Rusia, thanks so much the mind the gap video. it rocks! I can’t wait to start my #30DaysUP challenge.

wanda salamanE.D., Mothers On the Move

a woman in the pursuit of justice

By Dayanara Marte Global Connect! Blogger

20140421-185658.jpg“Rusia Naureen Mohiuddin was born in Bangladesh in 1973, the year that two important cases dominated the United States news: Roe vs. Wade and the start of the Watergate hearings. She was born an identical twin, the pair born in the middle of four siblings. She says her journey towards social justice causes came before she was 13 years old.

Mohiuddin studied and graduated in New York, and after a nine month visit to Bangladesh, returned to the city to launch herself as the lead organizer for the Moshulu Woodlawn South Community Coalition.

Without any formal training, Mohiuddin successfully organized the first bilingual Bengali program in New York City at Public School 20 in the North West Bronx, a community with a high concentration of Bangladeshi families. There she organized more than 100 community members to start tenant associations and run four social justice campaigns in their neighborhoods.

Five and a half years ago Mohiuddin co-founded Social Justice Leadership, an organization based in New York City supporting leaders, organizers and supervisors to create authentic open relationships with those they work with.

Having worked in the five boroughs of New York City, Florida and California with youth, women and people of color, Mohiuddin started seeing patterns in people’s experiences.

People felt stuck in old habits that no longer served a purpose in their lives and didn’t know how to change. Staff in community organizing were underpaid and overworked with no real structure in place to appreciate or value the work they do. And, the needs of communities were so vast and global that the day-to-day work barely put a dent in the situations faced. Staff quickly became overworked, burned out and left.

In late 2004, Mohiuddin crafted a five-year vision for the work she felt she must do to infuse highly skilled, balanced and sustainable organizers into the social justice movement. Already in development, Mohiuddin, as the chief architect of ACTIVATE! The Community Fellowship Program, launched an intensive three-month program for intermediate, entry level folks and whole organizations to train together and develop skills sets that take care of their human and organizing needs.

“Some people want change that is tangible, that you can feel, but the most stark changes are small and have huge impact but we are only able to see them if we are engaged in day-to-day relationships with people,” says Mohiuddin.

ACTIVATE! has not only become the staple of how Social Justice Leadership does their organizing work today, but has also revolutionized the way that organizers think about themselves within the movement. It was through ACTIVATE! that Mohiuddin solidified integrating the self into community organizing work, changing the way organizing is done while having a transformative impact in the lives of the people who attend the training.

Ultimately, this innovative integration became the basis for what will be the social justice leadership model of transformative organizing. This model, says Mohiuddin, “forces people to see their own humanity and the humanity of others in the pursuit of justice.”

Today, Mohiuddin is taking what she has learned into the universe, reaching as many people as she can. “I want to be a part of something that has personhood at the center. I want to work for an organization not looking to be bigger than itself, where the expansion becomes more important than the work it is doing,” said Mohiuddin.

The only way to secure that she will find this place is by creating it herself. This winter, Mohiuddin will be launching Universal Partnership, a consulting and training institute that believes that the heart of a sustainable movement moves to the beat of sustainable people.

As a woman of color in various leadership positions, Mohiuddin always had the opportunity to connect with the staff of where she worked but found it hard to be taken seriously by her male peers in leadership, no matter their race. She sees the many displaced and disempowering positions she has found herself in as a direct result of her being a women. No matter the injustice or oppression she faced, Mohiuddin made the struggle for gender equality secondary for the sake of maintaining relationships and getting her work done.

For those on the front lines, Mohiuddin says, “It’s important to believe in yourself even when everyone tells you not to, surround yourself with people who care about you and allow yourself to be impacted by the work that you are doing. It is not about changing the world, it’s allowing the work to shape you and who you need to be.”

Of course this is easier said than done so look forward to Universal Partnership to support you on your journey of finding your humanity and dignity if you have lost it along the way.

finding justice within

By Sam Mowe

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In November 2013 we held a by-invitation contemplative retreat for activists entitled “Practicing Justice: Transformation for Social Change” curated by Zen teacher Rev. angel Kyodo williams and co-facilitated byClaudia Horwitz and Rusia Mohiuddin.  Made possible by a grant from the Kalliopeia Foundation, it was one of a series of retreats which, starting in 2002, periodically convene activists to explore the intersection of contemplative/spiritual/transformational practice and social justice.

