Reimagining Resilience Through the Healing Arts
Naya Jones, PhD, is a Culture of Health Leader; she is also a healer, artist, researcher, and geographer. She practices meditative inquiry and healing arts with individuals and organizations, especially people of color, often by incorporating elements of cultural practice and ceremony. Naya is a Blaxicana (African-American and Xicana) whose efforts are deeply rooted in her ancestry and the ancestral traditions and practices of the people she teaches and learns from.
So Naya knows a thing or two about the concept of resilience and about what it takes to cultivate and support it. Ask her where to start and she’ll tell you that you need to begin by doing one simple, critical thing:
When Naya works with people of color and people-of-color-led groups, she goes in with the assumption that their life experiences have already equipped them with resilience—not that it’s something she or anyone else is there to “teach.” Hers is a process of shared discovery: working alongside communities to tap into the practices they have developed to care for themselves and others in their lives, especially in the face of racism and other forms of oppression.
Naya seeks to disrupt the harmful “interventionist” attitude that so often predominates when health practitioners work with historically oppressed communities. She views resilience as something that is inspired by and a part of people’s social and cultural practices. Because it’s already present, in one form or another, her task is to listen to how it manifests in people’s lives and to co-support and reimagine what’s possible in the face of systemic challenges.
Viewed this way, resilience isn’t a new concept, it can be an old one—one with deep roots in ritual and tradition. When Naya organized a meditation circle to co-support Black women in Austin, Texas, part of the process was remembering how their mothers and grandmothers had created similar spaces in their homes through relationships. By connecting the practice to this legacy—to the tradition of Black women gathering to heal with and from each other—Naya and the women tapped into deep reserves of resilience and power they already had.
“As people of color, sometimes we have been told so much that we lack, we are not asked to think about what we have,” Naya says. “That makes asking really important.”
For funders, health practitioners, policymakers, and anyone else who wants to make a difference in communities grappling with racism, economic injustice, lack of access to health care, or other inequities, Naya’s advice is critical:
Ditch the deficit model.
Stop looking at people as problems that need to be fixed.
Begin by asking—and listening for—how they are already practicing resilience in their daily lives, especially given circumstances of racism and oppression.
Go in with the assumption that they have knowledge and traditions with powerful potential to spark healing. What’s needed are ways to discover and amplify what they already have and know.
Finally, she offers another vital piece of counsel for those seeking to “fix” the challenges too many in communities of color face. A willingness to ask and listen is necessary but not sufficient. Trainings about the harms of racism and oppression are essential, but not enough.
Only by confronting the damage long done by well-intentioned people, and by confronting the attitudes that cause it, can we prepare ourselves to listen for—and truly hear—the resilience already speaking in the lives of those who face the steepest odds.