Leadership Development

Jun 112015
 
WTP 2015 photos stills 8

We the People April 2015 Community Visioning in Swannanoa, NC

Click here to read the entire Spring 2015 Newsletter

A Letter from Linda Stout

Dear Friends,

We are at a time of great unrest and unimaginable opportunity. In the words of YES! Magazine, “A new civil rights movement is being born.”

We watch in horror as practices that are ages old are brought to light through new technology like cellphone videos. Savvy young people are drawing increased attention to police brutality, poverty, and a country built on systemic and institutionalized racism.

The outpour of protest seen from Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL to Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond has brought hope that practices targeting and criminalizing African-Americans will be rejected at last.

Young people rallying their generation (and ours) for transformation can take us down a new path where everyone is treated equally and with dignity.

While protests to bring attention to what is happening are critical, this is an issue that requires a long-term solution. We need movement infrastructure in order to organize and build power for long-term and systemic change. Supporting youth leadership development is one vital step. But we must also mobilize for voter registration and voter turnout to elect local officials and government as well as state and national representatives who will be accountable to their communities.

The protests have called for a new level of democratic participation.  In 2016 we have a chance to begin to elect folks at the local level that truly represent people. North Carolina has been referred to as “ground zero” for the 2016 elections, due to changes in demographics and population, a major senatorial and governor race, and state representatives that can turn around repressive policies.

Spirit in Action will be working in collaboration with other state organizations to build a voice for power among disenfranchised people.

Peace, Power and Love,

Linda Stout signatureFINAL

 

Linda Stout

Executive Director

 

Mar 172015
 

Caroline DubleHello, all!  Some of you know me as the Social Justice Resident at Spirit in Action, but for many of you, this is your first time hearing from me.  My name is Caroline Duble; I am from Houston, Texas, and I have lived in Swannanoa, North Carolina for the past 5 years.  I graduated from Warren Wilson College in May 2014, and have been working for Spirit in Action since August 2014!

There are so many things that I want to share with you all, about We the People, about the class that Linda is teaching at Warren Wilson, about our vision for a better Swannanoa… but I’ve recently  returned from a spectacular professional development experience, and I feel the need to write about this experience first.

In February, Linda Stout and I flew to Denver, CO to attend the 27th annual Creating Change: National Conference on LGBTQ Equality. Over the course of 5 days, the Creating Change program presented 18 day-long institutes, two dozen trainings in the Academy for Leadership and Action, a special programming segment for faith leaders and organizers, over 300 workshops and caucus sessions, four keynote plenary sessions, film screenings, meetings, receptions, and a multitude of networking and social events. It was a whirlwind of new information, best practices, sharing, collaboration, and fun!  To give you an idea of what Creating Change is like, I will share a couple of my favorite workshops and lessons learned in Denver.

If you’re not already aware, the We the People program seeks to build power and create community across class differences here in Swannanoa.  I attended one workshop that specifically applied to this work, called “Organizing Across Class Differences.”  This workshop had attendees from many different class backgrounds that work in many different types of communities.  I had the opportunity to network and share best practices with other rural organizers from across the country.  We discussed how to be mindful of language and perspective when talking to people of a different class than your own.  The burden to code-switch and adapt to the privileged culture is often placed on poor people.  This workshop allowed me to brainstorm ways to create spaces in which everyone in Swannanoa can bring their voice without having to sacrifice their experiences and emotions.

I attended a myriad of workshops and events that focused on the intersections of queer and racial justice.  One such workshop was “#LGBTQFerguson,” which featured a panel of young, queer activists from St. Louis and Ferguson, MO who spoke about their experiences surrounding Mike Brown’s murder and how they have been empowered since this movement picked up speed in August 2014.  It was incredible to hear these young leaders describe their journey from isolation and disempowerment to community power and self-love.  By claiming space, they have made a huge impact on our nation, and will continue to do so until equity and justice are reached.  Young black and queer people are rising up to empower each other and demand justice.  I am floored by their commitment to civil disobedience that is motivated by deep-abiding love.  All attendees of Creating Change were lucky to witness an example of their direct action tactics when they interrupted the Creating Change plenary speeches, in collaboration with the Trans* Latina Coalition.  They did this to hold the Task Force accountable and ask attendees for a greater commitment to the #BlackLivesMatter and trans* justice movements.  They refuse to let business as usual continue, and they are making sure the national LGBTQ organizations get that message as well.

