In the world of trauma recovery and women’s empowerment, few figures are as inspiring and influential as Dieula Previlon. Born in Haiti, Dieula has used her experiences, faith, and unyielding tenacity to emerge from the depths of personal trauma and become a beacon of hope for other survivors. Dieula Previlon, a fellow Caribbean woman is the founder and executive director of “ElevateHer International Ministries”. Dieula is a beacon of empowerment for women, enabling them to heal from trauma and transform their lives.
3 Key Points from This Episode
- “From Vulnerability to Victory: In our candid conversation, Dieula Previlon invites us into her deeply personal journey from childhood trauma to becoming a beacon of hope for other survivors. Her experiences, struggles, and triumphs as a Haitian immigrant paint a compelling picture of resilience and tenacity. Dieula’s journey is a testament to her faith, passion, and the belief that past experiences, however painful, can forge the pathway towards healing and empowerment.”
- “Unlocking Empowerment: Dieula Previlon brings a fresh perspective on trauma recovery through her unique methodologies. Dieula’s work through her organization, ‘Elevate Her International Ministries,’ empowers women to turn their trauma into triumphs. Her holistic approach addresses not just the physical, but also the emotional, mental, and spiritual facets of healing. Throughout our discussion, Dieula shares the transformative power of acknowledging pain, fostering resilience, and embracing emotional freedom. Her work is more than just a service; it’s a revolution that enables women to reclaim their power.”
- “Breaking Barriers: Dieula Previlon is not just challenging societal norms; she’s actively rewriting them. She delves into the often overlooked or ignored areas of trauma, drawing attention to the stigmas and stereotypes that often hinder recovery. Dieula emphasizes the transformative power of storytelling, and how sharing personal experiences can provide solace, instill hope, and motivate action. She encourages us to see vulnerability as strength, inviting us all to participate in the much-needed discourse around trauma, recovery, and empowerment.”
Dieula Previlon’s story serves as a powerful reminder that even in our darkest moments, there is always a path to healing, empowerment, and triumph. Her journey from vulnerability to victory offers hope and inspiration, proving that it is indeed possible to transform trauma into a catalyst for change and empowerment.
[00:00:00] Paula: Hi everyone. I’m Paula Okonneh, the host of “Chatting With The Experts”, which is a podcast for immigrant women from Africa and the Caribbean who have relocated to Europe, North America, the UK, or even as far as Australia. In this podcast, we talk about our struggles as immigrant women, but we also highlight the triumphs that we have experienced while living abroad. And we love sharing these resources and experiences with our fellow immigrant women and with listeners who may not be immigrants, but at the same time, women. Today I have the privilege of speaking with a fellow Caribbean woman. Her name is Dieula Previlon. And Dieula is the founder and executive director of “Elevate Her International Ministries”, in which she has a vision to empower women to heal from trauma. Normally, I would say a lot more, but this woman has touched me and impacted me in such a way that I want her to describe or to give her own bio so that I wouldn’t miss out on anything. Cause I find that bios are more than just mentioning what the person does, sometimes the way that person impacts others lives. So welcome to “Chatting With The Experts”, Dieula, the floor’s yours.
