In this episode, host Chris Nguon speaks to the incredible and powerful Jenn Johns. Jenn is an artist and has shared line ups with some of the best in the business including the likes of Ms. Lauryn Hill, The Black Eyed Peas, Mos Def, Capelton, Ziggy Marley, Gil Scott Heron, Wyclef, Les Nubian, De La Soul, and Common to name just a few.
She has also worked with some of the world’s most respected spiritual leaders. From Oakland to South Africa, Jenn has experienced the power of Healing work to not only help herself but to better serve others.
Jenn talks about important topics such as: the importance of building rituals, community, giving thanks to trauma, and what part of yourself to give from when you’re working with Healing Centered work.
Chris Nguon 0:01
Peace and blessings community. Welcome to another episode of the karma Chronicles podcast where we speak with the nation's leading Healing Centered Engagement practitioners. I'm your host, Chris Nguon. And today we are in community with sister Jenn John's, a powerhouse vocalist, songwriter, producer, activist, and entrepreneur who creates sounds, experiences and products that stir the soul, inspire the mind and moves the body. Our conversation next.
Chris Nguon 0:43
Welcome, Jenn, how you doing today?
Jenn Johns 0:46
I am so great. It is so wonderful to be with you, Chris. How are you?
Chris Nguon 0:50
I am okay. Thank you so much for taking the time with us today. It's been such a whirlwind. What have you been up to lately? What are your current projects? What are you been doing? I have so many questions. Where do I start?
Jenn Johns 1:01
Chris, what are you talking about? It's been the most boring 12 months.
Man, I've been busy. I worked on a new body of kind of Afro diasporic prayer songs, that has been really fun that I just completed. And I worked on another piece with Kendrick dance ensemble this year, which was really beautiful about transmuting trauma into joy. And so we that wound up being a dance film. And that's been pretty cool. And I'm already off into my next body of music and co-producing with a dear friend of mine are helping to produce I should say, this is really beautiful, Chris, this is the coolest thing I think I've done since I was six years old.
24 hours, 24 countries 400 musicians. And the goal is to raise $200,000 so that these artists around the world can get a little bit of support. Because like, even though we're a hot mess in the in the United States, there has been some unemployment that people have had some access to but like my friends in South Africa, that's not their experience. So that's what I'm working on. So that's the thing that I'm the most part of right now is love and love.
Chris Nguon 2:26
That's amazing. That's amazing. Look at how this healing work centers not only in the United States, but all over the world. So what's the timeline for that? I'm curious.
Jenn Johns 2:38
We're gonna do an on love today, May 1st.
Chris Nguon 2:41
Beautiful, I love it.
Jenn Johns 2:43
I mean, it's gonna continue to go on and on love is love is a dance showcase that has been going on for 15 years in New York. And, you know, we party hard at that. But then, you know, a quarantine happened. And so decided, Dena, the founder decided to take it online and make it worldwide and then started hearing from our people all across the world, that's a benefit of being a musician is that you get to meet people everywhere. And so, you know, you become your own anchor person for your community, like reporting the news from around the world, you know, via artists. And and unfortunately, the news is that not all of our brothers and sisters are doing all right.
Chris Nguon 3:19
Right, right. Absolutely. And let's dive into that a little bit more just you're a person that uses multiple forms, of modalities in your community work, right music, speech, art, some of the things that you're already talking about, you just hold space for community, and you hold space for people to heal for people to talk to each other. How does community really move you? And how has it moved you during the pandemic? What have you learned?
Jenn Johns 3:47
We are one. You know, I think that, you know, when I think about how community moves me, I just feel like I am my community, like, you know, I feel the community I have, I have empathy, and I can feel the experience of my community, that kind of a, you know, visceral and basic level. And I think that that's not just because I'm an artist, or that I'm an activist like that is the way that I choose to allow myself to be sensitive enough to experience that.
But I believe that that's true for everyone that, that we all are one, and that there's a lot of societal pressures that keep us from being aware of our connectivity, being in tune with our connectivity. And you know, I think over the last few years, what's been really deep for me as it pertains to community has been this really deep awareness that it's not my job to change the world. And that has been you know, that sounds simple. Maybe for you know, the the smarter people. I don't know, but like, you know, it's not my job to fix anything. It is my job to be present. That's kind of my only job. My job is to be present. And so how does community impact me? It reminds me to be here now.
