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Mindful : October 2019
PEOPLE TO WATCH Mindful Museum Ashanti Branch was the man of the house at the age of seven. Growing up in Oakland, CA, the oldest child of a single mother, Branch never met his father, who died before Branch was born. He remembers navigating the rules at home—help out, be nice to your sister, be a man—and the rules on the street. “You can’t be too nice, you can’t be too kind, you can’t let people walk over you. That’ll get you beat up.” Branch learned to code-switch like a pro, “dancing between these different masks.” Taking on a parental role didn’t leave much time for being a kid. “I was often exhausted and frustrated: I don’t have no kids, why can’t I ever go outside and play?” Branch sees himself in the young people he works with through the Ever Forward Club, a youth-mentoring and educator-training organi- zation he started when he was teaching at San Lorenzo High School, California, and trying to figure out why his obviously bright students were failing his math classes. “A middle school teacher caught me and got me on the right track,” Branch says. But nobody had caught his high school students yet. Branch decided he would try. He had learned mindfulness medita- tion while on a Fulbright Scholarship in India, and mindfulness was one of the tools he offered his students. His once-skeptical students began to antici- pate weekly meditation sessions, where they gained tools for working with stress, anxiety, and anger, and taking off their “masks”— Branch’s way of describing the “too cool for school” persona many of us adopt. “They think they’re the only ones dealing with it. Everyone else is also wearing their masks, so there’s no safe place to take your mask off and recognize that you’re not alone.” Ever Forward became that for the young men he taught, and eventually for students of all genders across the country, including the 30,000 kids who have participated in the 100k Masks Challenge, drawing their masks on a postcard and writing three words that describe what they let people see, and three that describe what they don’t usually let people see. “Kids tell us amazing things about themselves,” says Branch, who now runs Ever Forward full time. “They want to talk about it. They want to be heard, they want to be seen.” Ashanti Branch EVER FORWARD CLUB FOUNDER Museums can be places of quiet contemplation, so it’s fitting that many now offer opportunities for mindfulness meditation. Here’s a sampling: Museum of Modern Art in New York City offers Quiet Mornings at 7:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday of the month, to “ take time to look slowly, clear your head, silence your phone, and get inspiration for the day and week ahead.” A guided meditation session follows. L A’s Getty Museum hosts Ever Present, “an invitation to explore concepts of temporality and permanence through the work of musicians, artists, dancers, and other cultural vanguards.” Manchester Art Gallery, England, hosts drop-in lunchtime mindfulness sessions to give “city-workers...impor- tant nourishment as well as respite from the noise and over-stimulation of the modern world.” Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania hosts Mindfulness at the Museum drop-in sessions with instruction in meditation techniques led by local teachers “to help our wider community...have access to tools to become more aware” and so that participants may discover that this appreciation of the “here and now” extends outside the museum. Weekly at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, retired psychotherapist and Insight Meditation Teacher Steve Par- sons offers a group mindfulness medita- tion practice. Monthly, the Denver Art Museum hosts Mindful Looking for patrons to “discover overlooked details, explore ideas, and make connections as we linger, look, and discuss” select pieces of ar t. 14 mindful October 2019 top of mind