Editors’ note: This article, first published in print during May/June 2015 has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.
ON DECEMBER 18, 2014 HUNDREDS OF HEALERS, including sex workers, hairstylists, nurse practitioners, and tarot readers, donated all or a portion of their earnings in support of the Ferguson bail fund in an event called Healing Justice for Black Lives Matters. $28,700 was raised in a single day. Two of the organizers, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha and Susan Raff, sat down to talk about what happened.
LEAH: The idea for Healing Justice for Black Lives Matter happened, like many of my best ideas, when I was lying in my bed being chronically ill. I was home on a pain day, scrolling my Facebook feed. This was right after the Blackout Collective had shut down the Oakland Police Headquarters. I was so inspired and fueled up by that action and by the action of the BART14 shutting down BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) on Black Friday. So many of these actions were led by queer Black folks, Black women and gender-nonconforming people. It felt like a really hopeful, powerful time in the middle of a lot of grief, with actions happening that were fresh and generative and filled with energy.
As a disabled person living in Toronto where the winter was just starting to really kick in, I knew I couldn’t go stand in the cold for an hour or two for a rally—it would throw me into a flare, and I’d be out of commission for a couple days. I was sitting there thinking about what I could do. One of the principles of the Allied Media Conference (AMC) is to focus on where we’re powerful, not where we’re powerless. I have found that idea very helpful as an organizing principle for actions and, also, for life. So, I thought, hey, my intuitive healing practice is doing okay, I could donate a day’s wages to the Ferguson Bail Fund. I got excited when I realized that could be $200 to $300, not $20! Then I thought, how about I send this idea to the Just Healing listserv—a group of healers who have been involved in AMC’s Healing Justice Practice Space—and post it on Facebook. It was one of those moments that just felt right on time, where there was an immediate buzz. Right away, people were like, I want to do this!
SUSAN: When I saw Leah post something on Facebook about donating the money, she earned through her tarot card reading practice to support Black Lives Matter, I thought it was a great idea. I’m a bodyworker, and most of the people I work with are working on the impact of historical and generational trauma. While I know the importance of doing this deep, one-person-at a-time kind of healing work, I am also always looking for ways to directly connect individual healing with systemic change. I reached back to Leah, asking if she minded if I did the same thing she had suggested and tagged her in my post. After that, between Facebook and the post sent to the Just Healing listserv, it started to grow rapidly. The first Facebook post “launching” the idea was on December 3rd.
LEAH: In the first day on Facebook, 60 healers I know, from across North America and in India, volunteered to join in to donate a day’s salary of their healing practice to Black Lives Matter. People’s practices included everything from craniosacral therapy and herbalism to sex work and haircuts. It felt really important that folks could donate as much as they could—everything from a day’s salary as a nurse practitioner to someone doing lineups for $5. One person, my friend Naima Lowe who is a Black queer academic, stood up at her faculty meeting at the college she works at and got 20 to 30 teachers and staff to donate their day’s salary. The healers were mostly Black, indigenous and other people of color. A majority were queer and trans, with a lot of low-income and disabled folks. I basically wanted to cry all the time with how beautiful it was.
On the very same day on Facebook, I noticed that Adaku Utah, a Black queer healer with Harriet’s Apothecary who has created genius healing justice spaces at Ferguson, had posted a Google doc and a call asking for Black/POC/Indigenous healers who could offer free healing and space-holding for Black organizers and others in the Black Lives Matter movement impacted by grief, burnout and trauma. We reached out because we wanted the two actions—providing free healing work to Black people and raising money from healers for Black Lives Matter—to be siblings that supported each other and ensured that Black folks continued to be centered in all our actions.
My part of the origin story of these actions is very much a disabled one, one that comes from the wisdom and fierceness of disability. This was a way I thought I could be involved as a supporter of Black Lives Matter, as a non-Black, queer woman of color, without taking up a ton of space from Black organizers and creators of the movement.