Immediately following this workshop was a memorial for Jessie Hernandez, a 17 year old, queer, gender non-conforming Latina recently murdered by the Denver police.  Some of the local organizers, called Branching Seedz of Resistance (BSEEDZ), spoke at the altar they set up in her honor. This memorial happened on the same day as Jessie’s funeral, and it was powerful to see so many conference attendees making sacred space to remember her and commit to seeking her justice. On the other hand, it was frustrating to see so many at the conference ignore what was happening and complain about the direct actions. We were lead in a chant, “La lucha sigue, sigue! Y Jessie vive, vive!” (The struggle continues! And Jessie lives on!).  This call to action will continue to ring in my mind, as I process and look ahead for pathways to equity in my own communities.

There are so many more workshops and events and speakers that I could mention.  The people that I met have already proven to be valuable connections in the social justice world.  I learned so much during my time at Creating Change, and hope that I can continue to attend in the years to come.  Stay tuned for more information about the work we’re doing in Swannanoa!

Nov 102014
 

01.sia logo_webIf you are like me, there are a few dozen things (or more!) that feel like they need our urgent attention. I could work full-time on the many different issues that pull at me. All seem equally necessary and critical. I know that if I could put all my time and resources into it, it might make a difference. But how do I decide? (continue reading by downloading our fall newsletter)

Aug 072014
 

siop core leadership team

Standing in Our Power (SiOP), a network of women of color social justice leaders, is calling for greater integrity, accountability, interdependence and compassion among individuals and organizations working for transformative social change.

Many of us who serve as the core leaders and coaches of SiOP came to this network through our personal journeys to reclaim a sense of purpose, wholeness and well-being in our social justice work.  We have been inspired and influenced by the vision of the transformative social change movement over the last two decades to combine personal transformation with organizational efforts to catalyze socio-cultural, socio-economic, political and environmental revolution and social justice.

group holding hands in circle

We are living through tough social and economic times that forces us to connect or contract. Leaders and organizations lack enough energy, time and resources to get everything done. We are tired and stressed, and, ultimately, less effective.  For those of us working to express values of freedom and justice through our organizations, workplace strain, spending cuts, demand on social programs and burnout diminishes our well-being. We find ourselves working for positive social change in more toxic and unhealthier work environments.  Many of us turned to transformative social justice as an ideology and community of practice to find a better way forward and address the personal experiences and conditioning which hindered our ability to be more connected, effective and sustainable.

Yet, our social movements will only build momentum and win through healthy sustainable efforts when we – who are at the helm of transformative social change work – can fully embody integrity, accountability, interdependence and compassion.

Integrity is about how we show up in the world, the degree to which we bring our whole  selves to our work and daily lives. To live in integrity, we do what we say and say what we do. Not to sound too cliché, but on a very fundamental level, we are practicing what we preach.  Another dimension of integrity is adhering to one’s values or professional standards through one’s thoughts, words and actions.

Accountability is about taking full responsibility for our intentions, actions, decisions, and the impact those have in the world. To be accountable, we must also report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences of what we say and do, as well as for what we fail to say and do.  Accountability ideally rests on mutual reciprocity and support which enables one to meet one’s goals successfully through trusting, creative, soulful and innovative collaborations.

Interdependence is about our relationship with others in our family, organizations, community and movements.  To be interdependent is to live in deep awareness that what impacts one impacts the other, and in fact impacts all.  Our actions and intentions have direct impact on others and the whole. We are not the rugged individuals that an American capitalist view of society will have us believe. All of our fates are intertwined. When we can connect, build relationships of trust and have each other’s backs, we are a thriving interdependent community capable of changing the world.

group hug

Compassion is about having conscious awareness of both your own distress and the distress of others which has built up over many years and having a deep desire to alleviate it with healthy, loving thoughts, words and actions. One’s willingness to heal oneself builds capacity to help others.  It’s about inter-connectedness and  love.

Sounds easy enough, right?  But these practices – ways of being – are among the most difficult things for all, including transformative leaders, to fully embody. Why? Perhaps we are so fixated on the structural realities that our work addresses and being present to the transformative development of our organizations and communities, all while trying to sustain our work, that we fail to personally hold ourselves to the same standards. Possibly because moving beyond self-reflection and awareness to full embodiment of the change we’ve dedicated our lives to, is not enough of a priority.  Maybe we believe that our rhetoric gives us a pass.  After all, we know this stuff.  Heck, we preach it in workshops, through our blogs, with funders, our constituents, etc.  But at the end of the day, can we practice what we preach? Are we living our values? Do we actually believe what we preach?

Ultimately, what keeps us from full embodiment is fear—fear that we are not good enough to make transformative practices a way of being; fear that if we acknowledge mistakes/errors/harm that we will be asked to leave communities, leave leadership positions; and fear that we will be publicly shamed by not living up to the values of integrity, accountability, interdependence and compassion. Too often our movements call for “perfect” leaders. Our fears emanate, in part, from our internalized oppression and trauma.

