The recent police killing of Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old mother in Baltimore, sends us a glaring reminder: Summer is the bittersweet, overbrewed iced tea of the year for Black people in America.
Witnessing Black life thrown away silently and quickly is the nightmare that we find ourselves awake inside. The Black Lives Matter movement has given rise to the visibility of an ongoing traditional form of Black protest — spiritual healing and recovery. In the face of violence, more expansive lessons, toolkits, and examples for healing emerge.
Continued racial violence necessitates ongoing spaces for healing that ultimately deepen our current practices of building community and preserving Black traditions of healing.
The playing and replaying of Black death in the mind’s eye of Black youth and their communities warrants an arrest of the heart, mind and spirit. These digital reinforcements can induce PTSD-like symptoms. Our healing and recovery is an ongoing strategy and mechanism that keeps us awake inside of a bad American dream.
Whether making sense of violence through writing or other means, we grapple with the well-being and pulse of Black communities in our daily resistance. Our healing and protest go hand in hand. In fact, our very healing is protest.
That said, we need more spaces where Black people can heal by and with themselves without cameras and publicity. These must be spaces where we can: cry and laugh at the same time; be our full selves without external spectatorship; be complicated, messy, unsure, overwhelmed; rage and revolution mesh; Christianity and Vodou can heal together; Black magic is not demonized; our rituals and traditions need not be explained; and where Black women are held as much as they hold.
This requires promoting, practicing, and preserving self-love, cultivating black joy projects and being free to live one’s life without being criminalized. Black communities often act as their own as spiritual paramedics, holding spaces and community dialogue for restoration and intervention.
In Simone Leigh’s exhibit at New York's New Museum, “The Waiting Room,” she not only critiques the way the health care system has failed Black women, but creates a healing space for Black women to recover in the face of trauma and medicalized neglect. This is the perfect exhibit, centering women of color in health movements through a nuanced tribute to spaces of Black resistance. Leigh’s curated waited room hold herbs, sage, healing through dance, and is dedicated to Esmin Elizabeth Green who died in the Kings County Hospital waiting room in 2008.
Healing spaces can look like sister circles, community gatherings, campus dialogues, Black-owned mental health services, holistic medical practices, group therapy and counseling, Healing space can present as places of worship and intentionally Black and closed spaces.
Cyber communities like Black Twitter and some Facebook pages become virtual healing spaces, leaving poetry, videos, music, inspirational quotes, tips, and survival strategies on newsfeeds in order to provide national and transnational solidarity. Community members oversaturate trends and timelines with positive imagery of black life in contrast to images of our bodies lying in the street or Facebook Live videos of our loved ones being murdered in front of their children.
When we can see one another’s humanity and black joy, love, self-love, spirituality, and existence we can begin to heal. We can afford to rethink where are sanctuaries for healing are, leaning into one another during these painful summer rituals of life and loss. We can define what these spaces look like and how we want them to feel. So often our healing is reactive yet we have great potential for keeping these practices alive as we seek to dismantle violence.
Sevonna M. Brown is the human rights project manager at Black Women’s Blueprint in Brooklyn and a Ms. Foundation Public Voices Fellow.