A woman has created a healing retreat specifically for Black women who work in areas of social justice – with the aim of tackling the exhaustion of experiencing racism.
Tray Agyeman launched the retreat – Exhale – because she felt that the impact of the pandemic and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement was weighing disproportionately heavily on the shoulders of Black women.
For those who work in areas of anti-discrimination or human rights, dealing with public discourse on systemic racism takes its toll, and Tray wanted to provide a space for reflection and recovery.
The events of the last year – from the murder of George Floyd to the sudden surge in discussions about racism – have been draining and even sometimes traumatic for the Black community.
Black women have reported being thoroughly exhausted by what they have lived through since 2020, and previously. Exhale aims to make the wellbeing of Black women a priority and to create an arena for participants to share their wins, successes, lessons learned and obstacles.
The retreat, which will run between 24th-27th June is also multigenerational, so Black women who are at different stages of their lives and careers can learn from each other.
‘As if being in the middle of a global pandemic isn’t enough, dealing with constant discourse on systemic racism and a government which denies its existence, has been very difficult for us all,’ Tray tells Metro.co.uk.
‘2020 and 2021 have been particularly challenging years for Black women working in equality, human rights, social justice and philanthropy, because we are not only fighting inequality in our 9-5, but we are also living it.’
This is why Tray is inviting Black women to take part in her rural retreat, so they can find the time to take a breath and form connections.
‘My vision is to place the wellbeing of Black women at the centre of the retreat and create a space where you can just be,’ she says. ‘Experience stillness, joy and collective action within a supportive community.
‘Historically, there has been a lack of support systems and networks which address the unique challenges and struggles Black women face in our sectors. I wanted to create a space for Black women to talk, share, support, vent, laugh, inhale and exhale. Together.’
What to expect at the Exhale retreat
The Exhale Retreat is about reflection, exploration and cultivation, not production – Tray does not expect the women who attend to develop new projects or work for themselves (unless they want to).
Funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the retreat is a serious opportunity for some necessary rest.
‘I want the participants to take this opportunity to take a step back from the pressures of daily work, to reflect, explore and consider how we achieve our goals together,’ says Tray.
Tray devised the content of her retreat after speaking to a diverse group of diverse Black women who have all been impacted by the events of 2020/21 – and way before then.
‘Some talked about feeling exhausted and frustrated with the being the “only one” in the room,’ says Tray. ‘Others have been expected to speak up and talk about racism as if it is new. Most have been called “aggressive” and “angry”, and a couple have been mistaken for cleaners in the past.
‘A few talked about having imposter syndrome, and most shared how lonely they felt, and how they wished they knew other Black women in their sector.
‘From these conversations, I knew I had to do something about this. Something to support Black women and create a space where they can connect and remind them that they are not alone.’
The daily activities of the retreat include physical sessions, such as Capoeira, group talking sessions, journalling, and plenty of downtime.
‘The retreat has been curated according to the needs and priorities of the participants. We asked them five key questions,’ says Tray
- What makes you joyful?
- What is important for the facilitated retreat space to provide for Black women?
- Are there any specific contributions you would like to bring to the retreat in terms of dialogue, creativity, conversations, ideas, etc..
- What are some of the areas you wish to explore about your unique experiences as a Black woman?
- What would you like to come away with?
‘Based on their responses, the retreat will have two streams of activity happening concurrently: one will enable women to have free time for themselves, while the other will create space for collective dialogue, reflection and action.’
Tray adds that it’s really important for participants to take ownership of the retreat in order to create an impactful and memorable experience.
‘We had our pre-meet where we discussed the values and culture we wanted to set for our retreat,’ she says. ‘We agreed on a set of values, behaviours and culture, to ensure we all participate wholeheartedly, equally and fully.’