Ritual Heals: Meeting Mami Wata

Mami Wata is an integral part of our Diasporic Soul Heritage and Healing Experiences in Senegal.

Reconnecting to Mami Wata is one way that we practice ritual to deepen our capacity to experience healing and restoration.

Ritual is integral to healing, to experiencing harmony and wholeness, as Malidoma Patrice Some explains in The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual and Community.

In order to restore our connection to Mami Wata we must remember that we share a collective trauma that created the rupture between us and the ocean. The dis-ease some of us have with the ocean is rooted in our shared collective, ancestral and historical trauma.

Yet, as this young man explains, meeting Mami Wata as sacred ritual and with a community where he feels safe, secure and a strong sense of belonging changes how he feels about her. This young man’s named-fear-of-the-ocean has shifted to reverence and deep respect for Mami Wata. At the same time, seeing other Black people in relationship with her allows him to change how he sees his own potential and place in the world.

Meeting Mami Wata in this way, in sacred ritual with community, also allows us to surrender and let go so that we can experience joy, delight, awe and wonder. So we can play. Offering some of us a chance to reclaim our childhoods, which are often cut short as we are taught early on to hunker down and protect ourselves from the constant threats of pernicious racism and violence.

Allowing ourselves, like this young lady, to revel in the joy and delight we can experience as Mami Wata rolls up and tickles our toes and caresses our calves is transformative. She evokes awe and wonder at the same time she brings a sense of well-being and peace.

These two young people show us that spending time at the ocean, with a sense of curiosity rather than fear or dread is an act of reclamation. An act that offers us space to feel free, unfettered and unbound, as vast as the ocean herself and the endless sky above her.

There’s a power for us, as Diasporic Souls when we restore our connection with the ocean, with Mami Wata, because we are “also connecting with a part of [our] heritage.” Mami Wata was a “crucial part of our ancestors’ identities..” We are, “[t]he vast majority of us, “descended from African people who were coastal, ocean-dwelling people.” It is clear that we, as African people, as Diasporic Souls, are deeply bound with her. A connection, a bound that is profoundly healing and restorative.

Learn more about Mami Wata’s sacred place in our lives and the way she feeds our SOUL in We Got Soul; We Can Heal, Chapter VII – #Ritual Heals – Meeting Mami Wata.


Black. Dope. All Good.

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 reflection.

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.”

Special Thanks

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.


Approximately seven years ago Eddy and I ended our visit to Senegal on the day White Supremacy entered a sacred dwelling, a church and shot down nine congregants. And that boy got burgers on the way to jail.

Barack sang Amazing Grace. Bree took down the flag.

Two years ago, five years after that massacre at Mother Emanuel church, we watched White Supremacy rest its knee on Brotha Floyd’s neck. And shoot Breonna in her bed. And run Ahmaud down in the street in a damn pick up truck, the kind that has kicked up fear for generations of Black people.

I cried out then. And, again, on Saturday. No, no, no. Not again. Not again.

It is not hate, generally. As they have already begun uncourageously to call it. Or the lack of gun control. As some have begun to insist. Or some switch that clicked on or off in this boy’s head. Ambiguity has a price. A huge one when it ofuscates the brutal truth about what really went down in Buffalo. A price we keep paying. With our lives. Our love. Our loss. Our grief. Our peace of mind.

This, as Eugene Robinson reminded us in his NYT column yesterday, is White Supremacy. It is the pernicious racism Roxanne Gay named in 2020 when White Supremacy killed George Floyd. And Breonna. And Ahmaud.

I will cry again. Today. And, tomorrow. And rant. And rave. Outloud. Here, in writing. And, tap. And, shake. I will breathe deeply and intentionally in child’s pose or butterfly fully supported by my mat, bolster, blankets and blocks. And my ancestors. Supported by music, soul music. Beautiful Chorus. Robert Glasper. Anthony Hamilton. I will sit in community filled with love. All to settle my nervous system. My spirit. To temper the grief and rage. The damn dismay.

And, like Roxanne and Eugene. Resmaa and Dr. Kyra. I will say exactly what this is. I will say Black when I mean Black. I will say anti-Black racism in lieu of vaquely referring to some non-specific hate. I will say white supremacy. White violence and terror. The kind that lynches and murders innocent Black folks in church and grocery stores. On branches of magnolia trees. Like Emmet’s mama insisted with her child’s open casket in the hot ass summer of 1955, we must see and look directly at this brutality, this terrorism. The capacity for the nation we built for free to wring its hands and talk sideways. Again. While simultaneously engaging in the rhetorical gymnatics in legislative chambers and rooms where school boards meet. This is that. The history that they want to protect their kids from. A violent fragility that erases reality and brutality. The kind that we saw on Saturday.

