Updated: Nov 2, 2020

Vivian Smith Barnes is a passionate playwright, author and community activist. She voluntarily works within the community, alongside other individuals from the community, to achieve common goals and collective elevation. She advocates for, helps to define and delivers change toward the improvement of the community. Vivian Smith Barnes , lovingly known to most as Queen Viv, is a person who plays an active and vital role in bringing about social changes for the betterment of the people. Her position that everyone deserves equal economic, social rights and opportunity is evident in the way she speaks, writes and lives. Well versed in psychology, she also focuses a great deal on mental health and wellness. She has been known to host Facebook Lives while taking nature walks and hugging trees. After all, the wellness of the people starts from the inside out... mind, body and spirit.

Queen Viv, Tell Me Your Story:

Tell me about the community in which you work and live? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the community as you see it?

QV: Well, I live in a quiet area in Taunton, Massachusetts, however, my work in mental health geographically covers communities between Mattapoisett and Mattapan…lol! I provide In-Home-Therapy for families with children struggling with mental health between the ages of 6 and 21 years old. My clients are Asian, Caucasian, Latino, African American (so-called), and of Haitian decent. There is a mixture of girls and boys with an average family income ranging from being unemployed to upper middle class (if there is such a thing now). Many of the families experience generational trauma that affect their daily lives and when a child is referred to one of my consultant agencies, I build a team that is strategically designed to support everyone living in the home.

In terms of my other business, “I Am Queen Viv Healing Strategies”, my work is done primarily on-line which gives me a global reach. I practice and teach Usui Reiki. I am in the process of restructuring so that I’m able to provide the same quality of services on-line as I had in person prior to COVID 19. As we speak, I am developing my therapeutic life coaching program for women who are survivors of sexual trauma and want to learn how to divorce themselves from self-sabotage in order to live fabulous and free.

The strengths and challenges of all communities are rooted in the home. When we incorporate healthy living into our daily routines (spiritually, psychologically, medically and financially), we become stronger as a community. The challenges are that we have fallen short in the self-care department as a nation, folks continue to practice toxic habits as a justified lifestyle, and many people choose Not to make time to research how mind, body and spirit work in unison. Complacency is a silent killer! There is a lot to that conversation, too much to get into on this particular platform at the moment. However, I do see tremendous strength in what COVID has birthed. Individuals have been forced to slow down and think, many of whom have chosen to reset their lives, it seems as if gratitude for the things that we often take for granted is on the rise and I see families strengthening their bonds with their children and going back to basics. Because I trust and know that God’s Love is always working behind the scenes for all of us, I see the rainbow after the storm and I am confident that we are going to come out on the other side of this thing as Super (S)heroes and heroes!

What are the major needs, issues and problems facing the community that directly impact quality of life?

QV: As I stated above, the major issues facing the community is poor health and lack of wealth! I didn’t elaborate on the wealth of the community previously, so thank you for reposing the question. Let me start with an anonymous quote: “The person who doesn’t know where his next dollar is coming from usually doesn’t know where his last dollar went”. This is important, especially now, because many people are suffering as a result of the business shutdowns within the last 8 months and the future is filled with uncertainties. When we rely on one source of income and do not use our creative abilities to develop a plan that will generate income…we become that person, not knowing where the next dollar is coming from. The graveyard is the wealthiest place on the planet because that is where million-dollar dreams are buried. I’m not knocking Anyone for not having a job or finding it difficult to launch a dream. Being an entrepreneur is extremely challenging, it takes hard work and perseverance, and many folks feel more secure working for others! Broken dreams due to lack of business knowledge and resources are major stressors for talented people. For some, it’s easier to NOT dream than to have dreamed about freedom, the type you can only give yourself, then wake up each day in a nightmare as a hamster trapped in an endless race. And yes, low finances and lack of financial education has impeded the health and wealth of the black community and continues to negatively impact the quality of life of many families! Self-education is the key…and much of it is Free!

“To be whole is to be well, to be well is to be free.”

How do we get people to increase their participation and involvement as a means of achieving social, political and community goals?

