Braver Even Still: Black Women Reclaiming Embodied Spiritual Power

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Stephanie Sears, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Clark Atlanta University

Within the last three years, an emergent phenomenon in the lives of a few brave Black women arose. It was curiously named an exodus and it beckoned me to inquire deeply about the nature of the possibility of Black women breaking free or crossing over into liberation, as the name implies. Yvonne McBride (2022), contributing writer for Essence magazine, spotlights the birth of the ExodUS Summit, an annual virtual conference co-created by Stephanie Perry and Roshida Dowe. 

Inaugurated in 2020, the ExodUS Summit was created for Black women to learn about alternative ways of working, living, and being. The conference includes workshops on planning career sabbaticals, starting businesses, emigrating from the United States, and devising creative and sustainable ways to earn money to fund such aspirations. 

As an expat herself, Perry explains the objective and impact of ExoduUS Summit to Essence. She shares, “It’s a thing that ExodUS Summit does for Black women. It takes an idea, a dream, a hope, a wish, or future plan and makes it immediate, realistic, and possible….We don’t have to throw our whole lives into the struggle of being Black women in this country and then keep our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to move abroad after we’re retirement age. The ExodUS Summit group is where women like us go to thrive. Today.” Part think-tank, part inspirational seminar, the ExodUS Summit offers Black women expansive life options that transcend the inherited narrative of survival, sweat, and tireless toil. 

With a deeply engaged interest, I registered for the 2022 virtual conference and discovered that what Perry and Dowe created was so much more than its surface content. On an emotional, psychological, and spiritual level, the conference spoke to a deep hunger in the souls of Black women and, in doing so, it excavated the need for Black women to reclaim their own spiritual power in a viscerally intimate way.

I observed a recurring theme across the various sessions of the virtual conference—ease for Black women. As a construct, ease has not been historically associated with Black women. In reference to their endless labor, Zora Neale Hurston (1937) referred to Black women as “mules of the world” for carrying more than their fair share of work and burden. 

In contradistinction to the stress and strain of survival, the notion of ease signifies a whole-body intervention for Black women—a paradigm shift toward holistic wellbeing in ways that go beyond fleeting self-care practices of massages and bubble baths. Ease as sustainable lifestyle is a transformative notion for Black women. It carries within it the seed of dynamic healing that might address the root causes of Black women’s systemic suffering—the chronic distress that comes from living in survival mode. 

In chronic survival, Black women perform a series of maladaptive coping behaviors that include over-functioning, hyper-independence, caretaking, self-sacrificing, and incessant resilience (Abrams et al, 2019; Jones et al, 2021). These seemingly compulsory responses to intersectional oppressions wreak havoc on Black women’s nervous systems, often requiring them to remain in the sympathetic pathway of fight-flight-freeze-fawn. 

To live in ease would mean to experience more of the parasympathetic pathway of rest and digest, a necessary state that brings the body to balance and calm. Cultivating ease in the daily lives of Black women would mean resisting the historic adaptive tendency to perform strength and could potentially refashion Black women’s very relationship to self and society. 

Also recognizing the role of ease in ushering in transformative change, Tricia Hersey (2022) emphatically exclaims, “Rest is Resistance.” In her manifesto on rest, Hersey casts rest as a necessary gateway to one’s own divinity and she invites those who over-function to revise their relationship to labor. She offers the following ethic of rest, which she endearingly calls “Tenets of the Nap Ministry”: 

  1. Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.
  2. Our bodies are a site of liberation.
  3. Naps provide a portal to imagine, invent, and heal.
  4. Our DreamSpace has been stolen and we want it back. We will reclaim it via rest. (Hersey, p. 13). 

Hersey’s notion of rest overlaps with Perry’s and Dowe’s conceptualization of exodus for Black women. These ideas point to a necessary shift in how we think about Black women’s agency in resistance movements at the expense of self. They raise the question, “what if we opt out, for rest?” History has demonstrated that societal forces will not give Black women rest. Rather than waiting for social structure to radically augment the material conditions of Black women’s lives, Black women must reclaim their rest, and consequently, their wellbeing.

Such a reclamation might exist where we, in Africana Studies, do not often think to locate it—in the nervous system. It stands to reason that Black women require a complete nervous system reset. Relinquishing habitual maladaptive coping relaxes the sympathetic nervous system. When relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system facilitates a greater sense of calm and internal safety. When one feels safe, one feels free. 

As a scholar of Religion, I am interested in a rather uncommon synthesis of neurological and spiritual considerations. As I see it, that deep hunger in the souls of Black women is a longing for their own vital spark, made dim by the heavy yoke of persistent struggle. Trapped in their very nervous system is the spirit yearning to be free and safe. To unburden the nervous system is to emancipate the soul which simultaneously releases more energy for play, creativity, and connection. 

Through the lens of the chronic predicament of Black women, it is possible to see how neurological mechanisms mediate spiritual modes of being. These reflections give way to the examination of embodied freedom, flourishing, and the right to use one’s energy to Create and Dream. As such, Black women’s unapologetic turn towards ease and rest can be seen as a reclamation of their embodied spiritual power—the power to do, be, and have as a direct extension of a felt-sense of inner freedom and safety. May the brave women on the vanguard of this emerging phenomenon continue to gently Light the way for the rest of us.


Abrams, J. A., Hill, A., & Maxwell, M. (2019). Underneath the Mask of the Strong Black Woman Schema: Disentangling Influences of Strength and Self-silencing on Depressive Symptoms among US Black Women. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research80(9–10), 517–526.

Jones, M. K., Harris, K. J., & Reynolds, A. A. (2021). In Their Own Words: The Meaning of the Strong Black Woman Schema among Black U.S. College Women. Sex Roles84(5/6), 347–359.

Hersey, T. (2022). Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto. Hatchette Book Group, New York, NY. 

Hurston, Z. N. (1937). Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper & Row, New York, NY.

McBride, Y. (2022, September 26). “The ExodUS Summit Is Helping Black Women Make      

                Their Expat Dreams A Reality.” Essence Magazine.