A Black History Month conversation addresses radical self-care

Melina Khan, Copy Editor

Quinnipiac University’s Department of Cultural and Global Engagement held a Black History Month webinar on Feb. 17, to cover the importance of radical self-care with leaders from a local Black healing and wellness center.

“We wanted to have this conversation because oftentimes, specifically when it comes to … programming around Black History month, oftentimes the programming sort of stops at talking about the harshest parts of our reality like dealing with police brutality, microaggressions, health disparities and while all that is true, it’s not the fullness of who we are, as a people,” said Pascale Jean-Jacques, associate director for multicultural education.

Screenshot from event
Hanifa Nayo Washington co-founded One Village Healing to help people who have suffered from systemic oppression. (Screenshot from event)

Panelists Hanifa Nayo Washington and Eric Rey are facilitators at One Village Healing (OVH) in New Haven. OVH is an “emerging wellness and resilience initiative dedicated to creating spaces, gatherings, and programming, rooted in the values of the healing justice movement,” according to its website

In 2019, Washington co-founded OVH as a center of healing for all people, but specifically, those who have been impacted by systems of oppression. She is a cultural activist and musician in addition to being a reiki practitioner, a method of healing based on the channeling of energy through touch. 

The concept to create OVH was inspired by Washington’s reiki and activism work, through which she saw a need for a space centered on the healing of Black people and people of color.

“What we saw over time was more and more people of color coming to these spaces of wellness and healing and resilience,” Washington said. “And often we get, ‘I’m so happy this space is here because I’ve gone to other spaces like this and just have not felt seen.’”

The event began with a guided meditation from Washington that invited the participants to arrive and breathe, a practice similar to those she teaches at OVH. 

Washington said self-care is “ensuring that my mind, my body and my spirit have what they need, and that those three things are in balance.” She added that self-care is important for Black people and people of color because systems of oppression can have a physical impact on a person.

“Without naming that (systems of oppression) have impact, we might not know why I’m so sick, or why did my shoulders always get tense when I’m in this particular situation, and why did my voice shift like that, and why do I feel this shame, or why can’t I sleep at night,” Washington said. “When we start to get into how these systems impact our physical bodies, how do these systems impact how we think and our relationship to ourselves and the people around us. When we name it and we can heal it and we can begin to track and feel it and begin to undo some of the harm caused by the systems over time.”

Washington also said that self-care is more than individual acts.

“(Self-care is) actually this deeper relationship that I feel like through systems of trauma, particularly for Black people in this country, we have been acculturated to put other people’s needs first,” Washington said. “We know how to listen to whiteness, we know how to care for whiteness, we know how to uplift it, we know what it needs to survive, and it takes time and intention to know what it is that you need as a Black person, as an individual.”

Rey, the other panelist, is a life coach and facilitator at OVH. He described himself as a “builder of belonging.”

“I think self-care works best when you engage in it all the time, even when things are going well, when things feel like everything is swell, and that’s how you keep yourself from getting to (empty),” Rey said.

At OVH, Rey facilitates the Black Obsidian Men’s Group for people who identify as Black men. He said the group is important because Black men are often typecast.

“There’s this monolithic idea of who a Black man is and all of us become subject to that unfortunately,” Rey said. “Black Obsidian represents just a small pocket where men can come and truly be themselves and belong.”

One of the event’s attendees, Derek Hernandez, a sophomore 3+1 marketing major, said the Black Obsidian group’s mission resonated with him.

“Self-care is important for everyone but as a man of color, speaking from my experiences growing up … it was always, ‘be a man and grow up,’” Hernandez said. “So, I believe self-care is so important as a man of color so I can learn to express those emotions and deal with different situations.” 

Hernandez said the event taught him ways he can attend to his own self-care, such as methods to cope with emotions and breathing techniques.

Another attendee, senior health science studies major Asiyah Neal, was originally drawn to the event because of its alignment with the mission of NaturallyMe, a student organization that sets out to educate students on natural hair, especially curly and coarse hair. Neal is the president of NaturallyMe, which she said is largely rooted in self-care.

Additionally, the OVH’s inclusivity and mission resonated with Neal.

“I like the inclusivity, the diversity, and just their really powerful mission and values when it comes to taking care of the self in order to be your best self,” Neal said.

OVH offers virtual wellness sessions. For more information, visit its website.