family.

And what better way to support family than try to heal with them?


A complete schedule for
Healing While Black 2023
can be found here

Registration information
can be found here


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