February was Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. So what better way to celebrate the everyday heroes among us than amplifying the work of Black Women who are not only creating history as we speak, but whose work will undoubtedly impact many in their communities and beyond. One such hero is Alex Williams – an Oakland-based founder who is working to dismantle the racial and financial barriers to holistic healthcare access through her company Holistic Hyperbarics.
In fact, she is the first and only Black woman owner of a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy clinic in the entire United States. Having spent her professional life focused on health and wellness, Alex brings a unique combination of medical skills and exceptional customer service to Holistic Hyperbarics. A Bay Area native, her career began when she launched her first business as a certified at-home healthcare aid, using her specialized training in surgical recovery and Kinesio taping to serve and support a diverse range of clients. Inspired to heighten her expertise and abilities to provide effective patient outcomes, Alex pursued concurrent work as an EMT. Treating under-served patients ignited Alex’s passion and commitment to providing exemplary care in an industry that lacks personalized attention to a patient’s well-being.
Alex has seen her HBOT treatment heal concussions and traumatic brain injuries with lightning speed, ward off sepsis, help in wound recovery, and even brought a baby into the world! Holistic Hyperbarics is the ultimate form of self-care and healing, and it can supplement many other more invasive procedures. Holistic Hyperbarics also subsidizes treatment for those who can’t otherwise afford it. When a client pays full price, they pay it forward for someone else that may not be as privileged. In other words, Alex is a Bay Area superhero.
Read below to learn more about Alex and her mission to make holistic healthcare accessible to all:
What brought you to this career path?
I have worked many jobs. I worked as an EMT for 10 years and I also briefly worked in law enforcement and in-home healthcare. While that might seem like a lot of different avenues, the common thread in my life work has been taking care of people. It was a natural evolution to move from the work that I was doing in those other jobs, into something that was going to bring abundance to my community.
What better way to bring abundance into my community than to take a therapy that was not attainable and bring it into the public sphere? More acutely, I got into hyperbaric oxygen therapy because I was using it as an athlete. I understood its healing properties and wanted nothing more than to expand access to HBOT.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Not everybody knows about this therapy and, as a community, we generally trust our doctors. What we don’t always realize is that there are other ways that are less invasive to heal many ailments. Using hyperbaric oxygen therapy in conjunction with things you’re already doing, you amplify your healing ability. I wanted to make sure that HBOT was something that everyone had access to.
More importantly, when you look at the outcome of a person of color in a neighborhood that doesn’t have the same resources as a white neighborhood, you recognize that can mean decades of life differences simply because of a disparity of resources. As leaders, we have to act to even outcomes for everyone. I feel very strongly that as a health practitioner, I have to do whatever I can to give my therapy to people so that it helps give them better outcomes in their lives. It is my responsibility to help even out the playing field by creating an inclusive community.
I know that I can’t give away my service, but I work to make it as affordable as possible. At Holistic Hyperbarics, we subsidize treatment for people who cannot afford it. When patients pay full price, it pays it forward for the next person.
Giving back is incredibly important to me as a Black woman with a certain amount of privilege. I grew up with two parents that had college degrees. We were comfortable and we ate well. I understand that was a platform of privilege that I need to make sure I put to work.
I do everything I can to highlight Black and Brown bodies at rest; you’ll notice our social media and advertising is full of beautiful people of color at rest. I want to highlight that every day because we don’t see enough of that in modern media. I am committed to creating a safe space for the healing of all people, no matter the color of their skin or their socioeconomic background.
Are there certain things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
We don’t put enough emphasis on leveling up people who never had a chance to have certain opportunities in the first place, such as hyperbaric treatment. I would love to have a fund that would enable me to expand the subsidization of this treatment for people that don’t have the resources to afford it themselves. It would be amazing if I could have a grant solely for people that are low-income. The root of the issue is that populations grow, but politicians don’t provide them with enough resources to get out of the challenging and impoverished situations that they’re in.
When conditions, such as diabetes, for example, go uncontrolled, it takes the toughest toll on Black people in a multilayered fashion. That is why more Black and Brown people suffer from diabetes; because of food deserts, a lack of education in how to take care of yourself, feed yourself, and exercise, not having playgrounds and places for people to be active safely in their neighborhood, and so much more. It’s all related. If we could be assigned one condition to tackle, we would do so from the ground up in the most encompassing and informed way possible. I think we would see incredible results.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would make all healthcare in all forms free. Massage, acupuncture, general health practice, surgeries, hyperbarics – all of it should be completely free. It baffles me that we do not have universal healthcare in this country.
