As an overachieving, overworking activist, sitting idly in the company of solitude, did not come naturally to me. Rest felt like lazy selfishness, two things my immigrant mother indoctrinated me NOT to be. Sitting in meditation, rummaging through years of painful emotions and lingering trauma while searching for inner guidance tested my courage and stubbornness.
On the first day of 2010, after experiencing two painful and messy breakups–one with my wife and the other with my career–I sat in my unfurnished studio apartment in the overpowering company of emotional pain. I found myself without motivation to self-medicate with work or family drama. A couple of weeks after my breakup, a couple of days after my resignation I longed for love. I told no one. Instead, I sat in front of my ancestral altar desperately seeking rescue from my reality. Hoping to find light within pain, I found something better…healing self-love. I came to stand in my power by sitting with myself to find my “why.”
“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”
Like my grandmother, my aunt and my mother, early on I committed my energy to protecting children and teaching youth to go beyond survival and to thrive. During my last official nonprofit job, when it came time to defend our high school for low-achieving dropouts I gladly put on my activist armor and fought back. Alongside other courageous and committed stakeholders we formed a united–albeit small–front against a wealthy, majority white, board of directors. They craved the accolades of supporting a school for “promising” children. We wanted to stand for what was right. The members of the board were certainly invested in “winning” and they did. The school that served as parent, best friend, sibling, and hope for survival and success was shut down due to its lack of “promising” children.
Our egos were bruised, our energies spent, yet not winning did not defeat us in the same way that it defeated the youth who attended the school. As we moved to the next stage of our careers, some more at peace with our decisions than others, we eventually accepted the disappointment left by our confrontation with the darker side of the business of nonprofiteering–the side that involves confidential memos that never make it to the website or marketing materials. After 10 years of personal investment in nonprofit work, I experienced an unforeseen purge of idealism, followed by disdain for the paternalism of the nonprofit industrial complex. My idealism and naiveté led me to the real challenge of nonprofit professionals: staying truthful and courageous to the community and mission despite infiltration from individuals of very questionable character who wish to run nonprofit organizations as they run their hedge funds and banks, and sometimes even their families. It was then I realized why some nonprofits become funding darlings, why only some ideas make it out of our communities and into mainstream media, and why some kids that tried their best never really had a chance. It turns out that even supporters such as funders and in this case board members, do see a “losing side,” the side of “the rejects, the dangerous.” Even in community-based organizations specifically created to help children and families with severe socioeconomic disadvantages THEY are still searching for what THEY know, “promising non-threatening” children of color to feel good about “helping.” I recognize that it’s not this simple or one-sided and I can go on a huge tangent about this but for now just know I call this eye-opening experience my Nonprofit MFA, Masters in Feminist Activism. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t earned it, yet I am always grateful I did.
I continued to sit in front of my altar, hoping to soon find the courage to ask the right questions and accept the truth. Perhaps regain my strength, refine my mission, perhaps reach out to my community.
The truth trickled in as I discovered a deeper kind of power. Power informed by my truth, ignited by my suffering, sustained by my healing. I choose the word sustain as an intentional reference because we can not afford to ignore emotional and psychological well-being in discussions of sustainability and social justice and equality. Without us, each and every one of us, there is no movement.
When as a woman of color, as a femme lesbian, as a survivor, as a writer and creator I defend my right to authentic happiness I stand in my power. I push boundaries visible only to those who choose to see them, real to those who choose not to. I reject the notion of success, embrace my own legacy and lead not just with my brain but also with my spirit and my heart. It’s not an easy decision, it is a courageous decision. It’s not a certain choice, it is a choice that thrives in the creative demands of uncertainty, the power of my intuition, an intuition fueled by women who came before me, share this world with me now and are yet to make their way over from the spirit world. It’s a choice. It’s a lonely choice, at times requiring the company and hand-holding of spirit goddesses. It’s the only choice that elevates my soul, my family, my community, my ancestors. In my power, I stand, I kneel, I crawl and cry. I am whole, always firm within my values, my purpose and collective knowledge. I choose power. I choose light. I choose love. I choose.
Each day I showed up to my altar and removed painful arrows penetrating my skin, not with my Barnard degree or my professional titles, but with my dance of courage, love, compassion and patience.Standing in my power I… receive comfort and healing love from my mother trust my community, sit with suffering, with courage and determination to heal, with compassion and accountability for those whose choices have hurt me because “violence however well-intentioned always backfires upon oneself” Standing in my power I… choose forgiveness. Forgive myself. Accept my beauty after years of learned self-hate. Start over. Finish. Quit. Dream. Create. Break self-imposed silence with my soft voice, experience vulnerability and, experience the freedom of healing.
The power of women of color standing together in leadership and community is expansive, collaborative, not based on dominance or oppression and has and will continue to propel our world forward. Standing in our power means nurturing leadership models in which we can each contribute concurrently and cohesively with our passions, our intuitive insights, and our power to create and nurture.
Reinventing myself and my career meant transitioning from youth leadership development to coaching adults. As expected, mentoring youth continues to be top of mind. Specifically, I worry that too many “promising” young women of color are coerced into participation in paternalistic definitions of leadership. Now more than ever young women are encouraged to compete with each other for the few and elusive slots at the “big boys’” table.
As I move forward I am thinking about how I can most effectively contribute to building the leadership capacity of young women of color without having to sacrifice my own calling to mentor and teach women my age to dare boldly and expansively. I believe that by teaching each other, sharing knowledge and building collective power and the power within we will succeed in rejecting oppressive capitalist structures of work, family life and spirituality in favor of justice and equality. I envision a multi-generational model of mentorship and teaching in which women of color can fill in each other’s leadership and educational gaps; the gaps left behind by centuries of anglocentric capitalist models of learning and living. Lucky for us we have access to our own multi-millennia collective knowledge of thriving and healing.
After 10 years of youth development and nonprofit leadership Yaromil Fong-Olivares gave up her six-figure salary in favor of honoring her personal values and mission. In early 2010 she stumbled upon the world of professional personal development and set out to be the first “out” Latina Lesbian lifestyle coach by creating DI=VA Life Coaching. Now after a few winding roads she finds herself in quick and systemic evolution mode, enjoying the art of living and creating. She continues to evolve and thrive as an ACE-Certified Personal Trainer, Reiki Energy Healer and Lifestyle Coach & Blogger. A Latinasian (of Chinese-Dominican heritage), originally hailing from Santiago, Dominican Republic, Yaromil is committed to living and sharing happiness, passion, love and laughter as a self-identified “feminist social entrepreneur.” Always a lover of words, stories, beauty and justice, she is a frugal scholar self-taught in the areas of Positive Psychology, Taoism, practical philosophy, marketing, design, and meditation. She is a student at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and will receive her Wellness Coaching Certification in January 2013. She holds a Sociology degree from Barnard College, Columbia University and sometimes produces music videos and other media. Connect with Yaromil on twitter, @yaropathfinder and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/divacoachingblog, or by visiting her blog: www.yaromilolivares.com/blog.