Summer after summer, Rakhi Mistry asked herself the same question, "Can I do this for another year?" These days, however, after over 25 years in the profession, she is being the change she needed all those years ago. “Back then I didn’t have a space where I could talk about things happening in education. Through the Opportunity Coalition Network I actually received training on how to think and process struggles, particularly as a woman of color.” Even more key was the support of members with whom she now interacts with as a mentor. “It’s a place where we can talk freely. Any hurt or misunderstanding is unintentional and can be addressed. At the end of a hard day, I know I have someone to talk to and I can be that support for other teachers as well.”
This support has encouraged and fueled Rakhi as she focuses on her passions of mental health and championing the South Asian culture which she feels has long been overlooked, capitalized, and appropriated. These dual passions come together for Rakhi in the form of yoga. “Yoga 4 Change is a workshop I created to help schools, community partners, and individuals suffering from mental health needs.” Her workshop combines reading, yoga, art expression, and a parent/child processing session based around the five components of Social Emotional Learning to give children tools to help regulate their emotions.
When Rakhi proposed this workshop to her district, she was not initially supported. Feeling disheartened, she approached OCN for encouragement and was met with the advice, “Look Outside.” With this, she approached her local library and her children’s school district who welcomed her presentation. For her, an even bigger validation came when she was approached by a well-known tutoring company to present her workshop. Her workshop has reached over 150 participants with the hope of serving many more families across the state.
Even ahead of meeting this goal of expanding her yoga program throughout the state, Rakhi has made an impact at the state level through her involvement with the Illinois Education Association (IEA). Drawing on her personal experiences healing from trauma, in combination with the support of the IEA and OCN, Rakhi acts as a trauma informed trainer and presenter for the IEA and Ethnic Minority and Emerging Leadership Training (EMELT). She also sits on the Human and Civil Rights Committee and the NEA-IEA Resolutions Committee.
Rakhi acknowledges that the work around mental health and equity is sometimes draining, but understands that the work will remain unless people fight for change. “True success will be in the generations to come…have I done right by my children, students, families, colleagues? It’s not until years later that you see the seed that you planted grow.” With this mentality, her answer to Can I do this for another year? is a confident YES!