Upāsikā Miss tree turtle (Cleis Abeni)
Director (CEO), Co-Founder
Lead Teacher and Healer
of the Baltimore Wisdom Project and
Co-Director (Co-CEO) of Wisdom Projects, Inc.
Note: tree turtle (spelled lowercase)
is Miss turtle's legal name
and Buddhist ordination name.
Upāsikā Miss tree turtle (Cleis Abeni) is the Director (CEO), Co-Founder, and Lead Teacher of the Baltimore Wisdom Project (BWP); the Co-Director (Co-CEO) of Wisdom Projects, Inc.; and the current Board President of Wisdom Projects. She has been an ordained Buddhist Upāsikā for 30-plus years. She trained in holistic healing practices rooted in mindfulness across Asia, including at Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand, the Guangdong Traditional Chinese Medicine School, and other locales. She specializes in the integration of healing practices with STEM and arts education. She is a longtime naturalist and environmentalist who infuses wilderness studies into all of her work.
tree serves as the BWP's lead curriculum designer and health navigator. A longtime developer of anti-violence and youth programming, she was one of the first holistic health practitioners and educators to introduce high-quality, evidence-based, secular approaches to violence prevention, mindfulness, and restorative justice practices to schools, community centers, recreation centers, and prisons in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She earned a certificate in trauma-informed care in 1991 from the Armstrong School for Adult Education in Washington, D.C. in one of the first programs of its kind co-sponsored by Associates for Renewal in Education and Providence Hospital. Along with her training in trauma-informed care, she holds certifications in conflict transformation and several other holistic modalities.
tree began her work as an educator in 1986 while serving as a US Institute for Peace/DCAC Fellow and a youth facilitator for Ward 4 in a D.C. after-school program sponsored by the Greater Washington D.C. Urban League. She was also a youth leader for what was then called the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) that year. For thirty-plus years she has designed, implemented, and taught holistic health and education programs. She developed and led anti-recidivist support groups at the Lorton Correctional Complex and other incarceration facilities; and she created and taught mindfulness-centered violence prevention and wellness programs at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, 29th Street Community Center, the Chick Webb Center, and many other community centers and recreation centers.
She was a former nurse, health navigator, and social worker, and she worked night shifts at DC General, Maryland General, Providence Hospital, the Walter P. Carter Center, FutureCare, Hahnemann Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, and the Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry while teaching or serving in the nonprofit sector during the day.
She was a certified public-school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland and Columbus, Ohio where she taught language arts and life science. She began training teachers and professionals in restorative practices, mindfulness, conflict transformation, and community/peer counseling in 1993 while working for the Consortium for Child Welfare and Associates for Renewal in Education under the guidance of the late Brenda Strong Nixon. She has also taught for private schools, including as the Edith Hamilton Mentor at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. As an adjunct professor or a teaching fellow in higher education, tree taught at ten colleges and universities in the United States.
She was one of five Program Managers for an anti-violence initiative in Philadelphia called Children’s Behavioral Health Interventions. She was a Mindful Movement Instructor II at the Kennedy Krieger Institute where she helped ensure the fidelity of mindfulness for a research study at a public school. As the Director of Operations for Baltimore's Inner Harbor Project, she wrote the organization's anti-violence mediation handbook and helped train youth how to apply the work of the handbook within workshops for Baltimore City's law enforcement officers and business leaders in Baltimore's downtown district. She has executed anti-violence interventions and mediations internationally in West Africa and Southern China on behalf of organizations such as Genders Within and Midwest Holistic. A longtime grant-writer, she also helped uplift the strategic communications, operations, and fundraising of such nonprofit organizations as the Rev. Vernon Dobson group within BUILD; the Institute for Survey Research; Sybil Music & Dance; Many Voices, the Bethune Museum and Archives; and the Shakespeare Theatre.
A 2001 Pushcart award-winner for best writing published in small presses, tree is a widely published writer under her name Cleis Abeni; a longtime freelance professional editor and grant-writer; and an investigative journalist for many alternative publications. Along with her certifications and licenses (past and present), she holds a MA in poetry and science writing from Johns Hopkins University; and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Education (with a specialization in mindful movement) from the Ohio State University.
Director (CEO) and Founder
Lead Teacher and Healer
of the Chicago Wisdom Project and
Co-Director (Co-CEO) of Wisdom Projects, Inc.
Dr. Theodore Richards, is the Founder, Lead Thought Leader, and Director (CEO) of the Chicago Wisdom Project, and the Co-Director of Wisdom Projects, Inc., the umbrella nonprofit organization that houses the Chicago Wisdom Project and Baltimore Wisdom Project.
