Racial Justice Praxis Project

How can we make our deep commitment to racial equity and justice explicit?  

An experiment, a gathering, a learning space, the Fetzer Institute’s Racial Justice Praxis Project is a cohort of thirteen talented BIPOC leaders whose work centers faith and spirituality, two dedicated Fetzer staffers, and one consultant with a gift for deep listening.  

Together they are exploring the nuances of love, spiritual transformation, and racial justice and how to be in transformative and equitable relationship. 

Two questions are at the core of the project:  

  • As a funder, how does racial justice deepen our understandings of love and spiritual transformation?
  • How might we learn with practitioners doing this work in a way grounded in Spirit and deep relationship?  

“While many funders make grants to support particular sectors or address specific problems, Fetzer’s hope for this project is that it will transform the core of how we work and fund,” says Shakiyla Smith, vice president of Organizational Culture. “This is why the project is rooted in praxis, a form of intentional learning from experience that includes cycles of reflection and action.” 

Through these cycles of reflection and action, we are learning about:

Being in relationship. Early in the project, the cohort shared feedback on the Institute’s contracting process, which came across as extractive and overly burdensome on the very people it means to support. We are now reviewing our entire contracting system.

What it means to show up. The group determined not to count people out because they could not all participate in the same way. For example, one member needed to listen in rather than join the conversation. They later shared a written contribution that added to the group’s experience, helping to redefine participation as many ways to be present in body, mind, and heart. 

Having hard conversations differently. In taking on challenging topics like racial justice, group members have incorporated embodied practices—like movement and breathwork—to help open pathways so we can have these conversations differently.

Dreaming together. The hard work at the crossroads of racial justice, spiritual transformation, and love requires a balance of being able to dream about the future as we seek to address present injustices.

We have also created an internal learning track representing all Fetzer departments. This allows our staff to work within their teams to experiment, engage, reflect, and do their own learning informed by the cohort's praxis in ways that relate to staff's specific roles and responsibilities. 

The Racial Justice Praxis Project has the following desired outcomes: 

  • Actionable learnings about how to expand our networks and partner with BIPOC-led and focused organizations   
  • Support of underfunded BIPOC teachers and BIPOC-led and focused organizations 
  • Deepened commitments to love and racial justice and how to enact them most effectively and equitably in the long term 

By the numbers: 

  • 2 years, in person and remote 
  • 13 cohort participants
  • 3 implementation team members
  • 15 days of meetings, including two multi-day in-person retreats
  • 29 staff members participating in an internal learning track

$2.5 million 

  • $200,000 in general support to each organization/practitioner  
  • $500,000 to support the full learning project 
Meet the Cohort

Racial Justice Praxis Project

head shot of Arawana Hayashi smiling, red earrings
Arawana Hayashi

Arawana Hayashi brings embodied presence practices and meditation into the leadership programs of the Presencing Institute. With colleagues, she created the social art practices called Social Presencing Theater that make visible the underlying patterns in individuals, teams, and larger social systems, inviting the co-creation of healthy, compassionate futures. She is the author of Social Presencing Theater: The Art of Making a True Move.

head shot Khary Bridgewater outdoors smiling
Rev. Khary Bridgewater

Rev. Khary Bridgewater has served as the executive vice president of the Conference of National Black Churches which is comprised of the national leadership of the largest historically Black denominations in America, representing over 80% of African American Christians. He is also co-founder and managing director of Norstell Capital, LLC, and director of the Inspire Equity Foundation. He supervises the Kent County (Michigan) Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Team. Rev. Bridgewater served as senior program officer at RDV Corporation, working in philanthropy with urban churches in Grand Rapids. He is currently principal at Crowe Capital.

Rev. Bridgewater is the assistant pastor at Wellspring Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. He has served as Pastor of Congregational Life at Grace CRC and Interim Pastor at Messiah Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. He has also been an adjunct professor at Cornerstone University’s Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Rev. Bridgewater is currently the vice chair of Our Daily Bread Ministries. An alum of Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rev. Bridgewater is an expert in design thinking and systems dynamics.

