Madison Eker was exposed to the world of live events early on — she grew up touring around to speaking events with her dad, T. Harv Eker, who is a well-established personal growth author and speaker. As an adult, those formative memories and that early experience rubbed off on her, and she started working in nightlife, mostly in the queer scene.
But working in that space really led Eker to realize how desperately the queer community needed a healthier outlet to express themselves and meet likeminded people. As a queer woman herself, eventually she noticed that even as the wellness industry was skyrocketing, the access to it for the queer community in the space was slim to none.
“I really felt like wellness was needed in the queer space,” Eker explained when we spoke over the phone last week about her upcoming event, Sum Of Us Festival. “Really you don’t see anything that’s for wellness in the community for queer women and trans/non-binary folks. It’s either going to bars, and a lot of substance and drinking, or it’s the opposite, sober spaces and AA or things like that.”
Given her early experiences and more recent work in retail and management, it was only a matter of time before Eker started putting together a solution to the disconnect she’d noticed between the wellness boom and the need for healing in the queer community. Now based out of San Francisco, California, she’s been working for over two years been to launch Sum Of Us as the first-ever wellness festival that’s specifically oriented toward women and trans/non-binary folks.
“I wanted to provide a space that I thought was really needed,” she said. “Because the LGBTQ community has the highest rates of suicide and depression. We just really need a space that’s conscious. Sum Of Us was born out of a need to provide that to the community, and have a safe space to express themselves with wellness within gender and discover their own wellness and healing modalities.”
After conceptualizing the event in 2018, Eker built out her business model and started moving forward with the mission, branding and business registration in 2019. The first festival itself was planned for this year, but like most events slated for 2020, Sum Of Us Festival took a hard hit with the advent of COVID-19 earlier in the year. Still, as more and more elements of American social life moved to the virtual setting, Eker and her team found a way to pivot the fest to continue on via video conferencing and digital programming. It will take place over the course of three days next weekend, July 24-26.
“We moved the virtual event to a space called Remo.co,” Eker explained. “Remo.co is an event space where it has the same interactions as a Zoom, you can see people and talk to them in real time, but it also has a little avatar, where you can move your avatar around to different places. So it kind of feels like you’re in a virtual world, and we programmed that little virtual world to be a campground. So it’s super cute and really fun and different than all the other events. And then we have those same workshop sessions in place.”
Some examples of the events happening at the virtual festival include themed yoga sessions like vibes and vinyasa or a kundalini class, reiki and dreamwork practices, workshops on stones and crystal, and tons of other wellness workshops, queer-focused practices like body positive voguing and a trans celebration swim — just to name a few. Other virtual programming includes queer parenting panels, mingling time, networking and even speed dating.
Another really inclusive element of the virtual programming for Sum Of Us is that every single activity is ASL accessible. The event has an ASL interpreting team who will be interpreting all the panels so that the event is completely accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing. Eker and her team have worked to make the space a completely safe and inclusive one, no matter who wants to be a part of it.
Although the festival has already faced significant monetary loss and disruption since the shift to becoming a digital-only event, the admission price for attending is still very affordable. For attendance to all of the Sum Of Us programming throughout the whole weekend the suggested donation is $45. But financial access shouldn’t be a barrier to entry for anyone, especially during the pandemic, and the setup of the festival is mindful of all kinds of economic circumstances. On the other end of the spectrum, attendees who are able to make a donations of over $195 will receive a free kink.com year-long membership
“We wanted to make this accessible during the time that we’re in right now,” she said. “And we understand that it’s hard for a lot of people. So we made this donation-based, and we’re asking for a suggested $45 donation minimum. And if that’s something somebody can’t afford at this time, that’s no problem — they could even come for $1. So we just want to provide this space and have everyone who wants to be able to attend so they can heal themselves.”