Ardena Joy is an American activist, author, award winning recording artist and former elected official who has dedicated her life to serving others. Having grown up in “South Central”, Los Angeles, her experiences allowed her to see life through the eyes of the “forgotten” in American society as well as through the celebrated and privileged.
These are her reflections.
“There are often times in life when what our eyes present to us is nothing short of terrifying. These images change us, can paralysis us or send us running in horror when circumstances appear hopeless. I was fortunate enough to be confronted by such terrifying images at an early age. I grew up in the poor inner city of “South Central” Los Angeles, California, where I was surrounded by violence both outside and inside of my home. It got so bad that, for a time, custody of my younger sister and I was awarded to the state and we entered foster care. Though I hated living through those experiences, in a way, I now consider myself fortunate to have done so. Through those experiences I was forced to learn that what we see with our eyes is not as real as the invisible potential for change which is always present. What I’ve learned is that the invisible forces of a love and creativity can overcome abuse, poverty, racism, can heal and is in fact more powerful than any head of state or nuclear weapon.
I’ve devoted my life to pursuing a greater understanding of these powers, sharing this understanding with all that I encounter and organizing politically/socially to alleviate the social burdens like the ones I faced, that distract us. It is my personal belief that as more people become aware of their inherent, loving creativity, which I believe we all possess, and begin to walk their own unique paths, we will continue to see changes for the better in this world, but then, at rates that were previously visible only in the imagination.
If you were an employer and you came across my resume, you’d see that my professional history has had many facets. You might even wonder if I had commitment issues or general trouble deciding what I’m really passionate about. I don’t. 🙂 You see, though I excelled academically, I would have had a difficult time paying for college as I had no financial support. We needed money desperately so I decided that the fastest way for my family to escape poverty and begin bringing in money as a child was to become an entertainer. I had a talent for it and though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, it was my way of loving people, making them happy and to do that made me happy. My efforts were successful and just after my seventeenth birthday, my singing group was offered a multimillion dollar contract from Arista Records. The album that we recorded went gold, we won multiple awards, including one for best new R&B group and toured internationally. My dreams had come true, and life completely changed for me. However, by the time I was twenty-two life would take me in a new and completely unforeseen direction. I found working in the entertainment industry incompatible with my personal standards of integrity. Though the act was “PG” even the subtle sexual objectification that the industry relies so heavily on was weighing heavy on we. “What unhealthy messages are we sending to young people in our culture about their value as a human being?” is a question I’d often ask myself. “What is this fixation with european standards of beauty?” and “Are these just silly songs or are lyrics like, “You’ve got a house on the hill, a chromed out ride. You live that life….If feels so right but I know that it’s wrong. Even though I’ve got a man I just can’t leave you alone” harmful for children?” were others? These concerns coupled with the overall disingenuousness of the environment, which I detested and hated navigating, became unbearable and was a far cry from my original intention, to simply make people happy, not harm them. Especially not children. We were no longer in control of our “brand” so after about a year of thinking it over, I decided to walk away from fame, fortune and privilege to pursue how I might make a difference politically instead.
I began working with a Political Action Committee, studying, economics, politics and culture for the next several years. I had many questions that I wanted answered and assumed that with a comprehensive working knowledge of these things, I could contribute to changing the things that needed to be changed. I was disappointed to discover that not all of the people who get involved politically do so for altruistic reasons. It was one of the most intense learning experiences of my life, during which time I authored several resolutions, passed one before a city council and even held elected office within the 43 Assembly district of Los Angeles, California. My work would take me all over the country, spending much of my time on the east coast. However at the point when I was really ready to accelerate and seek higher stations, some things were revealed to me about the people I was working with and what was happening behind the scenes. I, again, found that work to be incompatible with my personal standards of integrity and ironically, very similar to the entertainment industry in many ways. Perhaps in both the case of the entertainment industry and the political realm, I could have “stuck it out”, made some compromises and possibly reached a place where I was no longer subject to environments that I didn’t prefer but we all have to live with ourselves, don’t we? Besides, I’ve always been an extremely sensitive person, able to feel the “energy” around me and even navigating those kinds of environments, is something I’d simply rather not do.
It was difficult but I had to start again. From there I explored possibilities in the nonprofit sector and for the past several years (with a few exceptions which were required in order to make ends meet) have enjoyed the opportunity to become a leader, working with some of the world’s leading non-profit organizations. There is an army of beautiful people in this world that have and will continue to make a real difference in people’s lives and I am delighted to know many of the ones that reside in Los Angeles. Although I have enjoyed this work very much, my own day to day duties and responsibilities in management became so familiar to me that they were no longer a challenge. I felt the need to make more time for my personal growth and to give my own creativity a fresh way to flourish so that I had more of me to give. I took the second half of last year (2016) to author my first book, The Art of Choosing Joy; A script in the making of my life; a celebration of the unconquerable human spirit and an invitation, to all, to take on the awesome responsibility of being the author of their own life’s script. It was exactly the challenge that I needed and sharing my message and mission, formally, has reinvigorated me and brought into clearer focus where I’m headed next.
