Reflecting on Rest, Heritage, and Black History: Our Ancestral Tapestry

Reflecting on Rest, Heritage, and Black History: Our Ancestral Tapestry

Tricia Hersey, aka The Nap Bishop (credit: Johnathon Kelso for the New York Times)


Think about the joy, the struggles, along with the triumphs — that allowed you to exist in this moment. You may not know the names of all who lived full lives, made choices, decisions, and sacrifices allowing you to be fully present in this moment today. However, I deeply believe that it’s important to reflect more frequently on this gift.

Tricia Hersey an artist, poet, theologian, community organizer and curator says in her book “Rest is Resistance,”

“I don’t believe I would have arrived on this journey of dreaming if I was not a lover of poetry and a poet. I sometimes wonder if I would have been able to hold space for the possibility of shifting culture via naps. Maybe I could have made it to this point without the collaboration of art but it would have been a harder climb. For me, poetry, like rest, comes from the silent place of our listening. Poetry, like rest, opens up corners of the unknown while guiding effortlessly. Poetry makes sense of meaning and allows us to put things back together that have been torn apart. Poetry, like rest, can be scary to engage with because of the mystery it allows for, but this is exactly why we must face our fear, and dreams and let rest guide our healing and curiosity.

Rest is real-life conversations.
I don’t know any other way
To go.
Rest is the road map.
The guiding force–a truth teller.
Rest is a meeting with self.
With a typed agenda.
Rest is on your knees whispering words silently,
On the right side of the bed.
Rest is lunchtime dreaming.
The energy of the Rastafarian who showed me how to
Pray standing up,
With my eyes open
Hands stretched wide.
“Because how will you see and know when prayers are
Rest is holy oil
From my mama’s wooden dresser.
Pompeian Olive Oil, the fancy kind in glass.
Blessed by the Elders.
Poured over our heads as we rebuke the devil.
Rest is the laying on of hands.
A force field all around you.
Rest is a dream made real.
A portal.
An honest place.
A trusting place.
A sacred refuge.
A dissertation-length longing.
Rest works.
Rest dreams.
Infinite power moving.
Care surrounding us.
Rest is a gift and an antenna.
An ancient call dangling on the tips of tongues,
From a head lightly connected on a silk pillow.
Rest is holding us close.
Rest is home.

Rest: Nurturing Our Souls

It’s very cliche but we live in a fast paced society that doesn’t often allow us to reflect, to rest. The concept of rest has become a radical act. In the midst of our busy, busy lives, how often do we truly prioritize rest?

Rest is not merely the absence of activity; it is a deliberate choice to pause, to replenish our spirits, and to reconnect with the deeper rhythms of life.

At AYA, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every young person, and this includes recognizing the importance of caring for mind, body, and spirit.

Tricia Hersey, Is the founder of “The Nap Ministry” an organization that examines the liberating power of naps. “Our “REST IS RESISTANCE” framework and practice engages with the power of performance art, site-specific installations, and community organizing to install sacred and safe spaces for communities to rest together. ” One of my favorite quotes by them is

“We are divine and our rest is divine. There is synergy, interconnectedness, and deep communal healing within our rest movement. I believe rest, sleep, naps, daydreaming, and slowing down can help us all wake up to see the truth of ourselves. Rest is a healing portal to our deepest selves. Consider, if you will, the wisdom of the natural world. In the changing seasons, we see the cyclical rhythm of rest and renewal mirrored in the cycles of growth and dormancy. Just as the earth rests during the winter months, gathering its strength for the coming spring, so too must we honor the need for rest in our own lives.” (Rest is Resistance)

“At AYA we seek to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and we recognize that the struggle for justice is far from over. Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist said it best, ‘Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.’”

Heritage: Embracing Our Roots

As we journey through life, we carry with us the stories of those who came before us—their triumphs, their struggles, their dreams. I believe that our ancestral heritage holds the tapestry of our collective past, woven from the threads of countless generations who have shaped the course of history with their courage and resilience.

In celebrating our ancestors, we honor the diversity of cultural traditions that enrich our shared humanity. Whether we trace our roots to distant lands or have deep roots in this soil, each of us carries within us the legacy of our ancestors.

Yet, our heritage is not without its complexities. For alongside the stories of triumph and perseverance, there are also stories of pain and injustice—stories that remind us of the unfinished work of justice and reconciliation in our world.

