This year, I celebrated my first Independence Day as a US citizen. I hold deep gratitude for this land of the free and home of the brave that has become my adopted home. There’s so much that I love about this great nation. The opportunities that have come my way that have allowed me to create a business doing what I love could be seen as the epitome of the American Dream.
Hard work pays off, right? This belief that if you work hard, persevere, and focus on manifesting your dreams, meritocracy will reward you for your efforts, and anyone and everyone is capable of achieving upward mobility, success, and independence.
So, I got my head down and studied hard. I completed my PhD in 3 years (because I couldn’t pass up the bargain of flat rate tuition per semester rather than per credit hour – thanks to my Chinese value-for-money instincts, that nearly killed me). I was offered a publishing deal for my first book on my graduation day, established a training institute 3 months later, published my second book during the pandemic, and am now being honored by the American Psychological Association, Society for Humanistic Psychology, with an Early Career Award for Outstanding Contributions and Innovative Applications to Psychology.
It appears that I’m the first woman of color to receive this recognition, an award given to someone within ten years of completing a doctoral program. To say that I am overwhelmed would be an understatement. I am honored and grateful to the Awards Committee for this recognition, and as always, deeply moved by my mentor, Dr. Louis Hoffman’s, faith in my development and for nominating me for the award.
Now, for me to claim credit for this award as an independent achievement would be to collude with this fantasy that the American Dream is available to all. I did not achieve any of this on my own – nor would I have wanted to or have any desire to claim to. I was able to complete my doctoral program without the need for overwhelming student loans due to my family’s support; I absorbed by osmosis astute financial acumen from a family of entrepreneurs; mentors connected me with publishers that they had published through, and I had role models who encouraged and supported me every step of the way.
The reality is that I have lived an enormously privileged life and the opportunities that have come my way were borne out of these privileges, and unlikely to have landed in my lap were it not for these privileges. Of course, I also exist in the intersections of being a person of color and have other experiences that are less privileged, but that’s also why I’m engaging with this topic here. As equine facilitated practitioners, we pride ourselves on meeting our clients and horses where they’re at, which necessitates a deep dive into our own implicit biases so that we can show up and engage with them without doing additional harm.
My focus over the past few years has been to create a soft place to land for black, indigenous, and people of color in the equine facilitated industry, as well as for other marginalized folks who have always been part of the horse world but rarely acknowledged or seen for their contributions. It’s been scary to put myself out there as an agitator in our industry and while there’s definitely
been pushback on my message for the need to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the equine industry, I’ve also been supported by a number of people who understand the need to challenge the status quo.
I’m grateful to those individuals who have stood as allies in this process, in particular, Kathy Alm, CEO of PATH International, and Shannon Knapp, Founder of Horse Sense of The Carolinas. The advantage in working with horses is that since the power dynamics that are present in human systems of oppression have directly translated into how humans relate to horses, by challenging those dominant ways of being with horses, we are able to help folks see the parallels in the human world. We recently launched our Inclusive HERD™ workshop series which offers mental health practitioners, coaches, and educators an equine facilitated experience while exploring their own understanding of what it means to be inclusive, and the impact this intentional inclusion can have on their clients.
I feel like this Early Career Award is a professional coming-of-age moment, an opportunity to pause and reflect on how far The HERD Institute has come, and to offer gratitude to all of YOU – our students, graduates, members, and faculty team for everything that you contribute towards this incredible community that we are co-creating. For me, Independence Day isn’t about forging ahead, alone and disconnected, but rather the acknowledgment of the power of joining forces towards a common goal and the necessity of being interconnected and knowing that we are all in it together. Independence Day always brings forth a revolutionary spirit and I am so thankful to be fighting the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion, with all of you. Thank you for being a
part of this community.