top of page

Well-Being And Racial Literacy Are Deeply Connected – Exclusive Interview With Alyssa Johnson

Alyssa is a formerly practicing attorney who now works with lawyers and legal organizations on topics related to lawyer well-being. This includes emotional intelligence, productivity, hormone regulation, and experiencing more pleasure in their lives. Alyssa is also passionate about dismantling White supremacy within the legal profession. She teaches, writes, and speaks on race literacy and why White people must address our race-based trauma.

Alyssa Johnson, Wellness & Race Literacy Teacher


How did you get into lawyer well-being work?

My pivot from practicing law to becoming a lawyer well-being coach wasn’t direct. I graduated from law school in 2004 and practiced law in Washington, DC, until 2008. I quit practicing in 2008 and went to work in corporate America. In 2013, I left my job and my life in DC and spent about a year and a half traveling around the US and Costa Rica. I moved to Austin in 2015 where I currently live.

When I left DC in 2013, I swore off law forever. I was burned out and completely disenchanted with the legal profession. From 2013-2019, I focused heavily on healing childhood and race-based trauma. In 2020, my heart changed and I started getting inner nudges to return to the legal profession but in the capacity of helping lawyers create more meaningful lives. I had been studying various aspects of well-being since 2013, including trauma healing, hormone regulation, productivity, and the power of living a joyful life, so I applied what I had learned to teaching, coaching, and consulting on those topics.

What about race literacy work? How do you incorporate that into your work with lawyers?

My race literacy journey began in 2015 when I was training to become a volunteer guardian ad litem with a nonprofit that works with kiddos in the child welfare system in Austin. During training, I learned that the majority population makeup of Austin is White, but the vast majority of kiddos in the child welfare system are Black or Brown. The only reason for this is that Austin is racist.

As the trainers talked about racism within the child welfare system, I had a very stereotypical White woman response. I froze, I teared up, and I couldn’t talk about race. I had been taught that I wasn’t supposed to talk about race.

I kept at the race literacy work and eventually healed enough of my race-based trauma to be able to facilitate racial literacy conversations with White people.

It wasn’t until 2020 that I learned that White people have race-based trauma. I knew that people of Color had race-based trauma, but I didn’t know that White people have it, too. When I learned that, it completely changed how I went about race literacy work with White people. Now I take a trauma-informed approach and I make sure to incorporate our bodies and emotions in the exercises that I do with White people.

A trauma response ‒ and a White supremacist teaching ‒ is to keep racism as an intellectual or academic exercise rather than an embodied experience. When White people make racism an intellectual experience rather than a felt-sense experience, it disconnects us from what’s happening in the body and emotions and it prevents deeper healing from occurring.

Due to the nature of the legal profession, the mind is highly valued and our bodies and emotions are grossly undervalued. It has severe consequences. The work I do with lawyers in terms of racial literacy is about incorporating our bodies’ wisdom into the work and feeling things on a deeper level. This embodiment work, along with teaching concepts of racism and how racism is playing out in our profession, creates a more integrated experience for lawyers. We can then engage in race conversations much more meaningfully.

Does the legal profession need to address well-being and racial literacy?

Yes, on both counts.

Numerous studies have shown that lawyers tend to have high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Our profession also sees high rates of substance use disorders, as well as suicidal ideations.

When I talk to lawyers I often hear a similar theme: they want to work less, they want more meaningful work, they want less adversarial situations, they want to feel like they’re making a positive difference in society, and they want to be treated with respect and dignity.

Some of these things are outside of a lawyer's immediate control, but some of them can be addressed by inner work. So developing and expanding a lawyer’s ability to go inwards and listen for inner guidance is crucial to creating a legal practice that better meets the lawyer’s needs.

Racism is also a huge problem in our profession. Multiple studies indicate that people of Color are treated differently or experience aggression at work. Our profession holds a lot of power in society. We write the laws, we interpret them, and we enforce them. If White lawyers commit to doing our race literacy work and take actionable steps to dismantle supremacy within our profession, I don’t see how it couldn’t possibly flow into other areas of society.

One of the drawbacks of being a lawyer is that we’re often expected to know everything. Perfectionistic tendencies and feelings of imposter syndrome tend to be high in our profession. These behaviors and feelings can prevent us from being curious, asking questions, and giving ourselves grace when we don’t know something or we make a mistake.

Race literacy work requires curiosity, compassion, and grace as we navigate our inner worlds and explore the beliefs and feelings we're holding around White supremacy. So part of the work I do with White lawyers in terms of racial literacy is helping them unlearn some of the ways they’ve been taught to behave. I do my best to help lawyers feel safe asking questions and admit that they don’t know how to best handle race situations.


Becoming racially literate involves addressing and healing our race-based trauma. Healing trauma requires compassion, grace, and gentleness. I've found that as lawyers do this work, compassion, grace, and gentleness flow out to other areas of their lives. Well-being improves in their lives. There’s a connection between racial literacy and well-being.

How do you work with clients?

My passion is teaching and I love working with organizational clients on topics related to well-being and racial literacy. My well-being trainings tend to focus on managing emotions, work-life balance, and stress management.

For individual clients, I get to go deeper with the material than I do in a group training. I share exercises and tools with people to help them achieve their goals related to well-being. And I help lawyers find more clarity as to what they want in terms of their legal practices or things going on in their personal lives.

Racial literacy is a bit different because it’s rooted in trauma healing. I go slowly with the content and do my best to meet people where they’re at regarding the feelings that are arising. Racial literacy work is a combination of educating people on history and why we’re at where we’re at right now in terms of supremacy, as well as incorporating exercises to address the feelings that are coming up.

Supremacy teaches White people that we’re totally fine and not harmed by this completely false ideology that we’re superior because of our skin color. This is a lie. We’re hurt by supremacy and need to do our collective healing to eradicate racism.

What’s the benefit of doing well-being or race literacy work?

Both types of work require introspection because we’re addressing feelings of discomfort that we may be experiencing. The gift of sitting in our discomfort and allowing it to move through us is often clarity. We gain insights and ideas as to what our next steps are when we’re more aligned internally.

With well-being work, lawyers often develop better boundaries with work or they shift how their days unfold so that they’re working more in alignment with their natural energy levels that ebb and flow throughout the day.

With race literacy work, I’ve found that liberation lies on the other side of healing race-based trauma. An entire aspect of our consciousness opens up to us that may have been previously blocked due to race-based trauma. On this side of the healing, we can have meaningful race conversations with people of Color without falling apart, we can look at our behavior with a more discerning eye and be open to receiving feedback as to how or why we’re behaving in a manner that’s racist, and we become passionate about taking anti-racist actions because we want to dismantle supremacy.

How do people reach out to you for more information?

You can learn more about my work here. You can email me at Alyssa@alyssajohnson.love as well.

I also work with The Opt-In™, which is a B Corp company that helps visionary leaders stay relevant through cultural strategy. The Opt-In focuses on building race literacy and cultural competency skills of leaders and organizations through an integrated curriculum and coaching approach. Aurora Archer, co-founder and CEO of The Opt-In, and I hold race conversations at companies around healing separateness between women of Color and White women. I also facilitate conversations with White senior leadership in companies on topics related to race literacy and healing race-based trauma that White people hold in our bodies. You can learn more about The Opt-In here.

Follow me on Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!



Commenti


CURRENT ISSUE

  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04

CHANNELS

bottom of page