When I dialed into my interview with Afia, I was struggling with my own levels of trauma and depression, due to the recent viewings of Black men killed by police and other onslaughts of violence spread across the nation.
My head still grainy, my heart still weighted and within just the first 30 minutes of our call we both shed tears. We both allowed ourselves to be moved, and Afia I imagine did what she does day in and day out helping women tap into themselves, heal, affirm and build sisterhood.
“We are being re-traumatized every single day,” says Afia, the founder of Jamaica Drum Retreats for Womyn, internationally acclaimed percussionist, visionary facilitator, spiritual activist, empowerment guide and all-around woman who can help drum you back into yourself. With over three decades of experience, Afia tells her story of finding a place of renewal and the way she offers it to other women as well.
Trauma has been a word seeped into our existence crossing all intersections, from the PTSD felt by abuse survivors, the post-traumatic slave syndrome felt by African Americans or the trans community who have witnessed abuse at the hands of strangers or the disabled community fighting for visibility.
How do we heal from such places? How do we become seated within ourselves enough to grab hold of an inch of peace and radical self-love when life seems miles full of frustration? Afia says we start by going back to our roots. A process she knows all too well, a process that healed her when nothing else did. For Afia that was the drum and it is what she uses to help bring healing to others as well.
Afia’s work and retreats reawaken and usher in African legacies of the drum, dance, yoga and earth stewardship as integral and vital healing technologies.
When asked how she began her journey as a spiritual activist and percussionist, the intuitive Afia responds, “I think the work pulled me in, I didn’t do anything.”
She continues by telling me the story of her early beginnings. Remembers the sound of the drums bouncing off the pavement of Washington Heights, New York City and making their way into her spirit.
“My spirit was starting to wake up and my brother was heading back home to Jamaica. He asked me if I wanted anything, I said ‘yeah, bring me back a drum’.”
Afia describes being surprised at her own request and even more surprised when her brother did just as she asked, returning to NYC with drum in tow.
“And, that was the first day of the rest of my life.”
Afia has led over hundreds of thousands of students in classes, workshops and drum circles across America, Asia, Africa and Europe.
“For me, what I got clear on 30 years ago is that drumming needed to be a spiritual awakening, that the drum is a spiritual awakening for those who want it that way,” said the activist.
I do this a lot in my classes, I have students write me a song, 24 words, and then they play it to me and they are weeping while they are playing it. I tell them to take it home and sing it and play it everyday. So when you lose yourself you have it in your pocket to pick it up and bring it back to you; to bring yourself back to life. I think we need more experiences of people regaining their bodies through the arts.”
The drum has been used as healing tool for centuries. And more and more research is being done that scientifically proves that drumming “accelerates physical healing, boosts the immune system and produces feelings of well-being, a release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self.”
But Afia says many people of African decent fear the drum because it taps into the deepest heart-space of our ancestry. An ancestry that was taken away and beaten out of us. Afia’s seven-day retreat works to restore our relationship to the drum, our ancestors and overall to ourselves.
“I use it as a way to help children (and women) step into their deeper voices. The drums empower, calm, create stability, and create a sense of purpose. It opened up a new world for me in teaching,” says Afia. “I became a renegade and I became a role model for women on how you step with yourself.”
Stepping with yourself is a big theme in Afia’s work; from men, women and children she facilitates dance, drum, and re-story circles that allow for holistic healing to occur. Healing she has now cultivated into her 7-day retreats facilitated in Jamaica and grounded in self-development, soul remembrance and restoration.
The first of these retreats took place in January 2016, bringing together women from all across America as well as local Jamaican women on Afia’s family-owned Emerson Paradise Villas. A land seeped in African and Jamaican culture, ancestral roots and organic healing, medicine and food.
And many of the women returned home changed for the better. They began to make different lifestyle choices, walk away from jobs that did not best suit them, and even changed states to focus more on their purpose.
Afia is now ready to bring in a whole new community of women to Emerson Paradise Villas to deepen the work she began this January. From December 26, 2016 to January 3, 2017 Afia is inviting women of color to slow down, access places of depth and untapped creative genius within our beings. As she provides a safe, private, relaxing, restorative and receptive space.
“The first retreat is for all women of color because we need the opportunity to sit amongst ourselves. I recently went to a conference with all Black women and it was all talking, all day. I don’t really think that is healing.
For me, if you go somewhere and you want to talk about creating change in a community you have to do things that make people jump into their bodies. You have to make people cry. People have to cry together, pray together, and scream together; we have to hold each other. We all know the stuff that is going on and talking is not the only way to help change it. We have got to get in our bodies,” says the spiritual activist.
Afia and her team facilitates this process through sacred drum and dance circles, yoga, ceremonies on the ocean, reconnecting to the land and so much more. Afia’s team also works on healing that pain many African Americans carry in our DNA due to our history. Amongst all of the personal work, women build a sisterhood along the way.
The second retreat, “Awaken Our Heart Healing Retreat” is open to women of all ethnicities and takes place January 3,2017 to January 9, 2017.
“Awakening our hearts together means we will be in the room with White women, Asian women, Latina women, Black women and we wake up together and work through the real issues we are facing. But it is not a diversity workshop; it is about individuals coming with what they want to bring to heal and to share. And mostly the people who show up are allies, who are in the field with us working side by side,” says Afia of the program.
Afia hopes to raise $6,000 to give away 16 scholarships for up to $699, to make sure that women who may be financially challenged can still attend the retreats.
“We really want support from organizations and people who get that restoration is necessary, especially if we are going to find a way to really return our people, back to our people.”
And Afia’s work doesn’t end on the retreats. Based in Oakland, California, she hosts monthly Black power medicine drum circles, in-school workshops, partnerships with One Billion Rising and more to truly awaken and heal ourselves and our community.
Are you ready to incorporate new gateways to your self-care and healing? Are you in need of a sacred space of retreat? Head over to AfiaWalkingTree.com to sign up and learn more about this fall’s dynamic retreats.[Feature Image: On the far left are people playing drums with Afia pictured in the center smiling and a serene green garden area is pictured to the right. Source: AfiaWalkingTree.com]