The EmpowR Transformation Story
Rooted in Plant Medicine and Healing with the Land
Early in 2018 Rae began a descent into the underworld with a breast cancer diagnosis, adenomyosis, auto-immune disfunction, digestion disorder, career burnout, anxiety, and depression. Much was being unearthed including navigating health ability and health care inequities, coming into a new kind of relationship with her body, being angry at toxic work culture, unraveling her Western European ancestry and history of that lineage, and struggling to be supported by people in her life and their inability to accept her truth and lived experience. One of the constant rhythms in Rae’s life is moving to her own beat, speaking truth to power, and going against the grain of mainstream cultural norms and expectations. How she approached her own healing, with her body and intuition as her guide, made quite a few people really uncomfortable.
Rae deepened her communion with Plants, Trees, and Spirit, receiving profound healing from the land she stewarded with care for years. You can read more about that story in A Healing Sanctuary Called into Being by the Trees, written by Rae and originally published for United Plant Savers.
Committed to awakening the wise woman within, Rae attended the 2018 New England Women’s Herbal Conference. She heard the direct call from many Women of Color healers and wisdom keepers to unravel Western European ancestry, the responsibility of white women in personal and collective healing, and how to build multi-cultural coalition in awakening and rising the divine feminine.
The awakening process that followed was acute, jolting Rae onto a path of healing and transformation that was always lurking beneath the surface since she was very young. The floodgates of memory from many lifetimes combined with rapid downloads from teachers and healers led Rae to link root causes of personal and collective pain to the trauma caused by dominant systems: capitalism, colonization, patriarchy, racism, ableism, and pretty much all oppressions linking trauma back to the roots of when we became disconnected from our bodies, each other, and our relationship and kinship with the Earth.
Her health crisis also intensified as she experienced emotional and financial trauma for publicly speaking up about her needs, lived experience, and different perspectives, resulting in several cycles of economic disparity, cancel culture, and disconnection from work opportunities and community.
Rae documented all facets of this journey in many essays published on Medium and the EmpowR Voice Blog, most notably How the Burning Times of Witches Influences White Women Culture Today, Transformative Justice: Building a Culture of Healing and Community, and No Profit in Cancer Prevention as well as speeches including a Pecha Kucha Burlington presentation titled Healing with Spider Magic, a speech to the Cancer Patient Support Foundation about health equity and mental health, and a keynote address at the Money Matters Symposium called Breaking the Connection Between Self Worth and Income.
Moving Through a Pandemic
While Rae’s health history and the pandemic greatly inhibited financial viability for EmpowR, both also presented ways to build relationships with change makers and healers across racial, class, gender, and geographic barriers. By centering authentic relationships in navigating the tensions of transformation, a community began to emerge and continues to strengthen—connecting underground movement of the Earth and Water energies of divine feminine power to weave webs of change makers and mycelium networks while dominant systems continue to fall.
The pandemic also presented opportunities to offer nature-based educational programming at Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary. The sanctuary revealed itself as a magical place of healing during Rae’s health crisis and began to call people to the land during the pandemic. Outside events and retreats along the arc of personal healing, organizational change, and culture building practices began to draw people with diverse backgrounds and identities to the sanctuary, all sharing a common vision that ripples the microcosm of personal healing to the macrocosm of collective healing. Especially alive is excavating the responsibility of people with more privilege to create cultural conditions where healing is accessible to the people who have been harmed and exploited by systems of dominance and supremacy, and to not bypass the history of colonization in holistic healing practices.
The events began to foster community and a group of facilitators, educators, health practitioners, artists, change makers, and activists co-created an organizational culture and value system in 2021 that continues to inform the EmpowR container of offerings.
A smaller group emerged from the larger group gatherings and a Co-Creator Team formed in 2022 to deepen educational programming and incubate intentional ways of working together that disengage from white supremacy culture. The EmpowR Co-Creator Team of Saudia LaMont, Ornella Matta-Figueroa, Claire Wheeler, Jennifer Grossi, Stacy Burnett, and Rae each brought different lived experiences, professional backgrounds, personal healing and transformation journeys, educational pathways, and ways of communicating and sharing knowledge and wisdom to the EmpowR experiment.
The EmpowR Co-Creator Team activated dialogues about radical empathy, emotional intelligence, and trauma responsiveness with a focus toward being accountable to transformative justice and emergent strategy. In different ways, on different timelines, and in different spaces, the team examined how taking personal responsibility for individual actions, behaviors, and communications directly inform and shift interpersonal relationships, group processes, organizational norms, and all elevations of culture—thereby influencing systemic change.
Designed to challenge the cultural norms of inequity in capitalism, patriarchal dominance, white supremacy culture, cis-hetero assumptions, and ableist society, EmpowR explored different models of doing business. Finding ways to get paid to disrupt the systems that feed us is a prohibitive challenge to this work. This work is constantly evolving and pivoting so EmpowR can stay current with transformation and find viability and sustainability for the labor and energy extended in movement building work. This work is messy and “mistakes are progress” is a sentiment that is transferrable across the entire scope of EmpowR Transformation.
Gratitude for the Co-Creator Team
Deep gratitude extends to the team for attempting an unfunded experiment in coalition building:
- Saudia LaMont for being a constant presence as a leader and facilitator in the broader EmpowR experiment since 2020 and for showing up as a Black woman in predominantly white spaces as a teacher, guide, and wisdom keeper for being the change we want to see in the world.
- Ornella Matta-Figueora for bringing her whole-hearted expertise living life as a praxis for change and liberation, the deep well of trauma-informed activism she provides in wellness and education, and for showing up as a Brown woman asking hard questions and offering different perspective.
- Claire Wheeler for being a part of EmpowR as a practice ground for her own transformation work, extending EmpowR offerings into her network, and providing radical entrepreneurial spirit.
- Stacy Burnett for her belief in the vision and as an early on program incubator beginning in 2020 as well as her collaboration efforts across health care and gender equity.
- Jennifer Grossi for being a constant voice of accountability, a collaborator and incubator of programs beginning in 2020, and offering perspective and knowledge of neurodivergency.
The Co-Creator Team experiment informed the need for cultivating an EmpowR Community where prioritizing time and space to nurture relationships lays the groundwork for what co-creation emerges. Healing justice activists, wellness practitioners, equity facilitators, social change driven educators, and transformative justice change makers continue to find each other within the EmpowR container. Building an aligned client base has been intentional, with much care to strengthen a web and network of relationships, support, and connectivity in the arc of personal, organizational, and cultural transformation. One key lesson learned is the need for funding to support the curation and facilitation of a network approach to building a collective. Another lesson is community building requires time for engagement and trust to nurture relationships.
As 2023 comes to a close, the attention and care to building relationships is shaping another web of emergence — both for deeper collaboration among changemakers connected to EmpowR and the ongoing tending of herbalism and plant medicine at Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary. Please do stay tuned…
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