Reimagining Self-Care for Black Folks

Fri, 03/26/2021 – 16:01

This article was originally published on and has been re-published on Mental Health America’s website with permission. Click here to read the original article.

By Kelechi Ubozoh, Mental Health Consultant, Writer, and Public Speaker

There are thousands of thought-provoking pieces on the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Movement, unemployment, civil unrest, police brutality, and the economy. Meanwhile, we are still here. Some of us barely holding on and feeling so much grief.

I am a black woman in deep pain. I’m watching the ongoing violence against my community and knowing that we are also dying at higher rates from this virus. What can we do about promoting our own healing? Holding space for all this discourse and our own mental health may feel unbearable.

Let me tell you something, your mental health is vital.

What is happening right now is collective trauma underscored by generational trauma. Every time I see photos, videos, and images of black folks being murdered that is a micro-trauma. I have to utilize healing-centered practices and coping skills to survive.

We all process and cope in different ways. For me, when I say I’m actively engaging in self-care, that doesn’t mean a bubble bath. I’m a black woman living in America trying to navigate “the system” with my own historical trauma and survivorship (suicide, sexual violence). Self-care for me is a full-time job.

For me, it usually starts with a set of questions, “Is this going to be helpful or harmful to my mental health?”

I am someone “programmed” to value what other people think and need above my own health. That success means compartmentalizing and pushing through. (And the Oscar goes to …) I’ve been told that taking care of myself is “selfish” and that my productivity is tied to my worth. These are lies at best, and a way to keep me out of my own power and down the imposter syndrome rabbit hole.

Some of my ongoing work includes building better healing centered practices of connecting with myself. This includes therapy and meditation (though that has been difficult lately).

Here are my list of self-care considerations. They may sound simple, but they required a lot of “de-programming”. Know that you should do what works for you and listen to your own intuition. Please take what is helpful and leave what is not.

Reach out to trustworthy people who can hold space for you.

Not everyone can be supportive, even if they care deeply for you. Consider the people who show up and make it easy to be yourself. No performances or faking it, but to just be. This is not as easy when you are cast, “the strong black woman,” and asking for help is seen as weak. Those are lies. Silence and isolation can breed more pain. Connecting with ourselves and folks that are supportive of us is critical.

Connect with things that bring you joy or energy

It may be difficult to do right now or even feel impossible, but if you have capacity…I would recommend it. When one of my friends asked how she could support me, I said send me pictures of your baby laughing. I’m writing affirmations about my identity, capability, and worth defined by ME. I’m listening to music that feeds my soul, and watching media that energizes me rather than drains me. I’m watching Insecure and The Photograph (okay all Issa Rae), but things that promote positive and nuanced identities of black folks. I need our black love stories, supernatural stories, science-fiction stories, and other images of our existence not drenched in pain. It reminds me of the whole picture.

Ask yourself what you want and need right now, and then advocate for it

Do you need a break from work? Can you ask for time-off or an adjustable schedule? If not, can you use your Paid Time Off (PTO)?
Is it time to explore therapy? Do you need peer support?
Are you wanting to have deep facilitated conversations about racism and pain? Can you join a healing circle?
Do you need to stop talking about racism and pain and have permission to check out?
Do you want check-in text messages and phone calls from your friends and colleagues?
Do you need to not respond to text messages and phone calls and go silent for awhile?

Understand what you need from folks around you and make sure you communicate it.

Revisit your coping mechanisms and remove those that no longer serve you

I’m not here to judge your coping mechanisms, you needed them to survive and they served you at some point in your life. However, it may be time to evaluate if they are still helpful.

My previous coping mechanisms included:

Staying so busy with work projects or advocacy that I could avoid looking at my own feelings and emotions.
People pleasing
Avoiding all “conflict” or saying what I actually felt, because I felt I already knew the outcome would be unproductive. Sometimes people can surprise you and sometimes they don’t, but I won’t know this if I don’t use my voice. (*Note, for me it is still important to say what I think and feel to be authentic to me. I know not everyone has that luxury or safety.)
Pouring all my concern and energy to “helping others” which left me emotionally starved (but feeling good because I could avoid paying attention to my own life)
Numbing out emotion through food or binge watching Netflix
Insert ________(so many more)

Allow yourself to feel your emotions and attend your physical needs

Whether I’m experiencing anguish or rage, I’m allowing myself to sit in those very uncomfortable spaces and release those feelings instead of stuffing them down. This also means paying attention to your body. Do you need to go for a walk? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you dehydrated? Are you holding pain somewhere physically that needs to be released? I’m a work in progress, but I’ve noticed if I don’t dedicate time and space to releasing, it spills out in ways that are not helpful.

Transform feelings of hopelessness to advocacy

Turning my despair into action helps my mental health and allows me to move that heavy energy toward something productive. Feeling your feelings is productive and checking out may be necessary. Both have a time and place. For those of you looking for ways to contribute through donations or education, I highly recommend this list .

I do also take breaks and enjoy unplugging with a good show or a book, but try not to use it to detach from myself.

Create boundaries for yourself of what works specifically for YOU

No. = A complete sentence.

Telling someone no used to bring about panic, fear, and judgement. (Since I used to tie my worth to productivity and people-pleasing- it was super hard.) Boundaries are what helps me have honest, balanced, and healthy relationships. Here are some of the questions I ask myself to understand my boundaries.

Am I doing this because I feel obligated, guilty, or pressured?
Do I need to have this conversation right now?
Does this drain me or give me energy?
Do I need a break from social media, the news cycle, and certain conversations?
Do I need to ___________(insert things), right now? Ever?
Is it mine to do?

Don’t forget to rest and breathe, drink water, and explore with your needs. Consider connecting with powerful black art, media, and music that showcase a different narrative of our stories and our strength. Add to this list and share what helps you. We need you.

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The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Code Red
Gunshot Victim
Life Threatening Wounds
Physical Assault Victim
Severely Injured Auto Accident Victim
Burn Victim
Choking & Breathing Obstructions
and more…


Child Sex Assault Victim
Domestic Violence Victim
Drug Overdose
Rape/Sex Crime Victim
Suicide Watch
Trafficking Victim
Nervous Breakdown
and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer/Graphics Training
  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
  • Hospitality Training
  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
  • Violence De-Escalation Training
  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
  • Meal Prep

Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: