BALTIMORE — Kindred Wellness, located in Catonsville, Maryland, provides mental health counseling, consulting and training through the lens of race and equity.
Shawna Murray-Browne, its founder and executive director, works with organizations in their efforts to be what she calls “anti-oppressive” — anti-racist for example — and trains mental health professionals to recognize the unique experiences of people of color. She works directly with activists and Baltimore’s Black community as a therapist to make mental health resources more accessible and culturally relevant.
Murray-Browne was born and raised in Gwynn Oak and Woodlawn, Maryland. As a child she watched her parents struggle with addiction and was struck by the lack of resources and support available to them. That experience sparked the idea to establish a space for families to help them deal with similar issues.
She attended the University of Maryland, College Park, earning degrees in criminology and family science. While at College Park, Murray-Browne was active in organizing, which led her to pursue a graduate degree in social work.
Following graduation, she opened Kindred Wellness. It began with a girls program called the Usisi Circle — Usisi means “sister” in Zulu — focused on how Black girls can cope and heal from trauma. That work led her to open her practice to Black women, children and activists.
Murray-Browne said the care she provides affirms the lived experiences of her clients, especially considering the stigma about mental health care within the Black community and the lack of Black mental health professionals in Baltimore.
“I invite original wisdoms,” said Murray-Browne, referring to healing with music, meditation, physical expression, artistic expression and spirituality. “It’s about helping us to reclaim our history in the ways that we’ve always healed, and helping us to have the eyes to see, and the language to be able to advocate for the kind of care that we demand.”
Dr. Geri Lynn Peak, chief insight facilitator at Two Gems Consulting Services and a mentor of Murray-Browne, has seen the growth of Kindred Wellness over the years.
“Shawna was motivated to address the needs of Baltimore Black folk and find ways to provide ‘helpful help’ to Baltimore Black folk, particularly women and girls and front-line activists. Her emphasis on the well being of activists was unique at the time that I met her,” Peak said. “We have a unique journey in America, rooted in a story that is ours.”
Kindred Wellness has since grown to include four programs: Therapy That Liberates, Healing BMore Activists, Sista SoulQuest and The #HealASista Project.
Therapy that Liberates, the program that trains other mental health professionals about how to provide care to people of color, celebrated its one-year anniversary July 2. It is now Murray-Browne’s main focus at Kindred Wellness. So far, she has trained 500 professionals.
Since the beginning, Murray-Browne has felt energized by interactions with clients and trainees. She remembers hearing from parents about how their children taught them to adopt meditation practices at home, and seeing activists become empowered to take care of their mental and emotional needs.
Amy Greensfelder, executive director of the Pro Bono Counseling Project, is a trainee of Murray-Browne’s and has witnessed the expansion of training programs.
“Issues around race can be uncomfortable to talk about because they bring up so many emotions,” Greensfelder said. “[Murray-Browne] was always able to make the space comfortable, warm and open. She makes difficult subject matters doable.”
Murray-Browne is pursuing a doctorate in social work at University of Maryland, Baltimore and plans to create models of healing circles that will streamline the process of creating safe spaces for other mental health professionals. She also is working on a book on the same topic.
Its central question: “How do we hold space for people in a country that is still dealing with the legacy of racism?”