The EmpowR Transformation Story
Rooted in Plant Medicine
In 2018 Rae attended the New England Women’s Herbal Conference. She heard the direct call from many Women of Color healers and wisdom keepers to unpack Western European feminine ancestry, the role of white women in personal and collective healing, and how we can approach divine feminine coalition building. At the time Rae was navigating a breast cancer diagnosis, adenomyosis, auto-immune disfunction, digestion disorder, career burnout, anxiety, depression, and the trauma that followed from a health crisis and its intertwined connection to economic disparity and disconnection from work opportunities and community.
Throughout 2018, Rae was in deep communion with Plants, Trees, and Spirit as she found her way to the lifelong path of healing, personal transformation, and awakening from the failed promise of the “American Dream,” the harms of dominant culture, and the relationship to her own health. She navigated different layers of the broken contract of capitalism and its inherent relationship to health inequity, the colonized mindset, racism, oppression, and patriarchal dominance and the magnitude of suffering and destruction that follows in the wake of greed and supremacy.
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, and geographic barriers. By centering authentic relationships in navigating the tensions of transformation, a community web began to emerge and continues to strengthen—connecting underground movement of divine feminine power to weave support networks while mainstream 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 around personal and collective healing.
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 all elevations 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. The call is out for healing justice activists, wellness practitioners, equity facilitators, social change driven educators, and transformative justice change makers to come together with each other AND with EmpowR clients and program/event participants 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.
The EmpowR Community is a community-supported model of relationship building with reciprocity for members and organizers and is open to anyone navigating the path of personal transformation and consciousness evolution. As the community grows, opportunities for building a more robust co-creator network will emerge. At the same time, funding partners are being called in to support the curation and facilitation of the network.
Rae will be deepening her healing practice offerings and reinvigorating some of the original EmpowR intentions connecting the arc of personal and collective healing. A key focus is also to expand equity consulting services and educational programs and retreats at Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary. These offerings are foundational for moving toward financial viability to sustain what is and comes next.
Plans are underway to cultivate the sanctuary into a four season retreat and respite space for organizational events and the growing EmpowR Community and to grow capacity for herbalism offerings. Anyone reading this is invited to join the EmpowR Community of evolving humans to build relationship with each other and to co-create the future of Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary. Hope to see you in circle and on the land!
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