Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ) is a non-profit organization located in Oakland, CA that promotes and protects reproductive justice through organizing, building leadership capacity, developing alliances and education to achieve community and systemic change.
They believe that reproductive justice will be achieved when all people have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about gender, bodies and sexuality for themselves, their families and their communities.
Their five main programs consist of Strong Families, Sexuality Education Justice (SEJ), Sisters in Action for Issues of Reproductive Empowerment (SAFIRE), Expanding the Movement for Empowerment and Reproductive Justice (EMERJ), and Forward Stance.
The Strong Families Initiative is shifting culture and policy to match what families actually look like and what families need. SEJ is a new approach to sexuality education that changes the way we think and act by putting the experiences of marginalized communities at the center. SAFIRE is a leadership development program, in which Asian high school girls in Oakland, California develop innovative, youth-centered political campaigns around reproductive justice issues. EMERJ is the national movement building initiative of ACRJ. And, last but not least, Forward Stance is a mind-body approach that helps individuals and organizations strategically and proactively do their work.
Since 2005, ACRJ has incorporated Forward Stance into the way they operate as an organization and has embedded it in all of the organizational work that they do in the world. Forward Stance is a mind-body technology that was developed by Norma Wong of the Applied Zen Program of the Institute of Zen Studies.
Forward Stance clearly works well for ACRJ. Their leadership development and movement building programs have grown and flourished from the ground that Forward Stance has provided individually, team-wise, and organizationally-wide. Their new Forward Stance Leadership Initiative trains social justice leaders to develop a Forward Stance and apply the practice to their own movement building work.
Dana Ginn Paredes, ACRJ Organizing Director, shared several examples of how incorporating Forward Stance has positively affected the organizational culture as well as improved outcomes for their work. She states that as a staff, ACRJ engages in a weekly 30 minute session of Forward Stance practice before each and every staff meeting. She notes that this allows the entire staff to feel more connected through breath, stanc, awareness of each other, and rhythm. For her personally, by starting each staff meeting this way, she feels more settled going into meetings and more open to hearing about other people’s work and how it connects to her own.
The different departments of ACRJ take turns leading the weekly practice, and even the way they rotate leadership in that is reflected in how they steward their work. For example, about a year and half ago, ACRJ underwent a major office move. The Operations and Administrative Department was responsible for bottom-lining the physical move of the entire office, with the expectation that work productivity wouldn’t skip a beat.
It was Eveline Shen, ACRJ Executive Director, who suggested that in the weeks leading up to the move that members of the Operations and Administrative Department lead the Forward Practice. This allowed them the felt experience of leading the rest of the organization before actually leading the organization in the move. This also allowed the rest of the departments to learn how to follow direction well and support their leadership.
The move happened with nary a hitch, and Paredes cites their Forward Stance work as a key component to their shared success.
In working with high school-age girls with their SAFIRE program, Forward Stance also helps guide transformation. The young women are taught the series of 10 Tai Chi moves, as given by Norma Wong, as a foundational Forward Stance practice activity. In their learning, the young women are taught how to kiai and use the strength of their voice as they count loudly with each move in Cantonese. Over time, the young participants move from discomfort to empowerment in using the strength of their voices, not only in the programmatic work, but also in their everyday lives. In addition, vast improvements are noted in participants ability to maintain their power, their focus, and their Forward Stance as well.
ACRJ is an organization that truly ‘walks their talk,’ in addition to showing others how to do the same.