This year marks the 3rd anniversary of my fathers death. His name was Alvin Kenneth Avila born in the most southern part of Belize. He was an entrepreneur, farmer, a teacher, in his youth he was rastafarian. Soon after his passing I was encouraged to ritualize this time of year. I am of Garifuna descent remembering my ancestors is a part of my spiritual heritage. Every February I plan a little practice to remember him. This year that practice was spending time with my sister, going to Chicago, and eating a lot of good Garinagu food.

Black History: Honoring Our Collective Narrative
We have an opportunity to hear the voices and stories of Black individuals here in our community and across the country whose contributions to our world have often been overlooked, minimized or co-opted.

From the struggles of the civil rights movement to the achievements of Black artists, scientists, and leaders, the history of Black America is a testament to the resilience and creativity of a people who have faced in the past and still today much oppression.

Yet, Black history is not just a chapter in the larger narrative of American history—it is a story of struggle and triumph that is woven into the fabric of our nation’s identity. It is a story that challenges us to confront the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to work towards a more just and equitable future for all of us.

At AYA we seek to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and we recognize that the struggle for justice is far from over. Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist said it best, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Restoring Our Ancestral Wisdom: Building Connection and Understanding

Let us commit ourselves to the work of building bridges of understanding and empathy within our community and beyond. Let us engage in the difficult conversations about race, privilege, and power, knowing that true healing and reconciliation can only come through facing our histories, acknowledging the past, learning from it, allowing our history to inform and guide actions that will allow true liberation. It is a traditional Lakota belief that our healing reaches both forward and backward for seven generations. The “7th generation” principle says that in every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendents seven generations into the future.

Let us hold fast to the vision of a world where all young people have the ability to be whole, well, rested. Cole Author Riley says; rest is not a reward in exchange for your exhaustion. You are worthy of rest now. You don’t have to wait until it hurts. Slow down to reclaim yourself today.”

Book Recomendations

This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley

This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley

Ezekiel: The Importance of Motivation

Water Color Depiction of Ezekiel (credit: Adobe Firefly)

It’s important to note that these are just 3 stories of the roughly 600 unique youth we walked alongside this year. Their collective story drives AYA’s work and informs our next steps. It is why we continue to build on our tried and true practices while simultaneously crafting innovative pathways – pathways that reduce barriers and help youth receive the necessary resources and housing to achieve stability.

In speaking with hundreds of youth a year, we see some youth who think their housing instability is all of their fault when actually, none of it is. Additionally, some youth think none of it is their fault when in reality, they have contributed to their housing instability. 

Sometimes housing instability can be exacerbated by continued unsafe choices made by youth, such as substance abuse, poor time management, lack of soft skills, etc. But, housing instability happens to youth due to external forces as well. For example, we know that there continues to be an overrepresentation of Black individuals experiencing homelessness. For AYA, 43% of AYA youth are black, yet black individuals only represent 10.8% of the Kent County population. This can be caused by several contributing factors – all outside of the youth’s control, such as generational poverty, systemic injustices within the housing market, and discriminatory practices in school and work.

Ezekiel faced housing instability due to both external forces and choices he made himself.

Ezekiel never felt fully comfortable at home. Experiencing emotional abuse, Ezekiel left when he was 18 seeking independence and his own identity – greatly optimistic and excited about this new chapter. He found an ideal apartment for rent via Craiglist and began settling in. However, housing prices began to rise, and he was no longer able to afford his apartment and had to move out. Finding another room for rent, he quickly moved into something more affordable. But then his hours got cut, and housing prices increased again, and this time there were even fewer options available and even less within his means. Still, he managed to find something and was able to maintain his independent housing. 

After a few years, the depression he had been battling for the last decade began affecting his daily routine. He was no longer motivated to work and eventually lost his job. Without his job, he could not afford his room and was forced to move out. At age 23, Ezekiel became homeless.

Ezekiel’s depression created a sense of resignation as he moved from place to place, sleeping under bridges, in nearby woods, and on alleyway vents for the slightest warmth. This was an incredibly difficult time for Ezekiel.

One day, Ezekiel saw some people walking, passing out food and water. When Ezekiel approached them, they turned out to be from AYA and invited him to the AYA Drop-in Center.

“I was so thankful. I was able to find a job again, and AYA helped me with bus passes and a place to store my belongings…”

This began a turning point for Ezekiel. “I was so thankful. I was able to find a job again, and AYA helped me with bus passes and a place to store my belongings. Usually, I would have to worry about my stuff, and it would be outside hidden somewhere.”

