The Healing Justice Project was inspired in part by conversations Cabello has had with California surgeon general Nadine Burke Harris about the toll of “toxic stress” (prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems), and with such activists as Latinx Racial Equity Project founder Ana Perez and Jerry Tello, founder of the racial equity group National Compadres Network, about racial reconciliation. Cabello has been interested in both subjects ever since social media posts of hers from 2012 and 2013 featuring racist memes and racial slurs resurfaced in December 2019; the singer said she was “deeply sorry and ashamed” for her use of “horrible and hurtful language” and pledged to use her platform “to speak out about injustice and inequality.”
Cabello will reflect further on what she’s learned in a conversation with Tello this afternoon for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s fifth annual National Day of Racial Healing, a program that also will feature appearances by Ta-Nehisi Coates, John Legend, Padma Lakshmi, Yara Shahidi, Storm Reid, Aloe Blacc, MILCK, all-female mariachi band Flor de Toloache, the Detroit Youth Choir and former National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (who tomorrow will become the youngest poet ever to perform at a U.S. presidential inauguration).
“I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years, and especially this past year home during the pandemic, in constant reflection, learning and exploring the ways I have contributed to systems and beliefs that actively oppress others,” Cabello tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve realized there’s so much more I can and must do to support others who are doing the work to heal our communities…. Grassroots organizers are faced with the exhaustion, emotional burden and trauma that comes with fighting against inequitable systems. Our hope is to offer access to the necessary support they may need as they continue their critical work advocating for social justice.”
In addition to amplifying each of the 10 grant recipients through virtual engagements and on her social media accounts over the next few months, Cabello also will work to raise general awareness among the public about the psychological and emotional burnout that activists face, and to normalize mental healing and wellness practices. Prolonged exposure to racial and social injustice has been linked to higher incidences of poor mental health among affected demographics. Last summer a U.S. Census Bureau survey revealed spikes in anxiety and depression among Black and Asian Americans in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and COVID-related hate crimes, and a 2018 New York Times story detailed the traumatic burden shouldered by Black Lives Matter activists, two of whom lost their lives by suicide and one by heart attack.
“In the past year, a global pandemic, an overt rise in white nationalist attacks and a deeply fractious presidential election have placed challenges on organizers and activists in ways that will be felt for the long haul,” says MVF senior director Syd Yang. “Unfortunately, they often don’t get adequate support. Our partnership with Camila Cabello on the Healing Justice Project will help fill that gap and allow us to expand our support of BIPOC organizers and raise awareness about the care that is needed to drive sustainable and just social change.”
Cabello worked with MVF to identify the Healing Justice Project’s 10 recipient groups, chosen in part because they are located in regions that have recently been at the epicenters of major racial, social or electoral justice activism, and therefore have elevated levels of exhaustion, trauma and need for mental restoration. They are:
Black Leaders Organizing Communities: BLOC coordinates and harnesses the power of collective political action to represent the needs, concerns and values of local Black communities and businesses in Milwaukee and throughout the state of Wisconsin. “We simply cannot do community engagement and organizing without being mindful of our own traumas and having conversations that allow us to center our wellness,” says BLOC founder and executive director Angela Lang. “We have to take care of ourselves before we can empower anyone else.”
Faith for Justice: The St. Louis-based coalition of Christian activists, who believe that the Bible calls Christians to serve and empower the poor and challenge oppressive systems, supports Black-led organizations and liberation campaigns and helps connect churches to them.
Freedom, Inc.: Based in Madison, the self-described Black and Southeast Asian (Hmong Americans are the largest Asian ethnic group in Wisconsin) nonprofit provides direct services, leadership development and community organizing to achieve social justice among low- to no-income communities of color in Dane County.
Living United for Change in Arizona: LUCHA has worked to improve life for working families through everything from immigration services to policy change, such as its successful 2016 campaign to pass Proposition 206, which provided up to five days of paid sick leave for all employees and raised the minimum wage to $12 in 2020. “This work is difficult and often carries a heavy emotional weight,” says LUCHA co-executive director Alejandra Gomez. “It is so important that we have the practices and resources available to sustain ourselves so we can continue fighting for a better future.”
Mass Liberation Arizona: Organized in 2018 by formerly incarcerated people who were trained by Oakland’s Mass Liberation Project, the Phoenix-based organization, with a growing membership composed of Black and directly impacted populations, works to end mass incarceration and divest from the carceral (prison) system in the Grand Canyon State.
MN350: Named for what climate experts consider the maximum “safe” level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (350 parts per million), the organization focuses on environmental issues in Minnesota.
Muslim Women For: Three Muslim immigrant women from Africa founded the North Carolina-based organization in 2016 to embody the Qur’anic ideals of compassion and social justice in working toward positive social change through political education, leadership development, relationship building and grassroots organizing.
QLatinx: Founded in response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, the grassroots racial, social and gender justice organization is dedicated to empowering Central Florida’s LGBTQ+ Latino community.
Southerners on New Ground: Since 1993, the Atlanta-based SONG works to develop and empower intersectional LGBTQ people as leaders in shaping the future of the South.
Student Advocacy Center of Michigan: The organization provides free education advocacy, mentorship and support to underserved students and their families to help them stay in school—and thrive there.
This story was originally published in The Hollywood Reporter.