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Meet Syda Segovia Taylor of Organic Oneness in Bronzeville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Syda Segovia Taylor.

Syda, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am first generation born and raised in Chicago, my mom is from Colombia and my dad is from Honduras. Growing up in different neighborhoods allowed me to see two different Chicago’s; an affluent beautiful city full of arts and culture, sports teams, and plenty of opportunities. Then there is the other Chicago that suffers from inequity, and the legacy of slavery that still plagues our institutions. I have the privilege to walk in and out both worlds and use resources from one to help the other.

For over 20 years I have worked with high profile nonprofits that were dedicated to helping bring resources to Black and Latino youth.

I began my journey as a dancer and elementary physical education/health teacher, and most recently accepted a role with the Chicago Public Schools, CPS, as the Family and Community Engagement in Education (FACE2) Manager. Before my current role, I dedicated 18 months to help train approximately 1,000 people on racism, trauma, and healing to address violence in Chicago neighborhoods. I ended the year as a consultant for the Baha’i Temple and helped develop the Light of Unity Festival, a nine-week series of events that promoted principles of unity, peace, and justice.

Prior to that I directed programs for high profile non-profits such as Project Exploration, Quad Communities Development Corporation, After School Matters, and the Chicago Park District. During my time as an education program officer with Local Initiative Support Corporation in 2012, I won the Together For Tomorrow award from the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration and was also recognized by Rahm Emmanuel for the accomplishments with the Elev8 nation-wide initiative started by Atlantic Philanthropies.

As I climbed the career ladder I went back to school to get my M.A. in Community Development and Social Justice. It took me to get my master’s degree to get a glimpse of the game we were really playing and how the rules weren’t fair in terms of race and gender. No matter how angry I get I always pull myself back to my spiritual practices to ground me. The Bahá’í Faith has endless Writings and statements on the principals of oneness and the one below… along with many others… drives me to do the work that I do.

“Racism is the most challenging issue confronting America…To ignore the problem is to expose the country to physical, moral and spiritual danger…The fundamental solution to racial and ethnic conflict rests ultimately on the common recognition of the oneness of humankind.” (The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States)

Since I was 19 years old I always had fundraisers, art programs, and events to promote the unity and the oneness of humankind and within these past three years my projects got bigger in scale and gained national recognition. Partners and funders encouraged me to start my own organization which gave me the courage to start Organic Oneness, a Baha’i inspired organization that promotes the oneness of humanity and it’s interconnectedness with the environment.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Not a smooth road at all. Whenever I implemented social action initiatives I always functioned as an individual and partnered with other people or like-minded organizations. As the projects grew larger in scale the funding amount also increased so I had to use other organizations as the financial home. It gets tricky because then you are competing for some of the same funds or you can’t access the financial statements or money when needed. It also gets difficult for the nonprofit that is housing me; do they now consider my events and programs part of their portfolio? Do they become my supervisor? This is another reason why I had to start my own organization. It’s cleaner for me to function independently and collaborate with other on projects instead of depending on them to house me.

Another bump in the road is inconsistent funding and not having a full team to keep the car going. When you are playing all the roles; program designer, fund developer, communication strategist, outreach, data collecting, etc. you simply run out of time and can’t piece together grants as needed. So I have a great day job as a Family and Community Engagement Manager for Chicago Public School for stability while I continue to build Organic Oneness.

Also big picture people are not always good with small details. Figuring out all the paperwork and working another full time job while I get this off the ground has been the biggest struggle. I’m great with networking, collaborating, creating programs and events, seeing things from start to finish, and finding money but the paperwork, blaaaaa. I need another person along-side me documenting my ideas and reporting what has been accomplished.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Organic Oneness – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Organic Oneness is a Baha’i inspired organization that promotes the oneness of humanity and it’s interconnectedness with the environment. Programs and events are conducted to help build our capacity on race unity, gender equality, the oneness of humankind, and environmental justice.

As this organization evolves, it will also act as an incubator and home for individual initiatives that promote unifying principles and help advance communities towards a peaceful society.

People have told me that I’m known for being a connector and a no-nonsense-get-the-job-done person. I just like talking to people and making friends and I want to see them happy. So if they have a dream or idea of how to make things better for themselves or the community I say, “Let’s do it!” and the brainstorming begins.

I’m most proud of a yearlong initiative called Bronzveille: Be the Healing with Dr. DeGruy and community partners in Bronzeville. She is a world renowned educator, trainer and author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and was able to conducted six events in Chicago to talk about race, trauma, and healing. Approximately 1,000 people from a cross sector of the community were trained; educators, police officers, health care practitioners, faith based leaders, philanthropist, community members, parents and high school students.

After each training different groups had reflection gatherings to help process what they learned. I was able to witness their transformation and have one-on-one conversations about next steps. One person said, “Every molecule in my body was transformed and now I have to do something to help”.

A ripple effect of healing began and everyone carried out the message in the way they knew how. Participants collaborated on events about the history of Chicago, churches started book clubs, the police department used peace circles, artist created exhibits, and environmentalist conducted two Heal the Healers Retreats for front line workers that care for communities and the earth.

What sets this organization apart from other organizations is that it comes from a spiritual bases and uses community organizing strategies to bring everyone to the table. Our focus on oneness between people and the environment is unique, in order to really make unity happen we have to consider the interconnectedness between ALL living things. The earth is a part of us and we need to work together in harmony protecting it so it can continue nurturing us.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My future plans are to continue working with current partners in Chicago and build on what we’ve done so far in terms of racism and healing. I also want to incorporate more activities about the environment and the importance of plants and being in nature. So many city front line workers are burnt out and they need nature to heal and rejuvenate themselves. Our black and brown children also need to be around nature more, it reduces stress, helps with illnesses, and clears our minds.

Some big changes are that I’m investigating what my friends are doing across the nation and see how we can join forces. I also want to connect with the Native population more and help bring everyone together. Communities of color tend to work in silos trying to accomplish the same thing, if we came together we would be much stronger and not have to work as hard.

Lastly, a huge focus will be on continuing to build Organic Oneness so it finally has 501c3 status and consistent funding.

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Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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