[00:01:56] Dieula: Thank you. Thank you so much, Paula. Yeah, whenever people read my bio, I kind of cringe in embarrassment, not even embarrassment. As Caribbean women we’re taught to not, you know, puff ourselves up or take too much glory in who we are and what we’ve done. And so there’s a tinge of embarrassment because we’re not taught to talk about ourselves as much. But I think it’s okay for us to talk about ourselves, because when we talk about ourselves, it’s essentially, especially for faith filled women, it’s essentially glorifying who God is. Because the things that we have done could not have been done apart from God. And so I take a different approach when I do talk about myself. I talk about myself as a way of glorifying God and also for little black Caribbean, you know, African American girls who are listening who never knew that things that I’ve done is possible for them, that they can see that it is possible for them. So nowadays I don’t have a problem talking about myself as much. So as far as for me, I always start with my family. So I’m the proud, proud daughter of two parents who immigrated from Haiti in the seventies. And then, me and my three older sisters later followed in the US in New Jersey. So we came with my parents in 85. So yes, that means there were 10 years of separation with my parents. Me and my three siblings we were separated from them. And so I have six siblings. My youngest brother passed a couple of years ago, three years ago, and so we are still in some sense mourning his loss. But we still learn how to utilize his energy, his life, and just what he brought the family to keep pressing forward. As far as what I’ve done, I graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s in psychology and in sociology. You know, with the name of Dieula Previlon, which means in French, God is present. I knew I had to do something with people, I didn’t know what it was. So I majored in Psychology and Sociology in my undergrad, and then I got married 25 years ago with my husband. And we have three boys who are now young adults. My oldest is 24 and my twin boys are 22. And so after having the boys, we moved to Texas where I went to seminary, where I studied. Biblical counseling in the study program at Dallas Seminary. We studied all the books of the Bible and theology. So when I left seminary, I was basically a minister with a counseling degree as well. So I got almost two degrees under one. You know, because I’m a woman and in my culture, in my tradition, I did not know women could be pastors. But God did. And so after I graduated seminary, He had me work in a church as missions pastor, and after that I founded “Elevate Her International”, which does trauma work for women. In addition to that, I worked in a different church years later where I became ordained as minister through the Evangelical Covenant Church, doing racial reconciliation work, missions work, and all of that. I’ve traveled in Haiti a dozen times doing trauma work with women. I’ve been to Uganda doing trauma work. I’ve been to the DRC Congo a few times doing trauma work and Kenya as well, and Brazil doing trauma work. I’ve done some work in the prison system in the Dallas area. I’ve sat with women who are at their lowest, and I know that God has called me into this ministry. Because what I’ve learned is that every women, we all have the same vibe, the same energy. When we hurt, we hurt in similar ways, and when we are given the baton to be powerful, to be empowered to do great things, we do great things as well. I believe if more women were in power, if more women were empowered, we would see great change in society. That’s what I believe. And so that’s the work I continue to do because I believe in the strength and in the power of women as ordained by God.
[00:06:47] Paula: Thank you for saying that. You believe in the work and the strength of women ordained by God. It’s really important that, that said is really important that women be celebrated. I mean, when you think about women, I mean, we are the ones that God has chosen to bring life into the world. I mean, a human life.
[00:07:07] Dieula: Absolutely.
[00:07:08] Paula: And so, I mean, we really are the ones first connected with human life.
[00:07:13] Dieula: Absolutely.
[00:07:13] Paula: And so it’s important that women be respected, honored, and celebrated for a lot of the work that we do. So thank you for doing that and saying that. Why trauma? Why did you choose trauma? That’s been a question that I’ve been wanting to ask, and I know there’s a reason and I’m wondering if you would share that with us.
[00:07:34] Dieula: Yeah. You know, growing up in Haiti, I saw trauma. I did not know what to name it. I saw it as a way of life. That’s just how people lived. And so when I came to America, and even my own trauma as a little girl. Imagine not living with your mother or father, or not even knowing them, because my parents left when I was just a baby, and even not knowing them, that was a dramatic experience, but I didn’t know what to call it, what to name it. And so growing up in Haiti, I saw women everywhere. The women in the community stayed where you saw a lot of men who would leave because out of, you know, finding work or whatever the case may be. But the women would stay in the community to take care of the family, the in-laws, the parents, the grandparents. The women were the ones who were doing the work. And so when I came to America and started reflecting on my experience