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Meet Marguerite Alexis Ferrera of Freedom and Soul Healing

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marguerite Alexis Ferrera.

Marguerite, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The path to founding my own organization was unexpected, to say the least. I grew up in South Los Angeles and have always been active as an artist- a vocalist, pianist, event curator, and speaker since I was little. Growing up in South LA, I was surrounded by family, a Black Caribbean family with origins from Belize who have always supported me.

My mother has always been my biggest cheerleader and supporter and recognized my talent in the arts and creating at an early age. The creative arts and my love for God always fueled me throughout my journey. In 2010, I graduated from LACES, a magnet high school in West LA and ventured onto Williams College in Massachusetts. It was there that I would sing in a band called All Acoustic Alliance at the local restaurant Pera.

Junior year, I got promoted to new heights as the Gospel Choir co-director. I also sang solos for various cultural and social justice events on campus. In 2014, I graduated from Williams Massachusetts, with B.A. in American Studies and minors in Africana Studies and Spanish. Upon graduating from Williams in 2014, I stayed in LA to work for a few months.

I later entered a graduate school program in Boston but became really depressed, so I made the decision to withdraw. I had already battled many mental health challenges during the end of my college year and had one hospitalization during that time. Coming home from that program was disappointing for me, but I was determined to start over and learn to understand my life living with a mental health challenge, which at the time was diagnosed as schizophrenia and clinical depression.

Though a challenging time in my life, it actually led me to creating my debut album “I Am,” which focuses on my identity as a Black woman, a descendant of greats like Malcolm X and Dr. King, along with the many layers and complexities dealing with heartache, love, community, and fighting for justice for my people. When I began creating the album, I didn’t know where it would go or even my goals with it.

I only knew that I wanted to share my story and gift of music with others. I had the pleasure of working with an amazing music producer, Brandon Ford of Smooth Soul Productions (https://www.instagram.com/b_smooth89/) who really helped me capture the essence of my story as a woman of color who values, people, community and social change.

Writing the album was a very therapeutic process that allowed me to pour out my pain around love, the strength of my family, and trials and celebrations of the Black Lives Matter Movement, particularly with the song “Road to Recovery,” a piece of pain and power in the accomplishments of our ancestors, currently, and the work ahead to achieve freedom.

The Album was released on September 15th, 2017 and following that I had a big album release party at Crenshaw Yoga and Dance with about 100 people. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. During this time, I was very active in the health and wellness world and was actively using my platform as an artist to talk about mental health and promote honest conversations around mental illness and healing from trauma.

My work at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Urban LA (https://www.namiurbanla.org) with students in high schools and colleges allowed me to reach young people through my own story of lived experience with a mental health condition and connecting with them through my music. The year 2017 was really tough for me with several depressive moments and often moments of wanting to give up on life.

It was through holistic healing modalities like yoga, Reiki (a Japanese form of natural healing), prayer and tapping into my faith as a Christian that allowed me to get through the challenging moments and distressing times. My social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and my online newsletter became my ways of speaking out and self-healing with the story of battling depression along with suicidal ideation.

The challenges I faced throughout the year and still putting out an album led me to want to continue to help myself heal and others through becoming a certified Reiki I and II practitioner. Reiki is a natural healing modality that originated in Japan that means Universal Life Energy, helping promote relaxation of the body and balance. I became passionate about the practice through having received Reiki by other Black women practitioners in South LA.

These past two years have been challenging living with a mental health condition, that my medical team and I recognize as clinical depression, borderline personality disorder (https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder) and psychosis (https://www.nami.org/earlypsychosis).

I’m proud that I’ve allowed my challenges with mental health to propel me into this holistic healing work. It was not until recently, about August that I realized I now had a company, an organization that was organically forming with all the work I have been doing.

The organization and company I have today is called Freedom and Soul Healing. It was founded from the title of my record label called, Freedom and Soul Records. Freedom represents the essence of who I am, a person who loves creating and expressing myself freely and boldly, and soul represents the essence of my heart, a person who loves authentically, vulnerably and wholeheartedly.

Combined with the word healing was perfect because I am constantly healing from the traumas of the past, with mental health traumas, and healing physically from significant weight gain from antipsychotic medications. And thus my company emerged organically, with a focus of using the creative arts as activism to promote and uplift mental positive mental wellness through a holistic healing lens. You’ll learn more below. 🙂

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Leading a company and growing it is a day to day business like no other. Managing all the work, I do from speaking at colleges, leading holistic healing workshops, and running my private Reiki practice is a feat in itself. I also work 30 hours a week at NAMI Urban LA, who provides free educational programs around mental health.  I am currently in transition to start a new full time role at the UCLA Semel Institute (https://www.semel.ucla.edu/about), one of world’s greatest research centers on mental illness and in practice. At Semel, I will be leading initiatives in mental health in LA County on trauma informed care and resiliency building through a culturally lens. While my schedule will be busier, I look forward to building Freedom and Soul Healing while working in the LA County system at a greater level to bring holistic health to the forefront of conversations around mental health and trauma.

