A Place to Rest: Black Women’s Nourishment Retreat


April 22, 2022

Retreats and Hospitality

by Victoria Santos, Director, Center for Healing and Liberation

I need a major RESET. I'm drained and can't continue to pour into other people at my expense. I need new tools and support to prioritize my needs.

I want and need more intentional and inspired time to rest and to connect with nature and other Black women.

Retreating with other Black women, especially in these times? Oh yes, I need this!

These perspectives were shared by participants before our four-day Black women’s nourishment retreat at Commonweal in March. In addition to asking our 22 retreatants why they chose to join this retreat, we also asked what they most needed during our time together. 

They mentioned quiet time and connection with other sisters; structured unstructuredness; time for reflection. And the need they named the most was very simple: rest.  

Victoria Santos and Milicent Johnson at the retreat.

Black women so often must live in emergency response mode. Support for our rest is very rare. This has been true over centuries of living with extractive, exploitive cultural systems. Black women frequently experience a blend of intersectional oppressions and erasure. We often go unseen in our intersectional identities, expected to sacrifice and suppress the specificity and fullness of our truth.

The retreat began as a conversation among four Black women—I connected with Milicent Johnson, founder of the Octavia Fund, and two colleagues, Cristina Orbe and Lisa Simms Booth, Executive Director of the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. We reflected on our collective struggles and the ways that society demands Black women show up without offering much love or support. The impulse for the retreat was born from our own experience of  exhaustion and our need for nurturance. 

We shared our recognition of the conflict between wanting to respond generously to this moment and the deep exhaustion of responding to this moment. As we talked about ways to support Black women, including ourselves, in finding nourishment and renewal, we formed the vision for this retreat.  

We wanted to bring diverse Black women together with a minimal agenda—offering an open space in which Black women could heal, talk, play, move, reflect, learn from each other, rest, be in nature, and dream. And that’s what happened.  

In partnership with Commonweal, which provided space and support, the Octavia Fund and the Center for Healing and Liberation pooled our resources for retreatants’ food, transportation support, facilitation, and retreat supplies (like journals, healing balms, and flowers). We widely invited Black women in our networks, and beyond the 22 retreatants at this gathering, many more asked to be on a waitlist for future retreats.  

The process of retreat planning was itself nourishing for our team of coordinators. We felt deeply heard and warmly met, sharing our own stories of exhaustion and healing, validating our collective knowing. 

On the day retreatants arrived, we welcomed them into their temporary home, with love in our hearts and a COVID pre-test in our hands. During the retreat, our community blossomed as we spent time in meditation, deep listening, small group conversation, songs, self-inquiry, and witnessing in triads. 

Collective naps were taken. Retreatants hiked, explored the land and the beach, and enjoyed delicious food, thanks to Commonweal’s incredible cooks. 

We engaged in rituals to honor our ancestors, our elders, the youth, future generations, and the land. We honored our individual and collective lineages as human beings on this planet, connecting to the trees, the water, and the elements.  

We explored a healing framework based on the seven types of rest including, among others, mental rest, emotional rest, social rest, and spiritual rest.  

We delighted in a belly dance workshop and an exuberant Saturday night dance party (DJ’ed and curated by a retreatant), transforming the Pacific House into a magical lounge of bright flowers, soft lights, and deep grooves.  

Sharing on the final day, it was wonderful to hear of retreatants’ experience of rest and healing, as well as their intentions for future connections with each other. 

Milicent and I recognized the great need for more Black women’s nourishment retreats, and not only at Commonweal. We committed to raising resources to offer retreats in other regions, creating access for Black women around the country.  

The work goes on, and the work includes deep rest. 

If you would like to support this work, please contact me at

Learn more about the Octavia Fund on their website.

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