Announcing: 2017 Soma Award Winners
BUDDHIST PEACE FELLOWSHIP
Soma Award Winners
Bringing together the deep streams of Buddhist wisdom and organizing for social change, it is our honor to offer awards of $2,000 to 7 activists whose outstanding work for peace, social justice, and / or environmental defense is influenced by Buddhism.
We name this award in honor of Soma Bhikkhuni, one of the first enlightened Buddhist women and a contemporary of the historical Buddha. Soma Bhikkhuni spoke up against the oppressive social norms of her time, thwarting Mara’s efforts to sabotage her on the path. Soma also resonates, regarding somatics, with the critical contemporary need for embodied nourishment and renewal for those on the front lines of change.
This award is made possible by the generous giving of thousands of Buddhist Peace Fellowship supporters, whose legacies we strive to honor. You can support the Soma Award with a gift today!
Please join us in celebrating the tremendous work of the 2017 Buddhist Peace Fellowship Soma Awardees and Runners-Up. Our greatest hope is that social change leaders feel supported in their inner work, particularly at this political moment when the stakes are so very high. We also hope to show the ways in which Buddhism and radically progressive political activism are not mutually exclusive, but can in fact support one another.
A soon-to-be medical student whose activist work has been informed by a refuge of Buddhist practice, Alejandro examines why health disparities are present for underserved communities in medicine.
“Oppressed communities deserve
holistic, effective medicine.”
Working as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor with HIV positive patients and teaching meditation primarily for African-American and Spanish-speaking people, Alejandro works to “inform future policy and protocol” by promoting preventive medicine and the holistic, effective approaches that oppressed and underserved communities deserve.
Devi is a founder of Peacock Rebellion: a queer and trans people of color arts organization with a healing justice framework that reaches people “who wouldn’t necessarily come to a march or demo.”
“Contemplative practices are a foundation
of collective liberation.”
Comedy is a key focus for Devi, who has co-created a stand-up comedy training program centering trans and gender non-conforming people of color. The Brouhaha comedy collaborators work from the belief that contemplative practices are “a foundation of collective liberation.” As Devi describes Brouhaha’s philosophy, “We believe that we must stay ready to adapt to constantly changing political conditions . . . and stay close to each other rather than fall into isolation, dissociation and destruction of our communities.”
Working as the Black Lives Matter Healing Justice Director, Prentis “lift[s] up an analysis of healing justice, which is politically critical for us to create movements that are sustainable and anti-violent in their core.”
“Buddhist practices have given me the capacity
to be with contradictions.”
Prentis has also worked as a teacher of Somatics with Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD). In Prentis’ words, “I’ve been so grateful to hold Black organizers in their healing and transformation, to support them in seeing themselves as deserving and resilient.” Prentis shared that “Buddhist practices have given me the capacity to be with contradictions, to practice an emotional volume that can be with the level of trauma I see in our communities and in our organizing every day.”
(Due to a need for visual anonymity, Maari offers a colonial picture of a Dalit Adivasi ancestor as a means to represent themself.)
Maari Zwick-Maitreyi is the Research Director of Equality Labs, an organization that works to mobilize South Asian religious, cultural, queer and genderqueer minorities to end Brahminism, Caste Apartheid and Islamophobia.
“For me, Buddhism is the reclamation
of the dignity of my ancestors.”
Speaking to “a history of oppression, held together with my identity as an immigrant, Dalit woman,” Maari has been involved in work with Dalit, Adivasi (indigenous tribes), and Bahujan (other oppressed Castes) communities. Maari is also a founding member, senior researcher, and historian with Dalit History Month, a community-rooted, participatory radical history project. She asserts, “for many Dalits today, embracing Buddhism is first and foremost understood as a return to and a reclamation of their own indigenous spirituality. For me, too, Buddhism is the reclamation of the dignity of my ancestors.”
As a queer Colombian immigrant and educator, Juliana has worked to promote anti-oppressive education practices and has helped lead the implementation of curriculums for majority white staff serving students of color, encouraging the use of a decolonized curriculum.
