Tag Archives: Healing Processes

Karate for the Community Organizer’s Soul

Karate and Community Organizing, they have a bit in common, at least for me.

I’m a martial artist, not a particularly good athlete, but I’ve been doing this for years (off and on), and I’ve dedicated myself to learning how to do this better throughout the entirety of my life, if only on my time and to the best of my own ability (in the words of my Instructor, the only person we need to compare myself to is me).

Similarly, I’m a community organizer. I’m not a particularly good organizer or storyteller, but I’ve dedicated my life to learning how to be a better organizer and storyteller, again even if only to the best of what I’m capable of.

Neither of these things necessarily come naturally to me, but I’m a quick-thinker and my body is good at catching-up, I’m stubborn as all hell, and I’m willing to keep learning. Even after almost 19 years of karate classes and years as an organizer (even before I knew what community organizing was), both have been the kinds of things that make me uncomfortable and nervous and push me as far away from my comfort zone as it’s possible to be.

Two things about both karate and community organizing:

1) According to a classmate of mine, an older woman who has been in karate years and has known me since I was brand new to the sport, when I was little I was so shy that you could look at me and I would go hide in a corner. I don’t remember this but I trust her. I remember thinking in my first ever karate class that I had humiliated myself, when I did a move (a run, jump, sidekick) that ended up with me on my butt, rather than standing up. I ran out of the karate school crying. My parents made me join anyways. I wasn’t very shy for much longer after that and I’ve fallen more times and in more ways that I could count. I’m still learning how to make mistakes gratefully and usefully. This is the most important lesson I ever learned for for community organizing and for everything else.

2) When I began college, I left karate. But it was my experience organizing as a college student that made me need to go back. I’ve always had a short fuse and a quick temper and I was having a lot of trouble turning hot anger into cold anger that I could use. I had lost control of my most powerful weapon. I needed to re-train my body and mind for focus and control if I was going to succeed as an organizer. Karate (under the same instructor I had learned from for years) was the best and only way I knew how to do that.

Organizing gave me a goal and a sense of the future and the beginnings of a plan, but karate gave me the focus to reach it, the discipline to plan for it, the value system (and community) to anchor myself in, and the confident sense of self to make myself uncomfortable in the process. More importantly, in the words of Grand Master John Worley, 10th Degree Black Belt and National Karate co-founder, it taught me to stick to my bush.

It’s made me less scared of the unknowns. This next year of my life is a whole lot of stuff I can’t plan for and a whole lot of stuff I can plan for as much as I want, but can’t really know what to expect. I’ll be organizing and teaching and writing and doing my same work, but I’m be in a new community for several months, where the people I know can be counted on one hand. I’ll be dependent on me and me alone for the very first time, but I’m okay with that. I’ve got the lessons karate taught me, I’ll keep training at karate because that’s the best way I know how to care for myself, it’s what I believe in, it’s how I’ll be a better community organizer, and because I know more than anything that my experience as a student of the martial arts have taught me all that I need is already within me.

This post was NOT in any way a project requested, thought of, or funded by my karate school or the chain of schools it belongs to. They had nothing to do with this post, but for the fact that they have taught me for years. I’m grateful for their guidance and instruction and hope this post reaches their high standards if they ever read it, but this post and the idea for this post are from my own mind.


Storytelling as Healer

I had the most wonderful experience today in a meeting with my fellow staff members at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and some of our community allies.

At one point, we began discussing wounds. We began discussing healing. We discussed the ongoing trauma that comes with being “othered.” It was an incredible, powerful, tough discussion to be a part of. I’m struggling to organize it in my head.

I want to be very true to myself in this space, honor my history and respect my mistakes and future.

I went to a very small private high school in Minnesota. 9/11 occurred just days after freshman year for me. Much like with many other Americans, I remember where I was, what I was doing, and how I found out on that horrible day. Unlike the rest of my classmates, however, my mother and aunt came and picked up my younger brother and I from school, worried that students would retaliate in a cruel way.

The next day I walked into school and students (or whomever it was) had taken the opportunity to write their opinion of me in my locker. Slurs and words I had never, ever heard before were suddenly my reality. Teachers warned me to calm down my “Arab-ness” as the students were going through difficult and sensitive times (as if I wasn’t living in this country, feeling the same fear and horror my white classmates were feeling). I was Arab-American, but I didn’t feel Middle Eastern in any way, shape or, form. Other people sure felt it for me though. Suddenly I was “the Arab” at the same time I was feeling more and more ashamed (systemic oppression at work) of being Arab-American.

The moment I opened my locker and those ridiculous slips of paper fell out, that was the moment I realized I was a person of color, that I was an “other.” I’ve spent my entire life, and far too much god forsaken energy, trying to maneuver it and looking for other’s acceptance of me and my other-ness, in a way that doesn’t scare people or make them uncomfortable. I spent years denying everything about my culture, participating in the oppression of other Arabs and other communities, because I was hiding from me and my realities and my traumas. I’ve not gotten over that even in my work now.

Those moments have shaped my entire life. Those wounds never truly heal. Our traumas never truly leave us. Healing is a long, slow, sensitive process that takes the whole of our lives if not longer. We may never know that peace, but I know that we’re sure as hell going to fight tooth-and-nail for it.

I use storytelling to shape the world I believe needs to exist. I don’t live in that world yet and I don’t hide from this world pretending that if I close my eyes and ears, that other world will show up. I work as a storyteller for a number of organizations with community leaders and community leaders in-training all over the Twin Cities. I’ve been spending so much time helping other use storytelling to begin healing processes and to fight for that something better, that I’ve ignored my own and my role in community storytelling, even in my own communities.

I want to use this blog space to share my story and define my stories, to talk about the power of community storytelling, and to discuss the importance of storytelling in the development of the better world. I hope that you’ll feel called to discuss your own stories and your own processes of healing, if you have them.

For me, storytelling is such a powerful tool because it offers us an opportunity to both shift our frame of the world around us and to begin shifting others’ frame of the world, by speaking about the world in the ways that are us honest to us, our lives, and our communities. By recognizing that how we express our world impacts the way the world looks, we hold the power to begin tearing down these destructive and traumatic paradigms that actively work to destroy us, to begin building a better world and to fight for justice in a way that doesn’t support the “cycle of protest.” Our words and photos and videos and dances have more power than we could ever imagine for us and for each other.

I’m sure I’ll be back to discuss this more. I want to talk about this at length, but I don’t believe I quite have the language yet to do so. For now, I want to acknowledge that my wounds shape who I am and what and why I write, no matter for who or what I am writing. If I am to heal those wounds or at least learn from them, I need to be honest about their existence and not hide from the scarier parts of myself.