By Evan Auguste | Guest Contributor
As the world tuned in daily to watch the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) has held nightly virtual meetings to help the Black community heal from the racial trauma so many of us are processing.
Each evening, about 30 Black people from across the U.S. joined the Zoom meetings, greeted by trained facilitators who guided them through a series of healing conversations and strategies. During a time when mental health care remains elusive, even amid mass global distress, our virtual space, named the Sawubona Healing Circles, has provided a nightly refuge from the interwoven anxieties of the pandemic, the trial, and everyday uncertainty.
Borne from the outcry from first responders
The Sawubona Healing Circles first emerged about a year ago in 2020, when New York City became the global epicenter for COVID-19. Black first responders reached out to their professional organizations, saying that they were desperately overburdened. Not only were they overworked, they were also forced to witness each day the disproportionate toll the pandemic was taking on Black people within the city. They needed to share their stories, both of grief and resilience, and to be able to authentically see and be seen by one another.
Sawubona, a Zulu greeting meaning “We see you”, represents the importance of community reflecting and tending to our existence. Guided by this principle and in response to the urgent needs of Black first responders, we developed the Sawubona Healing Circles to create a space where the experiences of Black people could be shared, seen and validated.
Soon after, our organization offered Sawubona Healing Circles during the summer’s uprisings against police violence, the extended U.S. election, the Capitol insurrection, and now the Chauvin trial, for that disgraced former officer’s killing of George Floyd.
To date, our healing circles have drawn about 200 attendees since inception. And we can help even more.
An opportunity to heal from Haiti’s trauma
As both co-developer of the Sawubona Healing Circles and as a Haitian-American, I believe these circles could be a key resource for the Haitian diaspora as we contend with the ongoing protests in Haiti.
I recognize the troubled history of Western psychological strategies being imported and imposed on Haitian people in ways the stigmatized Haitian culture and people. In contrast, the Sawubona Healing Circles represent a distinct opportunity for our communities to heal in a more culturally competent way because the circles are rooted in African-centered psychology. This approach recognizes and leverages the cultural wisdom around healing and wellness that has existed in Africa and throughout the diaspora for generations.
Furthermore, these theories are not foreign to Haiti. In fact, in 1954, the psychiatrist Louis Mars was among the first to challenge his peers to consider the complexity and strength of Haiti’s cosmological belief systems based in Vodou. Haiti was also home to one of the Caribbean’s first conferences of Africana Psychology in 2017, thanks to the scholarship of Haitian-born psychologist Judite Blanc. Most recently, on April 9, anti-government protesters circled the National Palace seven times to draw strength from the ancestors towards the success of their protest.
The Sawubona Healing Circles are a continuation of this tradition of the African diaspora leaning into its own understanding of wellness. The circles offer a space to be in conversation with our ancestors and with one another, unimpeded by borders.
Each circle leader is trained in several methods of healing, whether these be mediations, proverbs, or libations. Each is encouraged to lean into their own healing practices.
Given the unabating need, the circles now seek to increase community access to mental health care, exchange methods of healing throughout the diaspora, and encourage courageous healing conversations during periods of intense distress. They offer an opportunity for the Haitian Diaspora to promote collective healing by sharing our stories of grief and pain, as well as resilience and resistance.
We can do this by holding up methods of healing that our ancestors helped to develop and that our people continue to refine for our ongoing survival and success.
Evan Auguste is a Ph.D. candidate pursuing a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology, with a focus on Forensic Psychology, at Fordham University in New York City. His research focuses on racial trauma and microaggressions among justice-involved adolescents as well as the use of African-centered psychology to optimize treatments. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. Following him on Twitter at SonDessalines.