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Lions Roar : July 2018
NOT EVERYONE FELT WELCOME in the mainstream Bud- dhist meditation centers in the Bay Area. So in the early 2000s, some spiritual practitioners came together to gather ideas about how to do things differently. “We found that inviting diverse communities into something as intimate as a collective sacred space must be done with a deep commitment to creating the conditions for inclusivity to flour- ish,” writes one of the founders, Larry Yang, in his book Awake n - ing Together: The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community. Shaping the Leadership Sangha for the future EBMC was a careful process, as it had to reflect a diverse membership, be part of the community, and operate with the same values and princi- ples as the community itself. After several iterations of boards and location prospects, the leadership of EBMC came together with the right mix of chemistry and diversity, and decided their prior- ity was to go directly to the communities they wanted to serve. “We had two separate town hall meetings, and had pizza and salad, and asked people what they wanted in a medita- tion center,” says Ikeda. “Going out to the community is really important for an organization. It should be part of every center, because if you’re saying you want to serve people, how do you know you’re giving them what they want?” The leaders of EBMC asked for feedback about what wasn’t being met in a systemic way. Ikeda says at the top of the list were spaces for specific identity groups to practice, where like- minded people could see themselves represented both in teach- ers and in fellow sangha members. Making this a main focus, East Bay Meditation Center opened in Oakland in 2007. “The response was oceanic,” says Ikeda. “As soon as we opened our doors, we had already out- grown the space.” EBMC was on a busy street where practition- ers would often do walking meditation on the sidewalk. Yang notes that busy passersby would inevitably stop or slow down, as would passing cars, to take in what was happening. In this bustling city, EBMC was helping the world slow down for a moment through mindfulness practice. It relocated to its cur- rent, bigger space in 2012. Three main identity-based sanghas were established—the People of Color sangha, the Alphabet sangha (named as such to honor the evolving letters/numbers of the LGBTQI commun- ity), and the Every Body Every Mind sangha, which welcomes people with disabilities. Other programs at EBMC include the teen sangha, recovery programs, a family day, and a one-year secular mindfulness program for social justice activists called “Practice in Transformative Action.” WHEN TEACHERS OF COLOR like Shahara Godfrey take their place at the front of the room, participants say the effect is transformative. “I started meditating when I was a teenager and I’m forty-six now,” says a member of the People of Color sangha. “I didn’t find my home sangha until I came here, about ten years ago. Shahara Godfrey was teaching, a person of color at the front of the room. It was the first time I’d seen that. At EBMC, every teaching team must have a person of color. That makes a huge difference.” Godfrey joined EBMC as a teacher in its early stages and is a member of all three identity-based sanghas. She was nervous when she starting teaching twenty years ago. She didn’t see many people who represented her at the front of the room, and she watched white people ask to be teachers with a confidence she didn’t have. Larry Yang insisted she should be up there too. “When he said, ‘Now you can teach on your own,’ I was like, ‘You can’t leave me, don’t leave me,’” says Godfrey. “I don’t have Left: A procession carrying a statue of the Buddha down a busy Oakland street marked EBMC’s opening in 2007. Above: Reflecting its diversity, the main altar at EBMC displays a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Venerable Bhante Suhita Dharma, the first African American to become a fully ordained Buddhist monk. PHOTOBYCANDIMARTINEZCARTHEN LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 36