Jacqulyn Hamilton
Photo: Lisa Predko

Hamilton says in her role as wellness coordinator at Chicago Freedom School — a nonprofit that trains and supports youth in community organizing — she helps people “live their politics.” Activists can easily lose themselves as they fight for social justice. So she helps ground them by offering a whole toolkit of ways to stay resilient, even joyful, such as breathing exercises and nutritious eating plans. Here’s how the 39-year-old Austin native, who’s also a massage therapist, manages self-care while tending to others.

Recovery mode

“I have always been very active — I could hop on a bike and ride 30 miles. I ran a lot. I’d rock climb once or twice a week. But last year I developed a severe spinal injury that led to me being unable to walk or stand for a couple of months; I didn’t work for half the year. Doctors recommended back surgery, but as a massage therapist, I’ve worked on people who had similar procedures, and there were always complications. Instead, I’ve been slowly rehabilitating. I can stand and walk again, and my physical therapist recently cleared me to bike; I have a beautiful and challenging yoga practice that I do at home. I still have a ways to go, but every step I take feels like a miracle.”

Dietary philosophy

“I’m a vegetarian. If I eat breakfast, I love to zhuzh up a coconut yogurt with some nuts. Lunch and dinner depend on the season — when it’s cold, it’s soup time, so I might have a tomato bisque or a mixed lentil soup. Soup helps me feel nurtured and comforted, and it also is dynamic enough to contain diverse nutrients. I do a lot of grazing throughout the day, eating veggies, nuts like pecans or almonds, and seasonal fruits. In the summer, it’s peaches and nectarines; in the fall, Pink Lady or Fuji apples.”

Vocal power

“Singing has been a lifelong love. It doesn’t even have to be words — sometimes it is a small, gentle hum that ends up transitioning into sounds that resemble scatting, or a song at the top of my voice. Physiologically, it’s oxygenating and a stress reliever. As I tell our young people, the power of a protest is in gathering and speaking for what is right. By vocalizing loudly, you transform energy from something hopeless into something inspiring.”

Full circle

“My brother passed away several years ago. I was in deep, intense grief. I’m not sure where I got the idea, but I bought a weighted Hula-Hoop. At first, I would hoop and cry. But to keep the hoop up, I had to focus, and through that practice, it became joyful. Now I hoop all over the place, and I invite other people to join me.”

Reclaiming well-being

“One of the things I’ve been struggling with is that Breonna Taylor was just trying to sleep. What does healing justice look like when you cannot rest, when systems are invested in stealing away your sense of calm and peace? We need to challenge ideas about what wellness means. Wellness practices aren’t luxuries, like going to a spa; they are also resilience practices to get us through while we’re in a pandemic and an uprising.”