When Delilah Antoinette found herself struggling with her mental health in 2017, she longed for a safe, Black space to unpack her experience. Unfortunately, she was unable to find one.
“I was newly married, newly out of college, and I was struggling really badly with anxiety and depression,” Antoinette shares with R29Unbothered over Zoom. “I needed to find healing resources for myself, but [I wanted to] be surrounded by other Black women.” What she was looking for, she explains, was holistic healing alternatives offered by practitioners who looked like her. Then, she got an idea: why not create it herself?
Thus, Black Girls Healing House, an online refuge and wellness community for Black women, was born. Today — across Facebook, Clubhouse and Instagram — the community consists of an extensive network of healers who have provided resources to 60,000+ women through workshops, classes, retreats and other services. BGHH, which also boasts a digital apothecary space, also helps Black women connect with a carefully vetted roster of diviners, doulas, therapists, life coaches, herbalists, and nutritionists to help them live whole and healthy lives.
“We held it down with about 1,500 to 2,000 [followers on Facebook] for a few months, and it was really, really great. Then, one day I woke up and we had 30,000 members,” Antoinette recalls. “When the pandemic hit, we jumped from 30,000 [to] 60,000 Black women who [wanted] the same thing that I wanted. I just so happened to find this golden nugget of this whole niche that existed, and I was able to connect these women with these amazing healers who were Black women as well.”
While Black women continue to infiltrate the global $1.5 trillion wellness industry, it wasn’t long ago that it struggled to serve its Black female demographic. In 2021, amidst the COVID-19 and rising health concerns, the presence of Black wellness influencers continues to expand, and an increasing number of companies are now collaborating with wellness influencers of colour. Antoinette is sparking change on a community level, and she’s just getting started. “In this particular industry, it's so important to know that you can trust the holistic practitioner that you're coming to,” she says. And as the Black community knows well, trust doesn’t come easy in the wellness and medical industries, especially since they have an ugly history of harming and mistreating us.
We briefly spoke to Antoinette about Black Girls Healing House, Black health, and the future of Black wellness entrepreneurship.
I was blown away by the amount of Black women who did not even know what the word 'self-care' was.
R29Unbothered: Tell us about Black Girls Healing House.
Delilah Antoinette: I created Black Girls Healing House in 2017. Most of the holistic spaces I went into — such as the metaphysical stores, yoga, meditation and reiki classes — most of the practitioners and teachers were not people of colour. And the people I was taking the classes with were not Black women; [they were] mostly middle-aged white women and really hippie dippy men. [Laughs] I thought there may be more Black women that were interested in kind of the same thing I was: yoga, herbalism, crystals, and trying to find alternative methods to cope with certain mental health issues and also practice self-care as Black women, so I created the [Black Girls Healing House] Facebook group.
What you just shared speaks to how white the wellness industry is overall. I’m taking a holistic wellness certification course, and out of the hundreds of students taking the course around the world, I’ve only seen maybe 5 other Black women in the Zoom classrooms. The irony is that a lot of these wellness practices that the general public is embracing now were created by Black, brown, and Indigenous people — but we’re often the minority in wellness spaces. I love that you have created this space to bring us back together during what I’ve been calling this reclamation period. It feels like the Black and brown community has been coming back home and reconnecting with alternative wellness methods during the pandemic, especially.
Yes, I saw. We have an apothecary, and during the pandemic, there were so many people who inboxed me that wanted to learn about crystal healing and the spiritual usages of it. Also, we really took off on Clubhouse, and there were so many people that wanted to learn about herbalism. I was blown away by the amount of Black women who did not even know what the word "self-care" was and didn't know about mindfulness and meditation. There were so many amazing topics we had on Clubhouse that brought the healers together in an audio space where they can actually talk and hear each other and learn about these things that are so ingrained into our ancestry. It's just really interesting to see people getting reconnected to these things. I've seen a lot of ladies quit their 9-to-5 corporate jobs to become healers full time.
Can you talk to me a little bit more about your personal relationship with wellness and spirituality?
