Creating Community through Connection and Culture. Umoja Health, Wellness, and Justice Collective are a Black-run, grassroots nonprofit disrupting generational trauma & incarceration by teaching resiliency, building community & healing through the Arts. Every aspect of Umoja Health, Wellness, and Justice Collective seeks to create a space for individual and communal healing and is trauma-informed and culturally aligned. We use information, story, and embodied practices to build compassion, knowledge, and tools to seek and sustain healing. The foundation of all we do is grounded in HOPE (Healing Our Past/Personal/Privileged Experiences). We offer youth programming, peer-led work, and the HOPE Model to transform communities and families.
Umoja started around 2018 after founder Michael Hayes came home from prison and started to see what healing looked like. While in prison, Michael took the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) ten-question survey and scored a perfect ten. He spoke with a counselor and was made aware of some of the effects that having a score of ten could have on him and his life. The one that really got his attention was that he would probably live 20 years less than expected if things didn’t change. Michael also learned that this ACE score played into other things that happened in Michael’s life, like going in and out of prison, substance abuse issues, and anger issues. Learning this wasn’t about not being accountable; it was about the answer to the questions Michael kept asking himself: “Why am I so angry all the time?” “Why am I like this?” and “what is wrong with me?”
After Michael got some training in trauma and resilience, he understood that the question that had to be asked is, “what’s happened to me?” Asking this question allowed Michael to unpack some of his traumas. In the end, Michael wrote a 10-page story about his trauma, and the more he read it, the more healing happened. Michael just wanted other people to really feel what he felt and see what he saw in himself. His healing process started.
Michael invited some people over to his house to have some resiliency conversations. He learned that some of his experiences were reflected in the experiences of others. He saw patterns of abnormal cultural behaviors that came from culturally abnormal ways of being raised, things that look like culture but are really rooted in trauma. “What goes on in this house stays in this house” or “don’t talk about it, pray about it.” Or the big one, “boys don’t cry.” Michael realized through community conversations that these things were harmful and needed to change.
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