Though community care is integral to being able to attain widespread wellness, such a reality isn't reflected by the capitalistic-minded wellness industry. Often marked by barriers to entry such as price per product (or class or treatment), or geography of where such commodities are on offer, or a culturally appropriative foundational premise, the $4.4 trillion global wellness industry peddles the false belief that one can attain wellness through buying power and self-optimization. This approach to wellness not only leaves out huge populations of people but also misses the mark on recognizing larger-scale physical, mental, and emotional health needs across all sectors of society.
That's where community care can help level the playing field—and a number company founders who also practice community care care agree. “Community care creates a more just world, one situation at a time,” says herbalist Jamesa Hawthorne, founder of JamHaw Herbals. It means “moving through the world and making choices with an awareness of your interconnectedness to the planet and all who inhabit it,” they add. In short: Each of us is only as well as our neighbors, locally and globally.
So, how, specifically can each of us move away from the form of wellness that values commoditization and toward the prioritization of community care? Community-care practitioners have tips for centering individuals and community over profit.
7 tips for how to practice meaningful community care, according to practitioners.
1. Instead of selling solutions, hold space for the problem
Under a self-optimization paradigm, there’s nearly always a tangible product you can buy that will supposedly "fix" you. Community care, however, focuses on the human first rather than any supposed antidote.
“It’s important to me to offer more than a product that claims to be a 'solution in a bottle.'" —Jamesa Hawthorne, herbalist
As an herbalist, Hawthorne sells tinctures and blends to support their community’s well-being but, effective as they may be, doesn’t claim that her products are the sole the answer. “It’s important to me to offer more than a product that claims to be a 'solution in a bottle.' I hold space for people to explore and cultivate meaningful relationships with the herbs they are working with,” they say. “Opening space and conversation for direct connection to their healing and the plants are more my goals than to cure anyone. I encourage people to learn the herbs’ stories and connect with their own lineages to learn, preserve, and empower themselves. I also guide people into developing self-awareness and knowledge around their own bodies so they have clarity on their needs and how they want to show up for themselves and in the world.”
While these elements aren’t easily marketable for profit to Hawthorne, they do help individuals access deeper healing and connection to others.
2. Prioritizing collaboration over competition
As a business owner, a move away from a mindset of competition and toward one of community support and collaboration is a way to build relationships with and also support other small businesses. “I love the idea of being part of an alternative economy that might also form and serve as a web of care," says Daphne K. Jenkins, founder of Umauma Wellness and 'Ono Mau Goods. "Much of what I make through my own small food business goes right back into the community; I regularly support other BIPOC and woman-owned food businesses by investing in their offerings, lauding their owners' creativity and genius, and sharing about them enthusiastically on social media.”
A culture of reciprocity weaves a powerful web of community support and can be applied whether you’re a business owner, employee, neighbor, or community member of any kind.
3. Shifting from a profit-first mindset to an accessibility mindset
While capitalism encourages the ideal to build wealth at all costs, community care focuses on ensuring those in need are able to access offerings and goods. “Wellness can feel exclusive and unattainable for most people,” says Sydney Cutler-Abich, meditation guide and founder of Ananda Meditation. “I reject that notion, so I offer free and lower-cost ways to access the kind of care I provide. Being self-employed grants me the power to serve others in a way that is personally fulfilling while supporting individuals and communities in the ways they are asking.”
"Being self-employed grants me the power to…support individuals and communities in the ways they are asking.” —Sydney Cutler-Abich, founder of Ananda Meditation
Cutler-Abich centers accessibility and community care in her sliding-scale business model that aims to prevent her profit from coming at the expense of communal well-being.
4. Providing consent-based resources that fulfill the community’s needs
Practicing community care requires listening to the needs of the communities you are in. This listening allows us to hone in on what support is needed—whether that's time, volunteers, access to resources, money, or other needs.
For Annika Hansteen-Izora, writer, artist, and author of Tenderness: An Honoring of my Queer Black Joy and Rage, practicing community care based on reciprocity, access, respect, sustainability, and consent means co-leading Black Feast—a platform that celebrates Black artists and writers—with artist Salimatu Amabebe.
“We raise donations to host Love Letters, which are care packages filled with items meant to support respite, and distribute them for free to Black community members," she says. "To me, investing in each others’ respite is community care.” Care packages include nourishing treats or herbal remedies, for example, and local businesses can contribute their goods to the packages to participate in the cycle of community care.
5. Asking for the care and support we, personally, need
Community care does prioritize taking care of others, but it’s also important to be open and willing to receive care ourselves. “I have multiple group chats with queer friends where we ask each other first if we have capacity to provide support, and then if so, asking each other for the care we need,” says Hansteen-Izora. “I’ve asked friends to hop onto FaceTime with me as encouragement to clean my room because I’m too depressed, and friendships where we send each other meals in reciprocity for providing care. These small practices of creating sustainable actions of care are an act of resistance.”
Hawthorne agrees that caring for oneself is a crucial ingredient to being able to practice community care. “The idea that needing or asking for help is a weakness is a lie, and it’s ableist," they say. "We all need each other, and you will make yourself sick by not leaning on people, reaching out, being honest with yourself about your needs, and asking for help.”
6. Providing space and opportunities for care
One of my favorite examples of community care is the Mitzvah Wall at Lagustas Luscious’ Commissary! café in New Paltz, New York. When patrons go to check out at the cafe, they can buy credit for someone to use in the future and add it to the Mitzvah Wall, and they can even specify who they want it to be for.
The Mitzvah Wall is plastered with Post-it Notes sharing messages like “$10 for a Black Queer Couple celebrating their anniversary,” “$5 for someone who hates their shitty job,” and so many more. A few post-its are enough to transform a wall into a hub of community care—something I take into account in the physical and digital spaces I create as the founder of Imby.
7. Prioritizing rest and encouraging others to do the same
Rest is an essential and free element of our personal and collective well-being. So, practicing rest and encouraging others to do the same is an act of community care.
"When we rest, whether alone or in community, we can replenish our energy, tap into intuition and creativity, become re-inspired, and realize we are okay just as we are," says Cutler-Abich. "As such, we reclaim our time, minds, bodies, and spirits, and build a profound compassion for ourselves and each other.”
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