Veronica Agard and I have come across one another in various arts, social change, and healing spaces from The Laundromat Project to Harriet’s Apothecary. When you meet Veronica, her kinetic energy and go-getter attitude are infectious. Veronica is a Harlem transplant who is dedicated to building bridges between her new home of BK and old stomping grounds. She is an alchemist, educator and connector at the intersections of Black identity, wellness, representation, and culture. In addition to all of this, she’s a writer who has been published in The Grio, Mic, as well as For Harriet, and leads the Alchemist’s Cypher, a monthly healing through writing gathering. We sat down at Sol Sips in Bushwick, to talk about her most recent project, Who Heals the Healer: the convergence, taking place this Saturday, May 12 at Mayday Space, 176 St. Nicholas Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11237.
What should people expect at the conference?
Well to start, my grandmother and I are going to open the conference, which is important in terms of intergenerational knowledge and legacies. When people ask me how I arrived at this conference, I say you need to know what my mother did, and what my grandmother did, so I asked her and my mother if we could bring some of our conversations to the conference.
Doors open at 10am and we’ll have rounds of workshops until 5:00 pm. There are 15 workshops, 20 vendors, and about 5-10 wellness practitioners who are going to be on deck for the wellness clinic. Then, we drag everybody over to Starr Bar. That part is important because then there is joy for people because there will be a lot of heavy things covered. If we can understand how sage and Palo Santo are being overharvested, then we also have to understand how we are being overharvested through this work without resting, without taking moments of pause and joy. Rest can mean joy-moments of being a daughter, a friend.
Also, the positionality of this conference is important. As a Black woman, I want this to center Black and Brown folks, especially Black and Brown folks at the margins. I did that intentionally. There’s also a group of indigenous folks coming from Utah, and they are going to bring different medicines from there in addition to the Harlem and Brooklyn connections we’ll have going on. I have one foot still uptown because my network and my base are still up there, but a lot of the new magicians, the new kids on the block, are here in BK, so I want to get everyone on the same page.
Ok, who else are you hoping will come to the conference?
I mean if you are somebody whose job, whether it pays you or not, requires you to show empathy for others on demand, this is for you. If you resonate with that statement, come. That’s the baseline. I view this work as an invitation, so it’s not “oh you have to be a certified reiki master” and have to do it in this particular way. The ambiguity with who shows up goes along with the ambiguity of the question. I’ve been lucky though and the moms have been coming. People are often seeking mothering, and there’s definitely the question of who shows up for the mothers. Because of that, childcare is something that is important to me. The last time I looked at it, there were about 15 kids coming. I know too many doulas and midwives in my life that want to go to things but can’t because the kids are too young. Also, guidance counselors, counselors of any kind, teachers, especially teachers.
What experiences moved you to create this conference?
There wasn’t one moment where I can say at this phase of the moon, in this hour, it began. It more evolved out of a question I was holding which was who heals the person who is healing everybody else. That came out of my own process of figuring out who was going to show up for me when I had spent so much time showing up for others. Then, when I took myself out of it, I realized it was a larger question because I know too many people who got activated politically, who then dropped out, moved on, and burnt out. I was like yo, I don’t want to be that person. I’m too young to be that stressed out. I have too much access to knowledge and power from my degree, from my mother, from my grandmother and those legacies. I know too much about how Black women struggle with this idea of trying to save everybody at the expense of ourselves. I know too much about that to be that person, I’ll be damned. Let me figure this out. In figuring that out, I had Who Heals the Healer mini-series that happened three times at Earth Arts Center. Doing it and being humble enough to know that I’m not the first person to ask that question but then also having the courage to say but I’m gonna ask it in my own way. It was different every time and beautiful every time.
What was the vibe at each of those workshops in the miniseries version and how do they connect to the Conference?
The miniseries had different crowds, the first one was teachers, counselors, social workers, a lot of social workers, non-profit philanthropy folks. The second session was more artists and creatives, art therapists, people who make technology to help calm folks-to have the vibrations of a sound bowl on your chest and things like that. The third one, the last one, had a mix of everybody. It was in between the first and the second that I realized I was going to have to do this again, but didn’t want to be the person exerting the labor every single time, which is what birthed the conference.
The tricky thing is that the same people who are presenting are the people who I would also want at the conference! It becomes this loop of who is going to take care of the people presenting, who is going to look out for me. Sometimes this all starts to spin around me, so I tap into my bravery and ask for help. You see me on the internet talking about it, asking. It’s so appreciated when people come with things that they want to bring to the table to support.
As a person dedicated to self-healing, what practices do you use to ground yourself and to continue to grow?
I use traditions and practices to help me shut off my mind, like Capoeira, which is an Afro-Brazilian tradition, mainly rooted in Africa. When I started learning about the roots of the tradition, I understood more fully the lessons of Capoeira. If you get hit, in Capoeira, it’s your own fault because you weren’t responding to that person’s body. If you’re actually paying attention, you will be able to anticipate that person’s move. I take that philosophy to the rest of my life. I’ve done Capoeira on and off for two years now and that has presented some of my greatest lessons.
I’m also learning from my elders like the people in my family, so I can pass the knowledge down. In terms of other groups or places, Harriet’s Apothecary has taught me a lot in terms of how to volunteer, the emotional supports, and how to hold space for a lot of people at one time. Sacred Vibes Apothecary curated and conjured by Master Herbalist Karen Rose is amazing. She trains a lot of people in the community how to bring herbal medicine to the people.
Also, being a child of Emergent Strategies by adrienne maree brown, I went to see her on a panel at The National Black Theatre, and I was just in awe. I had such a fan-girl moment and went up to her with my book to ask for an autograph and shared with her that her book saved me from myself, and the idea that I didn’t deserve to do the work by myself. Reading that book showed me that there is a way to do this with intention, but also naming that this shit is messy, and it’s a dialogue. Everyone is invited to the dialogue, but not everyone will make it and that is ok.
What motivates you to create all of this?
Well, there are some days when I wake up and I’m cocky, and I quote Drake and I say “I’m the only one who gets the job done.” I have this innate sense of if I don’t do this, I won’t feel right. All the readings I’ve had recently have been telling me to expand, think bigger, travel, so I’m like alright how can I do that without exhausting myself. Part of it is just kicking open the door.
Between my Dad’s military and Caribbean background and my Mom’s Southern background, I don’t do things just for the sake of doing them. If it’s not with intention and integrity, then I’m not gonna do it. There are way too many people out here in the healing community who do herbs, ceremonies, etc., and do it just for the sake of doing it because the demand is so high. I understand why the demand is high, but I also know that too many people deplete themselves by trying to match the needs of the people they are in service to and doing disservice to themselves.
On that point what does it mean to call yourself a healer?
The word healer is very overused now. I’m more so an alchemist, a connector, and an educator, and somewhere between that is my healing work. It’s ongoing because healing is not linear. It’s a journey. I’m not a master of knowledge. I’m in my own process. I’ve healed myself enough and trust myself enough to let other people in on that process, which is who heals the healer.
What does Black Abundance mean to you?
Black abundance means resilience,
like plants growing against barbed wire,
no matter what happens to us, as a people,
we will still have joy.
The fact that we can still have joy in the face of everything means we are abundant enough to contain multitudes. We can be in pain for how we lose our people to state violence but then also listen to dancehall play and have fun.