Today we'll be profiling another one of our amazing facilitators, Amikaeyla Gaston.
A talented performer who has traveled the world using art and expression to promote healing, Ami describes herself as "a force for change." Her use of meditation and music is a perfect match for the creative diversity workshop activities she uses to engage participants and spur community building among them. Beyond that, she is highly in tune with the dynamics of the group.
"The skill that I try to bring to the table is extreme awareness," Ami says. "A facilitator has to have their eyes, their ears, their feelers out. They've got to be able to hold the room. They've got to be able to watch everybody. They've got to know what's going on so that they can help steer this giant yacht, this humongous ship through rough water."
Shakti Butler believes Amikaeyla is a natural fit for World Trust, where diversity workshop facilitation is rooted in love and justice. "Ami is brilliant and she has the ability to make everyone feel special. And then there is her voice; to experience the way she uses the power of music to engage, unite, and heal is inspiring."
What Clients Say about Ami
"Amikaeyla doesn’t hesitate to go to the place that moves you. In a training designed to educate and bring awareness to health care providers about LGBT health care needs, she led hundreds of trainings with professionals. Her "team approach" and healthy ability to create a respectful place for all individuals allows for deeper understanding of difficult concepts," says Amari Sokoya Pearson-Fields of the District of Columbia Department of Health.
"Ami sheds light on ways to heal and reignite life," says Kristi Rendahl, Director of Prairie Talks. "She transforms places and spaces through song, sound and expression. I'd say she brings a joyful way to talk about hard topics such as race and gender equality."
What Ami Brings to the Conversation
Ami is a bold and grounded speaker who uses music, theater modalities, and sensory props to instill a receptive mood in her workshop participants.
"I really focus on allowing people to feel that this space is free," she explains. "Before anything happens, we commune in meditation, we may journal a bit, we share music and poetry, we share inner thoughts and feelings." The goal is to "get people out of their corporate shell" and in touch with their inner child.
Here is how she describes the use of play dough as one vehicle to create a transformative learning experience for the participants:
"When people start playing with play dough, their world transcends back into that fun, safe, anything goes kind of world. It creates an opening and a desire to listen. People come away from this gruff, formal approach to being quiet and listening. It creates a safe space for communication and tapping into their creative inner child. That openness creates community. They don't get stuck in their ancient rhetoric. Instead, they move into this place of, 'I'm a kid, you're a kid. We both like play dough.'"
Although Ami likes create a playful and expressive mood, she is nevertheless aware of her leadership position.
"I think it's important to be a strong presence in the room and to create a space of openness where everyone has an equal voice. I try and stay really conscious of [situations where one member is dominating]. I don't wait for shy people to just kind of chime in because it's easy to get lost. I will keep pushing."
Her Work with World Trust
Ami co-led a diversity workshop with Shakti Butler at Seattle University, after a screening of the diversity video Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity for university students and interested members of the local community.
Asked what struck her as most useful about the film screening, she mentions the film's use of anecdote and conversation to ground abstract concepts."It's like visual play dough," Ami says. "Participants see people in the film sharing their stories, and they are, like, 'Okay. I remember when this happened...' This gives them the opportunity to open up."
More About Amikaelya Gaston
Ami's expressive approach has been implemented by several national agencies, including the Department of Health & Human Services. In work as a cultural ambassador through the U.S. State Department, she has used art and activism to promote healing and wellness in a variety of contexts worldwide. A renowned musician, Ami uses her skill as a performer to cut across racial bias and appeal to different perspectives in her workshops.
"What drew me to diversity work," she says, "is the deep desire to be part of change, to be part of the solution-making process, the conversation-making process. I've always been an activist, and I've always been outspoken. My nickname in high school was 'the bridge' because I would go hang out with everyone. It was a mosh pit at my house. Everybody was there, and everyone was going to share what they were feeling. It was just the thing."
World Trust, a nonprofit founded by Shakti Butler, PhD, offers workshops and creates films that spur authentic conversations about systemic racism without evoking the shame and blame that so often make discussion like these unproductive. Contact us if your group is interested in hosting a screening of a diversity video or if you want to work with a talented facilitator like Amikaelya Gaston.