Building Authentic Community: A Journey to Center Rest, Healing and Connection in Racial Liberation Movements

Explore how racism, capitalism impact BIPOC health in "Building Authentic Community." The article advocates for rest, healing, and connection as transformative tools in racial justice movements. It contrasts Chilean community with US individualism, urging safe spaces and resisting grind culture. Support local orgs, trust POC leadership for change.

Richmond Racial Equity Essays — 2023 Series
Florencia Fuensalida

“El odio para mí quedó atrás, no vuelvas nunca, sigue hacia el mar, tu canto es río. Somos la paz” - Victor Jara, Chilean singer

A 2021 study published by Front Public Health explores how racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that negatively impacts health outcomes among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Thankfully, we are finally beginning to openly talk about what capitalism does to our bodies and our souls, about the abuse and isolation white supremacy causes to our communities, and how patriarchy and colonialism have been oppressive towards women and communities of color for centuries. These cycles of systemic abuse have the power to overwhelm one's nervous system, leaving folks in a constant state of fight, fly or freeze, contributing to poor health outcomes.

We must heal from this trauma before we can fully thrive. Though there is much work to be done, I feel inspired by and grateful for the efforts of various trailblazers who are helping communities address and heal from these systemic wounds. These teachers and my personal experiences have led me to believe that we need to focus on building authentic community in our racial justice movements by intentionally centering rest, healing, and connection. These are the keys to a transformative movement for liberation. 


The Power of Authentic Community

"Salsa is a way of life. Tener salsa en la vida is to truly enjoy life, by treasuring family, relationships, work, and community." - Juana Bordas

I was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1982. The year I was born, my country was under a brutal dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, which had started 9 years earlier and would not end until 1990. My family was closely connected to the resistance movement, and many family members and friends were forced to leave the country, without the possibility of coming back while Pinochet was in power. Some were persecuted, while others were tortured and/or murdered.

Other than going out to some rallies and marches with my parents (they were dangerous, so we didn't do it much), I don't remember the dictatorship. When I think about Chile, my childhood, and my home, I recall love and community. I remember colorful evenings spent with neighbors, siblings, and cousins, with the smell of empanadas, and the sound of music and laughter. I grew up knowing that, no matter what, I was never alone, and that life was to be endured and enjoyed with others. My community always had my back, and I knew it. This sense of connection was sustaining and life-giving. 

Fast forward sixteen years to 1998.

I was living in the U.S., attending a huge American public high school, where things were exactly like the American movies I watched growing up. The popular kids, the nerds, the goths, the cheerleaders. Kids socializing (loudly) by their lockers. The boys on the football team making fun of the lanky drama club kids. The cheerleaders making out with the football players. The blonds were friends with other blonds and folks with dark skin were friends with other folks with dark skin.

As you can imagine, I did not belong.

Today, however, more than twenty years later, I realize they also did not belong. I look back and compare my first two years of high school in Chile to my last two years of high school in the US, and I realize that, in American culture, the focus tends to be on what can be measured and seen (looks, popularity, career, wealth, property, success), rather than on building community. The sociologist Robin Williams described the American value system as consisting of individualism, work and productivity, efficiency, material comfort, morality, democracy, and freedom, among others. He also listed racism and group superiority as one of the foundational values American society was built upon.

U.S. culture regards community differently than we do in other parts of the world. I have come to observe that American culture doesn't give enough space to care for those in need, to laugh, share meals, dance, cry, and dream together. I believe this part of American culture is a result of capitalism (the drive to be profitable and productive) and white dominant cultural norms, many of which are listed above. However, I am grateful for the racial and ethnic groups in this country with values that counter white dominant culture. I have been blessed to witness the depth and richness of the African American culture, reminding me very much of the colors of my own culture. I have also come to learn more about Indigenous cultures, their wisdom, and their fierce connection to Mother Earth. In the same way, I continue to admire the resilience and fiesta nature of my Latinx siblings and connect with a sense of belonging with all foreign-born American folks I come across in my day-to-day life. We can learn a lot from these ways of being, as we all need love and belonging.

