How black women’s support groups are dealing with the end of Roe

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They laughed and danced and shook their limbs, stiff from crouching in front of their computers all day, watching the news, reading headline after headline: Roe vs. Wade had been overturned, and black women would be disproportionately affected.

Black joy was palpable at this movement session held by the group Black Women for Wellness last week, even though many members were reeling from the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“It felt good just to turn off the news, dance to some Afro beats and allow our bodies to start allowing the energy to flow in and out,” said Charity Faye, program manager for Sisters in Motion, a subset of Black Women. for wellness. “And for at least 35 to 45 minutes, black women smiled and laughed and danced.”

Established in 1997, the California-based reproductive rights nonprofit organization operated under the umbrella of Roe vs. Wade for 25 years Although the recent Supreme Court decision will not affect the organization’s state policies, the implications it has for millions of women across the country have broken the hearts of Faye’s colleagues, she said. But that’s why these kinds of organizations are created, she added: to lift up Black women in times of crisis, to become a space for Black women to support each other. To try to laugh again.

Women of color will be hit hardest by the end of Roe, experts say

Organizations like Black Women for Wellness have been around for decades to try to fill a void in Black health care, and specifically in mental health care: Black women are more likely to experience mental illnessand are less likely to receive treatment for them. These support groups provide a community space, members say, for Black women to come together and feel heard without being judged. Some national organizations have thousands of members, but there are other statewide groups, such as Black Women for Wellness, as well as smaller local community groups. And informally, black women’s support groups have been around in America for as long as black women.

In recent years, groups new and old have had to adapt to support their members in times of national trauma that tend to unequally affect Black women and their communities. the dobbs The decision is the latest example: Experts say restricted access to abortion will disproportionately affect black women, who have a higher abortion rate than their white counterparts. Reproductive rights organizations say the reasons for these higher rates are systemic, driven by lack of access and effective use of contraceptives.

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The Loveland Foundation hopes to see an increased need in the wake of the dobbs decision. Founded in 2018, the organization’s goal is to provide resources for Black women and girls to access therapy. Several other organizations, such as Therapy for Black Girls and Free Black Therapy, provide similar services and have seen an influx of media attention and donations after 2020, when the killing of George Floyd sparked racial justice protests.

“We don’t want to make them feel like they’re jumping hoops to access care, because society already offers enough hoops for black women,” said Sharlene Kemler, executive director of the Loveland Foundation. “It’s really about making sure that we’re taking the stigma out of mental wellness, creating generational change and allowing the community to recover.”

People who apply for Loveland Foundation services can get access to individual therapy, Kemler said, and they try to help people within three months. In 2020, she added, the group had to increase the rate at which they accepted clients to manage the increased interest, and thankfully, donations increased as well.

Black Americans are creating their own mindful spaces

Kemler said that women trying to understand the impact of dobbs it will just need more support.

Support groups have different methods of serving their black female members. Some have weekly walk-in group therapy sessions, while others, like Black Women for Wellness, host services and events throughout the year. For many, working for these organizations is their full-time job, but there are opportunities for volunteer work, and women generally don’t have to commit to financial membership, although some services may cost money.

Thérèse Cator, founder of Embodied Black Girl, an organization that creates trauma-informed spaces for black women, centers her meetings around somatic breathing exercises. These practices, which help increase body awareness, originated from practices created by black people and other people of color, she Cator said.

But, he said, his work is not the end of all for healing.

“To truly heal, the system has to be dismantled,” said Cator, who founded his organization in February 2020, a month before much of the country went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. “But [Black women] they are still worthy of feeling joy. We still deserve to have the best life we ​​can in this life.”

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A few days before the dobbs decision was handed down, Cator organized a cheer circle to help remind black women of “who they are, not just the pain.”

“This circle of joy helped me process the ruling,” Cator said.

Cator’s group has changed since it was first formed; after all, the world changed drastically just a few weeks after its debut. Originally titled Black Girls Breathe, the organization hosted its first Global Healing Day event in February 2020, which featured meditation, keep a journal and share personal reflections. Then, with pandemic stay-at-home orders and racial justice protests, more black women expressed interest in the group. Suddenly, Cator was leading hundreds of people through weekly somatic breathing exercises, doing cheer circles on Zoom and trying to figure out how to prioritize her own self-care among everything else, she said.

Other black women’s support groups, such as Our Resilience, take a more traditional therapeutic approach. The 48-year-old nonprofit organization works with survivors of sexual violence to provide advocacy, trauma therapy, and individual and group counseling. His group for black survivors of sexual assault disbanded years ago due to lack of funds, but it picked up again in early 2022. And his first meeting was scheduled for two weeks after the dobbs decision.

“This overturn [of Roe] it has added a whole new functionality for this group,” said Gaby Molden, a trauma therapist who spearheaded the re-engagement group for black survivors. “[The U.S. government] Taking away the right to do what we need to do for our bodies is generational, and it can be very triggering for survivors of all kinds.”

Molden compared the impact of the failure with forced reproductive labor on enslaved blacks in the past. In the days after the recent court decision, the waiting list for his group doubled, he said. He now anticipates that his group will move from sharing past traumas to dealing with failure.

Black Women for Wellness predicts she will have to adapt in the futureRoe providing more support to its members with family members in states with abortion restrictions. They are also planning to expand their advocacy and education work, Faye said. But after dealing with the uncertainty of the past two years in particular, adaptation is nothing new for the organization.

“We see something like the pandemic as an opportunity to show ourselves and go deeper into who we are – this is our mission, this is what we do, no matter the season or the state of the world,” Faye said. “This time is no different. We will resolve it.”

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As motivated as the leaders of these organizations may be, having to make a constant transition for their members comes at a cost, especially as they themselves lament what is happening in the news, they said. When the Supreme Court news broke last Friday, Faye was between Zoom meetings with his colleagues. Suddenly, her Slack channel was flooded with messages. Impromptu group chats appeared. The meetings changed focus. Fortunately, the pandemic taught them how to “slow down a little bit and live in our humanity,” she said.

“We are not a group of robots,” Faye added. “We do this work, but we are people. And so on Friday, and we all take a collective exhalation. … After we sat down, we took a breather and started talking and letting people know the impact this decision has on Black women.”

Striking the balance between supporting others and taking care of yourself is tricky, but the leaders of these organizations have some tools they recommend. For Faye, that means allowing herself to take time off from work and process with other black women.

Another important tip is to remember to breathe, Cator said: She recommends somatic exercises, which involve consciously inhaling and noticing the space it takes up in your body. If someone is in a state of high stress, she recommends inhaling and then lengthening the exhalation until it is double the inhalation.

“It’s important to recognize that our bodies are actually the portals for healing,” Cator said. “Systems of oppression disconnect us from our bodies. People understand it cognitively, but really getting into the body and recognizing how that’s impacting your body, how it’s showing up in your nervous system, is a completely different job.”

Molden also suggests setting limits. Especially in the wake of the dobbs decision, it is important to prioritize, regardless of the demands of the outside world, he said.

“The most important thing we can do is trust ourselves and lean on your support group in this devastating time,” Molden said. “Remember to take care of yourself as best you can, because it will take all your strength to get through this.”