Gratefulness is a way for me to honor my African ancestors; the source; the lives well-lived, the struggles, joys, rhythms, faith, and rich Yoruba tradition. The intimate knowing that generations have gone before you and lived in a way that gives you the ability to say, I am here, I can do it, I can make it because the way has been paved. Live gratefully–do not be afraid, always do your best, stand in your power and be proud of who you are. ~ Adetola
In the summer of 2020, while all of us around the globe were isolated in some way from those we love, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Doug Menuez found a way for us to gather safely, outdoors, to listen closely to the stories of seven individuals for whom grateful living is a way of life. The result of Doug’s beautiful work is a new video series, Grateful Voices. In the short film and narrative below Adetola, who generously participated in the project, shares her story.
“I was born in the U.S and didn’t grow up with my extended family, so when I was young I’d listen to my parents’ stories, songs and memories about life in West Africa. Then one day I was surprised with a present — a plane ticket to Nigeria by friends who got to know my story and wanted me to meet my grandmothers on both my mom and dad’s side. I was forever changed, being surrounded by a diaspora of people who looked like me, touring the cities and countrysides, and appreciating the beauty and complexities of Africa.
What I took away from that journey was a deep respect for the resilience ingrained in the Nigerian people, and in spite of the visible hardships there is grit, wisdom, and appreciation for life as a gift. It’s a feeling I compare to the sensation of an African drum that moves you to get up, dance, and give praise. A voice in your head says, “You already won, you woke up today by the grace of God!” and in that mindset you start the day in humble appreciation to make the most of each minute and day afforded to you. The balancing of hardship and abundance teaches you what it means to have enough. So when I tap into the essence of what it means to be grateful and how I embody it as a practice, it is deeply rooted and shaped by my lived experience as a Nigerian American woman and child of immigrants who live with humility, dignity, and faith. And so when I think of my ancestors and the generational legacies that shape who I am, I think about the brave and quiet sacrifice of my own parents who gave up a lot, and I appreciate what has been afforded to me, my sisters, and their grandchildren by their relocation to America.
In these times there is so much pain, racial/social justice disharmony, and uncertainty in the world, and getting to a place of gratefulness is not always easy and a hard place to get to sometimes, to be honest. The pandemic has laid bare so much inequity, and many people wake up hungry, on the brink of homelessness, with lack of work, sickness, loss, and not knowing what the next moment will bring. Shifting into a mindset of gratefulness in conjunction with all of that requires perspective, remembering to be present and thankful for simple moments of joy, laughter, connectedness, and blessings even when the suffering of the world creeps in. The gift of health, a smile, a thank you, helping someone, or using our voices for good helps anchor us in what it means to be alive.
As young as 3 years old I can remember being enamored with music and singing any song that my tiny ears could latch on to from Stevie Wonder to King Sunny Ade, or Aretha Franklin. I didn’t know then that singing would become not only one of my greatest loves and talents, but my ultimate and most sacred gratitude practice. In a nutshell singing is the essence of life because it’s a universal language that breaks down all barriers and truly unites. We are all born with a gift, or something that we are called to do — for me, gratefulness is being able to use my voice to sing out joy, pain, love, marriages into unions, to sing souls into their burial places, or to sing as my private form of prayer. It is a practice that I use as meditation, and I welcome wherever it takes me.
As we grow older, you become more grounded in knowing that you are enough. It’s a life lesson and truth that is hard for anyone to master and easy to forget with so many competing priorities in life. But I think when you are grounded in living gratefully, you anchor your belief system in: I matter and my life is valuable. And your value is amplified when you connect that with the value in someone else and how we treat each other as human beings. For me, my affirmations come through inspirational songs, and one that I love by India Arie is called “Worthy.” Singing that song is what it means to be comfortable in my own skin, in Black Girl Magic. It always comes back to the music for me — a soundtrack for a grateful life.
One of the lyrics in “Worthy” goes, “Listen up to this truth, you are me and I am you, every one of us is worthy, baby girl, worthy woman, every one of us is worthy.” It’s like the perfect anthem because we are always learning, growing, evolving and on a journey of writing the masterpiece that is ourselves in harmony with others. Sometimes the story we write for ourselves doesn’t always go the way we intend it to, and that’s okay. It’s all a beautiful tapestry as it is and you’ve gotta keep turning a page with each new day. And when I do I am grateful to count one more day looking forward to what can and will be, grateful for my past, present, and tomorrows with intention.”
We invite you to share comments in the space below the video transcript which follows.
Thank you, Doug Menuez and team, including Executive Producer Pear Urushima, Director of Photography Luke Carquillat, and Sound Technician/Gaffer Dino Davaros, for the grace and heart you bring to your work in making it possible for the diverse stories of grateful living to be shared.
To watch more films in this series, visit Grateful Voices.