Greensboro’s Best-Kept Secrets: Guilford graduates connect health and social justice

For the past two years, Sustainable Health Choices has been working with people to improve their health and wellbeing through holistic health counseling, Reiki, and massage therapy. Founded by Guilford alumni Miriam Biber and Kammaleathahh Livingstone, Sustainable Health Choices connects the dots between healthy living and working for social justice.
How did you get into this work? Did you always know you wanted to be doing this (holistic health counseling)?

Livingstone: I studied energy work for a number of years, since I was 18, but not specifically massage therapy until after Guilford. My mom exposed me a lot to alternative health, so I’ve been going to alternative health practitioners for all of my life. It was definitely influenced by my own positive experiences with body work. I figured out senior year (at Guilford) that it was the next step.

Biber: It really naturally evolved. After Guilford I moved to Michigan where I worked with really radical people and a lot of what I did was cooking. I realized I really liked the hospitality piece. I went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is associated with Columbia University Teachers College. I’m really passionate about the coaching piece, helping people figure out how to live happier and healthier lives. The transition is pretty magnificent for people. I’m making it really practical and realistic on a tight budge . We’re teaching people how to take care of themselves.

It must have been scary to start your own business.

Livingstone: I think it is really challenging. This economy doesn’t necessarily make it easy but we keep growing. It’s tough because you can’t just know your own skill – you have to be a bookkeeper, you have to be a marketer . I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I was convinced I was never going to run my own business and it just ended up that I’m now doing it but I could never do it any other way. I don’t think I could work for anyone else ever again after doing this.

Biber: Every opportunity came right when we were ready for the next step. I think we did it really backwards. We still don’t have a business plan. Everything really just started happening. We need more business planning.

Livingstone: We were going with our heart and with our vision. In terms of long-term sustainability of a business, I don’t know if I’d go back and do it the same way.

I know that you organize a number of free community events, but you’re also trying to make a living. How do you balance this?

Biber: We’re constantly trying to figure it out. The passionate pieces of us want to do those Evenings of Wellbeing (free public series on aspects of sustainability) all of the time. It’s a really awesome event and we’ve gotten great feedback and it feels really important to us. At the same time, it takes so many hours for us to organize something like that for us . Being self-employed we don’t make much money. I would say we both work 40-60 hours a week. It’s difficult to figure out the priorities between making money and not making money.

Livingstone: We want to stay committed to the idea of being involved in the community and making the link between community organizing and health. The Evenings of Wellbeing have been awesome for us. Tentatively, we’re talking about doing one in April.

How is your work relevant for students? Why should this matter to them?

Livingstone: The lifestyle that students tend to lead is very busy and stressful. Not everyone knows how to cook or take care of themselves when they’re going off to school. We’ve been able to teach workshops at Guilford like how to use massage in your everyday life.

Biber: I feel like when I was a traditional-age student you just did whatever you wanted to your body and your body forgives you. People need to grow in their own ways, but incorporating healthy classes into your development is important. Conditioning affects us everyday over time. Everything we do can be relatable to any budget, to any lifestyle. We want our services to be accessible. We love working with staff and faculty, too, not just students.

Do you have anything else you want to add?

Biber: A lot of our clients are people that are doing that organizing work or some sort of service. That’s one of the main ways that I see my work directly impacting things. Kammaleathahh is thinking about starting a massage clinic. Simultaneously, we’re trying to build a business that we can live off (of), which is tricky.

Livingstone: One thing that strikes me is that with the vein of community organizing – it is of the utmost importance to build relationships with people. There’s a lot of common vision with people who have a different approach or importance. It’s often a piece that gets forgotten.