Trina Greene Brown has dedicated the entire month of August to resting. Like many other Black Americans, the last few months of continuous bad news has weighed heavily on her, from the disproportionate numbers of Black Americans dying from the coronavirus to the devastating shootings that continue to rock the country.
“For personal and professional sustainability and [to] ensure that I do not burn out, I am using the month of August for resting as a form of resistance,” she says.
Greene Brown is one of a growing number of Black Americans who seek to bring Black August—a monthlong celebration to honor the Black revolutionaries of the past—into the mainstream dialogue so that Black activists and parents can learn from its legacy. To celebrate the occasion, her organization, Parenting For Liberation (P4L), is providing virtual offerings to Black families to help aid in healing despite widespread racial trauma. Greene Brown believes this kind of healing is a form of resistance.
“As our community is trying to process inescapable exposure to Black suffering on social and traditional media, P4L’s Black August is shifting the narrative towards our healing, joy, and resilience,” Greene Brown says.
The amplification and celebration of Black August is just one of innumerable ways that Black Americans are calling on a heritage of resilience to fuel healing from ongoing historical intergenerational trauma that stems from chattel slavery and systemic racism. In recent months, it has been intensified through continuous exposure to images of Black suffering online as more Black Americans are shot and killed by police.
While racism impacts many aspects of Black life, one of the less-discussed consequences is the subsequent stress that robs Black Americans of peace, rest, and eventually life expectancy. But Black activists and entrepreneurs are building spaces of rest and resilience to help combat the impact of racism, whether that’s in parenting, in healthcare, or in the professional world.
A hub for Black parents
Greene Brown noticed the pervasive whiteness of the parenting space early on. In response, she created P4L, which employs a healing justice approach: Black parents can use the community as a tool to interrupt historical traumas and violence while disrupting harmful narratives about the Black family. Greene Brown believes this work is inherently revolutionary because when parents and caregivers can access their own liberation and healing, they are equipped to advocate and support their children and the rest of their community.
“We can see our parenting as the most political work we can do,” she says. “That invisible, behind-closed-doors labor needs to be seen and valued. We are starting to decolonize what parenting means, what educating means.”
Trina Greene Brown
We can see our parenting as the most political work we can do.”
But as a Black mother, rest is hard to come by. That’s why Greene Brown decided to take a step back this August.
“I am spending time this month to practice dreaming up liberation for and within myself, and engaging in pleasurable activities,” she says, listing plans to “cultivate her indoor urban jungle,” relax both in bed and near water, and play with her children.
Greene Brown’s vision is for Black parents to be well and healed. Before Black August, P4L’s Care for Caregivers Fund matched 35 Black parents with Black healing practitioners for one-on-one healing services such as Reiki, various forms of coaching, and grief support amid the social isolation that has accompanied COVID-19. Through the years, P4L has regularly provided events such as a “From Trauma to Triumph” workshop series, “Building Black Parent Power” advocacy trainings, and a “Liberated Parenting Circle” to ensure Black parents have a safe space to discuss their efforts toward liberated parenting. In addition to the in-person workshops (which took place pre-COVID), the organization also has a podcast and a book that serves as a guide to raising Black children.
Closing the racial health gap
However, for Black folks, healing and rest require much more than taking occasional breaks. It’s also about locating opportunities to recover from chronic exposure to stress, which stands in the way of holistic wellness. This stress, called “weathering,” has a physical impact on the body and can increase one’s risk for hypertension and stroke while decreasing life expectancy. While P4L is focusing on alternative modes of healing and therapy, other entrepreneurs are focusing on ensuring that Black Americans, particularly Black women, have access to quality medical care.
In 2018, Ashlee Wisdom launched Health in Her Hue, a digital telehealth service that matches Black women to Black healthcare providers. From the company’s website, users can test the app prototype to interact with a directory of Black doctors and a community of Black women in various stages of their health journeys. Though it is still in beta testing, Health in Her Hue has 2,400 members. Long term, Wisdom intends to create a digital and IRL platform where Black women can access providers, community, and care in a safe, trusted space.
