Today, more than ever, it has become increasingly difficult to place oneself in the context of the communities, places, and ideas from which we, as humans, originally emerged. There has been an irrevocable cleavage of the past from the present, the self from the other, the many from the one– to the degree that the act of repairing these connections (i.e., engaging in wellness, pursuing art, and practicing spirituality) has become a privilege. Zuri Adele, internationally acclaimed actor and activist, is dedicated to the restoration of these fragments, particularly for marginalized communities across the nation.
Zuri, a longtime actress and activist, has studied in and acted as a part of a number of world- class institutions (Spelman College, the British American Drama Academy, UCLA, the SITI Company of New York, BADA in London). This career trajectory, magnificent in its own right, underscores the actress’s impressive commitment towards social justice and intersectionality in the arts and wellness communities. While getting a Master of Fine Arts at UCLA, Zuri witnessed a dearth of scholarships offered to HBCU graduates despite a markedly high interest rate among applicants; she then started the Zuri Adele Fellowship for HBCU Alumni, aimed to make MFA training more accessible to HBCU grads and to enrich MFA programs with the experience offered by grads from those institutions.
Though the actress has demonstrated a dedication to the social enrichment of the arts communities, Zuri Adele is also committed to intersectionality within wellness-oriented communities. Zuri has been involved with practices of spirituality and holistic wellness since childhood and endeavors towards making spiritual practices (many of which emerged from the traditions of nonwhite, non-American communities, yet have become expensive commodities mostly enjoyed by a white-dominated noblesse with disposable income) intersectional again. After becoming a certified Yoga instructor, Zuri inaugurated the Be Accessible Scholarship at Modo Yoga International, which seeks to increase the diversity of Yoga teachers in the program by covering 100% of the tuition for BIPOC people interested in becoming teachers.
Zuri’s enduring commitment to diversity and inclusion within the communities she’s involved in marks a welcome shift in a world saturated by monolithic, uninvolved success stories. FLAUNT was lucky enough to chat with the woman herself, talking personal boundaries, work-life balance, and collective liberation.
How did you begin your own journey with spirituality? What have your own personal practices taught you?
My conscious journey with spirituality began with a curiosity about my paternal grandmother’s expression of gratitude and unwavering devotion to a power that she believed in fervently, communicated with aloud throughout each day, and felt palpably around and within her, despite her surroundings, circumstances, or what anyone else believed. Since childhood, I’ve been on a journey of sharpening my communication with the version of the best friend within me that Grandma ‘Lean undoubtedly had within her. I grew up in households where we paused and gathered around the table to give thanks for our shared meal.
I have childhood red-velvet-pew and joyful-singing-and-clapping memories of going to Union Baptist Church in Cambridge with my parents, and recollections of my aunts leading drum circles, burning incense, laying out vegetables as offerings, and performing storytelling rituals to honor and celebrate Kwanzaa. I have Palo Alto pre-teen and teen memories of the sweet smell of the Challah bread we baked on Fridays for Shabbat at the Jewish Community Center afterschool program, and Ramadan with my high school bestie. I cherish New York memories of Passover with my stepmom and her family, and unitarian church flashbacks with each of my parents across the country. In middle school, a family friend brought me to a church with a youth program that re-wrote popular R&B songs with gospel lyrics, initiating my fun, weekend boost of motivation and fellowship with Black and Brown peers I didn’t see much of during my school weekdays.
Throughout college in Atlanta, I loved the Sunday ritual of church with an energized gospel choir and a pastor who spoke to us about balancing our morals, focus, and endurance as young adults with a newfound sense of emancipation. I also loved going to the Drepung Loseling monastery off campus for weekly talks led by Buddhist teachers. I started practicing yoga to help my body sustain the movement and breathwork required of my acting programs, and re-realized yoga and other movement practices help me organize and quiet my thoughts, remember that I am part of a communal support system, strategize, align with gratitude, calm my nervous system, and feel optimistic, confident, and powerful. My journey in spirituality continues to be an individualized exploration and celebration of my communities, while building upon an ever-expanding personal practice to sustainably feel and be in my most aware mind and effective body.
I’ve mirrored my parents’ journeys of creating a life of intentional fellowship, guided by faith, discernment, and ritual. My mom identifies God as a Source she goes to within herself, and she, my dad (now our ancestor), and my communities have inspired me to lean into prayer, communal fellowship, affirmation music, writing, movement, incense, sage, sweetgrass, tea, cooking, meditation, personal hygiene, adventure, hobbies, sermons, podcasts, acupuncture, soundbowls, crystals, laughter, breathing etc. all as tools for the journey. My practices teach me that spirituality is a choice to believe in unconditional love and the power of the present moment. I feel the most connected to Spirit when following my curiosity, nourishing my nervous system, and trusting my intuition at every turn.