Standing in Our Power operates from the framework that undoing oppression in the world goes hand-in-hand with undoing the ways we’ve internalized oppression in our hearts, bodies, minds and spirits. This ultimately leads us to behave in ways which foster internal oppression within our organizations and social movements.  One of the main barriers SiOP has identified to the effectiveness of transformative social change efforts is the gender and sexual violence and oppression that is deeply embedded within the very transformative social change movement itself.

Over the past two years since our launch, we’ve seen and heard about sexual and gender violence and oppression in our social movements.  In recent months, it has been brought home with stories of this type of violence and oppression being present in our transformative justice movement.  The purpose of this and subsequent writings is to lift up the voices of women, men and non-genderconforming social justice activists who have been harmed physically, mentally, socially, spiritually and professionally by this dynamic.

As women of color working towards transformative justice, we feel called to raise awareness, amplify marginalized voices, create tools for safety and healing, address the root cause of this issue, and organize for structural and cultural shifts. Our calling comes from a reverence for sacred and safe spaces in our lives, organizations and movements, and the essential need for radical truth-telling, healing and truth-living that can catalyze deep and lasting change.

heart illustration

For too long, we’ve witnessed racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and more in our social movements, and felt first-hand how this manifests as sexual and gender violence and oppression.  We know about the history of sexual and gender violence and oppression that has brought down some of our movements from the inside. We also bare witness to it in our present-day work. We’ve held spaces for people to heal, and we yearn to eradicate this from our lives, organizations, movements and world.  As women of color, we often experience multiple oppressions at the same time. These ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’ have fired us up, and at the same time they have silenced us.

If we do not undo the ways in which systemic oppression gets normalized, even in our transformative justice community, and in turn lives within us, we are going to continue playing a part in sabotaging or undermining our work towards socio-cultural, socio-economic, political and environmental revolution and social justice.  .

We are catching fire and breaking silence. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing personal stories, our analysis and tools to shed light on harmful ‘ways of being’ and to support those who are most impacted.  We want to foster deep and lasting change while helping survivors, victims, targets and perpetuators of sexual and gender violence and oppression to recognize when this is happening and how to get support.

Jul 302014
 

siop presentation 2014-4-circle standing

To stand in my power, I remember who I am. I mean, who I really am as a spiritual and soulful being, beyond my political identities: which include all of the complicated entanglements of oppressions and privileges I bear as a 2nd-generation Filipin@-American, gender-nonconforming queer woman.

To work with others to re-discover their spiritual selves, I co-founded Zenyu Healing (Zenyu means “complete healing” in Japanese, a nod to my partner’s ethnic heritage), a grassroots nonprofit organization that serves the holistic health and leadership development of LGBTQI People of Color in Seattle. While we acknowledge that our political, ethnic/cultural, and gender identities are all profoundly important in understanding our status (or lack thereof) in this country, and realizing that those identities can be both limiting and liberating, at our gatherings we draw our primary strength from our souls.

But how do we regain what has been taken away from us by the dominant culture, its teachings and values, its rewards and punishments, its power to define what is “right” and “wrong,” its materialism and neglect of spirit? I want to share some of the simple but powerful decolonizing and re-indigenizing techniques that Zenyu has found helpful in healing ourselves and our communities. I honor and bless my beloved Teachers who have patiently taught me these healing ways—they are too numerous to name but they reside in my heart and my deepest prayer.

1. We honor our ancestors. At all Zenyu spaces, first we introduce ourselves with our name, and where our ancestors are from, whatever ”ancestor” means to us. This practice, taught to me by my beloved Lummi spiritual teacher, Fred Beaver Chief Jameson, orients us in time and space. We acknowledge that despite what the dominant culture tells us — that we are self-made individuals, meaningless blips in history whose only purpose is to work and to consume — we are far more than that. We are the products of the love and wisdom of our ancestors, the beautiful beings who came before us and/or who have loved us into being. They can be biological family members, a 2nd-grade teacher, a childhood animal companion, a beautiful tree or plant that we are connected to, or people who have blazed the path of love and justice with fearless vision and leadership (Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.). Through connecting to these ancestors/progenitors, we honor their love and find hope, strength, and courage. Even if colonization has stolen their names, faces, and histories from us, spiritually we can always connect to them because they live in our blood, their history is inscribed in our DNA.

