Brittany King, Contributing Writer
When asked why she started Community Healing Network, a nonprofit out of New Haven, Connecticut, Enola Aird has three stories she likes to tell. The first one she tells is about her aunt’s birth. It took days for her mother to hold her—because she was so black. In her second story, she reminisces about the time when she and a mentee, a black teenager, were at a Chinese restaurant and the waiter added up their order quickly in his head. Her mentee was impressed with how fast he was able to add the numbers together, so she turned to Aird and said, “It’s a well-known fact that Chinese people are smarter than black people.” The last story is about a woman named DeeDee. One night, at a club, Aird saw DeeDee looking at herself in a mirror as she said, “Here you are DeeDee, old, black and ugly, as usual.”
“Hearing DeeDee say that hit me like a stab in the heart,” Aird says. “I wondered how many black people felt that way when they looked in the mirror.”
Aird—who is a lawyer by trade—says those stories are examples of how the cultural air has been poisoned by the idea that white people and other races are superior to blacks. She believes that idea is killing black people—figuratively and literally.
In 2006, she launched Community Healing Network (CHN) to combat the issues of self-doubt, depression and internalized racism within the black community. CHN does this through numerous programs, the most popular being Emotional Emancipation (EE) Circles, self-help support groups where black people work together to overcome, heal from and overturn the lies of white superiority and black inferiority, which Aird believes are the root causes of the devaluing of black lives. The organization forged a collaboration with the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) in 2011. The collaboration allowed CHN to refine the EE Circles process and build the movement for emotional emancipation, ensuring black communities are getting the healing they need.
“CHN was inspired by Dr. King’s call to ‘sign our own emancipation proclamations’ ” she says. “Racism adversely affects victims psychologically, causing harm to their emotional and physical health. EE Circles are designed to help us free ourselves of internalized racism—to get our heads, spirits and emotions cleared out.”
CHN is also working on the issue of structural racism with its annual Valuing Black Lives Global Emotional Emancipation Summit. This year’s summit will be held September 15-16 in conjunction with the annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The summit brings together from around the globe people of African descent to develop plans to extinguish the lies of white superiority and black inferiority. Action-focused task forces continue to work together between summits.
So far, CHN and ABPsi have trained nearly 300 people to facilitate Emotional Emancipation Circles. Circles have been established in nearly 20 cities and counting in the U.S. and globally. Dr. Cheryl Grills, former president of ABPsi has been key to building the network of EE Circles around the world. She leads the team of trainers and ensures that the EE Circles are psychologically sound and culturally grounded. She brought these circles to Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore, Md., after the murders of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray, respectively.
One of CHN's main mottos is “Breathe, Baby Breathe,” which encourages those who attend its EE Circles to relax, reflect and get out everything they are feeling.
Aird believes it is important to have ambitious goals; CHN has set 2019—the 400th anniversary of the forced arrival of Africans in Virginia—as the date by which CHN aims to engage a critical mass of black people in the journey toward emotional emancipation.
“We have to set an end date to this. We deserve to be thriving and flourishing, not just surviving,” she says.
In the future, CHN wants EE Circles, or similar initiatives, to be so accessible that black people will be able to find safe spaces for healing throughout the world. For now, CHN is making sure black communities can get this type of healing with the Family Care, Community Care and Self Care tool kit recently published by their office.
“The system doesn’t have to stay the way it is,” Aird says. “This difficult time is an opportunity because we are all recognizing we need emotional healing. These EE Circles give our people the opportunity and space to breathe.”
To get involved with CHN, visit its website.