Joi McGowan is a force of tenderness, joy, deep emotions, and she gently but powerfully invites others to feel, show empathy, compassion, and heal. She is the cofounder of Resilient Black Women, a podcast host that works to demystify mental health for Black women, and a mental health professional. She has a passion for advocating for the social and emotional well being of BIPOC communities.
During my time doing storytelling with the amazing Black leaders from The Witness Foundation in Little Rock, Arkansas I was invited to be present and help photograph these “modern day Civil Rights leaders” as Jemar Tisby called them.
The group of Fellows took time to tour and listen to oral history of the historical events surrounding integrating Little Rock High School in 1957. Joi reflected, “I’ve looked at the pictures before but being there and seeing what happened was heavy and it made me really look at them as Civil Rights leaders. There were so many others besides the ones we mention, we don’t even know their names and what they sacrificed.” Some of the stories focused on a young girl Elizabeth Eckford and this deeply impacted the Fellows. This historical account does not even touch on what her real experience was like and hearing the details from the day from the outstanding ranger Rebecca had a profound impact on everyone present, especially Joi.
As the Fellows shared their reflections Joi shared, ““For me the question isn’t ‘what can I learn?’ but ‘what can I feel?” For me this needs to be a podcast and I am so grateful we did this- now how will I share this in memory of what these children did and so everyone else can access their emotions?” You can listen to her powerful reflections on this episode of her podcast Resilient Black Women. (do it right now!!) She and her cohost ask powerful questions, “Will you give your body permission to feel? Do you have people that can sit with you in your sadness? Will you allow them in?“
“Don’t let them see you cry” was told to Elizabeth Eckford by a reporter during the screams of hatred as she was sitting at the bus stop, her dress soaked from the spit of the white crowd of men, women, and teens who; spurred on by fear, racism, and hatred, did not want to integrate the public school. As the ranger shared that with our group Joi immediately starting crying and the emotions were so real. Joi shared that historically, “Black people are only given two options: die or be resilient.” Joi also powerfully shared why she welcomed her emotions, “I’ve got to cry because she (Elizabeth Eckford) was not able to.“
Photographing these moments was a weighty and deep privilege.
We also took time to photograph some Creative Portraits for her and she told me she really wanted to show her joy and real smile. I am in awe of her healing work and her presence was a gift to me and others during the retreat and is no doubt to the many people she works with each day. Joi, you are an absolute rich well of joy of the Lord!
Joi shared, “You are a whole beast Roxanne! I cannot believe these pictures! You captured a part of me that I wasn’t sure others could really see!! I’ve also haven’t had any photos of my locs. Since I started loc-ing my hair up. You are a gift! You have a true gift! Seriously! My heart is full! I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased when how a White woman has been able to photograph my dark skin, being a dark skin woman you kinda hold your breath with people take your picture. But my skin looks like me. It’s not washed out! You made me look like me! So I truly feel like I see me. Like I’ve taken professional photos before. But these feel different. These feel like everyday Joi. How did you make me look so good?“
These words are why I do this work- so my amazing clients SEE themselves as the amazing created gifts they are to the world. Thank you Joi & blessing!
A visual storyteller that focuses on human emotion & connection. I help families, individuals, & couples to share their beautiful messy story.
I also partner with humanitarian, non-for-profit organizations, and NGOs share their stories with intention, dignity, & excellence, so they can have a greater impact on their communities.