I will name what is. I will settle my spirit with my body and breathe. And the word.

My hope is that you will too. May you find and know peace. Because, for real, this is some f^#ed a$% ish.


Lunch & Learn – April 2022

Join us for one of our Spring 2022 Lunch & Learns to learn more about Diasporic Soul. You have the opportunity to learn more about how DIASPORIC SOUL Heritage & Healing Experiences can support your organization’s ongoing social justice, racial healing and diversity and equity efforts.

In North Carolina, we will convene at Serenity Farm Yoga Sanctuary (Retreat Center) where we experience nature and yoga (pranayama) as healing and restoration resources. In addition to a scrumptious lunch inspired by Senegalese cuisine by Ayurvedic Chef Amelia, we will explore SOUL as a transformative healing resource that reflects the cultural sensibilities of the African Diaspora at this tranquil and lovely sanctuary located on a 10-acre boutique farm that is nestled on Falls Lake. We will also hear from Zephia Bryant, a long-time student development practitioner, Diasporic Soul and Executive Director of the Bryant Educational Leadership Group (BELG).

No Yoga Experience Required

In Cincinnati, we will convene at the Cincinnati Art Museum where we will explore SOUL as a transformative healing resource that reflects the cultural sensibilities of the African Diaspora through two current exhibitions featuring Black creatives:

David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop

Our time together will include hearing from well-regarded Cincinnati-based artist who just had two pieces acquired by the CAM, Gee Horton will discuss his ongoing creative collaboration with Diasporic Soul on The Baobab Project.

Questions & Inquiries – madamecoly@diasporicsoul.com & 221778423650|Mobile & WhatsApp



AFRICAN & AMERICAN: A conversation w/Yemi Oyediran & Phyllis Jeffers-Coly; hosted by Naimah Bilal

View Here

What a pleasure it was to have a nuanced and thoughtful discussion about how our identities, cultures and capacity for healing intersect, overlap and inform each other. There were some powerful moments when our connection was so palpable. When our joy and passion for one another and our people(s) came through. It was a pleasure to sit with two people motivated by love of Black people and a sincere investment in our well-being. And the humility and curiosity that allowed for deep listening and great understanding.

Thank you to Urban Consulate’s Cincinnati Team for pulling us together around this metaphorical bowl of (Jollof) Rice for us to connect and truly behold one another. Here’s to reconvening again for another filling meal of SOUL Food around the communal bowl.

Yemi Oyediran; is the co-founder, with JP Leong, of Afrochine, a production & storytelling company based in Cincinnati. Yemi is multi-talented — professionally he’s an educator, researcher, jazz musician, big data scientist, public radio personality and filmmaker including the soon to be released “Queen City Kings,” about the legendary Cincinnati studio and record label King Records. Born to a Nigerian family who came to the United States in 1988 and has lived in Alabama, Ohio, and the DC area. Additionally, Yemi is an Ohio Humanities, Peoples Liberty, and Bantz foundation awardee and has served on the boards of Cincinnati Compass, and Friends of Music Hall. He’s also a proud father of three and has lived in the Cincinnati area for 20 years.

Naimah Bilal

Naimah Bilal is a fundraising executive and artistic planning expert with experience leading large scale fund development and strategic planning efforts at the enterprise level. Naimah made history at the age of 26 by becoming the first black woman to lead artistic operations for a major American symphony orchestra. The Bawse with a Cause platform is her love letter to black and brown leaders in the nonprofit space seeking to create the worlds they want to see.

A Restorative Practice|25 February 2023

A Restorative Practice for Black Folks Who Decided that High-Effort Coping and High Stepping Were No Longer Enuf
Feb 25, 2023 5:00 p.m EST & 10:00 pm GMT|Senegal
(Join Here)

We are celebrating Blackness and signifying SOUL with this offering at dusk as the sun sets on the East Coast of the US with the hope that you will come to practice with the busyness of the day and the week behind you. At the end of February, when there “should” still be a chill in the air and you can surrender to the natural rhythms of the season when we “should” be more prone to rest and hibernation. To find some peace of mind with the support of yoga, community and a bit of self-reflection. And, some SOUL.

