Winnipeg project offers healing touch for Black community

By: Julia-Simone Rutgers

Leslie Hackett is a program facilitator for Project Heal, an online initiative to support Black Winnipeggers. The program launches at the end of July. Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press</p>
Leslie Hackett is a program facilitator for Project Heal, an online initiative to support Black Winnipeggers. The program launches at the end of July. Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press

Black Winnipeggers who are looking for community support will once again have a place to share and learn with one another as Black Space Winnipeg’s Project Heal boots up for a second run — virtually, this time.

“Project Heal is a safe space where Black Winnipeggers can come together to talk about and process lots of different things related to mental health and the experience of being Black in Winnipeg and being a Black person in general, and how that affects our experience of what’s happening in the world and vice versa,” said therapist and program co-facilitator Leslie Hackett.

Nedu Ejeckam, a therapist at Klinic and the program’s other co-facilitator, said that while the project is not in itself therapy, the community support group will focus on providing tools for mental wellness and resources for Black therapists and mental health professionals in the city.

“We often see mental health tips from white creators and so as Black people we have different struggles, we have different focuses, there are different things that we just don’t see in mainstream media,” Ejeckam said.

“Having people that look like us, that have our lived experience, reflecting upon what tools have been helpful… we have a high number of people lending their expertise to our sessions.”

This is the second time Project Heal is being offered in the city. First organized by Black Space Winnipeg’s Alexa Potashnik in 2018 as an in-person community support group, the multi-week series of group sessions has become digital in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ejeckam said the second run of the program was inspired by the lockdown and isolation resulting from the pandemic, and spurred on by the worldwide resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.

“I just considered how I was feeling after the murder of George Floyd, and I just realized that it was affecting my mental health in such an intense way. I just felt mentally exhausted. There were days I felt really devastated and I just felt deep despair,” Hackett said about her own motivation for getting involved in the project.

“I know that there is a need for mental health support for other Black people who are feeling this way.”

Both Hackett and Ejeckam stressed the need for Black-specific mental health resources in the city.

“It is helpful and necessary because you’re coming together with a group of people who have probably faced at least some of the same experiences that you have. So, I think that hopefully will help people get a certain comfort level immediately,” Hackett said.

“You’re meeting with a group of people who probably know what it’s like to be one of few Black people in a space at a given time, who understand what we’re talking about when we talk about microaggressions and systemic racism. (They) already have that level of experience that we all share just because of the colour of our skin.”

Ejeckam, who helped facilitate the first Project Heal sessions, said feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and the community was grateful for a chance to discuss issues specific to the Black community.

“Making sure that we have these safe spaces is very important because it allows us to feel seen, it allows us to feel heard, allows us to focus on our strength, our joy, our ability to constantly overcome and thrive despite the struggles that we have,” he said.

Project Heal is expected to launch on July 30. Participants will meet digitally for at least 12 sessions, some of which will be led by guest therapists and health practitioners from the Black community. The groups will be small, Hackett said, and facilitators hope to keep sessions limited to 10 participants. Registration is open on the Black Space Winnipeg website.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press