8: Healing Approaches for Underserved Communities with Jacqui Johnson

8: Healing Approaches for Underserved Communities with Jacqui Johnson

  • Show Notes

    Let's talk about bridging the gap in black mental health access!

    Meet Jacqui Johnson, the visionary force behind Sankofa Healing Studio, who is reshaping the landscape of mental health access and dismantling oppression within therapeutic spaces. With a passion for bridging the Black mental health gap, Jacqui's holistic approach combines art, play, storytelling, hip-hop, and evidence-based modalities to create a transformative healing experience.

    As an educator, Jacqui's influence extends far beyond the therapy room. She lectures widely, provides supervision and consultation, and leads international initiatives that increase training accessibility for Therapists of Color. Her expertise in trauma-responsive care and gender considerations informs her work, confronting the complex intersections of adverse childhood experiences, race, community violence, and the justice system.

    Jacqui's commitment to justice is exemplified in her groundbreaking work with individuals within the criminal justice system. At the Philadelphia county jail, she facilitates trauma-responsive art therapy groups for women and incarcerated youth, addressing the unique challenges they face. By reclaiming the past, she empowers individuals to protect their future and transform their present circumstances.

    But Jacqui's expertise doesn't stop there. She is a certified Kemetic Yoga instructor, an Adjunct Professor, and an Emotional Emancipation Circle Leader. Her skill set spans a wide range of therapeutic modalities, including intensive sessions, perinatal mental health, child trauma, play therapy, Hip-Hop therapy, advanced EMDR interventions, brainspotting, use of healing crystals, sound and energy healing, and Reiki.

    With limited therapy slots available, Jacqui invites you to inquire about rates and embark on a transformative journey of healing, growth, and self-discovery. Don't miss the opportunity to work with a true trailblazer in the field of mental health.

    Jacqui Johnson, the founder and clinical director of Sankofa Healing Studio, shares her background, expertise, and approach to providing trauma-responsive care to underserved communities, with a focus on bridging the Black mental health access gap.

    Want to know how you can begin your journey to hope and healing? Visit Elevated Life Academy for classes and free resources for personal development and healing.


    Sankofa Healing Studio



  • Transcript

    [00:00:38] Cherie Lindberg: Hello, everyone. You are listening to Elevated Life Academy. And today our topic is healing approaches for underserved communities. I am joined by Jacqui Johnson, who lives in Pennsylvania. Let me tell you a little bit about Jacqui. She's the founder, clinical director of Sankofa Healing Studio.

    [00:01:37] She goes with she, her, and hers pronouns. And Jacqui's a somatic social justice art and play therapist. And she prioritizes the need to bridge the Black mental health access gap while upending oppression with healing spaces. Her advanced training in multiple evidence based modalities informs her unique holistic style blending art, play, storytelling, hip hop, brain spotting, EMDR, and energy based practices.

    [00:02:04] Jacqui's an educator who lectures widely, provides supervision and consultation, and leads international initiatives that increase training accessibility to therapists of color. Her expertise and community work are rooted in the importance of gender and trauma responsive care. She addresses the complex intersectionality of adverse childhood experiences, race, community, violence, and the justice system.

    [00:02:31] This belief is what led her to work within the criminal justice system. She developed and facilitates trauma responsive art therapy groups at the Philadelphia County Jail for Women and Incarcerated Youth, addressing the challenges that individuals with trauma compounded by incarceration, face.

    [00:02:48] She believes that reclaiming our past provides us with valuable knowledge to protect our future while understanding and shifting our present condition. So welcome, Jacqui.

    [00:03:00] Jacqui Johnson: Thank you for having me.

    [00:03:01] We need to collaborate. Because for me, I'm just Jacqui.

    [00:03:06] Cherie Lindberg: No, it's wonderful. I think to put it in writing so that you realize, all the impacts, the different ways you are serving your community and the populations you serve. I'm excited to have you here Every time you and I get together, I learn more. I appreciate you being available today for us to kind of unpack some of this

    [00:03:26] Jacqui Johnson: Yeah.

