Be The Change: A talk With Kerri Kelly
‘She walks the talk,’ is a perfect description of Kerri Kelly. I had the amazing opportunity to interview Kerri on politics, yoga, the importance of community action and her new organization CTZNWELL. I left our discussion inspired and hopeful.
CTZNWELL is a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the world from the inside out. They engage in deep transformational work around their values; and are led through relationship to issues like access to healthcare, food justice, living wage, climate change and education. From there, they partner with campaigns led by the people most directly affected and respond in conscious and creative disruption and reimagination of our world. They aspire to move and unify their community at a scale that will have an impact at a systemic and global level.
AF: What is the motivation behind CTZNWELL?
KK: The wellbeing community is one of great privilege…both in practice and power. I’ve experienced it first hand. Not only have I had access to healthy food, top-notch yoga and healing modalities, but I’ve been blessed with the basic conditions of wellbeing – a good education, fair wages; even the color of my skin has afforded me great benefits. Its time for the wellbeing community to come together in practice and values, get engaged around the issues that matter, and focus our collective power around REAL collective change that ensures that everyone is well.
Our theory of change begins with people. Through personal practice, community building, and collective action we transform ourselves and restructure our world to support the conditions of wellbeing for all.
AF: What do you think the yoga community can bring to the current political discourse?
KK: The challenge is-how do we transform the discourse? How do we celebrate the perspectives that are emerging in progressive communities and find ways to engage that are more connected? As yogis, we can be transforming the community conversation (the divide on the left) so that we can identify where there is coded racism and reveal common ground and share values and LEAN IN to the ways in which we may be perpetuating separation.
Whether you’re right or left, I think we can all agree that politics feels divisive, isolating and unproductive. Its not wonder we want to disengage. But our practice not only tells us to lean in, but to elevate the conversation into one that connects us. Instead of debating things, what if we connected in relationship? What if we engaged from a place of values? What if we considered what’s at stake for people? What if we started listening to one another? Imagine the conversation that might emerge from that approach. I think our community has an amazing opportunity (responsibility?) to not just show up, but to center our values of love, compassion and interconnection in HOW we show up.
AF: Where does this transformation start?
KK: I think often we hear “transformation starts with me” but I think Transformation starts with WE. It starts with communities coming together to discuss values, learn about propositions, explore candidates voting records and make space for all perspectives on the issues that matter to us.
We are pointing people towards conscious and inclusive community conversations. We NEVER endorse candidates and we don't believe it is our job to tell people what to do but, rather, to create space where people can contemplate their values and make conscious choices.
AF: How is CTZNWELL helping to do this?
KK: We create community-based space to talk about local issues, those that reflect our values and hold space for conversation.
The goal is to be super tangible and we do this in 3 ways:
- We transform the conversation
- We provide tools and templates to create space and increase the capacity for productive debate
- We create a template for people to get together and vote
AF: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Fight for 15?
KK: Our goal at CTZNWELL is to democratize wellbeing for all. And when we were contemplating the issues of wellbeing, we saw economic wellbeing and fair wage as central to one’s ability to be well on every level – physical, mental, social, environmental etc. We can’t begin to think about “mindfulness for all” or “getting GMOs out of our food” when people cant pay their bills and feed their children. So we organized the community in NY to stand in solidarity with the Fight for 15 campaign which was committed to raising the wage and ensuring workers had a fair shot at being well. We marched in the streets, got petition signatures, helped educate the community about the issue, staged sit-ins at the capital. It felt important to show up, take a risk and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. But I think the biggest win is that we experienced what is possible when we show up and come together around something important. And I’m proud that we were a part of raising the wage for 3 million new Yorkers. That is gonna change lot of lives.
AF: What do you tell people when they ask ‘what can I do?'
KK:Asking hard questions, Marching in the streets, speaking out, holding your elected accountable, creative action and art and music, becoming a candidate yourself, AND voting. Voting is power. And our collective voice and vote can really make a difference in this election. There are many ways to participate-there is not just ONE way. We want to meet people where they are. But I think a more powerful question is “what can we do”? What can we do when we come together? We are 50 million large in this country – that’s 50 million voices, 50 million votes, 50 million dreams. Imagine what we can do together when we get courageous and connected in community. That’s where the power is at.
AF: Is there a message of hope?
KK: There is a shift happening. But, we are in a culture that makes us feel LESS THAN and encourages us to seek OUTSIDE of ourselves for validation. This is the context we live in.
But it's not the practice of yoga that tells us to be self-obsessed, its the culture.The complexity of this moment is uncomfortable and scary. There's a hesitancy to engage. But,it's inevitable that we have to deal with each other and look beyond ourselves. It is not just any one individual act and no ONE person can carry the burden. When we come together in community (especially in small numbers) we become stronger TOGETHER. The truth is-we NEED each other. We NEED everyone' vote. It has to include everyone.
When we become disheartened, how can we use the practice of yoga to help us?
There is so much noise out there. We need to reclaim the conversation with one another. Don't believe everything you hear. Contemplate where YOU stand and do not give your power over. The process of yoga serves us to contemplate, to get clear and cut through the noise to discover who we REALLY are and what we stand for together. When you are not centered in your own values and purpose-you are more easily swayed by fear so use the practice for that. And, GET IN COMMUNITY right away and talk about what makes you uncomfortable, your fears, and voice your questions about what's happening in the world. Collaborate to become a team to gain understanding and take action together.
AF: Any last thoughts?
KK: Yes, there' s quote I think of often that sums it up: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
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