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The DIOP Circle V.19

October 27th, 2019


Alec Brownridge

Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

This week, we're sharing the wisdom of Alec Brownridge. He's our 114th customer and keeps his Midtown close. And he's going to tell us how his mindfulness practice helps him make change.

"Without community, there is no liberation...but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist." - Audre Lorde

These words by the self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," Audre Lorde, have resonated with my life and work for some time now. As I've grown, I learned the importance of community, while struck by the myriad of differences between us. I have come to believe that if we can create equitable communities that address the various needs of people, we can move towards a more joyous society.

I was born into an interracial family in Washington, D.C. My dad is a Black American. His family is originally from Mississippi and have been on this continent since the beginnings of slavery. My mom comes from more recent immigrants to America.

My grandfather (giddee) was Lebanese-American, and my grandmother was Irish-German American. Growing up in a multiracial household, I recognized early on the impact of racism because of how people were treated differently depending on their perceived race and gender.

On many doctors' visits, the medical staff thought my mom was my social worker. When I was four years old, a cop stopped my dad's car and thinking I was being kidnapped. Though these experiences were challenging, my parents raised me to have a strong connection to my black identity and drive towards social justice.

My parents' drive for social justice and passion for cultural understanding led us to move to Cape Town, South Africa, when I was 13. They wanted me and my brother to live in a place where more people resembled us and to see how a country can transition from a horrific system of oppression known as Apartheid.

My three years transformed who I was and continues to impact who I am today. While there, I was introduced to Ubuntu- "I am because we are." Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "[Ubuntu] is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.' We belong in a bundle of life. We say, 'A person is a person through other persons.'"

This communal concept lays the fabric of South African. I saw not just the importance but the joy that comes from being in community with others.

This community-driven perspective influenced my experiences in college back in the States. I was actively involved in our multicultural center for students of color. It was a beautiful group of students working together to understand ourselves and our impact on the world while discussing and learning about systems of oppression such as racism, classism, sexism, and ableism.

We also made time to laugh and have fun. This place taught me that in community, we could foster space that holds both gravity and levity.

Simultaneously, I was studying contemplative practices in Buddhism. I began to realize these mindful practices not only affected me as an individual but how I interact with my community and world. When I practiced being with life as it is, I connected better with others through kindness, curiosity, and love.

Mindfulness has allowed me to hold space for people of different backgrounds and beliefs, especially those whose voices have been historically marginalized.

When I entered the "real world", I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. After spending a few months as a part-time substitute Japanese teacher in Hawaii, my need to start paying off my student loans led me to a job in consulting. I knew after my first year that it was not for me. It did not allow for the type of community service that I desired.

It took me another year to transition into another career before I eventually found a fellowship that brought me back into education. For the last four years, I have had the privilege of working in Austin, TX, as a Data Analyst for a public charter school network. I support our leadership, schools, and teachers with different reports and data that will help them with changes to our organization to support our students better.

We are not a perfect institution and have our challenges. Still, I'm impressed by how we are continually looking to change and improve. We are working towards our mission of providing high-quality education to students of color and students from low-income families.

When I moved to Austin, I began practicing yoga regularly. I had done yoga a few times before that, but it never called me. I had a meditation practice for almost ten years by then, so I thought I didn't need yoga. However, when I started diving deeper, I found something special about the practice. It was mindfulness in movement.

Since I also danced in college, the practice of yoga resonated with me. I became a certified yoga teacher so I could hold this unique space for others. When I moved to Austin, I began practicing yoga regularly. I had done yoga a few times before that, but it never called me. I had a meditation practice for almost ten years by then, so I thought I didn't need yoga.

However, when I started diving deeper, I found something special about the practice. It was mindfulness in movement. Since I also danced in college, the practice of yoga resonated with me. I became a certified yoga teacher so I could hold this unique space for others.

Even as I started teaching yoga, I had my issues with the practice in the West; in particular, the lack of representation and accessibility. If we were to imagine a yoga student, most of us would picture an abled-bodied affluent white woman in their twenties or thirties. When I started teaching yoga, most of my students fit that image.

My yoga teaching felt disconnected from my work for an education institution trying to create more equity and my personal experiences and studies of systems of oppression. I knew yoga could be accessible to more diverse groups of people. Luckily, I met a great friend a couple of years ago who introduced me to a nonprofit, Amala Foundation, and it's yoga studio, Sanctuary Yoga. Sanctuary is a beautiful studio tucked away off a busy street in Austin. As a donation-based studio, we strive to be accessible for all kinds of people.

