"I was made for this, and my ancestors have already conquered and done all these things so I can show up in the way that I'm supposed to." (Ashley, Episode 9)
I met Ashley Heggins when we were both students at Michigan State University, participating in an annual student-run play called Tunnel of Oppression. Each year the play was based on monologues and other written pieces dealing with themes of injustice and lived experiences of oppression. I was a scriptwriter and Ashley was an actress. She studied psychology and criminal justice, and this led her to participate in a three-month program studying comparative law in Barbados. While she relished being in a majority-Black country and learning from some of the foremost professionals in her field, it was sometimes difficult being the only Black student among her group of fellow Spartans. She couldn't help but notice that her fellow students (aspiring lawyers, judges, police officers, lawmakers, etc.) didn't take their instructors and other experts seriously because they were people of color who spoke with accents. She often spent time exploring the local community and participating in social/cultural events with Bajan university students to help ease the tension.
After graduating and working with juveniles in the criminal justice system, Ashley was inspired to go back to school to earn her Master's degree in social work at Georgia State University. By chance, she spotted a flyer advertising a program that focused on international development in Ghana, and she decided to participate. She spent three weeks in Ghana, and this time most of her fellows were students of color. She stayed with a family in Accra for most of her time there, which allowed her more insight into Ghanaian culture in addition to learning about the NGOs and enterprises she was studying. She even got to attend a Ghanaian wedding, wearing a specially-made dress and enjoying tons of food and dancing!
More connected to her ancestors, less fazed by fears and perceived problems, and even more committed to the work of healing and empowerment for others.
Being in Ghana was also a deeply emotional experience for Ashley as an African-American woman who had never been to Africa before. She was especially affected by her to visit Elmina Castle, a fixture of the Atlantic slave trade where many enslaved Africans were held before either being shipped away or dying in squalor in the meantime.
She's certain that she returned from Ghana a changed person, feeling more connected to her ancestors, less fazed by fears and perceived problems, and even more committed to the work of healing and empowerment for others.
Today Ashley works as a mental health therapist and social worker in Atlanta, along with operating a holistic wellness business with her sister called Belightfilled. Ashley can be found on Belightfulled's Instagram page (@belightfilled) or her personal Instagram page (@millennialhealing).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Aunties & Ancestors (BARBADOS/GHANA)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!