#PurposeIs with Aliyah Blackmore
INTERVIEW BY YARMINIAH ROSA.
Yarminiah Rosa (YR): First off, we’ve known each other for some years via mutual friends, but never sat down and had a full on conversation, so I am excited to get to know you a bit more in this piece. Can you please start by introducing yourself and what you are passionate about?
Aliyah Blackmore (AB): The virtual realm is certainly a beautiful space and I am thankful for our connection over the last years via the web and I am excited to share more about myself with you. Thank you for opening up this conversation. My name is Aliyah Blackmore. I am a writer, DJ (LotusMoon), and visual artist, currently based in Harlem, by way of Barbados and Guyana. I am passionate about engaging with the radiant multi dimensionality of the African Diaspora and the ways in which our bodies heal and imagine healing, through our modes of cultural production. This passion manifests through writing, DJing, and other mediums of art making. I feel such infinite light, warmth, and gratitude to engage so closely and directly with my passion.
YR: One of the reasons I started the #PurposeIs series is because as a founder of a brand centered in purpose, people would frequently ask me what purpose was, expecting me to be an authority on the matter. At first it intimidated me, but I soon began to understand that they were merely prompts for a larger conversation around the accessibility of purpose that desperately needed to be had, especially among millenials and gen Z individuals. So, thank you for agreeing to be in conversation! How do you live with purpose?
AB: Wow, to have a moment to engage with this question is blessed. I have certainly been thinking about this lately, how do I live with purpose— how do I honor purpose/my purpose. How do I live with or embody this purpose? I would say through existing as a being or vessel through which many things may blossom— whether that be through art making, cultivating with community, the self and family; listening and being aligned with the self is important as well— meaning listening to all that is around me, grounding and watering myself so that I may continue to engage with the varied ways in which purpose may manifest in this lifetime. And I would also say that I am infinitely fueled by those around me, like yourself Yarminiah, who move in life with such a radiant energy in all that they do and who live with and through purpose.
YR: Gosh, that means so much to me. Thank you! Please finish the following sentence: Purpose is __________.
AB: Purpose is stepping into your light.
YR: Did you ever struggle with identifying or understanding what purpose is in your life? If so, please explain.
AB: Oh yes, certainly. I think there have been a few moments in which I could not identity or understand my purpose (or perhaps felt a distance), particularly in transitional periods of my life. For example, after finishing undergrad, or moving in to a new space/phase of life— there can be this feeling of the unknown, wondering “what if,” and I feel as though that tension was rooted in self doubt. Stepping closer to purpose requires shaking off that self doubt and having a safe, supportive, and beautiful space to step closer to explore the layers of what purpose may mean for you.
YR: Has your purpose and or understanding of purpose changed throughout your life? Please be specific.
AB: I would say that my relationship to purpose or to my own purpose has certainly shifted throughout my life. In the last year, I engaged with a deeper understanding of what purpose looks like. Perhaps having that space after undergrad allowed for a shift, or clarity, in my understanding of purpose and relationship to it.
YR: Do you believe every human being has a purpose? What makes you think so?
AB: I would say yes— our existence as beings is linked to purpose. I think that we all come to purpose in different ways, at different times. I feel as though purpose has this correlation to the ancestral realm — and the body, in ways, also exists as a space through which the spirit of our ancestors lead you to or inform you of how to come to relate to purpose.
YR: I love that you mention the difference in how we each come to purpose. I believe part of the misconception around purpose is the idea that one must know their purpose in order to be purposed. How, in your opinion, can someone who doesn’t feel purposed or intention driven begin to get in alignment with purpose?
AB: Grounding and surrounding yourself with what inspires you, what you fills you with light and taking a moment (or however much time you need) to just be fully present with that. Creating a space of light for yourself and checking in with yourself is so important as well!
YR: I remember someone sending me a link to the Afropunk article you wrote on us years ago and I was so delighted to know folks were peeping our work. You were one of the first people to order online after our recent website re-launch as well as one of the first people to report on us via Afropunk. Your support means the world to me and is truly the engine that keeps a small business growing. Thank you! How did you begin writing for Afropunk and how did you discover Purposerosa?
AB: I believe that I sent an email to Afropunk back in 2012. There may have been a post on their site— a call for contributors. I was interested in writing about the ways in which blackness and identity are so beautiful linked to art making, and it has been a blessing to interview and be in conversation with so many radiant and inspirational artists globally. And I believe that I came across Purposerosa through Instagram and was struck by this light I felt when looking at the jewelry and the use of repurposed materials! I was so happy to share the light that you all exude, through your jewelry making, with the Afropunk community and beyond.
