Raeisha Williams knows well the searing pain and aching grief of losing a loved one to gun violence. Her brother was shot and killed just steps from their mother's Minneapolis home in April 2018.
Now, she hopes to provide a shared space for healing.
On Saturday, the Afaya Sanaa Healing Center will hold its grand opening at 1549 W. University Av. in St. Paul. Williams said it's a place where Black people can gather, learn, grow and nurture the healing process in a space of their own.
Williams said she started the "Guns Down, Love Up" campaign after her brother Tyrone Rashad Williams, a local activist, was killed by a former roommate. She said the center is a brick-and-mortar manifestation of the Healing Circles work she and others have been doing over the past few years to address the trauma of violence in the Black community.
"We were exhausted," she said. "And we just started talking about how we needed to start healing because we were so exhausted from all the work."
But that work never had a home of its own, Williams said. "This space is needed."
Meant to be multigenerational, the center will offer classes "from Grandma and Grandpa all the way down to babies," Williams said. There will be dance classes — tap, ballet, African dance — as well as African drumming. There will be workshops focusing on health and wellness, including yoga, massage and alternative healing practices. A media room will allow young adults to participate in workshops on photography, videography, graphic design and website development. There will even be a podcast room for members who want to create in that medium.
The Neighbors United Funding Collaborative, a project in the Midway area of St. Paul that provides funding to foster community-building projects, awarded a $100,000 grant to help launch the center, said Isabel Chanslor, a consultant who works with NUFC. The center also received a $25,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, Williams said.
Chanslor said that in addition to disparities in education, health care and criminal justice, the Black community faces a lack of places to gather to address trauma on their own terms.
"The healing has already begun," Chanslor said of the response to the news of the center. "People are excited to have a place to come together to take part in one another's joy."
There will be an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday. Use of the center will be limited to members, who must register on the center's website, Williams said.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428