The fellowship aims to recognize Black dharma teachers and leaders, providing them with resources to “carry on their profound work of offering healing and support through a Buddhist lens for African-descendant communities in the U.S.”
Dharma Relief, an organization founded by Buddhist teacher and founder of the Tallahassee Chan Center, Guo Gu, has announced the selected cohort of five Black Dharma Teacher/Leader Fellowships as part of their second project, “Dharma Relief 2: Healing Racial Trauma Through Buddhist Communities (DR2).” The project aims to recognize Black dharma teachers and leaders and provide them with resources to “carry on their profound work of offering healing and support through a Buddhist lens for African-descendant communities in the U.S.”
The five recipients of the DR2 fellowship are Jean Marie Robbins, Jozen Tamori Gibson, Pamela Freeman, Ramona Lisa Ortiz-Smith, and Victoria Cary. The fellowships will begin in October 2023 and continue for one year, offering the chosen Fellows a monthly dāna of $1,000 USD to support their livelihood.
“We hope this pilot project will spur others to widen the pool to the many others providing service in their communities who are well-deserving of the support and encouragement of the larger Buddhist community,” Dharma Relief writes.
The five fellows will be able to attend three fellowship circles during the year, as well as an in-person residential “Deep Time Liberation” (DTL) retreat in the spring of 2024 funded by Insight Meditation Society. They will also be provided with additional resources, including free enrollment at any retreat or workshop offered by the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Cambridge Insight Meditation Society, or the Tallahassee Chan Center.
Having met many wonderful fellowship candidates in the selection process, Dharma Relief hopes to be able to highlight the work of more Black dharma teachers and leaders in the future. Alongside the chosen fellows, Dharma Relief has named four shortlisted candidates from their selection process: Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a Buddhist practitioner in the Theravada tradition and a trauma-informed Mindfulness meditation teacher; Sydney Reece, an international educator in social justice advocacy and mindfulness-based meditation teacher specializing in addiction and trauma resilience; Clear Grace Dayananda, an ordained monastic who currently serves the initiate nonprofit mobile ministry the Traveling Nunk; and Syra Smith, an an artist, facilitator, and mindfulness educator who sits on the Board of Directors at San Francisco Insight and serves as one of their resident teachers.
The “Healing Racial Trauma Through Buddhist Communities” project follows the success of Dharma Relief’s first initiative in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which fundraised over $600,000 to purchase and distribute over 1.2 million masks to hospitals. DR2 was created in response to the increase of racial attacks in the United States.
Meet the fellowship cohort below:
Jean Marie Robbins
Jean Marie Robbins has been a practitioner in the Shambhala lineage in Chicago, Illinois for nearly 10 years. In 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, she and an Internal Family Systems therapist received a grant from Shambhala to design and conduct a workshop called Warriorship and Whiteness, which evolved into the monthly Collective Liberation. Jean facilitates exploring race and identity, racism, bias, and inequity. Most recently, Jean completed meditation instructor training and entered the Vajrayana path with the intention of providing healing and connection for Black youth.
Jozen Tamori Gibson
Jozen Tamori Gibson (they, them) began formal meditation practice in 2004 through Sotō Zen while living in Japan joined by a Theravada practice in 2010. Jozen is a 2021 graduate of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) – Insight Retreat Center (IRC) Dharma Teacher Training program. With certifications and embodiment studies in Yoga, Qigong, Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT), Indigenous Focusing Oriented Therapy (IFOT) and Complex Trauma, Jozen lives to provide and nourish contemplative body-heart-mind alignment practices and spaces rooted in wellness, anti-oppression and interdependent liberation for all beings. Jozen honors the wisdom and compassion of all teachers, highlighting their mother, Akimi, and Dharma teachers, Monitsu Pamela Weiss and Osho Zenju Earthlyn Manuel.
Pamela Freeman is a licensed clinical psychotherapist who has been in practice over 30 years and is a co-founder of The Black Women’s Health Project in Atlanta. She is a graduate of the Community Dharma Leadership program and the Dedicated Practitioners Program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. She is a co-founder of Delaware Valley Insight in the Philadelphia Tri-State Area, and is also one of the leaders for a monthly meditation group for people of color in Philadelphia. Pamela aims to expose more people to the benefits of meditation.
Ramona Lisa Ortiz-Smith
Ramona Lisa Ortiz-Smith, MBA, has been practicing meditation for over 25 years and studying the Dharma in the Theravada tradition for more than 15 years. Ramona Lisa considers herself a dedicated lay practitioner of the Dharma. She enjoys scholarly programs and has completed East Bay Meditation Center’s Commit to Dharma Program (C2D3) and Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s (SRMC) Dedicated Practitioners Program (DPP6). Her teacher training includes certification through the Mindfulness Training Institute and completion of East Bay Meditation Center’s two-year Spiritual Teacher and Leadership training. She is also a certified Indigenous Focusing Oriented Therapy (IFOT) Practitioner and is inspired to include earth based indigenous practices in her offerings as a meditation and Dharma teacher. Ramona Lisa is nourished and sustained by long, silent retreat practice. She is a Free Spirit who creatively weaves together real life experiences into her Dharma interpretation and teachings using authenticity, kindness, humor and joy!
Victoria Cary has been practicing Insight Meditation and studying Dharma since 2006. She graduated from Spirit Rock Retreat Teacher Training in September of 2020, and has served as a Community Dharma Leader since her graduation from Spirit Rock’s Community Dharma Leaders (CDL) program in 2016. At that time, she co-founded the San Francisco People of Color Insight Sangha and continues as one of the core teachers. Victoria is particularly interested in the integration of the Mindfulness in everyday life.