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Mar 292012

Sometimes I forget that I am powerful. I let that little old villager inside my head buzz around and get louder. It says “Cherine, who do you think you are? What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you know you can’t do that, say that, be that?!” 36 years into this wild, wonder-filled and at times challenging life journey, I still question my path, my purpose, and my power. But, I am increasingly able to distinguish the threads of social conditioning, internalized fear and false narratives from the truth that sings inside of me. That truth is apparent when I feel my heart breaking open in collective song or circle, when I look at a starry night sky or in the eyes of a cherished friend, when I feel my wonder. That’s when I stand in my power. That’s when I remember who I am. That’s when I remember who WE are.

I grew up sprawled across an ocean: one foot in Egypt and one foot in the United States. My parents immigrated to the US a few years before I was born with the earnest hope of making a better life for themselves and their families in Egypt.

Perhaps the experience of being a first-generation Arab in America would not have been so formative had I grown up in New York or Detroit, DC or LA, where countless immigrants converge to foment and form the glorious stew that is the United States of America. Alas, I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I was the only Arab kid in my class.

In kindergarten my classmates took loud note of the garlicky stench seeping out of my lunch sack from the kofta my mom used to pack. They laughed at the way my parents talked and at my hair, always a frizzy fro, forever untamable despite my mother’s incessant efforts.

In Egypt it was my 27 cousins who mocked my weak Arabic and un-plucked eyebrows, my hyper-outspokenness (for a girl), and my parent’s very taboo divorce.

Always in between, I never quite fit, anywhere.

And so I learned from a young age, if I want to live in a world where I belong, where we belong, I must create it.

That audacious youthful insight that just maybe I have the power to build a world of belonging ignited an epic and humbling journey of self-discovery and effort to Stand in My Power and work for a world where all of us can Stand in Our Power.

I have discovered that standing in my power is not a singular destination. It’s a place I get to sometimes – usually just for moments; if I’m lucky it can last for days and once or twice, it’s even felt like chapters. Then I fall down and have to get back up again. My best attempt at distilling what allows me to get back up and Stand in My Power boils down to four primary ingredients:


Surrounding myself with sisters and brothers who are committed to questioning and challenging structures and norms that do not support our individual or collective thriving. Surrounding myself with folks who are willing to feel their gratitude and hope for the world alongside their despair and fury. Surrounding myself with folks who laugh from the belly and cry from the soul and reflect back to me with tender authenticity my gifts and my growing edges. That supports me in Standing in My Power.

Work that makes me come alive.

Though I wasn’t sure what that work would be, I knew it had something to do with creating spaces of belonging. Ultimately, in my early 20s, life lead me to discover an incredible organization called “Challenge Day,” a non profit that offers transformational anti-oppression workshops to youth around North America. The intermingling of social justice, transformation, performance, and community building fit all the pieces that I didn’t realize I had. Since being a Challenge Day Leader, I have served in various capacities for a multitude of mostly non profit organizations including The Mosaic Project, The International Bureau of Education (UNESCO), The Scholar Ship and Generation Waking Up. I’ve lived, worked and studied in Japan, Egypt, Switzerland, China and on a boat that circumnavigated the world. I found that my gift and my calling is bringing people together across lines of difference in authentic purposeful exchange. Finding work that enables my gifts to shine and grow, that generates within me a sense of purpose and contribution, that calls me to expand and aspire in new ways. That supports me in Standing in My Power.


I don’t know if it’s because I’m the child of a psychiatrist and a psychologist, or if it’s because I’ve learned to cope with life’s bigger bumps by making meaning out of dark places, but I have learned that understanding myself, my limitations and gifts, my edges and fears, has been key on the journey to knowing myself and my power. I do this through writing. Through reflective conversations with close friends. Through seeking counsel and mentorship. Through sitting in silence and going inside. Through reading lots of books, attending lots of workshops and inviting lots of feedback, even when I’m scared.  This helps me in Stand in My Power.


It’s amazing, but when all else fails, when I feel lost, weak, afraid, like the world is caving in on me,  I have found that the most magical antidote is climbing a mountain, or sitting by water’s edge, or lying on the earth and looking at the sky. Slowing down enough to remember the bigger story, the zoomed out lens of what’s really going on here, outside of the chatter of my head, the struggles of our time, the hurt and disconnection and despair. Reconnecting to Nature and to the wonder of being alive – that helps me Stand in My Power.

