The recent death of George Floyd, as well as countless other officer-involved killings of African Americans, bears a significant cost to the mental health of black and brown communities. One clinical mental health counselor in Asheville says part of the solution starts with mindfulness.
It’s a practice Omileye Achikeobi-Lewis recommends to her clients, and she says, it’s also helped her get through the challenges of being black in the United States.
“When I came to America, something really interesting happened,” Achikeobi-Lewis said. “I literally felt the layers of confidence with my blackness getting stripped away, one layer at a time.
Achikeobi-Lewis grew up in an Afro-Caribbean neighborhood in London, her parents are from Jamaica and Trinidad. She says one thing that’s most struck her while living in the US, is how African Americans are portrayed -- in the media, in books, and in the retelling of American history.
“I had no idea that lynchings were a public holiday and a school holidayin the United States,” Achikeobi-Lewis said. “Not only that, when someone was lynched, a lot of times the body was burnt and when the body was burnt, pieces of that person was chopped up and given as souvenirs to the people in the audience. Our bodies were souvenirs. Our pain was a souvenir.”
She says black bodies, and the souls they occupy, need to be seen as sacred. The therapist recommends a simple practice for everyone, called “unconditional positive regard.” It’s as simple as people-watching.
“When you’re looking at someone, what comes up in your mind about that person?,” she explains. “Allowing that to be released out of your psyche and re-look at that person again with compassionate eyes. What happens is the empathy grows. The compassion grows.”
Achikeobi-Lewis says negative associations with people of color need to be challenged and dismantled, especially in the classroom setting. That’s why she’s about to release her first children’s book, featuring a black girl doing meditation and yoga poses.
“I think this is what’s missing in society, is just seeing us as the embodiments of peace that we are,” Achikeobi-Lewis said.
The book came from her frustration with a lack of stories featuring characters of color while she was working in Asheville City Schools. She says those books need to be read to white kids, too.