Sylvia Bartley Headshot 2019-1

Dr. Sylvia Bartley

Shortly after arriving in Minnesota in 2010, a work colleague invited me to a Black gathering spot in the Twin Cities. I was excited to experience Black America in Minnesota. I was welcomed with open arms. As a newcomer, I was constantly asked questions about my accent, my experience living in the United Kingdom, and how I like America. That night was no exception. A light-skinned Black lady was curious about my marital status. When I informed her, I was not married she replied in an innocuous tone, “you will never find a husband here because you are too dark.” At that moment, I experienced one of Black America’s most deep-rooted man-made cancers designed to divide and weaken the Black community. I was not phased at the time because I did not know colorism; I just knew it was an odd comment to make. Unbeknownst to the lady, let's call her Sarah Jane for the sake of this article, I did not come to America to find a husband or even love, I came to America to find purpose.

Growing up in the U.K. in a working-class family, I spent most of my childhood inside my head questioning my purpose in this lifetime, trying to overcome the emotional struggle of feeling like I’m on the outside looking into a world where I didn’t belong. These thoughts made me introspective, constantly seeking internal peace and adopting mindful tactics to overcome the negative self-talk that was dominant in my mind. It made me open to new experiences. I survived many of life’s painful lessons, each lesson causing me to dig deeper seeking to understand my path and purpose. Coming to America, was part of that quest. Moving here for work, I grabbed the opportunity to seek fulfillment in a different land. I immediately got involved to help as much as I can to address the racial disparities in Minnesota. This work gave me a tremendous sense of fulfillment – a sense of purpose and a strong sense of belonging as I worked with many people from all walks of life to help address the issues we were all passionate about. Using my skills, working pro bono to help Black children receive a high-quality education, to support imperatives focused on improving the health and wellness of Black women and the economic status of the Black community was work I felt compelled to do for the betterment of my community.

I was also forced to address my emotional health while living in Minnesota. It reached its peak, letting me know I could not ignore or try to suppress it anymore, to the point where I felt I was not going to make it – this time. I had work to do. I doubled down on my mindful practices. I sought regular counsel from a phenomenal Black female psychologist. My belief in a higher power, in a plan greater than me, was stronger than ever. My spiritual awareness supported me through this very dark time in my life. Through this work, I surrendered. I named my depression, denied it no longer and started the process of healing. Once I surrendered, I am finding myself more in alignment with my path and purpose. I am open to receiving what the universe has in store for me. As a result, I’m the happiest and more at peace than ever before. I’m intentional about every aspect of my life aligning with my values and life’s purpose.

Working for a Minnesota-based mission driven company in a leadership role aligns completely with my values and hence gives me a sense of fulfillment. The lifelong friends I found in Minnesota are precious and are people who equally align with my values. And yes, Sarah Jane, you were correct. I did not find a husband. I found the love of my life, my wife, Dr. Reba Peoples, who is equally passionate about community. Our union is divine; it is one of love and purpose. We were brought together to support each other’s spiritual growth, to partner on our quest for internal fulfillment and to double down together on our desire to enhance the emotional health of the Black community.  

Minnesota has opened my eyes to American Black history and the reasons behind the different types of cancers that still exist in our community. It has shown me the strength, beauty, and resilience of Black America and what possible when all people, irrespective of their background, come together to address the racial disparities between Black and white people. Minnesota provided me with the space and opportunities to more closely align with my purpose. I’m eternally grateful to Minnesota and all the people I have grown to love during my time in the beloved Twin Cities.

Dr. Sylvia Bartley, a senior global director for the Medtronic Foundation, is well known for her community work in the Twin Cities and her voice on KMOJ radio. She was recently listed in Great Britain’s Powerlist 2020, of the top 100 most influential Black people in the U.K. The Powerlist included The Duchess of Sussex, Megan Markel, and actor Idris Elba. She was also named as one of Pollen Minnesota’s 2019 50 over 50. Bartley recently moved to Atlanta with her wife Reba but is still connected, committed and invested in the Twin Cities community. Her book “Turning the Tide: Neuroscience, Spirituality and My Path Toward Emotional Health” outlines the links between our brains and our souls while inspiring readers to change the world with that knowledge.

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