Sashah and Ally Discuss Diversity
Our founder, Alex Mazerolle, and Girlvana teacher & mentor, Sashah Rahemtulla, email about race, representation, inclusion and where Girlvana is at
Sashah to Alex Sat, Mar 24, 2018 at 12:45 PM
I wanted to drop you a line and say hello!
I’ve so enjoyed being a part of Girlvana thus far, from the beginnings at the Oct 2016 training to teaching Girlvana classes at high school and Girl Guide groups, and now running two Girlvana series in East Van. I’ve so enjoyed keeping up with what Girlvana is offering via social media, including the most recent Spring Break retreat.
I am eager to be a part of Girlvana as much as possible and feel I have a lot to offer. In my daily work as a youth counsellor, my role includes creating space for tough conversations, feelings and growth. My favourite part of this work is the healing power of relationships and mentorship - I see that this is so present in Girlvana’s approach.
That being said, I would love to be a part of the upcoming Summer Retreat in any way possible. As a woman of colour, I know firsthand the importance to see women who look like me in the roles of mentors, leaders, teachers, etc. I am quite confident that you understand and support the importance of representation and commitment to intersectional analysis that translates into action, promoting diversity in all arenas.
I would love to see more women of colour at the centre of Girlvana and I would love to be one of them. I can’t express how important it was for me to see myself in the women that I connected with in leadership roles as a girl and teen. I didn’t realize how much seeing the women from my own community as my mentors empowered me, since I could see my heritage and culture reflected in them, and was therefore, even more confident that I was destined to lead too.
Unfortunately, as a woman of colour I have also had the experience of rarely seeing myself or other women of colour in many (if any at all) roles of importance such as writers, actors, yoga teachers, dance teachers, sports coaches etc. These women were and are, more often than not, white women. And while I am so grateful for the many women who are in those roles and whom I have learned so much from over the years- I also know that the opportunity to see more of myself in those women would have meant so much more for me.
I want that for the girls of Girlvana.
I want the girls to see that more than just one colour of woman can be a mentor. That we all have unique gifts and diverse backgrounds to share. I want them to know that Girlvana stands for intersectionality and diversity across the board. And, I want to do whatever I can to help make that happen.
Thank you for reading this- I felt safe writing to you as I often see you post online around these issues, and trusted it would be a welcome conversation to start. I also acknowledge that these things may already be on your mind and in your plans and goals for Girlvana- which would be amazing to hear about too.
Hoping to continue the conversation soon!
Alex to Sashah Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 1:09 PM
My apologies for taking so long to get back to you. With closure of The Distrikt, my time is so stretched, as is my physical and mental bandwidth and in all transparency, my emotional health. It's been a pretty tough road behind the scenes here. I appreciate your patience in this as this conversation matters to me deeply and I hope you didn't feel like I was not honouring your email or your intent.
Firstly, I hear you. What you said, matters and you are so so so right. It has been a conversation for a while now regarding my all white, cis gendered female mentor team. Having Jessie there as our guest mentor over Spring, who identifies as gender fluid, was really eye-opening; although not a visible minority, I see the ways in which what we show does not allow for all young people to feel represented or seen.
What we have done in the last two years is sought out girls of colour to take priority as scholarship recipients. I see that is half the battle as once they are here, they don't see themselves in the mentor team.
We are getting hyper-conscious of what we portray on social media as to celebrate and not tokenize girls and people of colour. In the next few months you will see new photographs of different girls in all shapes and colours, followed by blogs and social media posts in their voices. All of this in the works.
As for the summer retreat we have been in the talks for a few months with a woman of colour from the US who is up to similar work to be a guest mentor. At the moment it is still unconfirmed.
As for our current mentor team: these 4 work all year round with GV to fundraise, plan, administrate and mentor our past girls. It's all volunteer and they take the week off of their jobs to be there. The retreat is a shit-ton of work, but being there is the reward for all of their hard work and time they put in. Most retreats operate at a loss once we accept as many scholarships as we can, so adding extra bodies (ie. meals, ferries and accommodation) is not always feasible for us. I think that is what people don't see is, how expensive this week is to run.
That being said, asking one of my mentors to step down after years and years of this work is a tough one for me, but we've had the conversation plenty of times. It's not out of the question for someone to step down to create space for someone new. Currently for summer, my mentors have had the week booked off and have been working with some of the girls coming for a while now. So my current solution is to keep them on and have a guest mentor, a woman of colour, come for one night and 2 days.
