Right after graduation, I was blessed with the opportunity to work in one of the most incredible grassroots organizations in Pittsburgh, Community Empowerment Organization. For 7 months, my official title was Special Projects Consultant which translates in non-profit terms to “do-whatever-shit-needs-to-be-done-when-it-needs-to-be-done.”
My boss, Brother Rashad Byrdsong, was a former Panther and relentless activist, organizer, and general do-er that has never lost his spirit in spite of all of the backlash and turmoil that a life of standing up to unjust institutions has brought him. The man has been at war, been shot up, beat up by cops, stood up to a firing squad of agents, and spent years in the pen, so even at his most urgent times he’s got an air of joviality about him.
Apart from his expectations that I do many things that I had never tried before, some of the best learning experiences were just sitting for long conversations with the man.
He understood the value in cultivating true relationships with his workers, and that in sharing his life experiences he was, as he always called it “creating the succession plan”. His teenage experience was one of segregation, military experience, putting his life on the line for his brothers & sisters in the name of racial and social justice. My experience was one of organized sports, and organized clubs, my activism was mostly confined to teaching youth, and in the classroom, an ivy league education. He wanted more words, I wanted more pictures, he said flyers, I said online facebook invites, he lived for summits, I suggested hip-hop concerts. And his goal was to bridge our experience, combine his wisdom with my young energy--bridge our generational gap, pass on the secrets of creating community institutions.
He and I both understood how special and important it was to pass on his knowledge to the newer generation. He explained how our generation had been lost in the cross fire. We had been told to go to college, go to college, get a degree, and once we get it, we turn around confused and ask “Now what? Where are the jobs that you promised? What is supposed to make me happy?"
He admitted that most people from his generation had made the mistake of not passing on the fervor and the energy that made education so special for people across the diaspora. Black kids these days get degrees, and then they just do for themselves, they’re worried about getting they’re money up, getting their car, getting their hair and nails done, and this to them is success. The only way that we will make any progress is if we begin to realize that the reason that we better ourselves, and the reason that we get college degrees is to bring our knowledge back to our communities…to create legacies for those who come after us, to help along those who haven’t had the same luck, opportunity, or eye-opening experiences that we have.
The gifts, the knowledge, and the know-how that you learn in your life are blessings to be shared with the community. Whether the community be brown, black, yellow, or indifferent.
As a person who is very stringently and often-counter productively hard on herself, it is a lesson that hit home to me. Why worry that your skills aren’t perfect, that you haven’t learned something from a book?? We are on this earth to share the blessings that we have to create communities.
My boss and I are in agreement on one thing: it’s not enough to just reach a position of privilege and tout yourself as a role model to your community because you’ve made it to the top. If your gifts aren’t personally benefiting your community, and you haven’t made the effort to pass down your blessings, your just teaching kids to do what our individualistic society teaches them enough—go out there and get theirs.
When I was offered the position to teach yoga just weeks after I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was excited, and yet my ego jumped again with fear. I wasn’t certified, and what if I wasn’t good enough? What if some students questioned by credentials, and knew more than me? The week leading up to my first and “practice” class, I was more and more nervous. I’d never taught yoga before.
One sunny afternoon, my roommate Emilse, suggested that since I was going to be a yoga teacher, I should teach her some yoga. She’s a beautifully demanding, and straightforward person, and as the sun peaked through our back door, I realized there was absolutely no reason that I should say no.
As we trekked off to the nearby park, I was still nervous, my stomach doing knots about positions I wasn’t sure about how to explain. But, once our toes sunk into the grass, and the sun provided us with warmth, I realized that the sun and the day surely needed to be saluted…and it was an honor and a privilege to be able to introduce another person to a ritual that made me feel so good.
Immediately I transformed into my teacher role, and told her about our class for the day. I taught her about the root chakra and how important it was, I taught her about root imagery, and the color red, and balance techniques that I had learned in my six year relationship with yoga. I simply shared with her the joy that I found in my practice.
It was exhilarating.
Afterwards, not only were we both giddy and bubbling with energy and I had vanquished the barrier of ego that stood in the way of sharing my gifts with a larger community.
My first class with my roommate has turned into weekly lessons, and my first class professional yoga class was such a success that I was offered three classes to teach a week.
Check out my first weeks lesson: WEEK 1.