This Spotlight features Briana Boykin, a non-profit owner, community mobilizer, and aspiring trauma surgeon. Read below to explore how her love for art and pursuit of wholeness informs her work towards equity.
Tell us about yourself?
I am Briana Boykin, Co-founder and CEO of UmojaLife non-profit organization, student, EMT, artist, equity builder, and I ultimately strive to be a medical doctor. I graduated from the University of West Georgia, and I also attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as a post baccalaureate student to enhance my chances towards medical school. I try to live my life as eclectically as possible with the main goal of fulfilling my true humanness. I ultimately hope to make small changes that lead to a difference in all aspects, bettering the infrastructure of community as we know it.
Although I have not yet reached remotely near my career goals, as I climb towards what I believe is success I hold the notion of joy and perseverance. Admittedly, personal wellness and care have taken some blows on my journey, but those two virtues have assisted me in my journey of self-accomplishment and balance.
Can you tell us more about UmojaLife and the work that the organization does?
UmojaLife is a non-profit organization with a focus on community building. Its approach is an eclectic; we try to touch every aspect of a place and every member of a community. We don’t want to necessarily be strictly health and leave out the artist or be strictly community gardens and leave out health. We want to rebuild the community, including: construction and improving aesthetics; rebuilding health in the black minority communities; and actually rebuilding land, buildings, and other dilapidated areas of our communities.
What inspired you to create UmojaLife and do you have any long term goals for the organization?
It was an idea of mine to have a community entity that would allow me to express all of my personal hobbies, including art, health, and everything else in a way that also allowed me to help the community. I partnered with Shunté Dennis, my cofounder, and we started with our first event: The UmojaLife Juneteenth Festival. Since then we’ve been working with other community organizations and networking with other entities to bring the community together and ultimately build equity.
We want UmojaLife to grow into a powerhouse community organization on the same level of large non-profits like Red Cross. We want ensure that we remain an organization that is centered in community building. Right now we are working on a magazine that will bring together different community organizations, black businesses, and individuals to highlight their work through the magazine. So, we want to continue to pursue projects like that. Additionally, UmojaLife is centered in Atlanta, but we’d like to highlight and work with people and organizations doing good things in different states and hopefully other countries.
I like something you said earlier about reaching your true humanness and we’ve talked about wholeness before. Can you speak a bit on the idea of wholeness and how you incorporate it in your life?
I try to approach everything with all of me. Growing up I noticed that I like to do and am good at a lot of different things. I also noticed that a lot of people put their all in to one thing. They are an artist and they label themselves as artist or they’re dancers and they’re labeled a dancer or they’re an activist and they are labeled an activist. I don’t like when people say “oh you’re the artist or the activist or you’re all black power or medical or you’re just this.” I’m Bri or I’m Briana. Everything that I do I want it to touch every piece of me. So when I paint I might include something about what’s going on in the community or I might include something going on in health. When I’m in the hospital with patients and there is a patient who dances, that is a piece of me that I try to bring out. I try to not leave out any aspects of myself when I’m playing in of my roles or wearing any of my hats or masks.
Speaking of your many masks, can you tell us about your career interests and goals?
I’ve been into the health field since I was young. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I was initially interested in pediatrics. I feel like a lot of girls had that dream, but as I’ve gotten deeper into medicine I’ve worked in the cardiac realm a lot and I am interested in heart surgery. Then I started working at the emergency center, and I really like the fast pace and the lack of monotony. The cardiac realm was kind of monotonous. In trauma you could see any illness or injury literally head to toe; you have to think quickly, and you never know what is going to come through the door. I like the rush you receive with trauma. Trauma surgery kind of meshes all the things that I like to do. I am a certified EMT as well, and working in the field enforced the passion I have for excitement and medicine. Outside of the medical stuff, I also plan to grow as an artist and create more time to paint, sell art, and express my voice on canvas.
What does black health mean to you?
Black health is my health, your health, my family’s health, and a lot of my friend’s health. However, its importance is slightly more pertinent due to systematic racism, inequitable circumstances, historical medical malpractice towards the black community, and many other factors. These factors make the topic of black health more vital to our communities. We have to remind ourselves that we deserve quality care and that wholeness and health is possible. We have to learn ways to maintain health in circumstances where we are hindered socioeconomically. Black health, in all aspects mentally and physically, is self-love of a people who have been taught to hate themselves. Black health is power.
What do you think is important in black health?
I don’t think there is anything that I could leave out. Everything is important, but I do think there are a lot of things that people aren’t aware of, exposed to, or taught. As a health professional, you may think these things are common sense and that people should know these things. There are also a lot of people in the community that are uneasy or afraid of the health field just because of past instances in their families or things they’ve read and seen on the news. I don’t blame black people for being afraid of going to the doctor for the smallest or largest of things because I‘ve seen instances where they have been mistreated. Trust is the most important thing. Building of trust and the building of healthcare to get people to come to the doctor. That’s a big issue in the black community.
We also need to work on uplifting youth that may have interest in health or healthcare in general. We need more black healthcare professionals to improve the statistics related to healthcare – black men don’t receive the same amount of pain medication and the mortality rate for breast cancer is higher because black women aren’t getting the same options as their white counterparts. These things happen systematically and a lot of the doctors don’t realize that they are falling into this trap.
Why do you think that is?
That’s how medical programs are. Minorities have just recently been included in medical school education. People are taught that disease is happening to people because they are black and not because of the social conditions and a lack of resources that don’t allow black people to prevent the disease. That’s how the text books were written and that’s how they were taught in class. That’s how they are brainwashed to believe that health is based on race. I see it as I apply to schools. There were only of few who even mentioned social determinants of health. It’s a systemic issue.
Lastly, we like to hear about the health goals of our spotlights. What are your personal health goals?
My personal health goals are to achieve wholeness and maintain cleanliness internally. By cleanliness I mean clean eating and working out regularly. I ultimately strive to experience the benefits of maintaining an alkaline diet and other dietary benefits towards health that I may benefit from, as well as be able to share with those I encounter, especially my patients. I also strive to improve my mental health and strength. It truly is all psychosomatic.
If you're interested in connecting with Bri you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter. You can learn more about UmojaLife and their upcoming plans by following them on Instagram, Twitter, and at Umojamissions.com.