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Feb 262014


“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!

Feb 262014

Ernesto Villaseñor, Jr. is a policymaker, social and environmental justice educator, and active within Public Health and Education in Compton and South LA. Born and raised in Compton, California, he uses his hometown as his research focus on the social and environmental injustices that contribute to the education and public health disparities that are prevalent. Through his extensive research, he has shed the light on these issues while at the same time developing and implementing effective, efficient, and sustainable solutions that have been implemented throughout eight districts in LA County.

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. Ernesto shares with us his observation on the disparities in the schools of Compton.

Feb 262014

listening project logo2In 2013, we started hearing from some of our allies in education justice that one of their biggest challenges was that too many people didn’t understand the intensity of the attacks on public education. Although to leaders in education justice, the situation may be obvious, too many adults and young adults have no idea about the scope of the problem: they think it’s a problem just with their school or just their school district or state.

We began a listening project in the summer of 2013, where we interviewed close to 40 leaders in education justice. Based on our listening and other research, we’ve gleaned that grassroots groups, led by people directly affected by the attack on public education, are in need of more training and support to sharpen their communications in the face of well-funded corporate attacks that are well-messaged and otherwise well-resourced.

We’re exploring what form this support can take, and how to use the experienced communicators of the Progressive Communicators Network and the committed leaders of the Education Circle of Change to mobilize skilled support for activists on this issue.

This spring, we’re doing a “test-drive” in providing support for grassroots groups fighting for education justice. If you’re a part of the Progressive Communicators Network or the Education Circle of Change, you’re invited to a conversation within the networks to discuss this further.

The Progressive Communicators conversation will be a Google Hangout on Monday, March 10 at 3 PM ET.

The Education Circle of Change conversation will be a Google Hangout on Monday, March 17 at 3 PM ET.

For the full details about either conversation and to RSVP, please email Kathleen Pequeño and Manauvaskar Kublall. They’re coordinating these calls and will get back to you as soon as possible.

Feb 042014

Bob George, a lifelong educator, is National Director of Save our Schools and a longtime activist.

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. Bob tells us one thing we need to remember about equity and schools in the United States: our schools are not all created equal. He asks: why are we acting as if some children are more important than others?

Feb 042014

Scott Nine is Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America and lives in Portland, Orego. Raised by two public school educators, Scott has experience teaching, advising, and creating learning communities for people ages 5 to 95.

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 video, Scott shares a quick thought on what he feels everyone needs to know about public education in order for it to be truly “public.”


Feb 042014



“Dozens of children at a Utah elementary school had their lunch trays snatched away from them before they could take a bite this week. Salt Lake City School District officials say the trays were taken away at Uintah Elementary School Tuesday because some students had negative balances in the accounts used to pay for lunches”. (CNN Jan 30, 2014)

The students watched as their food was thrown away, many crying with shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and just pure hunger. The school officials justified this action by saying they would never let a child go “hungry,” so each child whose parents were behind in paying for lunches were given a carton of milk and a piece of fruit.

As a poor kid growing up in public schools, I have experienced being singled out and humiliated among other classmates in this way. In hearing this story, the pain I experienced fifty-four years ago is still there. This experience for these children will be a negative life changing event for many of them. The school can apologize, the parents can try to make it up to the child by telling them how unjust it is, but the damage has been done. The feelings of being different, made fun of, or feeling “less than” their classmates can change a life. (To see many other people’s similar stories, go to Class Action’s Blog page on education.)

While not all of the children who had their food taken away from them were poor – some parents just forgot to pay and were not notified – this is a common type of experience for many poor children. I remember my horror and shock when I found out my niece had to sit with one other student in study hall all day, while all the other classmates went on a field trip for the day. I remember the pain of being the only one sitting in the school auditorium while the rest of my class went to the state capital for the day. I could not believe it was possible that my niece actually suffered the same humiliating event some 40 years later! Now, after having worked with many low income school students and activists, I realize that things are even worse for some than when I started school in 1960.

Our public schools are deteriorating quickly and as corporate control are taking over many public schools, things are rapidly getting worse. Corporate control and privatization of public schools is a quickly growing and a very dangerous occurrence happening today that few people know about or understand. It is as horrific as the privatization of prisons and worse as some of the same corporations are behind both. This allows the school to prison pipeline to be even more strengthened and enforced. We see terrible actions taking place that will affect not only our next generation but many to come with things like standardized testing, children packed fifty to a classroom, lack of text books, and teachers being turned into low-paid, under-resourced people unable to really teach critical thinking but instead teach students to just pass the “standardized tests.”

We must take action and Spirit in Action networks – the Education Justice Project with Progressive Communicators Network are coming together to tell the stories of what is happening to develop stories and frameworks along with training for groups working on this issue. Please join us in our efforts by making a donation today for this work.

We are running a series of interviews done with teachers, parents, education organizers and students in our monthly newsletter. Please watch this video of Sabrina Joy Stevens, a teacher and activist, who gives us hope on dealing with the school issues.


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