The effects of dealing with anti-Blackness or racism can take a physical impact on people’s bodies. For Black people and other communities of color, it’s important to have ways to heal.
Now, people of color can use their phones to help facilitate some much-needed healing. In November 2018, Julio Rivera — who identifies as Afro-Latino — launched Liberate, a company he described as “dedicated to empowering the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community in finding our path of inner peace.”
As the company’s first step in fulfilling its mission, it launched Liberate Meditation in February of this year. The app is the “only meditation app by and for the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community.”
Through the app, people can choose from a wide selection of free guided meditations and talks from teachers who identify within the BIPOC community. Many teachers have gone through trainings or are associated with Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA and its sister center called Spirit Rock in California.
Rivera was motivated to create Liberate due to his own experiences with meditation. Back in November 2017, Rivera was trying to figure out ways to deal with stress and anxiety. Although he’d been meditating already, he felt he had hit a ceiling with his progress.
“I decided to try out different spaces around New York City to seek guidance and advice. In the hunt, I found a community dedicated only for People of Color within a meditation center named New York Insight Meditation Center,” Rivera said.
He described meditating with the PoC only community as something that completely changed his life. Rivera explained that it led to a “profound spiritual experience, where a lot of sadness arose and yet in this space, I felt calm, heard, and seen.”
“This was very different from my previous experiences meditating in predominantly white communities. It felt as if I was back home with family.”
After a commitment left him unable to continue attending meditation, Rivera began to feel disconnected, isolated, and depressed. He searched online for possible resources that could help, but there was nothing.
“I was shocked, I didn’t find anything. I was also surprised that when I talked to other folks, they also had struggled and were struggling to find resources as well,” Rivera said. So, he decided to make his own.
This wasn’t Rivera’s first time building an app. He graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Software Engineering and spent over eight years building iOS apps for large retail brands.
Liberate Meditation’s focus on communities of color is what sets it apart from others. Rivera shared that he would reach out to people using the app to ask them why. They’d respond with saying they felt seen, they felt heard, and they felt valued when, often, all those things were denied of them.
“I kept hearing over and over stories of microaggressions occurring in white-predominant spaces such as the workplace. I also heard that this left people feeling completed isolated and feeling invisible,” Rivers said. “I’m an empath, so when I would listen to people share their stories, I would get off the phone sometimes in tears and/or full of rage. I really got present to the amount of suffering our community is facing on a daily basis and how necessary this app is right now.”
“I’m a yoga and meditation teacher and I am a POC. I literally cried after I tried the first guided meditation on this app. Creating spaces – even virtually – for POC to find healing and solace in this practice is everything! 🙏🏼 I am doing in real life work to make yoga and meditation accessible to POC and will be sharing this app with the folks I meet,” one reviewer shared in the Apple App Store.
Healing is nearly impossible if you’re in a space where you don’t feel safe. By creating an online app for and by people of color, Rivera has built a necessary resource for multiple communities and changes to forge solidarity.
“These safe spaces give us the potential to heal our trauma and build solidarity. I am really big on us celebrating each others’ diversity rather than ‘othering’ each other,” Rivera said. “With concentration camps on the Mexican border and Slavery Reparations on the House floor, we need solidarity right now more than ever.”
Liberate is more than just a meditation app for Rivera. To him, it’s a supplement to the efforts that have already been made to heal communities of color. By the end of 2020, Rivera hopes to host three POC-only meditation retreats in cities that have never had them before.
“I have to acknowledge my ancestors and elders that came before me that have done this work for Liberate to exist today.”