March 31, 2022

By Cora Jackson-Fossett

Interim Managing Editor


Ronda Brown has dreamed for years about ways to help people relive pain, experience peace, practice sustainability and simply decompress from the challenges of daily living.  Her vision will be realized through an artist residency and wellness facility that she’s currently raising funds to construct in Costa Rica to teach people the practice of self-care.

The Zen Way HeArt Center, located in the idyllic hills of Central America, will offer mentorship, art, travel and other activities for low-income youth and women in transition that will help them excel as well as incorporate sustainable practices in their lives.  Also, the curriculum will include opportunities for clients to commune with nature and learn permaculture routines to implement in their communities.

“Permaculture allows for most things to be recycled, discover ways to self-produce your products, explore ways to grow healthy foods for our community and work together collectively to create commerce. These are things that we will share and implement on the land,” said Brown, who earned her Bachelor and Master’s of Fine Arts degree at the University of New York.

Explaining the impetus behind her project, she recalled witnessing the stress and strain exhibited by both students and staff at Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles while heading the institution’s arts department for nearly 10 years.  The tension and anxiety negatively impacted the environment on various levels.

“As an educator, artist and community member in South Central, we are constantly in a race to maintain - whether it be to maintain bills to stay afloat or inflated taxes due to gentrification or lack of efficient communication to share opportunities when they do arise,” noted Brown, who was born and raised in L.A.

“We also often struggle to acquire consistent support for our programs and all of these reasons lead to communities in the inner-city tending to stay on edge. Self-care and decompression seem to be the last of our concerns instead of our main priority.” 

And Brown possessed that very attitude as a divorced mother of a 16-year-old, homeowner in Leimert Park, and notable artist and sculptor.  Proficient in an array of mediums, her works have appeared locally at the Kellogg University Art Gallery in Pomona, the Underground Museum in Los Angeles and the California African American Museum in Exposition Park.

Nationally, her art has been displayed at Saint Mary's College Museum of Art in Moraga, California, the Raw Space Gallery in New York City, and the KROMA Gallery during the Art Basel in Miami, Florida.  With her busy schedule, Brown’s own mental and physical welfare was low on her list of urgencies until as a pedestrian, she experienced a horrendous car accident that rendered her unable to walk for more than two months.

Frustrated by her delay in recovering, she traveled to Costa Rica to soak in the country’s celebrated restorative waters.  Having visited the country a decade earlier, Brown has familiar with its captivating geography and relaxing culture – deciding factors that accelerated her rehabilitation.

“It was not just the ability to go to Costa Rica to heal in the hot springs, it was also the fact that I was forced to unplug,” she realized.  “I had been working multiple jobs within LAUSD in order to maintain my household and take care of my daughter as the new sole financial provider. Being able to be in stillness and in nature brought a new perspective of true healing and quality of life.”

Interestingly, Brown was already acquainting her students with the benefits of connecting with nature by conducting classes in Crenshaw High’s Campus Garden. During the sessions, pupils could unwind in the restful atmosphere while completing their artistic projects.  Being in Costa Rica made her acknowledge that she wasn’t practicing what she preached, especially as her healing process speeded up considerably after she arrived, started taking it easy and focused on her health.

Also, her idea for the Zen Way HeArt Center began to evolve. Brown figured that the annual trade show outings to New York City that she served as chaperone for the Gordon Brown Fellows could be expanded with travel to Costa Rica. After all, she reasoned, both trips took about five hours of flight time from Los Angeles.

“I really want to offer a resource to our community and I believe that by simply providing the opportunity of learning the holistic practices of permaculture will apply to how they think of their own economic opportunities along with fully engaging in nature in order to heal,” she said.

“I believe these encounters will extend a person’s quality of life and when they return, they have the ability to better take care of themselves and their family and share experience and become an asset to our community,” Brown added.

Determined to bring her vision to fruition, she purchased land in Alajuela, Costa Rica last year to build the complex, which will include residential suites, staff quarters, and an amphitheater for large exhibits and concerts.  For the past two years, the artist has invested her own funds in clearing the property and preparing the infrastructure to support construction.  This summer, she will break ground on the first two bungalows as the organization continues to raise capital to complete the remainder of the building.

 Also, she has partnered with the Gordon Brown Fellows program to provide Crenshaw students with mentorships and opportunities to travel and decompress at the facility. The Gordon Brown Fellows program teaches students the fundamentals of being an entrepreneur, with emphasis on financial literacy. The founder, Maynard Brown, is Crenshaw High graduate, former professional basketball player and businessman.

Last year, Ronda Brown established the Zen Way Foundation and is in the process of securing the organization’s nonprofit status.  Maynard Brown described Zen Way as, “Transformative, innovative, and game changing.  For the young people who can take advantage of this by spending a week to two weeks in Costa Rica would be really important, impactful and meaningful.”

Also, the Zen Way Foundation has gained the support of Malaika and Maisha Moses, daughters of the well-known civil rights activist and educator Robert “Bob” Moses.  The daughters, who have decades of experience and years of involvement with their father’s nonprofit –The Algebra Project –, are serving on Zen Way’s board of directors along with sharing their expertise in the area of philanthropy.

“My sister and I were intrigued by Ronda’s vision that artists, youth and women from all walks of life can have the opportunity to rest, recharge, and create from the beautiful vista on her land in Alajuela, Costa Rica. We share her vision and want to ensure that young artists and students from the U.S. will receive the financial support to access future programs,” said Malaika, a longtime friend of Brown’s.

“Also, we wanted to support another Black woman who is trying to bring more peace, beauty and goodness in the world. It’s an honor to be able to work together to achieve that end and it’s important for Black women to support each other in this way. We want Zen Way to be a reality, not only for not only our generation, but for the generations to follow,” she added.

To learn more, volunteer or donate to Zen Way Foundation, visit

Category: Community