Skip to main content

Originally published on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Healing As Revolution

As activists and community members from across the country incite the largest racial justice movement since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, there is a parallel call for healing justice to sustain our resilience in the midst of the struggle. In the fight for police accountability and the right to human dignity, members and allies of the Black Lives Matter movement have been putting their bodies and lives on the line, while community healers have been supporting these direct actions with a holistic approach to building strategies and spaces for deep transformational healing.

In the wise words of Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The health and safety of Black people in America are at risk everyday due to institutional and systemic racism, police brutality, poverty and mass incarceration.

Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart, PhD coined the term ‘historical trauma’ during her research on Native Americans in the 1980s, but Black communities have experienced the impact of historical trauma that originated with slavery.  As Tommy Miller, an anti-racist activist in Ithaca, NY claims, “for African-American people, the unacknowledged, untreated trauma and psychological damage from 400 years of slavery in America has been passed through the descendants of slaves and has left a legacy of suffering and pain.  Black on Black crime, mass incarceration, poverty and chronic health issues are trauma symptoms deeply rooted in the origin of slavery.  I believe that African-American society cannot truly heal without understanding the impact of slavery on our people.”

Black communities have built adaptive behaviors to survive hundreds of years of oppression and are not backing down from the fight for their basic human rights, in the US or abroad. A young person involved in the Black Youth Project in Chicago describes the need for healing in Black communities: we have to “cope with the everyday traumas and pain of being Black–the emotional and spiritual traumas that come from being disproportionately poor, undereducated, and mistreated while living in a white supremacist country.” He goes on to say that Black resilience includes struggling with the following questions: “What are the ways in which this history continues to impact my choices? What inward struggles do I face that I have yet to overcome? Where is the room for my healing? For the healing of all Black people?”

In June of 2010, revolutionary thinkers gathered in Detroit to envision answers to those questions. Queer organizer and artist Cara Page recalls her experience in “Reflections from Detroit: Transforming Wellness & Wholeness”: “Healing justice is 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.”  The collective collaborated for multiple days and produced the Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles that offer a holistic strategy for any change-makers to utilize within their local and national social justice work.

In an excerpt from activist and blogger Adrianne Maree Brown’s article “Black Love is a Radical Commitment”, she amplifies the importance of bringing nourishing and self-loving practices into organizing work,  “black people need to give other black people space to be themselves completely. we have to love ourselves so no one can be confused about our dignity, our preciousness, our brilliance, our lovability. we know black love is a radical commitment. an aspirational and healing commitment. and as we master ourselves, it becomes impossible to serve any other master.”

In the face of a society that systematically denies the experience of people of color, existence is resistance. Black communities do much more than survive--they create liberation movements that are rooted in self-love individually and collectively. They boldly employ their voices, bodies and power to construct strong and trustworthy communities.  They produce art that represents and defines their stories and identity.  Every day they heal themselves; relentlessly envisioning a world that has yet to exist and there is nothing more powerful than putting that vision into action.

Find other resources for healing inside the revolution: