September 2022 Ambassador Spotlight: Virginia Knowlton MarcusSep 15, 2022
Virginia Knowlton Marcus (she/her), our Ambassador Spotlight for September 2022, is a white, cisgender, middle class, disability rights lawyer with a mental health disability. She’s lived in the northern, southern, eastern and western U.S., and in Europe. She currently lives in Raleigh, NC.
Virginia is the CEO of Disability Rights North Carolina, a nonprofit law firm that advocates for the civil rights of North Carolinians with disabilities. Virginia is an attorney who has lived experience with a mental health disability. She has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities federally, locally, internationally and in multiple states, on a large array of issues, over the past 25 years.
Virginia’s prior positions include Executive Director at Disability Rights Maryland; Director of Legal Advocacy and Director of Public Policy at Disability Rights California; Executive Director at the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation; and Fellow with the California Assembly Ways & Means Committee. Her current volunteer service includes the National Disability Rights Network - board and legislative committee; NC Equal Access to Justice Commission - commissioner and communications & outreach committee co-chair; NC Equal Justice Alliance - vice-chair; NC Mental Health Block Grant Planning and Advisory Council, Developmental Disabilities Council, and Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council - member; and Leadership North Carolina - alumnus.
Virginia is a certified yoga instructor and participant in the accessible yoga movement. She earned her J.D. and B.A. in International Relations at the University of California, Davis. She lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband, Michael.
We asked Virginia...
What does Accessible Yoga mean to you?
Accessible Yoga is a force for positive change by counteracting the cultural appropriation, misinterpretation, repackaging, and marketing of yoga that has created access barriers and the unfortunate misimpression among many people and populations who could most benefit from yoga that yoga practice isn't for or relevant to them. Accessible yoga is inclusive; people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people and other marginalized identities are fully included and leading the Accessible Yoga movement - and it is a movement that is changing how yoga is presented and delivered to the public. (I have written about access to yoga being a civil right.) Accessible Yoga takes affirmative measures to bring yoga to people and places where it is most needed and beneficial, such as schools, prisons, and psychiatric, nursing, and assisted living facilities. Accessible Yoga works to ensure yoga is offered In its rich fullness, and affordable and available to all. Accessible Yoga teachers understand how to adapt the practice so people of all abilities, ages, health conditions, backgrounds and body styles are able to enjoy and benefit from the practices. Accessible Yoga advances social justice by helping to repair the world, pushing back against injustice and marginalization, and providing a critical self-care practice for the well-being of social justice fighters and people who experience discrimination.
How did you get started with Accessible Yoga?
I engage in physical activity to help manage my mental health disability. When I experienced a physical injury, I needed another outlet, and found my way to yoga. The positive impact on my mental health was profound. I wondered why I didn't encounter more disabled people in yoga classes. I obtained my RYT-200 certification and was dismayed that the curriculum did not provide instruction in accommodating diverse people. I literally found my Accessible Yoga family by Googling "accessible yoga" and finding out about the 2015 Accessible Yoga conference being held in Santa Barbara. I went to that conference, met Jivana Heyman and other wonderful people, and began learning information and skills I needed and wanted. After the closing session where Jivana mentioned the committees we could volunteer for, I introduced myself and suggested that there be an advocacy committee. He immediately said, "you're right, and you should be on it." That was the beginning of my involvement.
Please share about your work and the populations you currently serve.
I work in the field of disability rights. I know that people engaged in the struggle for human rights, and especially people who are discriminated against, need access to yoga. I teach a free bimonthly accessible yoga class (primarily chair yoga) over zoom for the staff of Disability Rights North Carolina and Legal Aid North Carolina. Also created a presentation on Accessible Yoga for Attorneys and was able to get it certified for the mandatory Continuing Legal Education required class on mental health and substance use. Someday, if and when I no longer have to put in so many working hours, I would like to teach yoga in facilities such as psychiatric hospitals and prisons.
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