His work is dedicated to re-imagining education and creating new narratives about our place in the world.
His new book, Reimagining the Classroom: Creating New Learning Spaces and Connecting with the World, has already galvanized the field of education and healing with fresh insight to change deep problems with American education. Click here to learn more.
With a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies, Theodore Richards is leading international authority on holistic education and its implementation and application in schools and out-of-school-time programs.
A poet, novelist, and philosopher, he is also the editor and publisher of Reimagining Magazine and the Reimagining Podcast, two major online sources of thought leadership on holistic education, anti-oppressive advocacy, and liberationist activism in the United States and beyond.
He also received degrees from the University of Chicago, and the New Seminary where he was ordained. He is a longtime student of the Taoist martial art of Bagua and Hatha Yoga and has traveled, worked and studied in 25 different countries, including the South Pacific, the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
In addition to Reimagining the Classroom, he is the author of numerous books, including the following:
His literary awards include the Independent Publisher Awards Gold Medal in religion and religious fiction and the Nautilus Book Awards Gold Medal.
In 2019, his book A Letter To My Daughters won the Gold Medal in Memoir at the Independent Publisher Awards in New York City.
A leader in the wisdom education movement and an incubator of wisdom projects across the United States, he has worked with youth on the south side of Chicago, the Bronx, Harlem, and Oakland.
In Oakland, he was the director of YELLAWE, an innovative program for teens in Oakland created by Matthew Fox, teaching philosophy, cosmology, and martial arts with a particular emphasis on creativity and imagination.
Dr. Richards has taught nationally and internationally at such schools as the American University of Paris, Becker College, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughters.
Testimonials about Dr. Richards
“Theodore Richards is a unique and gifted social activist, one with a well-nourished brain as well as a conscience. In a previous generation someone of Theodore’s depth and integrity might have worked out his vocation in a monastery. In our time, he finds his way in the urban world of struggle and promise, despair and hope. He is a philosopher-activist who listens deeply and walks his talk.”
—Dr. Matthew Fox, Author and Theologian
“Theodore Richards points us toward a more vibrant and liberated space where education is linked to an iron commitment to free inquiry, investigation, open questioning, and full participation; an approach that encourages independent thought and judgment; and a base-line standard of full access and complete recognition of the humanity of each individual. He demonstrates the power of learning from, not about: from nature, not about nature, from work, not about work, from history, not about history.”
– Dr. Bill Ayers, Education Scholar, Author, and Activist
“Richards joins those challenging us to imagine global rebirth. If spirituality is our existential capability for such a transition, Richards suggests that, yes, interfaith spirituality is inevitable to global cultural evolution but spirituality’s transformation will be far more radical than most suppose.”
—Kurt Johnson PhD, co-author, The Coming Interspiritual Age
Harper Banneker Teacher, Executive Assistant, and Administrative Coordinator
Shelly Turner serves as our full-time Healing Arts Administrative Associate and Executive Assistant in Baltimore where she is also an art teacher in our out-of-school-time programming. She is an operations generalist who supports the functioning of the organization while also supporting the key administrative elements at the McKim Center in East Baltimore.
An accomplished illustrator, designer, and writer, she is the author of three illustrated books from Playtime Press, including Quiet Time, and, most recently, my draw wings.
She holds a BFA in Graphic Design with a minor in Art History from the University of South Florida. She worked as a Traffic Sign Designer and Fabricator for the City of St. Petersburg and a Research Assistant at the Family Study Center of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. where she gained vital experience in facilitating children's mental health.
She has designed for the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa, Florida, and the Explorations V Children's Museum in Lakeland, Florida. She also holds a TESOL certificate and she completed coursework for her Florida Child Care Professional Credentials. For the last three years, she has been teaching English for elementary and middle school native Mandarin and Cantonese speakers aged 3 to 12 for VIPKid.
She was the project creator and co-founder of Swings Tampa Bay, a community building organization that hung wooden swings in child-friendly spaces across the South Eastern United States and engaged with children to empower them to paint and draw public art within their communities.
She is passionate about early and middle childhood education and justice for LGBTQ youth and adults. To learn more about her, visit https://www.shellyturner.art.
Her position is named for two Baltimore-born pioneering 18th and 19th century Black scientific, holistic, and artistic teachers and healers who inspire our work: Benjamin Banneker (1701-1806) and Frances Watkins Harper (1825-1911).
