We wish to personally invite you to the TorontoJam this year – a gathering of 30 diverse change-makers, in nature, diving deep and reflecting upon our practice in the world, on the personal, interpersonal and systemic levels of change. It’s a space to practice what beloved community can look like, building powerful connections across difference. One of the most influential decisions I made in my leadership path was to become a Jammer, and nurture myself as a transformative leader, learning from this amazing community of change-makers worldwide.
National Housing Day in Toronto: People’s Assembly on the Right to Housing. Nov 20th, 2015
Written by Rehana Tejpar and Naomi Tessler
This year’s National Housing Day in Toronto brought together a diversity of stakeholders at the People’s Assembly on the Right to Housing. 300+ people with experience of homelessness, housing workers, activists, community organizers and politicians, including MP Adam Vaughan took part in a Legislative Theatre Performance, facilitated by Branch Out Theatre, commissioned by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), to brainstorm policy solutions that will help solve the affordable housing and homelessness crisis.
Legislative Theatre is a process of Theatre of the Oppressed, developed by Augusto Boal that begins with a forum theatre – in which a play, depicting the struggles of a community is presented back to them in a community forum. After watching the play, the community audience is then invited to take on the role of spect-actor, with the power to replace a character in the play and try out an alternative, which could bring about a positive transformation. Legislative Theatre then goes a step beyond forum theatre: equipped with a toolbox of possible alternatives in hand after witnessing their fellow spect-actors interventions, the community audience is then invited to act as the people’s assembly and devise policies that could protect their community from facing these ongoing injustices.
At the People’s Assembly on the Right to Housing, these community-written policies were presented to a panel of housing advocacy experts who helped to read through each policy and choose a select few that addressed a broad range of housing issues. The audience/People’s Assembly then had the opportunity to hear each of these policies and vote on them, following a presentation of arguments from their fellow people’s assembly members – both for and against each proposed policy.
Branch Out Theatre’s Artistic Director and Joker for the show-Naomi Tessler, along with members of the cast: Rehana Tejpar, Tanisha Taitt, Michaela Washburn, Lauren Spring and Mohamad Abou Ali met with ACTO and community members with lived experience, to hear stories and understand the complex issues around housing in Toronto. With the support of Helen Luu and Tracy Heffernan from ACTO, these stories were anonymously woven into the original script written by Tessler.
The play depicted the stories of five people who have lived with inadequate housing in Toronto – all of whom were or had been homeless: one who is living in a Homes First apartment that isn’t suitable for her family and which doesn’t accommodate their disabilities, one who is afraid of being evicted from her Toronto Community Housing apartment because she can’t afford the rent but the apartment was all she could find. It shares the journey of folks who end up homeless due to mental health challenges and those who’s family homes are too toxic to grow up in, due to parental abuse or a lack of acceptance based on sexual orientation. The play shares the traumatic experiences of shelter hopping, living in rooming houses and the trials people have to face to keep themselves and their families together. The play chronicled the characters’ journey to the courts, where a historical legal case was fought, using the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to advocate for a National Housing Strategy in Canada.
Lawyers from the Centre for Equality Rights in Housing and ACTO represented applicants to the case, arguing that Canada’s failure to respond to the homelessness crisis is in violation of its international commitments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and specifically, s.7, which guarantees the right to life, liberty, and security of the person and s.15 which guarantees the equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination.
In June 25, 2015 The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a Charter challenge holding governments responsible for the crisis in affordable housing and homelessness will never be heard in Canadian courts. With no evidence before them, two out of three judges at the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a controversial lower court decision that issues of homelessness do not belong in the courtroom.
“There continues to be a worsening housing crisis in Canada. Over the past five years, Ontario’s affordable housing waiting list has ballooned to 168,711 households, the Federal government has announced the revocation of 365,000 housing subsidies for low income households across the country, and the cost of keeping people homeless has continued to skyrocket.” (ACTO)
The People’s Assembly had the opportunity to watch a re-enactment of the courtroom where the Court of Appeal judge threw the case out without glancing at the 10, 000 pages of evidence. Spect-actors ran up to the stage to defend their right to dignity, humanity and housing as the crowd applauded with vigor. Out of the brilliance in the room, the following policies were passed:
The Government of Canada must implement anational housing strategy
People are forced to wait many years for social housing because the waiting list is too long. The provincial government must make private market rents more affordable and raise theshelter allowancefor people on social assistanceto an adequate amount that meets real need
The provincial and municipal governments must pass and implementinclusionary housinglaws that require affordable housing in all new developments
Before Augusto Boal passed away in 2009, he expressed that out of all the Theatre of the Oppressed practices he developed, in the time we live in now, Legislative Theatre is what he adamantly felt the world needed most. In this trajectory, we’re humbled to share that the legislative theatre performance on National Housing Day was an inspiring experience for all involved.
