Dhara Shah


Meet DharaMovement builder & Pleasure Activist 

Her Story: 

I’m a first generation south Asian immigrant who is the first woman in the family to be able to make choices for myself and build the life that I want. I grew up in a conservative-ish family, where the patriarch rules and made all the decisions.  At a young age I told myself “fuck that” and have stubbornly (yes, I'm a Taurus) dug my heels into challenging all forms of oppression.  I escaped financial and emotional manipulation by 17, but still didn’t realize how much I was still looking for validation from other people on how to live my life. I knew that not everyone has had the choices I've had, it became my life’s purpose to dismantle the systems in place that prevent people from living in sovereignty.

But of course I took a detour getting there. While I worked for Engineers Without Borders and got my engineering degree, there weren’t exactly a plethora of jobs in the liberation space waiting for me on the other side. I took a 9-5 at a medical device company (which was really 7-6 because I’m brown and short and had to prove my worth through labor). There I met my first mentor who told me in order to be successful - I had to make myself white and distance myself as far as possible from my culture. And she wasn’t the only one who told me that, my whole life I was surrounded by that narrative.

I was caring for my grandmother when she passed in 2015 and with her passing she anchored the wisdom that carries me through today. That I have immense opportunity in front of me that she didn’t have, that my mom didn’t have. And with that I have immense responsibility to be who I actually am. There will always be repercussions and risk, but it’s up to me. Within months I had broken up with my safe and boring almost fiancé, and shifted my focus back to what I was passionate about - dismantling systems of oppression.

Now, 6 years later, I’ve completely shifted my life’s work towards that goal. I’m a Program Director at a civil social services clinic where I manage our re-entry programs and community navigation programs on the West side of Chicago. I am still actively organizing to disrupt racist systems, particularly around incarceration. I was a small business owner for 8 years. And I have moved into being a facilitator for others to make great transformations in their lives and also be part of the anti-racism movement.

"What is something you are actively going through?"

I am healing! At a young age I was socialized and experienced all these messed up things that inform my relationships and ways of being today. All of that trauma lives in the body and I am working on healing those parts of myself so that I can show up better for myself and my community. Also working on healing the relationships that I have with my family. Immigration trauma took a toll on my generation, so I am facilitating multi-generational conversations towards repairing relationships.

"Who motivates you most?"

Audre Lorde, bell hooks, to be honest all Black feminist theorists. For generations the truths of our messed up systems have laid bare inside their words. There is much to learn about ourselves, our world, and each other inside their words.

"What about your story challenges the norm?"

There are lots of norms and tropes about brown girls from Indian households, that we become doctors and marry rich. My life is a big middle finger to that stereotype. In fact my life has become one big challenge to societal norms. I practice anti-capitalism and anti-oppression, and I make a lot of people uncomfortable by that.

I challenge the fact that a job title defines you. I challenge that your productivity = your self worth. I challenge punishment culture of America. And I especially challenge that those that have been incarcerated can’t live a healthy, joyful, abundant life full of choice.

"Tell us your '&'"

Intense facilitator, gentle caretaker, angry feminist, party planner, ancestral connector

"Anything else you want to share?"

I’m in the process of building ways to grow my work as a anti-racist facilitator without participating in capitalism (as much as possible) and while operating in deep relationship. I have a vision for doing deep communal healing work that doesn’t answer to stakeholders that created their oppression. Stay tuned!


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