SUSAN: It became clear very quickly that, fist, healers and bodyworkers were incredibly interested in what we were doing, and second, that Leah was deeply connected to a network of Black/POC/ Indigenous, queer and trans healers and bodyworkers. This network began to gather and respond the minute the event went up on Facebook. As a mixed queer woman with major light-skinned privilege living in the Midwest, I felt clear that my role was to support this event that was growing faster than either of us had dreamed. The origin of this was Leah’s vision. I was happy to provide additional support in dealing with and responding to the number of emails and posts, as well as just being a back-up brain to think through how to maneuver the avalanche of ideas and opportunities.
Leah reached out to Patrisse Cullers and Alicia Garza with Black Lives Matter to make sure that the December 18th event was in line with their actions, and that the dollars raised were being directed appropriately. I want to really underline this: While the event grew much bigger than we could have imagined, it was an event that was founded on love and relationships. This was not just a “good idea” but, instead, something born out of many years of previous building. These years of prior work and relationship building enabled two parallel actions—the fundraiser and the Black healing space—to truly become siblings to each other, each informing the other’s vision and actions. And there was so much love and care in the organizing. It’s the piece that’s both invisible and also very present, underneath each social media moment, this sense of love and commitment that is at the core of healing work.
LEAH: I love Facebook—it’s a powerful, accessible organizing tool for me and many other SDQs (sick and disabled queers), but I started to get overwhelmed. We made the event public, and all of a sudden, I was getting 89 notifications an hour. However, because the action was in two weeks, I was able to stop and think, “However you spend this time, in two weeks, the action will be over. Do you want to spend them with your shoulders crunched, stress balling out, or do you want to be awake?” It wasn’t as simple as just thinking that—it meant telling Adaku and Susan when I was overwhelmed, asking for help and receiving it, and letting go.
SUSAN: One of the things we noticed as this grew was that, in the beginning, most of the people responding to the call were people that one of us knew already—or were at least connected to people that we knew. But as it got bigger, we started to notice that more bodyworkers and healers showed up that none of us knew. Some of this was glorious—so many Black/POC/Indigenous healers who were excited and grateful to connect with this web of people. And some of it was hard. We started to see more posts from white healers who didn’t seem connected to their communities. We were wary of unintentionally giving the “stamp of approval” to white healers who may not have done any work around their whiteness, who may not have been connected to communities of color in their work, and who may not have been centering Black communities in how they showed up to fundraise as part of Healing Justice for Black Lives Matter. It was deeply important to us that our fundraising on December 18th not do anything to decenter the Black lives that are at the center of this action. We knew that, sometimes, in fundraising, the act of raising dollars can become more about the person who is fundraising than the issue they are fundraising for. This felt particularly tricky when most of the healers and bodyworkers fundraising were not Black but were raising dollars for a movement that is fighting so hard to demand the visibility, centrality and gloriousness of Black lives. We agreed to keep repeating over and over again that we were centering Black lives within this work and, more broadly, Black/ POC/Indigenous communities. We reflected on the many default layers in doing something like this over Facebook, not having the time or capacity to have reflective conversations with, in particular, white healers about cultural appropriation and power. We believed that our clarity and constant centering would show up with a day of resourcing Black Lives Matter while centering Black lives. And it did.
Organizing that starts through our networks is powerful. I remain humbled by the incredible love and integrity that showed up around this day, by the evidence of deep trust and community that took many years to build. At the same time, I want to notice what December 18th wasn’t. Considering the long tradition of healing justice in the South, particularly through Black healers and organizers, there were few Southern healers involved with the day. Also, while I am a Midwesterner through and through, there were only spots of connection in Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit. As with any powerful moment of movement, we have to recognize the connections and building that still needs to happen at the same time as recognizing what did happen.
On a more personal note, organizing for December 18th was transformational for our work here in Minneapolis. I am part of a collective of Black/POC/Indigenous queer and trans healers, organizers and artists who started something called the People’s Movement Center. We were still just barely emerging when we started organizing towards a collective healing space on December 18th. At the same time, we provided support for a free Black healing space organized for the same day. Doing this work together solidified us as a collective and brought visibility to our work in a way that has continued to feed us many months later. And even more personally, I love that it deepened my connection with Leah and introduced me to Adaku and to many others. The work leading to and since December 18th and Healing Justice for Black Lives Matter resourced the community, in this case Black Lives Matter, not only through dollars raised, but also by providing healing support and connecting healers and bodyworkers to movement work beyond the sometimes hidden individual work that happens with clients. It mattered deeply that organizing for this day happened in relationship to organizing for healing spaces for Black organizers.
