Clients who seek refuge at Wellness Paradigm in south Minneapolis are often carrying a specific kind of deeply rooted stress — and they are relieved they need not explain it.
Practitioners at the burgeoning Black-owned business understand the weight-of-the-world strain that leaders in communities of color bear as they work toward racial justice.
The center's owner wants clients to immediately feel relaxed and safe. Scents of essential oils and freshly brewed small-batch Minnesota herbal teas waft through the center, serene art by South Side Black artist Linda Taylor graces the walls and selenite crystals sit beside massage tables.
"In the same way that our children need teachers that look like them, in terms of the alternative health field we need practitioners that look like us as well," said Kinshasha Kambui, a Black bodyworker and healer who opened the center in the Kingfield neighborhood to the public in February. "I realized that I could be that catalyst."
Many local civil rights and community leaders have found trust in her care.
The center features therapeutic massage, colon hydrotherapy and ear candling, among other services. In addition to Kambui, longtime host of the KFAI radio show "Health Notes," there are five in-house practitioners including a psychologist.
"We're facilitators, really. What we do is create the ease and we create the conditions so that the body can heal itself," Kambui said.
The wellness industry in the U.S. has exploded in recent years, with consumers spending more than $450 billion annually on products and services, according to an analysis from the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. But Black consumers say the industry is not sufficiently meeting their needs, according to the same report.
A search for healing
Kambui said she knows the importance of practitioners who do not need the Black experience explained to them.
"I want to to talk to somebody who can hear me and that I don't have to explain what's going on," Kambui said of her past experiences as a client.
As a teenager, a car accident shattered her femur and left her hospitalized for months. The injury and medical care she received led to lifelong arthritis and multiple hip replacements — and Kambui became curious about holistic ways to heal.
Her career started with massage therapy, learning about muscles and joints.
During a stressful stint as a policy aide in the Minneapolis mayor's office following 9/11, she turned to colon hydrotherapy for support. The colon is where strong emotions are held, Kambui said, and the cleansing practice either makes sense to a person or it doesn't.
Though she is not a practicing counselor, Kambui received her master's degree in counseling. Her studies come in handy during emotional hydrotherapy sessions.
Black life requires a lot of resilience, and that sometimes feels especially true in the Twin Cities, said Sindiswa Georgiades, Kambui's niece who works on the administrative side of the center. There has been not been enough intentional focus from some institutions and community members on the trauma Minneapolis has experienced over the past few years, she said: "It's like we cannot move on fast enough."
People of color have historically had less access to both doctors and holistic health spaces, Georgiades said. It's why people learned healing techniques from one another, turning to natural medicine or informal circles of support, she said.
"Those cultural competencies I think help with our healing work, honoring it and recognizing it," Georgiades said.
Self-care for activists
St. Paul school board member and activist Chauntyll Allen saw Kambui for the first time several years ago when she was gifted a session as a form of reparations from a community member who appreciated her work. It was a wonderful experience, Allen said, and after she lost her son to suicide a few years ago, she returned to Kambui.
"After I was done, all I could think was okay, now I need to figure out how to get my mom, and my daughter and my wife, everybody had to go," Allen said.
With Kambui, it's more than just a massage, it's a place where Allen feels understood as she talks about her life and gets advice. She began fresh juicing recently after Kambui suggested it.
A lot of Black activists in the Twin Cities have begun to take self-care more seriously in recent years. Allen recalled the days after the killing of Jamar Clark in 2015, when activists protested for days, burning themselves out. By the time the county attorney announced there would be no charges in his death, their energy had been depleted, she said.
After that, they learned to mobilize in shifts. Allen listens to her body when it tells her to skip an event to go visit Kambui or spend some time with her niece.
"It's all about learning how to pace yourself and teaching those tools so that we can recognize that this is not a sprint, this is definitely a marathon," Allen said. "Make sure you get your massage figured out."
Self-care is an important part of life for civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong, too. She regularly meditates, prays and takes time off to do something fun with her family. Having support from Kambui has been a key part of her routine.
"I went to see her and she helped remove a lot of toxic stress from my body after I ran for office," Levy Armstrong said.
After major surgery last fall, Levy Armstrong returned to Kambui.
"She's an extraordinary healer," Levy Armstrong said. "It's difficult to find safe spaces for Black women and other women of color to get the care that they need. But self-care is so critical to our survival."