The Rise of Black Wellness Spaces: 3 Women Who Are Creating Inclusivity and Accessibility in the Wellness Industry
At Fitbit, we know that amplifying the voices of Black trailblazers is an important part of celebrating Black History Month. But we also know that celebrating Black voices and communities, across a multitude of their indispensible contributions to the world we live in, goes far beyond the month of February. And that it’s important to recognize what resources are actually helpful in making that happen.
As spaces where Black and brown people can feel safe, comfortable, and empowered to prioritize their own health and well-being, Black Spaces—whether in person or, as has become much more common in recent years, virtual—have always been significant and necessary pillars of the communities they are in. And because the race gap in health and wellness also means that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately affect people of color, they are arguably even more important now.
In the wellness industry, as with many mainstream spaces, there is a lack of POC faces. Happily, though, that is changing—due in no small part to a growing number of inspirational leaders who are making waves of positive change in their communities as they cultivate these spaces.
These women are doing incredibly inspiring work to create more inclusivity and accessibility for BIPOC folks in the wellness industry. Keep reading to learn more about them.
Delilah Antoinette, Black Girls Healing House
Black Girls Healing House founder Delilah Antoinette began her own healing journey after struggling with anxiety and depression for most of her young adult life. She grew up in poverty with a family who suffered from schizophrenia, and, after leaving, she was the first person in her family to attend a major university and earn her degree. “All I ever heard was, ‘Congratulations on being so strong and surviving,’ but never was my healing a priority,” she shares. She was never comfortable opening up in therapy, despite trying it a few times—you could say it didn’t truly speak to her.
But, as she got older, Delilah was drawn into the world of crystals, meditation, yoga, herbal remedies, and sound therapy. “Using these tools helped me get to a place now where I can actually feel comfortable to open up in therapy space,” she shares.
Delilah was able to translate that prioritization of healing into her own life—and the lives of other women of color—by carving out her own space in the wellness industry. She founded Black Girls Healing House as a community network to connect Black women to healers, holistic tools, classes, events, and more. “While seeking out holistic spaces I discovered that there were socio-economic barriers and lack of representation of Blackness in these spaces. Most yoga and reiki classes are in the privileged parts of town and most of those classes are filled with people who don’t look like me,” she says.
She wanted to invite Black women to heal—themselves, and each other—in ways that didn’t feel so unattainable, because these practices should not be deemed as wholly luxurious, but able to be incorporated into everyday life, she says.
“The traumas and wounds that Black folk carry are so unique to us,” Delilah reveals. “It is deeply rooted in our DNA. Black people need a space for just us so that our voices are heard, understood, and valued. In most places I’m just someone to fill a diversity quota, but within my community I am finally seen for who I am. And it is not us saying that our pain is bigger than anyone else’s, it’s saying ‘Hey! I hurt too!’ in a world that thinks our struggles are imaginary because all they see is strength.”
If you’d like to connect with Delilah, you can follow her on Instagram here, Black Girls Healing House here, and check out the Black Girls Healing House website here.
Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, Naaya
Photo by Emily Knecht
Enter Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, founder of Naaya, a well-being company that centers what she calls “Bodies of Culture,” or those that are Black, indigenous, and people of color. In some way, she shares with Fitbit, wellness has always been a central part of who she was—although she never dubbed it as such. She was a Girl Scout and grew up playing sports like soccer, lacrosse, and cheerleading. It wasn’t long before these things progressed into Sinikiwe’s practice of yoga and meditation.
She took her love and knowledge of these practices, coupled with the frustration of being othered in wellness spaces, to create Naaya.
It was her experience working at a long-standing health magazine that opened her eyes even more to the gaps between these practices and those predominantly able to benefit from them. “The audience and staff at the magazine I worked for were primarily white and male,” shares Sinikiwe. “In conjunction with that, I was teaching yoga and meditation in spaces where I was often the only or one of few Black folks. This felt like a major disconnect given that the practices themselves stem from cultures that are not predominantly white—i.e. Bodies of Culture.
“With Naaya, I became determined to shift the paradigm of who is allowed to be mentally, physically, and spiritually well regardless of the status quo,” she continues.
Because that status quo is alive and well today, a time when people of color are regularly subject to the hardships, barriers, and violence of systemic racism and oppression. And that, in turn, leads to higher levels of stress, depression, heart disease, and mental illness, Sinikiwe says.
“Audre Lorde proclaimed, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,’ ” shares Sinikiwe. “Cultivating spaces specifically for Bodies of Culture is imperative to combat the status quo. These spaces ensure that folks have access to resources, practitioners, and programming that are customized to their lived experience.”
Sinikiwe is currently building Naaya’s new platform and upcoming app, Ilanga, which will be dedicated to the physical well-being of Bodies of Culture. Ilanga, which is Ndebele for “the Sun,” is named such to evoke the notion that “moving your body can feel as good as being kissed by the sun,” she says. “Building this product will help to further center access, equity, and joy into physical well-being.”
If you’d like to support Sinikiwe, you can follow Naaya on Instagram here, check out Naaya’s website, and contribute to crowdfunding efforts to build Ilanga here.
Christina M. Rice, OMNoire
Christina M. Rice founded OMNoire as a social wellness community for Black women and women of color, as well as a way to facilitate shared experiences that allow them to heal themselves, each other, and to take up space in the wellness sphere. But when she first got her start in wellness—after deciding to pursue her yoga teacher certification while going through a period of burnout and heartbreak in the spring of 2015—she didn’t even know if she wanted to teach yoga at the time.
It only took three weeks into teacher training, however, for Christina to discover that she wanted to share this practice with Black women. The issue was that there were very few of them in her yoga classes. As she took to social media to share her journey from student to teacher-in-training to fully fledged yoga teacher, Christina noticed that more and more Black women began to seek out her classes.
“At the end, they’d thank me for seeing them, for creating an environment they felt safe and supported,” she shares. “Not too soon after I started teaching more regularly, I had a lightbulb moment and that was to create a social media page to highlight other Black women and women of color in this space. I knew we were out there, but there were very few platforms that gave us a voice at that time.”
Last summer, Christina launched the OMNoire Retreats Academy as a way to foster mentorship on how to host profitable wellness retreats, and to build successful wellness businesses. “I knew that travel would explode this year and beyond in the post-COVID era, but my research also affirmed that people want to spend money on meaningful once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences,” she says. She wanted to be a part of the movement to make wellness travel more accessible, an opportunity to more easily reset from the societal pressures of daily life, as opposed to an unreachable luxury aspiration. “OMNoire will be at the forefront of this new era,” she continues.
“Every day I get to see the effects of not only my work here at OMNoire, but other platforms that focus on the mental well-being of Black women. You’re seeing more Black women thrive in their careers, their personal lives, and economic status, and that is a direct result of access to wellness programs, communities, retreats, mental health initiatives, and more,” Christina shares. “Black women are the mothers of the earth and when we do well, so do our families, friends, children, and our communities overall.”
If you’d like to connect with Christina, you can follow her on Instagram here, OMNoire here, and discover more of OMNoire’s offerings here.
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