What is your name & location?
Jennifer Sterling, founder of The Black Girl Healing Project in New York City
How do you help people heal?
I am a Holistic Nutritionist and Registered Dance/Movement Psychotherapist. Through The Black Girl Healing Project, a platform I created to support women of color living with depression, I provide resources that help women of color understand the effects of depression and oppression on their bodies, so they can begin to treat themselves well.
I encourage self-care, intuitive eating, and joyful movement as a means of finding relief from depression and increasing vitality.
What type of benefits does your method of healing provide?
Food and movement have both been proven to have an effect on mood.
Your gut (the long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your anus) and your brain are separate entities and housed in different parts of your body, but they are intimately connected and communicate with each other often by way of nerves like the vagus nerve - a nerve that stems from the brain and connects to different organs, including your stomach and intestines.If you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach or been too stressed to eat, then you’ve experienced the connection between your brain and stomach first-hand!
In the same way that your emotions affect your stomach and digestive system, the food you eat affects your brain.
It’s all connected! On top of all of that, up to 95 percent of your body's supply of serotonin, a hormone that is thought to influence mood, is produced by the bacteria in your digestive system. This makes it important to be mindful of how the foods you’re eating affect both your physical health and mental health.
Movement has also been shown to improve mood, Low intensity exercise, or movement sustained over time, has been shown to stimulate the production of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function can make you feel better.
My work as a registered dance/movement psychotherapist incorporates movement as a therapeutic tool, so while the women who work with me will naturally experience the benefits that come with moving their body, my training and education also provide me with the tools needed to help them work through the issues affecting their mental health, such as trauma and depression.
When did you realize that you wanted to help heal people/why did you start?
I realized I wanted to help people heal about 15 years ago. Back then, I had my own health issues and a diagnosis of depression. After coming through on the other side of it all - learning how to eat in a way that works for my body, discovering the impact of joyful movement, and implementing self-care practices that helped me find relief from my depression - I decided to try and pass the information along to other women.
How does your personal healing journey reflect in how you hold space for others?
My personal journey is one that was wrought with trauma and dis-ease. I believe that the process of living through and healing from those experiences, along with my education has increased my capacity to hold space for others. I believe you can only help someone if you have first helped yourself, so my journey and education affords me with a solid foundation, one that allows me the tools and resources (internal and external) to create safe therapeutic spaces for women of color.
Why is what you do so important?
I believe knowledge is power and that by healing women, we heal entire communities. In giving women of color the internal bodily resources they need to become more vital humans, it changes everything! We begin to break cycles of intergenerational trauma, redefine stereotypes like the strong black woman who takes care of everyone but herself, we change the overall physical and mental health of women of color, which affects the physical and mental health of children - it provides us with greater access to our own humanity, which I believe, can be liberating.
What is your inspiration to continue doing what you are doing? What is the fuel that keeps you going?
My inspiration is all of the women in my lineage who were mentally ill and didn’t have access to the resources they needed to be well. What keeps me going is knowing that there is at least one woman of color out there that will benefit from my work.
How does it make you feel when you are helping people heal?
Giving women of color the tools they need to begin to heal themselves excites me. Knowing that they can use the resources I offer and shape and mold them into something that works for them...it just makes me happy.
What is your definition of healing? (What does it look like, feel like, sound like, etc.)
Healing is a journey, one that’s not linear. It’s a journey that’s never really complete. I believe we’ll all be moving toward healing one thing or another until the day we die, and maybe even after that!
I believe that we heal ourselves. We can have help and guidance, of course, but no one can heal you or make you change. That power and ability comes from within.
For me, it looks like wellness - having the energy you need to make it through the day, regular bowel movements and comfortable digestion, stable moods, the ability to feel your emotions and work through them...it’s vitality.
What are your visions &/or goals?
My vision for The Black Girl Healing Project is to cultivate community - a group of women that not only feels supported by me, but also by each other. Community is such an important aspect of healing.
Tell us a fun fact about what it is that you do or something people may not know about you.
In my spare time, I like to jam out on my alto sax.
In one sentence, what is your message to the world?
Treat Yourself Well.
Photo credit: @kellynwhodances