'Self preservation' sessions offer care and support amid protests 

Take care while taking action

click to enlarge Marchers push down King Street after rallying in Marion Square on May 30

Sam Spence

Marchers push down King Street after rallying in Marion Square on May 30

More than 150 “vent sessions” have been funded since last Sunday with a Murrells Inlet social worker who works with people of color looking for a safe space to express their anxiety, anger and frustration.

Dubbed the “self preservation fund,” the initiative came about as a mental health push between Charleston-based Transformation Yoga and Gabrielle Morton, a social worker. Sessions have been funded during the months of June and July, when four or five are possible per work day, Morton said.

While Morton has offered the vent sessions since December, the fund picked up steam after protests around the state started last week. The protests are a culmination of aggressive policing of black people, captured on video in many instances, including the death of George Floyd after a white police officer kneeled on his neck.

Transformation Yoga owner Kennae Miller has worked on the initiative as part of her studio’s mission “to serve marginalized people.”

“I am hearing just a myriad, a range of emotions from sadness to frustration to anger to feelings of hopelessness. And sometimes simultaneously,” Miller said. “Imagine trying to prove that you exist, but imagine you have to prove that you exist every day of your life.”

“Transformation Yoga is stepping into the role of don't forget to care for yourself,” she said, adding that she and others are trying to ensure people are eating well and keeping healthy as they are processing trauma, anxiety and hopelessness while trying to affect change. 
click to enlarge Kennae Miller is the founder of Transformation Yoga - RUTA SMITH FILE PHOTO
  • Ruta Smith file photo
  • Kennae Miller is the founder of Transformation Yoga
“The protests have amplified the need for that because black and brown bodies in community have reached out and said, ‘Hey I need help, I need support,’” Miller said, adding that the daughter of Eric Garner, a man killed in 2014 by New York police, died at the age of 27 of a heart attack. She said that it is hard to take care of yourself while pushing for change.

Having a safe space for people of color to vent often means finding a person who looks like them, Miller said.

That’s where Morton steps in. Morton said she tried therapy with a white person. But instead of healing, she found herself having to explain the words she used or the experiences she felt. And, sometimes, it can feel “unsafe” releasing the anger and frustration felt to a white person or a white space, Morton said.

“It's important we have direct representation,” she said, calling it “an act of rebellion” for marginalized people to address mental health issues, especially with a provider with a similar experience. “We’re often told what our story should be instead of being allowed to tell our own story.”

Morton said the sessions' goals are not solution-oriented, but to “take off that heavy.”

“It’s something very vulnerable about connecting in such a sacred space that they know is held only for them,” she said.

Mental health has not always been prioritized for the black community, as in many other communities, Miller said. And it also has its barriers with lack of health care or time to go therapy.

“A lot of black and brown folks can't afford to pay for mental health care,” Miller said. “It is so much easier to get someone to show up for mental health care if they don't have the additional stress of where the money is coming from.”

Morton’s sessions are virtual or on the phone to help her clientele squeeze in a session and not take time off work.

For more information, visit Morton’s website at gabriellemorton.com.

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