George Floyd Mattered.
Breonna Taylor Mattered.
Ahmaud Arbery Mattered.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
To the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the Firefly Network and beyond, we see you. We stand with you.
I'm writing this from my home in south Minneapolis, exactly one mile from where George Floyd was unjustly killed.
As I thought about drafting this letter and the message we wanted to convey, I made a conscious decision to be unapologetically honest.
The truth is, it is the hardest Firefly blog I've written. I know this message will be imperfect. I’ve struggled with what Firefly can add when it feels like every organization in the country has (rightly) released position statements on the killing of George Floyd and made commitments to ensure that this moment--a moment to push for needed change and reform--does not slip away.
As a white woman who attended the very first night of the protests in Minneapolis, who has grappled with how to be the most authentic and effective ally (individually and as the Executive Director of Firefly), and who has been intentionally bearing witness to the events in Minneapolis and across the globe, I know only one thing is certain--that it is time for me (and folx in white bodies like me) to listen, learn, and recognize what true allyship is.
We've intentionally been stepping back, listening deeply to the voices, perspectives, and wisdom of black leaders and communities. I've seen many posts and emails from well-intentioned white yoga teachers offering a lot of answers. Firefly does not have the answers-- we have questions and resources. We know that well meaning white yogis have unintentionally upheld and/or reinforced white supremacy in the yoga industry and in spaces where yoga is offered. I struggle with, and will reassess, the ways we contribute to that system-- a system that is inherently problematic in the United States due to rampant cultural appropriation, spiritual bypassing, and white washing of the practice. At Firefly, we are mindfully following Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders on how we can best contribute to a necessary shift of the status quo in the yoga world moving forward. We recognize it is NOT the responsibility of BIPOC folx to educate white people and we own the responsibility of doing the work.
On Wednesday, June 10th, I participated in a conference call with the newly formed MN Yoga Coalition. Ericka Jones is leading the call to action for yoga studio owners in Minnesota to make yoga spaces more inclusive, equitable, and diverse. Though the call was intended for Minnesotans, at one point there were over 120 participants on the line from California, Canada, Nebraska, New York, New Zealand, and more. That feels promising for what lies ahead in this field! Firefly immediately signed on to the MN Yoga Coalition’s diversity, equity, and inclusion pledge, and I will be serving on the Owner Commitment Committee. We are all part of the community, part of the problem, and part of the solution.
As the Executive Director (and co-founder) of Firefly Yoga International, I take responsibility for missteps and/or blatant ways that we have failed to be allies in the fight against white supremacy. We realize that being committed to practicing and educating about social justice isn't enough. We must be actively anti-racist. As an organization dedicated to training others on trauma-informed principles and practice we know that racial trauma intersects many other layers of trauma. We have already transformed the "Trauma, Privilege, and Social Justice" module of our training curriculum to explicitly address the intersections of individual and collective racial trauma, and how this shows up in yoga spaces.
The Firefly Board of Directors met on Thursday, June 11th to discuss how we’re moving forward as an organization. In addition to following recommendations by the MN Yoga Coalition, Firefly board members will be conducting a special strategic planning session to identify ways in which we will better mainstream anti-racism and gender inclusivity work internally and externally. We will continue offering a scholarship program for those often underrepresented in yoga teacher spaces and work to ensure that our trainings are representative of the communities we serve. Firefly Yoga International is committed to confronting and dismantling white supremacy in the yoga community, elevating BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices and leadership, reassessing our own internal policies, and to showing up as a genuine and non-performative ally.
Every white body and cisgender ally has a responsibility and a role to play in ensuring that we don't go "back to normal." There's a new normal ahead of us that includes police reform, uprooting and dismantling white supremacy, tearing down systems that uphold institutional racism, and facing all forms of oppression and marginalization head on. Systemic change is vital, but we can begin to re-orient as individuals immediately. We have many resources available, due largely in part to individuals and organizations that have compiled incredibly comprehensive guides. Below we've included some of them to launch or further your work in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As a public health professional, I would be remiss if I failed to address COVID-19. The global pandemic has impacted everyone in both small and large ways, and has produced an ongoing and collective trauma (that we’re still in). Life as we have known it has shifted. Physical and mental health, for many, has suffered. We encourage you to focus on self-care, knowing that what one actually needs to be well may change from one day to the next. Exploring trauma-informed yoga and/or other embodied practices, may be helpful to promote self-regulation and calm the nervous system during this unpredictable time. Mental health therapy practices are also available to provide telemedicine for cognitive processing (some online therapy options are specifically tailored for those who are under- or un-insured). The pandemic has produced much loss and I would argue just naming that may be a helpful place to start.
COVID-19 is just one symptom of the long history of systemic racism and health inequities that exist, explicitly demonstrating that racism IS a public health issue. Overall health disparities have been shown throughout time, but in this situation, we know that black and brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Trauma, privilege, public health, racial justice, gender equity, and socioeconomic status cannot be addressed individually, as they are inherently connected. When we work in one of these areas, we must then become advocates for layers of basic human rights-- acknowledging overlapping identities and experiences-- this is the root of intersectionality.
I honestly believe we are at a turning point. What I'm witnessing firsthand in Minneapolis, and the uprising we are collectively experiencing across the country, makes me hopeful that we are participating in a historical shift. We look forward to standing beside each of you as we forge ahead in the fight for a just and equitable world.
One way Firefly will contribute to anti-racism work is by sharing resources. We invite white yoga teachers, therapists, social workers, somatic practitioners, and other social service workers, to stand in solidarity with our BIPOC yoga community, by digging in to do the work (individually and systemically). In addition to the resources below, some specific areas to research and learn about, may include: white privilege, white supremacy, spiritual bypass, white fragility, allyship, social justice, and anti-racism. We share a collective responsibility to be better allies in working to break down systems that uphold oppression.
97 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice by Corrine Shutack
Anti-Racism Resources for White People by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein
The Anti-Racist Starter Pack by Brea Baker
Follow and Read by Jenna Arnold
Anti-Racism Resources by Rachel Ricketts
Social Change Wheel