Earlier this year, Y-WE launched the Healing Justice Collective, an initiative that connects current and past Y-WE participants to trusted mental health practitioners and covers the cost. In this series we are highlighting the partners and practitioners who make the Healing Justice Collective possible. Mille Byrd, MS|LMFT, CCTP (she/her) of Healing Byrd LLC, is one of the therapists actively holding spots for Y-WE clients. She is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who has a trauma-informed approach and we connected with her through our partnership with DMHS (Deconstructing the Mental Health System).
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about you? What’s your background, your experience, your interests?
A: Well, I am a Marriage and Family Therapist licensed in the state of Washington. I’ve been doing this for about four years now, maybe a little bit over. I was an advocate before that, and I worked with mainly DV and CSE clients, which is commercially sexually exploited clients. And so after I became a therapist, that’s the bulk of the work that I do right now, is working with women and girls that have experienced sexual exploitation. I also work with youth, a few youth that have experienced that as well, or DV or sexual assault, but a lot of trauma work, which can be really heavy. So what I find my interest to be is on the weekend, finding silence, and sitting with myself sometimes, and that’s something I really enjoy. So I love meditation, I love being near water. I love sunsets. So I love really quiet times. But I do have three kids, but they’re not little, they’re 19, 20, and 31. So they keep me laughing and going and motivated. And, and they’re just so wonderful. So that’s a huge part of my motivation to keep moving and doing the things I do. Yeah, so that’s, that’s a little bit about myself.
Q: Where do your passions live, and what values guide your practice as you’re doing this work or in general?
A: So my heart has been with women and girls, mainly, that have experienced some form of gender based violence. And I mean, I have my own experience with that. So it is always a calling. And I have so many young girls that I’ve worked with, and that I know within my own family that just need a little direction, or a little validation or a little sounding board so they can get through some things. And so I find that to be my passion is just being available. I think that’s one of the biggest things is just being present. That’s one of the things I enjoy the most with my work is I’m just present. That is huge when you’re accompanying someone through what they’re experiencing.
Q: What drew you to the work that Y-WE is doing with the Healing Justice Collective?
A: I think it’s just absolutely imperative that there is prevention and intervention for youth. Because at some point, they’re going to be where we are. And if they can get the services and the resources and the tools before they get there, they’re going to be better for themselves and better for society. So when youth reach out for assistance, I think it’s so important that there are programs set up for that. And the more funding we have funneled into those programs, the more youth we can help. So that’s what really interests me with that.
Q: What has your experience been like being a part of this program? Or can you tell me about some of your work with young people? And what has been the most joyous and or motivating part of that work?
A: So youth are a real trip, because some of them actually know it all. And that is always an interesting conversation, because helping them come to the realization that “you don’t actually, but let’s see what you do know.” So we can work from there. I think that’s always fun. And youth when they get a tool, and they learn something new, and they can apply it — they go hard, they go all the way in, and they do the work. And I love to see that because that means that they want more, they want growth, they want to evolve. And that can be a little bit opposite when you’re working with adults. Because the desire to change, the motivation for change, isn’t always there as it ought to be. They recognize they need it, but they don’t have the desire, even when the tools are given. So they need a little bit more motivation, but youth feel like, “let’s go, let’s do it.” So I think that’s always fun.
Q: Working with young people in particular, what have you learned, what are some of the teachings, and what keeps you going?
A: Patience is what motivates me to keep going. And it’s just knowing that they really need the tools that we have to provide. And if they’re reaching out for them, making sure they have them, according to each client — every client is so different. So according to what that client needs, meeting that need is what keeps me going, knowing that they show up, and if they go hard, I’m gonna go twice as hard. If they don’t show up, there’s nothing much I can do. So when they’re motivated, they’re present, I’m there, I’m all the way in there. And when they’re not motivated and present, that’s a curious thing. So I want to know why.
Q: What does healing mean to you, and how do you know that it’s happening?
A: That is a really great question. I would say, first of all, healing is a journey. So I think it’s really important that people understand that healing doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s not like, “oh, a miracle, everything’s great.” You know, in most cases, 99% of the time, that’s not a reality for people. And so that healing is a journey, knowing that there are steps to get there is really important. And there’s things that you get through and process and overcome. And you know that there’s healing happening, when something is less of a trigger, when something doesn’t bother you as much. When something is more accepted, you can accept what happened – doesn’t mean that it’s like, “oh, yay, it happened. And let me celebrate that horrible thing.” It did happen, but it doesn’t own me. And I think that’s one thing. Saying it out loud is one thing, but really feeling it and letting it resonate in you is when you know that you’re in a better healing place. Yes.
Q: I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in creating this collective, I really wanted to work with people who viewed healing as a political thing, as something that doesn’t just you know, exist in a silo within ourselves, but something that we do in community and something that’s not irrelevant to the social context that we live in. So I’m just curious about, when you hear that “healing is political,” I’m curious about what that means to you, or if anything comes up for you.