2. We acknowledge our place in Nature. At Zenyu, profound healing has come from reintroducing ourselves to the natural world through wilderness excursions and retreats. This practice was inspired by my childhood, when I spent many days exploring the glorious Northwest wildernesses with my family. My parents worked tirelessly their whole lives, my dad commuting two hours each way to his government job and my mom working night shifts as a nurse, to provide for us and to also help our family back home in the Philippines. We were lucky to have our Lolo Andoy and Lola Edet (my dad’s parents) to help care for me and my three sisters while our parents were working. Our time together was precious and we always spent it outside, the eight of us camping, clamming, fishing, crabbing, and canoeing. When I was 6, waking up after a night of making s’mores and listening to my Lola’s stories, in the dewy early morning I would see a campfire already burning and my beloved nanay (mother) looking so content preparing breakfast, smiling at me as if all the toil of her hard life had dissipated overnight. “Ang sarap matulog sa labas”, she said to me, which means “it feels delicious to sleep outside!” And my mom knew innately that Nature heals us – makes us whole because we are back in our true home, in deep and intimate inter-relationship with All Living Things. Our modern first-world materialist lifestyles have hypnotized us into forgetting that for 99% of our history as humans on this planet, we were not alienated from the natural world. Recognizing our interconnectedness helps us to reframe everything else in our lives, including our work in social justice movements. It expands our capacity for forgiveness and compassion, qualities that we so desperately need if we are to heal the core issues at the root of many injustices in our time.

3. We create our own relationship to Spirit. At Zenyu, we take back our power from oppressive religious institutions by creating spiritual but non-religious rituals and ceremonies that honor our unique needs as a community. As LGBTQI folks, many of us have had difficult, sometimes traumatizing, experiences in the religious communities we grew up in, with some folks being shunned or isolated for their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Throughout human history, ritual has been used as a way of creating meaning, of reframing the hardships and mysteries of life in a bigger perspective. Instead of relying on religious institutions with histories of oppression and control, we tap into our boundless creativity by making stuff up! After the devastating though unsurprising verdict in the George Zimmerman case, we (black, brown and white allies) gathered together as a community and held a grieving ceremony to honor the lives of Trayvon Martin and all the black and brown children who are the victims of racial profiling and violence. Powerful somatic exercises allowed us a rare moment to fully explore and express the deep rage and sorrow we felt at this injustice; doing this in community transformed frustration into collective power.

At the core of Zenyu’s work is our recognition that it is in relationship that we are wounded, and it is in relationship that we heal.  The intention behind everything we do is to build spirit-centered community.  We begin most of our spaces with exercises that ground and center us into our bodies, followed by a one-on-one sharing with someone that we don’t know that well.  Each of us takes equal time reflecting on questions meant to elicit deep exploration into our selves, our values, our relationships, etc.  This simple sharing immediately opens us up into a more heart-centered space, and it is in this place of openness and trust that we can more fully heal.

“Complete healing” is achieved together, not alone!

Mar 202014
 

judy ford blog

MY JOURNEY TO “Live YOUR Light!” – PART 1:

In 2007, on the heels of being ‘let go’ from my job of 4 years, I was offered a high-level senior leadership position in one of the nation’s largest national foundations with nearly a $500 million endowment – a career coup for any philanthropy professional; especially a black woman; especially a young black woman; and especially one who just experienced the shock and heartbreak of an unexpected and undeserved lay off.

The true value and meaning of an event is rarely what it appears to be – especially when the lens through which you’ve been encouraged to view that event is not your own. Let’s back track.

Over the course of my four years with that organization, I was promoted from senior program officer to associate director; I received annual ‘outstanding’ performance reviews; I represented the organization on the board of directors of national professional associations and funding collaboratives; the organization published press releases about my accomplishments; I had been chosen for a prestigious international leadership development program for mid-career leaders; and two months prior to being ‘let go’ I was awarded the highest available merit bonus for performance above and beyond. I was, by every accepted and traditional measure, a success!

One spring day, I received an email from one of the executive vice presidents asking me to meet with her. When I walked into her office she was there with the director of human resources. The executive vice president cried what seemed to me to be crocodile tears, and claimed that this was the hardest thing she had ever done: my position was being terminated in two weeks. The director of human resources pushed a separation agreement across the table, and I was told I should feel free to retain an attorney. They said it was not due to any cause on my part but that the organization was restructuring. Restructuring? Separation agreement? Attorneys? Termination? My mind was spinning. I felt ill, confused, shocked, angry. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to hit something – someone. I wanted the pain I was feeling to be felt by those I believed to be the cause of it. What I did manage to do was remain icily calm. I remember saying one thing, and one thing only: “Is there anything else?” There really was nothing else. I got up and I walked out.

