Sexual assault is a pervasive tragedy that no one should have to suffer—and that’s why we love any organization that works to combat the traumas that result from it. We ESPECIALLY love Black Woman Heal, an organization that focuses specifically on healing Black women and girls from sexual assault trauma. We met up with the one and only Lilada Gee to find out why this focus is necessary, what exactly Black Woman Heal does and means to the community, and how people can get involved.
Tell me about the history of Black Woman Heal.
I was doing national level work in the field of sexual assault, but I noticed that there were not that many Black women working in the field. For a long stretch, there were no Black sexual assault advocates in the entire state of Wisconsin. And I have never know it to be more than two at any given time. I got to thinking about what that meant in terms of Black women who needed to heal through a cultural context. If a Black woman feels like she isn’t going to get the help she needs because the person doesn’t understand her cultural experience, she won’t seek help in the first place.
Black women are disproportionately affected by sexual assault. Sexual assault is in the Black lineage, through the historic trauma of sexual assault via slavery throughout the African Diaspora. Even if an individual Black woman hasn’t been sexually assaulted, she is personally affected, because a Black woman that she knows and loves has been. Many issues stem from historic traumas of sexual assault. All of this culminates in a need for a specific focus on the healing of Black women. I’ve received pushback over time from people who say that “White women get raped too!”. This is true. But given the context and the lack of culturally appropriate resources, it is critical to focus on healing traumas in Black women. This is why Black Woman Heal was born.
So, what exactly do you mean by “healing in a cultural context”?
Try to imagine that you are a therapist or advocate who speaks only English, and you’re sitting across from your patient who speaks only Spanish. You aren’t going to be able to help her. There’s a language barrier, as well as a lack of cultural understanding. It’s as practical as that. Black people “speak English” but there are many cultural nuances in Black language and Black experience. There are different meanings for words that are even traced back to literal African dialects. Even if a white therapist or advocate may have the best intentions, they won’t be able to support victims in a way that is meaningful enough to heal traumas as deep as those caused by sexual assault without that understanding the cultural context in which those experiences have occurred.
Another aspect of it is Black representation in sexual assault advocates and other individuals involved in healing provides strong support and role models for healing Black women. If you are a white therapist or advocate and all you know are traumatized Black women, how can you know what a healthy baseline is for Black women? It’s necessary for Black women to see that it is possible to heal, to be understood, and to be valued; and not have to translate their experience before a person can address their areas of woundedness.
What is the mission of Black Woman Heal?
To inspire Black women and girls to reclaim their spirits, minds and bodies from the devastation of historic and present day sexual trauma. I want Black women to realize that healing is critical, necessary and most importantly, possible. We have lived with pain and trauma for so long that it has become normalized. The organization is called Black WOMAN Heal—a call to the individual woman to heal in order to help the collective—the Black family and the Black community. Healing as Black women, healing with Black women, healing in the ways that Black women heal; helps us to understand that there are so many answers inside of ourselves. We don’t need to be fixed by anyone else. We don’t want to be told how we should be, or how we should not be. Black Woman Heal aims to create the sacred space that celebrates the strength and wisdom of Black women to find the answers they need to heal their lives. This happens organically, when in is done in a context that inspires them to embrace the totality of Black womanhood.
What is one thing about your organization or its mission that would surprise people?
That we do the healing work that we do because of the experience of Black women many generations before the women and girls that we currently directly serve. The devastating legacy of sexual assault in Black communities can be traced directly back to slavery. No Black woman owned her own body, nor her own sexuality. For hundreds of years Black women and girls were raped. Mother after mother. Daughter after daughter. Rape after rape. This legacy is heavily pervasive and relevant to the experince of every Black woman and every Black girl throughout the African Diaspora. If she’s been a direct victim or not, her life in some way has been touched by the sexual trauma of the Black women that have come before her, especially those who have not healed. When you do not heal trauma and deep wounds, all you can do is pass that pain forward. And it becomes a heavy burden that EVERY Black girl carries forward in various degrees from her childhood, into her womanhood, into her motherhood and into every relationship. This is something that we as Black women are not often consciously aware of, and that is what makes it so incideous. We don’t know the wounds are there—we feel the pain, the anxiety, the depression, but we don’t know why it is there or how much it really impact us, which means it does not get healed. It may get pacified—it may get dressed-up, drank-up, drugged-up, educated-up, looking for love in all the wrong places-up, angered-up, but not healed-up. The historical context is real and tangible and needs to be addressed to effectively heal.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Working with my girls! There truly is no more sacred space than being in the midst of someone’s pain and their story, and especially those of a child. There is no place that would be better for me to be. To be in a space with a girl and for the first time have her feel safe enough to to be able to share her struggle, it’s amazing. The girls are loud and joyful as they’re leaving grouping, and to me, that’s not a problem, though some people might perceive it that way. Their expression of happiness means something is going right!
What is the best way for people to get involved with Black Woman Heal?
There are 3 great ways to get involved with Black Woman Heal:
- We’re in need of financial support. You can go to Nehemiah’s website—www.Nehemiah.org and follow the donation prompt until you see Lilada’s Livingroom. Our website is almost finished, and you’ll be able to donate there too!
- Come to The Giving Circle! The Giving Circle is a time and place for women to meet and connect and discuss these issues. We aren’t going to intellectualize ourselves out of racism and its impact on Black women and girls; we have to love ourselves out of this through relationship and genuine concern.
- We are in need of volunteers to help us with marketing and campaigns! Any graphic designers, BlackWomanHeal@gmail.com! videographers, editors, and the like that would be willing to provide volunteer services should contact Lilada at