    [00:03:27] Cherie Lindberg: So, why don't you start describing how the healing studio came to be and some of those services, that you talked about in your bio.

    [00:03:35] Jacqui Johnson: Ooh, it's so much. I was trying to think about my own story because so many times we hear other stories that we don't necessarily create the narrative of our own and like actually reflect on it. So I think for me, there's multiple things. Sankofa Healing Studio, just the name in and of itself has a history to it.

    [00:03:54] Sankofa is very near and dear to me It's from the Akan people. And it's also in a dinker symbol. And what it really symbolizes is not to be afraid to go back and get what was lost. It's that and for me with Sankofa healing studio this idea of going back and getting what's lost.

    [00:04:14] Going back to childhood experiences, believing in ourselves until someone has told us otherwise. So really being able to go back to a lot of those scary places that people don't want to go to, but by reclaiming our past, it protects our future. It shifts what's going on in our present condition and it creates this new pathway that we can show up and that we can see ourselves see the world, the connections,

    [00:04:41] But a lot of times it's because we have to go back and dig up some of the stuff for those old skeletons and that we don't necessarily want to, that we're afraid to. And so, so that's the word Sankofa. But healing is, we talk about academic words, psychotherapy and all those other things, but it's just healing.

    [00:05:01] Right. It's just this idea of healing for people and it feels less scary this is healing space. And even with the space, it's called studio. Because there's so many different ways that we can do this. it was really intentional on each of the three words that then create the one.

    [00:05:18] Whereas, this place that we can connect to both pain and joy and past and future and today in ways that allow us to feel better. So that's kind of just breaking down the name in and of itself. So, just that history there. And why, why was that so important for me?

    [00:05:35] Even with my own personal experiences, dealing with childhood trauma and really understanding that there's a lack of accessibility is, what I experienced. The lack of cultural acceptance and the push for what cultural norms should be, as well as do I feel comfortable with the people that I'm around?

    [00:05:56] I'm not given many options. if it doesn't feel good, oftentimes in the field that I myself had experienced at a younger age is, well, there's something wrong with me. Rather than like, yeah, this, I don't connect to this person. It's more of wanting to analyze what's wrong with me why I don't connect because they're the expert in the room and they're a therapist, so you should connect. So a lot of that really drove what I was doing within my own practice with him now with me in the field of what needed to be different.

    [00:06:28] I didn't see people that look like me. So it was important to bridge the black mental health access gap. As a creative myself, I'm a creative feeling very boxed into a very unforgiving labels. Oftentimes when we're in therapy, folks are diagnosed, there's labels that are put on you. And as a creative, I think outside of the box oftentimes. And that could be scary to other folks that don't, right? That are very confined and rigid.

    [00:06:57] So you have that pushback, especially within a treatment model that is aimed at fixing me instead of understanding me. But those are the things that drive me, that authentic attunement, right? Being able to be in the moments and just be a presence for someone in your life that's looking for that.

    [00:07:15] Cherie Lindberg: Well, wonderful. I didn't know a lot of that. And I really appreciate understanding the name of your studio, and why you call it a studio rather than like a mental health clinic. I'm hearing your flexibility. I'm also hearing not wanting to be compliant, like have it more free and open and attuned and understanding.

    [00:07:36] Jacqui Johnson: Absolutely, right? So when we think about studios, and we actually have multiple studios here. I have an art therapy studio where there's a room of a bunch of art stuff. I have a yoga studio that's very specific to yoga and some of the other holistic practices like Reiki and sound healing.

    [00:07:53] We also have another room that's a music studio where we have two isolation booths and all the music equipment. we have a play therapy room. So when I say studio, every room is a different color, a different theme, a different feel that gives different access.

    [00:08:08] Cherie Lindberg: And for whatever that person needs in that moment in time. So then you have these rooms that they can go in and get a need met.

    [00:08:15] Jacqui Johnson: Yeah.

    [00:08:15] Cherie Lindberg: Yeah. That makes sense.

