When Mia Bonhomme and her husband moved to Stockholm from New York City in 2019, she had heard much about the work-life balance in Sweden, and the couple figured the move would be a nice break from the NYC grind.
With a background in the digital fashion and tech space, Mia began immersing herself in life in her new city. When she saw that it was difficult to form the kind of community she craved – particularly one of Black womxn – Mia took matters into hero own hands. In September of 2020, she launched ALTAR Space.
What’s in a name? Mia explains, “It is not religious. I did grow up in the Black American church, so there is a tiny homage to church altars and how they symbolize support and fellowship. The name Altar, however, is not meant to carry any religious meaning at all. It really just means ‘sacred space.’ In modern-day wellness, an altar is a personal, often private space where you go to meditate, or practice gratitude. It’s a place that helps you find peace & channel energy. It is exactly what I am trying to create for Black womxn, a safe space for us to gather, rest, recharge, and find peace and healing energy in the presence of other Black womxn.”
We spoke with Mia about the importance of Altar Space and what people can expect to find there:
What is ALTAR Space? When and how did you found it?
ALTAR Space is a well-being community for Black Womxn (women and non-binary individuals). Our mission is to create safe & inspiring spaces for Black womxn to decompress, recharge & connect with one another. We do that by hosting private wellness classes & events designed to nurture well-being through affirmation and community.
A few months after moving to Stockholm, I began to feel a bit lonely. I had made a few friends and obviously had my husband but there was still a void. I soon realized that it was simply Black people that I was missing. Stockholm is a lovely city, but it is very homogenous.
In NYC, I lived in Harlem and Brooklyn. I was always surrounded by Black people and culture, among the many other amazing cultures in the city. I had this great sense of community and belonging where I lived. It was such a part of my daily life that I didn’t even notice it… until it was gone. No longer having this feeling of belonging and the comfort of my culture began to impact my happiness and eventually take a toll on my emotional health.
As a Black woman, when moving to a new city, finding community among other Black womxn is very important to me. As an ex-pat, it is hard enough to make new friends in Sweden, let alone as an adult in your 30s. After struggling to build a tribe here, I learned that many other Black womxn felt the same (ex-pat/immigrant, Afro-Swedish, Black womxn from all over), so in September of 2020, I decided to start ALTAR Space and hoped that if I built it, the sisters would come.
Who is ALTAR Space for, and why do you feel that it is an important community/space?
ALTAR Space is for all self-identifying Black women and non-binary individuals. Basically, if you identify as, relate to, and find peace and comfort in the presence of Black womxn, ALTAR Space is for you!
The Black experience is beautiful but can be tough at times. And because it is a lived experience, it is something that only other Black people understand. It can be exhausting to navigate a world where you are constantly the minority in spaces. Being the only or one of the few Black people in a space whether it be professional, social, or cultural often leads to experiencing micro-aggressions, having to explain/justify your presence, or field unsolicited questions/opinions about you, other people that look like you and your culture. It is a heavy mental and emotional burden, especially when there are not many other people that understand what you are going through.
Safe spaces are important for all humans. In order to relax, heal, meditate, do anything with the mind honestly, the mind needs to be at ease. As a Black person, our minds are seldom at ease. Throughout or daily lives, we are often thinking about how we may be perceived (as we are often the only person in a space that looks like us) or we are dealing with micro-aggressions hijacking our mental space. For example, imagine being the only Black woman to enter a meditation class.
There is an additional layer of mental chatter that we have to shut off in order to help us get closer to a meditative state. Or imagine having to answer questions about your hair (for the 3rd time this week) at work. Needless to say, it becomes draining. And these are the minimum cases. Worst case, we are worried about our safety or the safety of our children, but that’s a different conversation.
Having a space where you are not the minority but are instead, among other people who understand your lived experience is a true blessing to the emotional state. Even more simply, just a “sense of belonging” is a major contributor to one’s happiness and quality of life.
Nothing brings me more joy than we I see another Black womxn on the street and we make eye contact and acknowledge each other’s presence with a warm smile. I honestly believe that Black womxn across the diaspora share a cultural and even deeper cosmic connection. There is just something in our energy that connects us. And just like anyone else, we deserve safe and sacred spaces.