At AYA, Ezekiel had secure lockers to store his possessions. He worked with a community partner and was able to take some job training courses and be placed in a well-paying factory job. He spoke with a youth advocate who was able to provide him with bus passes and a bike that would make getting to work easier. Ezekiel was working on his future and finding motivation again.

But the road to stability is not always a straight trajectory. Suffering a mental health breakdown, Ezekiel made some unsafe choices which resulted in him being jailed for some time.

However, he would find that AYA (As You Are) also means accepting young people for who they are, regardless of their criminal record. At AYA, he was able to begin the process of working towards stability again – meeting with therapists to unpack his depression and conflict resolution skills, getting reconnected to employment opportunities, and most importantly, speaking with AYA’s Supportive Housing team. Ezekiel moved into an AYA home where he resides to this day.

Ezekiel is now considered a leader amongst the youth in AYA housing and has opened up about his experience with mental health and how he continues to live in stability. He is open about mistakes he’s made and how he works to better himself in spite of them. Ezekiel is building his own future.

Achinaye: The Importance of Acceptance

Water Color Depiction of Achinaye (credit: Adobe Firefly)

AYA centers itself on relationships. Our goal is to make sure that every young person we meet can get connected to housing and long-term stability – whether that be through AYA or community partners. One of the first steps we take is pursuing the health and well-being of both mind and body.

Physical health is incredibly important for young people experiencing homelessness. An unaddressed injured ankle could lead to a lingering limp, or an unwashed cut could cause a serious infection. Small cuts and bruises can lead to greater problems when the body does not have adequate food, water, and accessible showers.

Likewise, housing instability can take a serious toll on someone’s mental health. Sustained trauma can alter moods, social habits, irritability, and more. This can become a devastating cycle where homelessness causes deteriorated mental health which makes it harder to maintain adequate housing which causes homelessness which strains mental health, and so on and so on.

At AYA, our Comprehensive Health Initiative includes several avenues for AYA members to not only keep their physical health in check but also restore and maintain proper mental health. This includes free counseling, therapy, and access to testing to diagnose and learn about various mental health conditions – such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Depression, OCD, and more.

Achinaye (name changed for privacy) first learned about AYA while taking care of his mental health at a local mental health facility. A case worker told Achinaye about the work of AYA and how he believed it would be the best place for him to connect to ongoing resources. Not knowing anything about AYA, Achinaye decided to check it out, with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Achinaye was skeptical because he already had a lifetime of experience with various organizations and institutions, trying to find a path to stability. First facing housing instability as a toddler and eventually being put into foster care by age 9, Achinaye had lived in several counties, connected to a handful of non-profits, and lived in 21 foster homes.

For one reason or another, Achinaye could not find sustainable housing. After years of this transient lifestyle, unpacked trauma, and an undiagnosed mental health condition had a great impact on Achinaye’s peace and presence of mind. Achinaye was falling into the known cycle of homelessness which leads to further mental health concerns which leads to continued homelessness.

At the time Achinaye was introduced to AYA, he had already aged out of foster care and become aware of his Autism diagnosis. But neither of these factors would be a barrier for him at AYA.


AYA stands for As You Are. While this means something different for each member, for Achinaye, AYA means having your neurodivergence be accepted as you are.

AYA stands for As You Are. While this means something different for each member, for Achinaye, AYA means having your neurodivergence be accepted as you are. Achinaye’s autism was embraced and he started building a community amongst peers and advocates – many of whom had also been on a mental health journey and recovery. He was given the autonomy and dignity, with respect for his diagnosis, to start building his own future. He had therapists he could talk to, books to dive into, and quiet corners he could lean into his self-discovery. He started reflecting on how he viewed the world.

At the time, he was coming from a place of great cynicism. He used to think, “Why do I need a house? [With no bills], all my money stays in my pocket. I’m surviving out here [on the streets] anyway.”

But after many long talks with youth advocates, he came to an important conclusion: “Something needs to change.” He realized, “I wanted something more. A good paying job. To go on vacation. To go to Japan or see Giraffes in Africa. I couldn’t do any of that with how I was living. Something needed to change.”

Achinaye, full of determination, worked with AYA housing specialists and found stable housing through an AYA community partner. Achinaye has a stable income. Every day he goes to work, Achinaye is working towards his desired future. He is achieving stability.

Achinaye is a current member of AYA. Like Lesha, he is living in affordable housing, has a steady job, and is an active participant in the Youth Action Board – a local youth-led organization that advocates on behalf of young people experiencing homelessness. At AYA, Achinaye advocates for neurodivergent folks and continues to walk alongside new members at AYA through his humor, openness, and learned insight.