in Haiti and started looking at our family really, and I started asking questions, why do we do this? Why do we do that? And then I started looking at our churches and the hypocrisy in the churches, right? And I’m a pastor, I can name hypocrisy in the church because I love the church. When you love something, you can name some of the ways that they have done wrong without throwing it all away, knowing that you’re still a part of it. And so I saw a lot of hypocrisy in the Haitian church where, you know, there’s the domestic violence in the church and pastors would not really fairly deal with those types of situations. Where there’s infidelity in the church and pastors would not deal with it fairly, or just you know abuse period, sexual abuse. And the church wouldn’t deal with it in good ways, even in the family. I mean, there’s countless stories that I heard in my own family of origin, of the women who have been abused or infidelity or extramarital affairs and this and that, on and on it went. And I’m like, why are we silent about these things? What does God say about these things? I know how we deal with them, but where’s God? What does God want for women? What does God desire for women? And so I started asking questions and the more questions I started asking, the more I believe that God was not for the way we dealt with trauma in the Haitian culture and in the Haitian church. You know, I believe that God love women. Jesus, the way Jesus postured himself around women in his ministry. I believe Jesus wanted to empower women. I believe Jesus wanted to call and draw women out so that we could be used in society. I believe in Jesus was fair to women. Jesus wanted women to be at equal footing with men, because Jesus knew that to maximize what he wants us to do in this world, men and women would have to do it together. There’s no hierarchy where, you know, men do this and women do that. Of course there are different jobs and different personalities and things like that. But as far as you know, in the churches, women sit over here or men do this, or men get all the accolades, and women don’t, I don’t believe Jesus had any of that, right? As far as I’m concerned, the scriptures that I’ve been reading, I don’t see that. I do see a lot of people interpreting scripture culturally to make Jesus say what they want Jesus to say. But I believe Jesus gives women lots of freedom. And so I started thinking, well, if Jesus gives women freedom to be, then what could trauma healing look like? Cause I know the trauma, what could healing do for women? And so it was really my Haitian culture, my Haitian family who just drew me into this work as I knew I was seeing something that God was calling me to do something about. Purpose is really that, purpose is when you see a problem in this world and God gives you a passion to do something about it. So I had found my purpose in the midst of what I’ve seen in the Haitian culture.
[00:12:08] Paula: Profound answer. You have found your purpose. So you know within yourself that you’re not stepping out of line with the will of God for your life. And as you spoke early on, you mentioned that you have minister to women in not just the United States or even the Caribbean, but you’ve gone to different parts of Africa, like Uganda and the DRC. What inspired you to move out from your, I don’t want to say local, but the region, and move further abroad to help these women with trauma?
[00:12:43] Dieula: I really believe Jesus is a global God, you know? And I really believe God wants us to connect to our roots, to what we’ve been through. One of the things that I’ve learned about trauma healing is that you can never forget the past. You can never, you can’t just say, you know, I’m going to start here and forget about the past. It has to be used, it has to be integrated into the present. I think it’s from a tribe in Ghana that has a word called “Sankofa”. You know, that means to go back in order to look forward, right? And so for me, going back to Africa was in a sense of finding a part of me for my own healing. Because you know, as I am a facilitator of trauma healing, I’m also doing my own healing work, and part of my healing work is to connect with my ancestry in Africa, right? To connect with my ancestry in Haiti. To kind of look at the fingerprints of God all the way from Africa to Haiti to America. We serve a mighty God that could preserve our ancestors in such a way that I would continue to find my healing through them. So Africa, it was an easy decision to go to Africa cause I’m like, I’m black. The minute you see a little tint of blackness in your skin, you can’t deny Africa. And so for me, I’m like, I’m not going to a foreign land I’m going to a place that birthed me, that it’s in my DNA, it’s in my ancestry. So I couldn’t do this work without thinking of Haitian women and African women, Congolese women, the women of West Africa. I’m like, You know, God used them to birth me into existence, so God knew that, you know, I had to go back at some point. There’s a “Sankofa” moment, you know, where I had to go back in order to receive my own healing so I can continue to do the healing work for other women. So yeah.
[00:15:06] Paula: Love that. Love that. So I know some of the things that you do, some of the services you offer, you offer coaching, counseling, and you’re also a speaker. What’s the difference between when you are counseling the women, and you’re coaching them? I know there’s a specific difference.
