Black Reverence Chair, a Ritual for Joy and Affirmation

Participant of the Black Reverence Chair, a joy and affirmation ritual. Photo provided by Abdul-Aliy Abdullah Muhammad.

Black Reverence Chair is a joy and affirmation ritual I first started receiving in 2016, in the wake of the state-sanctioned murders of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling. I’d been organizing with the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, and we joined a coalition of groups and organizations for what I remember was a series of social justice driven actions over a week. One of the actions led to organizers being detained by police for taking over I-676, an interstate highway within Philadelphia. 

Following the detainment, there were healing circles and intentional gatherings that I participated in. These formations emerged because we were in the middle of a deluge of images, video, and other digital representations of the brutal violence of anti-Black hatred that met Alton and Philando in July of that year. During one of those conversations, I posited how it would be amazing if there were a space created that would allow us to share with each other affirmations. What came to me first was that it wanted to be a spectacle–a beautifully crafted chair would be its focal point. “Remember those wicker chairs, for photoshoots back in the 90s?” I asked comrades of mine present at one of the gatherings. Soon after that I paused and the name came to me: “Black Reverence Chair.”

What I understood then was that there was a sonic and physiological trauma being stored within us. Every time we engaged with the work of witness, our minds, hearts and spirits were going through systematic dehumanization, especially when we ourselves needed to work through violent material to prove that Black people were being killed unprovoked. The work I began to name with Black Reverence Chair was a response to that scary yet necessary holding of the murder archives of state violence. Years later I am sitting with what the brilliant Christina Sharpe says in her new book Ordinary Notes, that “the architectures of violence fracture we; affect does not reach us in the same ways.” This rendering from her makes it clear to me that consumption or witness alone doesn’t contend with the scaffolding of our material targeting, capture, murder, and desecration. 

Participant of the Black Reverence Chair, a joy and affirmation ritual. Photo provided by Abdul-Aliy Abdullah Muhammad.

The work of putting together this ritual happened in many iterations; from 2016 through 2019 I’d have many conversations with friends and comrades about the design, and received invaluable input from them about how to hold this together with other Black people. It wouldn’t be until a Juneteenth event held at Malcolm X Park in June 2021 that this spiritual technology would be in the world. I’d been asked by Black Lives Matter Philly to host a cycle at Jawnteenth, their signature celebration of the holiday. There, two cycles happened over the course of the day. It was such a beautiful time and I felt nourished after like the fullness of having had good food. My body was buzzy from the energetic charge of making space for seeing each other, and chanting to people as they were in the sacred chair position (which means they were sitting in an ornate chair and receiving affirmations). The cycles following this debut have been in partnership with Black Spatial Relics and presented as “a performance residency about slavery, justice, and freedom.”

Since its inception, Black Reverence Chair has been a social space where we can be true to our deepest need for celebratory witness, urging us to do the work of affirming each other and building an energetic archive to counter the narratives of brutalization. I can’t wait for more Black people to come gather around our chair, and welcome joyous praise.