Deborah Santana brings a world of experience, blessing and compassion to enrich the lives of women throughout the world.
Her grandparents planted the seed. Her parents fertilized and protected the soil. Deborah Santana nourished and developed the early growth into a thriving garden of charity and compassion that blossoms perennially. Author, musician, inspirational and motivational speaker, mother, philanthropist, and global traveler, Santana has a passion for people and a commitment to helping women become healthy, educated, and happy.
“I can’t imagine another way of life,” she explains. Just entering her sixties, Santana’s shining silver hair, smooth glowing skin and light, musical voice defy the maturity and wisdom she reflects as she speaks from her San Francisco Bay-side home.
The roots of a giving way of life began at the start of the twentieth century when her grandparents founded a church in Oakland, California focused on love of God and love for His people. Although her mixed-race parents were denied the right to marry in the late 1940s, their lives were filled with love and acceptance of the world around them, sharing those values with their spirited and creative daughter.
“I grew up reading Bible stories, fairytales, parables and poetry,” Santana recalls in a website posting. “Wisdom was imparted from the pages of books and from Sunday school, Girl Scouts, and talks around the kitchen table. Our family had an intention to care for others, which I am so grateful to have learned.”
Married at twenty-two, not an unusually early age for children of the sixties and seventies, Santana began a 33-year marriage to the internationally revered musician Carlos Santana. As she reflects while discussing her memoir Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart (Click here to win a copy!) , it was a turbulent existence in a loving and mutually supportive marriage. The feminist culture of the seventies emerged strong emphasizing that women did not need a man to be fulfilled. At the same time, her Christian upbringing taught that a woman was helpmate to her husband.
Delicately balancing a life in the front row of a celebrity’s spotlight and maintaining her own individuality, Santana managed a vegetarian restaurant, taught medication classes, studied Spanish and creative writing and spent many hours answering fan mail. Motherhood brought in a period of volunteerism in schools, fund-raising and of course, the joys of chaperoning field trips. Continually guiding her children to respect individuality, Santana became one of the “Super Women” of her generation. She invested in real estate, directed the Santana Corporation, sat on a non-profit board, and established the Milagro Foundation with her husband, while partnering with him on career moves.
With the founding of her self-initiated Do A Little Foundation in 2008 however, Santana humbly stepped into the spotlight as an individual. Respecting the blessings of both heritage and marriage, it was time to bring her own philosophy from front row to center stage.
“I’ve always tried to help people,” she explains the decision to form a foundation focused on women. “Raised in the sixties, you learn not to leave anyone behind; to take care of everyone. Can you imagine growing up in San Francisco in the sixties and seventies – you had the Black Panthers and those issues while the flower children were doing yoga outdoors?
I created a non-profit to serve the needs of women because the balance of power in the world still lies in the hands of men, often bypassing the skills, intelligence, compassion, love & grace of the female gender.
Encouraging women to grow in whatever ways bring happiness and peace, her inspiration in naming the foundation Do A Little, comes from a quote by Reverend Desmond M. Tutu, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Do A Little currently funds more than 30 organizations and has helped more than 50 over the past six years. Santana limits her fund-raising efforts however to two primary projects – the Darajah Academy, a boarding school for high school girls in Kenya, and the Museum of African Dispora in San Francisco. “I try to be consistent and constant with the groups I help,” she explains. There are so many around the world who need help, but I am seeing so much good in the world. There are so many people working together to care.
“I am always grateful to be able to help. We are paying rent on Earth by giving to others. It is my personal gratitude and personal joy to be able to give. All of us want the same thing. The Dalai Lama says ‘no one wants to suffer. We all want to be happy’.
“I am blessed,” Santana says with humility. “I have made mistakes, but I choose to learn every second that I am here.”
Recognizing her privilege of direct learning from the Dalai Lama, and a personal guru, Santana brings all her experiences from a six-year old at the kitchen table to more recent travels in Africa to not only grow her foundation but also inspire others to reach out. One of her proudest accomplishments is not what she has accomplished in the Darajah Academy, but the work of one of her volunteers from UCLA who was so moved by the needs of the children, he stayed in Kenya to form a program for the wandering and neglected street kids.
Taking time to reflect and mediate is an essential element of life, she advises other women. “I start my day off in my soul and in silence before I open the door and go out.”
Mediating daily since she was 21, Santana also incorporates the yoga she began as a teenager in classes with her mother into her day. Her diet is California-style, healthy choices including salmon and chicken with no red meat.
Free time, a precious commodity for a multi-tasking female, is spent in hiking, visiting museums, reading and dinner with friends. “One of my favorite activities is visiting independent book stores to hear different authors read and discuss their works,” she adds. “It is such a rich world, there are so many things to explore.”
A constant student, Santana is in her final classes to obtain a Master’s degree in Woman’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her final projects before graduation include an intense study of the Dalai Lama’s teachings and filming a documentary about women’s spirituality. No surprise – she will be donating the documentary to CIIS to promote the program and encourage other women. She’s also working on another book showcasing the good works of others throughout the world.
by Patricia Danflous
Photography by Todd Walker
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