Now, again, if you (the potential employer) were to look only with your eyes at that resume you might see a woman who has excelled in many different areas and perhaps has had a hard time making up her mind. If one were to use their imagination, they’d notice a unifying theme, love and service of people. You see, I have decided to make my very life a reflection of love and creativity. I have decided to be so free that my very existence is an act of defiance and a willful rejection of all that needs to change in this world. Wherever my creative imagination can most freely flourish is where I want to be, precisely because it is there that I can inspire those that have either given up on or are unaware of their potential. It is in loving creativity that I stand the best chance of being that change and assisting others in doing the same. I try my hardest not to do or allow anything in my life that would interfere with that mission.
Throughout my various life experiences I have had the pleasure of knowing and being mentored by a handful of incredible people both living and dead. Einstein, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Beethoven, Mother Theresa, Dostoevsky, Buddha, Joan of Arc, and Jesus Christ are some of my mentors however, Amelia Boynton Robinson, the celebrated civil rights heroine (responsible for bringing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma, Alabama) and my Godfather (who I met later in life), activist and football legend, Jim Brown are among the living. Both of these individuals have contributed to my development in a variety of ways that I am still coming to understand. If I were to give my eighteen year old self a piece of advice (that I might have listened to), it would be something that I, after several years and dozens of discussions, was able to learn from Jim Brown. “Don’t be so quick to try to identify (name) something that you are having a hard time understanding.”, he’d say. The moment we place said mystery into a category that we think we “know”, we have no chance of discovering what it actually is. As a young woman, I made the mistake of quickly trying to identify things because I was uncomfortable with ambiguity and wanted answers. That tendency made me closed minded and prevented me from listening and using my imagination to discover more about the true nature of said mystery. So often in today’s society we believe that we have the right “answer” and are not open to dialogue, when in reality, whether we are talking about, business, science, geopolitics, art or culture, more understanding IS the answer. I don’t mean to imply that there is never a time to act decisively, there is, but it’s better to move forward with honest, unresolved ambiguity rather than a completely wrong, misidentification that leads us astray. Let us proceed with an open mind, always ready to gain a greater understanding that might benefit us all and with the knowledge that we will never perfectly understand anything in this world. That is what I would have liked for my eighteen year old self to know. The piece of advice that I’d give to my thirty year old self comes from the wise Amelia Boynton Robinson and that is to simply love people, remembering not to neglect yourself. By the age of thirty, most of us have faced a few difficulties, seen some disappointments and made mistakes. This may not always be a conscious to us but sometimes our image of ourselves changes. Sometimes we, even to ourselves become more difficult to love. We may feel that we are not deserving of love and begin disrespecting ourselves, minds, bodies in various ways but the idea that we don’t deserve love couldn’t be further from the truth. People don’t deserve love because they are perfect, intelligent, beautiful, wealthy, have it all figured out or even because of their good deeds. Just as it is ridiculous to think that people who make mistakes, are born into poverty, have a different religion, skin color or are disabled in any way are less deserving of love than anyone else. We are all human beings and are all, equally, worthy of love by virtue of that fact alone. There is no greater qualification or expectation to be met than that.
AJoy is the name of my company and it has produced hit songs for the entertainment industry, presented resolutions to government bodies ranging from how to better organize our US economy (in the face of the 2007 Mortgage Crisis) to restructuring our police department in the inner cities so that we can decrease until we ultimately eliminate instances of police brutality. Most recently, AJoy released The Art of Choosing Joy: A script in the making of my life. These experiences have collectively enabled me to learn a great deal and have equipped me for what is to come. I’m working now to establish a non-profit of my own that will be web based, interactive and focused on maintaining mental health, utilizing primarily “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”. My site will give people free access to a developed curriculum which will include live, entertaining, interactive video presentations, maintainance tools and practices to utilize on their own, as well as resources and referrals in their area to the many participating organizations and centers that will be working with us. Those that have experienced trauma in their lives suffer a great deal mentally and emotionally and often don’t have the money or resources to overcome those internal challenges in a timely manner. Though it is possible to do alone, which I know from my experiences, this site will be geared toward helping those people and not restricted to any demographic in particular. In addition I will continue with my speaking/book engagements, broadening my network, increasing my allies, always open to finding how I may most effectively be of service. You can support this effort by purchasing The Art of Choosing Joy available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble ebooks and hard copies on my website ardenajoy.com.
In addition to the advice that came from both Amelia and Jim above, I’d only add this…
Society has a way of attempting to place restrictions on what each of us is capable of. Don’t believe it for one second. Regardless of what the circumstances look like, the only limitations that truly exist are the ones that we place upon ourselves. Be free. Be free of assumed restrictions based on gender, socioeconomics, culture, religion or anything else asserted from outside of yourself. The world needs your uniqueness and creativity. “Show up” and if you can’t see with your eyes a clear path that will get you from A to B, use your imagination and let love be your guide. I guarantee that a bridge will form beneath you with every step of faith.
Thank you, to Utkarsh Amitabh and “Network Capital” for this opportunity and to you the reader.”