    [00:08:16] Jacqui Johnson: Without it being pre prescribed. You have anxiety. So this is what we need to do. You have what we call maladaptive behavior. So here's homework that you should complete and then in session we're going to review it.

    [00:08:29] Cherie Lindberg: Can you talk about how you're serving underserved communities? That's such an important topic.

    [00:08:34] Jacqui Johnson: It's about the understanding that healing can take many different forms. It could be with different ages and really to be able to understand those that are underserved, what is it that they're looking for? Not what it is that I can do that fixes you or fills a gap, but what are you looking for?

    [00:08:53] So in speaking about that I'm a community based therapist. So the work that I do is community based. So not just like, Oh, I work with the community, but no, I'm in the community. I'm not in the office waiting for folks to knock on a door or call.

    [00:09:08] I am visible. It could be visible at, community events or fairs, right? It means showing up at job fairs and education fairs.

    [00:09:19] But if I have anxiety that I'm dealing with or depression, the likelihood of me being able to get up on time in the morning and deal with some of the demands of work may be really challenged. I may not be able to keep that job and we don't have those conversations. So to be able to show up with my team to make sure that people are checking their mental health and saying like, Hey, we're here.

    [00:09:41] Hey, come talk with us for 10, 15 minutes. So on the spot consultations. And in those ways literally I've had folks, I remember one specifically a job fair that we went to, and we actually had a healing space. It's this whole healing space that people coming for a job could also go and get a sound bath and talk to therapists on the spot. All kinds of stories like my mother just died two weeks ago and I'm struggling, Folks that have been dealing with depression for quite a while and also wondering if there's any hope in their life, if they should even keep trying.

    [00:10:16] Like really people who are struggling but wouldn't have gone to a therapist but to be present and normalize it not just talking about we'll take a deep breath, but what does it feel like to have the joy and smile of bubbles, which we know therapeutic is also a controlled breathing, right?

    [00:10:34] It's helping with the vagus nerve to come out of the fight or flight responses. But for other folks, we just present it as something normal and fun to do. For me, being able to reach people who are underserved means that I have to be in some ways, anti academic. I can't be compliant with some of the words and terminologies that we typically use because that could feel really fearful to folks but instead meet them where they are even when people are talking about community violence, substance use and different kinds of conversations, instead of pulling people out of the river, as there's an African proverb, I don't want to pull people out the river.

    [00:11:15] I want to go upstream and see why they're falling in. And one of the ways I do that is actually going into the jails. Folks that are in the jail aren't there just because they decided to commit crimes. Oftentimes, and I haven't met one yet, have had some traumatic childhoods.

    [00:11:30] Things have happened in their lives. And were failed by our systems as a child. And we have this really harmful approach that once you turn 18, you're an adult. Which doesn't even make sense because we know the prefrontal cortex isn't even quite done baking until closer to 25, 26. But you have these young folks still just running from whatever has happened to them.

    [00:11:55] And they wind up in these really difficult situations where they have been harmed and maybe now they have harmed others. But they still need space to be held for them as well.

    [00:12:07] Cherie Lindberg: So I'm jotting down some notes here. Through active engagement in the moment, wherever in the community you are actively trying to connect with them. And some healing can take place just even in that moment because you're connecting and they feel seen and heard.

    [00:12:24] Jacqui Johnson: That part. I look at the field with four very specific columns. People need to be seen, heard, feel validated and feel protected, and under protected is, feeling loved, protected, safe. Even if you don't have the right words, it's just your presence and nonjudgmental approach that gives hope to people. There are times that there's not enough attention given to just being present. And, and again, being not nonjudgmental.

    [00:12:56] Like I'm someone that comes from a harm reduction model. I'm not here to tell you what you should do with your life. People don't want to go to therapy. I want people to tell them what they should and shouldn't do.

    [00:13:06] However, if I hold space for folks who just tell me what happened to you and tell me about your dreams. That opens up a dialogue in a very different way. So I think that is that crux of serving underserved because underserved are also the ones who are oppressed.