Participants told their stories, strengthened ties, renewed friendships and explored commonalities and differences, but the retreat was not a typical professional networking gathering. It was conducted on a deeply personal level, with a very spacious agenda allowing plenty of time for reflection and practice.  It focused on inner work with the goal of strengthening outer work, bridging the gap between the public/social and private/individual aspects of transformational change.

“This exploration has become a movement in some ways,” says williams.  “Today we speak of ‘turning tides’ and a ‘great shift in consciousness’ coming to inform the way we make change in the world.  There’s a growing recognition that we need to be more specific and emphatic about justice itself.  Justice isn’t just about entitlements – it’s about honoring inherent rights, readjusting and renegotiating our relationship to the Other, bringing people who are marginalized back into the center.”

by Erin Howard

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I had the honor of being coached by Rusia for 6 months. For 10 years, I have dedicated every aspect of my life to the immigrant rights movement and to efforts focused on educational equity and youth leadership development in Lexington, KY. While my passion drives me, there have been many times that I have felt lost in the work and consumed in the many needs. I would wrestle with guilt when I physically could not give anymore, and I would feel a deep sense of restlessness that I, in my leadership, was not enough. I struggled to find balance, prioritize efforts, and respect my own humanity.

Rusia challenged me from our very first session to integrate two new practices into my day – meditation and journaling – as well as to shift my mentality on movement in order to embrace the vision I had for my leadership. The one outlet I have always practiced was movement: working out, dancing, yoga, gymnastics, sports. But more as an effort to stay healthy, not as an means through which I could cultivate my creative, authentic and radically hopeful leadership. By integrating mediation and journaling and embracing movement as a conduit of connecting my mind and body, I experienced and continue to experience a tremendous amount of healing, appreciation, and love for myself, the work I *get* to to do, and those with whom I lead.

I am a commitment to empowering those directly impacted– the youth and their families– for the sake of an inclusive and just community. I forgive myself when I don’t get it right; I seek understanding and keep an open mind when I need to be grounded. I am a commitment to creative leadership, to selfless listening, and to radical hope because my dream, my purpose is to help those that I meet become all they have been created to be.

Until my coaching with Rusia, I had not fully appreciated and embraced the creative, peace-building, and innocent manner of my leadership. I had not imagined and created a vision for my leadership, either. I even went as far as discounting major components of who I am to work within the system of education. Yet, she helped me find the words to articulate my presence; I can say unapologetically that, for this moment in my life, I am committed to working from within higher education to bare witness, to leverage resources and to create spaces for all who the system by nature and structure leaves out. Because this is exhausting and often times a mismatch of values and purpose, Rusia also guided me to ask those closest to me for the encouragement and affirmation I needed to keep going. I found peace and power in seeking this encouragement, and the vulnerability of doing so has deepened not only my leadership but also my friendships and collaborations.

Her coaching has helped me become a better mentor and supervisor. I cannot claim that I no longer struggle with taking on too much and losing myself in the work. My passion still gets the best of me. Yet, I have learned to identify the imbalances and conditioned tendencies that drain and degrade me. My awareness of the needs of others has increased; my concern to seek understanding has deepened; and I have begun to embrace my deep sense of empathy as a strength as opposed to an uncomfortable or embarrassing shortcoming. It takes strength to bare one’s soul and emotions- shared joy, shared tears, shared frustration, shared hurt, shared hope- this helps a community grow.

I have stepped into the mantra that I will fiercely defend spaces, resources and leadership roles for those directly impacted by the issues I passionately work to address. I am a commitment to empowering those directly impacted– the youth and their families– for the sake of an inclusive and just community. I forgive myself when I don’t get it right; I seek understanding and keep an open mind when I need to be grounded. I am a commitment to creative leadership, to selfless listening, and to radical hope because my dream, my purpose is to help those that I meet become all they have been created to be.

Rusia’s coaching helped me articulate this vision. I found my center– my sweet spot, my super powers. And while the struggles are many still and the injustices hurting and dehumanizing our communities seem to be overcoming and overwhelming, the movement, mediation and journaling I practice help remind me that I am connected to a loving, powerful people. Our connectedness is our existence, and even though I can’t fix it all, I have an important part to contribute that depends on my creativity, my humanity, and my passion to mold a rising generation of leaders.

