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Change Through Collective Care: Healing Justice in Social Innovation

A mobile classroom in action designed by Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS) for its School on Wheels project for Five Keys Schools and Programs in California’s Bay Area. Photo credit: Designing Justice + Designing Spaces

As social innovators contribute to movements that address the impacts of harmful systems while also aiming to transform them, healing and wellness at the individual and collective levels are essential to thinking and acting expansively in service of disrupting these systems.

What would the world be like if the collective spiritual, emotional, and psychic wellbeing of our communities were at the center of all we do?

Care and healing have historically been central in social movements led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color globally. Restorative justice is an approach to justice and harm-repair that has deep roots in global Indigenous cultures and peacemaking. And healing and wellness praxes were deeply embedded in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. These are the revolutionary tools and frameworks that make imagining a world where all people can thrive a possibility.

The importance of healing, rest, and repair may seem obvious, but many of our institutions and systems are designed to reward the individual over the collective and scarcity over abundance—in turn reinforcing conditions that can be exploitative, exhausting, and even punitive. During the racial uprisings last year, in the third of five strategies, Echoing Green asked the philanthropic community to fiercely support the collective mourning, healing, and wellness of directly impacted leaders and communities. Especially in the context of the various forms of backlash to racial uprisings and other efforts to upend injustice, significant long-term investments in scaling and sustaining leaders and organizations committed to racial justice are essential.

Philanthropy has chronically underfunded, and thus discounted, the leadership of Black, Indigenous, and people of color—especially those most proximate not only to the problems, but also to the solutions. For leaders who bring lived experience to their work, the impact of the very challenges they seek to address affects both the personal and the professional. As a framework that seeks to thoroughly support the needs of communities on the frontlines of systemic harm, healing justice cannot reside on the sidelines of social justice work — it is intrinsic to the work itself.

“Our movements themselves need to be healing or there is no point to them.”

Cara Page, Black queer activist and organizer

In 2006, the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, a network of Southern organizers, movement-builders, and healers, formalized a framework of healing justice, defining it as a strategy “to intervene and respond on generational trauma and systemic oppression, and build community/survivor-led responses rooted in Southern traditions of resiliency.” When we integrate community, collective safety, and emotional wellbeing into our movement strategies, we directly support the long-term survival and power of our communities. For Echoing Green Fellow Gina Clayton Johnson, taking on the rampant injustices created by mass incarceration means bringing together women with incarcerated loved ones to heal, build community power, and drive change. In another form of collective wellbeing, Fellow Deanna Van Buren works toward a future without mass incarceration by designing restorative spaces for justice that center peacemaking.

Funding the holistic wellness of social justice leaders and communities provides them with the room to innovate, resist, and reimagine.

As partners deeply invested in the wellbeing of our Fellows, we often ask ourselves what it means to holistically support Fellows on the frontlines of the world’s problems. Since 2009, Echoing Green has offered on-demand, confidential, and secular chaplaincy services to current and alumni Fellows. “When a Fellow needs someone to bear witness to their pain and their joy, they have someone to call 24/7,” said Kate Hayes, director of Portfolio Programs at Echoing Green. “It’s a sacred space for Fellows to use as they need.”

Recognizing that healing is too often framed as an entirely personal journey, Echoing Green is also offering communal spaces for healing. This summer, we piloted a partnership with HealHaus, an inclusive healing space in Brooklyn, NY, to offer virtual individual and group services, from meditation to mental-health workshops for entrepreneurs. And through our new mentorship program and community groups, Echoing Green is curating additional safe, collaborative spaces for Fellows to gather, connect, and grow together in very intentional ways.

“Communal healing allows our Fellows to understand they’re not alone,” said Kate. “As much as going to a meditation class is wellbeing, so is talking to somebody about the challenges you’re having with funders or having someone remind you to pay yourself a salary.”

From Harm to Healing: Practices to Move Forward Together

Proximate leaders drive justice forward motivated by visions of a world that invests in the physical, political, economic, social, and psychic wellness of Black, Indigenous, and people of color globally. As philanthropy answers the call to resource racial justice work and be better partners for the long haul, they must integrate healing justice as a core aspect of its support.

  • Resource healing justice
    While important, providing grants to the field is not enough. Contributing to ensuring healing for founders, communities, and movement-builders on the frontlines is part and parcel of what it means to create lasting change. Set aside intentional and accessible resources to support the healing of Black founders and movement-builders. Communicate with your grantee partners that these resources exist, ensuring that there is limited to no reporting required.
  • Support intentional spaces for healing justice guided by shared experience
    As written by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, “There is no template for healing justice work. It needs to emerge out of real people in real time, grounded in community and place.” Fund, support, and partner with Black, Indigenous, and people of color healing justice practitioners who offer healing services informed by shared lived experience. Practitioners like Fellows Cory Greene, co-founder of the youth-led healing organization How Our Lives Link Altogether! (H.O.L.L.A); and Percilla Frizzell, whose work with Sacred Generations restores the wellbeing of system-impacted tribal families through an Indigenous practice of healing.
  • Measure success more holistically
    Funders must consider the health and wellbeing of grantees as meaningful indicators of success and how their grantmaking practices may be contributing to the stress and urgency that leaders, communities, and movements are experiencing. Unrestricted, multi-year funding allows organizations to approach their work without fixating on survival. It also creates room for radical reimagination and innovation.
  • Celebrate Black joy as a liberation and healing praxis
    All too often, the lives, stories, and data of Black people and communities are used and objectified in the rhetoric of social change. The cost is to our collective liberation. Justice must include honoring the truth of Black movements, communities, and lives by uplifting the joy, resilience, genius, and care that comes with their experiences dismantling oppressive systems.

In reflecting on healing justice, it is impossible to ignore the words of the inimitable Audre Lorde. As she wrote in A Burst of Light: and Other Essays, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Reflecting on these words, it’s important to note that care— for oneself, for each other, and for society—are deeply interconnected.

About this series

One year ago, we called on those who care about progress and positive social change to implement five strategies as we move forward together. In a series of blog posts over the course of the summer, we will reflect on these five strategies; what has changed, what remains the same, and what we need to remember now more than ever as the work continues.

Read more from this series

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