Ayize Jama-Everett holds three Master’s degrees: Divinity, Psychology, and in Fine Arts, Writing. He blends these degrees in all his work, often identifying as a guerilla theologian, a community-based therapist, and an afro-futurist in the same breath. He’s taught at Starr King School for the Ministry, California College of the Arts, The University of California, Riverside, Western Colorado College, and several private High schools for over twenty years. His expertise includes working with adolescents, the history of substance use in the United States, the history of Sacred Plant medicines in the Maghreb, the religious roots of political violence from Ireland to the Middle East, educational arts pedagogy, and Afrofuturism. He’s published four novels (The Liminal series )and two graphic novels(Box of Bones and The last Count of Monte Cristo). As an associate professor at Starr King, he teaches The Sacred and the Substance, a course that examines the role of consciousness altering plants in religions around the world. He also coordinates the Psychedelics and the Seminary lecture series for Starr King, which invites luminaries from the Psychedelic world to discuss their orientations to faith and religion.
Ayize is the producer of a documentary about Black people and psychedelics entitled A Table of Our Own. His shorter works can be found in the LA Review of Books, The Believer, and Racebaitr. He is a Board member of the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, leading their initiative to look at the role of psychedelics in the mental health of People of color and poor people. Ayize also serves as a board member to Access to Doorways, a non-profit committed to increasing the number of Queer and BIPOC people involved in psychedelics at every stage. In addition, he serves as a board-level advisor to Psychedelics Today, focusing on their VITAL psychedelics training program. He’s also served in an advising capacity at UC Berkeley Center for psychedelic science, has been a guest lecturer at the California Institute of Integral Studies Psychedelic Therapies and research center, and was a featured speaker at Stanford’s first Psychedelics and design symposium.
Notes: This conversation begins with some history about Ayize’s name and family. We talk about holding unconscious space for someone else, and the bond held in therapy that allows for both consciousnesses to merge and see what comes up. The dialogue shifts to the concept of the liminal, particularly as a theme in Ayize’s work.
A Table of Our Own is a groundbreaking documentary about Black People and Psychedelics/Plant Medicine. Although Ayize wears many hats, from therapist to writer to professor, filmmaking was not something he ever saw himself doing. He shares about the process of seeing this project through, including the fact that no major psychedelic organizations put forth support to make it happen.
We talk about culture and race in the plant medicine space, how we’d like to see these discussions not mediated through middle class white men, and the “we are all one” / Polyanna / bypassing ethos that is rampant in some psychedelic communities.
Ayize shares about why cold steel or iron on the altar is a must; when he asks for permission, he also asks for protection.
In talking about identity, Ayize puts forth that if we’re really trying to get free, all of us, maybe we can start by asking ourselves, “what feels like home to me?” We discuss going into our own lineages to find the spiritual traditions and practices to connect us to spirit and our ancestors, especially as nearly all cultures and peoples’ have history of consuming plants for reasons beyond the edible. Learning to appreciate ourselves and our ancestors and where we come from is a significant act for all of us.
Ayize offers more real talk – that psychedelics don’t take people away from being human beings, they allow us to call in the good and forgive some of the bad. If good exists then evil exists, though to be afraid of evil is to not understand your power as a human being.
There is a crossroads we are always at – that our actions impact all of those around us, as well as those who stood before us and who will come after us. Our lineages carry the imprint of our ancestors’ actions, and our descendants inherit this, both the benefits and the harms. How can we contend with this?
Ayize shares about a drawback of the medical model being that it is so personal and self-centered. “No matter what, we are in community, we are connected, so how do we acknowledge that and do some work that’s beneficial to our lineage?”
Through discussion of one of his books, Box of Bones, the topic of stories arises – who gets to tell the stories, and why? The cornerstone of therapy is, what stories are you telling yourself, and why? Stories always reinforce a narrative.
Adjacent to this and the discussion of evil, Ayize pushes back on the “hurt people hurt people” trope – not all hurt people hurt people. Some hurt people hurt people, some hurt people protect people, help people, say “never again, I’m not going to let that happen to me or anyone else.”
During and following this conversation, I find myself reflecting on the position of privilege that is to take a stance that evil does not exist. In the context of harms in community, Ayize puts forth that people who want to avoid conflict will ask what was going on for that person who caused harm? You get to ask the question because you haven’t been hurt.
The conversation winds down with a tip of the hat to speaking the truth, and all of the people who have come together to birth A Table of Our Own.
A Table of Our Own on IG
“The greatest tool the colonizer has is the mind of the colonized” – Franz Fanon