Secondly, basic healthcare should also include holistic measures. I think it all needs to be free because of the costs associated: if people can’t afford treatment, they die. If they can’t afford it and pay for it anyway, it is a massive financial burden on their futures and gravely affects their upward mobility. People deserve to be able to pursue less invasive options for healing, treatment, and as a preventative measure.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I helped a woman have a baby! I don’t know if there’s a higher calling than that. I had a woman come into the clinic after two failed IVF attempts. She was 41 years old and didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Having a baby was a divine calling for her, and it brought her to us. To recognize that something as simple as oxygen and pressure managed to bring a child into the world was remarkable. It was such a joy to be a part of this child’s birth story.
Secondly, a gentleman once came in with zero hearing in his right ear. After ten sessions, we brought his hearing back completely. Ten sessions were all that was necessary to completely change the way he existed in this world. It’s truly incredible what just oxygen and pressure can do.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I thought that, because I was such a jock, that this company would be built on athletes. I thought I was going to have nothing but triathletes, professional athletes, amateur athletes, and child athletes coming through our doors; it was going to be an athlete haven. I was actively reaching out to athletes and I even had a logo that encompassed my desired audience. The logo was a silhouette of a man in a running position. In retrospect, it was absolutely terrible.
My two investors who were these beautiful, patient, amazing women in my life who have been in the industry for a very long time simply said, no – absolutely not. If we did a weird logo with this random running male figure, even though this is a Black woman’s business, it would alienate people and not give them the open and inclusive feelings we so deeply sought after.
We sat down and thought about what colors made us feel held and what words made us feel how we wanted to make our clients feel. We ended up with the coolest logo ever after it. It perfectly captures what we are about.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My grandparents who were entrepreneurs came here to California during the Great Black Migration. When they came here, they didn’t have any money. They worked on VTA buses and saved all of their funds to buy a barbershop. Their barbershop did extremely well and so they bought another one, and then another one. They had five altogether when they sold them to move onto their next venture. They then bought a liquor store in the early seventies in Berkeley, California, which became a huge part of my upbringing. When I was only about five years old, they started bringing me to the liquor store every weekend to work. They paid me in candy for cleaning windows and mopping the floors.
When I got older, I used the cash register, but I was still very small to the point that I couldn’t reach the register properly. That never stopped my grandparents. I was never incapable. I was always enough. When I could not reach the counter, they simply gave me a stool so I could talk to the customers at eye-level. They wanted to give me a chance to have the same job as anyone else. I still have that stool on display to this day.
Through my life’s work, I want to help other people “reach the counter,” so to speak.
Other than my grandparents, I am especially grateful for the two women that invested in my company. They had no idea what hyperbaric oxygen therapy was, but they knew that I had the capacity to do something great and all I needed was resources. They were the singular resource that I needed to get to a place to be able to do what I’m doing to this day. Their small yet essential investment has led us to heal countless people.
What are your ‘5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started’ and why?
1. You will fail. You will fail and you will fail. You will fail in talking to people. You will fail in getting the deal you wanted. You will fail in a way that will take money out of your pocket and food out of your mouth. You will fail and you will be hungry, tired, and despondent. That does not mean that what you are doing is stupid. It just means that you failed.
2. Not everyone cares what you have to say.
3. Even if you do everything perfectly, some people will still complain and will not accept your service.
4. Follow your intuition. What you believe makes sense for your business is what should be the guiding compass for what you do. Don’t be guided by easy money. Don’t be guided by catering to populations that don’t make sense for your heart. Be guided by your intuition.
5. Everything is more expensive than you think it is.
Can you talk about how sustainability is a big part of your “why” with Holistic Hyperbarics?
The main focus of my practice is on how we build sustainability within ourselves. We live these crazy lives and then they’re done. If you are a person that has been born into the world without a certain amount of privilege, your life is built on surviving and nothing more. When you are so focused on living to see another day, it is rare to feel nurtured, at peace, and joyful. Through my work, I aim to help others preserve themselves in the form of celebrating their rest, their comfort, and their laughter. I want to make their lives not just sustainable, but encourage them to thrive.
Finally, can you share your a favorite quote or lesson that has become guided you in your life and work?
Whenever I was taking on a challenge and was contemplating how much effort to put into that entity, my father would say to me, “If you make your bed hard, you’re going to have to lay in it.” In saying this, he explained to me as people of color, we don’t have the opportunity to not put all of ourselves into everything we do. If you don’t do this the right way on the first try, you will have to live with the circumstances you’ve created for yourself.
As a result, I come prepared for everything. You will rarely find me caught off-guard or embarrassed. I work hard and I produce. I refuse to be flat-footed. I refuse to lay in a hard bed. Ask any Black woman – we don’t get second chances. We have to do it right the first time.