Heeding the Signs: Using Contemplative Practice for Sustainability as Black Racial Equity Facilitators


  • Ericka M. Echavarria Columbia University School of Social Work
  • Ovita F. Williams Columbia University School of Social Work


facilitation, racial equity training, dialogue, BREF, contemplative practices, racial equity facilitators, self-care, SELFcare


As women of color working in partnership and individually as Black Racial Equity Facilitators (BREFs) of critical dialogues, we recognize the tremendous difficulty and demand in holding people’s uncertainty, anguish, revelations, and awakenings. We expect that white people will bring their tears, anger, denial of racism and collective whiteness. When the pain emanates from Black indigenous people of color (BIPOC), this can take an additional toll on the livelihood of BREFs. The collective emotions in these conversations are heavy and require preparation, centering and co-leadership that will provide space for healing and sustainability for BREFs. Building awareness of the particular emotional needs of BREFs and creating a self-care practice cultivate intentionality and presence, thereby mitigating any harm to either participants or facilitators.

This article will discuss our healing and how we have curated a way to move forward in the work. By intentionally centering our own well-being we are releasing oppressive internalized narratives, while prioritizing our own souls as Black women. We will explore the ways we sustain our work as BREFs facilitating courageous racial justice conversations, while also regulating our own responses through a specific self -care practice we developed.

Author Biographies

Ericka M. Echavarria, Columbia University School of Social Work

Ericka Echavarria, LMSW, JD, currently serves as an Associate Director of Field Education and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University School of Social Work, and is a Co-Convener of the Seminar in Field Instruction for CSSW Field Instructors. Ericka is also an embodied coach and facilitator, and a contemplative who engages in contemplative practices to aspire towards individual and collective liberation. She is passionate about preparing future and current social justice workers for a justice-based practice with participants and systems, through a power, race, oppression, and privilege lens and the use of contemplative practices and inquiry to cultivate awareness and accountability.

Ovita F. Williams, Columbia University School of Social Work

Ovita F. Williams, Ph.D., LCSW-R is an anti-racist social worker committed to justice and creating space for critical conversations across our intersecting identities. Dr. Williams is Executive Director of the Action Lab for Social Justice and a Lecturer in Discipline at Columbia School of Social Work.

She supports continued efforts at CSSW to incorporate a power, racism, oppression, and privilege (PROP) framework throughout the curriculum. Dr. Williams worked with survivors of intimate partner violence in the forensic social work arena with ten years of experience as the Director of Clinical Services in the Counseling Services Unit at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. Prior to this position, Dr. Williams was a child and family therapist at the Children’s Aid Society. Her collaborative book, Learning to teach, teaching to learn: A guide for social work field education, 3rd Edition (CSWE, 2019), emphasizes key tips on justice-based field education for field supervisors.


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