Professional and Personal Mosaic.

In a capitalist organized society of human doing auto-piloting and expert- helper driven services, Shayla asserts herself as a mother first and a cultural humility centered human being who is Creator made, community anchored and ancestor validated. When she is not co- parenting her three daughters with her partner and focusing on other parts of BEINGNESS, she is a multi- dimensional person who wears multiple hats: an interprovincial clinical social worker, a decolonizing psychotherapist, an intercultural safety consultant, a board approved clinical social work supervisor, a published author and an inclusive workshop facilitator amongst other roles. Shayla has been a registered and practicing social worker for 13 years, 2 years in child protection and 11 years in community mental health services. She has spent her career dedicated to holding space and bearing witness to the sacred multistories of diverse children, youth, adults, couples and families of diverse identities, varied abilities and multicultural. Shayla was planted in Zimbabwe, ancestrally rooted in Southern Alkebulan (Africa), with a fusion of Ndebele and Venda. She has been grounded in Turtle Island, Canada for almost 20 years and she considers herself a visiting cousin to the first people of the traditional lands that she lives, works and plays. Shayla is passionate about continuous unlearning, relearning and co- healing the colonial social conditioning and colonial traumas that bind us and divide our humanity in order to decolonize herself and the services that she provides so that she can cultivate cultural and psychological safety to racially marginalized people using identity affirming and community grounded care.

Shayla’s collective approach to healing and ways of knowing are rooted in the African worldview of UBUNTU, liberation psychology and anti- oppressive practice that inform her trauma conscious and collective healing methods beyond Western psychology. Shayla is the co-founder and clinical director of Langa Wellness Empowered Community Services where she centers racially minoritized folks. She is also a co- founder of Alberta Black Therapist Network and affiliate provider with Black Mental Health Canada and NACCA community, all of which prioritize and center Black mental health and wellness.

Embracing UBUNTU and Community Centred care: 

It goes without saying that women, girls and gender diverse people of African ancestry who are Racialized as Black are often bombarded with subliminal societal messages of being strong and resilient, which often pressures them into subconsciously subscribing to the capitalist driven culture of auto pilot busyness and consumer treadmill hustlers that turn them into human doing machines. Therefore, this is a community nudge and a call to action for them to consider slowing down, pausing, mindfully breathing and reclaiming radical rest as their birthright and basic human rights.

Radical rest is part of colonial resistance; it’s the kind of self- compassion and self- love that is grounded in community as it does take a village to build healthy lives.  I invite women, girls and gender diverse people reading this post to reflect on this question:  Who is part of your village or community? If you don’t have a village that fosters community, cultural safety and belonging for you, what do you need to create that for yourself?

As a young African girl who was born and raised in Zimbabwe by her grandparents, my grandmother was an elementary school teacher, a hardworking farmer and a community builder with a philanthropic and entrepreneurial spirit. I learned UBUNTU, the value of hardworking and integrity centred work ethics from her. However, I also inherited the culture of always working and only resting at nighttime from her, as I never saw her playing and having fun any kind of fun that was not associated with going to church on Sunday.

Fast forward 20 years later, when I immigrated to Canada, I found myself studying Social Work full time at York University in Ontario while working part time and pregnant with our first child. When the baby was born, I went back to class when she was at the tender age of 6 days old because it didn’t even occur to me that I could pause school to take care of her and let my body heal before resuming school. Managing the sleep deprivation that came with having a newborn baby, having postpartum blues and balancing all of that with full time University studies rendered me burnt-out and living on survival mode in ways that self- care and living in isolation was not going to help me. If I didn’t have my village that supported me, my postpartum blues could have progressed into depression and there is no amount of individualized self- care that would have anchored and held me in ways that I needed. Because “children learn what they live, “What lessons did you learn about rest and joy through observing the lifestyles of your primary caregivers as a child?  

As a pregnant university student, I relied on the collective support of my fellow classmates and the kindness of some of my professors to complete my social work program. For example, one of my classmates helped me to secure a practicum from her work when most professionals who interviewed me did not seem to want to supervise a pregnant student and when we had group work, my classmates came to my home so that I wouldn’t travel far, and these were some of the seeds of UBUNTU and community centered care that helped me graduate with everyone else. While I am grateful that I graduated with my cohort, I wish that I would have taken a break to recover from the birthing experience. Therefore, I urge women, girls and gender diverse people who are racialized as Black to revisit their relationship with saying NO when their plates are full and consider asking for help when they need it.

Because of the “Strong Black woman syndrome,” most Racialized as Black people struggle with asking for help because of the individualistic culture of “me, myself and I” that miseducated them into believing that they are independent, hence, equate asking for help with weakness and dependency.  What is your relationship with saying NO to requests that you cannot fulfill and asking for help when you need it?

