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Building Relational Capital Through Investment in Community Leadership

Dec. 1, 2022

Frederika Easley didn’t know what to expect when she took her friend’s advice to submit an idea to Community-Driven Initiatives’ Call for Ideas program within the Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity

A long-time yoga practitioner and instructor who had visited many studios across the U.S., Frederika felt she didn’t fit in with yoga culture as a Black woman. “I didn’t see myself in the studios — none of the bodies or faces looked like mine,” she says. Yet she couldn’t deny how it had helped her when she needed to prioritize her own healing. For Frederika, in yoga, “you are at your best when you are focused on yourself: the movement, breath and focus — to be what matters in that moment.”

Frederika longed to create a safe place for women like her to experience the benefits of yoga in the community — benefits such as stress relief, strength training and introspection. She wanted to take her idea further but hadn’t had a clear pathway.

Five women stand together for a photo in a lecture hall.

Flow to Heal program participants and Community-Driven Initiatives staff. Left to right: Nitakuwa Barrett Orsak, Frederika Easely, Marianna Espinoza, Jamiliah Pascal-Smith, Kacey Hanson.

Fortunately, her idea stood out among the rest of the Call for Ideas submissions for addressing important and often overlooked mental health and wellness needs for African American women. The Community-Driven Initiatives team provided the support needed to move Frederika’s idea, Flow to Heal, from an aspiration to an unforgettable, life-changing experience.

Leading With Relationships    

Before implementation, the Community-Driven Initiatives team took time to “ground truth” the program’s structure with women who were interested in participating. Community-Driven Initiatives led four compensated focus groups to understand needs and barriers as well as how to approach data collection.

The team also wasn’t shy about addressing the sensitive issue of there being a lack of health data collected on Black women due to a mistrust of institutions who have acted dishonorably in the name of research and systemic and institutional bias within our health care systems. They knew it was important for participants to feel valued and heard, rather than studied. 

An idea being birthed into a tangible thing is beautiful. I had no idea the level of impact it would have on participants’ lives.

Frederika Easley 

Starting with a foundation of trust, Community-Driven Initiatives and Frederika were able to collect meaningful data from the pilot to demonstrate its potential impact. Flow to Heal launched in the spring of 2022 as an online, eight-week pilot program for Black women who were new to yoga. 

It included physical practice, group connection through sharing and discussion, journaling and before-and-after data collection. The pilot included women from different generations, life stages and income levels. Participants reported increased social connectedness, reductions in perceived stress and the development of self-care and wellness practices. 

The pilot development process and results were shared in a webinar with Dell Med Colleagues, the YWCA Mental Health Symposium and, most recently, the Healthier Texas Summit. Presenting these results alongside women who developed and participated in Flow to Heal demonstrates the support Community-Driven Initiatives and Dell Med have for Frederika, Flow to Heal and the women it serves. 

Frederika would love to see the program expand to reach more Black women, and Community-Driven Initiatives remains committed to help Flow to Heal reach its next level of progress.