Syda Segovia Taylor’s on a mission to transform Bronzeville, the storied Chicago neighborhood she calls home, into an epicenter of racial healing. Through Organic Oneness, a grassroots nonprofit organization she founded in 2019, she’s helped connect residents of the historically Black community to its sometimes-painful past, co-created spaces that build community capacity, and organized an annual conference on recovering from the trauma of racism.
But her vision — helping Black people heal — extends beyond the storefronts of Bronzeville, rises above Chicago’s skyscrapers, soars across Lake Michigan, and reaches out into the universe, just as her Baha’i faith teaches her.
“Everyone needs to heal from racism, but if I’m going to focus somewhere, I’m going to center the healing of the Black community, which has been so deeply harmed by white supremacy for hundreds of years,” Taylor says.
“I can fully embrace myself and embrace others and know the nobility that is within each person,” Taylor says. “And I can understand that what we have to offer culturally is a gift to humanity.”
The idea — that we are all spiritually connected, and the elevation of one elevates all — is embedded in Organic Oneness, whose core mission is bringing racial and environmental justice to its community. In practical terms, that means identifying, addressing, then trying to dismantle the lingering effects of white supremacy in Chicago’s Black and Brown communities.
That requires recognizing that there are two Chicagos, Taylor says: one that’s beautiful and affluent, with resources and opportunity, and one that struggles from inequity, violence, and poverty, the aftereffects of systemic racism. Her job, she says, is to talk to both Chicagos, show how their fates are connected, and then bring resources from one to help uplift the other.
As a fellow with the Culture of Health Leadership Institute for Racial Healing, Taylor centers much of her work on the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation framework, developed by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Designed to promote grassroots dialogue, the framework helps reverse centuries of racial trauma through education, empathy, and finding commonality between individuals and groups.
Besides using facilitated conversations and healing circles with Organic Oneness, Taylor is one of six national partners that convene an annual Be The Healing Conference in partnership with Dr. Joy DeGruy — an esteemed researcher, educator, and author of the landmark book, “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.”
The two-day conference, featuring DeGruy and community members, focuses on “addressing racism, trauma, and healing as a collective’ through lectures, workshops, and networking. The topics range from generational trauma and gun violence to mental health issues in the Black community and the case for reparations for slavery.
For Taylor, a former Chicago teacher who, in 2012, lost four students to gun violence, the path to racial healing starts with education, something she had to do herself. In a TED-style talk, she described learning about Chicago’s bitter, ongoing history of systemic racism while studying for a graduate degree.
“I was in class either crying or angry or yelling at everybody,” says Taylor, whose parents came to the Windy City from Latin America. “I had a lot of ‘Aha!’ moments of how my life was shaped (by racism). I got a glimpse of the real game we’re playing.”
But it also motivated her to learn even more and use that knowledge to take action in her community.
“I knew if I wanted to be really impactful, I needed to build capacity around this issue,” she says. “I needed to get everybody in the room,” from police to teachers to politicians. By sharing what she learned, Taylor says, they would understand why Bronzeville is struggling, and bring resources to the community from an educated perspective.
That meant talking about the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow, the Great Migration, housing segregation, and redlining — a New Deal-era policy that promoted segregation, suppressed the buying power of Black homeowners, and created chronically under-resourced communities.
And, in partnership with the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 commemoration project, she was involved in educating the community about the violent conflict, triggered when white people attacked and killed a Black teen who was swimming at a segregated city beach on Lake Michigan and accidentally drifted over an invisible color line.
Still, any conversation about racial healing begins and ends with Taylor’s faith.
“The (Baha’i) writings are very explicit on what needs to happen in America in terms of racism. It’s the most vital and challenging issue in America,” she says. “The role of people of European descent is to rid themselves of this subconscious inherent superiority complex. That is the roadmap which I am following.”
“Racial healing to me means we can show up as our full selves and be proud knowing we are advancing society,” Taylor says. True enlightenment and the unity of humanity happens, she says, “when others are able to embrace me and people of color — people of all backgrounds.”
In Bronzeville, “there’s so much love here for itself. You can feel it,” Taylor says. “What would be beautiful is for the entire city to fully embrace (communities of color) as important, as much as the (white and affluent) North Side is embraced.”
This series was produced in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.