My self (my feelings and perspectives about work, life, success, self-determination, value, purpose and fulfillment) – and my professional life – all changed forever after that meeting. In walking out, I not only walked out on that meeting and that organization, I also was taking my first steps in walking out on my habitual ways of being, on belief systems and paradigms that no longer served me personally or professionally. I didn’t realize it then, but getting up and walking out were my first steps on my journey to “Live YOUR Light!”

By the time the offer from one of the nation’s largest foundations came, that career coup I mentioned earlier, I was already a very different person. How did I feel about the ‘opportunity of a lifetime,’ about the ‘opportunity any black person in philanthropy would kill for,’ about the ‘opportunity that doesn’t come around for black people in this field very often?’ In a word: I didn’t want it! Or I should say, I didn’t want what I would have to give up in order to take it – my home, my life, my community, what I truly valued, my sense of place and being in the world. But the problem was, I didn’t yet know I had every right not to want what everyone else said I should want. I didn’t yet know my Soul was calling forth from me the courage to free myself to follow and live my own light. I had been broken wide open by the unexpected loss of a job well done, and made wiser because of it. No longer was I the eager, wide-eyed, ambitious, career/accomplishment-driven philanthropoid willing to do anything, go anywhere, give up anything for the next big position that would advance my career. No longer did I care about positions and titles and the perceptions of power they proffered because I now knew that that kind of power isn’t real; power is not real when it can be given or taken away by others. No longer was I naïve enough to believe that playing the game well can provide you with the job stability or the financial security you assume comes with your adherence to the rules.

So, what does one do when offered such a career coup, on the heels of such a heartbreaking professional experience, in the midst of all this new-found wisdom and paradigm shifting about the true nature of life and work? Well, you accept the position, of course!! You pack up your things. Lock up your home. Say goodbye to family and friends. And you move clear across to the other side of the country for that career coup. All the while, in your deepest being, you know this is not for you because this is just not who you are anymore.

……And exactly three weeks to the day you moved across the country, you find yourself back home kissing the living room floor having quit that career coup of a job, moved back home with no job and no real plan, but feeling lighter, happier, freer, more authentic and more rooted in your own power than you ever have before. Ready to redefine what ‘stability’ and ‘security’ mean, and to provide those for yourself in ways others can never again disrupt. And somehow, without anyone telling you; without any societally-approved, socially-imposed, external measures of success, without any need to seek anyone else’s approval or validation, you not only know you’re going to be ok, you know you are on the threshold of a life success greater than any career coup society has to offer.

Click here to read MY JOURNEY TO “Live YOUR Light!” – PART 2 .

Dec 102013
 

In-These-Times-01linda-blog-imageFor In These Times’ December 2013 cover feature, “Generation Hopeless?”, the magazine asked a number of politically savvy people, younger and older, to respond to an essay by 22-year-old Occupy activist Matthew Richards in which he grapples with what the movement meant and whether Occupy’s unfulfilled promises are a lost cause or the seeds of the different world whose promise he glimpsed two years ago. Here is Linda Stout’s response.

After reading Matthew Richards essay, I was disappointed that he felt hopeless and felt he had to wait until the United States was “far less hostile to change.” He says “Now that I’ve already done my best to fix the world and it didn’t work, I am at peace with the fact that it is no longer my job and won’t be again for a few more generations to come”. Richards hated the song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” by John Mayer, but that’s exactly what he’s decided to do.

Having been involved in activism for more than 40 years—one of the old guard of activists—and having spent most of my life working for justice, I think we need to look at history. The United States is not going to get less hostile if we sit “waiting for the world to change.” Corporate control will become even stronger than it is even today.

I don’t know if anyone who has experienced a period of “normalcy” in U.S. history. From the time this country was invaded by Europeans, we have been a country of repression and violence; against Native Americans, women, people of color, non-Christians, etc. In the Labor Movement of the early decades of the1900’s, many people were killed, shot down by the military and others, while working for a better life for all. Military tanks rolled thru our streets in the small mill towns throughout the south, shutting down protesters thru intimidation, repression and killing massacres. In spite of that, the movement continued.

During the Civil Rights era, repression was at its worst. Churches used as organizing space were blown up, one with four little girls in it. Leaders were shot, jailed for weeks and months, and attacked by mobs, FBI, military, police, dogs and fire hoses. Meeting spaces like Highlander in Tennessee—–a center for labor unions and later for the civil rights movement—was confiscated by the state of Tennessee and later burned to the ground. More than 40 deaths were attributed to the repression of civil rights protesters, but people continued to work for civil rights even when as late as 1979 five more people were massacred in Greensboro, N.C.

During the VietNam protest people were jailed, tear gassed, and the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four unarmed college students and wounded nine, one permanently paralyzed.