Chris Nguon 5:15
Right? And I think for some of our practitioners who are listening to our conversation now, especially our younger practitioners, that might come as a shock, right? They're not here to save everybody. I'm here to be present, as you say, can you talk a little bit more about that journey? Like, how did that really manifest itself? And how did that evolve for you, as you come to have come to that realization where you are now in terms of how you look at your work?
Jenn Johns 5:43
Well, I think that, I say this a lot, that when you experience trauma, you experienced oppression, it becomes the lens through which you see the world, right, it becomes your center of gravity, it's the way that you then interact with humanity. And so then, of course, you feel like I gotta fix this problem, I got it, you know, how to change the world, right? So you're caught in this thought process, which means that your day in your day out, the way that you're able to see literally able to function is limited, that's the impact, the the most devastating impact of oppression is that it limits your creativity, your ability to see in front of you, and then navigate, you know, based on the many opportunities that are in front of you. And so, for me, I think that I just, I kept hitting a brick wall, I couldn't get filled up enough, energetically before I was depleted. And that it is an honor to be someone who gets called when there's been someone who has passed, it is an honor to be a vessel that is of service when there's tragedy. And, that'll wear on you after a while. And so, you know, for me, my process was taking time to really look at am I doing what I'm doing? Oh, see, you called me in here to get deep with it. But like, if you know, I'm doing this,
Am I doing this activism, from my heart space are from an ego space, do I need to be so busy doing this work to fix the world and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, like I say, you know, standing on my soapbox, I know all of the statistics, whatever, right? To keep me busy, which ultimately keeps me from healing myself being present to myself? Or am I doing it from heart space. And when I started answering, when I was saying yes to do things, and only doing them from a space that was heart space, then it meant that I got the opportunity to not be re-traumatized by, America.
Right, all of it right, like to not be re traumatized while being a practitioner of healing, right? You know, giving me the space and then now I'm able to look and go, Hmm, the more I walk in my healing journey, in front of people, I'm a bazillion times more service, than I was just showing up to sing that song. You know, the impact of that song has something way more layered and complicated and brilliant, like God, you know, not, not just that I came, and I sang so intensely that I that I broke everyone's heart open, right? Like there's room for that there's space for it is necessary. But what's more necessary, at least for where I am in my life, you know, is, is to enjoy my life. And then as a result, I'm a blessing to those who witnessed me.
Chis Nguon 9:15
That's real. That's real. And that's a lesson that I hope that all young practitioners and practitioners who might be struggling right now can hear loud and clear that you can still very much enjoy your life, your space, and still do this work in healing way. Right? You better.
Jenn Johns 9:35
You better, like you don't have an... If you if you think that you want to do this and this is coming from your heart space and you want to be of service to the community as we all should forever, then you must give from your excess and not your essence.
Chris Nguon 9:49
Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, part of Flourish Agenda’s Healing Centered Engagement practice, are these four pivots, and one of the pivots is called lens to mirror and I think that's really what you're speaking to right now in terms of looking at yourself, and really finding ways to make sure you have space to heal. Right. And I think it really shows up in so many ways. Thank you for that. I think what I also want to dive into sister Jenn is also your actual artwork. Like you mentioned right now you are a phenomenal artists, phenomenal singer, songwriter, creator of music. And so talk a little bit about that, and a little bit about your history of how that came about. And really, you know, how that really reaches community in the ways that you do it, which I find a beach is truly so beautiful.
Jenn Johns 10:39
Thank you so much. Well, I've been singing my whole life. My parents say that I've been singing since before I could speak. So I would say that singing is my first language. And probably the way that I am able to communicate my feelings best. And so yeah, that's, you know, that's my first talent. That's what I think most people know me for the most. In the last five years since I came back from South Africa. I think it was the first time in my life where singing, maybe soothed my soul but didn't quite express the feelings that I had, all the way. And that's when I became, I've always had multiple disciplines. But that's when I started expressing it outwardly for the public to see multiple disciplines. And so, you know, I've always been a collager and a doodler. And I've just taken my collaging and my doodling to another level. So I make gigantic large scale, you know, eight foot collages. And I do a lot of epic doodling, which you can see on my website, jennjohns.com.
And then I wrote a choreo poem last year, which was such a beautiful experience, it was about transmuting sexual trauma. And you got to give thanks for you know, this sounds strange too, but like, you have to like, give thanks to your trauma. Once you get the the tools of how to be in healing. I think that one of the pieces of it is to really have gratitude for the experiences that have brought you to where you are. And I would have never five years ago, 10 years ago, ever thought that the traumas that I have experienced would be things that I would offer gratitude, you know, for in this time, but yeah, so we went on a tangent. That's what I've been working on.
