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 peace educator and healer who loves to read, write, edit, teach, and work benevolently for others.
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).
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was one of the first practitioners to introduce high-quality trauma-sensitive mindfulness and restorative justice practices into programs for youth and families in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. For over 30 years, I have developed and implemented innovative, evidence-based in-school and out-of-school programs and services for anti-violence and community health for low-income youth and families.
I have worked on staff (including as an executive) as a nonprofit professional at several organizations to uplift their programming, communications, operations, and fundraising.
If you are encountering me through this website or through my work as a nonprofit executive, please call me Miss turtle or Miss tree. If we are friends, please call me by my first name, tree.
Here is a list of people who molded, mentored, or taught me.
My purpose in life is to live compassionately and contemplatively for peace, healing, and justice.
For all of my life—even during my late childhood—I have been interested in three humanistic and humanitarian main themes:
Writing, editing, teaching, training, creating media messaging, public speaking, as well as community organizing for peace and justice are my tools to uplift people and and work through these themes.
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 elements of my lifework after her.
Clinical and Healing Background
Click here for a detailed timeline of my healing and clinical training and work.
I have a clinical background in health and wellness. I was a formerly licensed nurse (Registered Nurse (RN), Registered Nurse in Psychiatry (RNP), and Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)), and a formerly licensed social worker (LSW).
I was also a peer/community counselor, a former addiction and recovery counselor, a certified specialist in conflict resolution, 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. I was also a School Nurse at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore City.
Since 1985 (over 30 years), I have worked with children, youth, adults, and families as a peace educator to prevent violence and elevate wellness. I have also specialized in wellness for people with mental and physical disabilities. As a peacemaker, I apply trauma-sensitive and disability-aware principles and practices of restorative justice, conflict resolution, de-escalation, and Social and Emotional Learning to all of the work that I do.
Mindfulness and mindful movement is also one of my foremost vehicles for individual and collective healing and in 1990 I created and still regular use a method for whole-community mindful practice.
I was mentored by Lee Donald Stern (1915-1992), a Quaker leader in the Alternatives to Violence Project; by Ruth Revels (1936-2016), a Lumbee Elder with whom I studied restorative justice practices through talk circles; by Amos N. Wilson, with whom I studied trauma-informed care; by Llaila Afrika, with whom I studied African-centered holistic health; and by several other key figures rooted in the twentieth century African American peace and civil rights movements like Dr. Pauli Murray. All of these people helped shape my vision for peacemaking.
Subsequently, in addition to my present nonprofit work, across the last 30-plus years, I did the following:
I am a longtime mediator with extensive experience in conflict resolution. There are many terms and approaches for working through conflicts outside of (or adjacent to) the criminal justice system and the courts (like mediation, negotiation, dispute resolution, conflict management, conflict transformation, and transformative justice). I have lived through, studied, and often applied many of these shifting concepts and practices in my work since the late 1980s.
I earned a certificate from the Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago. For many years, I was a member of the Conflict Resolution Education Network/National Institute for Dispute Resolution, and a member of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution.
Academic and Research Credentials
In addition to an interdisciplinary BA in English, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Religion, and Theater Arts from Goucher College, I hold an 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.
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/52 Blows, an African American martial arts form, and (2) Voguing, an African American and Latina/o LGBTQ 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.
Foster care, Violence, Disability, and Homelessness
I am a former foster child who experienced homelessness as a child and an adult. (I 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.
In my infancy, childhood, and adult years, I survived multiple forms of violence (beatings, burnings, child sex trafficking, child sexual assault, and gang rape). The physical wounds and trauma left a lasting effect on me. I know full well that most children who endured what I lived through die from their injuries or they soon after as they fail to cope with their trauma.
My early commitment to Buddhism helped me learn how to calm my mind and body in the wake of trauma. Early in my life, I made a commitment to never harm anyone and to work against the harm and oppression of youth, adults, non-human species, and the environment for the rest of my life.
Thus, along with my training, education, and professional work, my firsthand experiences inform my life-work on violence, disability, neurodiversity, homelessness, trauma, and poverty.
Copyright © 2024 - tree turtle (Cleis Abeni) - All Rights Reserved.