YR: When we touched base last December you were finishing up your final essay of the school year, congratulations! As a recent post grad, what are you struggling with now in how to establish yourself creatively and professionally?
AB: Yes! I was finishing up an essay for a Photojournalism course— I am actually currently a student in the International Affairs graduate program at the New School (I was an undergrad student at the New School as well). I would say that there are certainly obstacles or moments of the unknown, especially when I think back to finishing undergrad, and before going back to school, this in between space I felt I was in— as I mentioned before, a poignant transitional moment and space that presented some unknowns. And being in that space can be difficult but what uplifted me was accessing purpose, and really grounding myself in both community around me for inspiration and re affirming that I am passionate about the layers of Blackness, how our bodies practice healing and so I was like “okay Aliyah, how do you actively engage with this? For example, during that time, I was blessed to do some Digital Content writing for CARIBBEING; one of the major projects that I worked on was an A-Z of the Caribbean in celebration of Caribbean American Heritage Month in June. Before returning back to school, in regards to “professional” and artistic (though I feel these overlap for me) exploration I felt I was actively engaging with my passion and seeing clearly what nourishes me.
YR: Amen to the ways you reconnected with your passion in your time away from school! That sort of cognizance and rooting makes all the difference in what we pursue professionally and personally. The power of affirming what you want to see of your life has rocked my world. I have seen circumstances shift because of what I say to myself about myself. I am always encouraging our Purposerosa community to call on the seismic power of mindful thinking. Through the tone of your social posts, it seems you have a consistent practice of affirmation and intention setting. Any current affirmations you’d like to share?
AB: There are a few affirmations that I recite to myself daily, one of them is: “You are rooted in so much light and love, Aliyah. Remember that, always.”
YR: The image of you on your website is literally the image of you I have in my mind. At home, at peace, in routine, watering plants, DJ’ing and busy in your own world. What are some practices you use to create routine and a sense of peace?
AB: One key practice of mine is taking a moment in the morning after waking up, just to breathe and sit with stillness and express gratitude. Another is that watering and caring for my plants, I feel waters me. Finally, checking in with myself and honoring my emotions and cultivating a safe space to sit with and feel those emotions is how I remain centered. I am currently in Barbados and I am reflecting on how much sustenance and life the sun provides to the body and, the Earth— the sun (even in cold New York) also fills me with a sense of warmth and peace.
YR: I was so excited to see that you’d decided to get into DJ’ing! Becoming a DJ is a secret dream of mine that I haven't, until now, said out loud to anyone. As an avid social dancer, I have deep respect for DJ’s who master the power of transforming a space into a spiritual experience. Is your decision to become a DJ related to your investigation and reverence of ‘how historically and in the present, our forms of cultural production foster spaces of resistance and recovery for our bodies’?
AB: Yes yes! Through my mother, family, community and Afro-Caribbean heritage, I have witnessed the space of spiritual openness that our music fosters. Music is a portal through which our pain as well as light and liberation is shared. It is this space of nourishment that, I feel, leaves room to continually imagine liberation and to feel your body react to what liberation and existence is. And that energy in our music is evident. The way in which the body, mind and voice is invoked is so beautiful— and to create a space of nourishment that centers our experiences and bodies is a magnificent journey.
My interest in DJ’ing also grew from the inspiration and power of community. Much love to my Staying Underground family for opening a space of light for me and many other creative souls to engage with the radiance of music as healing. I was having a conversation with Jamilla Okubo a few years ago and she mentioned that I should take a look at Staying Underground — she thought that I would vibe with what they were doing. Infinite love to Thomas, Alfie and all of those in the S.U.N. family who have been so inspiring and such sources of light. Music has always been nourishment for me and seeing the beauty of this network of creative minds, collaboration in real time drove me to say, you know what, I would love to engage with music in more intimately and find ways to create space for myself as well as others to heal through music.
DJ’ing, for me, is certainly rooted in identity, the possibilities of healing, transcending time, and cultivating a space that prioritizes and centers our existence. Much love to Staying Underground, 8ball Radio, and SISTASPIN, among so many others, for opening space for me to engage with this form of purpose.