What kinds of services does ALTAR Space offer? Are there plans for the future for additional services, events, or other?
Currently, we offer private wellness classes such as yoga, meditation and qigong. We recently hosted a hip hop meditation at Downtown Camper which was a lot of fun.
We also host social gatherings such as spa days and movie nights. We definitely plan to expand our class and wellness offerings as we are open to the suggestions of the community.
We are working on some outdoor activities, retreats, and many other exciting things for the near future. We are also aiming to open our own physical space in 2022. It will be where we host our classes and events, as well as a space for our community members to come hang, socialize, have a cup of coffee, or just rest.
Can you share a special memory or experience of ALTAR Space?
I remember our first event very vividly (which says a lot because I have a terrible memory, especially since having a baby). I was certain that only my friends were going to show up. I was so nervous. But we ended up have a really nice turnout. My friends showed up (obviously) but there were also quite a few women there that I had never met.
As each womxn would arrive, their face would light up as soon as they entered and saw the room filled with other Black womxn. They would all greet each other and begin talking, joking and laughing as if they already knew one another. It was exactly what I hoped for, and it warmed my heart to see it come to life.
How do you feel ALTAR Space was important during the pandemic? How did the idea of “community” or “space” need be reimagined during that time?
Tough question! I think all forms of community and connection became exceptionally important during the pandemic, which brought on much heavier feelings of isolation for many people. I also feel, however, that the digital space quickly became crowded, noisy, and overstimulating.
ALTAR did not take to the digital space during this time, primarily because the mission I set out on was to create opportunity and physical space for us to gather. There is something about the energy in the room when Black womxn get together. It’s that energy that I was trying to cultivate. To try to do it virtually seemed off focus and not to mention, extremely hard. And if I’m being honest, I was very pregnant and very tired. So, ALTAR just took a pause.
As we transition to time when we can be in-person, how will Altar Space adjust once again? Is it a “back to normal,” or is it moving to a new vision?
We have already resumed in-person classes and events. However, even though the Swedish Public Health Authority has lifted restrictions for in-person gatherings, we plan to continue to be extra diligent in order to protect our community. This includes continuing to limit to # of people in classes and events and making sure that there are stringent cleaning practices in place in the spaces that we use.
Can you tell us a bit about the new Mama Space?
Of course! Mama Space is a small circle within our community dedicated to supporting Black moms. After giving birth to my first child in January, the concept of “it takes a village” hit me hard because we found ourselves completely without one (in the middle of a pandemic and in a foreign country).
Mom groups are nothing new, but like Black womxnhood, Black motherhood is also unique. I wanted to try to create a village for any Black moms that were seeking one. And not just for the moms, for the little ones as well. It is super important for Black children to have representation from childhood.
I want to build a community of aunties and little cousins so that our moms have a safe space to turn to where they feel loved on and supported, and our kiddos have a playgroup and community of people that look like them.
ALTAR is about wellness; can you tell us what that word means to you, and how you integrate it at ALTAR?
The word “wellness” can carry a lot of weight. I actually prefer to use the term well-being when referring to ALTAR because we are not a “wellness” focused organization. We do offer some wellness classes (by certified instructors) but I, myself, am not a wellness professional. I am just a regular person on my own personal wellness journey.
ALTAR is really about community and belonging and how that, among other things, such as yoga, meditation, creative expression, support groups, etc, impact one’s well-being.
I think many things contribute to our emotional health, sometimes its meditation and sometimes it’s just good conversation or laughs with your homegirl. ALTAR intends to be a place where we can explore what wellness means for each of us in the comfort of a safe space where we feel supported and seen.
Who are some people or organisations that are inspiring you right now and that have inspired your work with ALTAR?
I really admire the spaces that HealHaus (NYC) and Ethel’s Club (NYC) have created. I also really love that Ethel’s Club was named after the founder’s grandmother and was inspired by the role her grandmother played in their own community creating a caring and nurturing space in her home. Black maternal energy is so very special.
Find all ALTAR space events here.