iBme is proud to welcome Tonya Jones to the Collaborative Leadership team. We look forward to evolving forward with Tonya in meeting the needs of young people and communities through mindfulness and in deepening our personal and organizational commitment to equity in all forms.
Tonya Jones is a mindfulness meditator of many years, a teaching artist (she holds an MFA from Columbia University), and a skillful organizer of people and projects. She has spent the past 17 years working in the public sector, driven by a strong commitment to social justice and equity, collective healing, and building stronger, more compassionate communities.
Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Tonya lived in New York City as a teenager, attended Howard University in Washington DC, was bi-coastal for many years and is now based mainly in Los Angeles. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time in nature, reading a never-ending list of books, taking long road trips, enjoying athletic pursuits, indulging in solo living room karaoke, and learning Spanish.
Q: Your bio mentions a never-ending list of books. What are you reading right now?
Tonya Jones: I’m just starting a new one! I am always reading, fiction and nonfiction — my two bookshelves are full, there are stacks of books all around. I live with literally hundreds of books.
This one is called Disgrace, by South African author J.M. Coetzee. It’s the story of a professor living a passionless life. He has an affair with a student and loses everything, his job and family. It’s about alienation and reconnection, and navigating personal relationships within the complexities of racial realities in post-Apartheid South Africa. I only just started it and so far it’s good. Coetzee won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003.
Q: What are you most excited about in joining iBme’s Collaborative Leadership Team?
Tonya: I look forward to being part of a collaborative model because this is part of a cultural shift in how organizations approach leadership, equity, and power — in a formal way. It’s not radical to me as a personal work or leadership style, I have always approached my work this way, but I am very interested in diving into how collaborative leadership works organizationally, for example in terms of decision-making and the feedback process, not conceptually but in practice.
How do we actually navigate the nuances of identity and roles, personal and professional, in a work environment? How do we manage our own receptivity and aversion? Mindfulness being a foundational part of the framework, and the size of the team and nature of our work together, lend themselves to this being feasible — and successful.
The bottom line, though, is that I love working with young people and I deeply believe in the transformative power of the work we do.
[Read Mindful’s recent article, iBme Turns Toward Collaborative Leadership.]
Q: How do you think your own mindfulness practice has impacted you in your life?
Tonya: My entry point to meditation was through my interest in Buddhism and reading books on Buddhist teachings and practices — no surprise! I started meditating on my own, then found some sanghas where I live in LA, met some teachers, resonated with some more than others, and continued to study, learn and practice. The teachings and practice strongly resonated with me from the very beginning though and I immediately knew this would be my path.
At that time in my life, even though certain aspects of my life were fulfilling and I was accomplishing things, there was still an inner feeling of dissatisfaction bubbling down below — not a specific thing, it was more general. There was an internal “more” that I was seeking, a journey I needed to go on.
I came to realize that I was unconsciously carrying a significant amount of unprocessed grief, sadness, anger, and trauma. I was also uncovering and really touching the pain of my experiences existing in the world in a black, female body. I wanted to know how I could access more healing, peace, contentment and joy. What I learned to be true for me was that in order to fully experience joy, I also had to be willing to fully experience all of the messy and unpleasant emotions.
I’m an explorer. I’m resourceful. I have the inclination for self-reflection and understanding … as a person. Buddhist teachings are still the foundation of my personal practice and I consider myself a lifelong student.
Q: What do you think is most important in equity and racial justice work right now?
Tonya: I have mixed feelings about this moment. There is a lot of responsiveness, a lot of “we’ve got to do something” energy. It’s well-meaning, but without the connection to actual communities, it’s not necessarily what is useful. Equity and racial justice are not going to get solved in a meeting.
There’s something hopeful about right now too, and there’s also a hyper-spotlight on Blackness which feels necessary, but can also be exhausting, particularly for black people. Many have shared that they are feeling this. How are we validating those experiences? There is so much cumulative trauma erupting.
Sometimes the mindfulness world is just too white, the same as many spaces and institutions. What I’m speaking about is power, cultural considerations and practices, dominant narratives, access, support, representation, and who is most often in control or has the greatest influence on these things. There’s also sometimes a resistance to dive deeper into the work around race as someone not of color. The way I think of it is that compassion isn’t just a feeling. What is compassionate action?
There is a useful 3-stage frame for what I think we need/what helps:
- Deep listening — to oneself and to each other, the authentic conversations, the uninterrupted shares, the witnessing.
- Elevating voices — creating the spaces and opportunities for all people’s expressions, turning up the volume on the myriad of experiences and insights.
- Acting on what we hear — this is key: it’s not what we think is needed, but what we hear, what you as an individual touch and know needs doing/saying/asking/something actual in the world that meets the world as it is and contributes to changing it, not that imposes an idea or solution before the deep listening.
Everyone cares right now. But for how long? What everyone is outraged about or is responding to in the moment are things I’ve seen, experienced, and spoken about all of my life, and so have countless others. Far too many. I think it’s really important to remember that this is not just a moment for many people, this is and has been people’s lives.
What intrigues me is creating new pathways, linking in new communities, bringing mindfulness in all its manifestations and implications alive in ways that are responsive to what I’ve just spoken about and embodies the changes we’d like to see in the world.
Q: What inspires you about young people?
Tonya: When I was young, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of resources, access to things outside the world I was growing up in. I didn’t have much guidance or mentorship. It was sink or swim mode, and I had to muddle things out for myself. I know all that I’ve had to do and overcome to get to where I am, and there are just things that I had to do to survive and thrive that in my opinion young people just shouldn’t have to experience, do, or carry at that stage in life, or in some instances as an adult even. I’ve been fortunate to live the life I have and realize that where I come from I’m an anomaly in many ways.
It has always been important to me to reach back and be a support, to mentor. Particularly in black communities and with black girls. It’s something that’s deeply embedded in my heart, my love and care for young people. Something about that feels really important and vital and sacred.