[00:15:24] Dieula: Yeah. Counseling and coaching. You know, for counseling, I help women do a lot of process oriented work. In my private practice, 95% of the women that I counsel are black women, women of color. And so we as black women, we have a lot of trauma, a lot of pain, a lot of challenges, suffering that we need to process. So in my counseling practice, I help us process our trauma, talk about it, figure out what happened. What meaning we make out of it? What is the narrative that we walk through life with? I elevate the level of consciousness for black women when I do counseling, because a lot of times you’re living through life and there’s a narrative that you have adopted and you don’t even know that it’s a part of what you do on a daily basis. So I help women process trauma, pain, their suffering so that they can get to a place where they can receive coaching. For me, I’m a certified coach, as well as I’m a licensed professional counselor. With my coaching practice I help women who are ready to take the next step in life. You know, once they’ve process their trauma, once trauma is no longer in the way and impeding them from making progress, I move into a coaching relationship where they’re looking to either start something new. Coach them in relationships, coach them to creating a new vision for their lives. Coach them in, you know, starting over again when there’s been loss. So I do the coaching. Once they have process trauma, then we are able to do some coaching work. Because coaching is very active and you know, you’re creating some form of accountability and you are ready to do something. That’s because you’ve moved from sitting with the trauma and you’re ready to move and do something in your life. I love both actually, for different reasons, but I love doing both.
[00:17:50] Paula: Oh my word. Oh, I love it. I love it. I love of course that, I mean the women that are your clients and that you are very focused on helping. I know that you are making inroads, you are making changes into their lives. Because I always say you change a woman’s life, you change your generation.
[00:18:09] Dieula: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s the response we get every time, every training we do, every trauma training. And women, from what I’ve noticed about women is that, we’re not selfish with what we have, what God has given us. Every training we do, I always get a handful of women who want to get an extra note packet, an extra manual to take to someone else, whether it be their spouse, whether it be their neighbor or children or something. They’re automatically moved into, I’m going to do something with this. I want to train someone else, I want to teach someone else and I want to give to someone else. And that’s one of the reasons we’re strategic in using women. Men, their focus is different, men because the way they’re socialized, when they get money or receive information, they basically want to be the next great leader with what they’ve received. They basically want to prop themselves up, and not necessarily the focus of teaching the kid or teaching the next community. Some do, I’m not going to generalize and say all men, but many are socialized to take information and become the next great leader. There’s nothing wrong with that. Women, however, they’re more mobilized to be the boots on the ground and give information to the community, and that’s what we’ve seen in most of the training that we’ve done.
[00:19:47] Paula: And that brings me to the next question. I know you’re also a speaker.
[00:19:51] Dieula: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
[00:19:51] Paula: So you speak to organizations not just about helping women to move through trauma, but you’re also a preacher. So tell us a little bit about that. How did you get into speaking?
[00:20:06] Dieula: Yeah, I’ve been speaking for a very long time. I started in church, you know, just teaching Sunday school and things like that. And when I went to seminary, I really found God using my voice to inspire people. I’m a storyteller. I love storytelling. And I love the word of God, and I’m not shy when it comes to speaking and inspiring groups and audiences, and I just found God using all of it. You know, I started doing youth conferences, and then in my own organization, I would be sought after to speak for different women’s events. And then when I started working in the churches, churches would invite me to preach and they’re a pulpit, which was a trip for me because in my tradition, women would not preach on a Sunday morning at a pulpit. And so for me to be invited to different pulpits to preach, that would just cause me to pause and give God glory, because I know it was only the grace of God that would allow me to be in these spaces because my culture would not allow me to be in these spaces. So I preach once a month. I mean, lately I’ve been doing more and more speaking and preaching. Tonight actually, I’m speaking to a group over Zoom talking about trauma and adult ADHD. Yesterday I was preaching for Pentecostal Sunday. So I just find myself, you know, I always get nervous still, but I find God using me to make his name known and that’s what my speaking and preaching is about, is really to let people know that God is a good God. God is an amazing God. God will do things in your life that you least expect. God will take your sorrows and your pain and give you something to shout about and to praise him about. God will sit with you in the midst of the storm. In the midst of the pain. God will stay with you and God will offer you healing. Even when I am a counselor and we have all of these strategies, but one of the strategies that I always hold onto is that God can, that the spirit of God can bring about healing. Healing emotionally and healing physically. And so I just use my ministry as a way to glorify God because God has done it all.
