tree turtle

Reimagining Healing
with tree turtle

School is often conceived of as the realm of the intellect or mind. In school, there is no time for the emotional, no time to ask big questions about our place in the world, no time for community because it is only about individual success.

Perhaps what is required is to knock down all the schools. Get rid of them altogether. Find learning elsewhere. And perhaps we ought to not build anything in their place. Sit outside in circles. Walk through forests. Tell stories and sing songs. Learn about the traditions of our ancestors and how they answered the Big Questions so that we might find answers of our own. Care for each other. Love each other. This is school.

The ultimate goal, of course, is not to make a better school. It is to make more compassionate, just and sustainable communities. This requires an educational process that allows for a re-imagining of the self, recognizing our selves as mandalas, a unique expression of a web of relationships that includes the whole planet, the whole cosmos. We cannot re-discover this without an educational process that facilitates a thorough transformation of human culture. Where, at this apocalyptic moment, might we discover and re-discover this new human? I would suggest that just as we are at the edge of our world right now as a species, there are plenty of places we can look to find people for whom living at the edge is nothing new. We often refer to these people often as “marginalized”. And there is a particular wisdom at the margins, for those who reside there have not benefited from the current systems. They see the brokenness of our world. But they also can see the possibilities – if we can create an educational process that allows for them to re-imagine the deficit narratives. The new story, in other words, won’t come from the old centers of power. Nor will it emerge if we educate from there.

Theodore Richards

Guest Bio

Upāsikā Miss tree turtle is a veteran nonprofit leader who helped found the Baltimore Wisdom Project. tree’s name is spelled lowercase even at the beginning of a sentence. Her legal name is tree turtle. She directs the Baltimore Wisdom Project (BWP) and serves as the organization’s Lead Teaching Artist. tree is also a Co-Director of Wisdom Projects, Inc., the umbrella organization that houses the Chicago Wisdom Project and the Baltimore Wisdom Project. 

For 30-plus years, she has helped guide the vision, operations, communications, fundraising, programming, and educational initiatives of several nonprofit organizations in Baltimore, MD, Columbus, OH, and Philadelphia, PA.

tree began her work as an educator in 1986 while serving as a US Institute for Peace/DCAC Fellow at Arena Players’ summer theatre program in Baltimore and a Youth Facilitator for a Ward 4 after school program sponsored by the Greater Washington D.C. Urban League. She began training teachers and professionals in restorative practices and conflict transformation, as well as offering community counseling in 1993.

tree taught language arts, P.E., social studies, and life sciences as a certified public school teacher in Baltimore, MD and Columbus, OH. She served as an instructional trainer for arts and science teachers for Columbus City Public Schools. She has also taught for private schools and, most recently, tree served as the Edith Hamilton Mentor at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore.

tree has also taught widely at recreation centers, community centers, after school programs, and incarcerated facilities across the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. As an adjunct professor or a teaching fellow in higher education, tree taught at ten colleges and universities in the United States. Click here for an overview of her teaching.

A lifelong advocate for child welfare, animal rights, environmental justice, and peace education, tree is a restorative justice practitioner with multiple certificates in healing practices, including trauma-informed care, community counseling, conflict resolution, and Yoga for children. Click here for an overview of tree’s behavioral health teaching practice since 1986.

tree is a formerly licensed nurse (LPN) who has worked extensively as a curricula designer for learning programs in after school, summer school, and incarcerated facilities. 

tree is a widely published writer; a longtime professional editor and grant-writer; and a journalist for many alternative publications. She publishes and edits under the name Cleis Abeni. 

tree earned an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Arts Education from The Ohio State University with specializations in early education, secondary education, movement analysis, and choreography studies; and a BA in English with minors in performing arts, philosophy and religion from Goucher College. She is completing a MS in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University. 

tree is an ordained Thai Theravada Buddhist Upāsikā with a contemplative practice lasting over thirty-five years. tree possesses extensive, multifaceted training in mindfulness, meditation, and mindful movement. 

As an African American former foster child and homeless child in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (who was also blessed to attend private schools for short periods), tree has faced the systemic struggles of many of the under-resourced people that the Baltimore Wisdom Project and Wisdom Projects, Inc. serves. She embodies the work, hope, and promise of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI). Lastly, tree was a former movement theatre artist, vocalist, backup/session singer, and child entertainer. For more information about tree, visit

To learn more about tree’s work with affirmations, please go to

A Conversation With tree turtle

by Theodore Richards