Justin Michael Williams Guides Community Toward Social Justice in Dynamic Online Workshop
Esalen Team
August 1, 2020

In July, Esalen hosted faculty-singer-author Justin Michael Williams for a mini-residency. Justin’s presence on property was so nourishing that Esalen’s Community and Advancement team invited him to host a 90-minute online workshop as an opportunity to meet Justin, experience the work he is doing in the world and explore the topics of equality and race.

Finding Your Authentic Voice in the Movement for Equality, which individuals can watch here, took place virtually Saturday, August 2, with approximately 40 people in attendance. The online masterclass included soulful talk, music, and mindfulness and education on today’s current racial issues.

“I think one of the most important conversations we can be having in the world right now is around social justice, equality and change,” Justin says. “And the conversation can’t just be Black people fighting for justice and equality hoping that people of all ages and races and other colors will sympathize with us and join in. This has to be a fight that we all take responsibility for. That was one of the reasons it was important for me to be a part of this gathering.”

The genesis of the workshop began by calling together the revolutionary act of the conversation which Justin originally proposed—that we are indeed the first generation of people with the opportunity to dive into the work of racial healing with the depth of clarity, education and resources.

“Anyone who was alive during the Civil Rights era will say that this moment feels different,” Justin shares. “We are exactly who we've been waiting for. We are exactly who was meant to be alive in this time.”

Community and Advancement Associate Jessica Hartzell felt Justin’s passion and mindfulness for social justice presented an ideal opportunity to bring people together at this important juncture in history. “Justin is a new faculty member and newer voice in our ecosystem of brilliant teachers,” Jessica says. “We wanted to lift up his voice and amplify his presence in the community.”

Justin’s five-part online experience included the following segments:

  1. Entering the Shadow: The courage to be uncomfortable.
  2. Power of Truth: Getting real on the truth of the American journey.
  3. Messy Conversations: Unpacking white privilege and white supremacy from a perspective of consciousness.
  4. Taking Action: What to do now? What to do next?
  5. Coming Together: How we might come together to change the world.

The workshop ended with group participation singing Justin’s song, I Am Enough, reminding workshop participants that they are “enough” to make a change and make an impact.

“Even though the session was on Zoom, my intention was to give people the experience they've come to know and love at Esalen,” Justin explains. “It was experiential with moments to drop into our hearts, reflect and discuss. It was also grounded in where Esalen—and our personal experiences at Esalen—sits in the fabric of the history of social justice, and how we might be positioned to move forward as a community.”

Community and Advancement Associate Lacy Shannon believes that offerings like this can remind us of our interconnectedness. “This idea of calling each other in and working to create a more just world and society together in relationship versus a casting out also feels important,” she says. “It also echoes the theme of being together here and for each other.”

The experience also impacted attendees.

“Recent events in the news and feedback on my poetry awakened me to the depth of racism and sexism I hold in my world view,” says Rolland, one of the online participants. “The workshop helped me hold my feet to the fire of transcendence to a new paradigm. And it will require changing every point of view I have about everything I experience in my world. It was one of the first steps toward that transformation as well as looking at my every action—from writing down an inappropriate action and checking every morning how I did the day prior. This makes it a process of cognitive behavioral change.”

Justin was inspired to see people of all ages, races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds stepping forward in the workshop and understanding that the only way to win this “race” is together.

“I think it’s important to realize that social justice isn't a ‘Black issue’ for white people to sympathize with, but an issue that all of us will need to take responsibility for to come together to solve,” Justin says. “This is not a fight just against racism but a fight for the world we all want to live in. What I know for sure is that if our external work is not met with the same force and power of our internal work as we’re advocating for change, then none of it is going to last. We can defund the police, elect a new president, break the school-to-prison pipeline, end private prisons altogether, or completely break down the system and build it anew—but if we haven’t done the internal work, nothing will ever last and nothing will ever change. We will wind up in the same position over and over again.

“We at Esalen know this,” he adds. “The reason we are committed to this place—the reason we love it so much—is because of the transformation it offers us as it relates to our individual internal growth; now it’s time to apply that to the collective. This is the time for all of us to step up to the plate and create this new world together. This is the next wave of the human potential movement.”

To experience Justin’s entire presentation, click here.

Learn more about Justin

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