QV: As for increasing the participation and involvement of people? My answer is always going to be…get involved in your own life, make that a primary goal, become your Own rescue first and foremost, dispel the conspiracy that lives in Your house and eventually the community will become a reflection of wellness. We’ve done and tried EVERYTHING in terms of marches, meetings, 10-point programs, voting, etc. What stifles these socio-political and economic efforts are “people” who have not addressed the enemy within! The answers are all in there if we but knew. Many people in the forefront of these socio-political movements are struggling internally as well. And then there are the sensationalists, the folks that get excited for a weekend and return to work on Monday and in two weeks, forget all about the movement! History will continue to repeat itself if we don’t look to heal ourselves individually and develop new habits. Racism has caused us a tremendous amount of trauma and we continue to act as if it isn’t there. Racism is socialized and until we truly understand what that means, change the trajectory of how we talk about it, accept the fact that Racial Trauma is really a thing that impacts both blacks and whites, this cycle will continue. A very small group of people benefit greatly by keeping poor people ignorant through systemic racism and classism. There’s a difference between being “woke” and “woke-ish”. Being “woke-ish” is safe…and requires minimal internal action, ‘cause you still half sleep! Being Awake comes with personal responsibility, the kind that starts deep inside the heart and mind. Self-care, Self-education, committing to change bad habits, simply cleansing your mind, body and soul. This is revolutionary to me. That is the prerequisite to achieving community goals based on the fact that when you see yourself as whole, you see the community as an extension of yourself. We have a responsibility to our community to show up as the best version of ourselves, then we have the strength and wisdom to add on to a cause!

While there are many groups striving to work toward common community goals, how do you determine if a group is purposeful and well-organized?

QV: In my humble opinion, and after experiencing 23 years in the Nation of Islam here in Boston, which will always be the glass that I compare groups and organizations to. First off, seek out the “actual” leaders and the ones that are committed to doing the work regardless to whom or what. Let the leaders lead with precision. Not everyone is a leader or wants to be one. Know whose who, their strengths and weakness! Keep the agenda simple and focused, no one can fight all wars on all fronts. As for organized…members need to show up (mind, body, and spirit), and be capable of leaving their emotional baggage and egos at the door. Each and every one Must enter into the space from a place of Love and Courage. And committing to keeping their word bond is crucial to every organization!

What truly defines a “movement” when it pertains to a collective/community?

QV: When a group of people are committed to one common cause and are willing to put their personal lives on the line for the said cause, willing to promote the mission, bring in new members and basically do the work with love and conviction!

Our community tends to push the topic of mental health behind the curtain. Why is mental health and the practice of wellness and mindfulness so important?

QV: Because without it, we will continue to do the same things over and over again and expecting the same results – definition of Insanity!

How does mental health play a role in our community? What kind of impact does it have on a singular and collective level – especially when it goes unacknowledged and unaddressed?

QV: Now-a-days the biggest mental health issues impacting our communities are: Anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress (slave) Disorder, and a plethora of Mood & Personality Disorders. They all stem from poor eating, poor thinking, poor finances, lack of physical exercise, lack of faith in “something greater than yourself”, hopelessness, and basically ignorance about how the mind and body can work together to heal you or destroy you. Plain and simple. My personal experience with unaddressed mental health issues are likened to what you see in a horror flick, some of the people I’ve been put in a position to assist needed more than traditional treatment, some need spiritual strategies. We can be the gods of our own personal universe by elevating our minds and learning how to raise or vibrational frequencies or we can become the devils of our own universe vibrating on a low frequency that eventually destroy everything around us. Mind, body, and Spirit can Not be separated! That is a western way of thinking. “To be whole is to be well, to be well is to be free.” – Queen Viv

Please tell us about your book, “Mask Off”? Why did you write it? Who is the intended audience? What do you hope it communicates?

QV: Mask Off; Surviving the Mental Health Epidemic in Urban America is for the person who is not afraid to question themselves about the traditional trends of the Mental Health Industrial Revolution. This book is for “The diagnosed” and for people who have loved ones with a diagnosis and are looking for an alternative perspective to what has become the “norm”. It is not a cookie cutter approach to venting about the mental health industry; however, it does question some of its tools and practices. My intention for writing the book is to create a greater awareness for those lacking the ability to understand the mental health care system and the affect it is currently having on the urban community. This book validates the viewpoint of mental health providers who see through a larger lens and struggle with the idea that they “themselves” may be dancing to the tune of the insurance companies rather than creating healthier possibilities for those they serve. I salute those who have the insight and courage to contemplate this question because knowing the truth comes with an overwhelming amount of responsibility. Hence, my motivation for writing this book.

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