The Tip of the Iceberg (Repairers of the Breach, Part 1)

A few years ago a dear friend gave me a beautiful print of a couple standing atop an iceberg. Shortly after I’d started dating my partner, I described him to her as “an iceberg… there’s a lot more going on under the surface”. If you’ve ever met my partner, you know I described him accurately. He is quiet, perhaps reserved, and it takes a while to get to know him. 

Of course, we’re all icebergs to some extent, and if we feel safe and secure, we spend our lives slowly revealing our true depths, the fullness of who and what we are. The desire to hold space for folks to do this work lies at the heart of everything we do here at SKY.

This organization/organism is itself an iceberg. The studio space and our menu of drop-in classes are just the very tip of what we’re up to here.  And this is a very important thing to name as we are in the midst of our fundraising season, #GiveBigMonth which culminates in Yoga in the Park.

A lot of people can get behind our drop-in classes being affordable and accessible. Free weekly drop-in classes, trauma-aware yoga, injury-aware yoga – these are all things that people value and know are important. But they don’t necessarily answer the question: Why? Why might you consider giving to SKY during this fund drive? Especially in today’s political and social climate, when our collective attention and resources and energy are being drawn in all directions the question looms: Why give to SKY?

Over the next several weeks I plan to answer that question, knowing that the response from some may not be to #GiveBig. And that’s ok. My hope is to provide clarity, to show the iceberg beneath the surface, to illuminate ALL our work, not just what you see on the schedule or in the studio so that each person can decide if what we’re up to is in line with your values and something that you want to support.

The phrase “repairers of the breach” has been rattling around in my head since listening to Rev. William Barber speak at last summer’s DNC.  (Perhaps more accurately, since I was a child, listening to my mother read scripture.) I think it is a phrase that encapsulates what all faith traditions, all philosophies, and all frameworks of ethics teach: we are meant to help each other; to acknowledge when there has been a rupture in relationship, intentional or unintentional neglect, or a violation of each other’s dignity; and to commit to doing the work of repair.

One of the opportunities of living in this time is that we are more aware than ever before of the need for repair. The breaches - of trust, of dignity, of humanity – that have been hidden from view, festering and growing under the surface (there’s that helpful iceberg analogy again!), are being exposed. And we all have a choice about how to respond. Will we look away or will we do the work of repair?

This work of repair doesn’t have to look one way, and in fact will be most effective if it looks many ways. Some of us will need to begin the work of repair by going deep within, and addressing our wounded and broken places. Some of us will be called to speak up and speak out, shedding further light on what needs to be addressed. Some of us will begin to model and live into new ways of being, ways that are rooted in repair and renewal. Some of us will work within the existing systems to facilitate courageous conversations that can lead to understanding and repair. Most of us will move between and among these different ways our entire lives.

So what does this work of “repairing the breach” look like at SKY, beyond the obvious affordable accessible drop-in yoga? That is what I plan to tell you about in these coming weeks. And I’ll begin by telling you about our Race Equity Initiative.  

We’ve been seeking (and have secured some) funding for the implementation of an initiative to address the ways that white supremacy shows up in our organization, in the yoga industry, and in the nonprofit industry. We have to thank the folks of color and the organizations, such as The People’s Assembly, who have shared their experiences and thoughts with us, met with us, and have let us know when we’ve messed up. Those conversations have deeply informed how we are moving forward.

The beginning phases of this initiative have already begun and we are committed to finding resourceful ways to implement even if we do not secure funding. All to say: we’re doing this. We can’t not do this.

So far we’ve begun equity training for our staff, we’ve committed to building relationships with and listening deeply to individuals and communities of color, and we're leveraging some of the funding we have received to offer full scholarships to people of color for Pamela Higley Yoga’s upcoming yoga teacher training. Additionally we are dreaming of ways to fund and support a people-of-color-led yoga teacher training that is free for people of color. As the yoga industry regularly laments its lack of diversity, wondering aloud how to get more people of color to practice, we notice that few questions are being asked about how the fact that most yoga teachers are white correlates to this “diversity problem”.  (It's important to say that making diversity the goal over liberation is problematic.)

For white folks who see ourselves reflected in every ad, every image, and in most teachers, we simply don’t know the impact of never seeing yourself reflected, or the message that it sends about whether or not you are actually invited into the practice.  We can use inviting language and say we’re about inclusion, but words are just and only that: words. Direct reparative action is needed. For organizations and systems to change, leadership has to change. And that means that those with influence and power must be willing to nurture teachers and leaders of color, AND be willing to step aside, to make space.

This is the reality we are moving towards here at SKY, and it’s one reason why we ask those with resources to #GiveBig. Give to support an organization committed to the work of being “repairers of the breach”; acknowledging how the experiences, bodies, and voices of people of color have been marginalized within this industry, and to taking direct action to include, listen to, and cede space to folks of color.

Stay tuned for part two.

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