Women of Color

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

 

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!

Apr 102014
 

Zakiyah Ansari is an outspoken advocate for public schools and the loudest voice on the transition team for New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio’s. Ansari is the advocacy director at the New York State Alliance for Quality Education, a non-profit. She first appeared on the public radar in 2007 as a parent leader for Coalition for Educational Justice. Ansari, a mother of eight, criticized the creation of charter schools, saying it set parents against each other. All her children have graduated or are studying at New York City’s public schools.

As part of our 2013 Education Justice Listening Project we interviewed educators, students, parents and organizers about what’s the best path forward for improving public education. In this clip, Zakiyah reminds us of how important public education is for us as a nation.

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 .

Mar 182014
 

trauma and transformation

In mid-December my life was going exactly as planned. Work was wonderful, family was great, I just celebrated two significant birthdays and I was doing well personally and professionally. In fact, I was on a bit of high after receiving acknowledgement for being an Emerging Leader in the social work field.

Then something happened. My organization decided that we should part ways. At that time, it felt like the most traumatic event that I could experience.  I was never consulted on this decision, I was informed. So, I found myself unemployed and without my life’s worth. My job was something that brought me pleasure and fulfillment. I  spent that last three years pouring my soul into this organization. I was finally reaping the benefits of developing my staff and was witnessing the positive impact we were having on our program participants.

I was devastated to say the least, and I knew I had to move on.

This experience compelled me to engage in a process of healing and transformation.  I want to share my process through these Moving Forward Healing Steps to support others who are experiencing trauma.

What I’ve learned is that going through the healing process does not undo the negative effects, but it does allow the trauma to co-exist with your healed being. I’ve outlined three phases that are critical to relieving yourself from the burden of the trauma. They are as follow:

Retreat

It is extremely difficult to experience something traumatic and not take the private time you need to process the impact of the traumatic events. One must take the time they need to honor the pain and mourn the loss before they can move on. I would caution not to stay in this phase for very long, as it will not serve you very well to be there longer than necessary. However, it is critical that you honor your feelings, process what has happened, and grieve the loss.

Release

After any traumatic event one most free themselves from the hurt, pain and any feelings of rejections they may have. There are two choices; wallow in self pity and become the victim or decide to be the victor by releasing the trauma.

There is no scientific way or a timeframe that states how or how long it will take to move forward. You just have to do it and it must be purposeful and mindful. These following steps will help you to move forward:

  • Professional Therapeutic Care – seeking out a professional to support you as you process your feelings can be helpful therapy, as well as an effective treatment for mental and emotional trauma.
  • Attitude of Gratitude – If you focus with gratitude on the things that are good, you will find the strength to confront the things you want to change. Be present in the moment. Learn to appreciate the little things.
  • Positive People – Surround yourself with positive people. Their energy could sustain you. Also remain positive, the universe has a way of returning those positive vibes.
  • Kindness and Compassion – Be gentle, kind and loving with yourself while you are healing.
  • Faith – Prayer and/or meditation will make all the difference.

Rebuild:

  • Exercise – When so much is out of your control, exercise is one thing you can start and finish.
  • Laugh – Laugh! It will change the chemistry within your body. Watch a funny movie.
  • Network/Support – Allow yourself to be supported. Learn to lean on your network. Sometimes one has to lean into their power until they are strong enough to stand in it.
  • Create a New Story – You are the author of your story, and you decide how it will end. Keep showing up for life and define it on your terms. For me, I consciously choose to remain a leader; a leader that needed healing and support, but a leader nonetheless.

 

Mar 182014
 

Leigh Patel is a researcher, educator, and writer. With a background in sociology, she researches and teaches about education as a site of social reproduction and as a potential site for transformation. She is an Associate Professor of Education at Boston College and works extensively with recently immigrated youth and teacher activists. Prior to working in the academy, Professor Patel was a journalist, a teacher, and a state-level policymaker. Across all of these experiences, her focus has been on the ways that education structures opportunities in society, and her daily work has been with youth who are marginalized through those structures.

As part of our 2013 Education Justice Listening Project we interviewed educators, students, parents and organizers about what’s the best path forward for improving public education. In this clip, Leigh reminds us of an often deliberately-obscured fact: that the public education system belongs to us. What does it mean if we take action based on that idea?

Feb 262014
 

abundance

“A major focus of our work this month was shifting from the language of scarcity to a focus on abundance. When do you notice yourself talking about your professional expertise and experience from a place scarcity? ( I don’t have these skills that I need to get a new job). As you become aware of yourself talking about yourself turn it around and focus on what assets you do have.” – Piper Anderson, SiOP Coach

This winter, I celebrate the half way point of our journey in the Transformative Leadership Institute (TLI). I want to acknowledge the coaches and the participants for getting on monthly calls to create the life where they can have it all.

For the past six months, the participants have been putting into action the practices they learned at the retreat, writing affirmations, having goals, and giving things up along the way. From executive directors to global artists, youth and elders, healers and activists, from California to New York and everywhere in between, participants look forward to the calls. It is our sacred space, our self care place, it is where trauma speaks and spirit listens. It is where tired bodies rest on the words of others and find courage and strength in the stories that another is giving up.

