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Mindful : October 2019
Top left: Jenée’s contemplative practice each morning includes journaling, where she writes down her reflections, g ratitudes, and prayers for the day. Bottom left: Colleag ues participate in a Mindfulness Meet-up at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Led by Jenée, these bimonthly meet-ups allow SFDPH employees to refresh their mindfulness practice, review concepts from mindfulness and emotional intelligence, and build community. Above: One day of gratitudes that Jenée wrote in her journal: “ Discovering the potency of the feminine soul. Clarity and freedom in this decade. My loving son and husband. My work. Freedom, calling my name...I answered. The power of nothing to hide, defend, protect.” The photo shows Jenée and her son Khalid in 2004. a young Black boy. I would blow up my son’s phone: Where are you? On the bus? Well, where’s the bus? How far away are you? Call me. Text me. Answer the phone. It was ridiculous. I had to address the anxiety that was running through me. I was like, “This cannot be my heritage, this lack of joy and constant worry. I’ve got to let go of this.” Mindfulness helped me to release—release it, Jenée—and to practice envisioning another way for myself and for my son. What does mindfulness offer people of color? For me, it’s a practice to rest and replenish and restore my humanity, which is one of the things that racism strips from you. My practice around mindfulness is a practice of recla- mation—an African principle called sankofa, reclaiming what was left behind or what was lost. Mindfulness gives us the chance to rewrite that narrative. Mindfulness is a super- power. For people of color—partic- ularly Black people—the practice of mindfulness becomes a protective factor. When microaggressions come at me, mindfulness offers me protec- My hope is that in becoming a mindful organization we will have greater focus, emotional balance, and the tools for the difficult conver- sations that need to happen. Being mindful—knowing and being in touch with what is going on with you—is essential to undoing racism. A complex and bureaucratic organiza- tion like the San Francisco Department of Public Health does not seem like the most mindfulness-friendly setting. How do you maintain your inspiration? Even within the confines of a bureau- cratic system, I look for what is at the heart of human excellence. We work in an institution that is risk-averse, but we want to flourish. We want to do better for ourselves and for the com- munities we serve. We want to bring the fullness of our humanity to work. What about trauma in your own life? When I think of my own life, the thing that ends up being the most con- sistently traumatizing is racism. Tell me more about that, will you? Five or six years ago, I was in a small store—a home-lifestyle boutique— with my son. He was about 16 at the time, a tall Black boy wearing what all kids wear: a hoodie. We drifted to different sides of the store, and he was looking at the gadgets. I saw the store owner hone in on him, watching him intently. Is he profiling my child? “ H ey, hi, that’s my son!” I said to the owner. We laughed it off. But my blood pressure went up, because I thought not about that particular moment but about all the moments when I would not be there to say, “Hey, that’s my baby, my boy, and he’s a good kid.” I know women who have lost their sons. I know them. Even before that incident, I had begun waking up in the middle of the night. My natu- ropath said my cortisol levels were high, and I connected that and the insomnia with the hypervigilance I felt I had to have, as the mother of m VIDEO Jenée Johnson on Trauma- Informed Leadership Learn how mindful leaders can help uncover and heal trauma. mindful.org/ jenee tion. I don’t have to be caught up and reactive. I can have self-compassion, and that self-compassion builds my courage. Can you give me an example or two? → October 2019 mindful 41