LEAH: It felt like an action where the healing and the movement didn’t feel separate, but two halves of one feedback loop that supported each other. So often, movements run on an ableist, crash and burn (and only rest and restore after the crash) model. This felt really different—like the movement understood that healing was not a luxury or a sideline triviality, but an important part of the movement. So much of the work I see Black Lives Matter doing is about healing, about holding grief and lifting it up—the grief of Black families and communities who lose Black children, disabled folks, men, women, and gender nonconforming folks to
white supremacist violence. And if healing work can go beyond just offering healing, but also money, to movements, even better!
A number of folks asked if we were just supporting the system by raising money for bail, and people pointed out that the way bail can work is that you actually get your money back if the person shows up for trial. And when Patrisse Cullors mentioned that there were still (in December) 40 Black organizers in jail in Ferguson, and that money we raised was going to go directly to free them—that was a powerful moment to take in.
SUSAN: It feels really huge to me that we raised the money we raised. There is something about resourcing the body AND resourcing the movement that feels like it shakes the idea of what fundraising should or can be. Too often, fundraising is this abstract thing, something where people give their “extra” to whatever most fish their belief systems. This felt different. While some people came to get bodywork at the healing space we held in Minneapolis out of support for the event, they still received care and work that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place. By the end of the day, after we gave to over 40 people, our healing practice space was, to be perfectly frank, vibrating off the charts. You could feel it when you entered that room and even for those who were “just” volunteering, that intense healing energy touched everyone who entered that room.
The People’s Movement Center has continued to hold collective bodywork days every month. For the short term, we’ve used it to help raise dollars to build the Center, but our goal by this spring is to direct the dollars into local movement work. We are also using the collective bodywork day to build collective healing experiences for both practitioners and those who receive. We want to create community spaces where connections are made in a variety of ways, through the strategies we design, the relationships we build, and the healing we experience.
LEAH: It was amazing to keep going back obsessively to the Google form and realize we had raised close to $30,000! And everyone wanted to know, when can we do it again?
I thought, yes, let’s do it every month! And then when Susan, Adaku and I checked in with each other, we thought maybe we should keep doing these on the equinoxes and solstices. Then we talked about it some more and realized that those are sacred days for a lot of us. And then we realized that this was a moment, an important moment, but we don’t have the time or energy to run it as an ongoing thing.
But what was interesting was that we didn’t have to run it ourselves. A bunch of other folks just kept it going. Micah Hobbes Frazier, a Black, trans doula and somatic healer in Oakland, has kept monthly “Wage Love” healing justice practice spaces up since the action. Other folks have done the same, or written in saying, “I hope this is okay, but we raised $300 at our yoga class—can we still donate?”
It feels in line with what I understand of emergence theory— that when you build relationships of trust and shared principles, you don’t have to have some top down, micromanaged stress action. To quote Adrienne Maree Brown, “Rather than laying out big strategic plans for our work, many of us have been coming together in community, in authentic relationships and seeing what emerges from our conversations, visions and needs.”
Our plan for right now is to put the call out to continue organizing, autonomously and in ways that make sense for people’s communities and healing justice practices spaces. We have the power and the tools, and we know best what local conditions can give birth to!
For those who are interested in keeping this work going, some of us involved in co-creating the Healing Justice Practice Space at the AMC used the action to create a “How to Create a HJPS” guide. It contains useful information about access, guidelines and more, and you can access it at bit.ly/1K0qkzd. To take a look at our Facebook event, please visit: on.fbme/1EIG1ty.
Black somatic healers have been going to Ferguson to create HJPS; to donate and support them visit: bit.ly/1OPvXHj. For Adaku’s Google Doc, go here: bit.ly/1vZsrz7.