“The audience was deeply engaged and empowered to see their stories being told and their common experiences recognized and validated and thoroughly enjoyed participating in both the forum theatre and legislative theatre processes” -ACTO members.
The performance was truly an experience of passionate social art-ivism; acting as a strong reminder of how vital this work is, and the need for ongoing outreach, mobilization and advocacy! – Audience Ann Fitzpatrick, Supervisor, Community Development and Prevention Services, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
We believe in the power and wisdom of the community, and hope that politicians, and those who have the financial means to make affordable housing available to all those in need, can open their eyes and hearts to listen to those with lived experience, act and create real change.
November 26th, 2015. The Institute of Traditional Medicine
As a learning community we have begun to gather every month – artists, facilitators, healers, leaders – to learn from one another and ourselves what we need to learn inorder tobe the special medicine we are for the world. Hosted at the beautifully healing space of the Institute for Traditional Medicine, we come together over food, art and conversation to build a community of practitioners of participatory leadership.
We heard our community saying that we need to learn and practice how to tap into our inner wisdom, how to set boundaries, and how to be in tune with ourselves while we do our work in the world. We listened, and last month’s TLC explored
Aligning the Inner and the Outer
What does being deeply rooted in myself look and feel like?
What self-care practices can support my being grounded?
What does that open up for me in my life?
Under the skillful leadership of the bloom consulting team facilitators Natalie Abdou, Brigid Tierney and Rehana Tejpar, we moved out of our heads and into our body’s, allowing our body’s memory to remind us of what it looks and feels like to be grounded; creating gestures embodying a time when we felt the most rooted in our lives.
In pairs we discussed the practices we use which support us in being grounded. Drawing from our lived experiences and learning from others’ best practices we harvested a plethora of daily practices which support us in being grounded and well.
We then moved into some solo reflection, doing a free-write on what does being rooted in myself while doing my work in the world open up for me? This is what we heard
And what we know to be true is that it’s our daily practice that forms our habits, the way we think, see and are in the world. Courage, self love and patience to us on our journeys as we practice living in alignment with our inner and outer worlds.
We hope to share the next TLC with you, late January, date TBA soon.
On Oct 28th, bloom consulting gently emerged into the world hosting The Learning Community (TLC), a monthly dinner dialogue exploring what artful participatory leadership could look like.
Bloom is a team of creative facilitators, designers, conveners and artists. We support organizations in harnessing their creative and collaborative potential. At bloom we believe that together we are more intelligent and innovative than we are alone. Our team is made up of Rehana Tejpar, Moyo Mutamba, Brigid Tierney, Naty Tremblay, Natalie Abdou and Naomi Tessler.
TLC is a gathering space for artists, facilitators, conveners and leaders to share skills and learn from one another. We endeavour to come together as a community of practice exploring the intersections amongst art, leadership and community healing.
We see that there is a need for spaces where practitioners of artful participatory leadership can come together as a community and learn what we need in order to be the leaders that the world is asking for, today.
We gathered in circle at Unit 2, a queer positive and POC/radical arts and community space dedicated to building community and bridges.
What went on?
After some playful storytelling exercises to get to know each other a bit, and some intention setting, we gave thanks, broke bread and dove in. The first question we explored in small group discussion, using World Café, was:
What could Artful Participatory Leadership look like?
What we know to be true is that we are living in a world that is facing increasingly complex challenges, and no one of us can resolve these challenges alone. Collectively we are wiser than any of us are alone, and we are at a time in history when more than ever we are being called to find ways of harnessing that collective wisdom, working together, across difference, with shared purpose. Participatory leadership is a term that refers to a way of leading and working together that engages all stakeholders in decision making.
What we know to be true is that the artist has a special role to play in the world. And as artists we are creating and re-creating what the world is. So what is Artful Participatory Leadership? This is what we were curious to explore. To us, artful leadership is not simply using art as a tool for engagement, although that is important as well. What we are curious about is how does being an artist impact our way of being a leader. It’s about the artist as a way of being in leadership that strikes our curiosity.
After lively discussion, each group shared the harvest of their conversations in a creative way. There were songs, poems, and much collective wisdom shared.
What is your special medicine for the world?
We moved into personal reflection with a free write on the question: What is my special medicine for the world? We then sat in partners to share and explore What do I need to learn in order to be the special medicine I am for the world?
