Cicely Belle Blain is a force.
Cicely Belle (they/them) is a writer, activist, and thought leader driving powerful conversations and strategizing for change - and someone I am continually inspired by and very grateful to know.
Cicely Belle is a Black, mixed, queer non-binary femme from London, United Kingdom who now lives on the lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people. Their ancestry is a mix of Gambian (Wolof), Jamaican and English. Cicely Belle spent their formative years between London, the Netherlands, and a small Catholic village in France - each home presenting a pivotal opportunity for awakening and growth. Cicely Belle is descended from a long line of feminist educators and developed a passion for justice from a young age.
Cicely Belle is noted for founding Black Lives Matter Vancouver and subsequently being listed as one of Vancouver's 50 most powerful people by Vancouver Magazine twice, BC Business's 30 under 30, and one of Refinery29's Powerhouses of 2020.
They founded Bakau Consulting Inc. in 2018 and has grown the company to serve DEI training and education to 1,000’s of clients worldwide, have spoken at the United Nations Summit in Quito, Ecuador and presented the keynote address for the 2020 graduating ceremony at the University of British Columbia.
I'm grateful that Cicely Belle was willing to speak with me about the concepts of health and wellness and how they take care of themselves.
What is your relationship to health? How has it changed as a result of the pandemic?
The pandemic has allowed me to turn inwards a lot more - which I recognize is a huge privilege. There are people who have been working on the front lines and in public-serving roles who have not had the opportunity to slow down or spend more time at home.
I have tried to use this time to be mindful of my values and intentions in work and life. I always think of the mantra “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Pre-pandemic, I was non-stop. I was working myself into the ground and would experience frequent bouts of burnout. The silver lining of the first lockdown was a moment to breathe - although that did not last long, especially after the murder of George Floyd and the sudden attention on BLM and anti-racism work.
As a leader in the DEI space with a large team at Bakau Consulting, how have you integrated the mental health and wellbeing of your staff into the way you approach business?
The mental health and wellbeing of my staff is really important to me. The work we do is hard and very emotionally and psychologically taxing - many of my team are speaking from their own lived experiences in order to educate others. As the business has grown, this has allowed me to implement more opportunities for rest for my team by establishing a 4-day or 32 hour work week, ample vacation time and other perks that allow folks to do self care. It’s a challenging process because it means going against corporate expectations but I try to affirm my team when they set boundaries with each other and with clients in order to put their wellbeing first.
How does writing and poetry contribute to or influence your wellbeing?
Writing poetry is a form of expression that allows me to process things like trauma or oppression when I don’t have the words to describe those experiences in any other context.
It can be very cathartic but it can also be painful to dig deep.
What does the concept of “ritual” mean to you?
To me, ritual means some form of sacred practice. Something that feels emotive and moving.
What does your morning routine look like?
I hate routines haha. I like to see where each day takes me. I am lucky that my work is flexible so sometimes I lounge around in the morning with a book and a cup of tea and sometimes I get straight up and walk about 5 steps to work.
What are you exploring or learning about right now?
I have been working through Brene Brown’s course on shame and vulnerability.. It is challenging as this kind of emotional vulnerability is not in my nature. There were not many opportunities in my upbringing to explore these themes and we were often told to pick ourselves up and carry on. It’s healing to explore these themes as an adult and realized the importance of addressing shame and the shame behaviours that come with it.
What’s one thing you do every single day?
Watch TikToks…. Haha but also eat good food, talk to my friends, do my skincare routine.
How do you like to unwind at night?
A good movie and a glass of wine.
Is there anything else on the subject of health or wellness that you'd like to share?
From the blog post "My Journey with ADHD"
I was recently prescribed Vyvanse for my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and it changed my life.
The most remarkable transformation was the stillness. My head-- which usually feels like it's filled with five stereos blasting a combination of self-doubt mantras, climate anxiety, internalized oppression and a couple of commercial jingles-- was suddenly so quiet.
This opened up a world of possibilities for me. Tasks that I had procrastinated for months got done in a matter of hours -- and I realized they were not even that hard anyway. I opened piles of mail that had sat on my desk; I reached out to friends I was convinced hated me, I got my inbox down to zero. I started and finished a project. I started a new hobby and have actually kept it up for several weeks. I bought a box of salad and ate it before it went bad. I am less anxious, more focused and happier.
Yet, I am unsatisfied.
While this experience has been transformative, I can’t help thinking about how ridiculous it is that I take drugs to answer emails. Whenever I feel useless, incompetent or lazy, it is because I am comparing myself to neurotypical people whose brains are centred in a capitalist and white supremacist world. Systems of oppression will always centre those whose identities match the original designers -- white, cis, straight, non-disabled, neurotypical men. For neurodivergent folks like myself, especially those facing additional intersections of oppression like racism, fatphobia and misogyny, the marginalization of our experiences results in feelings of shame, isolation and self-hatred. When we live under capitalism, our productivity defines our worth. And when we are unable to “produce” like other people, we face systemic barriers in accessing education, healthcare and employment.
We can pretend there is no such thing as “normal” - that we live in a society that values diversity - but ultimately, neurodivergent folks are cast out, shamed and punished for what is perceived as their inability to function in professional, educational and social settings.
Photos by Joy Gyamfi