Lesha: Finding Community

Water Color Depiction of Lesha (credit: Adobe Firefly)

We just sent out a letter to the greater AYA community which featured three timelines that represent three different AYA members. The names and identifiable details have been changed, but they are inspired by real people living in Grand Rapids.

Above, is a watercolor depiction of Lesha, a current AYA member.

At the age of 18, Lesha left home due to a variety of factors and after a series of events, she found herself experiencing literal homelessness. This was hard for Lesha to come to terms with as she is strong-willed, determined, and optimistic. Yet, she tried to make the best of her situation, building a community among folks also experiencing homelessness. This community was made up of people of all ages and backgrounds. They shared resources and information. It was from this group that Lesha would learn about AYA Youth Collective.

Lesha became a member at Drop-in, stopping by every so often and making small gains toward her stability. 

In the meantime, she found an abandoned strip mall and was able to keep as safe, dry, and comfortable as possible. But she wouldn’t stay here long, Lesha was determined to make a better way for herself.

She tried couch surfing, extended-stay hotels, and was able to secure a rented room from a comfortable home. But when the landlord unexpectedly passed away, she had to move out and was back to square one.

All the while, Lesha was at least able to get a meal, essential items, and do several loads of laundry whenever she came by AYA.

At AYA, we strive to support young people where they are and connect them to resources that already exist. We are a place of collaboration. A place of belonging. A place of respite.

Lesha was feeling quite discouraged until she met someone who changed her life. Her name was Maria. They became romantically involved and soon began planning a life together, thinking about the future, and dreaming of the things they would accomplish. 

“It was a positive relationship with [Maria] and it allowed me to be me. Maria motivated me to be a better person. I didn’t have to be rough and tough. I could be nice but also be assertive. I went on long walks with her and we just talked about everything. Where we are going from here, where we are going to get jobs, etc.”

Maria recently passed away, which has only compounded the effects of Lesha’s trauma.

But Lesha doesn’t want her story to be shared so we feel sad for her or take pity on her life – instead, she’d like you to know that her story is uniquely hers and the things that have happened to her have made her the strong person she is today. And no matter what perpetually shifting changes have occurred in her life – whether changes in relationships, shelter, income levels, employment, etc – AYA has been a constant.

Lesha was able to secure housing by accessing a voucher through an MDHHS case worker. She was able to get a job through a friend. And with a job, she was able to purchase her own car. She did all these things with her own grit and determination. Meanwhile, AYA continued to be a safe place to return to. Regardless of what hardship she was experiencing that day or where she slept the night before, she knew she could see the same therapists, the same youth advocates, and count on continued access to showers, laundry, and hot meals.

At AYA, we strive to support young people where they are and connect them to resources that already exist. We are a place of collaboration. A place of belonging. A place of respite.

Lesha is a current member of AYA. She is living in affordable housing, has a steady job, and is an active participant in the Youth Action Board – a local youth-led organization that advocates on behalf of young people experiencing homelessness. At AYA, Lesha continues to build positive relationships with peers and advocates which fuels her determination, hard work, and increasing stability.

Gang Members and Reformation: Just Thought I’d Share About This Author

Gang Members and Reformation: Just Thought I’d Share About This Author

Father Gregory Boyle in His Office (credit: Father Gregory Boyle Facebook Page)

If you’ve never read anything by Gregory Boyle, you should consider doing so. It may change your life. Or at the very least, make you change your job.

That’s what happened to me.

It’s probably true that many of us find ourselves in jobs that we likely did not anticipate. I don’t know many people, for example, who dreamed of being an Assistant Manager of Talent Acquisition or a Systems Analyst at 7 years old.

I know I did not anticipate raising money and awareness for a non-profit organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan (I was going to be a baseball player in Pittsburgh, if you must know). Super-Fast forward to February of 2021, a pandemic had been making its way through our world for a year and I had spent my time reading and re-reading books by Gregory Boyle.

If you don’t know who Gregory Boyle is, Father Boyle is a Jesuit Priest in East Los Angeles who started Homeboy Industries – a place that wraps its arms around gang members and the incarcerated, and helps them find their paths forward through work programs, education, mental health clinics, tattoo removal, and radical kinship and compassion.

In an attempt to write few enough words that compels you to read this, I simply encourage you to read one of (or all three) or Gregory Boyle’s books: Tattoos on the Heart, Barking to the Choir, or The Whole Language. I think there is a good chance that you’ll read of a posture that this world needs and I believe, actually deeply longs for.