Signifying on the name and theme of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf (1976), which was her first work and most acclaimed theater piece consisting of a series of poetic monologues to be accompanied by dance movements and music, and Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, which Juan M. Floyd-Thomas call(s) Lamar’s “soul” album in “The Divided Soul of Kendrick Lamar” (Esquire 16 May 2022), the session serves as a reminder that high-effort coping and high steppin’ have not and will not serve us.

The session will include restorative yoga and journaling. Please feel free to invite friends and family to the practice. If you have restorative yoga equipment please bring it. If not, a large towel or exercise mat along with pillows and blankets will work. No yoga experience is necessary.

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Meeting ID: 298 965 5831
Passcode: SOUL

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Chocolate & Peanut Butter: Happy Birthday Grandma Jeffers

Although I have a daily practice with my ancestors, there are special moments when I spend more time at my ancestral altar and make additional offerings or give gifts to them. February is one of those times as it marks the anniversary of my grandmother Phyllis’ passing. She passed on 10 February 2018. And, February 18 marks the birthday of my paternal grandmother, which I celebrated this past week when I went to Goree Island donning our Jeffers family reunion tee shirt that features her and my Granddaddy Sidney. And, I celebrated her birthday this weekend with sweet treats – chocolate butter cookies smeared with nutella and peanut butter – seven of them – placed on top of my maternal grandmother’s round gold-colored cake box that gifted me pound cakes during much of my twenties when I resided in the DMV and on my 33rd birthday in 2014 when I spent the summer there working with my friend Nicole.

The cake box along with the pewter bowl she gave me and Eddy as a wedding gift are the centerpieces of our church pew turned ancestral altar. In addition to the cookies smeared with chocolate and peanut butter, I offered my grandmother and other ancestors a toast of fermenting white bissap (hibiscus). And, during my time with them, I also offered them a glass of gallah, which is a millet and peanut butter drink of the Serere and a bowl of thiere, which is millet couscous.

I feel grounded and supported when I spend time sitting with my ancestors. And, Eddy’s. I know they hear my cries and my requests for support when I am challenged. At the same time, I find joy and fulfillment by offering them small gifts to say thank you and to recognize them on important days like their birthdays and holidays. Each year since she passed, I have dyed easter eggs using red bissap tea (hibiscus) that turn out lavender in color, which is my grandma Phyllis’ favorite color. I know that she is with me and that she appreciates the gifts and the time I spend with her.

I will also have the dress washed today that I gifted my paternal grandmother when she asked for it a few years back. It is orange and gold and black and vibrant. My sense is that she never got to wear such bright colors like the women here in Senegal do. A perhaps puritanically-imposed muted colorless reality on our sense of what we “should” wear or not. My sense too is that she might appreciate the gifts, the attention, the celebration, the acknowledgement. While I remember vividly going to her funeral in Greensboro, I did not really know her; she died when I was around five years old. I am not sure that much of my family has found a way to attend to her spirit in ways that might be healing and restorative for her or them. But, I have decided consciously to make the effort to speak to her, the her I see in the few photos I have of her and the her my father has shown me in his stories. I know Daddy loves her and I think he has forgiven her as part of his own healing journey. I know she died in pain. So, I hope that some how my dad and I have in acknowledging her can contribute to her peace. That she feels more loved that perhaps she might have on this side, when she was alive. I cannot make amends for her or to her, but I can extend grace and love to her. She cannot fully support us as a family if she remains heartbroken and hurt. No more than she might have been able to when she was living.

Taking time to attend to our ancestors is important. Eddy and I with support of his mom and others encourage the folks who spend time with us in Senegal to find ways to deepen their connections to their ancestors. As I explain in We Got Soul; We Can Heal, doing so is a primary aspect of African spirituality. It is a simply practice that can be grounding and healing for us and them. A practice that can actually co-exist with your current faith practices. Remember that our ancestors arrived in the Americas as Africans with spiritual practices that existed long before the impositions of Islam and Christianity. Remember that they creolized and found ways to hold on and practice what they brought with them from Africa along with what they were expected to embrace in the contested colonized spaces they were forced to live and labor in. Remember that their spirituality afforded them the capacity to resist and remain resilient under brutal conditions including the white violence of Jim Crow America, which I name because clearly anti-black racism and white violence did not end when slavery was abolished.

In 2020, as part of our Stopping the Clock series, we offered a Creating an Ancestral Altar session that featured Nana Lawson Bush.

Levita receiving her hand-carved pestle and mortar in Casamace, Senegal from our cousin Ibou.

