Newly opened Black healing arts center damaged by fire

Afya Sanaa operating out of temporary space at 1276 University Avenue


Afya Sanaa is a healing center and community space where Minnesotans who identify as Black, African, or African American can find the solace, safety and fellowship to start their journey toward healing.
Located at 1549 University Avenue West, in the heart of the Midway, the start-up organization celebrated its grand opening on May 8, 2021 – and was heavily damaged by a fire of unknown origin on July 16.
Co-founder and co-executive director Raeisha Williams said, “It took us two years to get to where we were. The space was perfect for us, and we had spent more than $50,000 on the build out. After the fire, the building was condemned.
“However, our vision with Afya Sanaa is to establish an open source model of ancestral, collaborative healing that can be put into action in every community.
“We are persevering. We will get through this.”

Ancestral. Collaborative. Healing.
The name Afya Sanaa is Swahili for health and healing. Williams, a third-generation Minnesotan, said, “The community healing we practice at Afya Sanaa is nothing new or revolutionary. It’s what our ancestors have done for centuries.
“We had just completed our first six-week cycle of classes and were ready to start our second session when the fire struck. There was a lot of excitement in the community about what we were doing. We had all these specialized rooms in our space. We offered healing circles, massage, yoga, meditation, and many different styles of dance and creative self-expression taught by Black people, for Black people.”

Why Black healing matters
Williams has walked every step of the journey in creating Afya Sanaa with her mother, co-founder and co-executive director Rosemary Nevils. Williams said, “In 2019, my brother was murdered in North Minneapolis by gun violence. Out of our pain, my mother and I founded the non-profit Guns Down Love Up. It’s a message campaign to end gun violence in the African American community across the Twin Cities. The campaign grew, and has a reach now as far away as Mississippi and Michigan.
“Afya Sanaa was birthed out of that pain, and the collective trauma of the Black community. My mom and I started practicing meditation, yoga, and better physical and spiritual health. We had to find a way to out of our grief. At the same time, as a community, we were grieving and protesting the killings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castille – but George Floyd’s murder really broke us.
“Social justice is so important. How do we feed our spirit in the wake of all this? How do we uphold the beings that we are? This was the beginnings of Afya Sanaa.”

From an idea to reality
In 2019, Williams and Nevils received a generous start-up grant from United Healthcare. The Minnesota Health Department has also funded Afya Sanaa, and the Sanneh Foundation is making it possible for interim services to be offered at 1276 University Avenue West.
At present, those services include healing circles, massage therapy, and use of a studio for creating podcasts. All programs and offerings are free to members, and there is no cost for membership. Members are asked to be present, to be respectful, to treat the space and others with love and care, and to lend a helping hand when needed. Members receive newsletters, invitations to special events, and a personal-log in to the website’s registration portal.
Membership is available only to people who identify as Black, African, or African American. Williams explained, “We welcome collaboration with all marginalized communities and will provide resources to like-minded organizations serving our brothers and sisters in those respective communities.
“All of our services are offered free to Black folks in the Twin Cities area. As we are allies and supporters of other communities, we also need the support of allies and donors to keep our healing doors open – and to help us recover from our recent set-back.”

Moving ahead
What comes next for Afya Sanaa?
Williams said, “It would be great if we could own our own building. We want to be able to advocate for ourselves. We feel that it’s time. We’ll be back for sure in our fullest form – we just don’t know yet how soon and where that will be.”
The community that Afya Sanaa has created welcomes donations as it rebuilds its physical space, either in the original location (if possible) or somewhere new. For more information on how to help them or to complete a membership application, visit www.afyasanaa.com.


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