Black-led group highlight: Uzima homeowners serve extra than simply juice in new psychological health-themed Oakland eatery | Group Profile | Pittsburgh

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CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

Uzima juice bar owners Mayan and Sheronica Marshall

There’s a lot that goes into maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But being healthy isn’t just hitting the gym five days a week or eating greens — though those things are important, they aren’t everything. Mental health is an aspect of holistic wellness that is often overlooked.

When Mayan Marshall and his wife Sheronica moved back to the U.S. from Angola, Africa, they both decided to address mental health head on. In October, the couple opened Uzima, a juice bar in Oakland that combines their love of customer service with addressing issues that affect them and their community.

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Uplifting handwritten notes hung up by customers hung on Uzima’s “Depression Cloud” - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM

CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

Uplifting handwritten notes hung up by customers hung on Uzima’s “Depression Cloud”

This comes through in some of the non-food amenities offered by Uzima, a name that, according to the business’ website, means “Tree of Life” in Swahili. Customers can borrow free books on mental health from an in-store “Jubilee Library,” or check out the Depression Cloud, a physical bulletin board that allows customers to “post anything from an inspiring quote or song, to a book, recommended psychologists, to a homegrown technique that someone uses to get through difficult periods.”

The website also describes Uzima as a “Designated Oakland Chill Zone,” a place for people to relax, where patience, positivity, and kindness are valued above all else.

The Marshalls, who have now lived in Pittsburgh for five years, haven’t always worked in the business of wellness. Previously, Mayan worked in the gas industry for Chevron, stationed in Angola. After the industry saw a decline, and there was a push to get expats out of the country, the couple relocated to Pittsburgh because Mayan has family in the area.

The couple knew they wanted to pivot to working for themselves, and before opening Uzima, they managed the Salud Juicery, also located in Oakland. Mayan says they knew they didn’t want to invest in a fast-food venture, but wanted to work with something that had more substance. At Salud, they served nutritious food and drinks to a constant flow of university students.

“We really fell in love with the concept of Salud, and then the location in Oakland, we thought was just perfect for us,” says Mayan. “We just were really into the diversity.”

It was here that Mayan says he began to see the far-reaching effects of mental illness, not only in his own family, but in others.

“We’ve had mental illnesses very close to us,” says Mayan, who adds he’s gone through a long journey of mental illness himself. Around that time, he says he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and also struggled with major depression and generalized anxiety. “My wife has had situations as well. We’ve had our kids struggle with mental illness and, interestingly enough, when we were managing Salud Juicery — we had been for about two and a half years or so — all the employees for the most part were all students from Carlow University or the University of Pittsburgh. And I’d tell you what, I’d probably say about half of them had mental illness, and this was pre-COVID.”

Both Mayan and Sheronica believe that community is important, a lesson they say they learned back in Angola. Mayan shares that many in Angola live in extreme poverty, with clean, running water hard to come by, and people dying of diseases that had been essentially eradicated in the U.S.

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An Unite açaí bowl at Oakland’s Uzima - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM

CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

An Unite açaí bowl at Oakland’s Uzima

Mayan says that, despite the state of poverty in Angola, there was still so much vibrance and life, a focus on community that he finds lacking in the U.S. He says their approach to addressing mental health is very “community-based.”

Uzima isn’t like any other juice bar in Pittsburgh. Mayan says that once patrons come in and see some of the quotes on the wall, including one that reads “I have depression but I prefer to say, ‘I battle depression,’ instead of ‘I suffer with’ it because depression hits, but I hit back, battle on!,” they realize that it’s more than just açaí bowls and smoothies. Still, you can find delicious food and drinks there.

Mayan says the most popular smoothie is one called Grace, that contains banana, cashews, protein, cinnamon, and agave, and has an overall taste like vanilla. It comes in different variations, with added peanuts and chocolate (Amazing Grace), espresso (Saving Grace), spinach (Green Grace), or strawberries (Pink Grace). The second most popular drink is Love, which contains mango, strawberries, banana, passion fruit, and coconut H20, followed by Unite, a classic açaí bowl with banana, strawberries, blueberries, granola, and almond milk.

“What’s beautiful about the names, and what’s popular, is you have Grace, Love, and Unite, and it just echoes the heart of the community,” says Sheronica. “When you come together in unity, you long for grace because none of us have it all together. And then that place of love where you’re loved unconditionally because we don’t have it all together. So it is like our top three: Grace, Love, and Unite. It really just echoes community.”

Uzima. 3400 Fifth Ave., Oakland.

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