“I believe meditation can help us disrupt
Currently, Juliana is working with neuroscientists and activists to develop and implement a contemplative practice-based, trauma intervention curriculum for Colombian ex-combatants of war. Additionally, Juliana has recently co-founded the Radical Dharma Boston Collective, a contemplative community that aims to center the experience of marginalized people and remedy the difficulties they face in majority-white meditation communities. Through this work, Juliana believes meditation can help us disrupt oppressive mindsets, affirming revolutionary work on the individual level.
Jaq embraces a playful and politicized approach to embodied storytelling in order to queer and decolonize healing in Vietnamese Buddhist communities and elsewhere.
“I think we need to center trauma
as a huge dimension of oppression.”
Jaq’s work focuses on ecojustice, trauma-informed practices, and liberation psychology. They explain, “I don’t think there’s enough of an appreciation of centering trauma as a huge psychological dimension of oppression.” Jaq explores diasporic and other marginalized identities, centering those who are “in the margins of the margins,” specifically in traditional Vietnamese Buddhist communities and other spheres.
A 10-year Soto Zen student and doula, Jae founded a ground-breaking wellness program at Rikers Island Jail, combining meditation, bereavement, and full-spectrum doula services.
“I wish to be of service in the most direct way possible:
through, between, and across bodies.”
As a mother and Korean-American adoptee, guided by personal calling and intersectional contemplation around systemic racism, reproductive justice, and the politics of caregiving, Jae entered the Rikers Island Correctional Facility in connection with The Rangjung Prison Dharma Project in 2015. She continues to facilitate groups there with marginalized women, those pregnant or recovering from loss, and people who are ill and dying. Jae brings a deep appreciation for sangha, teachers, and “realizing whole-ness” in combining Buddhism, somatics, and social justice.
Our Selection Committee also wanted to recognize the work of an additional 11 applicants (of almost 70!) whose work was highlighted by 2 or more judges.
Pamela Ayo Yetunde
Tanea Lunsford Lynx
Thank you for your work!
Buddhist Peace Fellowship is deeply grateful to all applicants who so generously shared about their activism and Buddhist practice. In times of intensifying repression, we are honored to get a glimpse into the many ways Buddhist activists are resisting and insisting on better, more compassionate possibilities.
Much as dukkha infuses all areas of life, we want to acknowledge the ways in which systemic oppression inherently limits the collective benefit of the Soma Award, or any competition for distribution of resources.
For legal reasons Buddhist Peace Fellowship needed to limit award candidates to people residing in the United States, despite the tremendous amount of strong social justice work being done by Buddhists the world over — particularly in Asian regions of indigenous and diasporic home to the majority of the world’s Buddhist community.
Specifically, we offer shout-outs of gratitude and admiration to:
- Buddhist members of Dalit Women Fight
- Buddhist international members of Students for a Free Tibet
- Organizers and students in Buddhist Education for Social Transformation
- International members of the Tzu Chi Foundation
- International members of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Tiếp Hiện, Order of Interbing
- Buddhist women Opposing U.S.-backed militarization in South Korea
- Buddhist feminists in Japan’s Anti-nuclear organizing pre- & post-Fukushima
- Leaders and members in the International Network of Engaged Buddhists
- Ven. Bhante Buddharakkita and the socially engaged Uganda Buddhist Centre
- Buddhists working to heal Islamophobia in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.
We would like to emphasize that to honor the work of the Soma awardees is not to diminish the worthiness and power of those not selected this year. Selection Committee members describe the process of reaching a decision as quite difficult given the extremely impressive and important work that so many candidates are doing.
To offer more transparency about the process: each Committee member identified their own top 10 candidates, then used a points system to arrive at group consensus based on how often an individual candidate appeared in the four top-10 lists. Committee members recused themselves when appropriate based on the Conflict of Interest policy, and had little knowledge of other ways in which candidates might be affiliated with Buddhist Peace Fellowship. When the points system resulted in three candidates tied for 5th place, BPF decided to expand the number of winners from five to seven.
We are indebted to the Committee for their time, energy, and loving care.