Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
A note from adrienne maree brown: Jonathan McCrory is part of the leadership team for the National Black Theater, and, to my knowledge, was the first person to interpret emergent strategy as a play for the theater.
We are designed to know grief. We are designed to hold a relationship with grief. This relationship is not meant to stop us, but rather to propel us to know who we are and what makes us tick. Being in a relationship with something new—even when the newness is painful—can help us appreciate the anatomical presence of breath, and lean into the joy simple, methodical action can bring. This tethered relationship with grief comes in the moment we need it, as an acknowledgement of our divine humanity; as the ability to feel the sensation of tears born of salt water streaming from our eyes and caressing our cheeks. Yet how do we navigate the emptiness? The space that comes as an endless void attempting to rip us from our sense of self, playing as a consistent loop distracting us from the present moment, and locking us into viewing the now through the lens of our past comfort: How do we crack through it?
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Our relationship with grief can become a dance with relief, with generational release. Through this dark but necessary, profoundly human thing—our pain, our tears, our persistent breath—we can transform in the wake of the darkness. We can allow the breaking to be a metamorphosis, always. Breaking into new boundaries, we have the opportunity to shape and reshape the energy of grief into something kinetic, which builds toward our desired destination, turning every piece of who we are into who we are meant to become, and leaving behind a somatic signature that marks this moment of sacrifice. Yet as my spiritual twin, Sade Lythcott, reminds me, “I am the altar,” placing my body, my life, in divine alignment with growth, change, and evolution. This process is needed to draw us closer to our divine light, all that exists within our individual and collective possibility. We must search deep within, and have the obedience to stay committed to the work of conjuring our internal salve, rather than falling prey to the vices of external patchwork and fleeting, temporary comfort.
At its core, grief is an acknowledgment of love. Grief reminds us we are vessels able to love, even as the person, place, or thing—the object we cling to in order to experience this love—is no longer accessible to us. Yet have we ever thought that this experience is also an acknowledgment that we have evolved? Perhaps grief is our spirit’s way of telling us we need new spaces to explore, connect to, and transform—to ignite the evolution we have run away from.
If grief is the acknowledgment of losing something we once loved, the echo of a broken pattern, and a place where darkness lives, then I invite it! I welcome it because the best parts of me were created in darkness within the womb. I invite it because I need to be reminded I have the capacity to love. I invite it because the patterns that hold me now are the rhythms of subjugation, not liberation. I want to be liberated.
If this piece is to lead us anywhere, I want us to accept the broken state we find ourselves in as an abundant opportunity to take up more space as the shards of our constructed self break and scatter to the four winds. I wonder what would happen if we gave in to the breaking, and let ourselves shatter? Could we shatter as elegantly and devastatingly as a star does? Let us shatter to the point we become a black hole—so dense and unknown that no one can understand us but the source that created us.
Grief is a transformative force I have been intimately working with ever since the transition of my dear friend, chosen family member, and sister, Christine Jean Chambers, on the eve of the pandemic in December 2019. Her passing opened a portal into the intimacy of my humanity in ways I’d never felt before. The global shutdown that happened in the wake of her passing and homegoing service prepared me for the disabling amount of loss and grief, surrounded by the earth’s still-fertile abundance. I needed the gift of her release as the opportunity to gain so much; her transition gave me a chance to be in a relationship with an energetic force that has rocked my world ever since. It has also prepared me to know that as long as I love, as long as I open up to any thing and any person, I must also be receptive to meeting grief.
And so in this ongoing dance with grief, I also welcome the opportunity to love again, to live again, and to shed old skin to become the butterfly that I need for the world to change. I want to continuously find the courage to flap my delicate wings and watch the world shift because I choose to claim my existence. We all experience love and grief differently, yet I know my own truth about these powerful emotions. My hope in sharing this truth is that these words spark your own courageous, curious, and soulful journey. On this journey, I invite you to hold space for the universal truth your life was meant to articulate; may you sit in the confidence of knowing that when you embrace your unique, personal truth, the world changes for the better.
Jonathan McCrory is a Harlem-based artist who has served as executive artistic director at National Black Theatre since 2012 under the leadership of CEO Sade Lythcott. A two-time Obie Award-winning, and Tony- and Emmy-award nominated producer, he has directed numerous professional productions and concerts. His exceptional leadership has been acknowledged through Craine’s New York Business 2020 Notable LGBTQ Leaders and Executives. In 2013, he was awarded the Emerging Producer Award by the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Torch Bearer Award by theatrical legend Woodie King, Jr. He is a founding member of the collaborative producing organizations Harlem9, Black Theatre Commons, The Jubilee, Next Generation National Network, and The Movement Theatre Company. McCrory sits on the National Advisory Committee for Howlround.com, and was a member of the original cohort for ArtEquity. A native of Washington, D.C., McCrory attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and New York University’s TISCH School of the Arts. To learn more, please visit www.jonathanmccrory.com.