Courtesy of Maza Rey Photography

Eric Rey is a builder of community, a devourer of pizza, a student, a teacher, his mother’s firstborn son and his father’s lastborn son. 

Rey uses a sovereign logic model introduction, a re-Indigenizing practice in which the speaker presents information on their land, lineage, experiences and learning created by Sayra Pinto. This introduction covers large swathes of Rey’s personal history, including his unique childhood family dynamic. He is the firstborn son of a lastborn daughter, which resulted in a formatively “intergenerational” upbringing. His childhood experiences informed the disposition that pervades his work with Black Obsidian Men’s group, the affinity space and healing group that he founded.

Many of Rey’s cousins are over a decade older than him, so he was born into a community of “built-in teenage babysitters.” Growing up on Button Street in New Haven, Rey’s generationally liminal house made him a gregarious child. He enjoyed observing people as much as interacting directly with them, saying that he was fascinated by the way people moved through the world. This early interest in movement has mapped onto his current work as a facilitator. In Black Obsidian Men’s Group, Rey uses movement — through Qigong, moving meditation, and other mindful exercises — to foster healing and growth. 

“Because I was in this middle-generation weirdness when I was growing up, I also have a lot of cousins who are more like nieces and nephews to me,” Rey said. “So I have always had this nurturing demeanor, and I think that has carried over into the way that I think about my work.” 

Rey has also been creative since his childhood. He enjoyed being around people, but he was an introvert at heart and felt at ease entertaining himself. He had a perpetually active imagination and was always engaged in creative activities such as painting, writing and building toy models. 

Tinkering was something of a full-time occupation. He loved to assemble miniature muscle cars from his local hobby shop and once ventured out of his realm of expertise with a model airplane. This aviatory era of Rey’s early work was short, however, because helicopters are in fact much more difficult to assemble than planes.

“The airplane was easier than the cars because there were less pieces, so I thought, might as well do a helicopter next,” Rey said, chuckling to himself. “But the helicopter bested me for sure. It turns out that helicopters were way, way more complicated and delicate than airplanes. My young fingers did some damage,” he laughed.

Rey explored his artistic penchant further in college, becoming invested in drumming. He attended the University of Connecticut, where he studied psychology and played drums in several bands. At one point he considered a career in music, but “life unfolded differently.” After graduating from UConn, Rey’s career path was peripatetic. 

“I had a couple of sales jobs where I sold insurance for a while, all awful jobs to pay the bills, which is what I needed to do at the time,” Rey said. “I did that for a few years and got tired of it pretty quickly, and then started working with [Career Resources], a nonprofit workforce development organization where I worked primarily with young men and women coming out of incarceration.”

After leaving Career Resources, Rey worked in the office of former Mayor John DeStefano. In 2012, DeStefano announced to his staff that he would not be running for reelection, and that they should start making plans for the end of his term. 

For Rey, DeStefano’s announcement was monumental, as it marked the first time in his life that he would make an intentional decision about his occupational future. Up until then, he had passively accepted the opportunities that came his way, he said.

“When I looked around at the various things that I did, I discovered that coaching and facilitation were the two things that really lit me up about the various jobs that I had held,” Rey said. “It was helping people discover something about themselves or about their world that I just loved immediately and deeply.”

Rey began his career in facilitation by enrolling in the Coaches Training Institute. Once a month, he travelled to New York to attend three 12-hour days of classes. After attending classes for six months, he also completed a year-long certification process which involved rigorous coaching and supervision training. 

Upon completion of the certification program, Rey knew he wanted to maintain autonomy over his schedule, so starting his own business was an attractive goal. Then, in 2019, he founded Black Obsidian Men’s Group, an affinity space and healing group for people who identify as Black men, in collaboration with One Village Healing.

“Black Obsidian is like my brainchild,” Rey said. “One Village is an umbrella organization, they’re a collection of other Black and Brown folks who are doing various kinds of healing work like meditation, reiki, yoga and sound healing. And Black Obsidian is a part of that, it’s its own entity as well as a part of this larger collective of people who are also doing similar work.” 

Black Obsidian began with a kickoff retreat in Ivoryton, Connecticut. The retreat was a rejuvenating and inviting experience that helped forge the Black Obsidian community, he said. 

The group planned a second retreat for the winter of 2022, but the pandemic has indefinitely postponed it.

“The retreat was at a little cottage and we just had a wonderful time,” said Terrance Riggins, a member of Black Obsidian. “Eric was very disarming, open and inviting. He has a spirit about him that is non-threatening, and it was just very easy for me to be in that space.”

Black Obsidian holds weekly virtual healing sessions where the men commune, discuss their lives and various other topics and participate in activities with the intention of healing. They engage in somatic healing work such as Qigong and meditation, journal, respond to poems and talk through “challenging and vulnerable” ideas and emotions. 

Each session begins with a moment of silence, both to connect with ancestors and grieve for anyone lost. They then proceed with movement-based activities or wisdom sharing, in which they watch videos, read poems or otherwise engage with salient narratives. A memorable wisdom sharing session discussed “Cute House,” a satirical YouTube video on socially acceptable masculine language. 

The group will celebrate two years of weekly healing sessions in April. There are about 25 men who regularly attend these weekly sessions, and a little over 100 in the wider Black Obsidian community. Rey is proud to have built a rare space that supports vulnerability in men. 

“In the way that men are socialized, vulnerability is not necessarily part of the vocabulary we are raised with,” said Don Sawyer, member of Black Obsidian. “It’s a space where we can have conversations and not put on masks of perfection. We can come to learn, grow, have an open ear and have a shoulder if needed. Eric is a good listener, a heart listener.”

Black Obsidian also serves as a place for Black men to contend with the way “white supremacy moves and sits in the body.” Having a community with which to speak about these issues has a powerful grounding effect, Rey said.

For Rey, running and participating in Black Obsidian is incredibly rewarding. The thing he’s most excited by is the way the community speaks about the space — he takes great pride in hearing that the group’s members are growing, encouraging each other and finding a deep sense of belonging.  

Clarification, Feb. 3: The article has been updated to clarify that the Black Obsidian Men’s Group is an affinity space for people who identify as Black men. Additionally, the “re-Indigenizing practice” used by Rey was first created by Sayra Pinto.

RACHEL SHIN
Rachel Shin was Audience Editor of the YDN. Before that, she was a City beat reporter, covering nonprofits and social services. She is a junior in Silliman College majoring in English.