Running a company is difficult because there is always something to do and something you could be doing better, from managing my website to buying flyers, to networking with people, adding folks to my email list, and the list goes on. The biggest challenge comes around being a one person team for so long and also financial investments that come with running a company.

My album, for example, required significant financial investments that were made with taking out debt, and right now I am paying these payments off. From hiring Fairview, a company who handled my copywriting and negotiations with co-writers and co-producers for financial splits to paying for design and copies of the album, the financial investment was large.

It was totally worth it, however, and I would do it all over again. In fact, in January 2019, I will soon start working on my full-length album. The impact my album made on myself, others in the community and beyond made this experience so meaningful and well worth the time and financial investments.

God recently blessed me with a wonderful intern, Tracy Tan (https://www.instagram.com/extraodinarydaze/) who is taking over flyer and design creation among other things for me. Her help has been so amazing and priceless, and I’m forever grateful for her. She is really taking Freedom and Soul Healing to the next level with her innovative design creation and ideas. Maintaining my own personal physical and emotional wellness is also challenging while working and building a company.

I have to be very active about planning downtime, no social time or work time, and simply resting. I love working and seeing my dreams come true with my company but I’m learning daily how to pull back and just be, breathe, have a rest day to watch Hulu and Netflix, delete Instagram and Facebook apps, and enjoy playing my keyboard in my room and singing.

Another significant challenge is facing judgment and skepticism from fellow Christians in my church and other environments about Reiki and the ways I practice my faith. Unfortunately, I have found that many Christians knock down alternative forms of healing as ways of worshipping the Devil or not consistent with God’s word.

It has often made me feel isolated and not welcomed around folks in my church environment and among other Christians, not all, but many as I don’t feel I can fully share my professional work and mission to help those with mental health conditions while incorporating integrative medicinal natural healing practices. I get frustrated that there is also bias and a sense of judgment before really looking at how Reiki and other forms of healing like yoga are helping people recover from all types of medical illnesses; helping maintain strength in the process and providing hope to others.

I truly believe that you can utilize all of these healing practices and incorporate your faith, God or creator within them. I know I do that. Faith and religion are interpreted differently by each individual, and no one person will see it the same. I think that’s what makes Christianity and other religions so beautiful because if we all saw it the same, we would not grow. It just frustrates me that in certain Christian environments, I don’t always feel I can share my full self. I still do my best to be me and rise above daily anyway.

Creating my own self-soothing atmosphere is critical in maintaining wellness as I engage in such large endeavors with my healing practices and navigating skepticism from others. With this, all said, these challenges have made me truly understand the life of an entrepreneur and my mission to help heal others in this process.

I am blessed to have the beautiful family, friends who have become family, church, and community that sustains me. What may seem like sacrifices and risky, the biggest gain is going through this meaningful process of growing to see your dreams manifest and gradually unfold?

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Freedom and Soul Healing – what should we know?|
Freedom and Soul Healing is a company that uses the arts as activism to promote positive mental wellness with holistic health and restorative justice lens. We strive to educate and empower communities on mental health through holistic healing modalities like music, yoga, prayer, faith traditions, and Reiki. Freedom and Soul Healing is different from other companies, but we not only teach individuals how to self heal and heal collectively but also connect them to important mental health services and resources like psychiatry, therapy, crisis support lines, local hospitals, and community clinics. The healing services we provide within our workshops allow people to create their unique spiritual practices and self-care rituals that can strengthen their resilience to bounce back from distressing times.

I practice reiki privately from my home in South LA as well. Reiki is a Japanese form of healing that means Universal life force energy; by using a palm healing technique that works on different chakras, energy centers in the body that correlate with different emotions, it promotes relaxation and balance in the body. Reiki assists with a variety of health issues such a surgery, with cancer patients and as for mental health insomnia, depression, and anxiety. My work also involves speaking on mental health through lectures from a trauma-informed lens to groups but largely high school students and college students. More than ever, it is important to recognize mental conditions and seek the appropriate treatment. Detecting early warnings signs can help immensely, and you can learn how to do so through attending my workshops.

The suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255 ) is a number we emphasize as it is a great way to de-escalate suicidal ideation, impulses, and tendencies. At Freedom and Soul Healing, we educate groups on how to utilize the mental health resources mentioned like psychiatrists, therapy and how to speak to your doctor, as many folks of color have a distrust of medicine because of the traumatic racist past. During most workshops we provide live music, in which I am playing the keyboard and singing, while my friend and Yoga Instructor Lauren Ross (RYT 200 Kimetic Yoga, https://www.villagevisionsla.com/about/) leads the yoga, and my dad Dr. Zarif (ND and Ph.D., https://www.drzarif.com) plays the percussion drums and speaks about human health and nutrition.

