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The Time is Now for Healing Justice Leadership

It is time for a new paradigm shift for leading.

A 2019 study around activist burnout revealed that approximately 72% of social justice and human rights leaders who identify as black, indigenous, people of color, report experiencing higher rates of chronic illness, mental health issues, and burnout as a result of physical, mental, and spiritual deprivation from race-based stress and trauma (Gorski & Erakat).

Social justice and human rights leaders are then told to practice self-care to cope with the impact of the trauma and stress they experience only to return to the work, organizations, and movements where trauma and oppression are often re-enacted.

This alarming statistic is exacerbated by the current political context of racial trauma, police brutality, unaccompanied minors, family separation, and mass incarceration which is threatening the sustainability of social justice leaders, organizations, and movements.

The current self-care trend paradigm of bubble baths, meditations, and yoga often fails to address the root cause of racial trauma and unrest that impact black, indigenous, people of color social justice leaders. In addition to this, nearly 81% of report barriers to using behavioral and mental health services that are culturally relevant (Robinson, 2019).

Organizations encourage their social justice and human rights leaders to practice work-life balance and self-care to cope with the impact of the trauma and stress they experience only to return to the work, organizations, and movements where trauma and oppression are often re-enacted.

82% of racial justice leaders identified the behaviors and attitudes rooted in white supremacy and structural racism within racial and social justice spaces as a major source of their burnout (Gorski & Erakat, 2019). This study captured the detrimental impact of race-based stress. Social justice and human rights leaders experience retraumatization as a result of in-fighting, internalized oppression, implicit bias, interpersonal violence, and the fear and reality of state violence against black, indigenous, people of color has left many disillusioned.

Healing Justice offers a framework to transform, intervene and respond to intergenerational trauma and violence by uplifting cultural and spiritual healing pratices (Chavez-Diaz & Lee, 2015). It’s not enough to practice self-care or to cope and tolerate the harm that they are experiencing. We need to take a good look at the conditions of our work, our organizations, and our movements and ask these questions:

  1. Do my leadership and organizational practices embody anti-racism, collective healing, and community care?

  2. Do I feel safe and supported in my work?

  3. Do I have individual and collective healing systems in place?

  4. Am I connecting to my cultural or ancestral healing practices?

If we shift how we lead, and anchor our leadership to our own individual healing, we can then change the ways in which we show up in our leadership, organizations, our communities, and our social justice movements.

Patty Ramirez, MSW is a transnational social worker based in Los Angeles. She is a Healing Justice and Trauma Informed Consultant and Doctoral Candidate at USC's Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Patty is the founder of the Healing Justice Transformative Leadership Institute, committed to advancing collective healing, transformation, and liberation for black, indigenous, communities of color.


Chavez-Diaz, M., & Lee, N. (2015). A Conceptual Mapping of Healing Centered Youth Organizing: Building a Case for Healing Justice. Urban Peace Movement.

Ginwright, S. (2018). The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. Kinship Carers.

Gorski, P., & Erakat, N. (2019). Racism, whiteness, and burnout in antiracism movements: How white racial justice activists elevate burnout in racial justice activists of color in the United States. Ethnicities, 19(5), 784-808.

Robinson, B. (2019, December 23). Thrive Global: Stories. Retrieved from Thrive Global Website:

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