Bringing Equity to the Retreat Experience
by Victoria Santos, Director, Center for Healing and Liberation
Retreat centers hold a unique role in catalyzing movement for social justice and social change. They are places where personal and social transformation take place, where retreatants can go inward to do the deep work of healing and then bring greater depth and skill to their lives in the wider world.
In 2018, Commonweal and the Fetzer Institute joined to launch the Retreat Center Collaboration, which works to forge new ways of being in the world, to be exemplary stewards of the natural world, and to bring equity to the retreat experience by developing and piloting innovative programs at urban and rural retreat centers. The Retreat Center Collaboration has a network of more than 200 retreat centers in more than 40 states and provinces across the United States and Canada.
In 2021, Commonweal, Fetzer, the Retreat Center Collaboration, and the Center for Healing and Liberation collaborated to develop the Racial Healing Initiative. The collaboration was then awarded a generous three-year $1 million grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to launch the initiative.
The Racial Healing Initiative will be grounded in retreat centers across rural and urban geographies in the United States. Together, the collaborative will guide retreats and small groups on-site, virtually, and within local communities of centers in the Retreat Center Collaboration’s network. Resources will also include trainings, technical assistance, and support to strengthen the capacity of retreat centers to advance racial healing and systemic change.
Most retreat centers are largely white-led and serve mainly white retreatants. I know from direct experience the power of skills and capacities developed in retreat spaces. When I lived at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, I touched into deeper perspectives that have fed into my ongoing evolution over many years. Stepping back from the swirl of daily life into a space of cultivation and reflection is necessary and life-sustaining.
I also know from direct experience the challenge of being the only Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) person in a retreat space. It can be exhausting and isolating to move among others’ unexamined assumptions and microaggressions. Retreat cultures frequently do not speak to the lived experience of someone who walks in a Black body in this country.
There is a movement within BIPOC communities right now—in the face of COVID, systemic oppression and extreme stress—to respond to our deep need for rest and self-care. Retreat centers can be refuges: spaces of healing, rest, renewal, and discovery.
With this initiative, we will support retreat centers in creating ways in which everyone can feel a sense of belonging. We embrace the work and the possibilities ahead.
Photo: Courtesy of the Retreat Center Collaboration