We harvested the group’s collective medicines and learning needs. This harvest is what we are drawing from to curate the next TLC gathering November 26th, 6:30 – 9pm at the Institute for Traditional Medicine. We hope that you can join us. Expect an invite very soon.
What folks said about the TLC
I went to an awesome evening of community potluck and world cafe exploring Artful and Participatory Leadership. I loved being asked to free write an answer to the question, What is your special medicine for the world? An extra special thank you to Rehana Tejpar and Moyo Mutamba for creating such a wonderfully supportive learning community – Gennie Brukner.
Reclaiming the Heart of Humanity was the calling statement at the Parliament of the World’s Religions last week. 10, 000 people gathered from over 80 countries and 50 faith groups to re-awaken the revolutionary love at the heart of all spiritualities, in the face of war, poverty, hate, violence and environmental abuse. I was invited to present a workshop performance with InterPlay, a community of spiritual and embodied artists using improvised movement, storytelling and voice to reconnect to our body’s wisdom.
I had no idea what to expect but I knew I had to be there. Ironically, although I grew up in an inter-faith home, with a Muslim father and a Christian mother, and work across diversity, I’m only just beginning to understand the inter-faith movement.
Everywhere I turned I could see people from all over the world in their traditional dress in conversation, in prayer, singing and playing devotional music, dancing sacred dance. Never before had I experienced a gathering that wove together social and ecological justice, art and spirituality in such a meaningful way. I found I could be in the hard, painful realities, when it was balanced with singing, dancing, loving and prayer. There was a deep honouring of our differences, and space for multiple truths to exist, alongside a strong underpinning of unity, solidarity and really working together to resist injustice wherever it resides. There was an embodiment of what is present in many spiritual traditions and what in Islam and Sikhism we call seva – selfless service.
Valarie Kaur, award-winning Sikh filmmaker, civil rights advocate, and founder of two faith-based social justice organizations, Groundswell Movement and Faithful Internet, inspired me with the connection she drew between seva and activism. Kaur utilizes storytelling to shed light on topics including hate crimes against Muslim and Sikhs, racial profiling, immigration detention and more. She reminded us that the kind of seva the world is asking for right now is not safe. It’s the kind of revolutionary love that asks that we be bold, take risks, walk out, speak out, and extend ourselves for the purpose of our collective wellbeing. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can – Martin Luther King Jr.
The heart is a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it gets.
Mohawk elder Diane Longboat, from Six Nations, was unable to attend but was present in prayer and shared a message through a circle of Women of Spirit and Faith. She said that we have begun a 400-year cycle where feminine leadership will rise up. This is a time of utmost importance for women to come together in circle, to listen in, put our questions and prayers in the center and be in the uncertainty, together, supporting one another, standing in our power. Reclaiming our feminine power. As a sister in the circle shared: “The answers are not going to come from science and technology, but when women remember how to do magic.”
In recent years, and especially since becoming a mother, I took a step back from activist organizing in the way I knew it to be. My retreat was not because I didn’t believe in resistance work. In part it was in order to shift focus towards building alternatives, but it was also because I became disenchanted with the way people were working together. I noticed a level of criticality that left little space for seeing the humanity in everyone, a way of seeing the world that reproduced hate and judgment more than love and solidarity… And it didn’t feel right for me anymore.
And then a door swung open and I got to see and feel another way. A way of working from the heart, creatively, non-violently, resisting in solidarity, across difference, acknowledging spirit in our work in the world.
The heart is the size of your fist. Keep loving, keep fighting – Ariel Gore. This quote carried me through my early activist years in University in the anti-war, anti-sweatshop movement. I seemed to know then intuitively that we are fighting this fight so hard because we love so hard.
What I know to be true at this moment about my growing edge as a leader, is owning the spiritual aspect of my leadership.
We performed The Unbelievable Beauty of Being Human, an improvised performance of dance, music and storytelling…but really we were just playing! Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder of InterPlay spoke about the connection between moving energy out of our bodies and healing trauma. Experiences, trauma, memory are stored in our bodies and passed down through the generations. Breathing, moving, shaking it out, helps us to move that energy out, freeing space in our bodies and minds for more ease, joy, love, truth.
By the end, with Cynthia’s skillful leadership, the whole room was dancing.
I am deeply inspired and grateful.