We also offered a session – Communion featuring my dear friend Levita Mondie, vegan chef, who showed us how gardening and cooking are tied to the ways she remains connected to her mother. Perhaps, you can create your own and begin to connect to those who have gone before you in intentional ways. Perhaps with an ancestral altar. Or, perhaps, in your garden and kitchen. We have lots to celebrate and be mindful of us we recognize that our heritage can be healing when we chose to explore it.

Finding Peace of Mind . . .

I hope you find some peace of mind . . .

under trees that touch the heavens

on yoga mats covered with blankets and bolsters to support you

on the shore, connecting to Mami Wata

in community where you know you belong and are deeply deeply loved and supported

feeling, sensing, knowing the divine, the seen and the unseen

in places where you can laugh and cry

in ways where you can surrender let go of your need to control everything

in ways where you are able to experience curiosity, awe, joy, magic and happiness

I hope you find peace of mind; I hope you can experience healing and restoration, knowing though that healing does not have to be a complete resolution of our symptoms. Healing can come in all forms. It can be acceptance, it can be learning, or it can be simply feeling good in your own skin regardless of what is going on.

on this holiday that celebrates a movement, resistance and the insistence on our innate dignity and worth.

Happy New Year!

Well, shit, it is the first Monday of the year. Lord, have mercy. Nobody wants go back to work. But, alas, we must do what must do.

Even though Mars and Mercury are in retrograde. Neptune too, I think. And, a full moon is just days away, lurking, threatening to open us to all that we are feeling. How we so move, when the planets are still looking back and asking us, apparently, to do the same?

Finding Joy in the New Year with SOUL.

Well, maybe a little Black joy and exuberance and loud laughter and playfulness will give you a boast to get up, get out and get something in lieu of letting the days of your life pass by (Outkast for those who don’t know).

May you be open and curious enough to experience wonder, awe, joy and delight.

MIYASoul: Check Out the Coordinates

When she texts,

“check out the coordinates real quick Ta Ta”

Samiyah left Senegal after her Diasporic Soul Heritage & Healing Experience with more confidence. Confidence to create her own clothing line. Confidence to question the curriculum of her degree program at Xavier University. Confident in her beauty and capacity to pursue her dreams.

Books & Brunch with BYTA

Watch Our Conversation about We Got Soul, We Can Heal

Practitioners & Professionals

Centering Blackness and celebrating SOUL, our Heritage & Healing Experiences for Practitioners and Professionals in Senegal integrate culture (SOUL) and contemplative practices to allow you to deepen your capacity for healing and restoration, resilience and resistance. They reflect our understanding that We Got Soul; We Can Heal.

As a pilgrimage, which is considered a contemplative practice, this experience is designed to allow you to deepen your self-awareness and your self-care practice. Informed by what we know about race-based stress and trauma and the impact of white supremacy, anti-Black racism and epistemic violence on our lives individually and collectively, our Heritage & Healing experiences foster your capacity to surrender and to feel safe, secure and a deep sense of belonging. We hold a love-filled space that consistently affirms your innate sense of dignity and worth. All so you can deepen your capacity for healing and restoration. So that you might continue to lead and serve courageously and confidently.

Our Diasporic Soul Heritage & Healing Experiences reflect the wisdom of many of our wisest elders and ancestors, including Malidoma Somé who tells us in The Healing Wisdom of Africa, that healing requires community, ritual and spirit. And, Alice Walker who tells us in Anything We Love Can Be Saved that healing means putting the heart, courage and energy back into our bodies with our own culture (SOUL).

Before we were anything else as Black folks we were African.

“Spiritual” African Giant. Burna Boy.

Put another way, we got SOUL, we can heal. SOUL, which, 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). SOUL reflects the fact that the healing we are seeking can be found in “the relationships with our communities, the natural world, our roots, and our ancestors” (Torres).

Further, our Heritage & Healing Experiences for Professionals & Practitioners allow participants to recognize cultural and contemplative resources that can inform the way they contribute to the well-being of Black folks in whatever kind of work they are doing. A deeper dive than our Communal Healing Retreats, the experience can serve as an initial opportunity for practitioners and professionals to consider how they might integrate the Diasporic Soul Heritage & Healing approach into the work they do that contributes to the healing, restoration and well-being of the Black folks.