What are your intentions when you start your day? How are you finding balance in your life?
When I start each day, my intention is to feel as present, calm, and clear as possible. Sometimes my waking “thank you” is loud, long, and sing-songy, and sometimes it’s a whisper and a deep breath, asking for strength to enjoy the day. My intention is to start each day from a foundation of authenticity, kindness, and relaxation in my body. As soon as I wake up, there’s a voice in my head listing the day’s priorities, eager to check for any changes to the calendar or unread messages, naming outstanding, pressing tasks, and declaring a clear answer about something I decided to sleep on the night before. Intended to alchemize this energy into excitement, confidence, and gratitude, the quote on my phone’s alarm currently reads, “Rich Rising, Superstar Daughter of The Most High Goddess!” and is followed by an alarm that reads “Spa time, Queen!” with lots of Black Queen, sun, money, and sunflower emojis, insisting that I exit the comfy bed and my spiraling thoughts, express a “thank you,” sit on the toilet and read an Iyanla Vanzant quote from Acts of Faith, hop in the shower, and walk my dog before heading out to a workout, traffic, a film set, rehearsal, errands, etc., or getting started on correspondences, meetings, glam, and/or other tasks from home.
As much as possible, my intention is to find the ease throughout each day. I am finding balance in my life by understanding the power of seasons. As an actor, there may be several months out of the year where I am working long, emotionally passionate, constantly subject-to-change days away from home, up on my feet, while managing public relations opportunities, home responsibilities and my most prioritized personal needs as best as I can on any days I have “off”. There may be several months where I am not going to set or rehearsal and have more capacity to rest consistently, engage in quality time with loved ones, schedule doctor’s appointments, audition (if not on strike), workout, travel, cook at home, organize my admin, or get my life together in one of the many areas I may have pressed “pause” during a busier season. I am seeking more balance throughout the year, and am hopeful that the changes we are seeking as a union will help make room for that. In the meantime, Life always has a way of balancing out right on time.
What is your experience with setting personal boundaries? Does it become easier?
Setting boundaries has been such a journey, especially in recent years. I grew up as an only child processing a boatload of change with minimal explanation, while everyone did their best to maintain an efficient, peaceful atmosphere. Eager to build a sense of structure I could make sense of, I was a hopeful romantic when it came to romance and friendship, thinking anyone close was either my best friend, my potential sibling, or the love of my life. I wanted to keep the adults around me happy, ensure that nobody in my life felt abandoned by me, and I sought to avoid or reduce the intensity of any adult tantrums I had become accustomed to whenever the peaceful bubble exploded.
I became an expert people-pleaser. I avoided speaking up for my needs, thinking I was protecting the peace around me, and was terrible at upholding personal boundaries with saying “no” to or demanding more reciprocity of my family and friends. Undoubtedly, I exceeded my capacity, as this became emotionally exhausting, financially expensive and filled me with resentment, so now I’m setting more and more boundaries at a steady pace. Therapy has been such a helpful accountability partner and teaching tool as I learn to name my needs in my relationships. The plot-twist is that the most important boundaries I can establish and honor are the ones I set with myself. While upholding personal boundaries is incredibly challenging, the rewards of peace and self-preservation are priceless. Furthermore, the consequences of not establishing personal boundaries are exponentially more detrimental than the discomfort of setting them. Trust me when I say, we are in this together.
There is a certain access imbalance that marginalized communities face when it comes to wellness. How do you think an equal opportunity to wellness will affect these communities? What ways do you think this imbalance could be made more equal?
Angela Manuel-Davis says, “Wellness is being in your right mind and in your whole body, living the life you were created to live.” Equal accessibility to wellness is the key to collective liberation. We show up to ourselves, our relationships, and our responsibilities as our best selves when we truly have the emotional and energetic capacity and resources to pour into the world “from our saucers rather than our cups.” I pioneered the Be Accessible Scholarship with Modo Yoga International to create opportunities for BIPOC people to train as wellness leaders and to experience safe, enjoyable, and relatable rituals and practices. As we work to increase access to healthy food, literature, medical facilities, and wellness offerings we undoubtedly forge the path to collective liberation-- collective liberation is a communal, global, regenerative, reciprocal, sustainable lifestyle of socioeconomic safety.
How do you find beauty in the brutal?
I remember that life is a classroom, each experience is an opportunity to learn and grow, and each being is a teacher. I rest. I lean on faith, pray, pause, journal, listen to music, cook, eat, cuddle with Thimba (my poodle), laugh and talk with my loved ones, enjoy solitude, look at an ocean, take a shower, move my body, enjoy a memory of my dad making me laugh, give thanks.