I am humbled by your visit to my website.
tree turtle (always spelled lowercase even at the beginning of a sentence) is my legal name and my Buddhist Upāsikā ordination vow name. I write, publish, and edit under my other name, Cleis Abeni. My pronouns are she/her. Click here to learn more about my names.
I am a Black American woman who loves to read, write, edit, teach, and work benevolently for others.
Ever since I met her while studying at the Beauvoir summer program at the National Cathedral in 1979 as a youth, I have revered the late civil rights leader, Pauli Murray, and modeled aspects of my lifework after her.
If you are encountering me through this website or through my work as a nonprofit executive, teacher, or healer, please call me Miss turtle or Miss tree. If we are friends, then feel free to call me by my first name, tree.
My purpose in life is to live compassionately and contemplatively for peace, healing, and justice.
Currently, I am the Director (CEO) of the Baltimore Wisdom Project (BWP) and the Co-Director (Co-CEO) of Wisdom Projects, Inc., the larger 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization within which the BWP is one of two divisions (along with the Chicago Wisdom Project).
I am also a longtime professional editor and writer.
Along with editing, writing, and teaching, I have worked on staff (including as an executive leader) at several nonprofit organizations to uplift their communications, operations, and fundraising.
I have a clinical background in health and wellness. I was a formerly licensed nurse and a formerly licensed social worker. I was also a peer/community counselor, a former substance abuse counselor, a certified specialist in conflict transformation, and a multifaceted healer with a certificate in trauma-informed care. As a nurse and/or a health navigator, I worked mostly on night shifts at DC General, Maryland General, Providence Hospital, the Walter P. Carter Center, FutureCare, Hahnemann Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, and the Ohio Hospital For Psychiatry.
Since 1985 (over 30 years), I've worked with children, youth, adults, and families to prevent violence and elevate wellness. As a peacemaker, I apply trauma-sensitive and disability-aware principles and practices of restorative justice, conflict transformation, de-escalation, and social and emotional learning to all of the work that I do.
Mindfulness is also one of my foremost vehicles for individual and collective holistic transformation. At the core of my contemplative practice is daily meditative breathing practice, insight meditation, and loving-kindness meditation. I am trained in a variety of contemplative traditions of meditation and mindful movement, including
I also trained deeply in restorative justice practices with Ms. Ruth Revels, a Lumbee elder, and other Native peoples.
I believe firmly that our prosperity is fueled by our care and support of others. My life was formed and enriched by the mentoring and/or teaching of the following people:
For all of my life—even during my late childhood—I have been interested in three main themes:
Writing, editing, teaching, creating media messaging, public speaking, as well as organizing for peace and justice are my tools to uplift people.
I am a former foster child and homeless child who was also blessed to attend private schools for short periods. As a child, I was diagnosed autistic and hyperlexic. Like many autistic people, I sometimes stim, especially when I am exhausted. I am a survivor of multiple forms of violence. My firsthand experiences inform my lifelong work on the impact of disability, violence, homelessness, trauma, and poverty on youth and adults.
Storytelling—written, visualized, spoken, and physicalized—is my lifelong method to realize a caring, inquisitive and reflective world.
A longtime grant-writer and fundraiser, I have helped uplift the strategic communications, operations, and fundraising of such nonprofit organizations as the Rev. Vernon Dobson group within BUILD—Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development; the Institute for Survey Research; Sybil Music & Dance; Many Voices; the Bethune Museum and Archives; the Shakespeare Theatre; and the writing center at Goucher College (where I earned an interdisciplinary BA in English, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Religion, and Theater Arts).
I hold the following advanced degrees: a MA in science writing and poetry from Johns Hopkins University; and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, Education, and Dance (with a specialization in mindful movement) from the Ohio State University where my main advisors were Professors Vera Maletic, Odette Blum, and Angelika Gerbes.
At OSU, under Dr. Maletic's direction, I was the first person in the world to notate and analyze two movement forms: (1) The 52 Blocks, an African American martial arts form, and (2) Voguing, an African American and Latina/o LGBT dance tradition. In my movement documentation and analysis, I used Labanotation, Motif Description, and Effort-Shape Analysis to document how the dancing embodied different ideas of community and personhood.
Under Dr. Gerbes' direction, I wrote a thesis on the humanist idea of community in the choreography of Doris Humphrey for which I received the Selma Jeanne Cohen Award from the Society of Dance History Scholars. I also researched improvisation in African American vernacular dancing and created an evening-length showcase of structured improvisations featuring multiple Black social dance traditions from the Lindy Hop to BBoy/BGirl.
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