    [00:13:22] Cherie Lindberg: Your approach just really feels, it's like a true trauma informed care.

    [00:13:26] Jacqui Johnson: Yeah. And even with that going further than trauma informed, but trauma responsive. Like, what am I going to do about it as a provider? What is our responsibility to truly be trauma responsive not just be aware there's trauma, but how do we go about it knowing that all these other layers are present as well.

    [00:13:46] Cherie Lindberg: Yeah, I like that trauma responsive. It doesn't matter if we're not showing up trauma responsive as well.

    [00:13:53] Jacqui Johnson: Yeah, your intention does not necessarily match your impact. And as providers, we need to focus on impacts.

    [00:14:01] You know, it's not always about what we intended, but how are our clients actually receiving us? How is our community receiving us? Which means we have to do some inner work of our own, which sometimes is difficult and scary. It's hard.

    [00:14:13] Cherie Lindberg: So explain more about your integrative approaches. I'm particularly interested in hearing more about this hip hop stuff that you do. How do you integrate?

    [00:14:21] Jacqui Johnson: So for me, integration means being fully present. I'm also trained in the things that I do and I understand the purpose and the workings of each thing that I do, and then it's able to inform how I then integrate where the overlaps of it is. So with hip hop specifically, hip hop to me is the perfect poster child type of thing of really being creative and being present. Hip hop itself is rooted in social justice. It was birthed out of the need to fight back with oppressive systems. Oppressed populations didn't have a voice. That is where hip hop is rooted. Being able to tell my story because everyone else was telling my story for me. And the story that they were telling wasn't really the reality.

    [00:15:10] It's this very culturally rooted expression, and it allows people to give their powerful full narrative So when we're thinking about narrative therapy, being able to tell my story. So hip hop isn't just the music, it's a culture.

    [00:15:27] It's all of the different pieces of it. And it's creative arts. you have things around. Bilateral stimulation, even, when we think about like BLS with the rhythmic movements, the left and the right, are you creating the beats? And how is your body moving with all of that? You know, it really gives space for narrative without filters while also using rhythmic patterns. To also stay within our window of tolerance. I could go on and on about hip hop, but I think a lot of it is, and I say to people that we have to really be careful as well, although hip hop is a global thing.

    [00:16:04] thing. And I have gone to other parts of the world really think, supporting my colleagues around hip hop and what that looks like and what that means on a global perspective. It is also very important that there isn't cultural appropriation as well. So it's not as simple as like, let's bring a hip hop song in because this person likes hip hop. Let's just play the music. It's so much more.

    [00:16:27] Cherie Lindberg: Thank you. Well, I'm listening and it sounds like through all the different things that you integrate, that somatics the body is at the core. Am I understanding that correctly?

    [00:16:39] Jacqui Johnson: So I'm a somatic social justice. . And I say kind of art therapy plus. It is somatic. Secondly, I am an activist before I'm a therapist.

    [00:16:49] This activist artivist that is who I am. The therapist piece of it, it's connected with the healing components of being in our bodies and needing to fight for justice, fight for equality, fight for diversity. And that's how I show up in this space, which can be a little different than what we are taught in school.

    [00:17:11] Cherie Lindberg: Would it be safe to say like, you're holding these spaces for folks so that they can share their narrative? It sounds like it's freedom based, liberation based.

    [00:17:22] Jacqui Johnson: Yeah, actually, it's part of on our website, right? This is this liberated mental health approach that people feel empowered. This full acceptance that I get to come as I am.

    [00:17:34] Talking about anti blackness is really uncomfortable. Because when we think about racism, it doesn't always include very specifically colorism as well. So with me really holding space for the black community, it's multi layered because there's all this colorism that comes in.

