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Elections, voter suppression, a pandemic, continued acts of racism and injustice, extreme weather, fires across the country, and a growing recession are just some of the challenges we collectively faced this year. The actual struggle list is quite long and these challenges have hit low-income and people of color in disproportionate ways.

Finding ways to heal can be difficult while simultaneously managing social distancing and our individual, daily struggles. But many are finding new ways to cope and digging up forgotten tools to manage stress and support mentally themselves during this difficult season. My good friend shared with me years ago that when she’s feeling down, one strategy she uses to lift her spirit is to “throw on some heels and a bold lip.” It seems trivial, but doing so helps boost her mood and brings a sense of optimism to her day. It’s just one part of her larger healing regimen which includes journaling, creative expression, and other self-care practices.

Heels and a bold lip can’t bring our loved ones, our jobs, or other portions of our pre-COVID lives back. However, tapping into our creative sides can make a world of difference when it comes to coping with such losses. I recently spoke with a few folks on how they leveraged their passion for creativity to cope with their current reality. Here’s what I learned.

Finding Creative Expression In the Midst of Challenges

Actor Dyllón Burnside is well known for his work on FX’s Pose and he’s joined “Bravolebrity” Porsha Williiams, activist DeRay McKesson, and others to support, an organization dedicated to ending police violence in the Black community. Dyllón is no stranger to thinking about how to focus on healing during difficult challenges. His new song “Silence” speaks to the feelings of isolation many of us have felt during the pandemic and this creative expression continues to be a part of his efforts to remain hopeful in the face of challenges.

“So often we try to run from discomfort to avoid turbulence and pain, but it’s so critical for us to lean in during times of hardship to really allow ourselves to experience all ranges of emotions because challenges are often our greatest teachers,” he shared.

Similarly, dancer Dnay B is no stranger to using her art to thrive in the midst of challenges. Sis danced for Beyoncé while pregnant and then began working on reimagining systems for policing by getting involved with as well.

“I love my work with because it’s a way for me to use my art to create impact in my community,” she explained. “Movement and dance help me to get through some of the persistent challenges I encounter, but also for me to think about the future in new ways. We don’t have to accept what we’ve always known as part of life. A new beginning is always around the corner.”

Wisdom Through Faith and Spirituality

Yunersy Morel is a 20-year-old college student working with Pathways to Creative Industries* to learn more about her interests in fashion. Yunersy is a student leader playing an active role in her church and on her college campus. During the past two years, she’s participated in fashion shows, networking events, and training to prepare her for her career, but it’s not education that she relies on in times such as this.

“I worry about getting a job when I graduate, but I don’t have anxiety about it,” she said, explaining she leans on her faith in God and spirituality in such uncertain times. She’s also energized by finding new ways to enhance her gifts in modeling and design. “When you lean on God, you don’t get let down.”

Her heels and a bold lip is her community of faith. While fellowshipping in person may not be an option, many resources exist online for daily meditation, virtual prayer circles, and gratitude journaling. “My faith helps me to stay focused on a higher purpose during difficult times. I’m focused on what I have to do now.”

She encourages her community to think about ways to stay in the present moment and focus on their spiritual practices during times of difficulty. Her advice is “Focus on your faith and the things we do have. Be grateful for what we may take for granted.”

Use Your Voice

Not long ago, Tanya Taylor, a designer who has outfitted Beyoncé and Michelle Obama,  to name a few dynamic women, shared her story with a group of young people in New York City as part of a workshop series led by Most recently, her company led an effort to encourage Americans to vote in the November 2020 election and create colorful pieces of art under the hashtag #ArttoHeart as a way for people to share their love for color and creativity during this tough time.

While Taylor’s “heels and a bold lip” is an actual pair of heels and a bold lip, she he also shared, “I love to add color and flowers to my home or a colorful outfit.”

In addition to counseling, continued learning and practicing new habits, these folks have used the pandemic to think about who they are and who they want to be in the world. As we continue to grapple with publicized and covert acts of racism, the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing voter suppression and disenfranchisement, and a host of other challenges, we must seek out opportunities to take care of ourselves and one another. In the words of singer, songwriter evrYwhr, “we need love,” healing and ways to cultivate joy in our daily lives. The amazing thing is that can come in many forms.

Dr. Joiselle Cunningham is CEO of Pathways to Creative Industries and Vice President at CareerWise NY, under the NYC CEO Jobs Council. Cunningham previously served in the Obama Administration and received her doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can find her on Twitter @JoiCunn.

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