As for the 2019 retreat season, I am definitely looking to change it up. I do ask myself why the women of girlvana are mostly white. Why the signs up are mostly white. Why the industry of yoga is mostly white, and what can I do with my privilege and power to change that.
So here I am, not completely knowing what to do but trying my hardest. It is so import to me to have voices like yours involved. I am super open to your ideas and anything you see that we could do better. I know this isn't totally an answer but it's a start.
I will keep you posted on this guest mentor spot as we have actively been working on it for a few months now. I know you are a perfect candidate for this, so stay tuned. And for 2019, as we change things up I would love for you to be more involved.
In the meantime, keep doing the incredible work that you are doing. So many girls need you to be a beacon of light for them.
Let me know your thoughts. Sending you so much love xo
Sashah to Alex Thu, May 3, 2018 at 11:04 AM
First off, I want to thank you for replying and being so thoughtful and open about what is currently going on for you. I had imagined with all your traveling, and the closing of the (physical space) of the Distrikt, it must be a bit of a hurricane on your end. I appreciate your candor and sending love your way.
I am so overjoyed to be having this conversation with you. It makes me so proud to be a part of Girlvana to know that conversations about privilege, race, intersectionality and feminism are at the heart of the organization, being talked about, and worked on. This is something I have been advocating for in many areas of my life. In the last two years I have been struggling with communicating with others to begin these conversations, make plans and take actions. It has been exhausting and incredibly draining, as well as hurtful and enraging at times.
The other side of that is - I still continue to feel called to begin these conversations, focus on how I can, from my own place of privilege, hopefully create change and a better, softer world for the young women I see myself in; especially young women of colour.
My passion to be with youth, listen, support, feel and also to relive my own pain and experiences of oppression, in light of theirs has only gotten stronger. I feel called to continue on asking hard questions and doing my absolute best to find ways to represent and uplift women of colour in any ways I can.
This calling is leading me to want to focus on what is the biggest priority for me right - supporting women of colour and advocating for diversity. I have applied for a volunteer position in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania beginning September 2018 for a year as a Gender Equality Agent, collaborating with local organizations there, with the goal of ensuring resources for youth are accessible, appropriate, and relevant to young women in the community.
In the meantime, I am bringing the same heart and passion to my Girlvana classes, and it only felt natural to bring up my hopes and concerns with you. Of course, I would be honoured and absolutely ecstatic to be included in the upcoming summer retreat. But of course would also be happy to see any representation of WOC in the mentor team! Beyond the summer, despite possibly being in Tanzania until Sept 2019, I would love to continue to be in touch and support in any way I can.
I did have some ideas/thoughts to offer in terms of Girlvana more fully representing and supporting WOC:
(*side note: I think these points could apply to many marginalized groups; ie. LGBTQ+, different abilities, but I am choosing to focus on one area)
Since the majority of Girlvana instructors are white, whenever scholarships are available for the Teacher Trainings, focusing on applicants of colour. Remembering that communities of colour have history of economic disadvantage which translates to transgenerational economic hardship, often a barrier to extra income for things such as a supplemental teacher training
Employ POC and especially WOC whenever possible - this could extend to any job or task (web design, photography, writing). Compensate for ALL types of labour (trades/exchanges/whatever is available are awesome, if money isn’t possible) If there aren't many "paid" jobs at the moment within Girlvana, this could be a goal for the future.
Make distinct and clear statements about welcoming POC into the culture of Girlvana. As many organizations do when hiring. Specify GIrlvana's support and engagement of POC and make it clear they are welcomed, wanted and valued by Girlvana. As WOC, in spaces dominated by white people, just seeing a declaration of welcoming makes me feel safer and more at ease, and more likely to share more of myself.
Include and invite POC and WOC to conversations about how to make Girlvana more diverse and more representational of more girls. Nothing feels worse than white people deciding what POC need. Ask us, invite us, empower us to be leading the discussion. Listen and value our input.
Dismantling systems of white supremacy requires those with privilege in those systems (ie. white people) to give up privilege in order to change the status quo. Continue asking ‘who is the best person for this role?’ and acknowledge the blind spots we all have within our own privileges.
