Rhonda Magee, Racial Justice, and the Future of Mindfulness

Rhonda Magee stands five feet one inch tall, petit, with mocha skin tones, dark straight hair, and an effervescent spark that illuminates a room. When she took the stage at the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute this June, I knew her only by reputation. But about ten minutes into her talk, I realized I was in the presence of someone special.

Because here's the thing: the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute is an academic conference. People present research. They talk about brain scans. They talk about biomarkers. They read powerpoint slides while the audience nods with polite interest.

Not Rhonda. She took the stage in a pantsuit. Did she have slides? I can't remember. What I remember is a black woman in her full power in front of a nearly all-white audience. What I remember is that, about ten minutes in, folks started clapping. Folks started cheering. At the end, the room gave her a standing ovation.

Why? Because Rhonda said what we should be all be saying. That mindfulness is a beautiful thing. A great benefit. And that it has somehow been blocked, pigeonholed; it's been made a white thing, a panacea for rich folks.

It doesn't have to be that way. Nobody owns mindfulness. And so when Rhonda talks about her work in police departments, in the criminal justice system, with lawyers and law students, with people of color in all walks of life, something wakes up in us: oh, yes, we say, this is what we've been missing.

Of course, Rhonda is also brilliant. Accomplished. Erudite. She's a law professor at the University of San Francisco; former Chair of the Board for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society; a member of the Project for the Integration of Spirituality, Law and Politics; a member of the Board of Advisers of the Center for Mindfulness; a fellow of the Mind and Life Institute. She's published a heap of articles in law reviews. She contributes to Mindful.org and the Greater Good Science Center.

And she's fun. Now that I know Rhonda, I know she has a ready laugh and a kind smile. She's the sort of person you just want to be around.

Is all that thanks to her mindfulness practice? Probably not. I’d guess she’s always been a bright light. But I’m glad to know she’s out in the world, bringing mindfulness to the people, winning hearts and minds and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the mindfulness revolution.

Want to know more about Rhonda? For videos of her talks, click here and here. For articles, have a look here and here. You'll be glad you did.

Craig Hase