Five questions for Chris Omni, the “health hippie” who is getting a doctorate. in arts education

Chris Omni, PhD student in the Department of Art Education at the College of Fine Arts.

Chris Omni is a published author, documentary filmmaker, international presenter, community mobilizer and self-proclaimed eco-spiritualist. She is also a doctoral student in the Arts Education Department of the College of Fine Arts.

Affectionately known as the “Health Hippie” due to her more than 20 years of mobilizing for community health, Omni credits her current journey to divine alignment, timing and opportunity.

She received a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in liberal arts from Washburn University, as well as a master’s degree in public health from Kansas State University.

But she never saw herself earning a doctorate in arts education. Then she discovered FSU’s arts education website and Dr. Jeff Broome, associate professor and director of doctoral programming in FSU’s Department of Arts Education.

“His interest in narrative inquiry research created an instant buzz in my soul,” Omni said. “After our first conversation, the idea of ​​pursuing an education that would allow me to use my natural gifts and talents made me feel like this was the path I should go down.”

She also reflected on a professional development workshop she attended after being accepted into another FSU doctoral program, prior to her interest in a doctorate in arts education. He was taught by Antonio Cuyler, Associate Professor of Art Education at the College of Fine Arts. He is internationally recognized for his expertise in arts management internships, 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,” Omni said. “I found a class he was teaching and asked for more information; unfortunately, he was going to be on sabbatical and someone else would be teaching the class. When I looked up the name of the other teacher, I saw that she was also black. Two blacks in the same department at the graduate level! I needed to know more about this arts education department.

Omni’s research focuses on “Black Joy in Green Spaces” through auto-ethnography, narrative inquiry, photo-elicitation, and nomadic inquiry. His thesis Blacktivating Joy: A digital storytelling adventure based on the arts of Black Womxn and Joy won first place in Florida State’s 2021 Three-minute thesis (3M) competition, in which doctoral students had three minutes to present a persuasive speech on their thesis topic and its significance. His thesis was a finalist in the national three-minute thesis competition (3MT).

Additionally, in April, Omni was also +one of seven speakers to present at the annual TEDxFSU conference. His speech “Granny’s Garden: Cultivating Black Joy” guided listeners to a space where “Black Joy” is cultivated and cherished.

What inspired you to get a PhD? in arts education?

After my first conversation with Dr. Broome, he arranged a Zoom call with the chair of the arts education department, Sara Scott’s Shieldsand the rest was history.

Dr. Shields invited me to attend the Department of Arts Education orientation, even though I wasn’t even a student in their department; I was just enrolled in a few of their courses. In his opening comments, Dr. Shields said, “Welcome to the arts education family.” This welcome, coupled with previous divine situations, cemented my decision to change degrees; I was home!

How do you, as a “health hippie”, see health and art interacting?

When it comes to the interplay of health and art, look at what happens when you mix the words. By mixing, you can creatively arrive at the word heart. As an eco-spiritualist who works with the chakras, it’s 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 path with ease and grace. There is a special art to walking with an open heart, and there is an equally special art to walking your path with ease and grace.

When I tell people I’m working on a Ph.D. in art education, they instantly think I’m a sculptor, painter, dancer, performer or some other form of artist. Seldom do they consider the art of living joyfully or the art of listening. My approach to health is holistic and my approach to art is grounded in eco-awareness and self/collective restoration. Together I create an onto-epistemological practice that encourages healing in/with/through nature.

What are the implications of your thesis?

My past research focused on health disparities that disproportionately affected black women while focusing on solutions like physical activity. However, the more I looked at black-focused research, the more upset I became. A significant amount of research is filtered through a deficit lens, and my work changes that narrative. This arts education degree provides a space and opportunity to focus on what’s right with black people, with a focus on black women.

My research question is, “What can we black women learn by being (together)…in nature? Through the methodologies of narrative inquiry, auto-ethnography, photo-elicitation and nomadic inquiry, 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 stride.

Black Joy is permission.

Black Joy is pride.

Black Joy is a form of resistance.

Black Joy is a form of rest.

Black Joy is all you need…

… because really Black Joy is the best!

What are your plans/aspirations after completing your doctoral studies?

I want to travel and spread Black Joy! I am currently developing a #BlacktivateJoy tour which will visit various universities in the United States. Each experience will offer TED Talk style presentations that reflect 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 led by a team of black entertainers. When I finish my doctoral studies, I will take this vision into action and proudly share the message of Black Joy. My plan is to #BlacktivateJoy by activating new narratives about what’s good with black people rather than perpetuating this typical deficit narrative.

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For more information about Omni and her work, visit her website motherearthacademy.me or follow her on Instagram at @motherearthacademy.

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