A: Yeah, I’ve never heard it put like that, to be honest. So I might be using your coined phrase, because I like that. Healing is political. And I think that healing as a collective is really important. People of color have to make it a radical process, collectively, because if we don’t, if we don’t choose healing, we’re choosing something opposite. We’re choosing harm. We’re choosing stagnancy when we’re not choosing to move forward. So as a collective, we have to be in agreement that there is a need for healing. And healing has to come from within, within our own culture, within our own communities, within our own selves. We can’t wait for someone else to bring us healing. And that’s one thing that I think that people of color tend to do. Like they wait for permission. They wait for an acceptance of another race to say, “Oh, good, you guys can do this.” It has to be radical, it has to be chosen. It’s something that we choose to do collectively. So I think that’s how I view that. And it has to be a choice, it has to come from within our own community. Otherwise, it’s like you said, it is not a one stop shop and not one size fits all, we have to do it specifically for ourselves.
I think that, like you said about how the systems are set up not to benefit people of color. They’re not there for us. They cause harm. And so having a way to navigate through the system, having somebody that’s a guide, that helps create different ways to work through the system and know how to navigate the system is really important. And for white people, I think it’s important that they challenge one another. If you’re in a room, be the interruptor. Talk about anti-Blackness, be the elephant in the room, you know, that causes a ruckus, because that’s where change really will happen in the system.
Q: If you could conjure a dream world, and you’re thinking about what youth liberation looks like, especially as it pertains to young women and gender expansive folks, what does that look like? And what’s that feel like to you?
A: Yeah, wow, dreamworld? Yes. I want to live there. So having agency and autonomy over your person is essential across the board for everybody. But it’s only celebrated amongst heteronormative society. So actually creating ways for gender expansive youth to have their agency and autonomy and be proud of that, and celebrated not just within their community, but in the broader spectrum. That will be important to me. That’s what would feel right to me. I had a youth that — she’s amazing. She wanted to get gender affirmative surgery. And we worked together for a year, I wrote the letter, they were able to get it. They are happy. She is thriving. And I think the process for being who you are in a society is so challenging because the system fights back so hard to tell you who you are, and takes away your agency and autonomy. And I just think that that’s one of the biggest challenges is just breaking down those walls. But that is what I would love to see is everybody just to be able to be who you are. Express yourself the way you want to. [We have] a long way to go.
Q: If you could go back and talk to your teenage self, what’s something that you think that she really needed to hear?
A: Oh, that baby needed to hear a lot of things. That it was okay to be you. Okay. You don’t fit in with this particular group. And that’s okay. I think that’s what it was. I grew up in a very Christian, deeply religious, Christian faith, Pentecostal faith based home and my entire family, huge family on both sides. Forty-eight first cousins type huge. And there were so many of us, and it was all very, very religious. So I think what I needed to hear was that it’s okay to choose your own path. It’s okay. If you want to be in this religion, if you want to have a different path, that’s fine. I wish I had heard that [when I was] younger, so I wouldn’t have fought against my natural innate feelings about who I was. Because I always wanted to get into, “why doesn’t this feel right? Why didn’t this religion didn’t fit me? Why didn’t what we’re doing in this particular church service feel right?” It never felt right inside because it was weird to me. But no one ever told me — it was like, “oh, no, you just need to make sure you give your life to the Lord” type things. So I think that is what younger Mille, if I had heard that, I think that would really have been beneficial. Because that’s a lot of fighting for many years, you know, against myself.
Q: Yeah, that’s really powerful to hear. A lot of young people who come to Y-WE come from deeply religious homes and are non-binary or queer and feel like they can’t be both. But something I think that’s really beautiful about this space is I find that people do share who they are here, at Y-WE, even if at home, it might not be safe, emotionally or otherwise to do so.
A: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it’s so harmful, because there’s so many families with that religious or cultural background that they won’t even accept the child, their child, their own children. And that leads to suicidal ideations and substance use and depression, anxiety and commercial sexual exploitation, it leads to all kinds of things. So you know, you can educate adults, as I said, but they’re pretty stubborn and set in their ways. So it’s difficult. So you have to just give the tools to youth so they can thrive.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to share, anything else readers should know, a call to action, anything that you feel like I missed?
A: There’s always hope. As long as we’re breathing, there is always hope. And if we can just fight through that darkness in that moment, know that that ebbs and flows, darkness is around us the whole time. But if we give up while we’re in that dark spot, we’ll never know what the ebb and flow looks like. We’ll never be able to come out of it. So I think that’s really important that people know that there’s always hope.
Q: I’ve been seeing a lot of that too, the hopelessness, the grief, the “why get better when everything’s horrible?” Yeah, that’s really present.
A: Yeah, that’s what I found that’s really difficult as you give youth all these wonderful tools, and they leave you and they go back home to an environment that pulls them back down. And the environment thinks that what they’re doing is completely right. So it’s not like you can go in there and change their whole culture, system of beliefs, belief system. So you have to keep giving them the tools and hopefully they can get through those moments. So they can, you know, with those tools, come out on the other side.
Y-WE’s mission is to cultivate the power of diverse young women to be creative leaders and courageous changemakers, through transformative programs within a collaborative community of belonging. Learn more about the Healing Justice Collective and how you can support this work.