Left: Camilla Alfred, co-owner of Good Foods Health Center, 1966 E. 73rd St. Right: Joshua Bee Alafia, a bodywork practicioner and filmmaker living in Hyde Park. The two are partnering on a healing center planned for 87th Street and Stony Island Avenue. Credit: Provided

AVALON PARK — A Hyde Park filmmaker and healer has joined forces with a South Shore naturopathic doctor as they plan a donation-based mindfulness complex for South Side residents.

The South Side Liberation Center, planned for a former state unemployment office near 87th Street and Stony Island Avenue, would offer meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong and other healing practices led by local practitioners.

The property has enough room to “have a bustling community of healers with their own offices and a big room for workshops and classes,” bodywork specialist and filmmaker Joshua Bee Alafia said. “It’s pretty much ideal.”

Alafia is partnering with Camilla Alfred, owner of the Good Foods Health Center, 1966 E. 73rd St., to bring the project to fruition.

The center will prioritize youth outreach, with programming such as a rooftop garden to teach sustainable, healthy living, Alfred said.

“In these at-risk communities, we want to pass on the knowledge we have, but especially get hold of the youth,” Alfred said. “A lot of them don’t know about holistic health or even eating right … [they] don’t know anything about spinach or kale or the benefits of it.”

Alfred plans to move her current health food outlet, hydrocolonic therapy center, consultations “and more” to the liberation center. Along with bringing Alafia’s bodywork practice into the space, the pair will continue networking with other South Side healers as they raise funds for the building.

For now, existing centers like Alfred’s, the Haji Healing Salon, Southside Sangha and others are servicing the community “in huge ways,” providing a “strong base” of South Side healers to partner with, Alafia said.

He said he will ensure the liberation center project is fully funded and built out before officially asking for their support.

“I don’t want to play with people’s emotions until we have this place bought and renovated,” Alafia said. “Then it’s time to be like, ‘Okay, it’s time to team up.'”

The asking price for the 12,000-square-foot building is $475,000, which the organizers hope to pay for using grants.

Raising funds to purchase the property will allow the center “to be in a place where we’re not scrambling for rent” upon opening, he said — an advantage all the more necessary given the coronavirus pandemic.

Alafia envisions the center as a donation-based space where people pay what they can for services. Given that, he’s hesitant to ask the community to help get the project off the ground.

“As a filmmaker, I’ve done a lot of crowdfunding,” Alafia said. “I think I’ve capped out as much as I can asking people to crowdfund.”

The project received a $75,000 grant from the Kataly Foundation in October to cover one year of the center’s operating costs, according to Alafia.

The Kataly Foundation supports mindfulness, environmental justice and restorative economies projects nationwide. The organization was founded in 2018 by Regan Pritzker — a cousin to Gov. JB Pritzker — and Chris Olin.

A Kataly spokesperson directed questions to the center’s organizers, as the company is “currently not doing any public commentary on our grant making,” the person said.

There’s a long way to go before the funds are raised, but the South Side Liberation Center can be a centralized space for neighbors to receive alternative medicine and holistic health, Alafia said.

“I want everybody to be able to come,” he said. “Haji has a suggested donation where nobody is really turned away — I want to do that on a larger scale, where we’re affecting thousands of people.”

A painting on the wall at Good Foods Health Center in South Shore, next to descriptions of various roots, herbs and supplements sold in the store. Credit: Camilla Alfred

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