I've been in the wellness space since I created the group. I've always had my personal battles with mental health. My mom is schizophrenic and my brothers and sisters are also. I also have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. So when I was going through a very stressful time in my 20s, being mainly out of college, being newly married, trying to make it in my career, I was playing the strong Black woman role and the superwoman role. I just wanted a place where I can be vulnerable and still continue to wear all these hats. I was introduced to yoga and I was introduced to chakra healing, all from a trip to a metaphysical store that was like the holy grail for anything spiritual. The first book I was introduced to was by Queen Afua.
Yes, I read through it and I wanted to go on the journey. The way the journey is set up [in the book], you have to take a group of women with you and do the journey. But I still learned so much from her. I got a chance to virtually meet her on Clubhouse and listen to her speak. One of the things that she said that stuck with me was that spirituality is African wellness, it's African medicine. That's when a light bulb went on my head and I was just like, I have to do my part to ensure that I'm practising wellness in my life so that I can change the dynamic of my family because I know how much stress plays a factor on your personal health.
I enrolled myself in herbalism classes and I enrolled myself into yoga school to learn about the art of yoga. Because meditation, yoga, chakra healing helps me so much to cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I had to learn how to teach others about this practice so I can bring it into my own communities, and I experienced the same thing as you, Stephanie. We have a global class, and out of the 200 of us, there are five Black women that are learning yoga.
While the younger Black community is embracing alternative wellness and spirituality, the older generation is still in a state of resistance due to their religious beliefs. As you’ve worked on growing this community, have you experienced any pushback from your friends or family?
When I started this community, I was married to a man from the Christian faith, so he looked at me extremely crazy when I saw bringing rocks o to align my chakras and ‘clear out all the negative energy.’ And I'm about to start building altars, and he was just like, 'Are you OK?' [Laughing] He did not understand it. It took them a while to get used to it. He still wasn't comfortable with it, and as far as he went with supporting me was wearing the crystal bracelets. The rest of my family, they're just like, ‘Do you, we support it.' But I did get that push back from the man that I was married to at the time. We're now divorced. The crystals and rocks had nothing to do with it. [Laughs]
Now that you have seen success and the Facebook group has grown exponentially in the last year, have any opinions of those around you changed?
Yes. Now that people are seeing that it's [more widely accepted] it is taking the stigma out of it. I'm getting more of my friends asking me about the crystals and asking me about sage and herbs and showing some type of interest because they're starting to see the validity in it. It's no longer woo woo, like there's actual scientific backing behind holistic wellness so it's not so 'rocks and witchcraft.' [Laughs] I'm deep from Mobile, Alabama. A majority of my friends are Christian, but a lot of them are starting to turn.
Black Girls Healing House makes me think a little bit about platforms like Therapy for Black Girls and how they provide resources for Black women in their mental health journeys. Here, you’ve created a safe space for Black women to not only find reliable practitioners to work with, but to commune with one another during their healing journeys as well.
Yeah. Because in this particular industry, it's so important to know that you can trust the holistic practitioner that you're coming to. And it's also important the holistic practitioner knows that they can trust their clients. It makes for a way better system. I've seen the back end of how things can go horribly wrong. So now that I have that knowledge, I know what type of boundaries and barriers need to be put in place to protect both parties.
It also adds a layer of safety for Black women in general because we have this really strained relationship with the wellness and medical industries overall. What have you learned about yourself during this journey in creating this space?
One of my biggest things I learned, actually, is that I have more power and creativity in me that I never knew. Iit took a huge leap of faith in myself to take focus off a career and completely put it into entrepreneurship. I'm also discovering my new sense of leadership. When you leave your corporate America job and you go into a completely new space that [calls for] entrepreneurship and community leading your personality changes a lot. In my corporate jobs, I always came out as an introvert, that behind the scenes person. But now in this space, I'm completely extroverted. [Before], you probably would have never been able to get me on a Zoom chat like this. This whole time I thought I was an introvert, but it was just really because I didn't like my job. [Laughs]
What advice do you have for Black women wanting to work in the wellness space as entrepreneurs?
Oh, the best advice I can give is to value your time. Value your energy and value your gifts. I see a lot of healers that, because they feel called to the work, they're expected to work for free and they give so much that they're completely depleted and drained and they don't want to do the work anymore. So my biggest advice is to make sure you value yourself, your time and your gifts. You put a price on it and you stay firm and your boundaries, and you learn that balance between giving and receiving.