What happens when a group of six black women who are leaders in the community get together over a vegan dinner once a month?
Besides conversation and laughter, they get the opportunity to experience a safe space that provides healing energy, friendship and the magic of community. And now, they are ready to share that with others.
After more than a year of such gatherings and meticulous planning, these women recently launched a nonprofit called Sanctuary In The City.
Sanctuary intends to create a place for people of color to celebrate wellness and experience healing with pop-up experiences, to start. Among its offerings will be yoga, health and wellness workshops, education classes focused on financial and housing planning and classes intended to better inform voters.
Ultimately, Sanctuary in the City is intended to begin the healing process of trauma experienced by racial minorities. It will be available to all women and men of color and will include child-care options.
Studies have shown restorative yoga can be instrumental in healing race-based traumatic stress, but part of that healing means providing a space that is not triggering to those who have experienced it.
“This will be a true community space,” said Sanctuary group member Jasmine Hines. “We are centering our issues to those that are important to people of color.”
“People are saying ‘I want to be a part of this. Even if I only have $10,’” said member Christy Lee.
On a recent Friday, dining on black bean tacos and seasoned vegetables at Kelley Carboni-Woods’ home were Hines, Lee, Tiya Caniel and Tanqueray Edwards — group member Setarra DeVeaux Robinson was unable to attend that session. After eating, the women circled around the table to set their intentions for the evening just as a teacher might in a yoga class.
The conversation then turned to location possibilities for their first pop-up event and a permanent space. As they pored over notes and videos of available real estate, a big part of the conversation touched on the importance of good energy and how it can facilitate healing.
Accessibility is also important, Lee explained. To fulfill the group’s mission, it’s necessary for people to be able to arrive via public transportation and have plenty of places to park.
How yoga heals
The practice of yoga drives this group. Five of its six members teach yoga in Charlotte and surrounding areas.
Their research about healing using yoga from race-based trauma centers largely on studies by researcher, educator and author Joy Degruy and psychologist and yoga therapist Gail Parker. “My concern is that if we are unaware that race-based stress exists, then yoga classes may run the risk of re-traumatizing people of color and keep them from deriving the maximum benefits of the practice,” Parker told Wanderlust writer Helen Avery for an article about yoga and healing.
“It’s not an overnight concept,” Lee said. “What we are doing is creating a space so people can come. This is what we believe will help. We are being very conscious that this will not be a triggering space.”
Part of keeping this space safe means keeping it specifically for minorities. This may be difficult for white people to understand, who may have spent their lives believing that they should feel included in everything, said Carboni-Woods. “We need to run that white noise,” she said, referencing a desire to engage an advocate group by the same name.
White Noise Collective states on their web site that they are working toward a world free of white supremacy, in part by encouraging those who have experienced privilege to be committed to social justice movements. The group hosts workshops for those who have been racially oppressed or who have experienced white privilege on topics including: racial justice, leadership (when to step up vs. when to step back), care and respect for self and others. Carboni-Woods said they also volunteer to show up to events hosted by minorities in order to help out where needed and also to do things like man the door — to explain to other white people why their attendance may not be welcome, as it may be triggering to some.
“What’s happening there is private and sacred,” she said. “That’s part of what black and brown people are recovering from — there has not been a time that white people didn’t have access to all the things that we had.”
“The reality is, we don’t have to explain ourselves,” Lee said. “We put in our mission that we are here to help people of color.”
The group’s first pop-up event, tentatively scheduled for November, will include a restorative yoga session specifically for people of color. It will include self-care and breath work. “We’ll make it extra juicy with bolsters and sandbags and eye pillows,” Carboni-Woods said.
And in the meantime, they’ll continue to meet over dinner, more frequently as their permanent space becomes closer and closer to reality.
“I woke up this morning thinking about how this could change somebody’s life,” Edwards said. “This is what’s on my heart. To be doing it with this group, I’m grateful for this.”
Check out the website and subscribe to Sanctuary’s newsletter for event updates.