From COVID-19 to the Movement for Black Lives, this moment in human history is asking us — ready or not — to show up as the best of who we are. Many people are turning to friends and colleagues for peer support, as well as to coaches, such as Leslie Avant-Brown*, who describes herself as a queer Black woman healing-centered coach. Let’s Talk caught up with Leslie to get her coaching lens on this movement moment, what we need, and where we’re going.
As a healing-centered coach, what are you hearing across the country right now?
I’m hearing over and over that this moment feels different. I’ve been especially struck to hear this from Black women elders, folks who were in Watts when it was burning, who were in Detroit in 1967. From them I hear almost excitement at the massive scale of this focus on racism.
COVID-19 really accelerated the conversation about racism and about life and death. I’ve heard this moment described as a “double pandemic” and I think that’s right. We’ve been in one pandemic for 400 years, the other for a few months. In this moment, Black people are literally asking ourselves what’s the bigger risk: Do nothing and risk death by police? Or hit the streets demanding change and risk getting ill? We’re thinking, “Death by police or COVID-19?”
Right now I hear a swirl of conversations happening “on the grapevine” with organic connections being discovered and silos coming apart. People are coming together and getting to talk beyond the three minutes we usually give ourselves in meetings. We’re realizing that we haven’t all been on the same page, that what we’ve meant by “transforming communities” may be very different. Some people are feeling resistant, dangerously resistant, to change and the pain it brings up.
I see a lot of people feeling wounded in the intentional conversations they’re coming into. This wounding, along with past wounds, is what people are bringing to coaching sessions these days.
What’s coming up for people?
People are sensing that this is a moment of profound transformation, a moment that requires us to reconsider everything. At the same time, we know that we need to keep going even as we do this deep examination of ourselves, our relationships, and our formations. People are moving into deeper community, but they don’t have pauses built in as they are doing that.
People haven’t had space to do these deeper levels of examination. Many are ending up retracing trauma triggers — and they’re trying to do it alone. People are coming into coaching exhausted.
What’s your approach?
My mantra is “pause, ground, align, act.” I believe that’s how we will fuel the revolution.
I invite people to ground in intention, to reflect deeply on what’s important. I ask them, “What do you need?” and invite them to re-align from that internal compass. I invite people into aligned action that isn’t just acting by any means necessary. It’s recognizing that healing needs to be built in, that action will take more time because of that. I remind people that energy is precious, that energy flows, or doesn’t flow, from alignment in our mind, body, spirit.
Coaching is basically a strategy to support folks to slow down, to pause, to move beyond “busy.” Giving ourselves permission for that is that hardest part because we need to step out of White supremacy, of “urgency” culture. Most of us have never been given permission to take that pause.
Isn’t pausing difficult in this extraordinary moment?
I think we need to reimagine the pause. The reality is that we can’t do a full stop. But we can do moments of complete stillness, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. We need ritual, practice, ceremony, no matter how small.
I remind people that their pause doesn’t need to be something new. It’s more a return to our practices and rituals of slowing down. For me it was a return to gardening.
What shaped how you do your work?
I went into coaching a decade ago when I realized that the leadership development and capacity building work I was doing was steeped in White supremacy. I was “the Black woman” in a White-led organization. I was bamboozled into thinking that what I was doing would work. Then I realized that it was never going to work.
I came into coaching as people of color were transforming coaching. Coaching had grown out of corporate America and was very achievement centered, very centered in White culture. Coaches didn’t want to think about “healing.” But as more people of color began coaching people of color, there was less willingness to just skip over trauma, to ignore how racial trauma was shaping people’s work.
What will we see as more people practice a pause?
I think we’ll start noticing each other saying “no” more. I think we’ll be traveling less, even after COVID.
I think we’re understanding that there are pain points that we haven’t solved with “strategy.” So our strategies will start to allow space for the pause, allow us to find the wisdom that’s there in us and in our communities.
How do you see yourself in this moment?
I see myself transforming the pain, the legacy, and the story of my people, calling in transformation for the world.
I see myself being tender with myself and with my ancestors who are showing up for me every day right now. And I see myself being tender with my descendants, remembering that what I am doing today needs to feed and nourish our future.
*Leslie Avant-Brown serves as CEO at her firm Blooming Willow Coaching, a culturally relevant, Healing Centered Coaching practice that allows her to partner with individuals, organizations and businesses. Her specialization areas include “all things” coaching including: one-on-one and group coaching, coaching facilitation, coach training, and designing sustainable coaching models that support growth and healing in communities.