I have the privilege to teach a weekly Mindfulness Yoga class on Mondays. This class is not your stereotypical yoga class. It is designed to facilitate space to connect with oneself as well as others. The class includes intentional yoga movements, mindfulness, and time to share. It is a communal space for learning, growth, and fun.

I have been co-facilitating a men's yoga workshop series this year. We create a space for men to connect with their bodies through yoga and engage in meaningful conversations with each other. We also provide self-care tools that everyone can take back into their lives.

I believe that once we as men have a more healthy and healed masculinity, we will be more willing to let go of some power and make room for gender equity. One of the fascinating aspects of Sanctuary Yoga is that the revenue from classes and workshops support the nonprofit, Amala Foundation's youth programs. Amala Foundation works with youth across Austin providing spaces for social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and belonging.

I have been able to support with our summer camps, and our in-school social and emotional learning circle program, Circle-Up. This Fall, we are starting youth-led community circles where teens from our leadership program facilitate the space. If we believe young people are the future, this is an excellent opportunity for the future to lead us now.

With regard to my future, I am open to many possibilities. I want to continue to support people, places, and organizations working towards fostering equitable communities. I am currently exploring graduate school options. I would like to have the concentrated time to research why many social and emotional programs at schools are not fostering equity.

For example, schools with predominate students of color and/or low-income use mindfulness programs as an alternative to discipline practices. However, affluent schools use mindfulness programs as tools for self-actualization and growth. I want to see how we can shift that and use social and emotional practices to facilitate and support equity in our communities.

Wherever I end up, I know that the journey there is as important. After reading The Book of Joy by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key component of my journey must be joy. The joy I speak of is not just a feeling.

They outline joy as perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. The goal of this joy is not just for ourselves, but as the Archbishop Tutu said, "to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you."


The DIOP Circle V.19

October 27th, 2019


Alec Brownridge

Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

This week, we're sharing the wisdom of Alec Brownridge. He's our 114th customer and keeps his Midtown close. And he's going to tell us how his mindfulness practice helps him make change.

"Without community, there is no liberation...but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist." - Audre Lorde

These words by the self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," Audre Lorde, have resonated with my life and work for some time now. As I've grown, I learned the importance of community, while struck by the myriad of differences between us. I have come to believe that if we can create equitable communities that address the various needs of people, we can move towards a more joyous society.

I was born into an interracial family in Washington, D.C. My dad is a Black American. His family is originally from Mississippi and have been on this continent since the beginnings of slavery. My mom comes from more recent immigrants to America.

My grandfather (giddee) was Lebanese-American, and my grandmother was Irish-German American. Growing up in a multiracial household, I recognized early on the impact of racism because of how people were treated differently depending on their perceived race and gender.

On many doctors' visits, the medical staff thought my mom was my social worker. When I was four years old, a cop stopped my dad's car and thinking I was being kidnapped. Though these experiences were challenging, my parents raised me to have a strong connection to my black identity and drive towards social justice.

My parents' drive for social justice and passion for cultural understanding led us to move to Cape Town, South Africa, when I was 13. They wanted me and my brother to live in a place where more people resembled us and to see how a country can transition from a horrific system of oppression known as Apartheid.

My three years transformed who I was and continues to impact who I am today. While there, I was introduced to Ubuntu- "I am because we are." Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "[Ubuntu] is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.' We belong in a bundle of life. We say, 'A person is a person through other persons.'"

This communal concept lays the fabric of South African. I saw not just the importance but the joy that comes from being in community with others.

This community-driven perspective influenced my experiences in college back in the States. I was actively involved in our multicultural center for students of color. It was a beautiful group of students working together to understand ourselves and our impact on the world while discussing and learning about systems of oppression such as racism, classism, sexism, and ableism.

We also made time to laugh and have fun. This place taught me that in community, we could foster space that holds both gravity and levity.

Simultaneously, I was studying contemplative practices in Buddhism. I began to realize these mindful practices not only affected me as an individual but how I interact with my community and world. When I practiced being with life as it is, I connected better with others through kindness, curiosity, and love.

Mindfulness has allowed me to hold space for people of different backgrounds and beliefs, especially those whose voices have been historically marginalized.

