We Got Soul; We Can Heal: A Labor Day Reflection

Labor Day gives Black folks a day where we can celebrate our SOUL. A day, or better yet, a long weekend where we can find solace at family cookouts, HBCU football classics and community events.

Labor Day also allows us to reflect on our labor and our work. Work that we know is directly tied to the capacity of our nation to exist from its very beginning because of our ancestors free and forced labor.

In that vein, Labor Day also allows us to consider how do we ensure our well-being and capacity to work and labor at the same time we continue “to combat the many and ongoing adverse effects associated with race-based stress and trauma.” Which Dr. Gail Parker reminds us in Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma is ongoing, recurrent and cumulative (76). In fact, studies show that 69.5% of us have experienced racial discrimination from time to time or regularly. In the United States, studies have found that Black adolescents cope with incidents of racial discrimination on average five times per day (Jacob, G. et al 1).

A fact made clear (again) as racial epithets rain down on college volleyball players. A fact made clear as flood waters rise in Jackson, Mississippi, leaving a town of predominantly Black citizens with no water to drink. A fact made clear as January-6th-Charlotteville-style lynch mobs seem to be gathering under poplar and magnolia trees, albeit virtual ones. Reminders of a history that some want erased and ignored in our classrooms and libraries. All while dealing with inflation and rent increases that add to our sense that we are not safe as some of us struggle to meet the most basic of needs. Clearly, “there are many forms that racism [and oppression] can take, and it can occur on individual, community, and institutional levels.”

Of course, there a number of ways we might respond to the effects of race-based stress and trauma in our lives. And while “therapy can be very helpful,” as Gabe Torres notes in How to Decolonize Mental Health Treatment for BIPOC “we have to remember that therapy is not the standard nor the only place to find healing and safety.”

As our esteemed ancestor Malidoma Somé tells us in The Healing Wisdom of Africa, healing requires community, ritual and spirit. And, as our elder wise woman Alice Walker tells us in Anything We Love Can Be Saved healing means putting the heart, courage and energy back into our bodies with our own culture.

Put another way, we got SOUL, we can heal. SOUL, as Dr. Sharon Harrell offers us, is the transformative healing resource that reflects sensibilities of the African Diaspora. Soul is “the medicine we are looking for [that] has been within us and our communities all along” (Torres). Understanding that we have SOUL, we can heal means that the healing we are seeking can be found in “the relationships with our communities, the natural world, our roots, and our ancestors” (Torres).

Understanding this, means that we should expect the places where we work, labor and toil to support and invest in our well-being well beyond health insurance with high deductibles and a day off now for Juneteenth. Investments and support that allow us to tap into our SOUL in ways we have been denied or encouraged to be ashamed of or we ourselves have diminished and dismissed.

This means having the latitude with our professional development funds and then some (EAP $, Wellness $, Retention $, Affinity or Employee Resource $ or DEI $) to be invested on an healing and restoration experiences with SOUL.

I offer this both as a Heritage & Healing practitioner and long-time educator as well as a woman who got to Cuba using PD funds in the early 2000s. I did so simply by suggesting that a language and culture immersion experience would allow me to better understand the challenges my second-language learners had as they attended the community college where I served as a member of the English faculty. I did not go to come back and hablamos espanol fluently. Come on, it was four weeks, not four months. But, I did deepen my self-awareness and my capacity to be courageous and brave. And, to see myself in more affirming ways. And, yes, to meet my students with more grace, patience and love. Oh, yeah, and, to learn how to dance salsa (but that is another story).

No, really.  What would it look like for Black professionals to ask, to propose or to insist like I did back in the day. For us to assume a yes or maybe in lieu of a no. What if we reached out to the aforementioned sister in HR , you know the one, to see what she thought about pursuing the matter. Because she, like your Aunt Hattie Mae, is either gonna tell you to go sit your crazy ass down or tell you that the idea might actually fly and with whom because she has been working there for 20 years and she knows where the bodies are buried. And, who has discretionary dollars to spend at the fiscal year’s end. All she expects from you is a gift from the Motherland when you get back. A six-meter swatch of bright colorful fabric, a hand woven basket, art by a local artist or some bouye or bissap jelly to spread on her morning toast.

