In Celebration of Black History Month, Bernheim’s Field Ambassador interviewed folks prominent within their communities and asked them to share their connections with land and heritage. In today’s interview, we share and welcome the stories of Jihad C Allah, a father, writer, educator, mentor, and more within the community. Jihad grew up down South, straddling both good ole Alabama and bustling Georgia. History, Spirituality, and Nature have fueled his journey to reconnecting with the land! The summarized transcription below elevates the intricate relationships that some Black people experience between nature, ancestors, and heritage.
Can you introduce yourself and let us know where you currently live?
My name is Jihad C Allah, I live in Atlanta right now. I am from Montgomery, Alabama. Most of my family is in different parts of Alabama like Maplesville and York. My mom’s side of the family had a little bit of land. I grew up always outside– in the creek. My grandfather raised watermelons; he would even have corn sometimes. It’s great to know my cousins still live down there and I can relive such great memories.
What have you learned about your own culture and connection to land?
Well I’m adopted and about 5 years ago or so I found my birth mother. I also found out that my biological grandmama is 100% Native American. It explains a lot about me and my understanding of my ancestors. I’m big on culture and learning about our history. Certain things we do and how we live are influenced by our ancestors from Africa and Aborigines.
Alongside learning my new lineage, I was already diving into our relationship with land. We are so connected to the land. This land is our land- my land and I appreciate it. I definitely want to learn more, especially about that side of my family! You know lots of people haven’t had those connections to their family history or it wasn’t something that people could keep up with.
Did you buy any land?
I have some land in my family from out in Alabama that my grandfather passed down to us [the family]. It is something now that I really think is important. I know different groups of people who are buying land. I got the chance to go to Nanny Goat [Beach] on Sapelo island, which is right on the coast of GA, and learn so much about the history behind it! The way it goes is the natives got pushed off the islands. Then it became a place where the enslaved were brought and turned into a plantation. You have Sapelo and Jekyll Islands that share so much about the connection between African Americans, Native Americans, the land, and how stuff worked back then. It’s just a part of the story of “us” in America.
Can you think back to certain foods that are traditional to your culture?
So much of the American food/diet nowadays comes from our ancestors- African and Native American. Think about that – how did we learn about those herbs, forms of medicine, and stuff like that? There’s a food documentary called High on the Hog on Netflix, done by a brother from Georgia. He talks about the history of rice. Africans brought over rice and cultivated it. I didn’t know okra was from Africa. I had to learn the actual difference between a yam and a sweet potato. When enslaved Africans came over to the Americas, they didn’t know the land. The place was different- the soil was different. They had to make do with what they had! A sweet potato was the closest thing to it- so they had to replace that[yam].
I want to highlight your thoughts and support of Mental Health and therapy, specifically for communities of color. What was it that helped you to release the stress? Did being outdoors and within nature have any impact on your mental health or therapy journey? It’s a super loaded question but you’ve got this!
James Baldwin said, “If you black in America, you should be mad all the time!” You know from our treatment, but you can’t be! So, we have to learn how to deal with these things. I really started re-evaluating how I dealt with certain things like emotions. Unfortunately, in our culture we make things taboo and don’t want to talk about it.
You’ve got to protect your peace of mind. However, you do it, whether it’s therapy, meditation, or whatever. When you are not at peace, your body’s not at peace, your mind’s not at peace, your spirit’s not at peace. That can lead to illness and other problems within relationships.
It’s still a whole learning process, but I was not spiritually connected to my ancestors. Nature and spirituality are a combination of the same things. Nature and spirit go hand and hand when you understand how nature works. You know I used to say “If you want to see God – watch a bird from sitting on the ground to flying off. – That’s God. Watch a plant grow, going from a seed. Just the way the water cycle goes– formations of crystals and energy, that’s all connected to spirituality.”
Some spiritual practices that were lost or misrepresented from our history exacerbates our disconnections. Meditating and learning about our history is helping me a lot. With that, I started dabbling into herbal history too. For example, you may call something a weed, but that plant might save your life in the right circumstance! Nature and spirituality are really my release points. They help me heal.
I do want to give you time and a platform to share anything else about your heritage, how you’ve connected to land and nature, or other thoughts about this conversation.
Okay, the land gives you a learning experience. I used to be down in the Black Belt where the soil is dark, so places near Selma and Montgomery, when I was a teenager. Now I get to understand the connection between the land that our ancestors walked on. One of the easiest ways to stay connected with that [land] is nature- tree hugging, or just exploring it- being around it. It’s nature reconnecting us with our ancestors and the land. It’s one of the reasons why in our culture we have this reverence for our ancestors.
I’ve been working with children more recently. I used to work with getting them outdoors in nature. Now I do P.E and Pan-African Studies. I bounce around but awareness is central to what I teach. I tell the kids there could be elders in your family that could tell you about your history and connections. Who knows what energy your ancestors left for you in the land? Have you ever heard of the process of grounding? Sometimes I walk around barefoot!
As people, we are connected to nature– we are nature. I can say that I am enjoying getting reconnected to the land! Thank you for asking me to talk! I feel all energized. I am so honored to be able to help you in any way I can. Peace.