Zenyu creates opportunities for developing connections with ourselves, with each other and with the natural world through a spiritual, social justice lens. Zenyu is a grassroots, multicultural organization that cultivates the holistic well-being and leadership of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Inquiring (LGBTQI) People of Color through meditation classes, wilderness excursions, and spiritual retreats. Zenyu supports long-term social change by developing solution-centered leadership based on compassion, mindfulness and co-operation among marginalized communities.
It means “complete healing” in Japanese.
How long has Zenyu been around?
Zenyu began in 2006 as a small community project when Christine Cruz Guiao saw the lack of safe spaces for LGBTQI People of Color to develop holistic leadership, spirituality and well-being. Since 2006, we have provided regular meditation classes and spaces for healing and personal growth to LGBTQI People of Color. In Summer 2011, Christine joined with Tisha Satow and April Nishimura, to offer the Spiritual Wilderness Retreat for People of Color. Retreat registration filled up in less than 2 days and many had to be turned away. This unique retreat included yoga, hiking, mindfulness-based meditation, and community-building exercises. During the same time, Zenyu also began to offer monthly hikes for People of Color. All of Zenyu’s offerings have been planned with a completely volunteer staff and extremely limited funds (all funding was raised by the community). The positive response to all of our programs shows an unmet need and desire among LGBTQI People of Color for access to the wilderness and meditation practices. Since our inception as a small community project, the demand and number of participants has steadily grown, with our over 140 people on our list-serv, and 3-5 new participants joining our events each month. In order to continue to cultivate and grow the exciting potential of this work, Zenyu became a formal non-profit organization in August 2011.
- limited access to health care
- lower average socioeconomic status
- historical trauma from slavery, attempted genocide, colonialism, cultural imperialism, incarceration, long-term systemic denial of basic civil rights etc.
- a lack of provider competence in the particular health concerns of the LGBTQI community and different racial and ethnic groups
- the stress of managing multiple types of societal discrimination.
There is a great need for addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of LGBTQI People of Color.
OK…but how is hiking and meditating going to help?
Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being must all be nurtured in order for us to thrive as healthy, vibrant people. By recognizing this interconnection, our programs offer an empowering, culturally-competent and holistic approach towards health. We equip LGBTQI People of Color with meditation practices, Green Exercise (physical activity done in the presence of a natural environment), and contact with nature that is otherwise inaccessible to them. These invaluable tools have been scientifically shown to encourage more thoughtful choices, improve daily habits, as well as alleviate long-term trauma and encourage healthier lifestyles. These programs also serve as a de facto support group, providing much-needed emotional and psychological support through empathetic and meaningful interactions. As “double-minorities” this is especially important for LGBTQI People of Color to decrease our sense of isolation and internalized self-hatred so we can become more resilient and healthy leaders in our community.
If you’re specifically serving QPOCs, then why are most of your events for POCs?
QPOCs need allies of color
Our goal is to create supportive spaces for QPOCs address all aspects of their well-being. We found that this can be achieved with QPOCs alongside allies of color. One effect of homophobia is that QPOCs are isolated from their communities and/or families. Having POC spaces that are LGBTQI-focused addresses this painful separation. Zenyu’s long-term goal is to be able to create diverse spaces that support QPOCs without resorting to excluding those who are different from ourselves. We recognize that creating identity-specific groups are important tools for marginalized communities to empower themselves, but our long-term goal is to develop allyship and personally heal enough so that we do not have to solely rely on these spaces.
Not every person is out
Having a space open to allies of color means that we are not assuming someone to be LGBTQI merely by their attendance. People may be questioning or not out for various valid reasons.
Identity is fluid
We honor that gender and sexual identity are fluid and can change over a person’s lifetime.
I’m multiracial with white heritage, can I come to Zenyu’s POC events?
Yes! People often get confused about multiracial people who have both white ancestry and ancestry of color; especially in race-specific spaces. We recognize that this confusion is actually caused by the polarized framework created to decipher race in the United States. We also recognize that people who are inaccurately perceived as white can be triggering to other people of color. We encourage everyone who attends Zenyu events to be respectful and compassionate of the diverse experiences of all participants. This includes respecting the rights of multiracial people to fully claim all of their heritage, as well as encouraging patience when incorrect assumptions are made by others.