Meeting Mami Wata


Pilgrimages to Goree & Carabane Islands

Contemplative Arts

Movement Practices

The African Renaissance Monument

Museum of Black Civilizations

Senegalese Cuisine

Daily Debriefs|Guided Reflections

Stillness Practices

Connecting with the Natural World

Travel to the Casamace Region

PRICING: $3000

Includes Pre-Pilgrimage Orientation (VIRTUAL), fully-guided excursions in Senegal that integrate SOUL (culture) and contemplative practices, Accommodations (Single Occupancy), On-Site Meals, Ground Transportation, Roundtrip Airfare to Casamace, Diasporic Soul Tee Shirt, Learning Materials, including a journal, restorative yoga equipment and a copy of We Got Soul; We Can Heal (Jeffers-Coly 2022).

2022 Reunion Retreat|Newfields|Indianapolis, IN

Our Post-Pilgrimage Reunion Retreat offers us the opportunity to further debrief and integrate the Senegal experience in community with other program participants including those from prior years. Our Post-Pilgrimage Reunion Retreat reflects what we know about how important it is sit at the communal plate of Thiebbu Jenn (or the Thanksgiving table) with others who have had the Senegal experience. It reflects our commitment to deepening connections and building community in ways that center Blackness and celebrate SOUL. As well as what we know about the support that community offers as we integrate the experience and to stay engaged in the practices that support our collective capacity to feel grounded, rooted, centered, balanced and well. The Post-Pilgrimage Reunion Retreat will require a program fee (TBD) and travel expenses to the designated location.

Check with the Sistah in HR: Heritage & Healing Experiences are Professional Development

Sankofa Remixed: A Return Home

Today, I get to talk about We Got Soul; We Can Heal: Overcoming Racial Trauma Through Leadership, Community and Resilience in New Bern, North Carolina as part of Tryon Palace’s African American Lecture Series. Thanks to an invitation from Sharon Bryant, Director of African American Outreach, who I had a the chance to meet on a pre-pandemic tour of historic Black, New Bern. An invitation facilitated by my dear Aunt Rosanne.

Each time I talk about the book, I share aspects of it, of SOUL, of the story of Eddy and I in Senegal, that fit where I am and who I am sharing with. Today, I am talking about what it means to be in New Bern, NC. What it means to be in a place that is home sort of. An ancestral home. Current home to my mama and my daddy. And, home of my Aunts Rosanne and Mary. And, home, former, of my great grandfather and his brother. And, to many other Black folks who came to this country at it’s inception. To build it for free. Over time. Decades. Centuries. Home to generations of Black folks well beyond my own maternal lineage.

But, I am not a historian. I am a storyteller. I am a writer. I am a heritage and healing practitioner. And, I am, before all that my grandmother’s namesake. I am here to celebrate her and my family. And, to name in some way how coming home, being in New Bern and restoring our connection to our heritage, to a home place offers us a chance to heal. And, to name ways in which connection to our SOUL, our culture and various aspects of it is part of that healing journey. How that all mixes together, integrates and offers us to chance to feel better. About our selves. About our families. About our futures.

I will speak to how coming home – my Sankofa- now feels like after going home to Senegal and finding my way home back to my true and authentic self underneath a mango tree in an outdoor cafe on the outskirts of Dakar in a Serere enclave called Sebikotane. A place that evokes the ride from Raleigh to New Bern and what I imagine Guilford County felt like for my Daddy as a boy and manchild in the so-called promise land.

That the land, that nature – which divine and sacred has offered me a place to slow down, be still and experience healing. Including of my sense that perhaps that who I was, where I was from was lacking in some way. When all the while it, home, the place I am from, the places we are from, collectively, was exactly what makes me whole and allows me to feel grounded, rooted, centered, supported and balanced.

I will share how choosing to invite her into in my life along with other members of my family who are now ancestors also feeds my connection to the divine and the sacred. A connection that allows me to feel good because I got them, I got SOUL. How ritual offers me reassurance in a world that moves far to fast and far to often the wrong direction. Especially as far as our collective well-being is concerned.

And, at this moment as we prepare to give thanks as Black folks invest in gratitude (not genocide, yes, we are calling it that) I will, of course, talk about Thiebbu Jenn, and how eating from the communal bowl feeds us in big and small ways.

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).

SOULace in the Sea:

Seeing the Moon, Hearing the Tide & Surrendering to Mami Wata

23 June 2022

7:00 PM EST|11:00 GMT

We will celebrate the beginning of Cancer season, the summer solstice and June’s moon cycle by focusing on Mami Wata as a healing and spiritual resource as reflected in We Got Soul; We Can Heal and Angela’s From the Atlantic to the Pacific, When the Water Rises I Look to Mami Wata and other related works in the My Soul to Keep Dak’art Off Exhibition.

Meeting ID: 298 965 5831
Passcode: SOUL

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