    [00:17:55] Think about it. We have to have laws so that people aren't discriminated against because of how they wear their hair. if I wear my hair in my natural state, I have to be concerned that I'm going to be discriminated against? So there's these other very specific cultural pieces. And when we think about somatic. That to me is it's core when I'm working with the black community, because there's a quote that I saw before that, I hold dearly to; how can I be unarmed if the weapon that you fear is my skin? So how can I ever be unarmed ? So if someone is fearing my skin, my color and all of the internalized messaging around that, I can never be safe. I can never be looked at as not being a threat Meaning me being in my skin and in my body with my dialect with my walk with the way that I'm shaped with the way that my hair is all of that is on the surface, but that's all within what I feel.

    [00:18:58] This is who I am. So when working with the black community, it's very important in my approach to talk about that. Just waking up as a black woman can be traumatizing. I'm proud to be who I am, but it also puts me at risk depending on the society and the communities that I live in. Although it shouldn't. And those are those internalized feelings and pains that I may not be able to talk about with someone who doesn't look like me or understands what it's like when I say that I went to the store and I was followed. I've had folks say, well, are you sure they were following you?

    [00:19:31] And maybe they just had to go on the same aisle. Whereas if you're someone from my community, I don't have to explain. Those somatic pieces, the intuitive you feel when you are not welcome, you feel that hyper vigilance when I'm not safe.

    [00:19:46] Cherie Lindberg: If we go back to somatics again, if you are going into those environments and let's face it, all the systems that are out there, you're going to potentially be more sympathetic dominant because you have to be in a protective state as you're just walking around the neighborhood or walking into a store. And I'm glad that you're saying this, Jacqui, because my hope is by having this podcast, we, myself included need more education

    [00:20:17] I'm doing my own work, but these podcasts and having you on here helps me understand the level of trauma black bodies may be carrying around. it's not just an event, it's every single day in the culture within the system. And so you give folks this beautiful space to be able to come as they are and to maybe discuss or share things that they've experienced that it hasn't been safe for them to share in other systems.

    [00:20:49] Jacqui Johnson: And it's in so many systems, people think like, Oh, slavery, that was back then. And that's not true because just recently, there, what is it in Florida, African American study isn't permitted in elementary schools, in public education. The audacity of that conversation that African American studies is banned. So what is African American then? if I'm an American and we're doing American history to specifically say that African American history is not accepted sends a clear message to children, to parents, to my community that we are not welcomed within the education system once again. Because to have conversation about my story isn't okay. We can't have this conversation, meaning we can't talk about the truth of the history in this country. We can learn about every other country in the world, but not here. So thinking of that as someone who lives here and in a black body that African American history. That's my lineage. How would that make me feel as a client? And now I'm in a space with people that don't look like me. So when I come in and I'm distraught about this, it's because we can't spread hate, even with my own self. I can feel on my own body, the thought of it, my own emotions, welling up with the pain and the anger. And part of what I do at Sankofa with holding spaces specifically for black bodies again, is this love project because there's so many things, so many things that we're facing every time we turn on the TV. And sometimes we want to just be able to come in and not have to talk about it but can just give the nod, give the look, certain statements you can make and then you can just kind of sit.

    [00:22:45] And we don't have that everywhere. And that is not something that's taught in schools.

    [00:22:49] Cherie Lindberg: I mean, it is perplexing. We're all on this planet together and none of us are getting out of here alive. We have to share the resources that are on here and it just would be so much nicer if we could have harmony, if we could learn to have disagreements respectfully and care for each other. So I hear your desire to care for the populations that get overlooked, And I can only imagine what that must be like in terms of, what have you witnessed. Like there's gotta be something that keeps you doing that work, right? Cause it's hard.

    [00:23:27] Jacqui Johnson: It does. I think of one that, just makes me emotional even thinking about it now. But working with the women behind the walls and giving them these powerful tools to be attuned with their own bodies to be able to get through.

    [00:23:43] Right. So I can't be there all the time and I can only do group stuff because I just don't have the capacity. I don't have the financial support to do the work that I do. I go in pro bono. But I remember teaching an individual bilateral stimulation. Being able to love on themselves and being able to do a butterfly hug.

