MINNEAPOLIS -- Several days after George Floyd's death, a group of strangers gathered on a grassy patch at 41st Street and Minnehaha Avenue S. in Minneapolis. The spot was equidistant from two sites marked by devastating loss: one where the 46-year-old black man was killed by police, the other the epicenter of widespread rioting.
More than 50 people spread out on the grass at a social distance. But for a moment, they were connected as they hummed in unison, directed by the event's co-host, Jamil Stamschror-Lott.
The humming lasted only a minute and was muffled by passing traffic. But at a time when big issues are weighing on so many minds, such a small act of unity and hope seemed to help.
Just two days earlier, Jamil and his wife, Sara, two self-professed "out of the box" therapists, had decided to help assuage the city's collective grief by hosting a series of free community healing sessions. Their aim with the weekly events is to bring people together to share their perspectives and listen to one another, while incorporating exercises to calm the body and mind.
At the session, Jamil described how the burning buildings and chaos surrounding the protests were, in some ways, a physical manifestation of the way racial injustice and lack of recognition feels to the black community. "Now you're seeing the external reality of what's been going on internally," he said.
Floyd's death and the subsequent unrest triggered those who have endured a lifetime of racism and jolted white people to confront their racial privilege. The events spurred something of a collective mental health crisis for the Twin Cities: a mix of rage, sadness, frustration and guilt.
Jamil and Sara began to realize how much communal pain Floyd's death had inflicted as they met with private therapy clients.
"There are so many people hurting -- we have to reach further," Sara recalled telling Jamil. "We thought, 'Let's bring people together and validate people's feelings and affirm our neighbors of color,'?" she said. "Let's try to build a bridge."
A shared mission
Jamil's career in mental health is rooted in his personal experience. He spent most of his childhood in the Twin Cities, raised by a single mother. As an African-American male who would grow to reach 6 feet 7, Jamil often felt like an "alien" among his peers. As one of the few black kids in his Advanced Placement classes, he struggled with impostor syndrome and feeling isolated.