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Healing as the North Star: H-Soul’s Vision for a New Underground Railroad

Healing as the North Star: H-Soul’s Vision for a New Underground Railroad


Harriet Tubman: The Conductor and the Slayer of Demons

The independent comic, “Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer,” is a testament to the magnitude of Tubman’s legend. In my dialogue with Hasira “H-Soul” Ashemu, a community organizer, the founder of the Righteous Rage Institute, and the author of “To Heal a People,” it became clear that Tubman’s legacy is a potent force that propels his activism and illuminates the thrilling aspects of her narrative.

Although the indie comic’s concept may seem far-fetched — Harriet Tubman defending slaves from demon bounty hunters — it’s an undeniably electrifying idea. H-Soul, who deeply respects the real-life Tubman, known to many as “Moses,” emphasizes the less sensational and more profound aspects of her life and strategies that have served as a blueprint for his movement to bring healing to communities and workplaces through DEI — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — work.

Harriet Tubman in 1895 (Public Domain)

H-Soul pointed out an often overlooked aspect of Tubman’s life: “Much of Hollywood neglects the fact that she spent as much time engaging with white people as she did liberating slaves. The Underground Railroad wouldn’t have existed without white abolitionists.” Indeed, the most common information about Tubman that surfaces in an internet search are the highlights of her life: a spy, an unofficial army leader, and an American hero. However, Tubman’s diplomatic efforts, as H-Soul noted, were equally crucial to the success of the Underground Railroad, yet they often fall into the shadows of her more dramatic exploits. As H-Soul engages with people through keynotes, community-based programs and business training, he educates people around why that is. 

H-Soul’s approach is a powerful example of multi-racial coalition building. It seems most of our modern day social justice movements put far greater focus on advocating and pleading with the existing power system to change. H-Soul would argue this leads to a huge expenditure of energy with incremental change and empty commitments, at best. 

“We have to recognize that 95% of our thoughts, actions, and behaviors are completely subconscious. We are hard-wired to prioritize our base-instincts to fit in, and to avoid at all cost any potential risk for shame, embarrassment, abandonment, and sadness. We often don’t realize just how much control, shame, fear, and anger have over our lives, through our subconscious thoughts, actions, and behaviors.” 

Instead H-Soul guides people to direct that energy into healing themselves and to create the systems and institutions that they wish to exist within.

Laying New Tracks

H-Soul’s journey into activism was predestined. “I’m a Cub. My parents were members of the Black Panther movement. Children of Black Panthers are known as Cubs,” he explained. His drive and desire to bring healing to himself, his family and his community also connects him to Tubman: Both had mothers who were healers—Tubman’s mother was a renowned healer, while H-Soul’s mother is a nurse and spiritual counselor for thousands. His Cub upbringing led him to Ghana, where he absorbed invaluable life lessons and deepened his connection to traditional Afro-Indigenous healing practices. 

Much like the classic hero’s journey, H-Soul left home, faced trials, and returned to share the wisdom he had acquired. These experiences shaped his philosophy of the Four Rings of Wellness, as detailed in his book “To Heal a People”, which reflect the wealth of Afro-Indigenous tools, practices, and traditions that he believes are the key to any pathway to individual and communal liberation. 

“Living in Ghana fortified the teachings that were ingrained in the Civil Rights era, in the Black Panther Party,” H-Soul reflected. “The current state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the United States is largely mythical. There is no collective equity or inclusion consciousness in the American psyche.”

This is why H-Soul believes any meaningful movement for freedom must be done through multi-racial coalition building, what he calls an “inside-out” strategy. 

“Harriet Tubman spent as much time speaking to, organizing and educating white people in the North about the wickedness and the impact of slavery as she spent in the South [. . .] creating the network necessary for Afro-Indigenous people to escape.” This network was the stitching that attempted to unite the open wounds of slavery.

White abolitionists were crucial in providing necessities since they had access to valuable safe havens, lodging, and financial resources. H-Soul echoes this in his “Conductor Circles” movement. Conductors are people with some level of access to power, resources, and opportunities who are committed to utilizing that access to help people chart their own pathway to freedom and liberation from systems designed to oppress. 