Boyle (Center) in the early days of Homeboy Industries (credit Ave Maria Press)

“We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

AYA attempts to be a similar place that Father Boyle and so many have created in Los Angeles. We are looking to be a place of connection and kinship, rather than a place of perfectly curated paths. We long to see the wholeness and beauty in each person over and over again, as opposed to disregarding them if they disagree with or disappoint us. We seek to understand what “bad behavior” actually is – a response from deeply wounded people that have often been victims of simply being born in a wrong home or wrong zip code.

For many of you who are reading this, you know that at AYA’s center is the power of relationships. We believe it has to be core to true transformation. Homeboy Industries would call this kinship. And it’s central to everything they do. Father Boyle puts it like this for Homeboy Industries:

“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

To find out more how AYA has been creating spaces for the voiceless, despised, and demonized for nearly 10 years now, send me an email at aallen@ayayouth.org. I’d love to talk more with you.

Two Grand Rapids Nonprofits Merging to Help More Youth in Crisis Move Toward Stability

3:11 Youth Housing and HQ Runaway & Homeless Youth Drop-In Center Merging to Break the Cycle of Homelessness Together


GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN—Today two Grand Rapids area nonprofit agencies with a shared purpose announce a merger: 3:11 Youth Housing and HQ Runaway & Homeless Youth Drop-In Center have come together to provide circles of support for youth facing homelessness.

While this decision was made prior to COVID-19, this pandemic has highlighted the disparities that youth experiencing homelessness face, disproportionately impacting communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. The stark racial inequities are made very clear in housing and homelessness in Kent County. Approximately 80% of youth accessing drop-in at HQ and housing at 3:11 are people of color, yet they make up 41% of the population. HQ and 3:11 have continued to provide support to youth during this pandemic, from virtual supports and teletherapy to grocery delivery and rent assistance. This merger is even more essential now, providing cohesive support and stability in the face of such unprecedented times.

Since 2012, 3:11 has provided housing to more than 50 young people, ages 18 to 24. With support from mentors and housemates, participating youth build life skills and relationships. Ninety percent of participants go on to find stable housing, reach educational goals and secure full-time employment.

HQ opened in 2014 to create a safe and affirming space for youth, ages 14 to 24, to find rest, build relationships, and connect to vital resources while navigating instability or homelessness. In its six years of operation, HQ has served more than 1,400 youth members.

“Housing insecurity is complex, and 3:11 and HQ have partnered for years to address its many dimensions,” said Lauren VanKeulen, founding Co-Executive Director of 3:11. “As a unified organization, we can create a more connective, cohesive experience for youth on their journey toward housing and stability.”

VanKeulen will lead the new organization as its CEO with a leadership team that combines staff and board members from both founding organizations. In addition to streamlining the experience of the youth they serve, the team expects to increase their reach and impact, and develop opportunities for the future, including new housing options and innovations in youth resources.

Shandra Steininger, Co-Founder and Executive Director of HQ, will complete her service to the organization on June 30, 2020, in order to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona, to be nearer to family. Steininger played an active role in planning the merger and will continue to be a resource to the new leadership team during this transition.

“The merger is the result of a months-long process of research, listening sessions and planning,” said Steininger. “The staff and board of 3:11 and HQ, as well as our members and 3:11 mentors, have been very thoughtful about what we’d like to see for the future. As I take the next step on my own personal journey, I do so with great confidence in this shared work.”

More than 80 youth per night experience homelessness in Kent County each year, according to the community Point in Time Count, and we know this is grossly under representative of the actual need. As a unified organization, we will have the resources, diversity and strength to play a more significant role in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

“We envision a Grand Rapids community where every young person can count on strong relationships and stable housing as a foundation for their future,” said VanKeulen. “This organization is dedicated to this vision, and we have greater capacity than ever to help young people move from crisis to stability alongside our many great partners and supporters in this area.”

The merged organization will create safe space for young people in crisis to belong, be themselves and build a future. The organization creates circles of support for 14- to 24-year-olds facing homelessness or instability in the Grand Rapids area—from drop-in opportunities to rest, recharge and meet everyday needs in a caring community to safe, affordable housing with peers and mentors who partner in their transition to stability. We are here to help young people connect to the resources, relationships and housing they need at any point on their journey.

Organization leaders will be available for interviews the week of June 23. Please contact Lauren VanKeulen atinfo@3-11.org.

If you are between the ages of 14 and 24 and would like to be connected to one of our advocates, please contact us at www.hqgr.org, www.3-11.org, or (616) 217-4113.