Chris Omni is a published author, documentary director, international presenter, community mobilizer and self-proclaimed eco-spiritualist. She is also a PhD student in the Art Education Department of the College of Fine Arts.
Affectionately known as the “Health Hippie” due to its more than 20 years of community health mobilization, Omni attributes its current path to divine alignment, timing and opportunity.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in human services and a master’s degree in liberal arts from Washburn University, as well as a master’s in public health from Kansas State University.
But she has never seen herself take a PhD in arts education. She then discovered the FSU’s Art Education website and Dr. Jeff Broome, associate professor and director of doctoral programming for the FSU’s Department of Art Education.
“His research interest in narrative inquiry created an instant buzz in my soul,” said Omni. “After our first conversation, the idea of pursuing a degree that would allow me to use my natural gifts and talents made me feel like this was the path I needed to take.”
She also reflected on a professional development seminar she attended after acceptance into another FSU doctoral program, prior to her interest in a doctorate in arts education. He was taught by Antonio Cuyler, an associate professor of Arts Education at the College of Fine Arts. He is internationally recognized for his internship experience in arts management, as well as his work on issues of access, diversity, equity, inclusion and creative justice in the cultural sector.
“As a black woman on a predominantly white campus, it was refreshing to see someone, Dr. Cuyler, who looked like me,” said Omni. “I found a course she was teaching and asked him for more information; sadly, it would be on a gap year and someone else would be teaching the class. When I looked up the other professor’s name, I saw that she too was black. Two blacks in the same department at graduate level! I needed to know more about this Department of Art Education ”.
Omni’s research focuses on “Black Joy in Green Spaces” through autoethnography, narrative inquiry, photo-elicitation and nomadic inquiry. Her thesis Blacktivating Joy: An Arts-based Digital Storytelling Adventure of Black Womxn and Joy won first place in the Florida State Three Minute Thesis (3M) competition of 2021, in which doctoral students had three minutes to submit a engaging oration on the subject of their thesis and its meaning. His thesis ranked second in the Statewide Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.
Additionally, in April, Omni was also one of seven speakers to present at the annual TEDxFSU conference. Her speech “Granny’s Garden: Growing Black Joy” guided listeners into a space where “Black Joy” is cultivated and loved.
What inspired you to earn a PhD. in art education?
After my first conversation with Dr. Broome, he set up a Zoom call with Sara Scott Shields, chair of the Art Education Department, and the rest was history.
Dr. Shields invited me to attend the Art Education Department’s orientation, even though I wasn’t even a student in their department; I was just enrolled in a couple of their classes. In her opening remarks, Dr. Shields said, “Welcome to the Art Education family.” This welcome, combined with the previous divine situations, cemented my decision to change rank; I was at home!
How do you see the interplay between health and art as a “health hippie”?
When it comes to the interplay of health and art, see what happens when you mix the words. By mixing, you can creatively arrive at the word heart. As an eco-spiritualist working with the chakras, this is poetic when you consider the heart chakra mantra: “My heart is open to receive the energy of love. I radiate this essence. I walk my way with ease and grace ”. There is a special art of walking with an open heart, and there is an equally special art of walking your path with ease and grace.
When I tell people I’m working on a Ph. in art education, they immediately think that I am a sculptor, painter, dancer, artist, or some other form of artist. They rarely consider the art of joyful living or the art of listening. My approach to health is holistic and my approach to art is rooted in eco-awareness and self / collective restoration. Combined, I create an onto-epistemological praxis that encourages healing in / with / through nature.
What are the implications of your thesis?
My previous research has focused on health disparities that have disproportionately impacted black women, focusing on solutions such as physical activity. However, the more I looked at black-focused research, the angrier I got. A significant amount of research is filtered through a deficient lens and my work changes that narrative. This arts education degree offers a space and opportunity to focus on what’s right with blacks with an emphasis on black women.
My research question is: “What can we, black women, learn from being (together) … in nature?” Through the methodologies of narrative inquiry, auto-ethnography, photo-elicitation and nomadic investigation, I have reached a point in my research where I am now able to theorize Black Joy and provide a poetic summary in seven pillars.
So … what is Black Joy?
Black Joy is a statement.
Black Joy is a step forward.
Black Joy is the permit.
Black Joy is pride.
Black Joy is a form of resistance.
Black Joy is a form of rest.
Black Joy is all you need it to be …
… Because really Black Joy is the best!
What are your plans / aspirations once you have completed your PhD studies?
I want to travel and spread Black Joy! I am currently developing a #BlacktivateJoy tour that will visit various universities across the United States. Each experience will offer TED Talk-style presentations that mirror my TEDxFSU and TEDxKU Talks. (www.MotherEarthAcademy.me/pathways and Www.TEDxFSU.com.)
Additionally, the experiences will consist of healing spaces exclusively for black women and eco-awareness outings that will be facilitated by a team of black artists. When I complete my PhD studies, I will shift this vision to action and proudly share Black Joy’s message. My plan is to #BlacktivateJoy by activating new narratives about what’s right with blacks rather than perpetuating that typical deficient narrative.
For more information on Omni and her work, visit her motherearthacademy.me website or follow her on Instagram at @motherearthacademy.