Stone Circle in Mountains

The Power of Circle

By Yolonda P. Harrison

After 12 years as a circle keeper, I’ve never felt more drawn to circle than I do now. Over the past year, I’ve led 64 circles — bonding circles to provide support for individuals coping with and fighting against anti-Asian, anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and/or anti-transgender violence; bridging circles to create community for individuals experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic in disparate ways due to race, age, class/socioeconomic status, disability/medical condition, and/or occupation as a frontline worker; and reflection circles to make space for individuals grappling with tragedies related to gun violence or triumphs related to the election.

Through those 64 circles, I spent 100 hours hearing the perspectives of many phenomenal humans and witnessing their vulnerability. When quarantine began in March 2020, I momentarily believed that virtual circles would destroy a practice I had come to cherish. But in that moment of doubt, I forgot that humanity is the heart and center of any circle; and that humans are resilient. Just as in-person circles had led to perspective-taking, individuation, empathy, compassion, and connection, so did virtual circles.

The power of circle gave me purpose and at times, provided me with community I very much needed as a Black woman experiencing and witnessing high levels of bias on a daily basis. So on days when I felt devalued, ignored, and harmed, it was often through circle that I was reminded that I matter, that my family matters, and that Black Lives Matter. Circles also afforded me opportunities to remind others that they mattered and…

To tell individuals who felt dehumanized or marginalized due to their race, ethnicity, color, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, class/socioeconomic status, nationality, citizenship status, religion, disability/medical condition, familial/parenting status, veteran status or the intersectionality thereof…”You’re Phenomenally Human.”

To tell individuals who were using their privilege or power to make this world more just; who were taking the time to learn from varied perspectives and to imagine experiences through the lens’ of others; who were embracing accountability and taking action to live their values…”You’re Phenomenally Human.”

For as much light as it has brought into my life, leading circles throughout the past year has also been depleting at times. However, it was circle process itself that made me realize that others were taking more time and space for self-care than I had during the pandemic — that they were prioritizing their health and wellbeing. Ultimately, circles kept me accountable to living my values and led to the formation of YPH Consulting LLC.

Soon after Breonna Taylor was killed and pandemic lockdowns began to take hold, I began receiving inquiries about how to become a circle keeper. Due to my workload, I frequently referred people to remarkable organizations such as The Restorative Center and Restorative Response Baltimore but it was always my intention to circle back when I could. It is important to me that I support individuals who want to do this work because members of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized communities are often pushed into anything DEIB-related. For too many, DEIB work becomes a burden or an unpaid, second job forced upon you solely due to your identity. Therefore, when individuals feel called to do this work, I try to do what I can to help them because the road to change is long and, in my opinion, a little less daunting with good company.

Before he passed away, my father was an avid fisherman who loved to teach others to fish. He’d always remind me that sharing knowledge and skills could help a person for a lifetime, rather than a day. To that end, I am excited to announce that YPH will be co-hosting an eight-week intensive peacemaking circle training. I hope that anyone who feels called to lead circles will join us.