    [00:24:02] Right after that COVID hit and I probably was close to a year before I could get back in. Maybe seven or eight months later, I was finally able to go in with these art packets because I give art packets to everyone to be able to do these art journals and be able to express themselves and have positive affirmations and all that kind of stuff.

    [00:24:22] So when in this specific day, And I was so excited and women were lining up and, we're getting to everybody that was there at the premises. They were like way on the other side of the room and they were just doing a butterfly hug.

    [00:24:33] And as I saw them, my body immediately did a butterfly hug back to them. And as they finally were able to come up to me and there were tears streaming down their face. And they said to me, this is what got me through. Those are the reminders for me. You don't know how you're impacting people.

    [00:24:53] We show up as we can. We give people as tools We don't know, the full picture. And those are the times where I'm like, Oh my gosh. And I remember just crying after it.

    [00:25:05] And I was like, this is my why, because someone then had something that supported them. I just recently, a couple of weeks ago was with a woman who has had some struggles and she's like, wait a minute, I remember you,

    [00:25:20] And it was like, I don't know, 2017 or 18. And I remember you said, and it's like, Oh my gosh, like people are actually hearing those things. We're all in different spaces and places of our journeys, but it's just about us. And I treat every single person as if it's the only time I'll ever see them.

    [00:25:36] Every single time I interact with someone, I pour as much as I can in because you have no idea where that could actually go. So, yeah, those are those stories of hope. Sometimes it's a great thing, but also a burden of, working with people and then they recommend their entire family. None of the family has ever done therapy or thought about it, but have had tremendous traumas. And they sent everyone in like, Oh my gosh, and I see a lot of people unfortunately who have lost children to gun violence, community violence.

    [00:26:13] And they're like, I spoke to someone else, who also lost a child and they said, this is where I need to go. So there's those stories of hope. It's also comes with burdens, right? As a therapist, but also that's my whys.

    [00:26:27] Cherie Lindberg: Yeah. So where can people find you? Your studio is a nonprofit, correct? So if they wanted to, donate some funds to your purpose and help the folks that you serve, where can they find you?

    [00:26:39] Jacqui Johnson: Yeah, people can find me at Sankofa Healing Studio dot org.

    [00:26:43] We do work in the communities specifically with folks that otherwise would not have access. Which is why we are also a recognized 501 C3 and can accept donations and also give donation letters because there are folks that don't have access.

    [00:26:59] And I also do a lot of other trainings and workshops for clinicians, for people as well that are in the field and proceeds from doing those trainings. So supporting Sankofa with the trainings that we do support our mission as a whole to really, as you said, this balance of harmony.

    [00:27:17] But in order for us to have harmony, we really need to have some healing first. .

    [00:27:22] Cherie Lindberg: Well, I just wanna say thank you for the work that you do. Hearing more about what it is that you do, and I'm hoping that this might have the community moved to support your studio, because it's definitely a need.

    [00:27:35] And thank you, Jacqui, for bringing and holding space for folks, so that maybe they are able to feel liberated or have a moment of taking in that love, so that they can feel differently.

    [00:27:48] Jacqui Johnson: Yeah. I can't say thank you to you enough. Just having this relationship with you and the friendship that has developed between the two of us from coming from very different kind of spaces and ideas and understandings.

    [00:28:03] And you have always been nothing but a support, a very dear ally in this work, and your willingness to be present, right? In some difficult conversations and doing your own work and encouraging others to do the same while uplifting this message. So, my deepest heart warmth.

    [00:28:25] Thank you. And I know you mentioned, it's not about, me having to do work and teach, but I am in that space of doing that. I welcome that space for folks and other folks as well, that, they want to do their own work. And I also want to understand. I'm always open to having those conversations with any and everyone.

    [00:28:43] This is our pathway.

    [00:28:44] Cherie Lindberg: Yeah. Thank you. And I'll make sure when I put this out, that we'll have all those resources available so that people can reach out to you. So thank you for joining us today.

    [00:28:54] Jacqui Johnson: Thank you. Thank you for having me. .