A couple of weeks ago, I facilitated a community conversation and workshop in a city that is near and dear to my heart: Oakland, CA. Oakland is home for me. It holds my community of support; it has my absolute favorite coffee shop: and it holds several close friends that I now call "family." My strategy for entering and working towards racial justice and abolishing white supremacy has always been a think globally, act locally approach. I consider it my love offering to my community to dedicate my time, energy, sweat, and tears to cultivating racial justice right here at home: in the Dimond District in Oakland, CA.
All of the participants for the workshop (what I lovingly refer to as "the collective") identify as white cis women, and what follows is a brief reflection of observations, thoughts, and realizations that arose for the collective as I guided them through conversations, journaling, and group exercises in the workshop topics of disarm, divest, and dismantle.
Reflections from the collective is a mirror the exposes parts of all of us. Particularly for the white community, what emerged in this workshop for the collective are indeed the very churnings, thoughts, feelings, and knowings that so many other white people must be carrying inside and grappling with themselves. A wise teacher I admire immensely often shares:
"when we give ourselves permission to feel and hold all of who we are, all of our identities -- when we give ourselves permission to NOT leave any parts of us behind, we give others permission to do the same for themselves."
In that statement is both a simple and urgent invitation for you. I invite you to engage in spaces and conversations that will extend to you the permission to discover, embrace, and bring all of who you are into the work of racial justice. If like me, you are wondering what would emerge for you and your community on the topics of disarming, divesting and dismantling toxic systems for racial justice, let's connect, chat, and conspire to offer this workshop in your neck of the woods.
The truth is that we need you and your community in the pursuit for racial justice, but we are going to need your whole true selves to make any sustainable gains in our audacious movement. Join us. Completely.
This past weekend, I had the good fortune of participating in Centering Leadership in Presence. This program is an encounter designed specifically for women wanting to step more fully into their innate power to affect change, the space was held by Rev. angel Kyodo williams at Omega Institute. The opportunity to center my leadership and lean all the way into my powerful feminine energy in the spring beauty of upstate New York was literally a breath of fresh air.
POWER REDEFINED, REIMAGINED, & REDIRECTED
In our society, we are pretty much force fed the notion that there is somehow a limited supply of power. And because of the perceived scarcity of power, we exist in spaces which communicate (to women in particular) that we have to work our ass off and bend and contort ourselves so that we can be seen as valuable or worth having power being bestowed upon them.
One of the most important lesson I received form Centering Leadership in Presence is that the way in which our culture would have us to define and believe the way power works is completely absurd. It has become clear to me that this absurdity is intentionally designed to sustain an imbalanced power structure primarily within ourselves as women. The internal turmoil women experience within an imbalanced power structure results in an interruption in access to the divine-given power women already possess by virtue of our existence. And it is this constant interruption to access to this resource that severely impacts the way women are seen and heard in the home, in schools, in houses of worship, and in professional spaces.
To counter the traditional and unsustainable way we are taught to think about power, Rev. Angel offered four simple, yet mind shattering truths during the program:
GROUNDING MY POWER TO WHAT MATTERS (TO ME)
My time at Omega Institute and participating in Centering Leadership in Presence graciously invited me to drop myself into and reconnect to what matters to me. Not what matters to my son. Not what matters to my mother or my pets. Not what matters to my community. Being in this retreat gave me the space and time I needed to re-member soul to what truly matters to me. And the moment I reconnected to what matters, I felt a renewed and intense level of energy and purpose.
To embody and extend pure unadulterated, unapologetic powerful love is all that matters to me. This is all the “true north” I will ever need to tap into, and release all of this here Black Girl Magic that is my innate power.
My invitation to all of my mothers, aunties, and sisters wanting to show up in their lives fully in their power: my invitation to each of you is that you commit to taking the time to re-member to what matters to you, tap into that source, and release all of your beautiful power in a world that so desperately needs it.
By S. Rae Peoples
Originally posted on LinkedIn on February 13, 2015
This is how in one song, an influential musical artist like Beyoncé can propel the feminist movement forward by leaps and bounds, only to, in one fell swoop of another song, knock all of creation back to nearly the dark ages of gender (in)equality:
Over this week, the media has been all abuzz with reactions to Beyoncé’s performance of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at the 2015 Grammy Awards. At first glance, the situation is just something to chalk up to the nuances and craziness of show business. But when you really start to look at how it all played out, this “minor” nuance becomes one gigantic smack clear across the face of feminism. This realization is surprising, considering that Beyoncé is such a prolific feminist, who with one song lasting less than five minutes, singlehandedly catapulted the word, “feminist”, and it’s meaning into public discourse. In fact, it is in this very song that the insights from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” speech is so tastefully highlighted. So, let’s reassess the Grammy’s brewhaha against the backdrop of additional excerpts of Adichie’s speech, and the core purpose of the movie Selma:
Ledisi, an accomplished musical artist in her own right, plays the character of Mahalia Jackson in Selma. Performing within this role, Ledisi sings a beautiful, hair-raising on your arm, back and neck rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” So far, so good. No foul, no harm...until...
