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Apr 27
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Leaders at Awaken Chicago

Social activists and leaders in justice, peace, and enlightened society gather to offer teachings and workshops in Chicago, starting April 29

by Sai Wei

Reverend Father Fleger Photo by Christaan Felber

Rev. Father Fleger; photo by Christaan Felber

Awaken Chicago features key teachers at the center of the mandala, Pema Chodron and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, as well as Acharya Gaylon Ferguson and Shastri Charlene Leung, who will be heading a panel discussion and a workshop respectively. However, there are numerous other well-known leaders that hail from outside the Shambhala community. On Saturday, April 30th, a panel discussion between The New York Times featured social activist Rev. Father Pfleger, as well as executive director and founder of Fierce Women of Faith Rev. Dr. Marcenja Richards, and Black Lives Matter organizer Damon Williams at University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall.

Father Pfleger is a famous social activist and senior pastor of St. Sabina, Chicago’s largest African-American Catholic Church. An eloquent public speaker, Father Pfleger is an outspoken advocate for the African-American community in Chicago, and is a highly recognized social activist in the realms of racism, social injustice, poverty, and other social issues. He has been profiled in People, Time, Ebony, Newsweek, The New York Times, U.S.A. Today, and other major media outlets. Father Pfleger is also the founder of numerous institutions, such as: the Employment Resource Center, the Ark Youth Center, Saint Sabina Social Service Center, Thea Bowman Spiritual Advance Center, Samaritan House for the homeless, Saint Sabina 80-unit Elders Village, and the Beloved Community, Inc.

Marcenia Richards, the executive director of Fierce Women of Faith, poses for a portrait on Oct. 11, 2014 in Chicago, IL. The group works to promote peace in Chicago. Richards is a Christian but works with women of several faiths. These photos would be portraits of her.

Marcenia Richards, executive director of Fierce Women of Faith; photo by Grace Donnelly

Rev. Dr. Marcenia Richards is founder and executive director of Fierce Women of Faith (FWF), an interfaith group of women and allies working together to bring peace to families and communities across Chicago. Fierce Women of Faith seeks to recruit women of all faiths and denominations to channel grief and anger into activism for change. FWF seeks to deepen relationships with other organizations to support effective solutions to violence, and to pursue a more peaceful and more hopeful future for Chicago. Rev. Dr. Marcenia Richards is also former director of the Peace Coalition Against Violence. She is the author of two books: My Memoirs of … “Bomb The Church”: The War Between Faith and Justice, and 31 Days of Prayer for Wisdom. 


Damon Williams; photo by Melanie L. Brown

Damon Williams will dialogue with Father Pfleger and Marcenia Richards as a young activist with Black Lives Matters. In recent events, he helped organize and lead the protests following the release of the video of the death of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer. Williams is the director of #LetUsBreathe Collective, a fundraising initiative to bring supplies and remedies to protestors in the ongoing resistance against racial violence such as the Fergusson protests. Williams has helped mobilize youth activists across the nation and has helped produce the documentary, “Lost Voices: A Ferguson Story”. #LetUsBreath Collective works with activist groups such as the Black Youth Project (BYP100), HandsUp United, and Chicago Artists Against Injustice. As #LetUsBreathe proclaims on its website, “ It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains,” quoting Assata Shakur, the Black Panther and Black Liberation Army political activist.


Rev. angel Kyodo Williams; photo by Bethanie Hines

Rev. angel Kyodo Williams is author of the book Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace and the founder of the Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley, California. At the heart of Rev. angel’s activism is a deep commitment to the transformation of people’s interior lives in order to initiate external transformation. She writes, “Love and justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.” She has been covered by media outlets such as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Ms., Essence, Buddhadharma, Village Voice, and the Oxygen Channel. A wise spiritual teacher, Rev. angel is one of the very few African-American Zen teachers and gives deep insight into how the spiritual shapes the narratives of the world stage.

She writes, “As we express our capacities we get stories about whether we are more or less capable. Not only do we get individual stories, we get collective stories. We miss a great deal when we only pay attention to the story that’s been handed to us and we’re not intimately connected to the deeper story of who we really are—as Buddhists say, before our mother was born.” She calls for the inspiration to rewrite the stories given to us, the stories that we take for granted to be true. She will be sitting in interactive sessions with Acharya Gaylon Ferguson on Friday April 29th and Saturday morning April 30th .

Acharya Arawana Hayashi

Acharya Arawana Hayashi

Acharya Arawana Hayashi will be teaching the workshop “Liberating the Social body” in which participants are taught to gain a clearer sense of their embodiment and how their collective actions effects the larger social body. Through caring of the whole, participants will gain a practice in leadership and agency.  Acharya Susan Skjei will be teaching “Difficult Moments: What to do When You are Triggered” a workshop on how to navigate difficult situations with courage and confidence. She will present the Authentic Leadership model and its five essential practices as the main practice to negotiate triggering moments. Shastri Charlene Leung will be teaching “Untraining: Healing Racism and Internalized Oppression, a compassionate approach to help end unconscious collusion with racism and other social injustices. While connecting to our basic goodness, the workshop introduces contemplative practices to explore social conditioning.

As the gathering of powerful individuals, Awaken Chicago seeks to be space where enlightened society begins and endures. For curious and brave warriors, the Chicago Shambhala center warmly invites one and all to this historic three day event.

Sai Wei is the intern of Social Engagement at the Chicago Shambhala center. She is currently studying at Shimer College with an emphasis on philosophy. 

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