I have so appreciated the voice/culture of Girlvana and your personal media already being inclusive in many ways through: sharing the works of POC, posts supporting POC, and statements of solidarity.
It has been through this presence that made me feel safe enough to contact you with my thoughts in the first place. Thank you for being an ally (literally) and being in this work. I am committed to do anything I can to support Girlvana in being inclusive, diverse, feminist and intersectional in its representation and engagement with women everywhere.
Feel free to be in touch any time.
With love, solidarity and hope,
Alex to Sashah Fri, May 4, 2018 at 9:39 AM
Can I first just say- WOW. I am so humbled and blown away by the woman that you are. Thank you for taking the time to write, express and educate me. What strikes me deeply is not only your passion, knowledge and care but your ability to educate without shaming. I have so much to learn from you and I in no way intend to use you or take advantage of your emotional labour. I feel very passionate about what you have to say and I am so impressed by the way you convey it. You are so valuable.
I am so excited about your next venture. It takes massive amounts of courage and bravery and I have deep respect for that. I promise I will keep it a secret for now. You are the true embodiment of what mentor is, an we are so lucky to have you in the Girlvana family.
I've thought a whole lot about the summer retreat. We have the conversation with a few women about the guest mentor spot but none of them have come with the amount of passion, dedication and interest that you have had. I mean it when I say, I am floored by your response.
I saw my teacher yesterday and we spoke about this very thing, before I saw your email, and she said, "ask them what they would like to bring to girlvana, really feel who they are...' I left my session and boom, there was your email with the answers.
So, we still have to figure out the logistics, but I would love to offer you this place as our guest mentor on the Summer Retreat. I just ask that you are ready to tell your story, speak to the girls and educate on who you are and what matters to you. You will have the floor to tell your story.
Till then, I would love to chat more about how we can keep you involved in a social media way- would you be interested in writing a blog and (once I get my shit together), I am starting a podcast and would love to have you on to chat!
That’s all for now. Sorry if this is a bit scattered, got oh so many things going on, but this is SO IMPORTANT TO ME!
With love and deep respect,
Sashah to Ally Sat, May 5, 2018 at 4:39 PM
Thank you so much Ally! Your feedback seriously means a lot to me and of course I would be 100% down to come to the retreat as a mentor! I would also definitely be interested in doing a blog and coming on your podcast in the future. I am honoured to be a part of the Girlvana family and can’t wait for all that is to come!
Love love love!
Alex to Sashah Tue, May 29, 2018 at 11:53 AM
Just following up with some summer details for you.
So the GV summer retreat is happening July 15-19th at Bodega Ridge. The role, like all the mentors and myself is volunteer.
I also want to ask you about this (see below), the idea comes from Mel B our social media and digital manager:
“I have been thinking about this A LOT, and have an idea. Have you ever seen these articles? It's an email exchange between two women, edited and published as an article. What if we took this convo, (with Sashah’s consent and input, of course), and published it? We could use it as a call out that we are looking for writers who are WOC, as a statement that we acknowledge that we have an all white cis mentor team, while still honouring and sharing their input and endless work for Girlvana, and also just to be super open with where Girlvana is at. I think it could open some interesting opportunities to work with more diverse people, and also to openly invite girls of colour to join the Girlvana community and know they are welcome in this space. If you’re down I can start to write it out and then we can colab with Sashah to ensure it hits the mark.”
We would pay you for the publishing of the article on our blog and the time it takes to edit it and the time it took to write the original email. Let me know if its something you'd like to work together on with myself and Mel.
Hope you are well my love. Thinking of you xo
Sashah to Alex Wed, May 30, 2018 at 4:06 PM
This all sounds amazing and I am just thrilled.
I absolutely love Mel's idea- it's so raw and real, really speaking to the nitty gritty of these conversations. It feels transparent and welcoming and just honest. I am totally honoured to work on this with you both and appreciate the compensation for my time and energy.
Thank you so much again for your commitment to be in this conversation and take steps and actions. I know it's not easy but I am glad we agree it's so worth it.
Hoping your time in Nica is supporting you in this time of transition!
Lots of love,
Alex to Sashah Wed, May 30, 2018 at 5:31 PM
Eeeeeee! That makes me so so so happy! And thank you so much for being willing! We are so damn lucky to have your perspective.
I’m so excited about this. Thank you!