“When I talk about radical self-care people say, ‘why is it radical?’” said Joi Lewis, life coach, motivational speaker, consultant and self-care subject matter expert.
The East St. Louis native currently based in Minneapolis will be home on December 27 to break down the “why” when she signs and discusses her debut book, “Healing: The Radical Act of Self-Care ” at a special “healing circle” being held the East St. Louis Public Library.
“Self-care is radical because it’s about being well and pushing against systemic oppression and a system that made us not be well,” Lewis said. “That system benefits when we don’t take care of ourselves, because we turn on ourselves – and then we turn on each other.”
With more than 25 years of experience at higher learning institutions as a dean, a vice president and a chief diversity officer at three different institutions, Lewis was on the career track to become a college president.
But witnessing her community being torn apart by trauma – particularly when a black person dies at the hands of law enforcement – she saw her life’s purpose unfold. It began with talking with students on campus about whatever impacted them. It eventually expanded into her facilitating the difficult conversations that need to take place to move towards healing when trauma that ripples through a community occurs.
After the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Lewis was asked by the Minneapolis Foundation in Minnesota to be a lead facilitator in a series of meetings between the police, the mayor’s office, a local Black Lives Matter group and the NAACP.
Some members of Black Lives Matter were in her home meeting with her former mentee Danai Gurira (of “Black Panther” fame) when the Facebook Live feed of Philando Castile popped up in their timeline. The experience of witnessing them watch a man die, further confirmed that she was on the right path.
“If we are not taking care of ourselves and these tragic things are happening, we have nothing in our emotional bank,” Lewis said. “We are writing bad checks to be able to survive and thrive. That’s what this work is actually about.”
The book grew out of a program she developed called the Orange Method of Radical Self-Care and Healing. The Orange Method includes four parts: meditation, mindfulness, emotional liberation and conscious movement.
“I see the Orange Method as a set of instructions, if you will, on how to be able to move through and handle the trauma that we are all living with,” Lewis said. “I want people to know that we have the ability to hold both heartbreak and joy. They run from the same faucet. If you try to cut off one, then you are going to miss out.”
The program’s name, in part, pays homage to her hometown.
“Orange is my favorite color,” Lewis said. “We had two high schools in East St. Louis. Their colors were orange and black and orange and blue. If you wore orange, you were safe. Plus, I’m a certified yoga teacher and began to learn about the different chakras. I learned that orange is the color of the chakra from which transformation happens.”
Lewis is a proud alum of Lincoln (orange and black), as well as Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville, Iowa State University and University of Pennsylvania (where she earned her doctorate).
She says her work and the book that was birthed out of it, has inspired her to have integrity and accountability as she practices her own healing and emotional liberation.
“I don’t always do a good job of taking care of myself,” Lewis admitted. She was candid about her struggles with food addiction, which resulted in her being more than 100 pounds overweight for most of her life. “Black women struggle with it – we struggle with it privately and quietly, and we’re dying,” Lewis said. “And I want people to know that it doesn’t have to be the case.”
She finally lost the weight while living in California – but found herself 70 pounds heavier when she went back to Minnesota. Losing that excess weight has been a struggle. “I was like, ‘when I do the book tour, you will be able to see the before-and-after, but it wasn’t so,’ Lewis said.
“God said, ‘I don’t want you to have the before-and-after. I want you to have the during.’ So here I am, showing up. Part of this work is about me inspiring other people that even if you don’t feel like it, you have to show up. The work has inspired me to rest, but not quit.”
She is thrilled to be coming home for her first event outside of the Minneapolis region for the book, which was released on December 18.
“The launch is going to be at the East St. Louis Public Library and I think about that, as a little girl in the summertime, the AKAs had a summer reading program we would go there,” Lewis said. “So, to have my book-signing there is just precious.”
She calls the book a “love letter to home.”
“Many of the things I know, I learned them growing up in East St. Louis,” Lewis said. “It was put in me there that I could do and be anything.”
Joi Lewis’ Healing Circle and Book Signing will take place from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Thursday, December 27 at The East St. Louis Public Library, 5300 State Street, East St. Louis, Illinois 62203. For more information, visit www.joiunlimited.com .