Victoria Stewart

Health & Wholeness

Understanding the Work

Health and Wholeness are one of our five pillars of Black Liberation. Black people need to be healthy and whole to not only survive but thrive in the future. We believe that wellness is a critical point on the path to Black liberation because in a world where many powers seem to actively be working against us; while we are fighting as hard as we can against that which harms us, we need to put that same amount of energy into the health of our mind and bodies. To fully show up to the fight and avoid suffering from quick burnout, it is necessary to take steps to care for yourself and your well-being.

A very important reason that health and wellness are important to Black liberation is when we do practice wellness and self-care, we directly refute the standards set by white supremacy that we’re expected to accept. We’re expected to endure the pain, work two times harder, all while staying strong and not getting angry about this inequitable system because those in charge refuse to see how what’s in place is still harming us. We’ve accepted the pattern of not talking about our mental health because anxiety and depression are ‘white people diseases’.

There’s this farce that we have nothing to complain about because we’re not going through half of the things that our ancestors experienced; however it’s our duty to take care of ourselves this is part of what they fought for, for us to be able to heal and protect our wellbeing. Our culture has continuously harmed Black people within the medical industry (Tuskegee experiments, doctors proclaiming Black women can’t feel pain), and generations of trauma have led to mental health problems in Black people to this day. Institutional racism extends to health and wellness as well and shows up in many forms. The COVID-19 pandemic played a great role in uncovering the health disparities among races that began centuries ago. The healthcare system has continuously abused, experimented on, and neglected Black folks for years; and it is affecting Black Chicagoans at a point that this medical racism is being called a public health crisis. This may not be news to some, but there are many who unbeknownst to them fall victim to, or are practicing, racial biases in the medical field:

“Unless we name it and address [implicit bias} head on, it will continue to be a factor [in the the medical field].”

- Marcus Betts,

Assistant Vice Chancellor for External Engagement

at the University of Illinois at Chicago

(from the Chicago Tribune)

If harm by medical professionals isn’t enough, there’s also the environmental threat. Climate change is a global issue, we are and will all feel the effects unless we build more sustainable practices, regulate big corporations, and create more green jobs. The health of our people is in jeopardy due to businesses being careless, or ambivalent, about how these practices really harm people. Some communities are already feeling the effects, and these happen to be disproportionately Black and brown communities. “Toxic facilities, like coal-fired power plants and incinerators, emit mercury, arsenic, lead, and other contaminants into the water, food, and lungs of communities.[...]race – even more than class – is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country. And communities of color and low-income communities are often the hardest hit by climate change.” According to the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Black people need to engage with climate change advocacy or else we will continue to be the first to feel it. Fighting to prevent climate change is Black Liberation, it’s just another way to protect our communities. Long term, if the Earth no longer exists, Black Liberation will not be an issue we’d have the privilege of working towards. In the meantime, it’s important to address that Black and brown communities are catching the brunt of climate change, even here in Chicago. This is readily available information and yet those who created Chicago’s Climate Action Plan did not take into account, or even mention, how climate change impacts races/classes/neighborhoods differently. We need to ensure that when elected officials, and other city employees, discuss the effects of climate change, they need to include the disproportionate impact it has in Black communities and that a lot of them were brought on by intentional environmental racism. We need to see some policy changes that will no longer allow corporations and systemic racism to put our health in jeopardy. With all of these attacks on Black health, it is so imperative to bring attention to these topics as well as practice wellness like our lives depend on it, because they do. At Blackroots Alliance we have ingrained health and wellness in our normal work week with Wellness Wednesdays and scheduled work from home days (pre-pandemic), as well as extend it to our community to encourage healing in every person we can reach.

Our Wellness Events

Read more about our wellness events at Blackroot Alliance below:

Wellness in Action

is an annual event that aims to provide support to people of color working for social justice. Way too often organizers, especially those that are directly impacted by the injustices they're fighting against, are so busy helping everyone else that they don’t take time for themselves. It is necessary to fight against the burnout and trauma that comes with these positions and move into healing. We had the participation of our panelists LaSaia Wade from Brave Space Alliance, Camesha Jones from Sista Afya, brought such a diverse understanding of what wellness/mental health/self care means to them and ways to practice which led to a robust conversation of the many aspects that make them up. We also had wonderful workshop leaders including Vick Lee of A Vick Flick who showed her short film “Cleansing”, and Michelle Aikens The Bold Mover Lady led us through a ‘Mind Map’ exercise where we took time to reflect on everything we had learned that day and develop unique wellness plans for ourselves. It was a successful event full of connection, introspection and growth.

Group therapy with Sista Afya

was a series of events where we invited people in our networks to participate in virtual group therapy sessions conducted by mental health professionals Sista Afya. These sessions were a space that allowed Black people, especially organizers) to do that internal work of processing the work we do, the COVID-19 pandemic, and developing tools to regularly take care of ourselves.

Storytelling Workshop

Blackroots Alliance hosted an Afrofuturist Storytelling Workshop facilitated by Interaction Initiative inc. where we took control of our narratives. We took some time to understand the history of counter narrative storytelling where those who are outside of the majority take their stories back. White supremacy has taken away our voices for too long and we are working towards an afrofuturist reality where we are the only ones that can tell our stories. Everyone took the time to write about themselves, their experiences, and hopes without criticism. Everyone left feeling motivated to take more time to write and explore their stories. We look forward to hosting more storytelling events and we hope you attend the next one!