Chris Nguon 12:49
Oh, I hear you, thank you for that. I think that's something to live up to is from Oakland, to South Africa. And all around you experienced and been in community, with our people, in many, many places beyond Oakland, beyond the Bay Area. In your estimation, and what you literally experience, how does trauma and that healing work transcend countries transcend communities? And as you talked about earlier, we are all one, has that shown up in the work that you've observed?
Jenn Johns 13:21
You know, one of the coolest things about being an artist is that you can see, like supernatural superpowers happening everywhere. You know, like, I just think that like, art is is such an incredible and powerful through line. So when we think about like, how is healing, you know, how are people engaging in healing practices around the world? Art is the for me has been the through line. And it has been the thing that you know, you roll up into a community and I don't speak Zulu. I don't speak Bosa you know, I mean, I don't I don't speak Swahili. You know, I don't don't speak Arabic. I don't speak the languages of many of the countries that I've been blessed to be in, but I've been healed by them. And I've been healed by them by watching. I remember this one time. It was my very first major tour. I was on tour with Gift of Gab from Blackalicious. And we're in Yeah, yo, shout out to Gift of Gab, man real salute. Power. You want to talk about somebody who called me at the top of the pandemic and hit me with some meditations. That completely saved my life? Gift of Gab. But when we were in Zurich, and were backstage and it's like a big open space, and this kid had been trying to get the security to let him come, you know, through the venue backstage may what led him. So this kid comes around back there's like a little river along the side of the bank thing, whatever. He scales this fence, climbs over, gets down. None of us speak German. So we're like, “how's this gonna work man” like he's trying to talk to us and we don't understand. And I still get choked up even now 15 years later thinking about it, he just starts breakdancing.
Chris Nguon 15:18
Jenn Johns 15:19
This scrawny European kid just starts break dancing. And it was a prayer. It wasn't even thank you. It was, “let me bless your whole life”.
Chris Nguon 15:33
Wow, incredible. We see healing and trauma work intertwined in a lot of ways, but we see it show up in so many places beyond just Oakland. You know, it's a beautiful thing. And, you know, I'm really curious about how you have seen, and have you experienced other practitioners around the world practice healing work in similarities and in differences as well.
Jenn Johns 15:58
Yeah, you know, I think being an artist in multiple places, you know, to say, you get called in to sing a song as the performer, you know, you're being called them as a healer, you know. And so, again, I think the blessing has been being with other superhero healer people right around the world that gets to come together, like Voltron, and, you know, on a stage in a space, remind us all that we’re one, you know, has been super, super powerful. And I think that this space is where there's been more differences been, you know, where people have really allowed themselves to, to submit to the power truly, you know, like, I remember being in Kenya, and I was just saddened by the food situation that I was learning about that they were, and then and inspired by the food situation that I was learning about, that they were creating, and all of these things. And I roll into this village with this cohort of food justice activists that but I was brought because I was a musician. I knew I was a musician. So as soon as I got there, they just broke out into this ritual.That was like, just, I don't like, Chris, if I can put it into words.
I can't tell you what they said. I have no idea what they said. And at one point, I turned and I said, I don't know what they're saying. But I feel like she's praying over me. Exactly what was happening, right. And so like, to the degree that, you know, folks have allowed themselves to just really be vessels. I think that that has been the difference. I think here. You know, in America, we asked for permission sometimes before we break out into the ritual itself. These Auntie's weren't having it, they saw a little black girl, and they were like, “no, no, no, no, no”.
Chris Nguon 18:00
I hear that. I hear that these stories really resonate. And, you know, years later, it really still continues to feed our soul in so many ways, right? For sure. I want to switch gears just a little bit. Since the pandemic, it's been to say the least rough for triggering trauma, rough for how we look at our systems, how we look at oppression and racism right here in America. you partner with Dr. Shawn Ginwright and Flourish Agenda last summer during Juneteenth, with something called ‘A Day of Visioning’. And it was super powerful. Tell me a little bit about how that manifested itself. And was what was really the intention of it?
Jenn Johns 18:53
You know, I really believe strongly that the human mind creates what it imagines. You know, we manifest what we think about. This year in particular, we were in the middle of a pandemic, or a panamera panoramic. You know, we've been in the middle of some craziness, just environmentally, and then, you know, a true race rebellion revolt, you know, at the same time.