In the Worldview of UBUNTU, a people centred phrase that is derived from ABANTU, a Zulu/ Ndebele/ Xhosa word, which means people, we are an extension of each other as human species and nobody exists as an island, which means we share our wins, successes, sorrows, grief and struggles because the struggle of one of us is other people’s struggle and their wellness is our wellness.

If you participated in journaling along as you answered the reflection questions, it is my sincere hope that the process of externalizing your experiences was helpful and meaningful to you as awareness is the first step towards changing, unlearning and transforming any practices that no longer serve us.

In summary, women, girls and gender diverse people who are racialized as Black have always mattered, and they will always matter even when they exist in spaces where they are not represented, where they experience micro/ macro aggressions and discrimination. It’s important for them not to internalize the experiences of exclusion and erasure as a measure of their self- worth but realize that they are sacredly whole and sovereign as they are.

It’s ok to admit when you are struggling as you cannot solve problems that you cannot name. It’s also ok to ask for help and it’s a sign of strength and a boundary for yourself that allows you to pause and not take on more responsibilities when your plate is already full. If you don’t have a supportive village, professional help is there but you have to seek help from people who can center your wholeness and provide both cultural and psychological safety for you to show up as yourself and unpack what wish you unpack.

I recommend the following Black centred organizations for resources of consideration; however, I encourage you to do your due diligence in screening and assessing alignment and compatibility for yourself before you sign up for any services:

NACCA – Newmarket African Caribbean Canadian Association: NACCA emerged in 2018 with a mission to provide resources and opportunities for Black and oppressed communities. Focused on education, empowerment, and unity, they aim to build a more inclusive and connected community in Newmarket.

Black Mental Health Canada: Black Mental Health Canada serves as a Mental Health Provider Directory, catering to the unique mental health needs of the Black community in Canada.

TAIBU Community Health Centre: TAIBU offers Black-identifying clients in the Greater Toronto Area access to culturally affirming primary care, health promotion, and disease prevention programs.

Parents of Black Children (PoBC): PoBC is an advocacy group working to address anti-Black racism and systemic barriers in education. They aim to increase access to equitable education for Black children, offering support for parents and teachers.

Ancestral Memory Therapy: Located in Hamilton, ON, Ancestral Memory Therapy specializes in trauma and PTSD therapy, using ancestral embodiment to complement traditional psychotherapy for holistic healing.

Psychology Today – Black Canadian Therapists in Alberta: This directory helps individuals find therapists who have self-identified as Black, emphasizing cultural matching for a more effective therapeutic experience.

From Invisible to Visible: This resource focuses on addressing mental health issues within communities of color, providing support and resources. The platform aims to connect individuals with culturally competent counselors.

Sankofa Legacy Program (TSLP): TSLP offers a 3-tier healing and engagement system, providing individual counseling, family support, and group programming for youth and families of Black, African, or Caribbean descent.

HNA Practice: With a wealth of experience in mental health disorders, HNA Practice offers specialized services in a neutral space, including tailored support for couples, parents, and students.

Agapé Lens Consulting & Therapy led by Simone Donaldson, specializes in addressing mental health, social equity, and workplace challenges through the transformative power of healthy human connection. Services prioritize cultivating strong relational bonds for resolving personal, professional, and systemic issues with empathy and commitment.

DAWN Canada   founded in 1985, advocates for women with disabilities, addressing the compounded barriers faced by those who are Indigenous, LGBTQ, older, women of color, or immigrants. The organization works to empower and eliminate discrimination, fostering inclusivity in society.

These resources collectively address various aspects of mental health, spanning advocacy, therapy, education, and community engagement, with a focus on the unique needs of Black communities in Canada.

Here are some of the screening questions that you can ask your prospective service providers to gauge if they are a fit for you.

  1. What is your experience in providing mental health care to people who are Racialized as Black?
  2. What is your level of understanding and experience in providing racial trauma and identity-based trauma care?
  3. How do you keep your implicit biases in check to ensure that your therapeutic services offer the compassion and curiosity that is needed without bias?
  4. How will you handle issues of counter transference if our work together triggers your own personal issues as a therapist?
  5. How does your practice differ from Western psychology in ways that incorporate community beyond blaming individuals for systemic issues?
  6. What are the culturally responsive modalities that you draw your work from beyond mainstream approaches such as CBT, DBT and solution focused therapy?
  7. Are you a therapist who is in therapy and do you have a clinical supervisor?
  8. How do you take care of yourself and avoid burnout?
  9. How will you repair therapeutic alliance ruptures in ways that mitigate abandonment and blaming me as your service participant?
  10. How are you decolonizing yourself and your practice to ensure that you won’t recolonize and oppress me in our work together?