Following this yoga and live music piece, we gather in a circle and engage in an hour discussion on mental health, mental wellness and share our unique stories with faith and spirituality. I usually lead a reiki exercise and teach the group on how they can give themselves self-reiki treatments at home. Freedom and Soul Healing is unique in that we use a trauma-informed lens that is informed by the experiences of people of color and underserved communities. My healing work is strongly informed by my identity as an Afro-Latina, Belizean, Guyanese and Black woman growing up South LA where poverty strikes, police abound and gentrification has taken over. I take pride in helping individuals activate the inner part of themselves and their higher source, higher power or creator that has all the tools they need to not simply survive but thrive.

With this said, we also speak about the importance of nutrition and nourishing your body with healthy foods, as foods play a critical role on how you feel mentally, emotionally and physically. These workshops are available to all community groups, such as high schools, colleges, church groups, non-profits, collective groups, mental health agencies and even groups of friends or family. We also host monthly donation based healing circles in South LA around these topics and self-care. Sign up on our email list to stay abreast of upcoming events: http://freedomandsoulhealing.com/contact/.

The mission of Freedom and Soul Healing is to make integrative wellness healing services accessible to all people, particularly the underserved and folks of color regardless of racial or ethnic background, ancestry, gender identity, religion, national origin, age, disability, citizenship or veteran status. I am proud of my company because we have built the framework by telling real stories of those with mental health challenges and the daily struggles that it comes with. As a person with lived experience of mental illness, living with clinical depression, borderline personality disorder (https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder) and elements of psychosis (https://www.nami.org/earlypsychosis), I lead by sharing my story and speaking publicly at each workshop, speaking engagements, social media and with everyday individuals to eradicate shame and stigma of mental illness.

My faith in God has propelled me this far, and God has blessed me with a beautiful village of my mom, grandmother, siblings, extended parents, and friends who have become family to support me in my journey as I’ve built Freedom and Soul Healing. Freedom and Soul Healing represents the way I love God, my community, and life itself wholeheartedly on a mission for me to constantly heal and help facilitate the healing journey of others along the way. Peace and God’s Love.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least about our city?
I love the diversity in culture in LA.  LA has representation from so many racial and ethnic groups and folks of all types of identities. I love the cool pockets of the city like the coffee shops in echo park, taco trucks, and areas in South LA in Leimert Park, a historic Black community with vibrant life and African clothing stores and a famous bookstore, Eso Won Books (website) specializing in books of the African diaspora. Life on Sundays in Leimert is jamming, with live singing in Hot and Cool Cafe, salsa dancing in front of Ride-on Bike Co-Op, and various Black vendors selling crystal jewelry, incense, vegan food, healthy drinks and african clothing. This area represents my culture and ancestry as an Afro Caribbean. I love LA because of the music as well. As a singer, songwriter, and pianist, there are so many wonderful open mics and opportunities to sing and enjoy music. Open mic joints like Tha Juice Joint in Hollywood (https://www.instagram.com/thajuicejoint/) , The Pocket in Culver City (https://www.instagram.com/thepocketla/) and the new once a month open mic at Hilltop Cafe and Kitchen (https://www.instagram.com/findyourhilltop/)  in Windsor Hills gives me life and allows me to connect with other creatives.

The thing I like least is the disturbing rates of homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles. LA’s lack of affordable housing has allowed homelessness to persist and grow to outrageous heights. In LA County, there are an estimated 54,000 people who are homeless and that doesn’t fully account for people who are living in their cars, couch surfing, or living in tents. In this past year, the cost of rent has increased 32% while wages of pay have not caught up (https://laist.com/2018/06/19/la_explained_homelessness.php).  African Americans make up almost 40% of the homeless population, which makes sense unfortunately given this country’s history of slavery and institutionalized racism. While this is the aspect of LA I like the least, I am very happy that I am part of creating solutions around reducing homelessness and creating more equitable living conditions in this city.  In my work at NAMI Urban LA, I’ve attended Department of Mental Health and Department of Public Health County meetings on strategies to reduce homelessness and helping those with mental illness as well. I’ve done my best to bring in different ideas in these meetings to help service providers think about innovative ways to connect people to support networks, build community, and seek services, as it truly takes a community effort to make sustainable change. In my new upcoming job position as Community Trainer at the UCLA Semel Institute (https://www.semel.ucla.edu/about), I will be leading curriculum development and training to LA County leaders on trauma informed care and resiliency building through a culturally competent sound lens. I will be educating and training county officials such a librarians, police officers, medical professionals and mental health service providers on how to engage their clients with a sensitive approach to understanding how trauma might inform their behaviors and to provide better support. My work will continue in a even greater way from NAMI to make an impact on our city and globe to improve mental health outcomes for all.  

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Image Credit:

Traci Caudle, PeQue Brown

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