GOCompassion Angela Oh and Yingming Tu on stage
The Gift of Compassion: YingMing Tu and Angela Oh

The Gift of Compassion (GoCompassion) is a program that promotes healing through meditation. The principals of the program are YingMing Tu (Ming or Tu-2) and Angela Oh, who have combined Ming’s gift of visual art and Angela’s experience in dispute resolution practices to create spaces for healing the individual and communities. Their purpose is to manifest compassion/love through supporting under-represented and under-resourced groups who are doing the work of caring for humanity. The artwork, inspired by the people who encounter the Gift of Compassion, is how GoCompassion shares its experiences.

Aside from hosting meditation, healing circles, and workshops on wellness and silent meditation, GoCompassion supports local nonprofit leaders who are dedicated to reentry, staying sober, prevention of gun violence, youth creativity and entrepreneurship, and access to hikes for adults and youth who want to experience nature in the urban center. Since 2019, GoCompassion has also supported a sanctuary that currently provides shelter and food for refugees seeking asylum at the southern border of California. About 1,200-1,300 refugees (including about 400 minors) from Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico reside at Scorpion Canyon, in the church grounds built and maintained by Pastor Gustavo Banda, who grew up in this very humble part of Tijuana. The human migration phenomenon is one that is a part of a global search for hope in the face of war, drug-related violence, and climate change. What began as a modest effort to teach yoga and meditation has evolved into the emergence of semi-permanent shelter where families can find security and hope. GoCompassion has evolved with this and other projects in Southern California thanks to the trust and support of the Fetzer Institute.

Iyanla Vanzant hands in prayer smiling with closed eyes
Inner Visions: Iyanla Vanzant and Rosetta Hillary

Inner Visions is a non-traditional, non-denominational ministry focused on supporting others in remembering the truth of who they are. Our purpose is to provide information, process, tools and technology to be used in the facilitation of personal development, emotional growth, and soul-level healing. Our mission is to access, de-mystify, and utilize universal law and spiritual principle to facilitate the evolution of human consciousness one Mind, one Heart, one Life, one Soul at a time and . . . to have fun in the process.

Iyanla Vanzant: A student of life and a servant of God, Source, Creator, Iyanla's life purpose is to be a bridge and build a bridge between the sacred and the secular. It is her deepest and most heartfelt intention and desire to share with others all that she has learned from the pain, dysfunction, and trauma of her life in a way the inspires others to "do their work" and realign their consciousness with the Infinite Intelligence of life. As the founder and executive director of the Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development, God is Iyanla's only goal every day.

Rosetta Hillary: As a powerful, loving, connected spiritual leader, Rosetta is committed to creating a world where all people experience being seen, heard, and appreciated as a unique expression of God's love. She stands for a world where people freely and effortlessly exercise the power to create their desired life experience by being joyful, authentic, and responsible.

head shot of Gena Jefferson smiling
Rev. Gena Jefferson

Rev. Gena Camille Jefferson is a licensed clinical social worker and ordained interfaith minister and spiritual life coach who loves to see communities flourish. She has a longstanding career in youth development, violence prevention, social work education, and the healing art of dance. Gena is the founder and CEO of JAIA, Just as I Am YOUth Empowerment, a personal and spiritual leadership development program for teens and young adults, and is the co-owner at Overture Wellness: Begin with Purpose, LLC., a life coaching and wellness practice. Gena is passionate about creating environments where people feel safe, empowered, and free to express their individuality and to live their very best life!

headshot of Valarie Kauer smiling and looking to her right
Valarie Kaur

Valarie Kaur is a renowned civil rights leader, lawyer, award-winning filmmaker, educator, innovator, and best-selling author of SEE NO STRANGER. She founded and leads the Revolutionary Love Project to reclaim love as a force for justice and to equip people to build beloved community as an individual and collective practice. Their team produces educational tools, training courses, artwork, films, music, and mass mobilizations that center the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities.

