Tech entrepreneur Julio Rivera knows what it’s like to search for a place of belonging.
Growing up as an Afro-Latino child of immigrants in the predominantly white Connecticut suburbs, he often felt out of place. Rivera felt the same way when he began visiting Buddhist centers as an adult.
Introduced to meditation through the popular app Headspace, Rivera first practiced in his twenties at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York City before finding his spiritual home at New York Insight Meditation Center’s People of Color Sangha.
“For the first time, I was really able to let my guard down,” Rivera said, noting that in other white-dominated spaces he often felt the need to be “constantly proving” himself to others. But when a scheduling conflict meant that he could no longer attend meetings, he realized there weren’t many alternatives for him, especially when it came to digital resources. And that’s why he created Liberate, a meditation app that features dharma talks and guided meditations by teachers of color for people of color.
Rivera was stunned when a basic beta version of the app that he had first shared with 20 friends was downloaded 150 times in the first week. Now available for free on iOS and Android, the app has been downloaded thousands of times since its February 2019 launch.
Since all of Liberate’s teachers are people of color, users can scroll through dharma talks and guided meditations that are designed with their needs in mind, said Rivera. “It says, ‘The experiences I am going through as a person of color—it’s not just me going through them.’” The app is a combination of exclusive content and talks selected from other platforms such as Dharma Seed, an online resource for Vipassana teachings.
Liberate stands out for its guided meditations on topics that include microaggressions, ancestors, and toxic masculinity. Black women, Rivera said, kept telling him that processing microaggressions targeting their appearance and mannerisms represented a major part of their day-to-day lives. “The constant barrage of comments has them questioning, ‘Should I even be in this space?’ ‘Am I worthy of being in this space?’” The meditations, Rivera hopes, help practitioners realize that they do indeed belong.
Rivera is proud to be part of an ongoing movement within Western Buddhism that works to make its communities more diverse and welcoming, and he is also proud of his role in instantly connecting users to teachings that can heal racial trauma.
“It was a calling,” he said, “to be of service not only to my own practice but also to the practice of others.”
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