Thank you, Rusia, for teaching me to breath, for teaching me to honor my humanity, for encouraging my creative, movement-based leadership and for empowering me to find the words to embrace and speak life to my commitments and my story.

by Lucia Gomez

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I admit that I enjoy and actually look for a good challenge. I thrive in challenging environments. I make the best of a given situation and feel comfortable assessing and navigating rough waters. Therefore when I saw Universal Partnership’s #30daysUP meditation challenge, I thought – why not? A challenge to sit, meditate, and clear my mind – let’s go! I knew I needed it, my mind was running game all over me!

I will admit, this challenge came in a good time for me – I was prime to do something to better manage my emotional and professional state of mind. I had just undergone quite a brutal beatdown when having to deal with extremely untrustworthy individuals and hoping they would do what is best for the people they represent. Unfortunately, my hopes were set too high and I entered full body, heart, mind and soul without the appropriate gear to manage it all. In the past, I had used meditation as a tool to help me cope with the daily strain on my body and heart when the daily job of LIFE took a toll on me. I will admit that during this time I had some other kinds of support. A friend of mine – let’s call him Smarty, really kicked into gear during this time. He helped me by listening, informally coaching, and highlighting aspects of my thought-process and communication skills that I had overlooked needed major work. Just imagine – I got two gifts from him, a book called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity and the Mind-Map Book. Now, if that’s not an indication of the “troubles” he saw in my flow, than I’m not sure what else could be.

Along comes the #30daysUP challenge and I will admit – it really took me to the next level of my evolution. I started on April 7th and I am still going strong. I can’t lie, there was a moment that I sat up to 18 minutes…then I had to go back down to 3 minutes! I’m now back up to 11 minutes and every day working my way up to my goal of 15 minutes daily. I can see things in a way that I never had before. I’m more open and less reactive. I have noticed that when something is triggering me, I know that breathing can get me through it – so I inhale, take in the moment – and exhale. I then am ready to either respond, or simply let it go until I can really handle the reaction that will follow in a productive way.

Just last week, I knew that if I didn’t meditate every day, I wasn’t going to get through it all – but it was more than just the meditation. Its as if I started paying attention and being more present in all aspects of my life. I have not only kept meditating beyond the 30 days (sometimes more than once a day when I feel the need to reboot), but when I do miss a day – I’m not as hard on myself and immediately get back to it the next day. I have also started to write in my journal, listen to music, and read. It’s as if I’ve slowed down – but not necessarily my work flow or productivity, just what I prioritize and emphasize as needing immediate and stressful attention. Sometimes, my days are jammed with non-stop activity, but I can now stop, take a moment to take-in what is happening, and assess my next steps.

For example, one of the ways I used to manage relationships was going straight to the point without too much fluff or thought on who I was speaking to. So much so that at times I had no filter and it was as if I was interacting with objects that didn’t feel or react as a result of what I was saying and doing. My self-awareness was a bit off…to say the least. Am I 100% aware now? Not 100%, but definitely much more aware than I have ever been and working towards a much clearer and purpose-driven self. The #30daysUP challenge wasn’t the only time I started meditating. I had been doing it on and off for about two years. Yet, seeing the UP’s mind the gap video, the structure, the posts and the tweets got me excited to be a part of something with a community of individuals who were striving to simply become better for the sake of helping others be better. It’s what got me motivated to really try to stick to it and stay on course.

The idea that a daily practice could help re-train my mind to reconnect with my heart, my breath, my body, and ultimately with others is truly fascinating to me. So simple, yet it took me this long to get here.

Meditation was not like other stress-coping mechanisms like when I choose to write in my journal or swim, but it has helped me reflect and re-train my eyes to see, my heart to feel, and my mind to think about what is there in that present moment. I’ve learned to identify in much less time the things that make me happy, mad and those that take me off course and ultimately procrastinate. My mood is much less random, and I can actually feel and understand what is going on with my body and where my mind is. I value the present so much more than I ever have, and I know it can only get better. Thank you Rusia, #30daysUp and all who participated. Let’s keep it going!

Lucia is the Executive Director of La Fuente