Over the past few weeks, social media has been busy elevating the news and stories of Black lives lost to the police. For some, this information may become overwhelming. After grieving and organizing, there has to be space to heal. Black queer wellness spaces are cultivating and prioritizing community during this time of grief.
In the words of Audre Lorde, “Without community, there is no liberation.” This statement, coupled with the work of Brown Girl Recovery, Wellness Baddie, and Free Self Creations has been transformative in the online spaces these folks cultivate.
Brienne Colston, founder of @browngirlrecovery:
Born and raised in the Bronx, Brienne Colston began their journey towards radicalization at the age of 16. When they left the Bronx to attend Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, they realized that their early exposure to activism gave them an upper hand. “Having that awareness allowed me to organize quicker than most of my peers, and allowed me to fall in love with organizing,” Colston said. In response to the university removing the only Black counselor on campus, Brienne created Brown Girl Recovery. “The original intent for BGR was a peer-to-peer counseling program for Black and brown women and femmes on campus. We unpacked histories, identity, race, and gender,” they said. The group started with a set of six, then progressed to a group of 19.
Brown Girl Recovery now provides healing spaces for the Bronx and northern Manhattan. “When I picked back up with BGR, the mission changed to provide intergenerational healing and community spaces for femmes and folks of color,” Colston explained. Along with the new mission, BGR functions with five values at the center of their work: racial justice, healing justice, collective liberation, community accountability, and gender justice. “The term ‘healing justice’ can be loaded for some, so we break it down in a way that frames it as a transformative model of care where health and wellness are defined and determined by the community and the individual,” Colston explained.
In the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many others due to police violence, BGR has decided to lean on their mission. “We have been consistent and operate spaces that explicitly serve queer and trans people of color,” Colston said. In their history of centering those on the margins, as well as providing a healing space, BGR has shown that their work speaks for itself. During a time of immense mourning for Black queer communities, BGR continues their healing circle programming. As Colton explains, “In a world where people keep trying to kill us, our healing circles serve to be reminders that we are magical.” An online community like BGR allows space for the Bronx and northern Manhattan to thrive despite the many systems of oppression of the world. “Cultivating space for community and joy is necessary and will keep us alive,” Colston said.
Rachel Blakes, founder of @wellnessbaddie
Rachel Blakes founded Wellness Baddie in April 2020 with the intent of sharing holistic healing with Black queer folks. “I spent most of my life unwell up until this recent point, but my intuition allowed me to take care of myself, but it wasn’t intentional,” Blakes said. In 2019, Blakes began to address her depression, anxiety, and empathic energy with a new therapist that focuses mainly on spirituality. “Once I started to unpack with my therapist and get to know myself deeper I was naturally inclined to venture into the wellness field,” she recalled. Wellness Baddie is currently Chicago-based, but it virtually offers community space, herbal healing products, and information on holistic wellness to women everywhere. “I look at my work as fostering a tribe, I see it as everyone receiving just as much as we give each other,” Blakes said.
Blakes’ healing and wellness practice prioritizes her community, which exists on the margins. Within an experience that exists on the intersection of Black and queer, Blakes emphasizes the importance of self-care. “For Black queer folks, wellness is not something everyone thinks we deserve,” she explained. In the scope of social media, Rachel emphasizes the need for curation on platforms like Instagram: “As a queer Black woman I am exposed to things I don’t want to see and opinions I don’t want to hear, so I feel the need for me to take my power and space back by making social media a healing experience.” Through this intent of making Wellness Baddie’s social media presence into a healing space, the platform has been able to foster genuine community.
Wellness Baddie has been using Instagram as a way to share resources with their community, as well as a weekly “how-to” series that focuses on holistic health for those on the ground during protests and demonstrations. “By offering resources with intention, I have been able to give my tribe the tools to work towards Black queer liberation,” Blakes said.
Kayla Johnson, founder of @freeselfcreations
During the teenage years of Kayla Johnson’s life, wellness was a form of self-preservation. “My wellness practice started because I was facing verbal abuse from my step-parent, and at 13 I had to actively choose to defend myself through not internalizing negativity,” Johnson said. Johnson’s wellness practice continued to develop through her teenage years as she found peace in walking away from her abuser. Boundaries have played a huge role in Johnson’s healing and wellness practice. “Wellness was me actively embodying boundaries, protecting my spirit, and my capacity to dream,” she said.
Free Self Creations emerged through a journey of Johnson looking for jobs and internships, but finding that nothing completely encompassed her talents. Free Self Creations specifically offers healing through jewelry, interactions with nature, and Wednesday night writing sessions on Instagram live. “I came up with the name Free Self Creations because I wanted my soul, my drip, my gifts, to free me,” Johnson explained. “Free Self creations means we can free ourselves by honoring who we truly are.” Free Self Creations has hosted waist bead workshops emphasizing the African practice for those of the Black diaspora.
Kayla cites the murder of Sandra Bland as the point when she and other Black queer women started cultivating space for the Black women lost to police violence. “We have been doing this work since Sandra Bland and we haven’t stopped. The work we do will always center Black women and queer folks.”
Throughout history and even in the contemporary moment, Black queer women remain the main agents for healing in their communities. During this moment of immense grief and un-ignorable revolution, it is key that Black queer folks lean into community care for self-preservation and overall holistic health.