We are in a pivotal time in history where we have the choice to create a new world built on the foundation of love, compassion, and authentic community, or to continue doing what we have been doing for centuries and watch greed, fear, and violence take over our world.


Space to Heal

We need more safe spaces for communities of color (and marginalized communities in general) to gather and feel free to practice their cultural traditions, beliefs, and values without being ostracized or oppressed for not fitting white cultural norms. These are spaces for connection, fun, colors, food, music, and laughter. Our nervous systems need rest, laughter and community to be healed.

One of my “mentors” in this healing work, trauma therapist Resmaa Manekem, argues that centuries of intergenerational trauma cannot be addressed individually, but that the efforts need to be communal, as we are all affected by white body supremacy. He states that “no matter what we look like, if we were born and raised in America, white body supremacy and our adaptation to it are in our blood. Our very bodies house the unhealed dissonance and trauma of our ancestors.” Even as transplants to this culture, white body supremacy also makes its way into our souls. Healing in community applies to everyone, including white people. White supremacist culture affects us all, stripping away our souls and equating value with skin color and productivity rather than love.


Rest as Resistance

“You must be committed to studying how training under the abusive teachings of dominant culture has you bound and limited. This is healing work. This is justice work. When we are aligned against the ideas of the oppressive culture, we understand we didn’t arrive on Earth to be a tool for a capitalist system.” 

- Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto

Healing through rest and connection with ourselves and our inherent wisdom are the keys to the movement for liberation. In Tricia Hersey's Rest is Resistance, she explores the urgent need to break free from grind culture, which she views as a form of violence causing trauma and exhaustion. By rejecting this culture, we can create a rested and healed space where we celebrate our traditions, rest, and reconnect with our humanity. This resistance fosters a movement for rebellion, where we refuse to sacrifice our well-being for profit and disconnect from our true selves. As James Baldwin puts it in The Fire Next Time, “white people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this - which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never - the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” Healing from this crisis of identity is necessary for white Americans to connect with their intrinsic worth.


So now what?

Systems need to be dismantled, yes. But the link some of us have been missing rests in connecting deeply, from a place of raw authenticity, love, and vulnerability, where we know that, no matter what, our communities have our backs. I believe that then, and only then, will our nervous systems feel safe enough to rest. And rest and healing are a revolution. Si se puede! Yes, it is possible!

Many folks are already leading work that centers rest, healing, and joy, and creating safe spaces for historically marginalized communities. Please see the list below of local organizations in Richmond I admire who are doing this type of work. I invite you to donate to their causes and/or share their vision with the world.

White folx, please remember to trust POCs and allow us the space to lead. I strongly recommend joining and making financial contributions to these cause(s) rather than trying to start your own project or movement. Historically, white folks have tended to colonize the ideas, cultural values, and projects of communities of color, inevitably resulting in POC losing access to decision-making tables that involve them. This is a reminder to use your power to fuel movements led by communities of color or historically marginalized communities, rather than trying to take the lead.

About the author

Florencia Fuensalida

Florencia Fuensalida is originally from Chile, South America. She moved to the United States when she was 16 years old, where she finished High School and later attended the University of Maryland, College Park, to acquire a Bachelor’s Degree in Family Science. She is fluent in both English and Spanish. After graduating from college, Florencia returned to Chile and worked for marginalized families and women for three years implementing life skills programs. She returned to the US in 2010, and has been working with the immigrant and Latinx Community, providing social services, supporting counseling and performing outreach ever since. She also acquired a degree in Transformational Coaching, which she has used as a way to equip individuals and their teams in a journey to seek equity and inner peace. At VACV, Flo served as the Community Engagement Specialist for the Partnership for Housing Affordability for 2.5 years before transitioning into the role of Director, Equity Improvement where she manages all coaching and training using the Community Voice Blueprint model of engagement.

Florencia Fuensalida
About the author

Florencia Fuensalida

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