The Grammy’s Want Ledisi
The powers that be wanted “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” performed at the Grammy’s. Now, at this point, it is reasonable to assume that Ledisi should, and would be performing the song since she was the one to sing it in the movie. However, at some point in the planning process, Ledisi was out, and Beyoncé was in. According John Legend, during his interview with ET:
“We were actually approached by Beyoncé. She wanted to do an intro to our performance and introduce us…you don’t really say no to Beyoncé if she asks to perform with you."
Here’s the issue with a response of “you don’t say no to Beyoncé”: That answer is just mindboggling, especially given the fact that John Legend took part in, and has received awards for a movie about a movement that, in the face of wrong, was all about saying no. In fact, it would be safe to say that the very reason for the majority of Mr. Legend’s performances this year was due to his work in a film that revolved around standing up for what’s right. If Beyoncé made such an inconsiderate request, then just purely on a human decency, common courtesy, what about the golden rule level, the proposition was wrong. There was a perfect opportunity to “practice what you preach” (or act out on screen) for Mr. Legend. Alas, the opportunity was sorely missed.
Ledisi’s “Graceful and Classy” Reaction
Ledisi is just as surprised as the rest of us upon realizing that she wouldn’t be performing her song from Selma. In the face of this blatant affront, Ledisi has been praised for her reaction with phrases like, “she’s taken the high road” and “she’s disappointed but not upset.” This kind of praise presents the notion that feelings of anger in this situation is not okay. It ignorantly implies that by stating her true feelings, Ledisi would not be taking the high road- because the high road (wherever the hell that is) does not involve the recognition of feelings of hurt and outrage. To take the high road, and to be praised for grace and class involves women, in particular, cowing down and suppressing thoughts and emotions that are perceived to be too masculine. In her speech, Adichie presents this very issue as a barrier to gender equality when she states:
When we think about feminism, what it means to be a feminist, and the history of the feminist movement, we automatically slip into the “us vs. those other” or them” mentality. Our minds immediately consider the work that has been done, and has yet to be done, by us women to address the wrongs in society that has been created by those men.
As women, we become fixated on tearing down the restrictions placed on us by patriarchal society. Yes, this particular aspect of feminism is indeed a very necessary step to establishing gender equality. But perhaps even more heinous than the sexual, economic, social, and political restrictions men place on women, are the restrictions women place on themselves in the same areas by the mistreatment of each other. As women, we must be just as committed to addressing this kind of injustice if we are going to continue to make strides towards gender equality.
Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Adichie adds to this definition with the idea that a feminist is a man or a woman who says, “yes there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better.
The take away from this particular Grammy’s fiasco is that the process of fixing the gender problem involves, first and foremost, us women a much better job in the way we treat each other.
By S. Rae Peoples
Originally Posted on LinkedIn on November 25, 2014
Yesterday I had my son watch the news with me, focusing on both the boy that was shot in Ohio, and Michael Brown, Jr.'s untimely death. He asked questions. I answered. He had words. I listened. I used these events as talking points and lessons for my son. Like the importance of following directions. Like why I do not buy toy weapons. Like how his actions and the choices he makes can literally be a matter of life and death for him. And how even when you make the 'right' choices, and take the 'right' actions that you think will preserve your life- the truth is that because he is a Black male, his life can still be snuffed out. He asked sweetly, "Why Mama?" And I gave him the truth: "Because there is no sacred regard for just how precious and beautiful your life is..."
These are the lessons I push for my son to understand. I have to. His life really does depend on it. It's a tug of war: pulling to teach him things so he can hopefully somehow increase his chances of survival. I find myself thinking more and more lately, "I just want him to live and see his 16th birthday. I just want him to graduate..." No mother should have to entertain such thought. And yet, against this pull to teach survival skills to my son, I find myself pushing up against this ridiculous duty of mine. Ferociously resisting my having to eek out a bit of his sweet and innocent childhood with every "lesson" our society reminds me to teach him. I mean, he's only 9 years old for crying out loud! The back and forth, push and pull, up and down of it all is so exhausting. On so many levels. It is both tremendously sad and taxing for both me and my son. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, socially, and mentally. All of the things.