I leave you with a few brilliant speakers from the Parliament, captured, (in paraphrase):
We have to love, but we have to name the Gods of metal. We can feed and clothe everyone, but we can’t if we have to feed the greed of military companies. End to war. – Kathy Kelly
We must learn to speak a different language, different from hate. A language of love, compassion, healing, truth. Don’t be afraid to say it! – Allan Boesak
What message does your life give to the world? – Dr. Rami Nashashibi
Where are your wounds? If there were no wounds, was there nothing to fight for? – Medea Benjamin
If we are the most intellectual creatures on the planet, why are we destroying our only home? – Jane Goodall
Why is unity important? For our mother, the Earth – Dr.Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere
Look for the ones who will bring hope – Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq
Sept 28th, 2015 I was invited by Unify Toronto to prototype a new workshop exploring Theory U through improvised movement and storytelling… and it was serious fun!
Theory U is a framework of understanding that what the world is asking for, is a kind of leadership that humbly recognizes that we don’t have all the answers, and we don’t know what the future has in store. This present moment in history has never existed before. And whilst we can draw on wisdom from the past, we also need to practice deep listening to what needs to emerge now. The practice involves becoming deeply in tune with ourselves and one another. Observing, observing, observing, deep listening and presencing – a blended word combining “sensing” (feeling the future possibility) and “presence” (the state of being in the present moment).
Otto Scharmer, the founder of Theory U conducted studies with CEOs and found that the quality of their leadership had less to do with the kinds of tools and methodologies they used, and more to do with the quality of the inner state from which they are operating. This, what he refers to as the ‘blind spot of leadership’ is essentially what many knowledge systems have known for eons – that increasing our self awareness has a direct impact on the quality of the work we do in the world.
Theory U offers a U shape journey moving us through deeper levels of listening – from a place of downloading, or operating based on our preconceived assumptions and conditioned narratives, to letting go of assumptions, opening our mind, heart and will. The bottom of the U is a place where we are present with ourselves, connected to Source and able to sense that which wants to emerge. In this place of ‘presencing’, we are able to let come in, and move to prototype new models and possibilities.
The workshop used the practice of InterPlay, to invite people on a journey from their heads to their hearts and bodies. It created the conditions for practicing being present, deep listening and creating in the moment. We played with leading and following in a way that blended leadership and followership, inviting us to re-awaken our senses and practice being deeply in tune with ourselves and one another at once.
This is just the beginning of my exploration of Theory U through improvised movement practice and I plan to continue. Shout out to Social Presencing Theatre and Arawana Hayashi for their current exploration of Theory U through embodiment and contemplative practices. Thankfully there is a movement on the rise.
Over the past five days, I have been deep in the process of co-hosting the Art of Participatory Leadership in Oaxaca, Mexico. We were a gathering of community organizers, indigenous leaders, educators, environmentalists, artisans and farmers, representing a beautiful diversity of Oaxacans from both the rural and urban contexts. We came together at La Calera, an old limestone factory, which after 27 years in abandonment was converted into a space for art and community. In this rustic, creative space of re-invention, we dove deep into a process of conversation and embodiment that brought to life a model for leadership that the world is asking for.
We created the conditions for people to experience what it’s like to work together in ways that harvest the collective wisdom of the group, because we are wiser together than we are alone. We are living in a time of history when we can no longer rely on individual leaders to solve the complex problems at hand, we need all of our voices and perspectives working together with a shared purpose. And this workshop was all about how we can create the conditions for that to emerge. We shared tools for hosting conversations that matter in organizations, communities, and wherever we are.
As hosts, Aerin Dunford, Sergio Beltran, Megan Martin and I came together wanting to make this art of hosting different. We really wanted to sink into what it looks like and feels like to be authentic leaders. In nature, the most thriving systems are the ones with the most diversity. This is the case for organizations as well, which need different kinds of people and leaders working collaboratively for creativity to bloom. The more in alignment we are with our unique approach to leadership, centering our strengths and gifts in service of the collective, the more powerful we are, together.
The art of hosting conversations that matter, like any art, is a practice. Breathing and being present is the base of this practice. When we are truly in the present, we can listen deeply, and open to what wants to emerge. Working with Theory U, we began practicing opening the mind, heart and body, to be truly awake, and aware of the possibilities that are available to us, but that we cannot perceive when we are closed.
What thrilled me to no end, was that we integrated the body into every step of the journey. Woven into the fabric of our design we created the conditions for body to be engaged alongside conversation. We moved through breathing, conversation, play, movement and storytelling in a seamless flow, allowing us to deepen our connection to Source, embodied wisdom and each other.
In our closing circle full of laughter and tears, there was no doubt that the past five days have been deeply transformative for each one of us present. We felt the power of the human spirit and what we are capable of when we truly come together with a shared purpose. We each connected to a deeper part of ourselves, expelling limiting belief systems with more clarity of how to re-forest as we continue to journey from the heart.
