By Bahia Overton

Everyone likes to think about being healthy in terms of eating right and trying not to live a sedentary lifestyle. 

For Black people, it’s much more complicated than that. 

Every single day our community is plagued with negative markers for health: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, low infant birth rates, maternal mortality rates, and limited life expectancy are only a few.

Additionally, direct and vicarious trauma associated with structural and institutional racism, daily racial trauma from microaggressions and macroaggressions, and community violence more than justify the need for Black-centered justice, equity, and healing.

The Be The Healing movement, birthed into reality by Dr. Joy DeGruy, focuses on first learning and then understanding the history and experiences of African-American people in this country. With nearly 40 years of direct practical experience in the social work profession, as a clinical therapist, as a historian, and as the author of the groundbreaking book “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” Dr. Joy is well-suited to speak on the historical trauma and continued adverse reality of African Americans — and what it takes for us to heal.

Indeed, the now and the future component of the Be the Healing movement outlines how to center our cultural knowing as we develop, implement, and evaluate culturally relevant education and intervention.

The Be The Healing movement, birthed into reality by Dr. Joy DeGruy, focuses on first learning and then understanding the history and experiences of African-American people in this country.

Last year the MacArthur Foundation aligned with this mission and sponsored this work. Their support allowed Dr. Joy — who happens to be my mom — in partnership with my organization, the Black Parent Initiative of Portland, Oregon, to organize five regional Be the Healing symposiums across several states. These symposiums aim to co-create with the community the continuous improvement strategies we need to improve life for Black people in this country.

The impact of these symposiums has been that young people, educators, community members, and regular folk have learned the history of institutions, organizations, laws, and policies that have prevented many of the people in their lives from moving forward and achieving their full potential. With that knowledge, people have become more committed to their personal healing and to the healing of their communities. We have seen so many changes happen over the past several months — including new intervention strategies that are asset-based and new evaluation methods that are culturally responsive and culturally sustaining.

Be the Healing: Reparations Conference explores innovative approaches to reparations which include restoration, repair, and healing.

But we know we need to do more — and that’s why we’re heading back to the heart of America — a place with so much love to give, but where our community has seen so much suffering: Chicago.

On September 23-25, Dr. Joy will partner with Organic Oneness in Chicago to participate in their fifth annual Be the Healing conference. This particular Be the Healing conference focuses on reparations, and we will address the historical harm and trauma of racism and colonization through an inspirational and solution-oriented global lens.

Why the focus on reparations? You can’t restore or repair what you refuse to acknowledge has been broken or damaged. In order to hold people accountable, we have to recognize the historical and continuous oppression and racial terrorism experienced by Black people in this country. Reparations are required for accountability and justice. 

Organizations like Organic Oneness, which focus on creating equity and justice for people of color, are perfect collaborators in this work. As part of the conference, Organic Oneness is facilitating community tours designed to show participants what action and transformation look like, and share best practices that lead us towards true justice and reparations. 

If you would like to get involved, please participate in a symposium near you, follow Dr. Joy, and learn about her work! Above all, we must collectively take action to help Black people who have been largely forgotten about or excluded from critical conversations that impact their daily lives.

We have to use new eyes to envision what is possible for our community. We need to stop focusing on how to survive and instead truly establish what is imperative for us to thrive. 

We have to move beyond being “trauma-informed” and celebrating our resilience in the face of perpetual subjugation! We have to expand our notions of self-care to an unapologetic commitment to caring for ourselves and our community!

This must happen on an individual, family, community, and larger societal level. There has to be ideation, innovation, acceleration, and accountability that begins with us and extends into the communities in which we live, serve and die.

We have to move beyond being “trauma-informed” and celebrating our resilience in the face of perpetual subjugation! We have to expand our notions of self-care to an unapologetic commitment to caring for ourselves and our community!

It’s time to show off ourselves in our communities in a new way and in a beautifully organic, positive, knowing manner that allows us to shine with the brightness we’ve always had — but that institutions, policies, and laws have continuously sought to dim and extinguish.

We are committed to beaming light and love to every Black child, woman, man, and all the other ways we identify ourselves. 

We are unyielding in our determination to show each other the grace, compassion, encouragement, respect, and faith we all deserve.

It’s time to stop talking about it, and it’s time to be about it.

It’s time to Be The Healing.

Bahia Overton holds a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology and a Masters’ degree in Social Work. She is completing her Ph.D. in Social Work Research, focusing on the experiences of African American female adolescents in foster care. Ms. Overton currently serves as the Executive Director of the Black Parent Initiative. The goal of this community-based non-profit organization is to improve the lives of Portland’s Black and multi-ethnic children by focusing on optimal health, cultural identity development, parent education, and ensuring parents and caregivers have the resources to ensure children succeed.