Rusia Naureen Mohiuddin was born in Bangladesh 1973, the year that two important cases dominated the United States news; Roe vs. Wade and the start of the Water Gate hearings. Born an identical twin, middle children of four, her journey of social justice started before the age of 13 by which point she had lived in 5 countries; Bangladesh, Australia, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and, completing her high school and college education in America.
Although she was not aware of it at the time, Mohiuddin was being prepared to be a pioneer in the community organizing movements of New York City. After having lived in Bangladesh for nine months after graduating from college, Rusia launched herself as the lead organizer for the Moshulu Woodlawn South Community Coalition. Without any formal training Mohiuddin successfully organized the first bilingual Bengali program in New York City at PS 20 in the North West Bronx, a community with a high concentration of Bangladeshi families. There she organized more than 100 community members to start tenant associations and run four campaigns in their neighborhoods.
This was the start of the many wins Mohiuddin would have in her 18 year run as an organizer in New York City. Since then she has co-directed organizations, passed bills, wrote curriculums and trained over 500 youth, men and women in leadership development and organizing.
One of her greatest accomplishments to date is the co-founding of Social Justice Leadership (SJL); an organization based in New York City supporting leaders, organizers and supervisors to build authentic open relationships with who they work with as part of their organizing strategy. Having worked in the 5 boroughs of New York City, Florida and California with both youth, women and people of color, Mohiuddin started seeing a pattern among them no matter where they were at. For one, people where feeling stuck in old habits, old ways of being that no longer served a purpose in their lives and yet not knowing how to be any different, two, staff across the board are under paid and over worked with no real structure in place to appreciate or value the work they do and three, while there is a range of organizers the needs of communities are so vast and global, that the day to day does not as much as put a dent in the work; unintentionally creating the exploitation of staff who get burnt out and leave.
In late 2004, Mohiuddin crafted a 5 year vision for the work she felt she must do to infuse highly skilled, balanced and sustainable organizers into the social justice movement. Already in development, Mohiuddin, as the chief architect of ACTIVATE! The Community Fellowship Program, decided to house this intensive 3-month program for intermediate, entry level folks and whole organizations to train together and develop skills sets that take care of their human and organizing needs as one of the launching programs of SJL in the Fall of 2006.
During the first year, Mohiuddin generated over 100 applications from all over the world, each vying for a spot as a fellow in the program. For the past three years she has supported folks in providing a real assessment of who they are both personally and as organizers. In her coaching she reflects back to them the ways that they are showing up while at the same time helping them understand the impact that their way of being has on other people. “ Some people want change that is tangible, that you can feel but the most stark changes are small and have huge impact but we are only able to see them if we are engaged in day to day relationships with people” says Mohiuddin.
Over 5 years later, ACTIVATE! has not only become the staple of how Social Justice Leadership does their organizing work today but also has revolutionized the way that organizers think about themselves within the movement. It was through ACTIVATE! that Mohiuddin solidified integrating somatics into community organizing work forever changing the way organizing is done while having a transformative impact in the lives of the people who attend the training. Ultimately, this innovative integration became the basis for what will be the SJL model of transformative organizing.
“Somatics is the missing element in organizing,” says Mohiuddin, “it forces people to see their own humanity and the humanity of others in the pursuit of justice”. As a women of color in various leadership positions, Mohiuddin always had the opportunity to connect with the staff of where she worked but found it hard to be taken seriously by her male peers in leadership no matter the race. In addition, the many displaced and disempowering positions she found herself in at the end were a direct result of her being a women. No matter the injustice or oppression she faced, Mohiuddin made the struggle for gender equality secondary for the sake of maintaining relationships and getting her work done. “ When our humanity comes up against what is being done to us we have to choose between ourselves and the work as if they where two different things when in fact our humanity is intrinsically tied to who we want to be in the world”, says Mohiuddin.
Using her own experiences as a catalyst, in 2007 Mohiuddin embarked on her own healing journey. “I grew up all over the world and was always the new kid. I had to learn to do things fast and, in many ways, that hardened me. I had never cried in public or revealed my weaknesses. In time that life gave me a hard edge that most of the time was coming from a place of fear. I became meticulous to never become overcome by my emotions in order to survive” stated Mohiuddin.
What Mohiuddin was not aware of was that that was not the initiating incident that would drive her to go through a yearlong intensive somatics healing journey for herself, instead, she would have to go back and visit March 12th, 1979. At the age of 6, Mohiuddin found herself in Melbourne, Australia witnessing her father grieving from a death of her maternal grand father, a revolutionary and founding father of the Republic of Bangladesh, Mashier “Jadu Mia (Magic Man)” Rahman. He was sitting in the dark and when she asked him why he was crying, he would not explain. At this very moment Mohiuddin made the biggest agreement she would ever make with herself, my father is crying and it is because of me, because of something wrong I did. “From that day forward I excelled in everything, I promised I would do my best so I would never find my dad crying in the dark again” shares Mohiuddin. And she has been living powerfully into that agreement ever since. Sometimes at her own expense she saves her parents from being upset especially from anything that she might have caused.
In order to get a deep assessment of who she had become as a result and who she needed to be to win in this game of humanity and organizing Mohiuddin attended the Strozzi Institute, where she was mentored by Richard Strozzi-Heckler and Staci Haines, where she would embark on her own journey of healing as well as get her certification as a somatic coach. It was through this training that Mohiuddin, realized that not only could she transform herself from her “old shape(old way of being to a new shape (new way of being)”, but she could also transform organizing by using the principles of somatics to create a new model and methodology for organizing. They where a match made in heaven.
The training in somatics softened her edges, it deepened her connection and relationship to people while it also served as personal development to build her capacity to continue to do her work of coaching people competently and responsibly.
Somatics is the understanding and integration of mind, body and mood, as we are continuously being influenced and shaped by people, experiences and the world. Soma is the living body and all its wholeness. When our mind, body and mood are misaligned they work against who we want to be in the world because we become fragmented. Fragmented organizers need a methodology that can help them navigate and figure out who they need to be to get to have, create and live in their vision of the world. In order to win battles and struggles as front line organizers we need to be whole and complete say Mohuiddin.
After 5 1/2 years of successfully working at SJL, Mohiuddin is embarking on taking her work into the Universe reaching as many people as she can. “I want to be a part of something that has personhood at the center, I want to work for an organization not looking to be bigger than itself, where the expansion becomes more important than the work it is doing” says Mohiuddin.
The only way to secure that she will get to find this place is by creating it herself. This Winter, Mohiuddin will be launching Universal Partnership. A consulting and training institute that believes that at the heart of sustainable movements must be the beat of sustainable people. In the meantime, Mohiuddin believes that you don’t have to have an ego to make it in the world. “We must remember that there is no light without darkness and that justice cannot be justice without love. But not just remembering as mere rhetoric as egos often can askew but as a modality for basing actions on and a true orientation to life. The world has no room for ego-driven intentions and our work cannot and should not tolerate those seeking identity at the expense of what we must truly do to bring forth a just society.” Movement work is all encompassing and affects every single living being and by nature there is a place for everyone in it.
For those of you in on the front lines, Mohiuddin says “ Its important to believe in yourself even when everyone tells you not to, surround yourself with people who care about you and allow yourself to be impacted by the work that you are doing. It is not about changing the world , its allowing the work to shape you and who you need to be” Of course this is easier said than done so look forward to Universal Partnership to support you on your journey of finding your humanity and dignity if you have lost it along the way.