In early 2020, right before the world shut down, I was at a particularly low point in my life. After being uprooted by several traumatic incidents in a short period of time, my survival resulted in concurrent illnesses that affected my nervous system and my symptoms were at peak intensity. I was unable to work, some days I was unable to walk, and completing basic tasks was nearly impossible. I was in constant physical and emotional pain, trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of illness caused by stress caused by illness cause by stress caused by... I thought I would never break free.
I didn't know it at the time, but my life was about to drastically change.
In an act of kindness and generosity, a friend took me on a trip to Jamaica. For years, she had shared with me that her intuition told her I needed to go. To be honest, the timing couldn't have been better. While there, I had an incredibly profound, heart-opening experience connecting with the plants of the island, whose numbers I learned were largely medicinal (the biodiversity of Jamaica boasts over 50% of the world's known medicinal plants). The message I received was clear - the plants were calling me to return to the island and deepen my relationship with them in aid of not only my own healing, but the healing of the collective.
Within days of my return to Canada, infrastructure was shut down due to COVID, systems were halted, travel restrictions were implemented and I realized that I got back home just under the wire. It was uncertain when I would be able to return to the island and obey the call of my newly discovered path. Nonetheless, I knew return was imminent.
After some online exploration and inquiry, I approached pharmagognocist (natural product scientist) Dr. Denise Daley
, who was the recipient of Jamaica's 2016 young scientist award for her work with patenting diabetes treatments derived from eucalyptus. I told her about the experience I had with the plants and expressed a desire to learn from her if she was interested in taking on any students. To my delight, she accepted and proposed a hybrid-approach; some online classes and, once the restrictions lifted, I would travel to Jamaica for experiential learning.
Many things have shifted with my health since over the past 18 months. Part of this is seeing the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" and a renewed reason for being, part of it is conscious lifestyle change, including a plant-based diet and incorporating more deliberate self-care practices. The evidence of healing is clear. I still have good days and bad days and need to "curate" the stress in my life to prevent flareups, but the good days seem to come in greater abundance than they used to, and my recovery time from a flareup is a lot faster than before. I feel much more rooted than before and I feel that I can grow stronger from this foundation. Through my pursuit of personal healing, although a non-linear journey, I hope to inspire others to do the same..
Now, after what seems like an eternity of patiently waiting for travel to re-open, I bought a plane ticket and am ready to return to Jamaica and be with the plants again.
From surviving to thriving
You may wonder why as an artist I want to explore what seems to be such a disparate path from the one I was on. Well, I actually don't see it as that different. Art, no matter the medium, is a tool to transform consciousness and has the potential to help access our intrinsic inner healers. Medicinal plants are much the same in the way that our relationship to them can transmute our dis-ease to wellness.
In Jamaica, as well as other islands in the Caribbean, there is a long tradition of holistic herbal medicine honoring nutrition and the mind-body-spirit connection. Sometimes referred to as "bush medicine", many of these traditions were brought to the islands via enslaved Africans and have survived through traditional knowledge sharing practices. There is now a movement to "validate" what is largely anecdotal evidence of profound healing of a broad spectrum of illnesses through science, and to augment with evidence-based research what people have known for generations. My hope is that this "validation" will allow for greater access to healing, especially culturally-relevant healing modalities for people of the African diaspora.
I believe that there is a strong link between access to cultural medicine and community strength. There is no doubt that we people of the African diaspora are survivors, but we are so much more than that. Although we are often lauded for our resilience (ie. the "strong Black woman" trope), "survival mode" is no way to live our lives and our bodies are not designed to withstand continual stress. In fact, high levels of stress contribute to a variety of illnesses disproportionately affecting Black women such as hypertension, fibroids, stroke, and anxiety. After generations of survival, this mode can seem like our natural way of being but, like all beings, we are here to thrive. There is a process that needs to happen to move in the direction of this liberation; some of us is beyond our control, but some of it is within our power. Plants are here to work with us. They are our ancestors too.
Now that I'm ready for the next phase, I am once again inviting community support.
I will be in Jamaica for 3 weeks in December and January for experiential learning under the guidance of Dr Daley, and to nurture relationships with others who are on a similar path. We will be travelling to various locations on the island for field study and I plan to document my journey to share on social media platforms.
My specific areas of interest are nervine herbs, holistic nutrition and entheogenic plant medicines for stress-related illness. My intention is to share this knowledge and empower others, especially other women of the African diaspora, to find relief from intergenerational and ongoing trauma and their effects. I also plan to learn about regenerative agriculture and its link to community health. In my opinion, the notion that these things are separate is absurd - we are of the Earth and human health is dependent on the health of the planet.
To support my expenses while I am abroad (travel and accommodations while on the island), I have introduced the limited edition Melanin Rising Rooted Healing collection. Along with a slightly modified re-issue of the "Blessed Love" hoodie from 2020, I also have created the Tree of Life hoodie in both child and adult sizes, which is modelled after a pair of earrings I bought on my last visit to Jamaica, and words inspired by the famous Marcus Garvey quote, "A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots". Both designs are also available printed on extra large tote bags.
This collection will be fulfilled by a print-on-demand service, which means that it will be shipped directly to you from the printer. Other Melanin Rising offerings outside of this collection will be fulfilled and shipped from our Vancouver location as usual.
Thank-you gift with your order
In lieu of the hand-written notes and goodies I sometimes include in my shipments, the first 200 people who support me through this collection will receive a hand-written (by me) thank you postcard from Jamaica. Who doesn't like getting mail (other than bills) in their mailbox?
Your support means so much to me. I can't wait to share this next phase of my journey with you.
xo Naomi G