How do white folks fit into the vision and work of Zenyu?
One of the challenges and reasons that POCs in the U.S. have been creating POC-specific space is the trend for the majority group (in this instance, white people) to gravitate to POC-centered spaces, and ultimately outnumber the POCs who created that space both in presence and in leadership. This is a pattern that reflects historical patterns of colonization and cultural imperialsim. We hope to create structure in our organization that both welcomes all communities while strategically centering POCs, consciously undoing and unlearning this pattern of co-option. And currently we have some programs that are open to everyone, including a monthly meditation and monthly music night for POCs and white allies. White allies are definitely welcome and encouraged to get involved in numerous ways, including volunteering, fundraising and more.
How does social justice fit into Zenyu’s work and vision?
Zenyu works at the intersection of social change and spirituality. We believe in the interconnectedness of our individual and collective healing processes. If we want to continue healing the world, we must also choose to heal ourselves. As veteran social justice organizers ourselves, we have seen how damaging the lack of access to inner healing can be on our work. All too often, we unconsciously recreate the same patterns of domination that we are organizing against. By developing the power of our own Heart, we can learn to harness the immense power of compassion. A large majority of our participants, and our entire current Board simultaneously work to create a more just and humane world through social service agencies, non-profits, schools, and grassroots social justice organizations.
A lot of Zenyu outdoor activities seems to require a certain level of ability–how do you address able-ism and size-ism in your work?
Zenyu aims to embrace a political perspective about ableism and create the space and respect that enables all of us to find words and home in our complicated, imperfect bodies and do so without risking rejection, loss or isolation.
We are also aware that we have a lot to learn about the interconnectedness of disability, racism, and poverty. Disability and chronic illness live and breathe at the hubs of environmental racism, poverty, Sovereignty, homelessness, police violence, incarceration, and state control. Zenyu is committed to struggling with the learned ableism and sizeism in our community and is committed to making our events accessible and justice-oriented**.
Can young people participate?
Zenyu values the voices and growth of young people in our communities!
Young people is a broad term so let’s begin with children. Our events are family and child friendly unless otherwise noted. This means that children are welcome. However, the level of support (childcare) and appropriateness of the events varies based on the event. As we grow in our capacity and our volunteer base, we hope we will be able to create more ways of supporting our various creative families.
We also are developing our approach to supporting and centering youth (ages 13-23). For those who are 18+, you are welcome to our events and can sign your own waivers for our outdoor or more rigorous activities. If you are 13-18, there may be times where parental consent is required. If you are interested in attending an event that is activity-based (hiking, camping, rock climbing) please contact us for more details so we can fully support you.
At Zenyu we are humbled by how much there is to unlearn around adultism and hope to grow our youth-centered and youth empowerment consciousness.
How do I get involved?
There are many ways to get involved! We have some seriously big dreams and we need everyone’s help to grow and cultivate them into reality. The most important way to get involved, of course, is to come to our events and get to know us and what we do. If you feel inspired and want to keep this mambo-train going, then come and volunteer, based on your interest, skill and capacity. If you have a special skill or resource that you would like to offer*, please let us know. What you have to offer can be a one-time opportunity or long-term commitment. Lastly, of course, we need your financial help in making this important work sustainable. Currently we are a completely volunteer-run organization. While we absolutely love doing this work, it also takes an incredible amount of time, energy and commitment. Please consider donating your financial resources.
How do I find out about future events?
Get on our list-serv by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t want to receive our monthly newsletter, you can always keep checking on our website at zenyuhealing.wordpress.com.
Where are you located?
We are located in the South Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.
*accounting, childcare, graphic design, web design, voice lessons, film/photography, social media, space donations, outdoor equipment, wilderness expertise, healing arts, strategic planning/nonprofit organization, facilitation, performance, cooking skills, art donations, tea, toilet paper, snacks, whatever you can offer we would appreciate!
** These words have been inspired by the work of the Disability Justice Collective’s statement for the BOLD! Gathering Dec 2-4, 2011.