An intimate conversation with spiritual activist Kaytura Felix on injustice, Black women, and oppressive systems
Griotte’s Beat, a podcast and cultural center for dialogue surrounding injustice and the African diaspora, was curated and created by Kaytura Felix. Felix, who identifies as a spiritual activist, wears many hats as a leadership coach, a trained physician and a scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Health & Management, where she studies medical racism and health justice. Previously, Felix served as Managing Director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where she managed a portfolio of leadership programs and curricula. She is a mother and single parent to her beloved daughter and has worked in several professional roles in the health industry.
Her creation, Griotte’s Beat, aims to examine injustice from the perspective of Black women ad invites several voices to the conversation; centering the voices of everyday Black women changemakers, such as author Gwendolyn Wallace, professor Layli Maparyan, and educator Auntieclare Rezin, to name a few. These women make it their aim to seek justice in a world of conflict and oppressive systems.
Felix sat down with the Trenton Journal to discuss Griotte’s Beat’s mission, her fight against injustice, and her hopes for people within the African diaspora.
Firstly, tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I’m relatively new to Trenton, but I love it with all my heart. I grew up in the Caribbean on a small island called Dominica and I’ve lived on the East Coast since 1985. I’m a physician. So that was my training. I went to medical school. I worked in the government and in philanthropic sectors. But I’ve always been guided by justice. Justice is something that has always guided me from the time I was a little girl.
You consider yourself a spiritual activist, can you please explain that title to us?
Yeah, I don’t know where I got that term, but it just fit me. An activist is somebody who cares about the world, who is committed to improvement, who is committed to things advancing, right? I think for me, I too am committed to justice. I want reparations. I want equal rights. I want to be able to stop environmental racism and all those things. But I think [because of] where I come from, I bring my spirituality into the mix. There is one way to look at the struggles [of Black people] and to just say, ‘okay they don’t have this,’ ‘they don’t have that,’ and just to list all our deficiencies. That is a very materialistic lens. I believe that kind of lens is the oppressor’s lens: looking at what we don’t have, and forgetting all the things we have. That is not to say that [we shouldn’t fight] for those material conditions because we are oppressed. But there are things we have; our ancestors, we have our culture, we have our beliefs, right? There is so much. have nothing, and convince them they have nothing. So we want to imitate them, and we want what they have. [But] we don’t [ask questions like], ‘is that good for me?’ ‘Do I really want that?’ Is that what I would want for myself?’ ‘Is that what I would want for my community?’ I feel like when I say spiritual activist, I’m talking about that. But I’m also talking about the fact that there are lots of resources that we can harness to fight against injustice.
When did this idea to create a podcast come to fruition? Also how did you come up with the name Griotte’s Beat?
It was born on January 1, 2020. At least that’s when I wrote it down. In 2019, I felt like I came face-to-face with some serious injustice in my life. It was a pretty difficult year for me. When I hear people talk about injustice, they talk about something that happened on the news. And let me tell you, injustice does happen on the news. But what I lived through, injustice is an everyday thing. It’s what ordinary people are doing all the time. It’s so ordinary [and] commonplace [that] we forget about it. We think injustice is something that other people do. We never look at ourselves. It’s not just other people doing it. It’s not just a few bad apples, no matter what system you’re looking at. So, I wanted [to have] a conversation that was between Black women who I think have a deep understanding of injustice. There are other groups, but I wanted us to talk about how we experience injustice, and how we move through it. How do we know we ourselves are unjust? What can we bring to the conversation? How do we heal and transmute or transform injustice? That’s the conversation I wanted. I also wanted it to be rooted in Africa. We know griots in West Africa are storytellers, they are historians. They are the holders and the keepers of the culture. That’s what I was aiming for. But griot with two T’s was the nod to the feminine.
Your podcast is centered around justice. What does justice mean and look like to you and what wish do you have for women within the African diaspora?
[To me] justice looks like spaciousness, for us to be who we are individually and collectively. We have our own unique experience. In the teaser, you heard Beverly Jenkins talk about how Black women have worked in this country. We’ve always worked. So, we have a lot of experience with work. [But] Layli talked about mothering and the role of Black women and care. I feel justice [is living] in both of those worlds. [Balancing] both of those worlds, you know, the working world, caring about the community, but also caring for ourselves. I would not just want there to be a flow of exchange between us, [but] an understanding and solidarity.
You explain in one of your intro episodes that your work surrounding justice has guided the way you raise your daughter. How is that?
I think justice is what attracted me to my faith. It’s what helped me raise my daughter. I unexpectedly became a single parent, [and] I was terrified. But once I focused and accepted that I would be a single parent, I really started to practice justice in the sense that justice is the capacity to see people as they are. Justice helps us see reality as it is, [and] beyond the material. So for me, it helped me see my daughter. Justice helped me listen to her concerns, but it also helped me direct her by saying, ‘I know this may be true, but this is our reality’. You know, it helped me give her what she needed, not [just] what I could give her.
How would you say this podcast has helped you grow as a Black woman in the world?
I’ve always been an optimist and typically ambitious person. But I was much more comfortable in the background. I was not very interested in having a public persona. I [thought] there was a lot that I had to do, I didn’t think there was a lot I had to say. The podcast is still in the process of helping me really get clear about my voice. I’ve always known what’s important to me. I’ve always been the person in a room to take a stand. And I know that my job is to speak the truth and [to] speak clearly and directly. But I think the podcast is helping me do that in a more public way. I think it’s also preparing me for the work that I’m about to take on, which is a real public role around medical racism.
How do you see yourself reaching people within Trenton?
We just moved here, so we’re [still] putting down roots, you know, studying things, meeting people. I’m committed to the work, as well as supporting others. I think there are many conversations we need to have and I’m looking forward to [finding] partners and guests in Trenton. There are people doing some amazing things [in this city].
What do you want people reading this to know?
I think I want them to know that this work is born out of my love for the Black community. The global Black community, and we have a meaningful contribution to make for the transformation of the world. The peace that we all desire, want, and are searching for is dependent on Black people being able to be fully human.
Episodes of the Griotte’s Beat can be found on SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music. For more information, visit Griotte’sBeat and follow @griottesbeat on Twitter and Instagram. To contact Kaytura Felix, email [email protected]. If you or anyone you know is interested in being featured in Trenton’s Finest contact [email protected]