Occupy was a positive event, even though it didn’t turn into a full blown, sustainable movement. As a multi-generational movement, many young people became involved and have stayed involved through other organizations they connected with in Occupy. My organization, Spirit in Action, worked with thousands of people to learn how to use “collective visioning” to dream of the world they wanted to create, look for common ground and then create a long term—3-to-20-years—strategic plan to move toward their positive vision. Collective visioning is a positive, solution-based focus that advances our goals. And yes, political strategy, organization and discipline are key to building a sustainable and lasting movement.

As for 99% being the perfect message, it was a message that got a lot of media attention. But it missed reaching some of the most important potential allies we needed to understand the message. In my conservative, Tea Party family reunion, they were all talking about the protesters (Occupiers) who were tearing America apart. When I asked if they understood what 99% meant, none of them did. As I explained and told them this was how people were fighting for our own self interest as poor people, my aunt looked at me, and said, “Well, it’s not a very good message if no one understands it, is it?” I had to agree with her.

Hopelessness is our biggest enemy. It causes people like Richards to give up and think they’ve done all they could. To hold a vision of the future and work toward that vision step by step, even when it’s one step forward, two steps backwards sometimes, is the strongest, most positive thing we can do.

I spend most of my time working with young people to help them become the future leaders of our movements for social change. I see so much potential, determination, strength and most of all hope. This belief in the younger generation is what gives me hope for our future.

This article was reposted from In These Times.’ To view origional posting click here- http://inthesetimes.com/article/15926/hopelessness_is_our_biggest_enemy/.

Sep 252013
 

syd new photo

I am sitting at the dining room table at my sister’s home, watching my 7 year old niece twirling and skipping around the living room, rocking her Asperger’s world with so much joy and grace. She is bold, unfiltered, vibrant and real. I lapse into daydream as I watch her, wondering, what if each of us, regardless of age, ability, class, employment status, race or identity, were able to access the space(s) in our own selves that allow us to move through the myriad twists and turns of life with this pure expression of our power. Can you see it too?

Learning to embrace my power took a lot of exploration, a bottomless pocket of patience and an unwavering commitment to my own healing. My journey has taken me into the nurturing embrace of many healers, connecting and learning from different traditions, practices, experiences and beliefs. Some fit, some didn’t, yet each experience moved me deeper into a more full experience of who I am called to be.

My journey has woven through the ivory halls of academia, circling in and out of the non-profit sector, mentoring young women, working in film production and consulting for socially-responsible finance and philanthropy. The connecting thread however, has been my practice of deepening relationship to Spirit and a softening into my gifts of clairvoyance, mediumship and of being an Empath. These gifts have been a part of who I am at my core since day one, yet it is only in the past few years that I have given myself permission to fully own these gifts as mine – as real, necessary and valid.

Today, I make my living as a healer, building a community-based practice in Los Angeles, Blue Jaguar is Love. I work with people one-on-one and in small groups, helping them to access the spaces within themselves to transform suffering and move into more embodied expressions of wholeness.

The three guiding principles of my healing practice are also the principles that guide my own feet as I walk through life.

1. Healing is possible.

Healing is absolutely possible if we choose it; but we have to practice at our own healing. It is not a linear process. In sixth grade I was determined to learn to play the violin. I had grandiose visions of making jaws drop the moment my bow hit the strings…then I found out I had to practice every day. My heart sank. What I soon discovered was that practice had a sweet side: the more I practiced the better I got and the easier it became. I could then try out new techniques and more difficult music. It wasn’t about being perfect, it was about learning.

Healing is like learning to play the violin. We do learn from teachers outside of ourselves, yet ultimately, it is ourselves to whom we are accountable. Why do you practice? What keeps you focused? What are you working through? When do you choose to walk away? As I learned with my violin journey, the expectation of speedy rewards actually slows us down: it is the process that matters.

Try This: The simple act of breathing is a potential lesson, an opportunity to connect deeper with ourselves, with the world and with Spirit. Begin a daily stillness practice. Start with just one minute to sit still and simply breathe. Notice your inhale and your exhale, say hello to your body as it is right now. What are you feeling? Where are you? Just notice. Call back in all the parts of yourself that you may have left with other people, or in that meeting that went too long, or even in your bed this morning. Call yourself back into yourself. Find your center now in your breath. As your heart slows your mind will follow suit. When you are ready, tack on another minute to your stillness…and then the next day, another minute. Notice what happens. What do you hear when your mind is still? What do you know? The more we practice the easier it becomes to access stillness, inner wisdom and our own personal wholeness. This is healing, one breath at a time.

Coming in Part II: My other two guiding principles and two more exercises for embracing your power.

