Upāsikā Miss tree turtle
Director (CEO) and Lead Teacher
of the Baltimore Wisdom Project and
Co-Director (Co-CEO) of Wisdom Projects, Inc.
Upāsikā Miss tree turtle (Cleis Abeni), MFA, MA, LPN, CTC, CCR, is the Director (CEO) and Lead Teacher of the Baltimore Wisdom Project (BWP) and the Co-Director (Co-CEO) of Wisdom Projects, Inc. She helped found the BWP. tree's name is spelled lowercase even at the beginning of a sentence. Her legal name, tree turtle, is her ordination name. She has been an ordained Buddhist Upāsikā for 30-plus years. She trained in holistic health practices rooted in mindfulness across Asia at Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand, the Guangdong Traditional Chinese Medicine School, and other locales.
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 mindfulness, restorative justice, and restorative 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. Click here for an overview of tree's work in holistic health.
tree began her work as an educator in 1986 while serving as a US Institute for Peace/DCAC Fellow and a youth facilitator for a Ward 4 after school program sponsored by the Greater Washington D.C. Urban League. She was also a youth leader for 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. As a nurse, she worked 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.
She was a certified public-school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland and Columbus, Ohio who specialized in teaching language arts and life science. She began training teachers and professionals in restorative practices, mindfulness, conflict transformation, and community 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. Click here for an overview of her teaching.
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. 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; a longtime freelance professional editor and grant-writer (under her name Cleis Abeni); and a journalist for many alternative publications. For more information about tree, visit www.treeturtle.com.
Dr. Theodore Richards
Director (CEO), Founder, and Lead Teacher
of the Chicago Wisdom Project and
Co-Director (Co-CEO) of Wisdom Projects, Inc.
Dr. Theodore Richards, is the founder and director of the Chicago Wisdom Project, and the Co-Director of Wisdom Projects, Inc. the umbrella organization that houses the Chicago Wisdom Project and Baltimore Wisdom Project. To learn about Theodore Richards and the Chicago Wisdom Project, click here.
Theodore Richards is a poet, novelist, and religious philosopher. He is also the editor and publisher of Re-Imagining Magazine, a major online source of thought leadership (with prose and poetry) on holistic education, anti-oppressive advocacy, and liberationist activism in the United States and beyond.
He has received degrees from various institutions such as the University of Chicago, The California Institute of Integral Studies, and the New Seminary where he was ordained.
He is a long time 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.
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.
You can find more information on Dr. Richards' lifework on his website, www.theodorerichards.com.
Shelly Turner, Healing Arts Administrative Associate
Shelly Turner serves as our full-time Healing Arts Administrative Associate and Executive Assistant at the Baltimore Wisdom Project. She is also a teacher in our out-of-school-time programming.
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.
Gabriel Ukegbu, Harper Banneker Fellow for Teaching and Healing
Gabriel Ukegbu is the full-time Harper Banneker Teaching and Healing Fellow at the Baltimore Wisdom Project where he primarily teaches a combination of life science, health science, and holistic healing; and executes behavioral health and life navigation support for youth, families, and community members.
He graduated from Tufts University in Medford, MA, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biopsychology and where he was the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Scholar, a Health Career Fellows Scholar, and a Minority Association of Pre-Health Student.
He was a Research Assistant at the National Institutes of Health STEP-UP, Abilities Research Center at Mount Sinai Hospital and a Research Assistant at Tufts Applied Cognition Laboratory. He was also a Research Assistant at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Summer Program in Shanghai, China.
He is the co-author of “Use of Fitbit Technology Does Not Impact Health Biometrics in a Community of Older Adults” in the June 2020 edition of the Telemedicine Journal and e-health: The Official Journal of the American Telemedicine Association.
He was the Team Captain of the Blackout Step Team and the Treasurer of the Medford Doctors Without Borders chapter. He was also a Counselor for the Youth Group of Lions of Judah Pathfinder Club in the Bronx, NY from which he hails. He taught for the Empowering Ourselves Organization Summer Enrichment Academy in Brooklyn, NY and mentored for the Big Brother Big Sister Program.
His interests include recreational basketball, psychology research, traveling, stepping, hospital administration, and preventative healthcare.