Accountability and Action: Kripalu and Black Lives Matter

Updated May 11, 2021

Originally published June 5, 2020

To be silent is to be complicit. We, at Kripalu, stand in solidarity with Black communities and the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the world.⁠ But that is not enough. We recognize that we must first look at ourselves as an organization and address how our actions have contributed to and benefited from systemic racism in our country. 

Not long ago, I shared with you my aspiration for a more diverse Kripalu. We are more committed than ever to this manifestation of our dharma (sacred duty) to create a more compassionate, connected, and awakened world. Yet, we now find ourselves faced with harsh realities that we need to acknowledge and work on.

We need to hold ourselves accountable.
We need to dig deeper on this issue, considering not just where we are now, but where we started. For Kripalu, this is complicated. Yoga is an ancient practice that originated from brown people halfway across the world, and its wisdom made its way to us over centuries and continents. As a predominantly white organization, we must consider the responsibilities we have to this legacy, as it applies to race.

We don’t yet have all the answers.
We want to step into the discomfort of transformative growth ourselves before we offer guidance on how to do it. Swami Kripalu taught us that the key to transformation was ‘self-observation without judgement.’ We are observing that, as of this moment, we do not have all the answers, and are working on accepting that reality with humility.  So, now, we listen. We open ourselves up to dialogue and meaningful discussions with Black communities. And we turn our focus to action.

We know what we’ve done so far.
In 2019 and early 2020, we led diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all staff, and at the time of our shutdown, we made certain our entire staff received their full salary and benefits for 14 weeks. We’ve provided scholarships to organizations in need for RISE™, our signature stress resilience program, and we’ve made our work culture more accessible by providing employees with language translation and delivered an English as a Second Language program.

We need to do much, much more.
As we move forward toward a new Kripalu, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of our agenda. 

  • We will recruit more people of color to ensure all voices are heard, starting with our board and throughout every level of the organization.
    Update Kripalu has finalized our strategic plan. We are actively recruiting into our board and team for the future of Kripalu to support this aspirational plan. 
  • We will provide free programs and tools to organizations that support under-resourced communities, and people on the frontlines of change.
    Update We continue to offer free resources and tools over the past few months to support these communities. Those include:
    • Free online share circles for queer, LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities.
    • Free programming.
    • Continued support and guidance through our blog and resources.
    Additionally, we now offer Sliding Scale Tuition for many of our programs to encourage justice and equity around our offerings.
  • We will highlight diverse voices and teachers across all our platforms of communication, including social media and special programs, whether we are hosting these programs or not.
    Update This year and last we have had the pleasure to work with the following industry leaders including Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Brynn SaitoAkaya WindwoodAlexandra Elle, Mariel BuquéJamila ReddyNneka JuliaRha GoddessRobert PengAcharya Shunya, Yang YangKoya WebbSadia Bruce, Monique SchubertLeslie Salmon JonesJeff W. JonesStan StricklandRegina of Wolf Medicine Magic, Rachel Cargle, Muneeza Ahmed, and look forward to many more upcoming programs.
  • We will build a slate of programming that broadens the reach and diversity of our offerings and implement guiding principles for creating a culture of belonging.
    Update As an organization, in 2020 we committed to a goal that 25% of our online programs would be led by BIPOC presenters, to date the result has been more than 30%.
  • We will provide programming to our community that will raise our collective understanding of racial, climate, economic, and social injustice to ensure our community does this important work.
    Update We are regularly running programs focused on racial justice, white awakening, and societal transformation. 
  • We will partner with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion experts to help Kripalu do the deeply needed and urgent work of cultural and organizational transformation.
    Update We have continued our partnership with Michelle Johnson and Kerri Kelly of the Race and Resilience organization to help us do this much-needed work as an organization. They have now worked with our entire team and Board and have established an equity team to facilitate a shift in our organizational culture and community. 

We must never stop.
We are just beginning this work. Yoga teaches us that when difficulties arise, we must work through it, searching for a deeper truth. The continued injustices brought onto Black people in our society have led us to the brink, and the sense of urgency created by the Black Lives Matter movement is long overdue. We must seek out the roots of these wrongs, and we must start with ourselves. We won’t stop until we have the answers to all of the questions. Until we do, we invite you to walk beside us on this path.

Resources for the Times: Books, Articles, Organizations, Community, and More.

Barbara Vacarr, PhD, Kripalu's CEO from 2016–2021, is a psychologist, adult educator, and lifelong meditator who writes about and speaks to topics related to mindfulness, compassion, conscious leadership, and activism.

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