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Juneteenth – Reaching In Reaching Out


On June 19, 1865 enslaved African Americans in Texas were informed of their freedom and the official end of slavery.   To commemorate this incredibly important day, I tracked down the amazing Executive Director of the New Leaf Foundation, Shewit Kalat, for her thoughts on Juneteenth and how celebrating Juneteenth can be a fantastic motivator to dive into continued learning on diversity, equity, and inclusion in wellness spaces.

New Leaf engages young people aged 12-20 years old who face unequal access to resources, combined with a high potential for stress because of experiences of oppression, violence, neglect, stigmatization and poverty.”

Shewit is a bold and confident leader.  I met her right at the beginning of her tenure as Executive Director for New Leaf.  Her presence nearly jumped out of my phone on our first meeting.  Within five minutes it was exceptionally clear that her passion for making mindfulness practices more equitable would take New Leaf to new heights.  

I recently connected with Shewit to talk about Juneteenth and how we can celebrate Juneteenth both on the day itself, and moving forward with learning. 

Jess: Firstly Happy early Juneteenth. How do you commemorate Juneteenth, or Freedom Day?

Shewit: While commemorating Juneteenth as a Canadian, I reflect on the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality globally. 

Jess:  When did New Leaf begin, and what is its central mission?

Shewit: New Leaf was founded with a central mission of making mindfulness and yoga accessible to youth and equity-deserving communities. 

Jess: I know that New Leaf has been teaching anti oppression and anti racism for over a decade.  For those that are new to this work what advice would you give?

Shewit: For those new to anti-oppression work, my advice is to approach it with openness, humility, and a willingness to learn. The Reaching In Reaching Out Program offers a structured platform to engage with these principles, particularly on days like Juneteenth, which can serve as a powerful motivator for personal and collective growth.

Jess: Can you tell me about the Reaching in Reaching Out Program and why Juneteenth might be a motivating day to begin in a program like this?

Shewit: The Reaching In, Reaching Out Program is an online training program designed to deepen understanding of trauma, anti-oppression practices, and inclusive approaches to mindfulness and yoga. Juneteenth, a day commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the US, could serve as a motivating starting point for this program due to its significance in acknowledging historical injustices and promoting inclusivity. By beginning on Juneteenth, participants can honor the struggles of marginalized communities and commit to building safer and more accessible spaces for all.

Jess: What is your favorite part about the program?

Shewit: My favorite aspect of the Reaching In Reaching Out Program is its emphasis on fostering empathy and understanding through dialogue and reflection.  Engaging with others in this journey towards equity and inclusion is incredibly rewarding.

Jess: For someone that is new to Diversity Equity Inclusion work or new to anti oppression work, what is your advice for working through this program online?  How do you suggest, for example, processing some of the emotions and inquiries that may arise? Would you suggest keeping a journal, or going for walks between sessions, for example?

Shewit: For newcomers to Diversity Equity Inclusion work, navigating online programs like this requires self-awareness and self-care. I do suggest establishing supportive practices such as journaling or taking breaks for walks to process emotions that may arise during the sessions.

Jess: Do you ever suggest working through the Reaching In Reaching Out program as a team or as a group of friends?

Shewit: While the program can be undertaken individually, participating as a team or group of friends can deepen understanding and support collective action towards equity and justice.

Jess: When we hear Diversity Equity Inclusion teachers and leaders advise people to “Do the work” – how is Reaching In Reaching Out helping to do the work?

Shewit: “Doing the work” involves actively engaging in introspection, challenging biases, and advocating for change. Through initiatives like Reaching In Reaching Out, New Leaf facilitates this process by providing tools, resources, and a supportive community for individuals committed to creating a more equitable world, especially in the wellness space. 

Jess: How many hours does it usually take someone to complete Reaching In Reaching Out?

Shewit: Reaching In, Reaching Out typically takes participants anywhere between 10-20 hours to complete.

Jess:  And what would you say to someone with DEI training about doing the course? 

Shewit: For someone with DEI training, I would emphasize that this program offers a valuable opportunity to deepen their understanding of trauma, anti-oppression practices, and inclusive approaches to mindfulness and yoga, complementing their existing knowledge and skills in creating more inclusive spaces.

Jess: I remember Laura Sygrove, New Leaf’s co-founder and new Leaf’s ED, heart and pulse for over a decade, had new Leaf t-shirts or bags made for an event that said “Not free until we’re all free.”  To me this encapsulates New Leaf’s work so well.  What does this phrase mean to you, and if someone finds this phrase moving what can anyone do to make the world or their community more equitably free?

Shewit: Laura Sygrove’s mantra, “Not free until we’re all free,” perfectly encapsulates the essence of New Leaf’s mission. It highlights the interconnectedness of freedom and underscores the importance of collective liberation.  To make the world or their community more equitably free, individuals can actively engage in advocating for justice, supporting marginalized communities, and challenging systems of oppression through education and activism.


To learn more about the New Leaf Foundation watch this short video.   Register here for Reaching in Reaching Out.  All proceeds from the Reaching in Reaching Out program support New Leaf’s work in making yoga and mindfulness practices accessible to equity-deserving youth.


Jess Robertson is Modo Yoga’s Co Founder, Senior Advisor, and Community Documentarian.  She is also a writer, musician, yoga teacher and Co Founder of the New Leaf Foundation. She lives in Montreal, Canada with her 2 kids.