And as if that aspect wasn't enough, I always find myself getting so pissed off at my white counterparts. I have anger and resentment. It undoubtedly stems from a level of jealousy. I am jealous because they get to raise their sons in a wonderful bliss of ignorance. They don't have to teach their beautiful sons how to hopefully survive to their 16th birthday. That luxury and right just is a given for them. Their sons can play and explore and fall down, and fail confidently and free from fear of dying at the hands of their justice system. Their sons bask and play in the innocence of a childhood that doesn't have to be soiled by the "Dos and Don'ts to Save Your Life" rhetoric that I give my son every.damn.day. I want that for my son. I want him to have an innocent childhood. I want him to know that he will live to succeed and fail and love. I want him to have the confidence that comes from such security. I want him to not just think of "My Life Matters" as a cry for help and justice, but as an affirmative statement. I want him to see those words as a reality, not just a possibility. But I can't have all this for my son. And that's why I'm pissed.
Apparently a mother's anger isn't enough. The anger of a community doesn't seem to be enough either. It's going to take more than this. It's going to take mother and fathers from every community getting angry with us. It's going to take every community realizing that the Black community is their community. And it's going to take these communities getting agitated beyond retribution at the ways in which life is being trampled upon, disrespected, and pushed to the point of damn near extinction. It's going to take more of us realizing just how intricately connected we are.
I am you. You are me. Your child is my child. My community is your community. It's going to take more of us understanding that there is no distinction. There is no him versus her. There is no I versus he. There is no us versus them. There is only Just. Us.
By S. Rae Peoples
Originally Posted on LinkedIn on November 7, 2014
Still reeling from the huge Republican sweep in the midterm elections, I got hit with yet another bizarre reality of the election on Wednesday night. While listening to a commercial on MTV, I hear the words, "78.7 % of Millennials did not vote in the 2014 midterm elections." Responding to what clearly had to be erroneous information, I found myself yelling at the T.V., "Wait, What? Did I just hear that right?..(chuckling) that just can't be true...."
But it was true. And apparently, MTV was just as astounded as I was on this matter, as they (in the same commercial) launched the #WhyIDidn'tVote campaign to illicit feedback from Millennials so as to attempt to understand just what the hell was going on with this group on election day. Personally confused and concerned about this, I decided to do a bit of my own research, starting with my own family.
In a family that prides itself on being politically savvy and engaged, the absence of a generation during a political exercise sparked a myriad of reactions, particularly between the millennials and the Gen Xers in the family. Being a Gen Xer myself, I completely understand the sighs and side eyes my cohort is quick to throw to Millennials for not showing up at the polls. From the argument of "our ancestors died so that we could vote today" (completely valid), to don't vote/don't complain quips (equally valid), it's clear we GenXers feel some kinda way about the absence of Millennials at the polls this past Tuesday.
However, before we declare Millennials as a detached, self-absorbed, and politically obtuse generation, let's be clear here: Milliennials are a political force to be reckoned with. They have a history of coming to the polls in droves. When they do show up, they show out, speak up, and affect change with an unparalleled fierceness (refer to the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections). With so many refraining from flexing their political muscles, during the midterms this year, I couldn't help but think that there is a crucial lesson and warning that is rooted in their (in)actions. My conversation with some millennials revealed that much was said in their peers not participating on Tuesday. Here are some key points from the conversation to consider:
In addition to these points, for Millennials who identify as Black/African-American, voting to respect the struggle of ancestors who fought for the right to vote, will always be important. However, it has been pointed out:
"We fully understand our responsibility to vote because our ancestors fought for us to vote. And yes, this is an important aspect, but that does not negate the need for us to be able to believe in what should drive us to the polls."
For the Black community, it is true that not voting when you have clarity on who you want to support, and why, is certainly an affront to the fight of those who came before us. However, the other side of the coin, and just as egregious, is voting knowing you don't support any candidate, just to say "I voted." In the end, our ancestors fought not so we would have to vote if we felt no conviction to do so for any candidate. I would offer that they fought so that we could have the choice to vote.
After my discussion with my family, I'm convinced that that MTV (and the rest of us) got this all wrong: Millennials actually voted. It was a vote of no confidence in the political trajectory of our nation. As one millennial stated:
"If a no vote could count, no one would have won. If there was a "vote of no confidence" option on the ballots, that would have been great, because many people, not just millennials would have chosen that option. But that isn't an option, and I'm not going to vote without having confidence for either side just for the sake of voting."
In all honesty, the confidence of Millennials in our political system has been deteriorating since 2008. According to a report in Time:
Obama won 60 percent of the 18-29 vote last November, but that was down six percent from his victory in 2008. More worrisome for Democrats was that according to new data from the Census Bureau, youth turnout dropped precipitously between 2008 and 2012, from 51 percent of eligible 18-29 year olds to 45.2 percent.Clearly, with their dwindling political turnout the past few years, Millennials have been trying to convey a very profound message all along. We just haven't paid attention to it, until now- when basically 80% of an influential population in our society refused to engage on Tuesday.
