Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2020 issue.
Tyrone Beverly has an extreme passion for equality and human rights. He is the founder and executive director of Im’Unique, a Denver-based non-profit dedicated to uniting the community and fostering healthy lifestyles within underserved communities.
YOGA + Life asked Beverly to speak to injustice amidst a turmoil of current events locally and across the world.
“With everything constantly changing, we’ve been doing our best to change with it,” shares Beverly. “We are providing online movement and now holding very important conversations on race. Asana isn’t curing COVID or addressing racism, so we’ve been making necessary adjustments.”
Here’s more from our conversation with Beverly:
In your words, how has the global pandemic and recent racial events in Colorado and the United States exacerbated tensions and increased awareness of racial inequity and injustice?
In April, we found out that in the United States, black Americans were dying dis- proportionately from COVID-19. That news reflected the same results here locally in Colorado and in numerous states across the country. The governor of Louisiana reported that 70 percent of the people dying in Louisiana from COVID-19 were also black Americans. According to health experts, black Americans have such a higher mortality rate when faced with COVID-19 because this population suffers more from high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and other poor health conditions.
On top of fighting a global pandemic, the most insidious pandemic of all time decides to show the world just how vicious it still is. A cop from Louisiana posted on Facebook “how unfortunate” that coronavirus didn’t kill more black people. A person sworn to protect and serve the public wishes death on innocent black people. To desire the death of innocent people illustrates a global mental health crisis that continues to clinically go undiagnosed. It’s deeper than bigotry, prejudices or the common definitions of racism — under these circumstances its an ineradicable sickness.
An important question to ask is how many black people has this officer ticketed, pulled over, testified against or arrested in his career? And if he wants to see black people dead, how trust worthy is any of his accounts against them.
Noticing that black, brown, elderly and indigenous people were more susceptible to contracting the virus, some protesting stay-at-home orders became so angry that they grabbed their assault riffles, confederate flags and took to the streets. America witnessed white Americans carry their assault riffles, threaten city officials and yet there was no tear gas, rubber bullets, barricades or arrests made during their protest.
During this time, reports showed several men showing up to grocery stores in Colorado and across the country with Ku Klux Klan (KKK) hoods on. Comfortably walking into grocery stores in 2020 with KKK hoods on is America’s acceptance of black terror. Their anger of the stay-at-home order was quickly directed at black people. The KKK has been openly terrorizing black people for decades and America has spoken without words. As we all face this global pandemic, wearing our masks, gloves and protective gear, there stands a man with a white sheet over his head, staring in the distance, reminding us that the most merciless pandemic will live parallel to this novel coronavirus, and America has welcomed his longevity.
To openly support and allow domestic terrorism highlights how we are not in this together! The man standing with a white sheet over his head in the distance … he may even take off his hood, be more discreet, even appear in a suit and tie or uniform.
He may move just like Benjamin Stapleton who’s legacy has lived on in a local neighborhood in Denver named after him. That neighborhood, finally, has just voted this June for their home to be renamed.
For some reason during all this, I found myself thinking about the oldest animal on the planet. I guess staying at home for a couple months can make you ponder all kinds of things. I started thinking about Johnathan. Johnathan is a tortoise that resides in St. Helena, an island off of West Africa. Some people say that Johnathan is the oldest known animal in the world. I decided to look up a picture of Johnathan; I wanted to see what kind of insight, what kind of wisdom was carved into his 187-year-old aged body. The first thing I noticed about Johnathan was that he appeared to be angry, yet youthful. He was African.
Throughout my inquiry, I had seen two French scientists come out and publicly state they wanted to test unproven COVID vaccines on Africans. Being that Johnathan sat closely off the cost of West Africa, I wondered if he had heard the news and if it had pissed him off and that’s why he looked so mad in all of his pictures.
When those scientists disclosed their plans to experiment on Africans, it opened up a very painful wound for many African Americans. It was a reminder of the 40-year- old Tuskegee experiment that literally contributed long-term chronic health disparities and contributed to the depopulation of black people. It was a reminder of the decades of Dr. Albert Kligman’s experiments in Philadelphia which ended in 1978. The experiments included burning black bodies with all kind of harsh chemicals, like the agent orange ingredient dioxin, radioactive isotopes, and calling it benign. He was testing shampoos, soaps, deodorants and even mind-altering drugs.
Some of the men’s skin was damaged so badly it turned into a leather-like texture. Kligman became rich and celebrated in the field of dermatology and credited for inventing Retin-A. As many scientists are eager to create a vaccine for COVID-19, certain groups are being preyed on once again.
In late March, a good friend of mine, ZW, reached out to me about her efforts to support a Northern Arapaho indigenous tribe on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming during the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking about wounds, the indigenous people of this country have not forgotten how bio-weapons have contributed to one of, if not the most, horrific genocides ever committed in world history. She explained that the majority of the tribe were immune compromised because of open uranium mining on their land. The water on their particular part of the land is undrinkable, yet when a person is dehydrated, their will to survive leaves them with very little choices. This has led to an increase in cancer and other poor health conditions. She explained that they had no hospitals, no clinics and that they are under the jurisdiction of the federal government but they will not be receiving the same support as the rest of Wyoming. COVID cases began to spread quickly, and I wondered if that was indicative to all the reservations across the country, and if the reservations in Canada were cared for in that same manner.
Going back to my earlier comment about health experts stating that black people suffer more from high blood pressure, diabetes and other health conditions, makes me think some scientists and medical researchers continue to get a pass on their contribution to oppression. They simply glaze over and create simplified prognosis that directly puts the onus on the individual and not the system and condition the individual lives in.
What has gotten black Americans to this point? Before this moment in time, for many, there was no real incentive to actually care about black people. That’s why the easy answer can’t always be the go-to answer.
Easy leaves out the continued trauma of witnessing Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and Eric Garner being murdered live on social media. Easy criminalizes black people to justify the cruelty that is bestowed upon them. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. They were not innocent until proven guilty, they were guilty — guilty of being black. After the world watched Ahmaud Arbery be hunted like elk, we dropped in pain. After the world heard about the bullets piercing through Breonna Taylor’s innocent body, we shook uncontrollably, and after George Floyd was lynched for the whole world to see, we stood back up and said this can no longer be our reality.
If only Johnathan could speak. Given that Johnathan is the progeny of a family tree that would only require three generations to fully articulate over 500 of history.
Where do you see demographic divides in the yoga community and what do you think are ways we can bridge the gaps?
That’s challenging because even the bridge has gaps but I think we can all make a difference because everyone has something special to offer.
People just have to live their practice and never lose hope in our collective humanity. When Yoga Journal, Gaia TV and the other major yoga media outlets of the world create platforms that empower people from various walks of life to be content creators, things will continue to improve.
Constant representation is equity and being in a position to make decisions also a form of social justice.
What are the most significant race-driven inequities that you believe we can all take action on eliminating in our every day lives?
There is a great deal of unlearning that needs to take place. One of the most significant actions people can take is unlearn — unlearn toxic behavior and unlearn their fixed comprehension of race.
What are ways to continue broadening perspective and embrace education on race relations in the U.S. and throughout the world?
The falsification of history is one of the leading causes of our condition. Once we free ourselves from being stuck in a repetitive algorithm that reenforcing what we already believe to be true, we will be in a better position.