2022 SUSTAIN Wellbeing COMPASS Coordinating Center Organizes Healing Justice Discussion - University of Houston
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SUSTAIN Wellbeing COMPASS Coordinating Center Organizes Healing Justice Discussion


March 16, 2022

(HOUSTON, TX) - Lladira Aguilar, Capacity Building Assistance Manager for the SUSTAIN Wellbeing COMPASS Coordinating Center, recently organized "Healing Justice & The Act of Rest." The event, held during Black History month was led by Tarik Daniels, founder and Executive Director of Whatsinthemirror?, a non-profit organization that strives to provide "suicide prevention and mental health awareness through art and advocacy to people of color and low socio-economic communities."

We spoke with Lladira to learn more about the process of how the SUSTAIN Center collaborates with community organizers and why healing justice and rest are critical to mental health/well-being.


Name: Lladira Aguilar, MSW
Pronouns: she/hers

How did the "Healing Justice & The Act of Rest" presentation topic come about?

At the SUSTAIN Wellbeing COMPASS Coordinating Center, we work to address HIV/AIDS in the US South by focusing on mental health, trauma-informed care, substance use (especially harm reduction and the opioid epidemic), and wellness in the context of HIV/AIDS. After two years of an ongoing pandemic, work/life challenges, and continued social unrest and trauma due to systemic oppression, people are tired. Black people and people of color are tired. People working to end the HIV epidemic are exhausted; however, the work to change oppressive systems continues. Still, we can't lose sight of the importance of caring for ourselves and prioritizing our physical and mental health and overall wellness. The saying goes, "You can't pour from an empty cup."

This line of thought led us to Healing Justice, a political strategy conceived in 2005 and formally launched in 2006 by the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective. This Collective intervenes and responds to generational trauma and systemic oppression and builds community/survivor-led responses rooted in southern traditions of resiliency to sustain people's emotional/physical/spiritual/psychic and environmental well-being. We reached out to a community partner, Tarik Daniel, Founder and Executive Director of Whatsinthemirror?, who advocates for healing justice. From a meeting that we had, the Healing Justice & The Act of Rest webinar came about.

How did you hear about Tarik Daniel's nonprofit organization Whatsinthemirror?, and why do you think their mission aligns well with SUSTAIN's?

The SUSTAIN Center addresses the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States by partnering with local communities and supporting evidence-based solutions to meet the needs of people living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS. We do this by enhancing the capacity of HIV service organizations by providing community-centered grants, shared learning opportunities, training, and coaching. We center on Black and Brown communities and LGBTQ+ communities. Whatsinthemirror? was a previous partner through LEARN Harm Reduction and Transformative Grants. I think both of our missions align well in that we both seek to center LGBTQ+ communities of color but do it in different ways.

What was the process like in terms of organizing a discussion event? Were there any particular challenges involved?

Events like these are not difficult to organize when there is a previous partnership, shared values, goals, and the trust to allow others to lead. The only challenge was to hold this type of space via zoom. Zoom fatigue is real, so the challenge is communicating about the importance of the act of rest via a very draining communication medium. It would have been nice to have it in person and connect that way in the future, but I hope to continue our partnership with Tarik and Whatsinthemirror?.

Were there any key takeaways from the discussion that you believe could benefit you, your colleagues at SUSTAIN, and the GCSW community?

I believe this session was a great reminder about the importance of the act of proper rest to continue to "fight the good fight." Resting our minds, body, and spirit is critical. Furthermore, white supremacy work culture conditions us to believe that we have to "earn" rest, which is not valid. We are entitled to protect ourselves and our well-being. Finally, this session also discussed how some current systems and structures are barriers to achieving rest and self-care. Overall, it was a robust discussion and a great reminder that this is a necessary time to prioritize the act of rest.

The GCSW aims to achieve social justice at every level. How do you believe this discussion around rest and healing justice fit into that vision and the SUSTAIN Coordinating Center's mission to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern US?

Healing justice is social justice. Healing happens when we seek to dismantle racism, transphobia, misogyny, ableism, and other forms of oppression. These forms of oppression continue to perpetuate the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern US. We must not forget ourselves in the process, which is why speaking to the act of rest was so important.

This year's theme for Social Work Month is "The Time is Right for Social Work." As a social worker, what does this theme mean to you?

As a social worker myself, I may be biased, but I believe the time has always been right for social work. The last two years have highlighted and brought to the forefront some of the injustices and inequities that have existed for hundreds of years. People are finally taking note of the truth and are realizing that we have a lot of work to do. Although we still have some unlearning to do within the social work profession, I believe that when we stay true to the social work values, we can create the change and healing that everyone needs now more than ever. So, right now is the best time for social work to be front and center.