In the last few weeks, the Yogiños: Yoga for Youth® leadership team and I have grappled with the realities of the ongoing issues with systemic racism, violence, and oppression toward BIPOC—and especially the circumstances and experiences of Black people—in our country. This led us to question how our mission to provide mindfulness and yoga to youth, parents, teachers and others may have been affected by our own biases.
I am grateful to have an amazing Leadership Team of six people plus Meredith Paterson, Manager of Curriculum and Publications, who were asked to review our work, drafts of this letter, and offer insight and feedback. A valued member of our leadership team and a Black woman, Jodi Smith, read the first draft and immediately texted me that she had a lot of feedback. In an honest, compassionate, and direct conversation with Meredith and me, Jodi, with camomile-tea-in-hand, went through our letter sharing her insight, asking questions, listening, and guiding.
We are now asking—in the words of Leslie Booker, a Black woman and leader who brings her heart and wisdom to the intersection of dharma + embodied wisdom + activism—“What’s true right now?”
Because Black Lives Matter, this is “what’s true right now” for me, Beth, as a daughter, sister, niece, aunt, mom, friend, teacher and founder of Yogiños: Yoga for Youth.
I am familiar with the issues of white privilege, white savior, and systemic racism in our country and for over 50 years believed wholeheartedly that I was not racist. I grew up in a city, Columbia, MD, founded on principles of equality and playing with kids from diverse races and socio-economic statuses. My kids and I call each other out when we hear one of us speak from bias. I thought as a white woman I was past racism.
However, one day, I came to a slicing realization of a new truth: I am racist.
Following an incident of vandalism to my vehicle, I became aware of the belief that a Black man I saw in the area where my car was must be responsible. Realizing I had just had a biased and racist thought, and feeling strongly that we get to choose whether or not to believe our thoughts, I asked myself, what action can I take or who can I be right now to disrupt this unconscious belief?
“Good afternoon, sir!” I called out and waved. It seemed painfully inadequate and it was all I could think of to do.
“Have a blessed day,” he smiled and replied as he peddled by me.
At that moment, standing in the Houston heat, a new flame flooded my system: the raw awareness that I am racist, I am a person with biases. And know that I desperately want to add the word “unintentional” to that acknowledgment as if that makes it okay or takes away my—or your—discomfort. And while I get that these thoughts are “life living through me and not me,” as La Sarmiento shares on ways bias and discrimination may operate in our bodies and minds, that day became the day I got to face my unconscious beliefs.
Sharing this story in trainings and other spaces used to generate tears, guilt, and immense grief. Some of these feelings had me want to hide. And while I still feel discomfort, the experience of saying it aloud and knowing others are bearing witness to my biases has me remember I have work to do—compassionate, hard work to do—and maybe as you read this you think, “yeah, I do, too.” Maybe reading this calls you to share your story, too, as a way to feel, connect, and act to heal. Or maybe you’re saying, it’s about time. We’re all reading this from different perspectives.
Yoga as a practice and way of living offers us awareness—the ability to observe and reflect on the ways our actions and inactions affect ourselves and others. This makes yoga in all of its forms an ideal practice for helping people become more attuned to our complicity in systemic racism. We must not stop at awareness, however. Action to change this complicity is required.
Our Leadership Team, Meredith, and I want to offer that while many of us have more questions than answers, and our work will necessarily evolve, we are committed to action. Some of our current action steps are outlined at the end of this letter.
We invite and encourage you to join us and Yogiños: Yoga for Youth® in our action steps listed below. If you have questions or comments, we invite you to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Beth with Meredith and members of the YYY Leadership Team
As members of the YYY Leadership team, we are committed to the following action steps:
acknowledging that our implicit and explicit biases, privilege, and other societal factors have resulted in people who identify as BIPOC feeling not welcomed, seen, or heard by our organization and its associated activities. For these inactions, we accept full responsibility and deeply apologize;
investigating our “white savior” tendencies;
intentionally listening, learning, and having those difficult conversations focusing on the systemic effects of White Privilege and its ongoing burden toward equity in society for BIPOC;
acknowledging that we participate in educational systems, the health and wellness industry, and in the larger US yoga communities. In many ways, these systems and institutions have centered whiteness and benefitted from systemic racism;
providing scholarships for BIPOC to create equitable training opportunities;
committing to the development of meaningful ongoing relationships with organizations, leaders, and trainers to ensure that moving forward we provide learning opportunities that are antiracist in opportunity, equity, language, and perceived bias;
listening and learning about systemic racism and ways to teach antiracism and bias through expanded curriculum for teachers and facilitators to use in classrooms, studios, and other locations, and offer strategies to support BIPOC students;
reviewing all classes, trainings, and communications for implicit and explicit bias;
investigating wholeheartedly both our use and general use of White Privilege for the benefit of social or economically oppressed groups.
More about Yogiños: Yoga for Youth®:
Yogiños: Yoga for Youth® is a research-based, trilingual, trauma-informed mindfulness and yoga program designed to empower all people to feel, connect to themselves and others, and act to heal with loving kindness and compassion. In sharing our OHMazing® mission—feel, connect, act to heal—we teach and support social justice, inclusion, and equity on and off the yoga mat.
We train individuals, entire faculties, and organizations to integrate and enact mindfulness—clear seeing of and healthy responses to reality—into their daily lives and community interactions. In creating our comprehensive methodology, we source research-based mindfulness practices, social emotional learning, and many yoga and movement modalities, including Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga. This multifaceted approach includes practicing poses, breathing, concentration, and ultimately cultivating kind connections to yourself, others and the universe on and off the yoga mat.