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“Repairing the Souls of Black Folx: The Internal Work of Preparing for Reparations”

In this think tank session facilitated through a restorative justice circle approach, we will examine the internal soul healing work that Black people must engage in to reckon with the spiritual, psychological, and emotional impacts of slavery to be prepared for reparations. This work is required to heal from the internalized racism, white supremacy, and oppressive forces that actively work to disconnect Black people from themselves and each other, and lead some to self-destructive behavior. In addition to exploring the role of contemporary Black religion, culture, and spirituality in soul healing, we will examine the spiritual technologies and wisdom of enslaved Africans in North America. They employed their spiritual, religious, and cultural resources to protect their spirit and humanity while enslaved and to sustain themselves in the work of justice beyond slavery. We will discuss the role of storytelling and slave narratives in their healing and their power to heal their descendants. This conversation is an extension of the 2022-2023 Harvard Divinity School Common Read program where the HDS community is involved in a yearlong read of The Legacy of Slavery at Harvard: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Committee. This report and its implications will be highlighted. 


This session will be a site for healing and learning and will equip you with tools to take away to support your soul healing and the healing of others. We will implement practices to help us co-create a soul nourishing healing space for examining the critical role of Black religion, spirituality, and culture in cultivating intimacy and connection with God/Love, community, and the natural world and the impact of intimacy on healing the soul.

Melissa Wood Bartholomew (she/her), MDiv ’15, is the Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Harvard Divinity School. She is a Christ-centered minister and a racial justice and healing practitioner. Melissa teaches racial justice and healing at HDS. She is an attorney with nearly a decade of experience practicing public interest law, having served as an Assistant Attorney General of Washington, and as a legal aid attorney with the Northwest Justice Project in Seattle, WA.


Melissa is committed to a multifaith, multidisciplinary, Afrocentric approach to healing justice rooted in the African philosophy of Ubuntu, restorative justice, and love. Believing in the power of restorative justice to operationalize love and transform individuals and systems, Melissa is witnessing the impact of applying a heart-centered restorative justice approach to furthering Harvard Divinity School’s vision of a restorative, anti-racist, and anti-oppressive institution.


Melissa holds a PhD in social work and focuses her research on the impact of racism and other systems of oppression on the mental health of Black people and the role of religion, spirituality, and culture in their resistance. She serves as part-time faculty at Boston College where she teaches restorative justice at the law school and diversity and systems of oppression at the school of social work. Melissa is supported by the love of her husband Edward and their son Eli.

Dean Melissa Wood Bartholomew

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