Tenderness, Spirit, and Africa Rising


Victoria Santos, Director, Center for Healing and Liberation

September 2, 2023


The Three Black Men Project

When I first had the inspiration in 2020 to create the Center for Healing and Liberation (CHL), I was in a transitional space. We were early in the pandemic, shocked and galvanized by the murder of George Floyd, and I recognized that my own need and desire for healing and liberation was connected to a larger, collective need.

Over time, this center has taken form as a galvanizing space for exactly that—healing and liberation. I look forward to sharing more in the future about the organic, spirit-led evolution of our work. Right now, I want to share about one central CHL focus in 2023, Three Black Men: A Journey into the Magical Otherwise. In this project, we are partnering with other change-making organizations in bringing together three visionary Black leaders—Resmaa Menakem, Bayo Akomolafe and Orland Bishop—for the first time.

Resmaa, Bayo and Orland are sharing space as we trace the Transatlantic slave route in reverse, engaging on the home continents of each man. In a May 2023 piece, I shared about the shape and vision of this project, with planned public events in Los Angeles in June, in Brazil in August/September, and in Ghana in December.

This project invokes an energetic reunion of the three continents, entered through inspired investigation and collective will. On this journey, we are being led by ancestors, by intuition, and by deep collective listening.

Looking back at Los Angeles

Our June events, held at the beautiful Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, were potent and far-reaching explorations of healing and possibility. The Black men’s gathering held about 60 participants, while the open-to-everyone gathering included around 125 in-person and 600 livestream participants.

At the gathering, one strong emergent focus was Black men’s tenderness and need for nourishing connection, as part of honoring their being and aliveness. In the context of our culture and history, this is a revolutionary and profoundly necessary conversation on a theme that is invisible in our public discourse.

One of our LA partners is Aaron Johnson, cofounder of Holistic Resistance, Grief to Action, and the Chronically UnderTouched Project, which focuses on the healing power of touch for BIPOC folks. As one of the blossoms unfolding from the Three Black Men project, we are staying connected with Aaron, who will continue to meet in LA with men who took part in the Black men’s gathering, for ongoing exploration of healing, tenderness, nourishing touch, and other themes lifted up at the event.

Aaron leads Black men’s gathering participants in song.

Looking toward Brazil

Our next public programs are happening now, in Salvador, Brazil. When I recently traveled to Brazil for prep meetings with community members, we heard from our Brazilian partners that men strongly want to embody their commitment to women’s rights and well-being, opposing domestic violence and, more widely, violence against women and girls. Both our Brazilian men and women partners want to stand strongly for a culture of peace, spirit, and unity.

Connecting with and honoring Black women is a deep thread in our project. In Los Angeles, the Mother of Humanity statue, created by artist Nijel Binns, is a touchstone for this work. For over 25 years, Nijel and Orland Bishop have been in relationship around the significance of this statue and its potential importance to the world. And as the Three Black Men project moves into Brazil, we are turning toward our Black brothers and sisters there, lifting up and calling forth our gentleness, nurturance, sweetness and the honey of the heart that was denied to us when we were stolen from Africa.

Blackness and the Emerging Vision of Healing

On the Middle Passage, so many perished in dungeons and the holds of ships, while those who survived were submerged in cultures of brutality and extractive greed. Under the ongoing weight of oppression and westernization, Blackness today is often framed as negative and evil—leading over and over to grievous harm.

We see the cruel adultification of Black girls and boys (learn more about adultification here), and we see the image of the monster projected on Black people, especially Black boys and men. With this initiative, we’re working to remove these imposed objectifications. We seek to heal, undo and transform these forces.

The next level is to tap into the deep spirituality that holds us all, recognizing that this Earth is our mother and we are not separate from this Earth. Our liberation-birthright is here. We seek to remember, reclaim, cultivate and manifest this birthright. This is part of the vision arising from this collective exploration—a vision in which Africa is rising.

With sunlight and wind on our faces, we look toward experiencing what arises during the Brazil gatherings. And then, as we integrate and digest what was learned and revealed in both LA and Brazil, and carry that onward to our Ghana events.

Curriculum and Documentary Film

Gathering, preserving and sustaining the emergent are part of this project. We are gathering resources and recordings toward the creation of learning and practice materials, and we have engaged a documentary team to produce a full-length documentary about this journey.


Follow the journey on InstagramListen to a June 2023 Insights at the Edge podcast featuring the Three Black Men with Tami Simon of Sounds True.

Learn more at:  www.threeblackmen.comFor more information: Please contact Victoria Santos at or 360-320-2557.


Watch the June 25 presentation by Resmaa Menakem, Bayo Akomolafe and Orland Bishop.

Photo credits: GL Askew II

More From Commonweal