Racial Equity Trainings, Workshops, & Consulting

To talk about working together- please email us at: info@circusup.com

Who We Are:

Ayla Gavins is an equity and inclusion consultant and educator who brings deep knowledge of what it takes to create equitable and just education environments and engages fellow educators locally and globally to design inclusive programs. She regularly consults with and leads discussion groups on racial equity and inclusion for a variety of organizations, assisting individuals and teams to see their role in creating inequities and supporting them to change that narrative. She is the former principal of the Mission Hill School in Boston, one of the most progressive, inclusive, and democratic schools in the country. Ayla holds a masters degree in education, and is a licensed teacher and school administrator. She is the co-director of The Farm School in Athol, Mass. and is an active Board Member at Circus Up.

Leah Abel is a consultant on equity in circus arts education and speaker on the intersection of arts and justice. She uses liberation health as a framework for working with youth from under-resourced and marginalized communities and with organizations that aim to build more supportive cultures for their staff. A longtime member of the social circus, hospital clowning, and Clowns Without Borders communities, Leah is a licensed clinical social worker. She studied with Dawn Belkin Martinez at Simmons Graduate School of Social Work and also holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. As Founder and Executive Director of Circus Up, Leah is committed to co-designing equitable partnerships with other community organizations. She is also a founding member of DRIVE Forward, a diverse team of hospital clowns across the U.S. who are dedicated to Diversity, Representation, Inclusion, Voice, and Equity.

What We Do:

In partnership, Ayla and Leah have been working with leadership and staff teams to build racial justice and equity into their organizations and team culture, policies, and practices. Most often this takes the form of foundational workshops and training on racial equity and liberation health, but can also include individual and group coaching and facilitated dialogues.  

Our Values:

  • We believe that everyone has a valuable contribution to make in our group work, and we understand that we all contribute in different ways.

  • We aim to be present in our work with others, and we strive to do the thing that allows us and others to be present

  • We know that there is no quick fix; this work is a practice.

  • We address conversations about race, gender, class, and sexual orientation with courage and trust that we can learn together.

  • We believe that doing meaningful work, including establishing new policies and practices, depends on trust and relationships

Workshop: “Growing Stronger Communities Through Racial Equity and Liberation Health”

Over the course of three or more weeks, participants reflect on their roles in larger systems of racism and oppression through an understanding of race related terms and a discussion of how racism functions in the United States. Sessions run on a continuum that begin with the self and leads to the roles we play in the systemic oppression and/or suppression of others. In our first few sessions together, we ask participants to reflect on their own identities using a discussion format that can be used in an ongoing way with more team members they may wish to engage. 


Along the way, we also use a methodology called Liberation Health, created by Brazilian born Paulo Freire in the 1970s, as a resource. Liberation Health is aimed to help individuals, families, and communities understand the personal, cultural, and institutional factors that contribute to any given problem and act to change those conditions; to liberate themselves from both internal and external oppressions. Participants use Liberation Health to deconstruct dominant cultural messages and structures that don’t work for their community (or actively harm their community) while taking action to start creating change right where they stand, in their own relationships and organizations (and the larger systems they participate in). Often this looks like outlining small steps they can take in new directions in the short-term and long-term.


Building upon lessons from past and present social justice movements, Ayla and Leah draw from their own co-creative, collaborative experiences working with different liberated teams around the world to help teams begin to shift their own cultures and/or create new, more supportive communities. By the end of this workshop, teams learn new ways of working together to have critical conversations, strengthen existing programs, build healthier and happier teams, make art, and solve problems.


“Leah and Ayla did an incredible job. We were given the space to learn and the opportunity to have conversations about race, our white supremacy culture, and current events. They provided many great resources that expanded our learning and fit perfectly with the conversations we were having as a group. Before each class, they provided us with a series of useful questions that greatly helped us examine our role in white supremacist systems. They really created a safe and encouraging environment for people to speak freely about these hard topics. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that everyone felt that their voices were heard. We reflected upon our own identities as well as how we contribute to larger systems of racism. I left with a better understanding of my own internal bias as well as a hunger and drive to learn more on my own. This was an extremely beneficial and unique workshop. I cannot recommend it enough!”​

-Lucia Cassan


"Leah Abel's class on Liberation Health was especially eye-opening. As a white person, I have often felt that racism was binary, but silly me, nothing is binary anymore! We discussed how to look not only deeper, but WIDER at racism. I learned how to zoom out and see just how many big factors are at play when it comes to issues of identity, equity, and justice, even in the smallest event. I highly recommend this workshop.”



“Leah's informative work on the Liberation Health Model, combined with Ayla’s forum examining race and identity perfectly intertwine to facilitate a dialogue about how external social forces interact on a multitude of levels. Leah’s training examines how institutional, cultural, and personal forces intertwine and influence how an individual experienced their world. Ayla’s examination of race perfectly compliments the Liberation Health Model by asking participants to consider how one's own racial and cultural identity influences how they both perceive and are treated in the world. Both were incredibly interesting, and together the sessions break down complex sociological concepts into tangible ideas. I highly recommend this training, and certainly learned a lot. These conversations around race, identity, and society are highly important; individuals from all walks of life can learn immensely from the discussion.”

-Isabel Present

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