Besides, so much like your Aunt Hattie Mae, she just knows that you need a Diasporic Soul Heritage & Healing Experience. An experience that gives you and other Black professionals the chance to be in community. And, a chance to slow down and restore your connection to spirit, your ancestors, the natural world, your ancestral homeland and your roots. Not to mention your breath and peace of mind.

Do not ever sleep on your Aunt Hattie Mae. Or the prescient liberatory impulses kept close to the chest of the sister in HR or the Budget Office. She has everyone fooled, even you because you been too busy to notice the way she puts everyone in check without saying a damn word. Just like your Aunt Hattie Mae.

Besides, so much like your Aunt Hattie Mae, she just knows that you need this trip, this experience, this chance to slow down and connect with your ancestral homeland, your roots. Do not ever sleep on your Aunt Hattie Mae. Or the prescient liberatory impulses kept close to the chest of the sister in HR or the Budget Office. She has everyone fooled, even you because you been too busy to notice the way she puts everyone in check without saying a damn word. Just like your Aunt Hattie Mae.

So, maybe you cannot imagine sitting down with the sister in HR or the person who has to sign off on the purchase authorization or travel requisition and letting them know that you are part of that 69% and that you are tired of high-effort coping and all the other ish that goes along with being Black in America.

But, you should ask yourself, why not? Cincinnati’s Design Impact told Caitlin Jee Hae Behle yes, according to her recent LinkedIn post

In fact, Design Impact agreed to funding a PD experience for her that honored all of her, the part of her that seems have needed be restored. A restoration that included reconnecting to her roots, to her people, to a culture she has ties to, ties that were broken or at least frayed by contested histories, places and moments in time.  They agreed to support the part of her that was seeking, dreaming and needing to feed herself creatively and culturally.  They agreed to give her space and room to know in new affirming, transformative and heart-centered ways.

How frickin’ dope that is, really!!! No really. What she asked for and what she got was truly innovative and Dope AF.

And, so did the sisters and brothers who found their way to Senegal this summer. Ones who will readily share with you how rewarding their experience with us was:

The Diasporic Soul Heritage and Healing Experience is so so necessary. It was so compelling for me to step out of this space (in the US) and go to a place where you are received, where you don’t have to be on guard. That was one of the greatest things even though I came there guarded because I am so used to being guarded. Being there I didn’t have to be guarded. I felt more safe there than I feel here.

It was so needed to just come there and get that affirmation that I am in the right place. I am here to help our students feel safe. I am here so that they can recognize that they are, their presence is valuable, worthy of taking up space because they are worthy. I can’t wait to have them come to Senegal and experience what you all have created.

-2022 Diasporic Soul Heritage & Healing Professional Development Experience Participant

Consider their experience this summer. And, then consider expecting your employer to say yes, enthusiastically. Yes, to investing in you, the you who needs more than another conference, certification or course towards your next degree. To do so without asking a million and one (you know they be asking a million and one questions about every thang) To do so without spreadsheets and ROI outlined to the infinite degree. That they recognize that you, like lots of Black folks, continue to show up to ensure, in many cases, the well-being of others in ways that over time cause us dis-ease and compromise our well-being. Not to mention all that has been unfolding around us that we are supposed to, oft times, cope with in silence. Steadfast, forging ahead, head down, focused on the bottom line . . . 

Maybe they say yes like those who said yes to the Black folks who spent nine days here in Senegal experiencing the ways integrating SOUL (culture) and contemplative practice deepened their capacity for healing and restoration resilience and yes, resistance.

Why not ask, your employer to invest in racial healing that centers Blackness and that gives you the resources to feed your SOUL. After, of course, you check with the sister in HR that reminds you of your Aunt Hattie Mae.

Unconventional, yes. Unsettling, indeed, for some. But, this my friends, is the proposition.  Sit with it.  Surrender.  Ask spirit, the ancestors, yours and ours, the Divine one, to guide and support you. Then, when you have gotten the blessing from them and the sister in HR (or the budget office) tap into your heart and spirit and make the ask.  For next time, for 2023. In the meantime, you and your beloved sister friend in HR or the budget office can prepare by reading all the sources cited here and my book We Got Soul, We Can Heal: Overcoming Racial Trauma Through Leadership, Community and Resilience (McFarland April 2022).

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