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"Unearthing Us" encourages readers to dig deep into their ancestry

ON the left a photo of a book being pulled ouf of the dirt; on the right, the author stands with a shovel over his shoulder. On his shirt read the words "God in my body."
Poet Joe Davis's third book investigates the power of reconnecting to your cultural roots.

Unearthing Us: Poems and Practices for Discovering Our Fullest Selves encourages its readers to dig deep and find “home.”

Written by multi-hyphenate artist Joe Davis, the book features 21 poems as well as practices inspired by his growing connection with the land of Jamaica, where he has ancestral ties. He says his exploration of the island opened his eyes to a piece of himself that he’d been missing. Davis says the book speaks to diasporic communities who are often navigating detachment from their cultural roots.

“I would encourage anybody and everybody to tap into that journey to reclaim your ethnic heritage, whatever that is for you. I think we should all tap into that, unearth that, and celebrate that,” said Davis.

This is Davis’ third book. The award-winning spoken artist says writing has been a huge part of “finding his freedom practice;” a phrase he says describes the act of providing oneself with tools that nurture a sense of well-being and connection. Davis says his “freedom finding” practices often involve meditation, prayer, and writing. But newly, as expressed in the book, the exploration of ancestral ties.

“Living in America, there's so much anti-blackness. And there's so much negativity around the Black identity and the Black community. But the more I've dug into my own ancestry, I've realized that for one, ‘Black’ is not a monolith. There's not just one way to be Black... There's an entire Black diaspora that's rich and diverse. And so with my Jamaican ancestry, I've been able to find certain things that really just resonate with my soul, resonate with my spirit, that helped me have a deeper sense of communal connection. I think that's been really big for me.”

Davis says “Unearthing Us” refers to the metaphor of digging into the roots of your life and nourishing it with what it needs to flourish so joy and beauty is budding in our communities all around us, as described in the poem, “Forgot: We Are Seeds.” 

...They thought then

they had us boxed in,

fallen and downtrodden,

forsaken and forgotten,

yet God was planting,

God was plotting,

plot twist:

what they put on top of us

to stop us,

did not block us but

were the blocks to prop us up

and we’re still cropping up

Sowing seeds,

so win, seeds,

So when seeds are broken,

golden green

petals, leaves,

hopes, and dreams are opened

and no force

on all the earth

could come close to ever closing them,

when every force of heaven will make sure

we keep on growing them:

testaments and testimonies from the tests,

messiahs and messengers from the mess,

our suffering lessens when we gain lessons

from our loses we lose less

and we suck seeds from the fruit of our success.

We are seeds.

Davis says well-being and resilience are strong themes in his work, including his two prior publications, “Remind Me Again” and “We Rise Higher.” He says history, particularly within the Black experience, has shown him the significance of connecting with his ancestors as a means to understanding – not only how we got here – but how we can be better.

“I feel this tug to listen to them and to develop a relationship with them. And whenever I do, a different part of me comes alive. I feel like I'm more myself. I'm fully myself when I'm able to access that relationship. Because, I mean, we just got to be real about the history of colonization and oppression and discrimination in our country that's separated us as Black diaspora from that story, from that part of ourselves,” said Davis. “I want to be that person who's like the story keeper, who's carrying forward that lineage of our stories.”

Davis is producing a play called “Ancestors Rising: Ascension,” at the Southern Theater, August 22 - 25. "Unearthing Us" is available at most major bookstores. 

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