Stephanie Syd Yang is a coach and co-facilitator of the Standing in Our Power 2013-14 Transformative Leadership Institute.

Sep 252013
 

Next week, October 2-6, thirty-five leaders will convene in Ohio to kick off the Standing in Our Power (SiOP) 2013-14 Transformative Leadership Institute for women of color. This unique 10-month program consists of coaching, trainings and peer mentorship to strengthen and advance the leadership of women of color who are working for a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

Programs like SiOP are needed now more than ever as we prepare for a shift in our nation’s demographics. In July 2012 the Center for American Progress released an issue brief on “The State of Women of Color in the United States.” The issue brief takes an in-depth look at the status of women of color and makes clear that our voices are missing at a time when national demographic trends continue to shift toward women of color becoming the majority among all women.

Women of color today are largely underrepresented in the national debate on key issues, including reproductive health care, women’s rights, and the economy—despite the direct impact these issues have on us personally, as well as on our families and communities.

SiOP is building the leadership and capacity of women of color across generations who are at the helm of movements for racial, gender, economic, reproductive and environmental justice. Together, we are organizing, shaping policies, shifting culture and building new institutions that impact our lives.

Reviewing the applications and pre-interviews of the amazing leaders, ages 21 to 72, who will gather in Ohio, I find myself in between heartbreak and hope. We are convening women who are:

  • Community Organizers
  • Policy Advocates
  • Cultural Workers and Artists
  • Fundraisers and Communicators
  • Social Entrepreneurs

Together in Ohio next week, we’ll explore what it means to have an impact without sacrificing one’s well-being and sustainability. We’ll build a network and community that they can consistently lean on and support each other, and participants will develop roadmaps to foster personal and leadership transformation that increases their effectiveness.

Many of the women will return home ready to ignite a cultural shift within their organizations and communities that allows for radical inclusion of the vision and voices of women of color.

No small task, indeed. Especially considering that many of these women are running organizations with minimal support, and have very little access to resources, capital and networks of privilege. I am hopeful because of the indomitable spirit and passion of this year’s Institute participants. I feel heartbroken because of how many adversities they face as leaders and the trauma they’ve experienced – and we were only able to accept one-fourth of the 100+ applicants. Your partnership at this time will help heal the heartache and support us to live into all that is hopeful.

Will you stand with us by making a personally meaningful contribution today?

Support SiOP

 As women of color, we live and lead at the intersection of multiple oppressions. Often this is a lonely and isolating place and we’ve seen that through community building and holistic leadership development we can rise and succeed. Yet, there is a dearth of resources for critical capacity building programs like SiOP that focus on women of color.

Whether you’re a woman of color or an ally, there’s a place for you in this community.

By joining the SiOP community as a donor, you are supporting women of color leaders, and choosing to sustain this work with them over time. Please check out the short video above of highlights from our inaugural SiOP gathering in 2012 and consider investing in the personal and leadership transformation of women of color who are creating change that will benefit society as a whole.

I hope we can count on your support as we support a powerful group of leaders

Aug 142013
 

nitika blog2
Some days I love to write. Most days writing loves me back. Some days I hate to write. I want to share with you my story, but it is a hard story to re-tell. I don’t want to repeat facts with a stone on my heart, because they are heavy words to disperse. But I also don’t want to hide the story, because it is not shame that holds me back, but my own powerful self that is rooted in the current moment, one that does not look back.

“It’s true”

At Resource Generation where I work with young people of color with wealth, we have a tradition: when someone gives you a compliment, you have to respond with “It’s true”. I find a lot of women, and a lot of women of color, often deflect praise. Truly absorbing and receiving what we hear is difficult.

When people in my life share their reflections of me, I often hear the words: fabulous, strong, inspiring, brave, bold, joyful, sexy, divine, and full of life. (I also hear stubborn, funny, fierce, wise and committed). It’s TRUE! One thing I want to ask of all women of color, of all people whose divine power has been systematically suppressed, is to join me in believing.

 #1 Have faith in your own radiance.

How we tell our stories matters

Each of us is living many stories – our own individual life, our ancestry, our history, and all the identities that result from having a body; age, gender, class, dis/ability, nationality, immigration status and so forth. Then there are significant life experiences that shape us – trauma, spirituality, abuse, illness… the variabilities of being alive in the world at this time.

How does one tell a story of overcoming trauma and squeezing through life’s many breaking points, without the portrayal of self as victim at some point(s)? To stand in my power, in each re-telling, I have no desire to keep deconstructing my experiences, to keep analyzing my family of origin, or to keep grieving losses.

