BY IRE OMITOWOJU
This week, as Minority Mental Health Month Awareness comes to a close, we featured Maud Arnold who shares with us how she seeks and prioritizes joy year round. Read or listen along below!
Hello Maud, Thank you so much for joining me today and welcome back to the Y blog by Pavé The Way® Jewelry, how are you today?
I am doing great. I am currently in St. Maarten, I am volunteering with one of my favorite programs called Art Saves Lives and so I’m just so happy.
I know you’ve been on the blog before, but just for the new people, can you give a small introduction of who you are and what you do?
Well, my name is Maud Arnold, I’m from Washington D.C., I currently live between Los Angeles and New York City and I’m a professional tap dancer, choreographer, writer, educator, producer, and philanthropist.
Today, we are talking about minority mental health because July is minority mental health awareness month. I wanted to talk to you specifically about your journey with mental health and also mental health in general, within the black community. So if anyone knows you, everyone knows that you live 100% of your life through the lenses of joy and gratitude and happiness. Have you always lived through this lens? And if not, what was your mental health like before?
Well, thank you very much for recognizing my joy because that is something that I’m extremely proud of and something that I choose to live my life with joy, as the barometer, because I think that is the most important thing. We can acquire a ton of material things, and you know we can do extravagant things and whatever, but if we’re not joyful and all those things, what’s the point?
I will say that I have actually always been very fortunate to always have a lens of joy. I’ve kind of been like that since I was a child, my mom always said you were born into a tumultuous situation, but you are always a bright light. And I also want to say that I think that my mom allowing me to be joyful and encouraging that joy, even when she herself was having a hard time is what has helped me maintain that and her encouraging me and my sister to follow our dreams fearlessly. So I get to wake up every day and live the way I want to live and make the choices, I want to make , and do what I want to do, and I think that that is where joy lies is when what you want to do what you know is good and what you’re saying and what you’re doing are all in alignment then joy lives there.
I think joy lives in magnifying the positive and always having a sort of wonderment. When I was a kid I always had a million ideas: I wanted to water the plants with apple juice and I wanted to talk to everybody and ask them how their day is going and my mom never put a cap on that. She kind of just lets me run free, obviously in a respectful way. I think that wonderment for the world gives us so much joy. What is that curiosity? What is that over there? What does that food taste like? I wonder where that person is from because their accent is really interesting and so I think that that is also how I keep it up.
That’s amazing, so you mentioned your mom and your sister. Do you feel like whenever you feel like you’re losing joy or happiness in your life, family is always like a foundation of where you’re able to come back and be re-centered?
I definitely think that family helps ground me but the first thing I think what’s important for me is that I do a check-in with myself and ask myself why aren’t I feeling as joyful as I usually feel. And I literally have conversations with myself: Is it a human being ? Is it something that happened? Is it an occasion? Is it a death? Is it a breakup? Or is it a disappointment work wise? You know, is it a loss? Did I lose my favorite sweater ? Whatever it is, and then whenever I can hone in on what it is specifically that’s triggering that feeling. I then try to magnify the positive around that situation and then, once you’ve narrowed down what it is and you make the situation small, I do believe that you can then address it and make it go away. So, is it that I’m in a breakup right now or I just got broken up with. I feel really sad and lonely. What is that really? Do I need to see a therapist? Do I need to hang around my friend to make me feel good and feel loved? Do I need to go to the gym to just get off some endorphins and energy. Do I need to go to the dance studio to remind myself of my power? Like what is it?
So I am somebody that is very solution oriented and I do believe that you should go through your feelings so I’m not saying I don’t allow myself to feel these things and cry or to feel sad but I do not allow myself to wallow in negativity for too long.
Yeah I love that! Being able to still allow yourself to feel the other things, but making sure that you don’t let those things hold you down and you still prioritize happiness. Love it! So going into the black community in general, Can you talk about how it is perceived within the black community and maybe why you think there is a lack of awareness?
That’s a great question and it’s very ironic that you asked me that today because I literally am in St. Maarten and had a debate with a man today that I just met. A very nice man, a friend of my friend’s mom who’s an educator. And he said, “depression doesn’t exist in the Caribbean.” So he and I got into this huge debate and I said, “Oh, it exists, I just don’t know if you’re acknowledging it yet,” because it absolutely exists. And I think that a huge part of the denial of it in the black community is that black people have experienced so much racism and oppression and we always have to feel like we have to be resilient. We’re strong, we’re resilient, we can make it through and so we find that we have to just keep pushing through even when things get hard. There is no time to take a break and evaluate or there’s no financial resource to go to therapy or there is no time to take a break. You know if you have a child and you work at McDonald’s, you can’t take three days off of McDonald’s, you need to go to work to be able to pay your rent and feed your child. So even if let’s say you experienced a deep loss like your mother dies or something, you probably get one day off for the funeral and you gotta keep it pushing. I think that we just haven’t had the luxury to feel and to acknowledge our feelings and to share those feelings.
