The sihoutte of a Black woman with an Afro is in profile, In the silhoutte, there is the warm image of a sun setting over the ocean.
Image credit: primipil on

We are seeing the outlines of a new way of being amidst this crisis. We can see the possibilities not of a tsunami wave of destruction but rather a bright sea of connected life.

Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, “Kindred Offering to this Moment”

In a time of increasing external threats impacting community health—economic inequality, genocide, global pandemics, state violence, white1 supremacy, authoritarianism, climate crises—there are many reasons to feel despair and hopelessness. But amid the stark challenges we face, one source of hope is how social movements build resilience through collective care and healing.

Both at our current institutions, the Urgent Action Fund for Feminist Activism and the Kataly Foundation, and in other realms of philanthropy and social movements, we have had unique experiences of resourcing healing justice work. Through that work, we have developed an understanding of how care, healing, and safety strategies are integral to liberation and inseparable from building power. And yet, there remain too many obstacles preventing healing justice practitioners from carrying this essential work forward.

Here, we want to explore the current landscape for healing justice work—how it has been informed by historical context and global influences; challenges due to harmful philanthropic practices; the need for expansive thinking about how to measure success beyond traditional metrics; and how to sustain this work, and by extension the broader work of social movements.

Healing Justice’s Origins

Healing justice is a political strategy born from the brilliance of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color organizers in the US South to intervene in and transform collective grief and generational trauma resulting from colonization, systemic violence, and oppression. As Cara Page, Black queer feminist and co-architect of the framework, reminds us, healing justice is not new; it is memory work. It calls for us to look back and honor the legacy and ancestral traditions of those who came before us, those who built strategies to care for each other and survive their political contexts.

The healing justice framework emerged in the mid-2000s in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while the United States was waging war abroad and pushing massive surveillance at home. The immense collective grief, exhaustion, and trauma among activists at this political moment prompted groups like Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective to ask, “How have queer, trans people of color and Indigenous movement organizers in the South held loss, pain, and grief from collective trauma in [their] lives and movements.”2

Within the United States, healing justice work is seen as a newer phenomenon, but it has a long history globally.

We are hearing about how internal conflicts within organizations are threatening the long-term safety of movements, and how a culture of martyrdom manifests in burnout.

Feminist activists across the Global South have long resisted legacies of colonization and imperialism while preserving the ancestral traditions, culture, and medicines that keep communities whole, safe, and well. They are organizing under repressive political contexts where targeted violence, harassment, and criminalization at the hands of the state are the norm. For example, in Latin America, one of the most dangerous regions for human rights defenders, particularly for feminists and LGTBQ activists, regional networks like IM-Defensoras offer movements a critical web of community-led protection and safety. Casa La Serena is a regional safe house set up by IM-Defensoras, where feminist activists and their families can seek respite and healing from a collective, ancestral, and politicized lens when facing reprisals or state retaliation.

These institutions point to what can be possible when robust infrastructure for healing and collective care exists.

Building US Healing Justice Infrastructure

To understand what social movements need to have a thriving healing justice and collective care infrastructure in the United States, the Urgent Action Fund has undertaken mapping collective care needs. We have learned that movements are going back to rural communities to be in relationship to land and hone their community care models and survival tactics. We have also heard many organizations talk about land reclamation as part of healing infrastructure. In addition, we are hearing about how internal conflicts within organizations are threatening the long-term safety of movements, and how a culture of martyrdom manifests in burnout. This mapping exercise has underscored the need to deepen the bench of healing justice practitioners, especially transformative justice practitioners.

Another finding from our mapping is that healing justice organizations are filling a critical gap by creating alternative systems to provide safety for communities rather than relying on existing institutions that have failed and harmed vulnerable people. For example, Cihuapactli Collective, an Indigenous feminist organization in Phoenix, AZ, brings Indigenous families together to share knowledge, wisdom, and provide care around food justice, womb health, birth work, end-of-life care, community research, and mental wellness.

The consequence of only resourcing one-off organizational wellness retreats or small supplementary wellness grants is that healing efforts are not integrated into the traditions, tools, and strategies of movements that can keep people sustained for the long haul.

Recently, Cihuapactli Collective was granted stewardship of the Campo Santo Mexicano Cemetery and surrounding land. Their goal is to promote connection to community, land, self, health, and wellness. They have plans for a Food Forest and Wellness Center that will support a regenerative food and healing system that addresses health and wellbeing among Black and Indigenous people and all people of color, and integrates traditional knowledge with modern practices.

In California, Justice Teams Network is a growing statewide network of healers committed to organizing and abolition, including social workers, nurses, therapists, acupuncturists, herbalists, and others experienced in community care. In Oakland, JTN and its local member Anti Police-Terror Project are building viable, community-led alternatives to 911, such as APTP’s MH First program which sends trained community members to respond to calls regarding mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence instead of police, and is offering community care clinics through the People’s House to community members impacted by police violence.

While these and other US healing justice organizations provide critical care and safety to vulnerable communities, the infrastructure to sustain these groups over time is inadequate, and resourcing is scarce. Many of the people involved must piece together fee-for-service funding, contracts, and project-based funding, often while holding down other jobs.

Multiyear, general support funding is embraced by many in philanthropy as the gold standard, but it has remained elusive for healing justice leaders and practitioners. A common theme that arises in conversations with grant partners is how siloed funding approaches force healers to contort their work to receive funding. Healing practitioners are familiar with repackaging their work as “leadership development” or “political education” or the strategy du jour to fit a given funder’s framework. This distorts and devalues what is true and valuable about transformative healing work.