In each telling, let it serve the need of your current moment – to heal, to connect, to break silence, to share, to share pride, to vent, to reflect, or to let go. You don’t have to tell your story to serve what other people want from you.

 #2 Tell your story for YOU.

Social Justice / Swimming Pool

Do you ever hear the words “social justice”, or “racial justice”, “economic justice”, or “the movement” and have absolutely no feelings? That happens to me quite often. These days my eyes glaze over, and I suddenly picture myself jumping into a swimming pool.

When I hear the word “trauma,” I get quiet and my heart feels heavy. The opposite of standing in our power must be stripping us of our power. When that terrible thing happens to a human being, or groups of human beings or entire nations, we call that trauma.

As women of color, we have been forced to de-emotionalize our traumas, so that we are not called “crazy”, irrational, or overly sensitive. For our own survival, women have been forced to quieten/not listen or respond to what’s happening in our bodies. For the many survivors of violence who are women, we have learned to escape, to separate body from spirit from mind, in order to live through the experiences to even have the option of healing.

From what I understand, social justice is about the world getting to a place where it’s truly just for all people. But to know that it’s unjust, you have to hear from the people to whom injustice is done. But if we only tell the “facts” and we cannot identify our needs because it is not safe to feel into our bodies, then how will we open ourselves to truths that fill out a more complete picture? We can’t. We must create spaces where we can both tell the facts and let out the emotions of our traumas and truths.

 #3 The truth-telling of women of color is an eternal fire. Eventually, it burns and cleanses all of us and those around us.

To validate our full selves, we must believe and support one another, and to use women of color spaces to amplify our voice and visibility.

Spirituality

This is a magical power. Our spirit is the center of hope, interconnection, and a source of creativity and bliss. These are the components of true power – the kind that builds connection through love and acceptance. It is similar to maternal love, that source of unconditional loving unique to one who has the divine honor of being a gateway to new life. We do not create life, we simply create space for it to pass through us to take visible form in the world.

#4 Women are goddesses.

Connecting to the spirit level requires prayer, an intentional tapping into that larger power. Pray in whatever way is right for you: pray in silence, pray to music, pray with your body, dance, do yoga, do what is accessible to you that moves your heart in sync with your spirit.

nitika3

#5 Pray your way.

A spiritual community will hold you like no other. Elements of a spiritual community are: a) operating from a place of eternal love and non-judgment, b) caring about the whole person, not just about what they can do or what you are trying to do together, c) singing, dancing, meditation – practices that center and align our spirits, d) sharing good food! e) providing space to share delights as well as grief, f) reading and collective learning from a shared text – whatever has been powerful and grounding , from fiction novels to quotes to Audre Lorde.

We have to bring our whole selves to our social justice work, including our sacred ways of being and doing.

 #6 Build a spiritual community, be a part of a community of faith.

One version of my story

My parents were born in the mid-1950’s, in newly independent India post British colonization. Both were raised poor/working class; they had a traditional arranged marriage. Free local education led to upward class mobility, and joining the professional middle class. They migrated to Kuwait in the late 70’s where I was raised, and was sexually abused until the Gulf War, when our living situation changed. (The violence in my life ended, only to be replaced with the violence that happens in war – to people of all genders and ages). Fast-forward. In 2000 I moved to the U.S., studied computer science, found that the men in my department sexually harassed the few women (10%) in the program. I joined anti-violence work on campus. I went to get a masters in social work, then got married, realized I was queer, came out, and my family confronted the man who had abused me, my uncle. My parents in the meantime had started a business, gotten rich, paid for my undergraduate and graduate education. I got divorced, got a job, found out I have endometriosis, and have become eternally committed to working for equal dignity for all people. Now I live in New York, where I am happy and in love with God, and also with my life and all the people in it.

Another version of my story, on days when I don’t have the energy to tell it all, or days when I know it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s the past and it’s not Now.

All that happened was meant to be. I learned a lot from it, about how to stand in my truth first, and then to stand in my power. Now if only we can keep standing in love as we work for justice, it will all be okay. The path will not end in peace if the process is not gentle.

#7 To have a peaceful life, it really helps to make peace with your family of origin.

And healing takes time. To live is to heal, and to heal is to become a phoenix. We burn our old self and renew our life. Spiritual growth is being open to all the ways of loving and living, and letting go. If this is how we are living, we are leading lives centered in spirit and in integrity with the world.

#8 Healing is inevitable.

When i lived in You

When i lived in Beauty

i smiled easily and often

When i lived in Truth

i became bolder and kinder

When i lived in Love

it gave me pleasure to give

And so,

Beauty, Truth and Love came to live in me.

#9 To be a leader is to be your own true self.