When I entered the "real world", I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. After spending a few months as a part-time substitute Japanese teacher in Hawaii, my need to start paying off my student loans led me to a job in consulting. I knew after my first year that it was not for me. It did not allow for the type of community service that I desired.

It took me another year to transition into another career before I eventually found a fellowship that brought me back into education. For the last four years, I have had the privilege of working in Austin, TX, as a Data Analyst for a public charter school network. I support our leadership, schools, and teachers with different reports and data that will help them with changes to our organization to support our students better.

We are not a perfect institution and have our challenges. Still, I'm impressed by how we are continually looking to change and improve. We are working towards our mission of providing high-quality education to students of color and students from low-income families.

When I moved to Austin, I began practicing yoga regularly. I had done yoga a few times before that, but it never called me. I had a meditation practice for almost ten years by then, so I thought I didn't need yoga. However, when I started diving deeper, I found something special about the practice. It was mindfulness in movement.

Since I also danced in college, the practice of yoga resonated with me. I became a certified yoga teacher so I could hold this unique space for others. When I moved to Austin, I began practicing yoga regularly. I had done yoga a few times before that, but it never called me. I had a meditation practice for almost ten years by then, so I thought I didn't need yoga.

However, when I started diving deeper, I found something special about the practice. It was mindfulness in movement. Since I also danced in college, the practice of yoga resonated with me. I became a certified yoga teacher so I could hold this unique space for others.

Even as I started teaching yoga, I had my issues with the practice in the West; in particular, the lack of representation and accessibility. If we were to imagine a yoga student, most of us would picture an abled-bodied affluent white woman in their twenties or thirties. When I started teaching yoga, most of my students fit that image.

My yoga teaching felt disconnected from my work for an education institution trying to create more equity and my personal experiences and studies of systems of oppression. I knew yoga could be accessible to more diverse groups of people. Luckily, I met a great friend a couple of years ago who introduced me to a nonprofit, Amala Foundation, and it's yoga studio, Sanctuary Yoga. Sanctuary is a beautiful studio tucked away off a busy street in Austin. As a donation-based studio, we strive to be accessible for all kinds of people.

I have the privilege to teach a weekly Mindfulness Yoga class on Mondays. This class is not your stereotypical yoga class. It is designed to facilitate space to connect with oneself as well as others. The class includes intentional yoga movements, mindfulness, and time to share. It is a communal space for learning, growth, and fun.

I have been co-facilitating a men's yoga workshop series this year. We create a space for men to connect with their bodies through yoga and engage in meaningful conversations with each other. We also provide self-care tools that everyone can take back into their lives.

I believe that once we as men have a more healthy and healed masculinity, we will be more willing to let go of some power and make room for gender equity. One of the fascinating aspects of Sanctuary Yoga is that the revenue from classes and workshops support the nonprofit, Amala Foundation's youth programs. Amala Foundation works with youth across Austin providing spaces for social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and belonging.

I have been able to support with our summer camps, and our in-school social and emotional learning circle program, Circle-Up. This Fall, we are starting youth-led community circles where teens from our leadership program facilitate the space. If we believe young people are the future, this is an excellent opportunity for the future to lead us now.

With regard to my future, I am open to many possibilities. I want to continue to support people, places, and organizations working towards fostering equitable communities. I am currently exploring graduate school options. I would like to have the concentrated time to research why many social and emotional programs at schools are not fostering equity.

For example, schools with predominate students of color and/or low-income use mindfulness programs as an alternative to discipline practices. However, affluent schools use mindfulness programs as tools for self-actualization and growth. I want to see how we can shift that and use social and emotional practices to facilitate and support equity in our communities.

Wherever I end up, I know that the journey there is as important. After reading The Book of Joy by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key component of my journey must be joy. The joy I speak of is not just a feeling.

They outline joy as perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. The goal of this joy is not just for ourselves, but as the Archbishop Tutu said, "to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you."


By Alec Brownridge

Follow Alec @ridgematic

And if you're in Austin, Texas and want to try some yoga, check out Sanctuary Yoga. Alec’s Mindfulness Yoga class is on Mondays from 8pm to 9pm.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of DIOP.


- Alec Brownridge


Follow Alec @ridgematic

And if you're in Austin, Texas and want to try some yoga, check out Sanctuary Yoga. Alec’s Mindfulness Yoga class is on Mondays from 8pm to 9pm.