By E.J. Pavia, Youth Coordinator at Urban Peace Movement

The comforting smell of burning copal and sage filled every inch of a sixth-floor office space as the soft sounds of West African drumming resonated throughout the room. These elements created a spiritual mood upon which an afternoon of learning, reflection and healing would be built.

A group of Oakland youth organizers, direct service workers and teachers gathered on Jan. 23 for the launch of the Healing the Healers Project, designed to give support to youth workers so that they can, in turn, better support Oakland youth who are in crisis or who have been exposed to trauma.

The Healing the Healers Project was the brainchild of a group of directors of youth-serving organizations in Oakland, including Youth Alive, I-SEEED, Youth Together, Urban Peace Movement, RJOY, Girls Inc. and Latino Men & Boys who planned the project as part of the California Endowment’s East Oakland Building Healthy Communities Initiative.

“Youth workers in Oakland often find themselves helping young people through traumatic experiences with very little training or support to do so. These crisis moments can be very difficult to navigate,” said project coordinator Xiomara Castro. “The growing need for staff support and development was what inspired the creation of the Healing the Healers Project.”

Participants of this pilot project will be separated into four small circles that will meet twice a month for next six months. Each circle will be facilitated by a community healer with a background in both clinical mental health and culturally-based healing approaches. The circle facilitators are Mutima Imani, Dr. Ricardo Carrillo, Jason Seals and Juan Cuba.

“Conventional, clinical mental health practices can be helpful but can be limited in their approach,” said Nicole Lee of Urban Peace Movement. “It’s important that wellness and healing are done in ways that are culturally relevant to the communities that we work with. We want to have a comprehensive approach to healing,” she said.

At the Healing the Healers launch, community elders Greg Hodge, Samuelin Martinez, and Mutima Imani ceremoniously opened the space, invoking rich cultural traditions. Through the West African ritual of pouring libation, youth workers evoked the names of their ancestors into the room and into the work.

The launch ceremony continued with a Native American blessing of the seven sacred directions. Traditionally, this practice recognizes that humans are connected to all things and all energies in nature. Participants were reminded that we are meant to live at the intersection of each direction and energy.

Mario Balcita, a youth worker who works with HOPE Collaborative and East Oakland Building Healthy Communities reflected on how these culturally rooted healing practices impacted him. “I had a physical reaction when we called upon ancestors to the space during the opening ceremony,” he said. “I have felt disconnected to my grandmother since her passing some years ago. There was a moment when I felt like she was holding me and all my memories of her flooded my head. I felt warm and safe. She raised me and is part of the reason I work with youth.”

Project organizers hope that the healing work will have a profound impact on the field of youth development and, even more importantly, on the lives of young people in Oakland.


Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.

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