All Our Identities: Creating Space for Teens of Color

jylani Brown is an educator and community activist who worked for many years as an elementary school teacher. Every day she witnessed her students come to the classroom with a great deal of stress. “We have these expectations about the classroom space,” jylani says, “that students will be calm and seated and take in information.” She saw kids who were experiencing trauma on a daily basis, and it was not being accounted for in the learning process. “It was impossible for them to learn in the traditional ways,” she says. These were the marginalized, under-serviced children.

Where everyone else saw a learning gap, jylani saw an opportunity gap — the opportunity to take moments to help the kids release their stress. She started providing breaks between the segments of learning, something she identified as being useful for herself, as she also had challenges with traditional learning. She noticed that it was productive. Parents started requesting that their children be put in her classroom. Eventually her approach became the new standard for training new teachers at the school. “Our students,” she says “were regularly exhibiting joy and happiness.”

A committed advocate for alternative spaces in schools beyond traditional disciplinary actions that are based in trauma-inducing systems, jylani trained as a mindfulness educator 6 years ago and was among the first Mindful Schools teacher-training graduates in 2015.

jylani is Coordinator and Manager of iBme’s August 2019 Teens of Color Retreat, where she will also lead workshops. We asked her to speak about the Teens of Color Retreat, who it’s for, why it matters, and her vision of what the teens will experience.

Why a Retreat for Teens of Color?

First, there is what iBme does for all teens, which is life-changing. These retreats are powerful — getting young people outdoors and creating a safe community space to explore their inner landscapes WITHOUT JUDGMENT. People usually shy away from approaching their inner selves. We’re too self-conscious about what other people will think of us and what we think of ourselves — we all carry so much self-judgment. At an iBme retreat, we welcome it ALL, all parts of ourselves, in a deep and natural way. Everything, down to the structure of the retreat, allows the young people opportunities to be themselves. We provide props but it is them guiding the conversation — their points of interest, concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams. It is very empowering.

It’s camp with learning and introspection. And no one else does it like iBme.

For teens of color, there’s an added layer. In these times, they have witnessed a lot around race. It has come up no matter how you identify. It’s immediate and critical. How do you manage that? In the context of all of one’s layers and identifiers, what does the current climate mean?  These kids need access to their repressed thoughts and feelings, including the self-judgment. What do you do with the anger that is going to arise?

This is an opportunity to just be a ‘teen of color,’ to not have to worry at all about anything but being who you are and welcoming how you feel and what you think, without any concern for ‘the other.’ It’s about not having to care for the other. At all. Not being watched or listened in on. Our bodies have internalized a lot. Women of color in particular have had a history of harm and being taught to be careful about how they present publically. Men too. There are deep cultural wounds. While “teens of color” is not a homogenous group, there is a sense of familiarity in the small assumptions of similarities of experience.

What can emerge for a teen in this retreat is “I matter.” This matters. And together, we serve each other in being authentic and creating viable means to navigate this. Because stifling it is not an option and neither is causing harm to oneself or anyone else.

Who is this retreat for?

This is for any teen of color who wants to be there. It’s for young people who like outdoor spaces and want to experience the mountains and hiking and clean air. It’s for the ones who like being with their thoughts, being creative, living a little outside the box.

Mostly it’s for teens of color who really want to go somewhere where they can be themselves and experience 6 days outside of the cultural and institutional harm, a time to feel into inner freedom.

What do you envision for the teens who attend?

Full access to themselves. Radical invigoration. What is more liberating than being able to express yourself with others AND power up on self-love. Inner judgement and violence becomes low self-worth. It is nuanced sometimes but it is there and it needs to be relieved, restructured, uncovered and released.

Guidance is an important component of the retreats. You can move into this vulnerable territory with peers and elders who have nothing but respect for you, and have your feelings and thoughts witnessed and receive validation for all of you. That’s a powerful learning space.

I hope for the teens who attend this retreat to unlock the door to access, to be in the world moving forward.