Rima Vesely-Flad palms together
Dr. Rima Vesely-Flad

Dr. Rima Vesely-Flad is a visiting professor of Buddhism and Black Studies at Union Theological Seminary. She is the author of Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition: The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation (NYU Press, 2022) and Racial Purity and Dangerous Bodies: Moral Pollution, Black Lives, and the Struggle for Justice (Fortress Press, 2017). She leads retreats and classes for dharma centers throughout the United States.

Kama Mitchell smiling in white head wrap with hoop earrings
Kama Tai Mitchell

Kama Tai Mitchell, founder and CEO of Rootead Enrichment Center, is most in the now when in water. She believes in its healing properties and aspires to be like it: adaptable, shape shifting, pure, and for all. She hopes to leave a legacy of peace and empowerment to the next generations by exposing them to embodied tools to heal.

Tricia Hersey head shot with dark background looking to her left
Tricia Hersey

Tricia Hersey is a Chicago native with more than 20 years of experience as a multidisciplinary artist, writer, theologian, and community organizer. She is the founder of The Nap Ministry, an organization that examines rest as a form of resistance and reparations by curating spaces for the community to rest via community rest activations, immersive workshops, performance art installations, and social media.

Woori Center DACA demonstration
Woori Network: kristine chong and Sandy Hong

Woori Network is a growing network and community of practice for spiritual care practitioners, activists, and healers of Korean descent. We share liberative principles and commitments, working toward reclaiming, reimagining, re-indigenizing Korean Spiritualities for present and future generations.

kristine chong (she/they) is a coordinating committee member of Woori Network, a community of care for spiritual care practitioners of Korean descent. A spiritual care practitioner, facilitator, editor, and convener, kristine practices the kinship ethos of Jeong, a Korean relationality of interconnectedness that saturates everyday living. Sites of communal praxis for kristine include moral injury, Asian American and Pacific Islander storytelling, movement chaplaincy, reproductive justice, and ancestral healing practices.

Sandy Hong (he/they) is one of five members of the inaugural coordinating committee with Woori Network, a generative and supportive formation for spiritual care practitioners of Korean descent. A network weaver, facilitator, and strategist, with a background in organizational transformation and digital strategy, Sandy is passionate about building resilient systems of care and accountability that help to shape organizations and their commitments from the inside out.

Shakiyla Smith head shot photo
Shakiyla Smith
Racial Justice Praxis Implementation Team Member

Shakiyla Smith is the vice president of Organizational Culture at the Fetzer Institute where she is tasked with leading efforts to foster a culture that is spiritually grounded, reflective of a community of freedom, diverse and inclusive, organizationally agile, and growth-oriented. Her work has both an internal aspect with Fetzer’s staff and an external component that connects with its partners. She has a master's degree in public health from Emory University and a doctorate in adult education with a focus on organizational development from the University of Georgia. She works with individuals and groups as an action researcher interested in the evolution of consciousness in adults, adult development, and adaptive and collaborative learning using the method of action inquiry. She is a trained yoga and meditation instructor, energy medicine (reiki) practitioner, and facilitator of deeper learning and transformation.

Photo of Sarah
Sarah Sorvas
Racial Justice Praxis Implementation Team Member

Sarah Sorvas is Organizational Culture project manager at the Fetzer Institute, where she manages departmental workflow, special initiatives, and communication using a permaculture framework. Before joining the Institute's community, she served as special projects manager and chief of staff to the director of the University of Georgia's Center for Continuing Education. She aims to live life in alignment with the transcendentals—truth, beauty, and goodness—asking always, What is real? What is right? What is lovely?. In addition, she is a trained ballroom dance instructor, gyrokinesis practitioner, recovery facilitator, and a believer in braiding rather than building.

Jenyng Wu headshot with glasses smiling
Jenyng Wu
Racial Justice Praxis Implementation Team Member

Jenyng Wu, principal consultant at Ripples and Wakes, plays at the intersection where the Divine meets Life. She creates containers for sacred and practical conversations, designs frameworks where intention integrates with the emergent, and facilitates the movement of imagination into action. Jenyng’s work is in service of laying the seeds for 22nd Century flourishing.