The Art of Healing: Community care requires us all

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I sit in the back of my oldest friend’s car in a Walmart parking lot somewhere in northern New Hampshire. We’re on the way to an Airbnb booked to celebrate my birthday. My friend has just called to sing over the phone, and I lean back to her voice echoing through timid, static speakers.

Somehow, the distance adds a touch of sweetness, like the gaps of disconnection from Facetime freezing bring us closer together. And I smile and cry as her voice trembles with care, and her notes caress a smooth salve over my heart. 

I have officially spent two birthdays in quarantine. I was lucky to spend the first in my family’s home with my sister, mother, brother, and his fiance. Yet still, an empty spot in my sternum kept nudging my breath to a halt. At first, I thought the ache symbolized friendships growing apart – friendships that exist in a liminal space over distance, or sometimes, more vividly in my head, heart, or memories.

I realize now as the feeling returns that the ache busy in my chest is change. It is space opening up in a heart that feels stubborn and likes things to stay just the way they are. After a year of a global practice of isolation, my body has been impacted by a prolonged decrease in touch, affection, and overall connection.

There is so much movement, dynamism, and transition happening in all of the communities I find myself within. So much death, tragedy, hurt, loss, and pain. I am in solidarity with everyone who is experiencing heavy and overwhelming, hurtful experiences. You are not alone. And even more, it is not for you to carry alone. 

I am thinking a lot about the dreams I have, the visions I want to create, and the ones that are slipping. I wonder how to embody the ways I desire to show up for my community. Incorporating accountability is the hard part of this practice. There is a plethora of work, energy, effort, and consistency in community care, yet not enough resources to sustain the people doing it. Social workers, counselors, community members, your neighbor – all do unrecognized labor integral to our collective emotional/physical survival, wellbeing, and future.

These are people fighting hard and expending so much energy to resist, reform, recreate and reimagine something other than the white supremacist structures and oppressive systems we live in. To offer what should be inherent to our lives already: healing, love, care, support, and nourishment for all. 

This column is probably the first time I’ve sat down to write in close to a month. I realize I stop writing when I stop divulging all my pain to the sky. Which is to say, I stop writing when I feel afraid to feel. Yet, it is always when I am struggling to connect with myself that either someone with an open, fortified heart, or the earth, offers a space of warmth, ease, and comfortability that I can release. 

Community healing that feels good takes intentionality, care, curiosity, and consistency, among many other unnamed attributes. And it will take every single one of us to move this forward at the large scale the continued state of crisis we are in requires.

What I’m asking for is an intersectional movement, and a significant push on anti-racist learnings, in order for individuals and organizations to truly be a safe harbor for organizing. I know there are so many beautiful connections happening across Portland and beyond. Yet there is still, and always will be, more to do.

To sustain our growth, we need to lean on each other. And even more, we need to offer genuinely safe places for our community members to relax and release.

Muntaha Mohamed is an artist and activist who works for Portland Empowered, volunteers with Black POWER, and sits on the board of Mindbridge.