Amid calls for Black liberation nationwide, the lilt of a freed spirit remains as important as any demand for defunded departments and racial justice. According to wellness coach Leyanne Oliveira, cries for peace and equality in the outside world must first be echoed throughout the infinite universe within.
Oliveira, who began her work in the wellness realm five years ago, supports clients with one-on-one sessions and larger workshops as they retrace the path back to their true selves. She transitioned into spiritual work after abandoning a corporate job that left her unfulfilled. It was then, she told Blavity, that she began to awaken to her own need for healing.
“I reached what I thought I wanted out of life really quickly, but I noticed a decline in joy and happiness, and my soul was speaking very loudly,” Oliveira said. “I dived deep into myself, why am I here, how had I landed at this place that makes me so unhappy? These life goals were seeds planted by others, chasing money. None of the decisions I’d made leading me to that space and time had come from me.”
The 27-year-old daughter of Cabo Verdean immigrants said it was the childhood pressure to suppress her own fire that guided her work from the beginning and influenced her decision to work with women specifically.
“It started with my journal. I kept seeing women in my writings over the years. Not only did I admire them, but I was also angry at them. They had so much power but they weren’t showing it. When I was being fiery or expressing myself, there was always suppression: ‘be this way,’” she remembered. “It wasn't only happening in my home, it was happening for women everywhere — this deep suppression of wanting to belong in this structure where we are the second best.”
Her approach to individualized healing as a path to collective liberation relies on both science and spirit. Through epigenetics, the theory that life experiences can alter genes, wellness advocates and academics alike find that recovering past traumas can reverse their inherited genetic markings.
“There are so many ways we can liberate ourselves," Oliveira explained. "In the place where I found the most freedom, I didn't have to ask anyone for it. It made me feel so powerful doing so through healing. No matter how the outside world looks, I'm free in my body and it feels indescribable.”
The current uprisings in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police also came on the heels of the killing of Breonna Taylor, who was shot multiple times by Louisville, Kentucky police while in her home on March 13. For her death, and all of the trauma that it transferred, Americans still demand justice, the salve of open wounds.
But justice has yet to be served. Instead, the Louisville Metro Police Department arrested 87 of the peaceful demonstrators who marched to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's home on July 14 to demand the officers responsible be fired, charged and convicted for their crimes.
In a society where the assertion that Black lives matter is often met with resistance, collective healing for Black Americans can feel like trying to remember a dream — elusive and far off.
Oliveira’s “self-mastery” work stands on the cutting edge of a reimagined society, wherein citizens need not look to the powers that be for wholeness. In fact, she said, the people have more power in reversing their trauma than previously realized.
“We have spent years actually thinking our genes controlled our life, but now studies show that every thought you have, every lifestyle change you make, can impact you at a cellular level,” Oliveira explained. “I can inherit gene code from my parents, but through my experiences, I can change that, and liberate myself. How incredible is that?”
Indeed, Oliveira’s coaching offers Black communities a sense of agency within a personhood that, for many, carries the weight of past crimes against humanity.
With her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, social work researcher Dr. Joy DeGruy explores the impact of inherited trauma on descendants. Like Oliveira, DeGruy believes that this inherited trauma can be reversed.
“Post-traumatic slave syndrome is an explanatory theory that really looks at multigenerational trauma. ... If it's a sustained trauma, then the impact is also sustained. ... You have to stop the assault,” DeGruy explained in an Al Jazeera video. “This requires social justice and change, that’s where part of the healing is. It’s in fairness and justice and safety and equity. We got to work with some of those clinical things, some of those issues of panic and anxiety, and we also have to deal wit the fact that you have a system that is set up to oppress you and to continue to injure you."
Further, post-traumatic slave syndrome finds descendants of slaves exhibit survivalist behaviors adapted within the shackles of enslavement, DeGruy explained.
She provided the example of a Black mother openly downplaying her child's academic success despite her pride and explained that this is a survival tactic retained from enslavement. The idea is that enslaved Black mothers attempted to convince white slave owners that their sons were weak to prevent them from being sold.
"So I denigrate them to protect them," DeGruy said. "That is called appropriate adaptation when living in a hostile environment."
Oliveira calls this the mother wound. Like DeGruy, she finds that generational trauma remains at the center of it all.
“When we talk about generational trauma and how it's inherited, you have to look at epigenetics. Whatever I experience, the people that go through me carry it with them,” Oliveira said. “The mother wound is how so many mothers have passed on their trauma to their children. It’s deeply personal, but also collective.”
The release and embrace of suppressed emotions remain at the root of Oliveira’s healing work. With clients, she said, her goal is not to teach but to remind.
“I’m creating a space where you can come in and remember who you are,” she said. “A lot of my work is standing in truth and then mirroring back to you. My clients know what healing they need, they just need to remember.”
The power, Oliveira reminds, is with the people.
“We are so much more than we give ourselves credit for. Malcolm X was one person who tapped into his spirit. Imagine if it was 10 or 100 people. We glorify these people, but they are just like us,” the wellness coach told Blavity. “The only difference is they created freedom within themselves and then carried it out into the world. Remember who you are, and the elites can never delete you. They tried to erase Malcolm, and here we are bringing him back up.”
To download some free resources for your own "self-mastery" work, click here.