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Mindful : April 2019
Coming Full Circle “PART OF BEING MINDFUL IS UNDERSTANDING THE POWER AND PRIVILEGE I HAVE ACQUIRED ON MY JOURNEY—AND REMEMBERING WHERE I STARTED.” By Victoria Dawson • Photographs by Stephanie Diani Tell me about the Bronx, where you grew up. The Bronx is a compli- cated piece of art. When people think of the Bronx, they think of the single narrative of catastrophe and hardship and danger and violence. But that’s not all. The Bronx is struggling, yes. The Bronx is lacking in resources, yes. The Bronx is a victim of bad policies, yes. The Bronx is also beautiful. The Bronx is commu- nity. The Bronx is family. It’s true that my neighbor- hood was unsafe—I knew what the drug dealers were doing, but I also knew that they were looking out for my sisters and me. There was a fullness in their humanity. The fight I have in me comes from fighting the ugly as a kid. I had to learn to thrive in the most unfortunate cir- cumstances. The Bronx is where I am from—the beauty and the ugliness raised me. I can live any- where, because I have lived in the Bronx. How does a word like “mindful” fit into that setting? When I was a child, being mindful was a matter of safety. I went to sleep, often, to the sound of gunshots. So, first, being mindful— mindful of my body and its safety—was what kept me alive. Mindfulness was not something that I got to do by sitting in a quiet space and meditating. → Dena Simmons shares her mindful journey from the streets of the Bronx to the ivory towers of Yale and back. Dena Simmons, EdD, grew up in a one-bedroom apart- ment in the Bronx with her three sisters and her mother, an immigrant from Antigua who came to the US with $25 in her pocket. Simmons’ mother was fiercely dedicated to giving her daughters more opportunities than she’d had herself. So, after the rent, the family’s financial priority was tuition to the local parochial school. No surprise, then, that education not only took Simmons out of the Bronx but also brought her back, as a classroom teacher. Today, Simmons is the assistant director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, where she oversees training, curriculum development, and education initiatives. The Center’s mission—“to use the power of emotions to create a healthier, and more equitable, productive, and compas- sionate society”—keeps Simmons closely connected to her mother’s abiding belief in the power of education. She is also author of the forthcoming White Rules for Black People (St. Martin’s Press, 2021). 36 mindful April 2019 walk the talk