ChE has not been a part of the Reyn family for very long but has become an invaluable member of the team.
Breaking molds and living outside heteronormative, patriarchal, white culture is kind of their standard. If you are a savvy reader you may have noticed the use of they/them/their as their pronoun rather than the gender binary we are a bit more exposed to, and that is because ChE is a Queer Gender-Nonconforming Afro-Indigenous freedom fighter. ChE is a powerhouse player in the world of social justice, the founder, leader and engaged participant of numerous projects, programs, and organizations working diligently for social change. Delving into their achievements and work is a bit intimidating; they seem to have boundless energy and passion for facilitating multi-generational healing, specifically centering the holistic liberation of Afro-Indigenous communities across the country and throughout the global Diaspora at large. All of this work, all of these layers, all of this passion, and all of the inspiration of ChE is housed in a very grounded, approachable, and cool individual. On a quiet New Orleans morning, one that almost, finally, feels like Fall, ChE shared aspects of themselves that aren’t as easy to distill into their bio or a quick intro. Rolling in straight from a dance rehearsal, ChE is full of life, eager to chat yoga, heritage, New Orleans, and to indulge in some storytelling.
Smiling and unhurried, ChE’s love for organic, unfiltered conversation is contagious. Sharing, documenting, and exploring the interesting nature of human experience is dear to ChE’s work. They are so accustomed to leading conversations and interviews, they occasionally admit to resisting the urge to interview me back. As an artivist, ChE embodies many of the characteristics and motivations associated with the actions of the 1997 gathering between Chicano artists and the Zapatistas that brought the term into popular culture. Art has been a tool to utilize for documentation, policial commentary, and social change since its inception. As an Afro-Indigenous Artivist, ChE returns “Art” to its cultural origins by utilizing their ancestral wisdom and healing traditions to take political action towards the changes they hope to see in the world. Through multidisciplinary art and the creative processes they teach/facilitate, ChE builds strategies for embodied freedom within communities misappropriated, systematically invisibilized, and impacted by structural oppression. ChE embodies artivism. ChE’s identity is bound to their work, but that’s not to say they’re indivisible from it or they are one dimensional in the way they present themselves. In processing ChE and all that they do, it is evident that they care deeply about what they do, and that they have found themselves through the work rather than someone who shrinks behind it. They effortlessly hold the space of storyteller and secret keeper, giving off the vibe of that Art History professor who seemed too young and cool to be working at a stuffy university.
The intellectual dialogue regarding the inspiration, traditions, and ancestral wisdom they draw from in their practice is enthralling. It becomes obvious that ChE is used to carefully informing, to sharing very valid experiences and truths with an audience who may not be accustomed to hearing such a narrative. They choose their words carefully and ask for clarification to ensure they are understanding you, which builds a sense of safety and curiosity with whomever they are sharing space with. From this understanding, you can get to know ChE as a profoundly empathetic and aware individual. When you sit with them you know you are sharing space with someone you can trust who will take time to hear you, to support you and to share the incredible gifts of their world with you.
Much of ChE’s creativity, rebellion, and nonconformity is a result of their commitment to immersing in the wisdoms of their elders, nurturing tradition, ritual and history in their personal roots and foundation. The practices ChE brings to their classes and their activist work have very deep roots. Roots brought ChE to New Orleans. Roots are essential to their practice and what enable them to continue to grow. Prior to establishing themselves in New Orleans, ChE was Oakland based while traveling nationally. Their work in the Bay Area is rooted in multidisciplinary artmaking, Afro-Contemporary choreography, and social justice organizing. They are the Co-Founder of Bay Area’s Black Folks Dinner which sparked a series of Afro-Diasporic collectives in a range of cities across the country (including New Orleans!), which continue the legacy of “kitchen table organizing.” Launching the first LGBTQ-specific programming at Destiny Arts Center, ChE created an LQBTQ+ youth-of-color artivist troupe building cross-generation mentorships and public art in collaboration with local movements for peace & justice. ChE continues to offer embodied, arts-integrated training, curriculum development, and liberatory consulting for organizations in the Bay Area, New Orleans, and beyond seeking to root in race & gender justice.
Building on their existing work organizing in #BlackLivesMatter, ChE’s creative activism took on new life, urgency, and staying power. Utilizing the tools of their ancestors, ChE launched #DignityInProcess, a national network and living artivist toolkit shaping an embodied movement that centers Afro-Indigenous liberation beyond the binary. This interdisciplinary platform conjures intersectional justice through Queer Black Feminist Freedom Schools, cross-generational Wisdom Councils, and site-specific performance rituals merged with direct action organizing. This is the radical work that brought ChE to New Orleans, as they continue to organize across disciplines, identities, and movements to empower people through the individual and collective body. Here and in countless other points of our conversation there is the potential to “geek out” or follow the rabbit hole into specifics, history, and the complexity surrounding their Afro-Indigenous experiences and traditions. I do wish we had the time and the ability to jump in and share it all with our Reyn community. Hopefully this teaser will spark some curiosity, and you’ll practice with ChE, read more, and connect with this content more regularly.
Tapping into the body-percussive Ring Shout resistance emerging out of Congo Square, intertwined with the tradition of Mysore Ashtanga, ChE manages to weave a deeply moving, energized class that practices interculturality. Their Afro-Indigenous Liberatory Yoga class invites you to move energy, build community, and connect with the rhythm of the heart and the Earth itself. By arranging in a circle, students and teacher are brought to more equal footing. The circle deconstructs linear hierarchy as there is no division of rows, but a skillful guidance through a beautifully sequenced class. We are invited out of our shells to explore ourselves as a piece of the bigger puzzle, to challenge patriarchal norms through honoring the power and interconnectedness of witnessing one another in a circle. Though their training begins in childhood and encompasses a range of Yogic pathways, ChE connects strongly with the repetition of the Mysore Ashtanga sequencing as this value is shared in their culturally-specific rituals. Building discipline in the body, mind and spirit, repetition helps us to churn out the habits and oppressive conditioning that ultimately keep us individually and collectively from getting Free. Like all endeavors ChE engages in, their yoga classes are an opportunity to touch Liberation- building deeper integration and responsibility within ourselves and the world we create around us. The space they are shaping is a sacred offering of movement, breath, freedom songs, and social justice Dharma emerging from their own ancestral lineage. They invite us to challenge the status quo; restoring balance within ourselves, the circle, and our larger social structures. Accountability for our cultural practices (conscious and unconscious) and our community fuel the class. The empowerment and magnitude of practicing through this lens is something everyone is invited to partake in. Freedom built on compassionate understanding and a strong ancestral foundation is real-- let’s give it a try!
To connect and learn more about ChE and the freedom work they are weaving visit: http://che-art.life/