To Heal a Person

Jim Brown was a multi-sport athlete who excelled in lacrosse and football. On “A Football Life,” aired in November of 2016, Brown explained why he played with such intensity, “I was dealing with race since I was born. And, in my inner self, my strength was unbending when it came to accepting that b.s.” Some still argue that Jim Brown is the greatest running back in the history of the NFL.

The infamous Cleveland Summit with Muhammad Ali in 1967, when Ali was boycotting the Vietnam War, once filled people of color with pride. However, according to a report on PBS NewsHour by Kevin Blackistone, everyone’s motivation for attending the meeting, including Brown, was to dissuade Ali from protesting the war. The wound deepened many years later when Brown supported Donald Trump and openly opposed the peaceful protest initiated by Colin Kaepernick.

Jim Brown when he played for the Cleveland Browns. Photo by Malcolm W. Emmons – The Sporting News Archives (Public Domain)

With the news of Brown’s passing on May 18, 2023, I asked H-Soul a challenging question: How do we reconcile our feelings about a prominent figure with both an iconic and a problematic history? What do we do when our heroes can no longer bear the weight of the pedestals we place them on?

H-Soul reminded us: “We in Africa, we in Asia, and we in Central and South America never-ever created our heroes or our gods to be perfect.” This perspective helped me reconcile with Brown’s duality. One gets a sense of how personal healing is important when our heroes remind us they are human. 

Additionally, it’s a reminder that in the multi-generational battle for social justice, we have ended up with a lot of wounded warriors. People that fell back into survival mode, seeking to fit into the fray rather than stand out in revolution. 

We can use the mistakes of those who inspired us to reflect on ourselves, then we can identify what within us needs to be healed. And, if the aim is to heal a people, the process must start at the individual level.

A Healing Pathway for DEI

“We often say we are not the right partner for you if you are looking for a checkmark, check the box type of DEI which is very popular.” 

He’s right. Many DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives read like directives in shame. They’re usually something along the lines of 1) Respect, 2) Listen, 3) Offer solutions, etc. There is an element of humiliation in them that then leads towards divisiveness. 

H-Soul focuses on healing, developing bonds, and building community, taking a unique approach.

His approach first and foremost seeks to lift the heavy emotions of shame and blame off of people, while also creating a sense of power and accountability. Instead of further shaming executives into changing, H-Soul taps into the human drive for survival and relevance.

“We go into organizations that have a plantation mentality. It’s very hierarchical. It’s very male dominated, very patriarchal in a lot of its instances. Instead of convincing them to do the right thing, we appeal to their self interest. We show them how that model of operating is the death knell in business. The corporate business model of the fifties, sixties, and seventies is no longer sustainable in a global economy. If you cannot operate authentically with Brown people, with Asian people, with gay people, with women, if you can’t operate authentically with them on a global level then you will cease to make money and stay in business.” 

Healing always comes first. Further, with states like Florida continuing to radicalize by censoring what books children can read and conflating history with “theory,” there is a need to work both within and outside of systems, as the new abolitionists of the underground railroad. 

Moving towards freedom

Freedom School is a program that teaches history that is actively being covered up by states like Florida and Texas. The school examines what led to the current racial hierarchy. Students also get a chance to heal from damage caused by structures that weren’t designed with their success in mind. 

H-Soul believes that young people educated with the real history of America — how certain systems developed with the intent to divide — will seek out movements being built today that predate our collective assimilation to a system of racial hierarchy.

So far, H-Soul and the Conductor Circles have been able to raise nearly one million dollars. That money has been invested in programming and services for 30 afro-indigenous healers who are part of community events and programs.

H-Soul ended our conversation by addressing how important it is to find allies as he builds this new railroad. “We as an organization are focused on decolonizing and healing the human psyche. I’m in the human potential business. DEI is about human potential, human liberation.”

If you’re interested in learning more about H-Soul and his philosophy, check out his book “To Heal a People” at iamhsoul.com or his consulting website www.RRIConsulting.org.

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