With new possibilities and the declaration of a brand new way of being, many of the participants have transitioned from jobs that didn’t fulfill them and let go of unhealthy relationships with themselves and others. In gratitude, participants have formed long lasting relationships with each other and are being creative in creating safe spaces of healing in their communities. We are healing from loss, both for people we’ve lost last year and for letting go of parts of ourselves that no longer serve a purpose.

On our calls the participants of the TLI hold each other to account for what they say they want. They share challenges about money, life, work, relationships, and the deep contradictions that they live at times. They share the challenges that come from sitting in the middle of their lives, in between what they have and what they know they can have, who they are and who they want to be.

Most of all we share the fear that comes up when we think about saying “no” to what we don’t want and saying “yes” to what we want, and what that decision will produce in our lives. Nonetheless, we show up anyway and in the practice of presence, spirit, creativity and storytelling, vulnerability, compassion, and acceptance we are creating the world we want to live in today!

Feb 262014
 

yaro picture 2014I left the Dominican Republic and moved to New York City at the age of 10. Ever since I can remember my impulse has always been to defend others; perhaps it was those impulses that led me to political activism in college.

While in High School and college I got involved in many social justice struggles but did not have a political analysis per se. My main drive was always ensuring fairness and fighting against my intuitive urge to eliminate injustice in my immediate surroundings; school, my community, and my family.

My true moment of transformation was my trip to Chiapas. A group of students and I went to Mexico during the Zapatista uprising in 1994, putting our bodies in the way of the military who would have harassed, arrested and even killed the protesters if it were not for the international supporters who were physically present. The experience made me realize both my privilege – and my power! The courage of all of us standing up to oppression did make a difference. When I got back to the U.S., I was ready to work as a community organizer for indigenous and immigrant rights, and against racism and sexism.

Since the age of 10 I had taken care of children as more than a big sister – almost a mother – it was natural to seek a mentoring role. I wanted to organize young people. In various non-profits, which were mostly about providing services, I followed that path. Fortunately, I had mentors myself as well; older women who helped me develop my skills and my analyses. Because I was a good writer, I got tapped as a fundraiser, and worked with many wealthy white individuals.

When I was 24, I decided to try to reconcile with my family. But when I saw my father, he went into a rage, attacked me and tried to kill me. My mother, in spite of all the abuse, still defended him and was also angry with me. All of this led to my going into a deep depression. Therapy helped me get to one level of healing, but I needed deeper work; therapy turned out to be a bridge to other kinds of healing methodologies.

I began yoga/spiritual practice, which took me to a level I had not imaged possible. For the first time in my life, I felt GREAT! I was happy, and incidents that had triggered intense emotional responses in me before no longer bothered me. Feeling so well myself made me want to help others get to the same place, and I decided to become a coach.

But to start my own business, I need to learn how to operate one, so I took at job as a trainer at a gym, which has been my first for-profit job. Yes, it’s a very corporate environment, but for the moment, it’s what I need to do. Physical movement arts and physical strength lead to mental strength and then to psychological and emotional strength, so being a trainer is aligned with my philosophy.

My preference is to work with women so they can stand in their power; in the work I do outside of the gym, I include nutrition, lifestyle, physical training, yoga, and spiritual practice. There is a way in which all women suffer in the same ways: we are brought down by poor body image and low self-esteem. Women of color have added issues and due to the continued presence of racial discrimination, we are at a career disadvantage compared to white women. But most of all, we are more likely to put ourselves last and to ignore self-care.

White women are more likely to feel entitled to self-care, such as going to the gym or to a spa. Women of color are less likely to spend time – and especially money – on ourselves. The cultures we come from see that as selfish. But times are changing, and more women of color are being brought to the understanding that we must take care of ourselves as well as of others.

siop 2012-13 group pic

How can we break ourselves out of the habit of putting ourselves last?

One practice is to make an appointment with yourself. It might be as little time as a once a week commitment to start with, and as small an activity as taking your time while eating a good healthy meal, doing a session of yoga, going for a swim, or meditating.

If you break your commitment, ask yourself what’s holding you back and be honest in your answer. It is that you feel you don’t deserve it? That you don’t have the support? That it’s out of your comfort zone?

Standing someone else up is not something we would do, and we must treat ourselves as just as important as others we make such commitments to. Once you begin to see some changes in your life, you realize it’s worth it, and a virtuous cycle has begun.

Going to the Standing in Our Power gathering last year and experiencing communal healing was wonderful, since I am still on a healing journey. It was special to get not just individual support, but support from a whole community of women who are my equals. As someone who “mothered” my younger sisters and other younger women, I am used to having to be the “rock,” and not to show my own vulnerability. Among my peers, I could let go of being in control, and to trust putting myself in other women’s hands. Even though I was asked to play a coaching role, I felt that I got as much as I gave.

Women are doing amazing work, and I want us to FEEL amazing too! We deserve to feel great in body and spirit. I feel that the community we began can explode into something enormous. As we help each other resolve the traumas we carry within us, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. I’m so excited that women of color will lead by example for the next generation!