Peer project spotlight: Uncovering Brilliance, Transforming Racism

Trans Care BC works alongside peers and community members to improve equitable access for peer-led and gender-affirming support services across British Columbia. These are their stories.
 
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The ginkgo is one of the oldest and most resilient tree species on earth, able to survive and thrive extreme conditions.

A big idea sparked for Lu Lam while meditating on a silent retreat: How could his communities of those who experience racism and gender-based discrimination benefit from the healing powers of mindfulness?

Over the next two years, Lu, a Canadian Certified Counsellor, developed his vision of offering mindfulness services for self-identified Black, Indigenous, Metis, Inuit, multi-racial and/or people of colour who are also of Two-Spirit, trans, non-binary, gender expansive experience – described inclusively with the term TransBIMPoC*.

In 2019, Lu launched an eight-week mindfulness program called Uncovering Brilliance, Transforming Racism: this is liberation (UBTR) in Vancouver, supported by a Trans Care BC community grant and community collaborators.

Closing the gap for accessible mindfulness services

Although meditation and mindfulness have exploded in mainstream popularity, they're not always accessible for TransBIMPoC* people, Lu explained. Many western mindfulness meditation programs are white-dominant spaces, where TransBIMPoC* people can experience racialized micro-aggressions, exacerbated harms, and cultural appropriation. And, local and national consultation with Trans BIMPoC* communities repeatedly highlight a need for dedicated wellness spaces and programs.

Offering more tailored and accessible programs is key, says Lu, because mindfulness and meditation offer vital tools to address harms that happen at the intersection of racism and transphobia.

"TransBIMPoC* people are disproportionately impacted by hate-based violence," explained Lu. "We need to recognize that the issues of racism and transphobia are together an intersectional health concern and require tailored interventions."

Lu is also passionate about the health benefits of mindfulness because it has been integral to his personal healing journey.

"Professionally, I've been steeped in anti-racism and anti-oppression work for the last 20 years," he said. "But, even understanding the work at a conceptual level didn't help me undo my internalized racism and transphobia in the same way as mindfulness meditation."

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Lu Lam, M. Ed. CCC. works as a mindfulness counsellor and consultant in private practice.

Powerful results with ripple-effects

The initial offering of UBTR went better than Lu could have hoped.

Throughout the eight-week program, attendance and demand were high. Each session integrated western psychology and trauma informed mindfulness education with peer-led community facilitation to offer concrete tools participants could use to address their embodied experiences of racism and cultural oppressions.

Ginkgos are one of the oldest  tree species on earth, known for their ability to survive and thrive through  extreme conditions - including after the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. To start the program, Lu gifted each UBTR group participant a ginkgo seed, as a metaphor to remind them that, like the ginkgo, we have a remarkable capacity to thrive through adversity.

Participants learned about practices including mindfulness of the breath, body scanning, movement, and self-compassion, supported by Lu along with a peer wellness mentor, Shay Loo.

Lu said the group format approach amplified impact by building community, and also makes the program delivery more sustainable long-term than one-on-one interventions.

Most importantly, participant feedback highlighted the value of the UBTR program.

For example, one participant shared, "We just want to be our distinct selves and share our stories while learning to be mindful alongside it all. So, this closed group brought all of it and more to the forefront in the sweetest, kindest way possible. It's more than useful. The closed group has given us an opportunity to experience liberation--freedom to live as we are, belonging, tender."

Another highlighted key takeaways from the session, "I learned how to be present, bring mindfulness to everyday activities, empathy, being more kind to myself, how to sit with my thoughts. These skills provided me with coping strategies and skills to deal with emotions, be more accepting of my negative thoughts, help with my clinical depression".

Participants also shared how the skills in UBTR have helped them build healthier relationships, navigate crisis moments, advocate, and hold space to thrive. For example, one participant shared, "I'm learning to tend to my own hurts which also expands my ability to meet others where they're at and make connections that benefit all of us."

Continuing the journey

The next session of UBTR starts January 2020.

Going forward, Lu is always looking to bring more people into the community and reduce barriers to access – through small but meaningful ways like offering transportation reimbursements to attend, providing food at meetings, and hosting group sessions in a welcoming space.

"We know this is a drop in the bucket of all the work that's being done, and all the work that needs to be done – so we are always looking to grow our impact," said Lu. "Mindfulness is a liberation process, to access the incredible medicine we all have inside us so that we can serve our communities at the highest potential."

Please contact Lu with questions or comments at lu@lulam.ca.

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About Trans Care BC's Peer & Community Support program

Trans Care BC works alongside peers and community members to improve equitable access to information, resources, and supports for peer-led and gender-affirming support services across British Columbia.

Our program defines "peer" as trans, gender diverse, and Two-Spirit community members including children, youth, and adults, as well as their parents/caregivers, families, and loved ones. Peer support refers to the emotional and practical support and connection between people who share a common experience. Peer support provides an enriching opportunity to engage in knowledge exchange, resource sharing, social connection, mentorship, and personal growth.

We recognize that community partners, such as non-profit organizations and support service agencies, play an important collaborative role in supporting the development and sustainability of community peer supports.

For more information on how Trans Care BC helps connect British Columbians to gender-affirming and wellness supports as close to home as possible, please visit transcarebc.ca/care-support.

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