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Natural Awakenings Central Florida / Orlando

Cruzie Kelly on African Spirituality in America: A Beautiful Cultural Legacy

Aug 31, 2022 09:31AM ● By Margaret Mary Jones
As Chief Interpreter of the U.S. National Park Service for decades, Cruzie Kelly has written many stories on nature and history. Her engaging Storytelling is also a favorite way to share ancestral knowledge. She has a series on historical places for rejuvenation and healing. Currently offering Free Mindfulness classes in Central Florida, we welcome her with open arms, and look forward to learning more and honoring our ancestors.

So, why do you practice African traditions to promote Mindfulness?

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.” This quote sat on my work desk for more than 36 years as an advocate for mindful cultural and natural heritage preservation that shares diverse viewpoints.

As an educator, my concern is not why individuals practice yoga, light sage, pray before a football game, chant, use crystals, balance charkas, seek divination, etc. I am responsible for holding space to support Mindfulness practices for collective and individual well-being. I offer compassion that different contemplative traditions bring individuals into a Mindfulness practice. Regardless of your path, I am required and vow to uphold your First Amendments rights as an Insight Meditation teacher. Recently, the Supreme Court sided with a football coach from Washington state who sought to kneel and pray on the field after games. The justices said the coach's prayer was protected by the First Amendment. The next week another 1993 landmark U.S. Supreme Court religion case from Florida was being discussed in the news. This 1993 case entitled, the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993) recognized African-Based rituals practiced for thousands of years as indeed protected under the U. S. Constitution.

Why are you passionate about using different traditions to teach Mindfulness?

Mindfulness need not be political, religious, or spiritual—it is a personal experience. As a certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) educator and Insight mediation teacher, I encourage that each person follows what is wise for them and ensure we have spaces that welcomes all traditions that promote holistic health. MBSR is my tool for insomnia, pain management, emotional regulation, and greater mental focus. Being rooted in a practice of Meditation and Mindfulness has become a must for me. Fortunately for us, science now supports that neuron plasticity is positively improved with a Mindfulness practice. I desire this health for all people and along with spaces that reflect more Ubantu. Ubantu is a capacity in South African culture that expresses compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interests of building and maintaining a community with justice and mutual caring.

How and why do you live with diverse viewpoints?

I was raised in Latino, African, and Indigenous traditions. My DNA reflects this fact. I am more than one thing. I also have a passion for cultural heritage preservation. Few know, I am a retired senior executive who spent 40 years advocating for mindful nature and cultural heritage preservation in the National Park Service. I participated and supported Congressional research studies that provided the justification for what becomes important American heritage. I also served two Presidential commissions to protect Latino and African American heritage. In early 2000, I was engaged in review of a Congressional project to review the Gullah/Geechee Peoples and Culture to establish The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. This area is now a National Heritage Area established by the U.S. Congress to recognize the unique culture of the Gullah Geechee people who have traditionally resided in the coastal areas and the sea islands of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. It was one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my life. You see. my mom died when I was twelve and soon after I went to live with my dad. I missed my mom tremendously, and on a work trip I stumbled upon this area of the country that was singing and dancing as I had seen my mom as a child. My mom adored her Yoruba traditions passed down through centuries of oral history. I was shamed to think this was something I needed to reject. At that moment, I was healed and liberated from suffering in ways that words cannot describe. Soon after the US Supreme provided the okay for me to practice what is wise for me. This is a mix of many traditions that nourish my well-being.

Yoruba religious beliefs are part of complex songs, histories, stories, and other cultural concepts which make up the Yoruba history and society world-wide. The origins of these beliefs and traditions date back to the 8th century CE, where Ile-Ife, was established as the spiritual capital of a formidable Yorubaland empire. Many worshippers and non-worshipper of the religion alike believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, spirits, ancestral worship, the practice of energy management, divination, and natural medicine. As a way of worship, the religion has survived several internal and external challenges to remain significant. In November 2005, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed Ifá, the formal divination system of Yoruba, as one of the 86 traditions of the world to be regarded as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. UNESCO then encouraged all nations and peoples of the world to give their unflinching support to these traditions so that they would not perish.

Today, it is estimated that 75 million individuals worldwide practice some form of traditional Yoruba traditions. Those practicing some form of indigenous traditions is infinitely higher. One of my Mindfulness and Meditation coaches, Dr. Ruth King, is an Insight Meditation Teacher, Life Coach, and Author of Healing Rage: Women Making Inner Peace Possible and Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside provides a framework to building internal resilience and liberation from mindsets that harm. She asserts that Mindfulness serves to aid in ending internal oppression and liberating us from suffering.

I have created Redwing Collective to nurture spaces that are healing for all traditions and honor many diverse teachers as well as preserve cultural traditions. I especially encourage all people to give their unflinching support to “protected” traditions of the indigenous population. We need to fully understand their authentic origins and contributions to humanity. A mindset that rejects any tradition as all bad or evil is a mindset for harm. Today, many individuals are returning to their indigenous roots to find value while also finding value in other world religions.

Your email address peaked my curiosity—and your tiara!

As an expression and reverence for my Latino African traditions, I wear “collares” around my neck and the crown is my expression of being a “Daughter of Obba.”

My logo and email is for the Red-Winged Blackbird: a special and common bird many people do not notice. FYI: The color red belongs to the nature force we call “Chango” or “Shango.” This nature spirit rules the Root chakra, as you are featuring in this September 2022 edition. 

To learn more, Cruzie Kelly welcomes your questions. She is based in Central Florida and offers FREE Mindfulness Workshops online and/or at your community center or business. As a retired park ranger who spends her time cultivating kindness and love in community, she also specializes in brain health to unexposed communities. See Meetup for events and more information. She can be contacted via email: [email protected].


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