What's true is, that the circumstances that we were experiencing in Oakland, or in California or in America, we're just not different than how many of my friends are dealing with things in South Africa and Ghana, you know, maybe not Ghana, but you know, in other places. And so, I had done this before, and I've been it's a practice of mine to speak, in the affirmative as if we're there now, you know, so we decided four years forward, because we were thinking somewhat politically and also in conjunction I have a mentor, Alan Dones, don't shout out to Alan Dones is one of the only black developers in Oakland is a powerful man all over the world. And we had done a project called ‘Inclusive Oakland 2024’ in 2014, and we asked everyone to speak in the affirmative as if it was 2024. So here we were in June of 2020, with Shawn and I said, you know, let's just let's piggyback on that, because there's already some energy there, right? Like, there's already been prayers that have been cast forward, of what an inclusive environment in our hometown is going to look like. So let's broaden the conversation. But let's, let's stick with this timeline. And, and that was the thought process behind it was, instead of sitting in the physical manifestation of past fears, which are just prayers for shit you don't want, excuse my language. But that's, you know, what it is right?
Let us, let us conjure, right, let us let us use our actual powers, like, I'm not religious, but I do believe that I was made an image in the likeness. The powers that be, and I think that's one of the greatest problems of this world is that we separate ourselves from the from, from our literal God given talent, right, like our actual godliness that we it happens to us as we believe it really does. You know, and that's how you can have twins who experience the exact same thing. And their perspectives are…. their life experience is different. Because your perspective, is absolutely everything. So that was the goal behind ‘The Day of Visioning’, we plan to do it again and again, and again and again and again. And the intention is to get people to remember that you're powerful. But you have agency.
Chris Nguon 22:09
Yes, yes. And that's what really Healing Centered Engagement centers itself on, right, Healing Centered Engagement is something that builds in a lot of ways off of Trauma Informed Care. And for practitioners who are listening to this, or people who are interested in jumping into healing work, because that's what the spirit is calling them to do. What advice would you give them now, specifically to the modalities that you use the art, the music, whether they're working with young people in schools, whether they're working inside their agencies trying to shift and pivot, how their agency sees and moves in this healing work? What are some of the things that you would tell them?
Jenn Johns 22:50
Create a practice and be clear on your community. And those are the two things that I think are the most important. And I think that that's one of the reasons why I love Flourish Agenda is like walk the walk, they talk, the talk, and there are tools for this, you ain't gotta do this alone. So create a practice, everyone needs a practice, whatever your meditation is, is your meditation. For me, I am a way better person, if I get up and I hop on the treadmill for like, 15 minutes just for 15 minutes, right?
That's when I can begin to come awake. And I can begin to hear the the voice of the Divine be with me, and I can interact with that before I gotta go deal with the world. That's my practice. You know, some people chant in the morning, sometimes I chant, right. But whatever that is, you have to have a disciplined, consistent practice that keeps you rooted. And we all fall off, but you got to come back. Because if you don't, you're going to wind up with that, “I'm giving from my essence and not my excess”, you know, again, and then you don't get to stay in the work. And then the next is community, you need community because you got to have people who are not going and I don't mean like the hug a tree woker than the community, right? I'm not talking about that. You need somebody, you need a squad of people, when you do this kind of work. Who will chin check you fast? Did you drink water? Are you doing your yoga? You know what I mean? Like you need community that's going to reflect back the best of who you mean to be in the moment.
Chris Nguon 24:37
That's real. And that goes back to what you were saying earlier about holding your own space to be able to continue to do this work, right. That is such a beautiful thing. Well, thank you so much. And this has been a wonderful and enlightening conversation, and I appreciate you for taking the time. So where can folks find your work? And what are some of the upcoming projects that you want to share before we wrap up?
Jenn Johns 25:01
Like I said, I'm doing Love is love Worldwide, which is you can go to loveisloveworldwide.com and learn more about it. And that is May 1st, International Love Day, it’s also Workers Day. So I'm very proud of that. Check that out. You can learn about me Jenn Johns at JennJohns.com. In general, you know, search the interwebs, you'll find me,
Chris Nguon 25:27
You will. Absolutely. Check out some of Jenn’s stuff too. It's deep, and it's resonating. And it's beautiful in so many ways. So, sister Jenn thank you so much for taking time with us today.
Jenn Johns 25:40
And thank you for the work that you're doing. Thank you. Thank you Flourish Agenda. Thank you for attending. Thank you, Shawn and Nedra and thank you, Chris, for doing this. It is so important that we don't feel alone in our work as practitioners. So thank you.
Chris Nguon 25:54
Absolutely peace in love. And until next time community. Thank you for listening to the CARMA Chronicles, we’ll holla at y’all soon.