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The world according to Thea Monyeé

Thea Monyeé is a poet, an author, a podcaster, a therapist and a healer. She has performed in a variety of roles and venues, from Def Poetry to TEDx. She can deliver a dressing down as powerfully as she can a keynote speech. And while she defies categories as a rule, there’s one that manages to capture both her work and who she is as a person: storytelling. For Monyeé sees connections in everything; indeed, she always has.

“The older you get or the further you get in your journey, you realize you were always who you were. You just went through different iterations of being,” Monyeé observes. “I was that kid who felt everything was alive and greeted everything like it was alive. ‘Hello, cup! Hello, car! Hello, stuffed animal!’ I was very conscious of having a relationship with everything around me, and I didn’t know at the time that that was also a spirituality within me.”

Making connections is what Thea Monyeé does best. See how other University of Phoenix students, faculty and alumni focused on others to get through the pandemic.

Speaking her truth

Monyeé would come to know her spiritual side well, but she took a nonlinear path to get there. As a child, she did well in school and thought she’d be a novelist or a pediatrician.

But when she got to college, she floundered. The pressure of having to know what to do with her life, to be certain at 18, while simultaneously dealing with her parents’ deteriorating marriage proved too much.

Monyeé stepped back. At the behest of friends, she went to Da Poetry Lounge, performed toward the end of an open-mic session, got a standing ovation and was hooked.

“I was there every week,” Monyeé recalls. “I was writing ferociously, and that led to me doing Def Poetry, which, at that time [in the early 2000s], was like the biggest thing spoken word had.”

Poetry tapped into a love of writing Monyeé had had since childhood. It allowed her to crystalize her emotions, experiences and viewpoints.

It also led to her working with children in juvenile detention. As an artist, she could teach writing to youth who had run into trouble with the law, and that allowed her to explore another passion she’d cultivated since she was a girl learning to keep the peace in her home: therapy.

“That’s when I decided I knew what I wanted to do,” Monyeé says. “I went back [to school] and got my BS in Human Services [now a Bachelor of Science in Social Work] at University of Phoenix, which I loved. I went right back and got my master’s in counseling. … I felt like a completely different student at that point in my life.”

‘Decolonizing’ and healing

At that point, Monyeé was a completely different student. She was older. She was a mother. And she was opening up to an awareness that would inform her work as both a therapist and an artist.

That awareness centered on the same interconnectedness she’d tapped into as a child. Just as she’d felt a kinship to animate and inanimate objects alike, she began to explore unorthodox ways of helping people. She participated in Wraparound treatment plans in which patients are supported with social services and therapy as well as family and community resources.

“It was like you were never working on those cases alone,” Monyeé says. “You became a part of the family for a year or two.”

This experience, combined with an approach to therapy that Monyeé playfully describes as gumbo — “throw anything in the pot and see what works” — led Monyeé to her current work in healing through “decolonization.”

Decolonization is a big claim and one that Monyeé is careful to explain. “I think people think race, but I really think in terms of culture and ethnicity, because many cultures have been colonized by other cultures.”

Just as the world is home to many plants and many animals, so too must it support many people, cultures and personalities in order to thrive.

“The idea that there should be one type of human or one way for humans to live is anti-creation,” Monyeé points out.

 

Her solution? Focus on finding individual freedom and joy within a culture that can sometimes be at odds with that. This is the essence of the decolonization work Monyeé does with a cohort of educators, doctors and therapists.

As a therapeutic process, decolonization works to identify and “unlearn” the ideas and practices that restrict or oppress people.

Monyeé works to give people language, awareness, intention and a new framework for understanding life and finding joy.

“Joy is our metric, and that follows through everything we do,” she says.

“Everything,” by the way, includes a lot. In addition to her therapy work, Monyeé has authored a book called Blood & Bajareque that explores concepts of identity and love. She hosts a podcast called Shaping the Shift, and she facilitates counseling and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultations under the umbrella of MarleyAyo, a portmanteau of the surname of legendary singer–songwriter Bob Marley and ayo, a Yoruba word meaning joy. She even facilitates a “white-identified racial healing cohort” known as FreeJoy Experience.

Joy, after all, is for everyone.

A spiritual awakening

The therapeutic framework for decolonization is functional but rooted in spirituality. Monyeé was raised in the Christian faith, but one that also wove in traditions from Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. She recalls going to church in her family’s Cadillac every week as clearly and happily as she remembers little rituals that were distinctly outside the realm of traditional Christianity.

“My grandma, when she would comb our hair, she would take the hair and she would burn it up,” Monyeé says. “And that sounds a little witchy.” 

 

This and other traditions laid the groundwork for a spiritual reckoning that arrived for Monyeé around 2016.

“I was really grieving that I didn’t have a practice that connected me to my ancestors, that I didn’t have language anymore," she says. "I was feeling that part of my Black American experience where I was feeling the loss of my culture.” 

Monyeé eventually came into contact with a spiritual leader who introduced her to the traditions and practices native to Nigeria. “It’s been the most expansive experience of my life,” she observes.

In Nigeria, spirituality is integrated into daily life. Whereas “religion” captures a certain category of belief and practice in the West, daily life in Africa integrates the spiritual.

“How you live is your religion,” Monyeé explains.

Really, that's not so different in the West. What we prioritize is what we worship. It’s just that “religion” or “spirituality” doesn’t usually make it into the top three.

For Monyeé, however, it’s a different story.  

“Different divinities support [your] path,” she explains. “The different elements of nature support that path. Different ancestors had to put that path or blueprint to you and what you are here to bring into the world while you’re here. And so it’s all tied to your character and your destiny. The greater your character is, the more your destiny can come forward. And your destiny is here to serve a purpose in the world.” 

Monyeé is one of more than a million alumni living out their potential. Discover more alumni stories on our blog!