Wisdom believes a vital component of closing the racial health gaps lies in healing Black women, whom she considers to be the chief medical officers of the family. She intends to improve the wellness of Black families, one woman at a time, by providing access to resources such as providers and community.
Once she is well—when she’s thriving and surviving—everyone else who’s under her care will also be taken care of.”
“If you have a solution that [addresses] the healthcare needs of Black women, I think you have an opportunity to really help take care of a Black household,” Wisdom says. “Once she is well—when she’s thriving and surviving—everyone else who’s under her care will also be taken care of.”
Currently, Black women face a host of chronic conditions—obesity, heart disease, cancer—all of which are exacerbated by racism in medical care and intensified by the daily stressors that accompany Black womanhood in America. But while the pandemic has brought conversations on Black health to the forefront, Wisdom is tired of conversations that discuss Black health from a disparity-based perspective without effective solutions. Instead, she envisions a world where Black women are less afraid to interact with the healthcare system and take care of themselves more proactively, with preventative visits that could help catch health conditions early.
Wisdom also hopes to assist Black medical professionals, who face discrimination at work. “Black physicians want to better serve their community, [yet] some of the spaces that they operate in are harmful to their own well-being and mental health,” she says. She’s been in conversation with Black doctors—especially Black female physicians who deal with disrespect from staff and patients—and hopes to develop a community space for them as well.
Building a safe space, online and IRL
The barriers faced by Black doctors and nurses are reminiscent of those that Black professionals encounter in other industries. Alongside the challenge of securing employment, Black professionals also must deal with discrimination in the workplace and wage disparities while balancing professional demands in the face of ongoing racism. Black women also face the compounded effects of racism and sexism. Even now, as more companies aim to shift toward anti-racist workplace culture, the focus on race overlooks its interplay with sexism.
That’s why social entrepreneur Elizabeth Dawes Gay wants to give women of color a place to come together and support each other professionally outside of a traditional office environment. “Where are the safe places that women of color—whether cis, trans, or nonbinary—can go to gain new skills and keep developing themselves, to be in community to nourish and support each other?” she says. “And what do women of color need to be successful and what do Black women need to achieve total wellness?”
That’s why in 2020, Gay founded Ipadé, which she describes as a “functional sanctuary” that can provide a community and resources for women of color. She says it is the next iteration of her lifelong mission to advocate for women of color and ensure that they have access to the tools and opportunities that they need for health and well-being.
“Certainly, women of color are creating their own personal pockets and systems of support in their communities with their friends and family,” says Gay, who also cofounded the Black Mamas Matter Alliance as well as Sisu Consulting, which provides strategic planning and communications for social justice. “But from an entity and structure perspective I didn’t see that.”
The pandemic has shifted Gay’s execution of Ipadé, which will eventually be a physical space, but it hasn’t limited her vision. Over the last few months, Ipadé has hosted virtual events on topics such as productivity and mental health, with dozens of individuals in attendance. The engagement reflects how women of color, especially Black women, are struggling to balance their professional expectations with the demands of life during continuous exposure to tragedy.
Although Gay prefers in-person events, she believes connecting online provides the relationship-building opportunities that are necessary in this moment. “I encourage people to have their cameras on,” she says. “I think that’s part of the connection piece. You don’t need to dress up because this is us coming together as we are.”
In June, Ipadé hosted a workshop on rest and restoration, facilitated by artist and healer Taja Lindley, who finds it necessary to release negative energy and welcome healing despite the demands of the world.
“I think we, as people of color, are all feeling heavy about what [is] happening in the world—police violence, the pandemic disproportionately impact[ing] Black and Brown people, and about being at home for months on end,” Gay says of the gathering’s importance. “[But this is] an opportunity to talk about how to release some [of the] things that we’re holding on to.”
Her comments echo a sentiment expressed by writer and thinker Audre Lorde long ago: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
And hopefully, these ongoing social shifts will finally bring about a world where Black Americans can access the restoration and healing that they deserve.