There comes a moment when you feel the loss of life deeply.
The feeling is so overwhelming that you are immobilized. You may think, “What can I do to go on?” When the loss is someone you don’t know personally, but who represents a large group of people whose lives are continually cut from this world over and over and over again, it’s a different kind of feeling—this is world loss. This is a world wound that keeps getting larger. The wound is called racism and the loss I am talking about is Trayvon Martin and all the Black lives that we lose every day to violence, hate and racism.
I am a social justice and healing arts organizer living in the Southeast. I struggle around how to bring my justice work to the yoga studio, and how to bring yoga into my justice work. This is an intersection that is imperative in healing justice work. This calls yoga teachers, students and community organizers to work together.
In the studio, our students need to know more about yoga’s nonviolence teachings and community-building. They need to hear the words of socially conscious leaders from the readings, quotes and inspirations we share in class. We need to put our bodies in motion not only for our own health, but the health of a community outside the studio walls. This connection must be made for yoga to make the difference it is meant to in this world.
For social justice organizers, we need to incorporate meditation, pranayama and movement practices into our work. Our bodies are becoming crippled with the burdens of repeated trauma, violence and oppression that we are fighting to dismantle over and over, day after day. Our spirits need the nourishment that comes from a breath, a sun salutation, a moving meditation, a moment of silence and human connection.
A few weeks ago, the Trayvon Martin case ended and the verdict was announced.
It was a gray July day and my body and heart felt the weight of the Florida jurors’ decision: George Zimmerman had been acquitted under the Stand Your Ground Law. The Stand Your Ground Law research shows that “70 percent of those who invoke the statute go free. But—most importantly—the study found that an astonishing 73 percent of defendants whose victims were black faced no penalty, as opposed to 59 percent of those who killed a white person.”
Trayvon Martin was shot at the age of 17 because he looked “suspicious,” but his life matters to me. As a white woman, I could have easily ignored this case but I know that racism affects all of us—even white folks. Racism divides us; it creates divisions in the human community, seeds prejudices and fear among people. This verdict mattered not only to me but also to so many people around me. Media outlets and Facebook users offered different perspectives on the case; the voices split between shouts of anger about systemic racism and anger that the case was getting any attention at all.
My own family members said things like, “Justice has been served.” “That kid was a criminal.” I was even sent a YouTube video by a cousin arguing his point for why Trayvon Martin deserved to die!
That morning, I sat again with the weight of the truth that in our criminal justice system Black lives do not matter; that in our educational systems Black lives are tracked into remedial classes not because of intellect but because of the color of their skin. I sat with the weight of the truth that my white son’s life mattered more than Trayvon’s in this Post-Civil Rights, supposed ‘Post-Racial’ United States.
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon’s Ella’s Song played in my head: “Until the killing of Black men, Black Mother’s sons, become as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons. We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
Public grieving needed to happen. I had been so immobilized by Trayvon’s loss and all that it represented that I needed to do something. In my car trunk I dug out 3 yoga mats, a photo frame that I later filled with a newspaper picture of Trayvon, a candle, and picked a daisy on my way to downtown Knoxville’s center, Market Square. I wrote a sign: “I am not Trayvon Martin but I grieve. Because Black Lives matter to me.” I set up an altar, burned sage. I wrote another sign and asked folks to join me in yoga for peace and justice. For the first time in my life, I grieved publically through yoga.
No one joined me that day, but over the course of the next two days people connected through emails, Facebook and face-to-face conversations. Five people came to Trayvon’s altar at various times to practice yoga through asana, chanting, meditation, tears, the laying of flowers, and the gathering of a human community in grief. For three mornings in the center of downtown Knoxville, yoga was front and center and the message was clear: Yoga for Peace and Justice in honor of Trayvon Martin and all the countless others who die every day from racism, from needless violence.
Black lives matter to us white women, to us middle class women, to us Black women, to us working class women, to us queer women, to us teachers and mentors, to us Black men who were and are Trayvon Martin every day, and to my white 2-year old son—because as Martin Luther King, Jr. so poignantly stated, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We need to take our yoga out in the streets for public participation around issues of peace and justice. We need to infuse our yoga classes with teachings about antiracism, anti-oppression, and collective liberation. We need to join across differences and move our differently shaped, differently able bodies in one breath towards a world where Black lives matter in our justice systems, in our schools, and in everyday interactions in the grocery stores and on the street. We need to do this because Trayvon Martin’s life matters.
Organize a peace and justice yoga gathering in your community and join the Day of Dignity on August 28th, or visit the South to South website for more information or to support this work.
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Photo credit: Pinterest
Assistant Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Sara Crolick