By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Afya Sanaa is a healing center and community space where Minnesota residents who identify as Black, African, or African American can find solace, security, and fellowship to begin their healing journey.
Located at 1549 University Avenue West, in the heart of Midway, the start-up celebrated its grand opening on May 8, 2021 – and was heavily damaged by a fire of unknown origin on July 16.
Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Raeisha Williams said, “It took us two years to get to where we were at. The space was perfect for us and we had spent over $ 50,000 on the construction. After the fire, the building was condemned.
“However, our vision with Afya Sanaa is to establish an open source model of ancestral and collaborative healing that can be implemented in every community.
“We persevere. We will do it. “
Ancestral. Collaborative. Healing.
The name Afya Sanaa is Swahili for health and healing. Williams, a third generation Minnesotan, said, “The community healing that we practice at Afya Sanaa is nothing new or revolutionary. This is what our ancestors did for centuries.
“We had just finished our first six-week cycle of classes and were ready to start our second session when the fire broke out. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the community about what we were doing. We had all these specialized rooms in our space. We have offered healing circles, massage, yoga, meditation and many different styles of dance and creative self-expression taught by black people, for black people.
Why Healing Blacks Is Important
Williams traveled every step of the way to create Afya Sanaa with her mother, co-founder and co-executive director Rosemary Nevils. Williams said: “In 2019 my brother was murdered in North Minneapolis by gun violence. Because of our pain, my mom and I founded the nonprofit Guns Down Love Up. It is a messaging campaign to end gun violence in the African American community through the Twin Cities. The campaign has grown and now reaches as far as Mississippi and Michigan.
“Afya Sanaa was born out of this pain and the collective trauma of the black community. My mom and I started to practice meditation, yoga, and better physical and spiritual health. We had to find a way out of our grief. At the same time, as a community, we mourned and protested the murders of Jamar Clark and Philando Castille – but the murder of George Floyd really broke us.
“Social justice is so important. How do we feed our minds as a result of all of this? How do we support the beings that we are? It was the beginnings of Afya Sanaa.
From idea to reality
In 2019, Williams and Nevils received a generous start-up grant from United Healthcare. The Minnesota Department of Health has also funded Afya Sanaa, and the Sanneh Foundation provides interim services at 1276 University Avenue West.
Currently, these services include healing circles, massage therapy, and using a studio to create podcasts. All programs and offers are free to members, and membership is free. Members are asked to be present, to be respectful, to treat the space and others with love and care, and to lend a hand when needed. Members receive newsletters, invitations to special events and a personal login to the website’s registration portal.
Membership is only available to people who identify as Black, African, or African American. Williams explained, “We welcome collaboration with all marginalized communities and will provide resources to like-minded organizations serving our brothers and sisters in these respective communities.
“All of our services are offered free of charge to Blacks in the Twin Cities region. As we are allies and supporters of other communities, we also need the support of allies and donors to keep our healing doors open – and to help us recover from our recent setback. “
What is the next step for Afya Sanaa?
Williams said: “It would be great if we could own our own building. We want to be able to defend ourselves. We feel that it is time. We’ll be back for sure in our fullest form – we just don’t know when and where it will be yet. “
The community created by Afya Sanaa accepts donations as they rebuild their physical space, either in the original location (if possible) or in a new location. For more information on how to help them or to complete a membership application, visit www.afyasanaa.com.