Honoring the Difficult

June 13, 2019
By Nia Nyamweya

When I tell people my job is healing justice associate at Consumer Health Foundation, I get all types of looks. You’re probably reading this and wondering, too. Here’s what I can tell you: Members of the CHF staff and Board of Trustees are working to shift power to those most impacted by the issues we seek to address. This means that we must heal ourselves, our institutions and our relationship to community. It has been difficult. This is my ode to honoring the difficult.

I appreciate Black Lives Matter co- founder Alicia Garza’s definition of power — The ability to make decisions over one’s own life, to determine where resources go, who they go to, where they don’t go, and who they don’t go to. It is the ability to shape the narrative of what is right, what is wrong, what is just, and what is unjust. As we shift more of the foundation’s power to community members, I reflect on community members’ lived experience, their stories, and their voice as the energy that holds power. However, these stories are hard to hear.

One woman told us she wants to break the cycle of poverty for her grandchild. Some have unimaginable experiences of separating from family members, parents or children, and surviving seemingly insurmountable feats while fleeing violence only to be greeted with hate-filled language of “go back to your country” when they arrive. For others, livelihoods have been destroyed by mass incarceration for drug charges – the same drugs now being sold through highly profitable dispensaries — with no wide-spread release of folks incarcerated. Trauma, unaddressed mental health issues and stigma around mental health treatment have led some to harm themselves. Some are unable to sleep soundly and safely at night in a clean room because of lack of income.

If I am not careful to take care of myself, the weight of these stories will encompass me in sadness and grief. I constantly have to remind myself that hope is a discipline. These personal (and inherently political) stories being heard and listened to are healing in practice. Healing justice practitioner Prentis Hemphill states, “healing justice is active intervention in which we transform the lived experience of Blackness in our world.” I am living and breathing the joy of deeply listening to folks impacted by our nation’s greatest atrocities, sitting with the difficult and sowing the seeds of transformation as we shift power so folks most impacted govern our institution. They decide what their community needs, from their own lived experience. It is truly an honor.

We have been hosting information sessions for folks to learn more about joining the Board of Trustees, and the same sentiments keep surfacing. “I had to read the paper twice and make sure this was really for me” or “I’m trying to make sure this is real.” It is real. And I am so excited to be a part of creating a world that does not yet exist in the name of healing.

I was recently asked, “What does success look like for CHF?” and I envision myself old and gray telling stories of ‘how it used to be’ to my descendants. I tell them people used to not be able to go to the doctor because they didn’t have enough money. They think I am telling fairy tales. I tell them people used to be treated badly because they left their country fleeing insecurity and came to the United States. They again think I am making things up. I tell them Black people used to not be the decision makers and governors of their own community. They are in disbelief. I tell them my body used to be so tense because every step I took felt like walking on eggshells as I braced myself for the next microaggression. They think I’m telling fables. Until then, I am honoring the difficult and dreaming of the day that the world that does not yet exist comes to be.

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