by Trisha Stotler
IMCW is honored to announce the launch of the Larry Yang BIPOC Support Fund. This fund will be used to provide resources to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students and teachers as they seek to learn, teach, and otherwise deepen their experience in the dharma. Our sincere belief is that when barriers to full inclusion are eliminated, there is a natural shift in the balance of power that leads to a greater sense of community and collective transformation for the benefit of all.
The Fund was named in honor of Larry Yang, a founding teacher at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, CA. Larry has been a guiding light for IMCW for over fifteen years on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The path has not been an easy one, and Larry has remained steadfast in helping us see more clearly the impact of our actions (or non-actions), speech, and efforts in sharing the dharma with the BIPOC community. I asked Larry if he would be willing to take a walk down memory lane with me, as a way of reflecting on IMCW’s journey and visioning what lies ahead for us.
TS: Thank for talking with me today, Larry. By way of background, how did you come to be involved with IMCW’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion over the years?
LY: My introduction to IMCW goes way
back to 2004 or 2005, when I was first asked to do a training for teachers. It’s interesting to reflect back now on how that training actually never materialized, and it wasn’t until some months later, when I met La Sarmiento (IMCW’s current Board president) at a Spirit Rock POC retreat, that the relationship with the IMCW community really came together. It was during that time that La started holding affinity groups for both BIPOC and LGBTQIA+, and I lent my support to them in that effort. And we’ve just grown closer and closer over the years.
TS: Wow, so that was fifteen years ago! I was just starting to be involved with IMCW around that time, so having affinity groups for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ has always been part of my experience here. But my sense is that it was only because of La’s efforts and dogged persistence in making the case that these groups were necessary.
LY: Yes, La created the space within IMCW for it to unfold naturally, years really, before other dharma organizations recognized the need for communities of color and LGBTQIA+ folks to have their own space for community and practice. It’s like the adage says, “A community knows what it needs if it’s given the opportunity to express it.” It came from the bottom up, from the community, as opposed to the organization determining what was needed.
TS: I remember that it took a while, from a Board perspective, to understand the importance. We understood it from an intellectual perspective, but thought we were already doing everything we could to be a welcoming community for all people.
LY: Right, but being a “welcoming community” involves more than most dominant-culture members understand. For a queer person, or a person of color, once you get through the door, what really clinches the experience is feeling needed. So there’s work to do after people walk through the door. If they don’t feel needed, or genuinely part of the community, there’s what I call the “bounce-off effect,” where folks don’t come back because they don’t see or feel their experience there.
TS: Yes, and we’ve experienced that hard lesson for sure. We (leadership) would think we were finally getting it right, only to hear, again, how our actions were still causing harm. One of the things I marvel at, to this day, is the perseverance of everyone involved in these hard conversations. The persistence of continuing to come back to the table over and over, because we trusted the collective aspiration, even when it was difficult.
LY: What I’ve experienced with IMCW and its intentions around issues of inclusion is that while you all have struggled over the years, the intention has always been there and been sincere. And it’s also true that when the outcomes finally come together, it’s not just because of our own efforts, but because the conditions are coming together as well.
TS: Right, and as we’ve grown in our understanding of what it means to be a welcoming community, we realized that while we have had a scholarship fund for a long time, it’s not enough. In fact, it assumes that the main obstacle for BIPOC folks to participate in our offerings is money. It really doesn’t speak to the bigger picture of what can be accomplished on a larger scale, which is what we are hoping this Fund achieves.
LY: That hasn’t been a major focus in the meditation community in general, so how can these funds be used to bring community together, strengthen affinity groups, i.e. events for affinity groups and people in the DC community to have a safe container in which to interact? Funds are so often focused on individual transformation, peace, etc., which are noble causes, but it’s also true that our circumstances are conditioned by the external, and the more we can transform these external conditions toward freedom, the more we can build community. So it’s important that the funds be used not only for individual scholarships.
TS: Can you say a little bit more about the impact you’d like to see in communities?
LY: I’ve been focused on aspects of movement building in my own work, so that’s my inquiry. How do you continue to build this intention around including communities that have never felt included before? Because resources–money in this case–are really just another word in this country for power. One of the outcomes of having wealth and resources in this country is that you can relax a bit, and feel free to be yourself. And that’s when the creativity can naturally flow. And that is healing.
TS: To that point, IMCW intends to supplement the Larry Yang BIPOC Support Fund with funds from our general operating account. One of the hard lessons we’ve learned over the years is that having a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, or fund, that is not woven directly into the fabric of the organization, is not meaningful and will ultimately flounder.
LY: Yes, at an organizational level it’s important to express that supporting these communities is not just lip service, but that the needs of those in the BIPOC community are being integrated into everyday activities as opposed to being “over there.” When an intention is not fully integrated into an organization’s mission, that means it’s the first thing that can get jettisoned when things get tight. That’s why I think it’s wonderful the way you’re doing it.
TS: I wonder what you might have to say about the work it takes to be a welcoming community just being a wise expression of the dharma?
LY: The Fund enables the teachings to manifest in terms of wise action, and the connection between intention and impact. Communities who have been marginalized need the tools and resources to allow that to happen. Again, you can relax when the resources are there, and thrive in a much more creative way.
Then there’s the healing quality of generosity. It’s not just the giving piece, but the receiving piece as well that is healing–receiving a gift that is unconditional, in the spirit of not needing to give anything back.
There’s nothing outside the dharma, so this Fund is a beautiful expression of that. The karma of what the IMCW community has created over fifteen years; that’s concentration. Keeping your eyes on the prize even when it’s difficult.
TS: Your leadership, patience, and trust over these years have been a true gift to IMCW. One I think we repay by paying it forward.
LY: Just remember, the most powerful use of power is to give it away. You don’t lose any power yourself; it only collectively creates better outcomes, and this Fund is a small expression of that.
TS: Thank you, Larry.
To donate to this fund click here. Thank you!
For more information on the Larry Yang BIPOC Support Fund, please contact Anne Green.