After two of years of being part of the organization and facilitation team for the Toronto Jam, and nine years of being told “you should go to a Jam”, I finally accepted the generous offer and was a participant at the Art and Social Change Jam. Why did I wait so long? To be honest, I struggled with believing that I deserved the investment of time and resources for a reflective retreat. Even up to the day before I left, I was feeling guilty, thinking “What am I doing taking a retreat? I should be working!”
I’m so glad I pushed through my old scarcity thinking and followed my gut which both softly and assertively said: “Go!”
Because in the loving embrace of community, I received oceans of affirmation supporting me to be the artist I am, in all the roles I play in the world. Regardless of the absence of certificates or degrees, whether I am designing or facilitating a program, performing on stage or organizing a community gathering – I am an artist. Learning to stand in my power as an artist, remembering that I am a healing dancer, that art is my birthright, and my creativity is my gift to the world. A gift that the world needs to heal, re-create and re-imagine outdated, oppressive systems.
Being an artist in this world can be hard. A limiting belief system that recurred in this gathering was the idea that “I am not enough.” It was painful to see how deep this current runs through so many of us. How penetrating the societal undervaluing of art is, how scarcity thinking has invaded our systems and minds, stopping us from being BIG, being BRIGHT, being the POWER that we actually are. Affirmations came up again and again as a necessary remedy to fight this illness.
We affirmed each other and ourselves, and through this so much opening was made possible. It may sound cliché, but it’s true that love heals. In the practice of beloved community, where I was seen and heard, I allowed myself to be witnessed processing deep fears and insecurities, standing as obstacles between me and my dreams. And so did many of us.
We had the space to understand what success looks like for us as artists, and to envision our future. We had the opportunity to receive support in one of our ventures, and thanks to these collaborations, I will soon be starting a course in entrepreneurship for artists.
I was jamming with my two-year old daughter Naïma, which was a jam of its own. Exhausting and full, it was overwhelming at times. And yet everywhere I turned, there was support for us. As a parent who is seeking to cultivate learning communities outside the formal school system, it was important for me to share this learning space with Naïma. And we danced…
Thank you to SWB and YES! for your generous support, making it possible for Naïma and I to attend the Jam! We are eternally grateful.
This weekend changed my life. I attended Ka’nikonhriyohtshera – Fostering Emergence of the Good Mind – a weekend workshop at Six Nations Reserve. Lead by Diane Hill, a Mohawk consultant, educator, and social worker, this 3-day program utilizes research drawn from the quantum sciences and the study of cellular biology, epigenetics and neuroplasticity, to show how the human body heals itself.
The body uses its nervous system to process and integrate our many life experiences. Our bodies have trillions of cells designed to absorb the shock, pain, trauma, sadness, negativity that our experiences can cause – if we learn how to stay in the body and breathe. Breathing is what allows the body to process experiences. But what we most often do is get into our heads, into the ego and start thinking about what happened, analyzing it, trying to rationalize it, make sense of it up there. This is what schooling and society teaches us from the beginning. But what we are not taught is that understanding something from the intellect, doesn’t free you from it. Depending on the story you let the ego/mind tell yourself, you could feel better about it, or worse, but either way, it’s not gone. It’ll come back again, because the body hasn’t processed it on a cellular level.
The body is processing trillions of pieces of information every moment. The mind can only process 7-9 pieces of information at a time. The body is supremely wired for this purpose, and it doesn’t lie.
The body stores our experiences not only from our lifetime, but also the experiences of our ancestors, which are stored in our DNA. We have hundreds and thousands of people living in us. We carry their worldviews, even if we disagree with them, unless we do the work to really transform and release them. That’s what this program is all about.
Being in the body, and breathing. De-cloaking. Speaking our truth. This is the work of this program. And it changed me. I am a different person today, on a cellular level, than I was when I came in.
I learned so much about myself. About what has been holding me back from being my most authentic self. For me, my conditioned self – what I was told I should be, didn’t match up with who I am, and who I want to be. But still I was holding belief systems and attitudes of the system I was raised and conditioned in. Scarcity thinking, credentialism, what a “successful life” looks like, what ‘real’ work looks like, what ‘productivity’ looks like, not being enough as I am, needing to be in someone else’s shadow…and the list goes on. These belief systems no longer serve me, and in fact never did, so I let them go. And continue to let them go as they come up. By being in the body, and breathing…
And I embrace abundance – there is more than enough for everyone, including me, doesn’t have to be hard, I can make a living doing what I love, and the money will come, I can be seen, I am here, I am enough. And so are you.