Joy is the justice we give ourselves

The following story and poem are from an online magazine I recently discovered, Emergence Magazine.

The title caught my attention because joy is one of the main benefits of Mutual Aid communities. It has been true for my involvement in Des Moines Mutual Aid for the past two years. Especially in these times of growing fear about the baffling breakdown of so many things we took for granted, finding joy is so important. This quote from the book “Rehearsals for Living” by Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson describes this well.

“Rehearsals for Living” by Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Roots anchor and support us. Firmly and deeply established, they can carry us through difficult times. When we do the work of rooting, we find those threads that can nourish us in the face of adversity.

In “Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves,” poet J. Drew Lanham grounds his vision of racial justice in quiet moments of awe in nature. Celebrating radical acts of joy, he lifts up liberation, reparations, and deep connection to ancestors and the living world.

Emergence Magazine

Joy is the justice
we give ourselves.
It is Maya’s caged bird
sung free past the prison bars,
holding spirits bound—
without due process,
without just cause.

Joy is the steady run stream,
rights sprung up
through moss-soft ground—
water seeping sweet,
equality made clear
from sea
to shining sea,
north to south,
west to east.

Joy is the truth,
crooked lies hammered straight,
whitewashed myths
wiped away.
Stone Mountain
—just stone.
—no more.
Give the eagles
their mountains back.


Joy is the justice we give ourselves


J. Drew Lanham is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist. He is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Book Prize, and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. His essays and poetry can be found in Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness, and in the anthologies The Colors of Nature, State of the Heart, Bartram’s Living Legacy, and Carolina Writers at Home. He is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University.

Sheila Pree Bright is an acclaimed fine-art photographer known for her series Young Americans, Plastic Bodies, and Suburbia. Her documentation of responses to police shootings in cities across the US inspired her book #1960Now: Photographs of Civil Rights Activists and Black Lives Matter Protests.

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