Transforming Wellness & Wholeness
I come by way of Black Seminole, African American and Austrian ancestry a mixed creed despite eugenic laws that would render me dead or expendable. I write this piece in memory of my ancestors and allies. We will find our way home again and again despite bloodshed and oil spills; despite the misplaced and displaced; despite the forgotten memories we will always find our way home … and make a way out of no way.
This past year I took a deeper dive into the notion of wellness for our movements and the role of well being for organizers. I sat with my dreams and wondered, ‘How far have we been able to come despite noxious toxic waste dumps near our homes, and oil spills and sterilization abuse, population control and genocide…just a few things on our map of oppression. How have we survived?” I’ve been asking these questions to the ‘salt eaters’ and the ‘dreamers’ and the ‘shapeshifters’ among us; what is wholeness? Not an ableist notion of wholeness that implies one specific body or blood type, but a shape of wholeness that intrinsically knows what each individual and collective notion of feeling whole and safe and well can look like. Not the bought ‘wholeness’ you can find only in supreme retreat packages at sunset salons but the kind of ‘wholeness’ that calls on whole communities and whole movements to be well, sustainable and resilient. Who will answer the call to our hurts, our wounds, our double/triple/quadruple pains of oppression and desperation? How will we answer our own calls to wellness and safety?
I’ve been sitting with southern and national healers to remember the role of healing inside of liberation. I am leading a storytelling gathering project with the KINDRED southern healing justice collective to tell the stories of southern healers in the U.S. to map our sites of transformative practice as conduits of social change. Call it a quest for what the role of healing is and how healers move us to and through liberation. What keeps us resilient in our hearts, our blood, our bones? What helps us to rebuild a home? How do we reclaim and re-imagine safety in our homes and movements?
The role of healer as a Black queer woman in the South for me has been to demystify the notion that we are not wrong to use our imaginations and dreams for action? That we are not odd to believe in plants and herbs as integral parts to our paths of liberation? The role of healer as women of color teaches us we can heal ourselves and our own; that we can live, and birth and bury outside of institutional notions of wellness. Yet what is the role of women of color healers inside of liberation? While it has been our legacy it seems to have come undone, uprooted and unnoticed in our collective memories and notions of justice. As a poet, healer, organizer I helped to envision the role of the ‘healer’ and ‘healing’ inside of liberation at the US Social Forum in Detroit (June 2010); a four day convergence of ritual, rallies, workshops etc. pulling together our movements to rebuild, and regenerate new alliances and vision towards strategy and of what is just.
The role of healing at this convergence took the shape and presence of many things. We created two spaces of political and practical application of what we have named ‘healing justice’; a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds. Through this framework we built two political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation. One was the US Social Forum Healing Justice Practice Space which created a free multimodal practice space to respond to trauma and triggers for organizers; to accept that many of us are tired and burnt out and have not fared well on responding to conditions of our movements and communities by putting our literal bodies on the line. We provided practices such as reiki, acupressure, acupuncture, sound and somatic therapy with practitioners from across different regions in the U.S.. We used energy, body and earth based traditions alongside doulas and midwives to provide knowledge on birth, breath, resiliency and balance. The Healing Justice Practice Space at the US Social Forum was a large room sectioned off for different practices simultaneously that gave us ample space to respond to the conditions of Detroit including; acute asthma, diabetes, and nutrition while also responding to the conditions of our lives and movements (eg. depression, burn out, and survivors of emotional, physical, sexual and psychological abuse and trauma). As we so poignantly stated in our outreach materials, ‘We are responding to a lack of quality of life and conditions, a pattern of systemic abuse and oppression that reinforces the controlling of our bodies/wellness/systems/cultures and our capacity to remember and transform our conditions. We stand in solidarity as a national collective of grassroots healers, medical practitioners and health justice organizers who seek to create systems of wellness outside of state and corporate models that profit from these conditions.’
In our political and practical application of healing justice we also created a People’s Movement Assembly: a four hour interactive session to imagine new strategies and unlikely alliances towards building action. The People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) we held was for Health, Healing Justice & Liberation’ to politicize the role of healing inside of liberation from the perspective of health justice organizers, grassroots healers and integrative medical practitioners. Our vision in the creation of this PMA was to dream for organizing that uplifted the role of healing inside of liberation that will transform our conditions from generational trauma and violence.
Our goals at this convergence were to:
- Map the frequencies of where we are in our movements to ground us in our vision towards strategies of sustaining and resourcing our collective wellness
- To create spaces that value and honor equal exchange of resources/energies/economics towards obtaining new models for wellness that restore the earth and are adaptable to the current state of our emotional/spiritual/physical/psychic and environmental conditions
- To locate the bridges and paths that connect us to memories, dreams and our ancestral legacy of healing traditions towards new models of healing and justice inside of our communities and movements
The questions we began grappling with at the PMA included: How do we redefine what it means to be healthy that is not profit driven or derived from one type of body, and one type of wellness? What are our shared understandings and memories of healing practices as tools of resistance and organizing? How will we sustain, renew and uplift healers and traditions that are being co-opted, displaced, replaced and criminalized?
These questions are large and the next steps many but there was a sense of belonging and visibility amplified for healers, and the participants who came to both of these spaces. As organizers and healers we mapped a way home to well being that did not isolate nor stigmatize our individual and collective bodies nor underestimated our need for wellness.
As a Black queer woman survivor of family and state violence, uninsured in the South I am often coming up against the notions of wellness, who is worthy of wellness and who is deserving of well being based on who can afford it. At the Social Forum I was able to measure a different landscape. What does it mean to be well in our collective bodies and in our collective memories inside of traumatic incidences of state/familial and communal abuse? What does it mean to take care of one another as Women of Color, Queer and Trans People of Color, as communities in the South escaping unethical and horrific practices on our bodies to test our mental and physical capacity for labor and slavery? Is the question really ‘Are we well?’ or is it ‘How can we be well with the overwhelming idea that we are less than human in the first place?
How can one be well if we are not well together? And how will we get well when our sense of wellness often does not include the whole? As Toni Cade pondered in her book The Salt Eaters we have to open ourselves up again to wellness and wholeness, because what is in our memory and intrinsically a part of us has been separated and often taken away from us. It is something we will need to find again as part of understanding our role as organizers who once were healers, or healers who once were organizers.