Kindred Offering to this Moment
Dedicated to Charity Hicks; a Black woman visionary movement leader, healer and nurse from Detroit, who Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective had the honor of working with on the ground to create all practices for care, safety and healing at the 2010 US Social Forum in Detroit. She lives on in our work for collective liberation and healing justice. Here is a beautiful tribute to her legacy.
In the early 2000’s in the Southeast, we witnessed a rise of anti-Black racism, anti-immigration policies, Islamaphobia, criminalization of poverty and homophobic violence. We also noticed a climb in suicides among Black youth organizers and immense burnout among organizers, especially within Black, People of Color, Indigenous and Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Trans/Two Spirit/Gender Non Conforming & Intersex (LGBTSTGNCI) communities in our Southern movements. These questions came to us: How do we respond to these conditions of loss and violence? How do we embrace ways to heal and grieve that are rooted in our own traditions of resiliency in the South — a resiliency that centers our cultural, economic, spiritual, environmental, physical and political needs and conditions?
We began to take stock of how to do this by interviewing Black and POC Southern movement leaders about their work. We also asked them about how they took care of each other while experiencing immense loss (from leaders being murdered, campaigns lost, and our communities assaulted by State and local violence), particularly during the Civil Rights and Labor Movements in the 60’s and 70’s. The collective response was, “There wasn’t time for that, we had to keep moving.” Yet many of us in the South were seeing emotional unrest within our movements and organizations and wanted to know how we could do this differently. How could we consider holding grief and generational trauma, and heal from wounds both past and present, while fighting the rise of white nationalism, homophobic and xenophobic post-9/11 government surveillance and policing? We began to imagine how we could generate healing justice as a strategy that was integral to, not separate from, our political liberation. That is how the political framework of healing justice took shape.
When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005 followed by a global witnessing of the callous abandonment of people with disabilities, incarcerated people and poor, Black, migrant and elderly folks, some of the elders we previously spoke to reflected back, “This feeling in our bodies is the same thing I felt during times of immense losses in movement in the past”. Our communities experienced post-traumatic stress and ongoing trauma from living through and witnessing the massive State assault and privatization of public property and resources in the Gulf South.
Healing Justice was born in the wake of Katrina and Rita and in the shared struggle to fight the rise of post-9/11 fascism. We sought to map and elevate how our movements and communities build collective care, safety and protection for each other in the South.
From these deep roots, the political framework of healing justice was conceived, and one year later in 2006, the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective was formally launched. A southern-based Black feminist-led, multiracial, intergenerational collective of health practitioners, healers (energy, earth, body based traditions), therapists, birth workers and health justice organizers, Kindred was organized to intervene and respond to generational trauma and systemic oppression; to build community and survivor-led responses anchored in Southern traditions of resiliency; and to sustain our emotional, physical, spiritual, psychic and environmental well-being. We sought to transform the collective grief and trauma of our communities, and to challenge western medical models and public health systems that continued to be an extension of State control and policing on our communities. Kindred’s first activities, in partnership with Stone Circles, were held at the Southeast Social Forum in Durham, North Carolina in 2006. Our full public launch was at the first United States Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007.
Healing Justice: A Parable of Movement Sowers
For its first four years, the work of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective was to root itself in the Black radical traditions of the South, and Black feminist principles around gender justice, racial justice and anti-capitalism. We were informed by the environmental, disability, reproductive and transformative justice movements. We rooted our analysis in generational and collective trauma in our movements as a political strategy to understand the long-term impact of colonization, slavery and systemic oppression on our collective bodies, land and spirits. We understood that collective healing, health and well-being as a political strategy was integral to our collective transformation and liberation as a whole. We knew we would need to transform and intervene on a Medical Industrial Complex that weaponized disease, race and disability using policing, surveillance and pathologizing as tools to separate us from each other and from our capacity to build models of care.
The Healing, Health Justice & Liberation People’s Movement Assembly at the 2010 U.S. Social Forum in Detroit
A crucial turning point for our work was to introduce the healing justice strategy and framework to the Healing, Health Justice & Liberation Peoples Movement Assembly at the 2010 USSF in Detroit. We worked in partnership with a core leadership team of doctors, therapists, nurses, birth workers, environmental justice organizers and healing practitioners. Over 100 of us gathered in the Assembly and unpacked the “impact of privatization of medicines; the corporate takeover of public hospitals; the role of the State in blaming our health on genetic makeup without looking at the environmental conditions we were in, or oppressive factors impacting our well being.