I see Standing in OUR Power as an emerging network of sisterhood, solidarity and support that will cultivate community, purpose, growth, and spiritual groundedness in all who engage. I see SiOP as a foundation that will hold us all in re-membering ourselves and getting up when we fall down. I see SiOP as a weaving together of our stories, talents and passions into actions that will support the collective awakening and empowerment of each other and our world.

Cherine Badawi, SiOP Core Committee Member: Citizen to both Egypt and the United States of America, Cherine had the privilege of growing up on two sides of the planet. She has devoted her life to developing and facilitating holistic, transformational experiences that bring diverse individuals and communities together in authentic, purposeful exchange.

Currently, Cherine works as an independent consultant offering instructional design and facilitation to a broad client base. She specializes in diversity and intercultural capacity building, leadership development and team building. A sample of previous clients includes: American Medical Response; Challenge Day; Gap Inc.; Goi Peace Foundation; Kaiser Permanente; The Mosaic Project; North Carolina Outward Bound; Oberlin College; Old Navy; The Pachamama Alliance; The Scholar Ship (Royal Caribbean); UC Berkeley Isms Collaborative; UC Santa Cruz, among many others.

Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Cherine served as the Curriculum and Training Director of The Mosaic Project. In 2005, she was awarded the Rotary World Peace Fellowship which funded her graduate work and provided her with the opportunity to support the International Bureau of Education-UNESCO in developing a handbook to support member states’ diversity and intercultural education initiatives.In 2008, Cherine served as the Community Coordinator on The Scholar Ship, a transnational floating university that hosted staff and students from more than 50 countries as they studied and traveled around the world together.Cherine received her Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Studies from UNC, Chapel Hill and her Master’s degree in Public Administration and Peace and Conflict Studies from ICU, the premier graduate school of diplomacy in Tokyo, Japan.
Mar 282012


Social change happens when people work together. Yet, we all have heard the stories about one heroic figure responsible for a significant historical shift. Women’s herstory month has made me reflect on how these stories often leave out or minimize women’s contributions. In reality, the “sheroes” of our social movements usually have an army of people working with them to make change happen. And oftentimes, those people who put in countless hours doing thankless tasks are women. Even when a woman rises to prominence, her leadership and strategic savvy is often discounted.

I’d like to call for a revision of our social movement narratives so that women’s historic roles are taken seriously. For example, I grew up hearing that Rosa Parks sat down at the front of the bus and refused to give up her seat merely because she had tired feet. After her arrest, the Montgomery Bus Boycott broke out and sparked mass action that developed into the civil rights movement. This has become a national myth.

The real story is very different. Rosa Parks, a seamstress, didn’t spontaneously “revolt” against segregation one day because her feet hurt. A group of women in Alabama, the Woman’s Political Council (WPC), led by Jo Ann Robinson–an English teacher at Alabama State College–had been planning a bus boycott for months. Parks was a long-time member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and was a trained activist at the time of her arrest. She–along with Septima Clark (the founder of the Freedom Schools) and Martin Luther Kind Jr.–had attended the Highlander Center in Tennessee, a leadership training center for workers rights and racial equality. In other words, Rosa Parks and other women were deeply involved in the strategic analysis and planning that made the bus boycott successful.

Refusing to move was not her first act of civil disobedience on a bus. Parks had also been ejected from a bus years earlier – by the same driver – for refusing to pay her fare at the front of the bus and then get off and enter at the back, a practice that often allowed the drivers to leave passengers behind who had already paid before they could re-enter the bus at the rear.

When Parks, a well-respected person within the community, was arrested this time it provided the perfect opportunity for the WPC. That night, Robinson, along with a colleague and two students, went into the University of Alabama under the pretense they were mimeographing tests. They ran the mimeograph machine throughout the night, producing 52,500 flyers calling for the bus boycott. Students played a key role in helping distribute the flyers, dropping them off at schools, businesses, beauty parlors, barber shops and factories.

When the church ministers received the flyers, and discovered that the women and students in the community were organizing the boycott, they decided it was time for them to follow their lead and mobilize their congregations. While the ministers were the public face of what we know today as the civil rights movement, it was initially conceived and spurred on by a highly organized group of women who had been working for this change—and training for it—for many years.

There is history and there is myth, and then there is herstory. The knowledge that social change happens collectively has always been reassuring to me. It reminds me that you and I don’t have to do it alone.

Spirit in Action