When Jane Namarome attended her first BIPOC Death and Grief Talk four years ago, she felt as though a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. At the time, Namarome was dealing with the death of her mother, while facing expectations to suppress her emotions as a Black woman. The session was what she didn’t know she needed — a safe space to hear from and share her experiences with other racialized people.
“The things I was going through at that time, I wasn’t really allowed to express them because I had to maintain the ‘strong Black woman’ [image],” said Namarome. “I didn’t realize how frustrated I was. I was just in that type of space where I was waiting to burst, but not really knowing that I needed to let that out.”
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Since then, Namarome has attended almost every session hosted by BIPOC Death and Grief Talks. The Toronto-based group supports Black and Indigenous people and people of colour as they navigate grief and loss, offering free virtual discussions roughly every month.
Co-founder Carmen Galvan says the group allows racialized people to connect with each other and talk openly about grief. “Finding that commonality in the pain that we’re all feeling is a very spiritually healing thing for folks,” she said.
While the group initially met in person, it moved to Zoom near the start of the pandemic. Some of the group’s discussions explore grief generally, while others are dedicated to specific topics, such as the intersection of BIPOC grief and neurodivergence or grief in activism and community organizing.
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For Galvan, who works as a death doula, the definition of grief extends far beyond the loss of an individual. “It can also include the spiritual emptiness of being pulled away from your culture, or not having access to your ancestors, your ancestral land, your languages,” she said. “Society, at least in Canada, is very focused on the individual and someone dying — as opposed to all the other ways you can lose parts of yourself and parts of other people.”
Deconstructing myths about grief is part of the group’s mission. During the sessions, Galvan and fellow co-founder and birth doula Kayla Carter explore how systemic issues such as intergenerational trauma can cause racialized people to feel constant pain.
This expansive understanding of grief has helped Namarome recognize and name feelings she’s carried since she moved from Uganda to Canada two decades ago. Hearing others similarly describe the culture shock of living in a new country felt like therapy, she says.
“To talk to other people — not just Black people, but people of colour — who have had similar experiences was a breath of fresh air,” said Namarome. “I realized, oh, it’s not just me.”
The parallels between participants’ experiences also create opportunities for solidarity. “Oftentimes, we’re taught not to find similarities with other groups necessarily, because of internalized racism,” said Galvan. The talks encourage racialized people to come together and realize they’ve experienced similar traumas.
Galvan and Carter begin every session by reminding participants that they aren’t expected to keep their cameras on or participate verbally or in the chat. Attendees are encouraged to take breaks and join and leave the meeting as they need. It’s one way in which the duo hopes to centre accessibility and disability justice in their work, says Galvan.
“A lot of collective spaces or support groups work in this format of like, ‘you have to speak, you have to participate,’” she said. “For us, if you want to sit there in silence with your camera off, by all means — that still counts as participation.”
Sarah Barzak, who joined the group earlier this year, says this inclusive approach leaves room for authenticity. “For those of us who are of different marginalized identities, in our day-to-day, we kind of have to mask a certain way to navigate a lot of institutions,” she said. “It gives us a space in which everybody checks that at the door and we just show up as we are.”
By maintaining a largely BIPOC-only space, the group tries to take the white gaze off of racialized people’s pain. “A lot of practitioners are very white, which means that there’s certain things they just can’t relate to,” said Galvan. “As Kayla always says, we have to add footnotes to our trauma when we’re explaining it to people.”
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Instead of leading the group as experts, Galvan and Carter strive to position themselves as peers, approaching each discussion as an exchange. As participants voluntarily share their stories, the duo and fellow attendees nod and listen intently. People often tear up on camera, with others extending support through heart emoji reactions and thoughtful words in the chat.
Galvan says the group’s sessions usually draw around 20 people of all ages. Participants have tuned in from across the world, including England, India and Australia. “We’ve had some people who are on the call and they’re like, ‘It’s three in the morning over here,’” said Galvan. “I think what I’m most surprised about is the global need.”
The group also collaborates with other organizations to explore specific topics. In March, Galvan and Carter partnered with East Mississauga Community Health Centre to run a series on grief and immigration. Last month, the duo held a session on collective trauma with the London School of Racialized Leaders, a grassroots group for racialized youth in London, Ont. — of which Barzak is the executive director.
Galvan says that while she and Carter are constantly dealing with health issues and chronic pain, they always prioritize the group’s sessions. “For us, these talks are extremely energizing and fulfilling,” she said. “It feels very radical and very spiritual, and very intentional.”
Tobin Ng is an intern at Broadview.
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