Sometimes I forget that I am powerful. I let that little old villager inside my head buzz around and get louder. It says “Cherine, who do you think you are? What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you know you can’t do that, say that, be that?!” 36 years into this wild, wonder-filled and at times challenging life journey, I still question my path, my purpose, and my power. But, I am increasingly able to distinguish the threads of social conditioning, internalized fear and false narratives from the truth that sings inside of me. That truth is apparent when I feel my heart breaking open in collective song or circle, when I look at a starry night sky or in the eyes of a cherished friend, when I feel my wonder. That’s when I stand in my power. That’s when I remember who I am. That’s when I remember who WE are.
I grew up sprawled across an ocean: one foot in Egypt and one foot in the United States. My parents immigrated to the US a few years before I was born with the earnest hope of making a better life for themselves and their families in Egypt.
Perhaps the experience of being a first-generation Arab in America would not have been so formative had I grown up in New York or Detroit, DC or LA, where countless immigrants converge to foment and form the glorious stew that is the United States of America. Alas, I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I was the only Arab kid in my class.
In kindergarten my classmates took loud note of the garlicky stench seeping out of my lunch sack from the kofta my mom used to pack. They laughed at the way my parents talked and at my hair, always a frizzy fro, forever untamable despite my mother’s incessant efforts.
In Egypt it was my 27 cousins who mocked my weak Arabic and un-plucked eyebrows, my hyper-outspokenness (for a girl), and my parent’s very taboo divorce.
Always in between, I never quite fit, anywhere.
And so I learned from a young age, if I want to live in a world where I belong, where we belong, I must create it.
That audacious youthful insight that just maybe I have the power to build a world of belonging ignited an epic and humbling journey of self-discovery and effort to Stand in My Power and work for a world where all of us can Stand in Our Power.
I have discovered that standing in my power is not a singular destination. It’s a place I get to sometimes – usually just for moments; if I’m lucky it can last for days and once or twice, it’s even felt like chapters. Then I fall down and have to get back up again. My best attempt at distilling what allows me to get back up and Stand in My Power boils down to four primary ingredients:
Surrounding myself with sisters and brothers who are committed to questioning and challenging structures and norms that do not support our individual or collective thriving. Surrounding myself with folks who are willing to feel their gratitude and hope for the world alongside their despair and fury. Surrounding myself with folks who laugh from the belly and cry from the soul and reflect back to me with tender authenticity my gifts and my growing edges. That supports me in Standing in My Power.
Work that makes me come alive.
Though I wasn’t sure what that work would be, I knew it had something to do with creating spaces of belonging. Ultimately, in my early 20s, life lead me to discover an incredible organization called “Challenge Day,” a non profit that offers transformational anti-oppression workshops to youth around North America. The intermingling of social justice, transformation, performance, and community building fit all the pieces that I didn’t realize I had. Since being a Challenge Day Leader, I have served in various capacities for a multitude of mostly non profit organizations including The Mosaic Project, The International Bureau of Education (UNESCO), The Scholar Ship and Generation Waking Up. I’ve lived, worked and studied in Japan, Egypt, Switzerland, China and on a boat that circumnavigated the world. I found that my gift and my calling is bringing people together across lines of difference in authentic purposeful exchange. Finding work that enables my gifts to shine and grow, that generates within me a sense of purpose and contribution, that calls me to expand and aspire in new ways. That supports me in Standing in My Power.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m the child of a psychiatrist and a psychologist, or if it’s because I’ve learned to cope with life’s bigger bumps by making meaning out of dark places, but I have learned that understanding myself, my limitations and gifts, my edges and fears, has been key on the journey to knowing myself and my power. I do this through writing. Through reflective conversations with close friends. Through seeking counsel and mentorship. Through sitting in silence and going inside. Through reading lots of books, attending lots of workshops and inviting lots of feedback, even when I’m scared. This helps me in Stand in My Power.
It’s amazing, but when all else fails, when I feel lost, weak, afraid, like the world is caving in on me, I have found that the most magical antidote is climbing a mountain, or sitting by water’s edge, or lying on the earth and looking at the sky. Slowing down enough to remember the bigger story, the zoomed out lens of what’s really going on here, outside of the chatter of my head, the struggles of our time, the hurt and disconnection and despair. Reconnecting to Nature and to the wonder of being alive – that helps me Stand in My Power.
I see Standing in OUR Power as an emerging network of sisterhood, solidarity and support that will cultivate community, purpose, growth, and spiritual groundedness in all who engage. I see SiOP as a foundation that will hold us all in re-membering ourselves and getting up when we fall down. I see SiOP as a weaving together of our stories, talents and passions into actions that will support the collective awakening and empowerment of each other and our world.
Currently, Cherine works as an independent consultant offering instructional design and facilitation to a broad client base. She specializes in diversity and intercultural capacity building, leadership development and team building. A sample of previous clients includes: American Medical Response; Challenge Day; Gap Inc.; Goi Peace Foundation; Kaiser Permanente; The Mosaic Project; North Carolina Outward Bound; Oberlin College; Old Navy; The Pachamama Alliance; The Scholar Ship (Royal Caribbean); UC Berkeley Isms Collaborative; UC Santa Cruz, among many others.