PASSAGE: The Practice of Healing
Okayplayer launched PASSAGE: The Practice of Healing, a wellness initiative for people of color, earlier this month. On the heels of a tumultuous reckoning with the current state of race relations and in the face of an ongoing battle with anti-Blackness in the U.S., PASSAGE offers a much-needed dose of healing and relief during a time of heightened pain and racial trauma. The highly anticipated release features a visualizer by the director of Beyonce’s Lemonade and Black is King, Andrew Morrow, and an eight-track EP drop produced by MMYYKK with original guided meditations voiced by artists such as Big K.R.I.T., Kwasi Kessie, Deja Joelle, and Kenji Summers. The release also featured ‘In Conversation,’ a live stream with Vic Mensa that opened the launch earlier this month, and there’s still more to come.
On February 3, Questlove’s labor of love Okayplayer released PASSAGE: The Practice of Healing, a wellness project targeted toward people of color. PASSAGE offers mediative tracks over rhythmic beats that are as melodic and soulful as they are cathartic and healing. Rachel Hislop, VP of Content for Okayplayer, told Forbes the initiative directly reflects the responsibility that the online hip hop and alternative music website feels they have to their audience.
“During the pandemic, we were examining how we were serving the people who frequent our sites,” explained Hislop. “We wanted to extend beyond our usual end-of-the-year round-up and were looking for something meaningful and impactful to give the community we serve. We started playing with the idea of creating an EP. We wanted to give the Black community the gift of healing for Black history month.”
To accomplish this goal, Hislop turned to creative visionary Andrew Morrow to create a visualizer, which aimed to authentically illustrate the Black experience. Andrew prioritized doing so in a way that did not further pathology members of the community.
“We are so accustomed to seeing images of Black trauma. So, I was interested in flipping trauma on its head and focusing on healing. I wanted to speak to the Black experience by shining a light on and celebrating Black joy,” Morrow explained.
PASSAGE: The Practice of Healing
And he did just that. The visualizer opens with crashing waves that make an effortless transition to images of Black celebration, as Questlove repeats, “All things begin with gratitude. So, I begin with gratitude.” For the remaining four-plus minutes, Morrow thoughtfully and artistically feeds viewers with images that make up the cornerstones of Blackness – family, laughter, movement, strength, faith, and spirituality.
PASSAGE: The Practice of Healing
Each person involved in Passage contributed their perspective on Black healing, which is felt in all aspects of the project. As such, hip-hop artist Big K.R.I.T understood the importance of this initiative and his role to promote healing in the Black community through PASSAGE.
“In the Black community, we deal with a lot of trauma and stress, but many of us do not discuss our trauma as much as we should. Growing up, we’re told that we can’t talk about our emotions. This was especially true for me growing up in Mississippi. Many of us are taught to carry our pain and frustration. We do not have an understanding about the toll racial trauma takes on us and the importance of healing, meditation, counseling, and breath work,” K.R.I.T reflected.
Although Okayplayer’s Rachel Hislop admits that guided mediation is only the first step to true healing, it’s a much-needed first step. In general, mental health conditions present in Black Americans at the same rate as they do in white Americans. Still, the historical Black experience in the U.S has and continues to be characterized by trauma and violence, and the past 12 months have only added insult to injury for many. Both the pandemic and racism in America have continued to wreak havoc on Black Americans, and many are gasping for breath. Just as anti-blackness and racial trauma are not new phenomena and did not begin with the horrific killing of George Floyd, mental health challenges in the Black community are not either. It is well documented that exposure to racism and discrimination can lead to racial battle fatigue — characterized by depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and various other physical symptoms such as high blood pressure.
Enduring and processing layers of individual trauma alongside new mass traumas such as COVID-19, police brutality and its fetishization in news media, and divisive political rhetoric only adds compounding layers of complexity for individuals to manage responsibly. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Blacks are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Black youth exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25% and Black Americans are also more likely to be exposed to factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness and exposure to violence. In 2020, it was reported that Black adults in the U.S. are also more likely than white adults to report persistent emotional distress symptoms, such as sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of control of their circumstances.
Part of PASSAGE’s creative genius was in the thoughtful way the app addresses some of the barriers that Black Americans face when it comes to navigating mental health challenges. Historically the dehumanization, oppression, and violence against Blacks in the U.S. has evolved into present-day racism, which is seen structurally, institutionally, and individually — and impacts accessibility to mental and emotional health treatment and care for members of the Black community. “This project is about accessibility. You can access it anywhere, regardless of income,” Hislop shared. To that end, discrimination and bias in the healthcare system and among healthcare providers is well documented and impacts all forms of medical treatment – including psychological services and the accessibility of such services to members of the Black community.
Connectivity was also a central focus for PASSAGE. There are serval factors that create additional challenges for Blacks to connect with healthcare providers rooted in anti-Blackness. Experiences with discrimination and a lack of representation of Blacks who work in the medical profession are among the top two. A lack of diverse representation also exists in some of the current wellness apps on the market that offer similar services as PASSAGE. Despite their broad popularity, they are very white-centric.
“We wanted to create a product that people of color could connect with and voices and sounds that are familiar. Not everyone can connect with the sounds of a waterfall because that is not their cultural landscape. For many Black folks, the sound of our neighborhoods is medicine to us,” Rachel elaborated.
This explains why having Big K.R.I.T. and other familiar voices narrate this project was such a critical decision.
Another focus for PASSAGE was to address the mental health stigma in the Black community. Studies suggest that people often misunderstand what a mental health condition is, and therefore the subject is uncommon. This lack of understanding leads many to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness or a form of punishment. This is especially true among some Blacks. Many Black Americans have trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which leads to them underestimating the effects of mental health challenges. Black Americans may also be reluctant to discuss mental health issues and seek treatment because of the shame and stigma associated with such challenges their community.
“Black people are resilient, but we don’t take enough time to push beyond our strength. You can evoke a feeling with a story, and that’s what we are trying to do with PASSAGE. We are trying to provide space for Blacks to feel comfortable in engaging in the process of healing. No one is going to save us but ourselves,” Hislop said.
Rapper Big K.R.I.T. echoed her sentiments,
“Sometimes we [Blacks] will stifle ourselves by not acknowledging our emotions or saying what we’re feeling is not that bad. We hold it all in because we don’t want to look ‘crazy.’ We eventually carry these habits from childhood into adulthood, and we suffer panic attacks and paranoia. We don’t see the value in having a safe space or someone [a professional] to talk to. It takes strength to be venerable.”
But the team at Okayplayer has more up their sleeves to expand upon PASSAGE’s momentum. Through March 19, the PASSAGE iniative has come alive through COVID-19 safe live guided meditation sessions at the renowned Fotografiska, the largest photography museum in the world. Every Friday, guided meditation sessions are led by a different facilitator and take place on the museum’s rooftop, which holds up 200 — an ideal space to not only observe adequate social distancing measures but also for those who attend to experience the visualizer in a surreal cultural institution.
I am a writer, activist, and college professor who teaches graduate-level courses in counseling. I earned my Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Clinical Supervision and I