We grappled with how to define the Medical Industrial Complex, which seeks to value profit over people’s well being and seeks to pathologize and isolate individuals for their mental, emotional, physical, developmental and environmental experiences outside a communal context.” (From the USSF Healing Justice Report Back)*
What We See Now
In the last decade we have watched both the evolution of healing justice and its increasingly necessary role within the broad social movement for justice and liberation. A healing justice framework is made more pertinent by the recent convergence of egregious police violence against Black, immigrant, people with disabilities, queer and trans bodies; an uncontrolled coronavirus pandemic that disproportionately impacts black, brown and indigenous communities; and the corporate state refusal to protect essential workers such as healthcare practitioners, grocery clerks, domestic workers, meat packers, poultry workers and more. The explosion of unemployment and uninsurance and its equation with massive destitution has graphically exposed, deepened and widened the abject failure of capitalism’s private ownership of our necessary resources to solve the violence and spread of illness that it has perpetrated.
We are challenged to deal with the duality of a thoroughly compromised public health system, at best, and at worst, a Medical Industrial Complex functioning only for profitability and surveillance. While we attempt to navigate this multilayered minefield, corporate healthcare is restructuring. The COVID-19 pandemic exponentially spread not only an insidious virus, but also the domination of big technology corporations in healthcare delivery that is moving from hospital and practice-based medicine to mobile apps and telemedicine. Mathematical algorithms of ‘wellness & prevention’ and so-called genomic-based treatments loom on the horizon but at a steep price both for the questionable value of the technology itself as well as the cost to the intrinsic healing nature of human interaction that is central to healing and health.
What is Possible & Necessary Moving Forward
This moment has highlighted the necessity of what our movements have demanded for years: the reevaluation and complete transformation of the relationships between oppressed communities and the State. As organizers, healers, health practitioners, organizers and communities, it is imperative that we meet this moment.
We are acutely aware of the collective trauma caused not only by experiencing state-sanctioned violence, but also by the repeated witnessing of violence, death, and injustice of Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. Black thought leaders and organizers are asserting that racism is a public health crisis, and framing the violence enacted upon Black people as a pandemic of its own. We recognize this is so, and as such, we recognize, too, that a healing justice frame offers us much in this moment. We incite movements to abolish policing and prisons and the Medical Industrial Complex, and to build calls and actions to transform the traumas that Black communities hold in our bones, in our tissues, and in our psyches.
We also need a shift from production of healthcare for commodity exchange to free universal healthcare for healing, treatment and wellness. The time is now for a public health and healing infrastructure that is consensual, community driven, scientifically ethical, technologically safe and appropriate, respectful of ancestral traditions and technologies, and holds trusted roots in the communities most impacted by eugenics, forced displacement and migration, violence, isolation and alienation. We call upon both those confronting and those working within the medical industrial complex to develop new models of holding health and wellness and to respond to the crises of this moment, and to dismantle those models and institutions that would see Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and the dispossessed dead.
Critical to this transformation is the growing alignment with Global South Feminist Human Rights Defenders & Healers. As the book What’s the Point of Revolution If We Can’t Dance, published by Urgent Action Fund, was a global and feminist call to action to intervene on genocide, femicide and global fascism, we have been building a similar call to action in the South: the political strategy to transform generational & collective trauma; to build shared relationships and practices, rooted in place, built upon collective models of care and safety that are informed by our southern movement strategies. Healing Justice has always been in relationship to liberation movements in the Global South and it feels more critical now than ever to align and amplify. This is especially true while we are seeing a global rise of policing and targeting of health practitioners, healers and birth workers. We also see physicians leading a push toward anti-racist, integrative care models grounded in community to imagine collective ways to build infrastructure for our mental, psychic, emotional, physical, spiritual and environmental well-being.
This is a moment that transcends borders and expands beyond binary curative models that have restricted the different practices and traditions for our collective survival rooted in the Global South. We call for the building of intentional and reciprocal relationships between organizers, healers and healthcare workers in oppressed communities in the US and in the Global South, and the development of shared understanding and collective response to this moment.
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. Healing Justice revels in the connectivity, power, transformation and interdependence of mind, body, spirit and soul, community and earth. We share this Kindred Offering to reach that future together.