I stood there in the Norman Manley Airport of Kingston, Jamaica. My small 11-year-old palm connected to my lanky brown hand held tightly on to my mother’s full warm palm center.
What do you do when your home and world don’t feel safe? Where do immigrants land when suppression is the only way to get by?
My father stood to the left of me with his tall brown caramel skin, shooing away flies. We had not been to New York since we immigrated when I was four, and now, to secure permanent residency “green cards,” we were back.
I was delighted at the red, orange, yellow, and green bustling people. Then suddenly, my father’s booming voice interrupted my serene moment, “There are so many flies here. Kind of like you and your mother, just buzzing around and annoying in my ear. Don’t embarrass me out here, you know.”
He spoke in a strong, threatening patwa, and I did what I had been taught was safe to do over the years: smile and suppress. I dared not say me what my little self wanted to covey: “Leave us alone!”
Much like the years of abuse that my mother and I endured, this was not new. The only difference this time was we were back in a foreign yet familiar place surrounded by new sights and sounds, unable to speak out of fear of being reprimanded.
What do you do when your home and world don’t feel safe? Where do immigrants land when suppression is the only way to get by? My small mind froze trying to rationalize the experience. I learned to suppress my voice, and in doing so, I suppressed my anger.
We wanted to live in America, the land of the free, and painting anything but a picture of a happy home ensured that our interview went unscathed. I learned once again to suppress and surpass.
I had to grin and bear my father’s regular torment, and enjoy the taste of guineps and mangoes in Jamaica with my family. Laughing and climbing coconut trees helped me survive his daily assaults and threats towards my mom.
When it was time to go for our immigration interview, the history of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse had to take a back burner. The sounds of my mom crying out when she was hit for disagreeing with the man-of-the-house could not be disclosed to immigration officials. We wanted to live in America, the land of the free, and painting anything but a picture of a happy home ensured that our interview went unscathed. I learned once again to suppress and surpass.
Years later, I sat in the hospital office of a health center at which I would later become an employee. I had been asking myself how could God have allowed my father to call us names and be so violent? I was experiencing regular, excruciatingly painful menstrual cycles.
For the first time, a doctor asked me to “see the answer inside of the question,” like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi asks us in his poems. “Why do you feel pain? What is the root?” the doctor asked me. Now at that point I had been working on my first Master’s, en route to my second, and had led many retreats and trainings worldwide. Yet, I had never been asked anything about how my physical pain was tied to my emotional hardship.
…we sang songs, wrote poetry, shared stories, celebrated how truly fabulous we are, and lifted each other’s spirits to counteract the internalized slave master or family member that said that God was not for everyone.
The doctor recommended acupuncture to me, and as a therapeutic artist I recommended art therapy to myself. The combination of both helped me to unpack my anger towards my father. Studies show that all of our organs have nerve endings. Under stress, those heightened nerves hold pain in tangible and deep ways. Through acupuncture and art therapy, I was able to release the stuck energy that acted as rage in my womb, and heaviness on my chest, one day at a time.
The truth is this: brutality is not a default of parenting. It is the fault of perpetrators. When brutality becomes learned, it becomes what I call soul ache, and that ache needs deep love and soul medicine. According to Joy DeGruy Leary, a renowned psychologist on the trauma of slavery, in order to lessen the trauma of the tragic event of their kin being pursued by white slave masters, black mothers often prepare their daughters for being raped to lessen the tragedy. In many cases, this meant that the first sexual experience of a girl who was treated like chattel would be a painful one.
While our ancestral mothers taught us how to survive in this genealogical script, I believe a part of our innocence still dies. I call upon healers and leaders to teach a new script. Begin to respond to trauma seen in homes and health centers with questions:
- What is the source of our pain?
- How did the environment fail us?
- How can we be witnesses and advocates?
- How do we remember that no matter how much preparing we provide, if someone that we love is harmed, it is never the fault of yours or that person?
We must speak to a wounded community. We must address a need for systems to rise like a phoenix and create something new.
As a Jamaican lesbian, I have seen the importance of sanctuary spaces. When I returned to Jamaica as an adult, I began to do research on gender-based violence. I wanted to more deeply understand what was happening in Jamaica, how many other families and communities struggled with violence, and to whom did they go to for support. Was it the local bushman? Was it the priest? Was it the nonprofit center?
What I discovered in 2012 was 9 times out of 10, service providers pointed to underground LGBT sanctuary spaces that acted as the church, that acted as the health centers, and that acted as the healing environments. LGBT people across the class divide gathered, and that became our medicine and the medicine of other Jamaicans.
Together, we sang songs, wrote poetry, shared stories, celebrated how truly fabulous we are, and lifted each other’s spirits to counteract the internalized slave master or family member that said that God was not for everyone. We bridged science, spirit, and medicine. We became love medicine. The deeper question I propose today to you is where was God in that? And where were our ancestors and guides, Egungun?
These are the questions that many of my clients often ask of various cultural and faith walks, especially those who immigrate to the U.S. seeking solace, those from abusive homes, or those struggling within toxic workplaces.
- Where do we find our sanctuary?
- How can service providers hold space for the layers of doubt, fear, abandonment, rage that come through our doors?
- How is our innate joy impact the joy of our clients and vice versa?
- How do we encourage our clients to experience moments of wonder?
- How do we make sense of our own anger in our changing political climate for immigrants seeking refuge, asylum, and security, and for women hurt by violence?
This is my journey towards becoming love medicine. At Kuumba Health LLC, the center that I founded and lead, we inspire creative health and transformative leadership solutions through virtual coaching, micro retreats for women, for conscious companies, for campuses, and for couples. Our team offers love medicine virtually through telehealth.
We specialize in transforming our clients from pain to power. We do our best to create sanctuary spaces that fix the gap in the current landscape for those who need to feel held.
We want our clients to create a sense of play, to dream, to lead in culturally affirming and restorative ways that uplift our souls and our communities. I created a model of holistic health and ancestral healing called soul care that both addresses the immediate issue that is causing a person or team to be stuck, and a deeper ancestral pattern that needs to be addressed thru lasting results.
I send my dearest wish for wellness to you, and invite you to our sanctuary spaces. Women-identified persons who need our local NYC and Long Island Sanctuary services and retreat spaces, may register for our Women Rise series, including our Hamptons retreat that is open for registrants now. May we all continue to lead, learn, love in healthier ways, and rise!
Sacred Walker, MDiv, RDTi, RMO, is the Founding President, CEO, and lead practitioner of Kuumba Health LLC, a woman-led health and advocacy organization that convenes micro retreats, sanctuary spaces, and coaching for the “4 C’s” (campuses, couples, compassionate women, and conscious companies). Raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn as a first generation Jamaican immigrant, Sacred Walker lived through the Crown Heights riots.
Sacred Walker earned her Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary’s Psychiatry and Religion Program with a specialization in Holistic Psychology. Sacred Walker also earned advanced drama therapy, sexual ethics, and interfaith chaplaincy training, and she trained extensively in yoga, Ayurveda, and holistic psychology at the Ayurvedic Medical College in Kerala, India.
Her research looks at the intersections between the trauma of slavery, physiology, integrative health, and faith of peoples of African descent as a social deconstruction model. She is the Founder of Love Medicine TV. She pioneered the “Soul Care” coaching and professional development trainings. “Arise Chile,” her well-regarded performance piece, was featured in New York City at the Second Stage Theater.