[00:22:44] Paula: I’m speechless, mainly because your words have such power in them and the ring would hope because you’ve said it or the spirit of God empowers you to do what you do. You’re not doing it on your own at all. I know that, and we are going to close soon, but this is a question that I think would be impactful or it’s important for me to hear an answer to. But, and you’ve been a professional, I mean, you pointed out you went to seminary school, but you’re also the daughter of immigrants. You even immigrated here at the age of 10. How do you think that has impacted you professionally? I know when we spoke some time ago, you said it makes you minister differently. How differently?
[00:23:28] Dieula: Yeah. Oh my goodness. My experience as an immigrant just causes me to approach people so graciously because of my experience, you know, it causes me to look at people with just gracious eyes because of where I’m from and where I’ve traversed. The journey as an immigrant is such a challenging journey for many people because you’re learning. For me, I heard English was my third language to learn. In the Caribbean, we’re used to wearing spaghetti sandals and sunflower dresses and all of that. And in New Jersey, the climate was cold when we moved, and just all the things that I’ve experienced, all the ways that I’ve experienced challenges here, just being an immigrant, it just causes me to be more grateful for everything that I have. It causes me to just look at people, with sensitive eyes and just gracious eyes. I’m working on a book project called “The God That Sees Me”, and it’s coming out next year through Nav Press. And really it’s a book about our stories as women who have gone through trauma and it gives different offerings as to what the healing journey can look like. So I offer some of what I’ve been through and some of what black immigrant women have been through to help us continue to keep walking the life of faith. And so I don’t know if I would be doing some of the things I’m doing if I did not have the experience of walking as an immigrant woman. So I’m just grateful for God for taking painful stories from of an immigrant woman and turning it into something beautiful, something that glorifies him through it. So I’m just grateful for that.
[00:25:32] Paula: As you rightfully said, He makes all things beautiful in his time. We all have stories, but you know, as Christian women, you look back and can see His hand upon us all through that painful, painful journey.
[00:25:47] Dieula: Absolutely.
[00:25:48] Paula: So before we close, are there any resources that you can offer to women like yourself, like me, women who have been through some form of trauma, or even if they haven’t?
[00:26:00] Dieula: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I find a lot of great books and different literature. There’s a book that I’ve been sharing with a lot of immigrant children of immigrants, adults of emotionally immature parents. That has been a lot because there’s a lot of trauma in between adult and children of immigrant, a lot of disconnect. So I’ve been referring it to many of my young adult or adult children of immigrant parents. Another book that I do refer people to is the “Story of My Bones”. It’s a trauma healing book. I forget the name of the author. I can send you the link to it if you want to refer it to people that are listening. But the “Story of My Bones”, it’s another great book of trauma healing and just different anecdotes that you can use. Another good book, Viola Davis’s Autobiography. That is such a powerful book for us to read as women of color, as black women. She just does such a great job in the audio book. She reads it, she does a great, great job reading through that book. It’s just amazing. So, yeah.
[00:27:23] Paula: Thank you for those three very pertinent resources. I mean, I know that somebody can find something from one of those three books very relatable. So thank you. Thank you. And can you be found online? I mean, I’ve been so intrigued by everything that you’ve said, and I’m sure my listeners have been as well. How can we find you online?
[00:27:46] Dieula: Yeah, no problem. The first place to find me is on my website, first and last name dot com. “DIEULA, Previlon, PREVILON.com”. And on my socials, I’m “DieulamPrevilon”, so “DIEULAMPREVILON”. So all my socials have the same handle.
[00:28:13] Paula: Oh, lovely. So LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
[00:28:18] Dieula: Yes, and Facebook. Yep. Mm-hmm.
[00:28:21] Paula: Thank you so much. And for my listeners, if you have enjoyed what you just heard like I did, please head over to “Apple Podcast” “Google Podcasts”, “Spotify”, or wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe. And if you are an immigrant woman from the Caribbean or Africa and you’ve found this story and the other episodes that I have had, if you found them interesting, please let us know in your reviews. If you’d like to be a guest on my show, “Chatting With The Experts” please head over to my website, which is “www.chattingwithexperts.com/contactus” and drop me a note and to Dieula, thank you so much for being such an amazing and impressive and inspiring guest today. Thank you.
[00:29:13] Dieula: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It was my pleasure.