What happens when a group of women and non-binary folks get together with the intention to heal in community? That was the question Dr. Ellie Cahill and I asked when we started thinking about a healing space for Black educators. Our work, we imagined, would be focused on showing Black educators in the Denver Metro Area strategies for healing from racism-related stress from the workplace and beyond. We felt that although the recruitment and retention of Black educators was important, it did not solve the problem of what was happening to Black educators in their day-to-day experiences in predominantly White education spaces here in Colorado. With less than 1000 Black educators across the state, we knew our work was necessary.

With these reflections, we began to plan what a wellness space would look like. Two years later, in the middle of our second Black Educator Wellness Cohort, there are many things that we have learned that have helped me understand that our work is needed and, unfortunately, will never have an end.

What I’ve Come To Know

Healing Takes Time
In the middle of the first cohort, a few participants decided it was time to leave the traditional teaching space. While some began looking for other opportunities almost immediately, one participant decided to focus only on their healing. For almost a year, they did not work. Instead, they hung out with their children, slept in, learned to ride a bicycle, and were completely unbothered. After a few months of healing, questions began streaming from their family members regarding whether they would return to work soon. In a cohort meeting, they mentioned that they began to feel guilty for resting and started looking for work despite having enough savings to continue their chosen path. After some conversation with the group, they decided to end their work search. They understood, and I want you to understand that healing takes time. Running immediately to another place of employment, school, or other space after experiencing trauma may seem at the time like the best thing. New place, new me, right? Unfortunately, many folks bring the trauma, pain, and stress with them to the new space. Take time to rest, reconnect with yourself, and clarify your next step. If you are saying now that you can’t afford to take a sabbatical between jobs, listen to the episode of The Exit Interview: A Podcast for Black Educators, where Jailyn Jenkins and I talk about ways to pay for a sabbatical.

It’s Okay to Cry
Some time ago, I watched a video on YouTube where a therapist and author spoke about Black men being “emotionally constipated.” He explained that many of the men he worked with only experienced neutrality, happiness or anger but could not cry. The observation I have discovered to be most profound to me in our work with the cohort is that a majority of our participants have said that they have not cried in years, even with the death of a sibling or other traumatic events. With all of its challenges, life had made crying out of reach. After being in community as a cohort, many begin to shed tears for someone else or their rage in their work situations. Some, however, are still unable. A part of healing in community, I believe, is the letting go of the vulnerability, the rawness that can only come from sharing with self and then others what trauma, circumstances, and time have pressed down and hardened.

When was the last time that you cried?

Name It To Tame It
The ability to put words to what one is experiencing is powerful. When I can use language to express myself, it’s like a foggy mirror clearing up. Everything that seemed blurry and hard to make out is now clear. Dr. Ellie brought the phrase “Name it to tame it” into the Black Educator Wellness Cohort space. She explained to the group the importance of language to keep us from feeling stuck in a place of uncertainty. When we name what is happening in our workplace, the racism that is ingrained in systems that we can and cannot see, we make visible the invisible. We can then figure out how to operate in, around, or out of the oppression we make perceptible. This strategy has been an especially powerful tool for first-generation participants who have come to believe that their experiences are not related to racism but rather to not working hard enough or being underqualified. Accessing words that identify racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on allows us to turn on the light and no longer fight our enemies in the dark.

What began as a simple question of what happens when a group of individuals come together intending to hold space for healing has evolved into a profound understanding of the complexities and necessities of this work. We have witnessed firsthand the importance of taking the time to heal, the power of vulnerability and emotional expression, and the significance of naming and addressing the systemic oppressions embedded within educational spaces. As we continue this journey, it becomes evident that our work is necessary and ongoing. The act of healing is not a destination but a continual process. As we navigate this journey together, we find strength, solidarity, and resilience in our shared experiences and collective healing.

By: Dr. Asia Lyons

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