Dwight S. Warren
John McKim Fellow
Dwight S. Warren is the Executive Director Emeritus of the McKim Center and the McKim Community Association, Inc. For almost fifty years, he was a pioneer for peace and wellness education through athletics as the head of the McKim Center.
Mr. Warren is a graduate of Morgan State University and an iconic athletic director, physical education teacher, and wrestling coach whose cerebral approach to sports have advanced the highest ideals for thoughtful, reflective sportsmanship for decades.
In 2020, the Maryland State Wrestling Association honored Mr. Warren with the Johnny Eareckson Award for Lifetime Service. He continues to coach wrestling at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School in his 70s until this day.
He has taught thousands of students and is an incubator of peace programming in Baltimore City. His mentees and students have become leading figures for credible messaging for peace and nonviolence in the greater Baltimore area.
Mr. Warren is a pioneer in community education and a lifelong proponent of youth engagement typified by structure, discipline, love, and respect. Mr. Warren helps lead expeditionary learning and field trips for Wisdom Projects in our partnership with the McKim Center.
Greta Mickey is a member of the Gunpowder Friends Meeting, one of the Quaker groups that partners with the McKim Center and the Baltimore Wisdom Project.
She facilitates peacemaking workshops and trainings with our older parents.
She is a certified community dispute resolution mediator. She is also an Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator and she served on the National Council (board) of the Fellowship of Reconciliation from 2007 to 2013 and on the Board of Directors of Cobblestone Springs (an interfaith center for retreat and renewal).
She is the Owner of New Hope Reiki and we are deeply fortunate to have Greta's expertise.
Chanta Doughty provides part-time transportation and engagement services for our STEM & Healing Arts peacemaking program at the McKim Center. Transportation is a habitual barrier to enrollment as well as healthy, just living for fixed income, low-income, the disabled, and marginalized people, and we are fortunate to have Chanta's expertise both as a driver and an educational support specialist. She is a longtime Baltimorean, mother, and banking professional with extensive rideshare experience.
Theresa Brown provides part-time transportation and engagement services for our Inner Ground Railroad program and our out-of-school-time program. Transportation is a habitual barrier to enrollment as well as healthy, just living for fixed income, low-income, the disabled, and marginalized people, and we are fortunate to have Theresa's expertise both as a driver and an educational support specialist. She is a longtime Baltimorean and an Elder who was a public school teacher. She now owns and operates her own transportation business.
The Peacemakers are a group of mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers who work in the McKim Center-Baltimore Wisdom Project Partnership as home-based and/or neighborhood peace ambassadors, receiving monthly stipends when they reach milestones and benchmarks for peacemaking and wellness in the community. Their identities are protected under HIPAA, FERPA, and MPIPA law. While undergoing ongoing training in conflict management, restorative justice practices, de-escalation, and peer/community counseling, the Peacemakers pass on these healing practices within their homes and in their neighborhoods in safe, collegial, and impactful ways.
The Journeymakers are a group of youth leaders between the ages of 14 and 18 who work in McKim Center-Baltimore Wisdom Project Partnership to uplift peace education, receiving monthly stipends when they reach milestones and benchmarks for peacemaking and wellness in the community. Their identities are protected under HIPAA, FERPA, and MPIPA law. They receive pre-career/pre-college mentoring as well as ongoing training in conflict management, restorative justice practices, de-escalation, and peer/community counseling. They spread the good news of peacemaking within their homes and in their neighborhoods in safe, collegial, and impactful ways.
The History of the Journeymakers
In 1988, the late, great Dr. James P. Zais aka Ernest Johnson, an out-of-school-time program specialist with the Greater Washington, DC Urban League, asked Miss tree turtle (now the CEO of the Baltimore Wisdom Project) if she would teach a few workshops on peace practice and restorative justice to local high school students who were, as Mr. Johnson described them, "real troublemakers."
Miss tree responded that sometimes our preventions and interventions begin with changing the language that we use to identify the people that we serve. She suggested to Mr. Johnson that, instead of calling the youth "troublemakers" that they be called journeymakers in recognition of their progress and achievements through the challenges in their lives. On that day the Journeymakers™ project was born.
Since then there have been numerous iterations of the Journeymakers in various guises at different schools, community centers, and community colleges for over 30 years. Regardless of where the Journeymakers work or who they are, the mission behind their work has always remained the same: to give marginalized youth who are often viewed as "broken" or sometimes viewed as "troublemakers" (and who may face contact with the criminal justice system, high rates of suspension, expulsion, and over-correction; or constant belittling) opportunities for the following:
Most recently, in 2020 and 2021, the Journeymakers program was in residence at Towson High School in Baltimore County.
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