Our third Black. Dope. & All Good. Communal Healing Retreat for Black Men was held on Saturday, 23 April 2022.
As a Diasporic Soul Heritage and Healing Experience, the retreat integrated SOUL (culture) and contemplative practices to deepen the capacity of our participants to experience healing and restoration. Informed with the understanding that our individual and collective healing requires community, love, spirit and ritual.
By healing we mean restoring our connection to SOUL, a transformative healing resource that reflects the cultural sensibilities of the African Diaspora (Harrell). By healing we mean remembering that we are indeed Black. Dope. and All Good. That we are Magical. Valuable. And Beautiful. That We Got SOUL; We Can Heal. SOUL combined with contemplative practices.
Held at the Cincinnati Art Museum, our retreat included the generative contemplative practice of beholding the creative works of African American artists – David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History and Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop.
And, bearing witness, storytelling, deep listening and engaging, frank, honest and thoughtful dialogue.
In community, where they felt a sense of belonging and “deep connectedness.” Which, as some brothers lamented, has been missing from their lives. In a community space where they could be “without any pretense,” where they did not have to perform or posture, or feel like they had to compete based on “what they do, where they live or what kind of car they drive.” In this place, in this space, Black men felt like they could be their “authentic selves” and that they were “able to present themselves how they are and [in ways] where they felt seen.”
In addition to feeling a sense of belonging and a sense of being deeply connected to one another, they felt safe and comfortable. Which, ultimately allowed them to be open, surrender and be vulnerable.
In terms of safety, I feel so comfortable here. I feel able to just be without any pretense. I feel comfortable because we all have an understanding that we all can actually have real connections with one another.
When you said you are safe outside, I felt that in my core.
The setting of safety. Vulnerability was welcomed and encouraged. The setting was perfect for letting go and leaning in.
There is this moment when you said, ‘could you be more comfortable; make sure you are comfortable.’ And, I watched men soften. I just want to thank you for creating the environment for this.
I appreciated everybody leaning into their vulnerability today.
The safe space created by the team and facilitator was amazing. Being free to be vulnerable made the experience impactful.
Safe on and off the mat. As brothers, in a collective, communally, together. All dressed in black Diasporic Soul tee shirts. Going to the exhibit hall, walking out of and back into the museum in a way that felt kinda like the moment when you see Malcolm with the Fruit of Islam lined up outside the hospital standing shoulder to shoulder in their full innate sense of dignity and worth. Taking up space. Moving in and out of a space in ways we intended to be safe while staying centered by avoiding what one brother named the white gaze. Not to mention the collection of European religious works just outside the library door and the energy of the museum lobby that could not support our capacity to stay centered or feel safe for that matter.
We held space for Black men to experience stillness. To practice self-care. Because, as one brother noted, “holding space is important because you gotta hold space for the shit Black men go through. It ain’t anything easy that we even know how to put into words sometimes.” And, because, as another shared, it is often hard to focus when you are constantly thinking about tomorrow or anticipating next week.
Put another way, [as one brother vehemently declared,] “I felt like for the first time in a long time I could unplug from hustle culture. That I can just chill and sit and feel the sun. I really like that, the idea of that chilling and sitting still and feeling the sun.” This, in lieu of high effort coping (John Henryism) and constantly doing. This, in lieu of being measured by his productivity and performance.
So, they were reminded of the importance of the breath, of consciously and intentionally connecting to it. Reminded of the value of pausing to take care of yourself. And, centering yourself. Of the importance of being able “to have a chance to slow down” and “just be” because “this journey can be very hectic and scary; it feels lonely and exhausting.”
Yoga gave me the tools to slow down and reconnect with myself.Black. Dope. All Good. Communal Healing Retreat for Black Men Participant
And, the body, as a resource. That grounding and centering ourselves is restorative. That “there is power in just having your feet actually grounded on the floor,” as one brother explained with new awareness. “I realized I do not usually have my whole foot on the floor.”
And, that nature can offer us support as we pursue healing and restoration, as we practice self-care, with the sense that “being outside can be really great.”
A very special thanks to Gee Horton for being a partner; his energy and commitment to holding sacred healing space for Black men as an artist is reflected in the success of our retreat series. It is quite clear how much other Black men trust and respect him. Many who attended did so on Gee’s word, which for Black folks, is as real and honest as it gets. Our word is bond.
Special thanks to Ihsan Walker for offering loving and unwavering support to the program from the very beginning, which included making the connections that allowed the Cincinnati Recreation Commission to serve as a partner. For always showing up, always.
Thank you to Tony Mack and Adrian Parker for their stabilizing Cancerian energy. For showing up each time to support this important work with their distinctly unique gifts and talents.
Thanks to the sisters who have supported this work, including Carol Tonge Mack, whose unwavering support included so so much, including leveraging her social capital to get brothers at each and every session, including her son, husband, mentee and colleagues. Thanks to Dr. Kyra Shahid for always embracing the vision from day one and making so many of the connections possible. Thanks also to sister Audrey Calloway, who like Carol and Kyra, is ever our cheerleader and who showed up for the last session with pure joy and light. Thanks to Deshayla and Samiya as well for being available to check in our guests and support the program throughout the day.
Thank you to the Black Empowerment Works Program (BEW) of the United Way of Cincinnati for funding this project that we designed in response to the ongoing, cumulative and recurring race-based stress and trauma that Blacks folks continue to face and grapple with.
Thank you to the Mr. Daniel Betts and the Cincinnati Recreation Commission for trusting us and Ihsan. For serving as a partner who, along with the Cincinnati Art Museum, provided access to space, staff and other necessary resources that allowed us to offer these important healing and restoration experiences to Black men. Specifically, special thanks to Carrie Atkins Maras at the Cincinnati Art Museum for her generosity and support, for being an ally.
Also, shout out to two small Black- and women-owned businesses:
Open Soul Yoga Home for the lavender eye pillows and mat straps.
Soleil Kitchen for catering our first two sessions.