Linsay Irene Hill shared her story of generational trauma and racism endured since childhood in vivid detail and unfailing strength, even when her voice shook as she re-lived the pain.
It was a difficult decision for Hill, 37, to participate in the Federal Way Black Collective’s Nothing To Lose But Our Chains weekend of healing event for Black, Indigenous and people of color communities from Aug. 21-23.
However, she said she hopes her vulnerability encourages others to also engage in uncomfortable, yet necessary, conversations.
Hill, the Positive Outcomes Program coordinator for the Federal Way Multi-Service Center, has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother when it comes to helping others.
Hill’s grandmother, Leola Hill, was an internationally renowned hair stylist who traveled around the world. Leola Hill also taught her that you don’t have to be related in order to care for people like family.
“Anyone who walked into her house or into her life, she took care of them,” Linsay Hill said. “That was kind of the legacy of our family is taking care of people even if they’re not biologically your family.”
Linsay Hill’s mother, Diva Gibens, previously worked with young women of color at Curtis High School.
“I always wanted to grow up to be that person, to be able to take care of the community around me,” said Linsay Hill, the Federal Way Mirror’s Hometown Hero for the month of August.
“And also to make sure young women of color — sometimes I feel like we get forgotten about — know they have someone to go to, someone to talk to, and that they have a home, regardless if they are not biologically mine,” she said.
After dabbling in a few career fields such as a certified nursing assistant and in the foster care system, Hill has dedicated her life’s work to local services and supporting young people of color.
She is the vice president of the Freedom Project and the founder of My Sister’s Keeper, a nonprofit focused on supporting young women of color who are in the justice system through advocacy, life skills and helping meet basic needs.
Developed about two years ago, the Multi-Service Center allowed Linsay Hill to create a program modeled after the work her mother had done, she said.
While the pandemic has limited the nonprofit’s reach, Linsay Hill remains steadfast in her commitment to building relationships and trust with the community.
“Every time you talk to me, I always want you to feel like you’re at home,” she said. “I really want to focus on how am I going to be able to build the community, have them trust me? And not just be construed as another person who’s going to be there for a short time.”
It took Linsay Hill over a month to write her poem and speech for the healing event, often struggling to find the words as she dived into her own emotional past.
“I needed it to come from my heart,” she said.
While she initially hesitated due to the responsibility of starting the conversation and airing her own past, her participation ended up feeling like a release and the event was a dream, she said.
“It wasn’t just an event to heal and start the conversation. It was actually healing myself in that process,” she said.
Asking questions about her generational trauma — such as where she comes from, who her grandparents were and finding out the details of the lives who came before her — brought light to a once dark time.
“If I am breaking the generational trauma within my own self and my own family, then I am healing my ancestors who have died before me,” she said of what she tells herself.
Linsay Hill has seen and experienced racism in her lifetime, both in the South, where it is very out in the open, and in Washington, where it’s more veiled and passive aggressive, she said.
“We have to start talking about things we’re not used to talking about,” she said, and urging people to recognize and move toward deep rooted issues in their own families, or cultures at large. “We have to really start building a community where, even if we don’t like each other, we’re still building together.”
Along with her community work, Linsay Hill also writes a blog called “Soul Searching in a Body You Hate.” She uses writing to explore the trials of her experiences, which she said she carries in her weight. Opening up the dialogue is seen as a moment of hope she can offer to others while also healing herself.
Her work is currently available for view on 3vancook.com and will soon transition to her own website under Linsay Irene in late September.
To watch Hill’s full story, visit the Federal Way Black Collective Facebook page. For more information about the Federal Way Multi-Service Center, visit mschelps.org.