Whether we think Millennials should have gone to the polls, at this point is really inconsequential. We could reprimand and scorn Millennials until we're blue in the face, and at the end of the day the fact will remain the same: they didn't show up. While we don't necessarily have to agree with the sentiments and opinions outlined here, we have to realize that there are Millennials who feel this way. With this realization in mind, it would behoove the DNC to listen to the excruciating loud silence of a generation that placed them in office, learn the lessons to be had, and adjust its strategy, if it plans to gain any kind of momentum for 2016.
By S. Rae Peoples
Originally posted on LinkedIn on September 29, 2014
Recently, in becoming more intentional about the way I "look" not just on the outside, but also on the inside, I've started practicing various forms of yoga. I have been surprised at the short amount of time in which I've been able to experience the positive mental, physical, and emotional effects of yoga. Fearing that this near immediate advantageous impact was just my being enamored with a new physical activity, and giving yoga more credit than it's worth, I looked at some of the research out there on the benefits of yoga. One of the most intriguing facts I found in the research is that although aerobic exercise such as walking and running, greatly increases our brain's performance, Dr. Neha Gothe, in a recent article in Women's Health maintains:
"...unlike the benefits of aerobic exercise, which take a while to kick in, yoga has a pretty immediate effect on your mind-so you'll feel it just 30 minutes after you say "Namaste."
Apparently, the expedient benefits of yoga I've been experiencing are not a muse, or just the "honeymoon phase" after all! these benefits have transferred over to an enhanced performance in my job as a student affairs professional in three specific areas:
I'm sure many of you can relate to my struggle here: I'm in the office, working on a project, in my zone, and getting sh%t done like a boss!... then out of nowhere-BOOM! I run straight into that creative block. It's literally as if the creativity clock ticked its last tock. At this point, I'm fresh out of ideas, words, and thoughts. I have absolutely nothing left to give. For me, getting over this block was the worst. Oftentimes, I'd give into the block, take my loss, and just call it a day on whatever I was working on, being forced to come back to it at a later time (which usually meant between 2-4 days...sometimes even longer).
I assumed that by practicing yoga that I would no longer have a problem with creative blocks. That wasn't the case. However, though the creative blocks still come, I have noticed that the period of creative productivity (the time before I reach any block) lasts longer, and when I do hit those inevitable blocks, yoga techniques such as focusing on my breathing, stretching and meditating (even if it's just 5 minutes) helps me to push through the blocks much quicker than 2-4 days, in fact, I am able to get back into my zone that same day, instead of prolonging the project any longer than it needs to be.
2. Focus & Stamina
Confession: I have attempted, and fallen out of at least 55% of my asanas during any given yoga session. To this confession, I should also add that my attempts and falls have been anything but graceful. In fact, more often than I really do care to count, my clumsiness and frustration have reached new heights with every class. For me, I've found that whenever I have fallen out of position, it has been right after I've allowed my mind to wander to things like, "What am I going to have for lunch after class", or "I wonder if I remembered to turn off the stove before I left this morning..."
However painful and embarrassing this lesson may be, I am learning that there is an intimate relationship between my being present in the moment, and my ability to be focused, and get through the physical and mental challenge of each posture. In order for me to pick myself up from my mat, and get back into position, I have to let go of my ego, and clear my mind from thoughts on the past or future. I can't be in the past, I can be in the future. I have to be in the present.
The ability to be present in the moment supports my ability to prioritize tasks and focus on what I need to accomplish at work, in any given part of my day. When I begin my workday, I now make more of an effort to keep my mind clear of thoughts of the "woulda, coulda, shouldas" of the past. I also commit myself to not being bogged down with what I think awaits me in the future. Instead, nowadays, all my energy is directed to my here and now. I become involved only with present tasks that need to be addressed. With such clarity of mind and a pool of energy that is not spread so thinly all over the place, I complete tasks much more efficiently, and projects are completed with a higher degree of care and genius.
3. Patience & Empathy
My yoga sessions have provided me with the physical and mental space to understand and accept myself. With nothing to feel but my sweaty limbs, and nothing to hear but the rhythm of my breathing, I have become more aware, and accepting of my shortcomings. I am developing a deeper understanding of my own sensitivity, and I have come to appreciate the inherent respect I deserve as a human being.
Transferring this particular aspect to my job, it has become increasingly easier for me to see my colleagues, and students in the same way. The dignity, light, and potential I recognize in myself, I now recognize in others around me. This recognition enables me to extend to others the same amount of patience and care that I give to myself. Engaging with others from the foundation of acceptance, patience, and empathy allows me to create and maintain more positive relationships with my peers and students.
Ultimately, I've come to realize that yoga is so much more than successfully executing an asana. In learning how to get into, and hold each posture, you learn more about yourself. In your journey through yoga, you become transformed, and your transformation adds value and meaning to those around you. Whether those around you are at home, or at work, this value and meaning we give to others is, in my opinion, the true study of asana.