Jordan Neely: Healing Through Sanghas: The cultural fixation on death within the black community is a profound reality that cannot be disregarded. Many of my peers, including myself, became preoccupied with death from a young age. It was not only a humorous act of seeking shelter as bright headlights passed us on long streets, but also a somber display of swallowing twenty Advil tablets and crossing our arms over our chests like vampires, awaiting a descent to the underworld. Witnessing the nation rationalize the deaths of black boys and men, with the shared reaction of “that could have been me,” intensified this fixation.
Paradoxically, the state of exhaustion, hunger, and longing for death strangely connects black men rather than isolating us. It requires a small amount of love to rescue a life. Those friends of mine who survived did so because they possessed just enough love to triumph over their own struggles, and hopefully, influence the world around them. Unfortunately, at times, love alone proved insufficient.
What we truly need are sanghas—communities that are devoted to the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental advancement of black individuals. Sanghas are already forming within gangs, on football fields, and through virtual platforms. Yet, we require a more inclusive system, akin to a church but with a broader scope, where people can support one another along the path to spiritual success.
The practice of liberation is not simply to achieve these different states of mind, but it’s also to say that liberation means a kind of transcending of those dominant, damaging messages that we have internalized so that we are not always in reaction to white supremacy.
Healing unfolds within the embrace of community. While solitude holds value in self-development, the black body is often objectified, ruthlessly targeted, and weaponized. In order to truly see and evaluate our existence, we rely on one another. Sanghas have the potential to become transformative sanctuaries dedicated to cherishing, celebrating, and mending the black body.
In the moments leading up to Jordan Neely’s suffocating demise, his anguished cries pierced the air: “I am hungry, I am thirsty, I don’t care about anything, I don’t care about going to jail, I don’t care if I get a big life sentence.” His pleas were a desperate call for assistance, for the church to usher him across the threshold, expelling the torment from his spirit. Within a compassionate sangha, he would have been granted solace, allowed to weep as they enveloped him in their embrace. Love was his rightful due, but on that frigid, unforgiving train, the arms that enfolded him constricted his throat until his pleas were silenced. A sangha could have rescued him, but the world seized him first. Ruth King says this about the beauty of black centered sanghas saying:
We all want to touch a deeper truth about our belonging—something greater than the stories we’ve been told or tell ourselves. Fundamentally, we all need a place where we can be safe, curious, and unedited so that we can discover the ignorance and innocence of our racial conditioning and racial character as a collective. We want to understand deeply what is difficult to acknowledge, feel, and attend to within us and among us. As a diversity consultant to organizations and sanghas, I encourage the creation of racial affinity groups and have found that there are many needs that they can address, such as supporting practitioners in healing generational traumas, attending to hurts and regrets, and fortifying people’s capacity to open and serve with less suffering.
In this thought-provoking essay, I explore the cultural fixation on death within the black community, sharing personal experiences and reflections. From humorous acts of seeking shelter to somber expressions of longing, I delve into the complex emotions and connections formed around mortality. Shedding light on the need for love and support, highlighting the significance of sanghas—communities dedicated to the advancement of black individuals in spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental realms. With poignant references to the tragic fate of Jordan Neely, the essay underscores the transformative potential of inclusive sanctuaries that celebrate, mend, and protect the black body.
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