YR: Your ongoing photo essay of your Bajan grandmother’s journey of maintaining a sense of self in a new country is so relevant to many stories of POC with immigrant families. Both of my parents are immigrants and your story touches me deeply as I recall my relationship to my Honduran grandmother. The below photo was particularly moving, as I have a similar photo with my grandmother. How has your family’s jewelry and heirlooms functioned as preservation in the midst of diaspora?
AB: Wow, I am so warmed to hear that these photos and the story aligned with your own relation to your grandmother. Thank you! While I was working on this project, I was so happy to engage with a few conversations and note many similarities and so in sharing this essay I hoped that there would be moments that other womxn of color (particularly of the Caribbean Diaspora) could relate to. Additionally, in entering this space for the project, it was important for me to consider two things: one, the telling of our stories as an act of subversion to the ways in which whiteness and colonialism have historically produced visual representations of the Caribbean and engaging with heritage and ancestry as a way to consider how I, as a queer Afro-Caribbean artist and womxn, create and move through space in the present.
The “passing down” of jewelry or heirlooms are in many ways vessels through which time is transcended and history is preserved. When I was younger, I was given a pair of earrings that were my great grandmothers and for some time was using a dresser that belonged to my great grandmother and through that I feel connected to this matrilineal energy of the past in the present and will continue to carry it on in to the future. I believe that these items carry this ancestral energy— items certainly carry the spirit of ancestors and are in conversation with us in the present.
YR: Your occasional Instagram story of your mother gives me life! It’s amazing to see that she is a creative who stands in her own power. How has your relationship with your mom influenced how you see purpose in yourself?
AB: Momma! Yes ,yes! My life giver, my momma, influences my life and stepping closer to purpose in infinite ways. She planted the seeds for me to blossom and she continuously waters me everyday with so much inspiration and realness. She has always found a way to nourish me and those around her through her selflessness, communication through and with art, loving tenderly and outwardly, listening, pushing of boundaries –– and through just this cosmic, fiery, radical energy that she carries and that I hold so close to my soul. She inspires me to move through this life always with radical love and cognizance of our histories and experiences as Black bodies which inspires and fuels my passion. For example, my being as a vessel for music— that music and sound selection blooms from her— the resilience and radiance of our Afro-Caribbean heritage, the African Diaspora, griots, being raised in Harlem and her ways of being have always showed me the fullness of life. She lives fully with purpose, each day, and I am blessed to grow from and with that.
YR: Wow, what a testament to the ripple effects of love! In addition to your mother, who are some of the most purpose driven people you look up to?
AB: There are so many people in my communities, both near and far, who are driven by their purpose and passions— that would be an endless list, and I am thankful for that. There is a book in particular that exhibits varied manifestations of purpose and passion, a book that is very dear to my soul, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa. This is a book that I read for the first time during my last semester of undergrad — a book that was aligning with my journey through life at 21, as well as much of my academic/creative work at the time that aimed to understand our modes of cultural and social production to practice means of reflection and healing. For those who have not read this text yet, and without giving too much away, it was and remains such an important book for me particularly in evaluating/understanding the ways in which Black bodies heal, the Black womxn heals, ways to think about ourselves and the world around us, and how we are in so many ways interconnected through our histories, experiences and oppression, as well as our resilience and the creation of space to reflect, recover and dream of liberation as bodies of color. The book centers our bodies and existence in a language that is so full of this rhythm and soul that I felt, and continue to feel, I connect with as a Black body moving with and through the present. It is a reflection of the ways in which varied bodies have understood themselves and in turn has helped me to step closer to my purpose.
I was reading Chani Nicholas a day ago and her horoscope for Sagittarius and Sagittarius rising resonated with me and in particular, speaks directly to how I understand purpose. She writes “I am here to fill out all forms, shapes, and textures that my soul wishes to take. I allow my work in the world to do the same.” Purpose takes many shapes, forms, textures and I feel my soul and work is filling varied spaces. I am blessed to witness purpose being lived and understood by so many people in different ways.
Aliyah Blackmore is an Afro-Caribbean DJ, Digital Content Curator, and Writer based in Harlem, New York.
Through her art making and research, she is interested in engaging with the multidimensional threads, narratives and histories, that run through African Diasporic experiences to understand, how historically and in the present, our forms of cultural production foster spaces of resistance and recovery for our bodies.
IG + Twitter: @aliyahblkmre
Soundcloud: DJ LotusMoon