And so I think right now I see it, I do see a lot of progress. Like there’s some really cool mental health spaces that have opened up in Brooklyn. I’ve seen ones called Heal House and that is geared towards the Black and Latino community to discuss mental health and centering and I see a lot of things on Instagram about free therapy for Black people. I think that it is becoming more common in conversation, but I find that it’s more common in conversation Black people who have great jobs or who are college educated and who have maybe left the hood or where they’re from and so they’ve seen the world and I think we really need to focus on addressing that in communities that are underserved. Because if you feel good about yourself and you’re truly happy, you’re less likely to pick up a gun and shoot somebody that looks just like you. You know, there is something really wrong and I do think that it’s environmental. I don’t think that these young people are even making real choices, because it’s so…the oppression and anger are so embedded that you can’t even feel, and so I think it’s a lot of that. And then, on the other hand, a lot of it is religion. You go to church and you know mental health doesn’t exist in a lot of traditional churches and it says, like you know you pray it away, that’s the devil. And when sometimes people really need help, whether it’s medicine or just therapy to speak to somebody, people have childhood traumas that have never been addressed that come up 30 years later and they have a breakdown and they need help, so I think what you guys are doing is very important!
You bring up a really good point about specifically underserved communities and how a big part of mental health is getting the help you need whether it’s therapy that can in some ways seem like a privilege, because it costs money to go to therapy so i’m glad you brought that up. So the next question coming a little bit back to you, how do you spread awareness and joy in your daily life?
I spread awareness and joy in my daily life by just sharing what I write. I write my haikus every morning and I don’t know if you’ve seen but now I have my Maud Haiku Nights because I realized is that first of all, I had stopped doing my haikus for like a month, which was unacceptable, but what I realized is that I wasn’t grounded. I kept traveling and I got overwhelmed with work and then I was tired and I really missed doing my haikus and then some people did write to me and said “Maud, where are your haikus?” And I was like I know, I’ve just been like crazy and I’m back. So you know we all fall off the train sometimes. I’m back. I write a haiku in the morning and a haiku at night. And they’re really just how I feel and their expressions and ideas, and I hope that that can resonate with some people and then also I smile literally at everybody I walk by. I know, well now we get to take off masks and it’s so amazing. And I truly believe, like a smile can change somebody’s day and maybe change their life and just brighten up their situation. And then I also teach kids all around the world. One of my students just wrote me from this weekend at St. Maarten, it was [her] first time ever taking tap and she said that I was her favorite teacher. She said that she wrote to me specifically, ” I love the friendship.” English is her second language and French is her first and she said, “I love the friendship you make with your students, thank you so much, I love you.” I met this girl for one week, she had never taken tap before. And I think that when you’re joyful it is contagious, it’s just like when you’re negative it’s contagious, when you’re joyful it’s contagious and I thrive on joy. I love it and three times since I’ve been in St. Maarten by the way, people have stopped me three times and said, “Are you girl on Instagram? Do you tap?” I’m like, oh my God, three different people on different occasions. And one of the guys that I met said, “I love your page, it’s always so fun and positive, it makes me feel so good.” And I was like, “Oh my God, thank you!” He was from Houston. He just happened to be in St. Maarten at the same hotel as me and I felt so touched by that and he’s here with the church group. You just never know who you’re touching, so why not just put out goodness.
Yeah that’s so amazing. you mentioned teaching kids across the world dance – do you think that through dance and teaching you’re able to provide an outlet for black children to be able to find joy and find their own therapy through that?
100%, I mean that’s what entirely motivates the Chloe and Maud Foundation. It is providing that access, so it goes beyond the dance floor. They know that they have people in their corner who love them, who will listen to them, who see them, who hear them, who respect them, who respect their ideas. I think that that is so important and a great place to start, where children know that they’re being heard and listened to because I think that is the first thing when you’re ignored or you’re mistreated your competence goes down, which can then lead to bad mental health and you internalize it too much. Dance is such a beautiful way to express yourself because it really is the universal language and to be in control of your own body is so powerful. So if you have that control of your body, then you can control anything. I think that once we realize we can, once we master our mind and our body and our spirit, then truly you can make anything happen for yourself.
That’s huge, you know. Also, being a student from soLE talk I love how both you and Chloe allowed us every session for like an hour, we talked about different topics and especially through covid it was so helpful to be able to just let everything out and actually have a conversation. those things may seem little, but they do so much for kids everywhere, so thank you guys and thank you so much for joining me today. You had such amazing things to say and [we] can’t wait to have you on the blog again!
Well, thank you Ire! We’re so proud of you, you are one of our Sole Talk superstars. You are walking proof that our program works. And we love you and we appreciate you and we think that you know, the first and most important thing is to start the conversation. Because if we are not talking about it, we can’t act on it. And so I think it’s so important to have these conversations, so that people are aware of the need and the realities of mental health and the need for mental health resources for young people and particularly young people of color!