If wounds are collective, then they need to be addressed in community, in deep relationship, and over time.

The role of healing practitioners is not to just fix or cure organizers but to build power and inform strategy alongside organizers. The consequence of only resourcing one-off organizational wellness retreats or small supplementary wellness grants is that healing efforts are not integrated into the traditions, tools, and strategies of movements that can keep people sustained for the long haul.

For example, funders may cover the costs of conflict mediation or connect grantee partners to transformative justice facilitators and resources like the Interrupting Criminalization Transformative Justice Help Desk, SOIL: A Transformative Justice Project, and Vision Change Win. However, they are less likely to directly resource these organizations and locally rooted practitioners.

One place-based example is Fanm Saj, which offers critical mediation support that restores movement relationships and trust. This is critical to resolving movement conflicts that might otherwise lead to security breaches or corrosive infighting. Being in a practice of restoring relationships after conflict to heal collective trauma is another way movements practicing healing justice are modeling new worlds that turn us away from policing, violence, and surveillance. But to practice this kind of innovative work, organizations and practitioners need long-term, open-ended resources.

Movement Capture, Misunderstandings, and Metrics

One of the more insidious challenges we are seeing is the conflation of healing with “wellness.” Conversations about care and wellbeing have shifted toward commodified notions of self-care and healing modalities like yoga. This approach suggests that healing happens in isolation and that individual self-care rituals can liberate us from burnout, exhaustion, and trauma. But if wounds are collective, then they need to be addressed in community, in deep relationship, and over time.

For example, the Mass Liberation Project is a leadership development, capacity building, and healing community for Black organizers directly impacted by the criminal legal system. The group’s Return & Reclaim program brings Black, formerly incarcerated leaders of abolitionist organizations to heal, imagine, and connect on a collective journey to Ghana. Through six months of somatics, coaching, and individual spiritual practice, a cohort of directly impacted Black movement leaders engage in a process of transformation that encourages safe and accountable relationship building. Instead of seeing healing as an individual self-care practice, Mass Liberation sees healing generational trauma and building a collective sense of safety as building blocks toward self-governance and advancing abolition.

Another challenge facing healing justice practitioners is the demand to see immediate, quantifiable impact. Through Urgent Action Fund’s collective care mapping, one of the main sources of movement burnout that we heard about was reporting to donors.

Healing strategies are rooted in ancestral technologies, memory, and reclamation of past struggles. Emphasizing the easily measurable components of healing justice—number of trainings, individuals reached, tools developed—obscures the deep work and skill that is required to support transformation of spirit. White supremacy and ableism teach philanthropy to value doing, or the performance of an act, over being—that is, honoring the essence of the person performing the act.

As stated in Astraea Foundation’s report Healing Justice: Building Power, Transforming Movements, “Capacity-building is not always about doing more; within the context of healing justice and holistic security, it’s about finding ways of doing the work without being harmed by it.” Prentis Hemphill of The Embodiment Institute speaks to a vision of movements and organizations aligned with the fundamental rhythm of life, not with the go-until-you-collapse pace demanded by capitalism and profit margins.

For funders without lived experience of cultural healing modalities or ancestral practices, we have found relationship building and partnerships around a shared vision to be most conducive to true learning. By honoring the people on the ground that want to shift, and trusting that something will be built, a dynamic process of permanent learning is created.

How to Resource Healing Justice Infrastructure

While there is still a long way to go, we are observing more interest in funding healing justice work in the US and globally, especially since the pandemic and Black-led uprisings. For example, there are now more public funds like Third Wave’s Accountable Futures and Disability Frontlines funds, Ms. Foundation’s Activist Collaboration and Care Fund, and the Black Trans Community Care Fund that make resources for rest, healing, and safety more accessible to grassroots movements.

Resourcing intermediaries like feminist and community foundations that have relationships, insight, and low-barrier grantmaking practices to reach these alternative ecosystems is key to building healing justice infrastructure.

When considering how to move forward, healing justice practitioners emphasize three key issues: risk, rigor, and resources.

  • Risk

Healing justice is a deep and emergent practice. Expectations of immediate, easily measurable outcomes are inconsistent with the values of this work. For those who can fund healing justice work, a key question to ask is: What is the risk for this community if the intervention or project is not funded?

  • Rigor

Too often, funders ask healing justice leaders to contort themselves into funding frameworks. Engaging in deeper learning can help avoid this. To learn more, funders can join existing learning communities, like the Funders for Justice’s healing justice work group. We also recommend this resource on transformative justice, this healing justice glossary from Kindred, and this historical account from MICE Magazine.

  • Resources

One of the key components of effective resource redistribution is distributing wealth with a mindset of abundance, rather than control and scarcity. Additionally, funders can resource partnerships between practitioners and movement organizations. Finally, rather than following the traditional philanthropic model of first awarding small grants and then “rewarding” grantee partners with larger grants down the line once they prove their impact, funders can initially give large grant awards so that grantee partners have some breathing room or “dream capital” to stabilize, grow, and innovate to meet the needs of the movement.

For both funders and movement activists, it is critical to support the experimentation, scaling up, and deep investment in these alternative networks of care. When the next uprising or opportunity comes, our movements must be prepared to mobilize resources to provide mutual aid and support care. Our collective survival and wellbeing depend on it.



  1. The Urgent Action Fund for Feminist Activism and the Kataly Foundation recognize that NPQ capitalizes both “Black” and “White” as proper nouns when referring to race. In this article, however, “white” is used in lowercase at the authors’ request.
  2. Cara Page and Erica Woodland, Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the Crossroads of Liberation, Collective Care, and Safety (Berkely, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2023), 111.