Affinity Groups and Demographics
We believe every human being has the right to experience empathy and compassion and to live in a world that is safe and just for themselves, their families, and communities. We define diversity as a group of people who embody a wide range of identities, voices, experiences, and beliefs, who come together through a shared sense of humanity to form a community. We believe holding retreats for specific identity groups is a powerful way to build out our multi-identity beloved mindful community. We believe that at times racial caucusing can make mindfulness more accessible to groups that have been historically underserved. Join us as we examine the demographic makeup of our community as a first step to identifying a strategy to not only welcome diverse groups, but also retain them in our community year after year.
The racial demographics of a given space contribute to its ‘racial character,’ especially for those in the minority. In workplaces, communities, campuses, and even countries in which the demographics are skewed so that one or more social identity groups’ members feel more ‘at home’ than others, the views of the more populous group(s) will shape the sense of what is true or acceptable there.” – Rhonda Magee, The Inner Work of Racial Justice
On August 6th, 2019, one retreat manager, three iBme teen retreat teachers, and eight experienced mentors welcomed 22 teens to our inaugural Teens of Color (TOC) retreat! On all accounts, based on feedback from teens, parents, teachers, and staff, this was a groundbreaking, transformative, and healing program.
TOC retreat manager Jylani Ma’at Brown shares about why it’s important to hold this affinity space at iBme.
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 a 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 publicly. Men too. There are deep cultural wounds. While ‘teens of color’ is not a homogeneous 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.”
In our society, TOC who stand out in school by expressing difficulty with following rules or act out against authority can often be flagged as “the problem child.” Additionally, TOC are disproportionately affected by disciplinary measures they encounter in public school settings (ie. zero tolerance policy, increased police presence). At the first ever TOC retreat, seasoned mindfulness teachers and leaders, having grown up enduring similar cultural and educational circumstances, recognized these indicators and met teen concerns with kindness and compassion. Intuitive intergenerational cultural awareness between organizers, teachers, mentors, and students confronted centuries-old conceptions of authority, access, and critical thinking.
Institutions in the United States have failed many TOC, depriving them of the tools needed to understand their feelings, ask for support, and amplify their voices. What we witnessed throughout the course of this program was a deep unlearning of the perceived status quo and a welcoming attitude towards challenge. Many of these same teens who struggled with the form, concluded the program remarking that if given the opportunity, they would return for another retreat!
Since our first retreat in 2019, we expanded our 2020 summer programming to include a month-long online multi-generational space for teens, young adults, and adults of color. The programming represented a shift in decision-making from the core program staff to the BIPOC retreat/regional leadership. Historically, programs have been decided by the core team, and then regional staff/teachers have executed on programs decided by the core team. Instead, the BIPOC programming was entirely directed by this affinity group, a pilot model we plan to continue in the future. This programming included a dynamic series of 4 workshops, and a three-night retreat. These two programs together welcomed 59 participants from across the country, spanning three time zones. Several of the teens involved in the program were alumni and worked to market peer-to-peer via social media, representing a new model in teen leadership. The programming covered a wide range of topics, using a lens of mindfulness and identity to explore: Love and Rage; Joy, Victory, and Contemplation; Health and Wellness; and Cultural Expression/Rights Speech.”
Sadhana is an iBme alumni, retreat participant and a young women of colour with a passion for equity who wishes to support other young people of colour on their journeys. Here, she speaks on the experience of what it means to be a young person of colour in 2020. She elucidates on what that may look like when engaging in wellness spaces often designed by and for the dominant cultural narrative. Sadhana offers fellow BIPOC a few words of encouragement and support. In the hopes that those who are interested, but perhaps hesitant, in exploring mindfulness tools and integrating it as a part of their toolkit for resiliency and peace of mind, find their voices too.
In response to the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd, our white staff leaders organized a White Anti-Racist Caucus space for our community. In it, we offered how to engage, address big emotions, and show up better as a white human for friends, family, and colleagues of color. We also explored how our practice can support a compassionate heart that is ready to engage with the trauma that is being expressed in the world right now, and what tangible actions we can take.
We also will lead a four week white affinity group during the summer of 2020 on Meditation as Resource for White Anti-Racist Action.
Below is an excerpt from our most recent annual report displaying our demographics from 2018-19.
“Before I attended the TOC Retreat, I had never experienced such a profound and life changing connection to the people and space around me. I am now devoted to my mindfulness practice. Through practice, I’ve manifested inner love, healing, and stability through expressing my gratitude for what supports me. I am patiently releasing toxic patterns and attachments that aren’t in alignment with dreams I never knew I had until I met my iBme family. Once I returned from retreat I came to the realization that Portland is seriously lacking in diversity and inclusion. I plan to one day cultivate a colorful community of spiritual support here in Portland. I’m so grateful for the beautiful humans at iBme who’ve inspired me to inspire, spread love, and heal for rest of my existence. ️I am looking forward to volunteering as a mentor in the future.”
– Teens of Color Retreat Participant