An Interview with the Urban Bliss Shaman

Picture a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Harvard Yard. There are a few people on the steps of Widener catching up on last week's reading. Freshman trickle back to their dorms from a Sunday brunch of Veritaffles. And then comes Julie C. Woods '81, and the silence is broken with the rhythmic sounds of her djembe.

"I wanted to say my drum prayers," said Woods, who was on campus after attending her 30th reunion. Today, she has the title of the Urban Bliss Shaman.

"I wanted to do a blessing and pull all the disparate pieces of my life together," Woods said.

For Woods, Harvard has been one of those disparate pieces as long as she can remember.

"I think the first word I ever read was Harvard, on the side of my mom's books," she said. Her mother, Althea L. Woods, received her M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1955.

"I wanted to come [to Harvard] because I wanted to make my mom proud," Woods said. "There aren't that many 51-year-old women who are second generation black female from Harvard. I'm now really proud of that."

Still, at 17, Woods said, her reasons for coming to Harvard had to do in part with an attempt to avoid living in her mother's shadow.

"They're wonderful people," she said of her parents, "but I really needed out. I couldn't do anything in LA. I had to get out so I could misbehave."

While at Harvard, Woods found an outlet through music.

"Music is woven into my life and it's woven into my history at Harvard," Woods said.

Today, she continues to sing and play the djembe and guitar as part of her work as an urban shaman. A self-described griot (a storyteller in the West African tradition), her stories and insights about the Harvard experience across generations are perhaps best when left to speak for themselves.

This post has been revised to reflect the following the corrections:

CORRECTION: October 17, 2011

An earlier version of the October 14 post "An Interview with the Urban Bliss Shaman" misstated the reason for Woods' presence on campus. She was, in fact, on campus for her 30th reunion.


Harvard Today

The latest in your inbox.

Sign Up

Follow Flyby online.