May we Dismantle Oppressive Behaviors and Embrace Mutuality

A prayer for every person who is devoted to social change that leads to a more just and humane world… May each one of us strengthen or develop our capacities to address tensions and conflict, receive and give feedback, and learn and grow from our encounters… may we stay focused on the goals of change for the greatest good and those most vulnerable, as we dismantle patterns of oppression and embrace healthy patterns of mutual relationships.

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Confronting Racism and Classism

“Hard: Confronting Nazis.

Harder: Confronting everyday racism practiced by loved ones, colleagues, and people you share community with.

Hardest: Acknowledging and confronting your own racist tendencies.

All are necessary if we are serious about ending oppression.”
Maurice Moe Mitchell

For my own practice, replacing the word racism with classism is also true and important. I’m not sure what the parallel to Nazis is… Greedy Capitalist, Exploitive Capitalist?

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Qualities of a Powerful Conversation Across Differences

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to host 42 folks from Charlotte in an Art of Participatory Leadership 1-day taster around questions like: “What might we discover if we take a collective pause and slow down enough to learn together about where we are as a city? What difference do our differences make?” The theme of the day was around being a more equitable city. At the beginning, we spent time focusing on how we want to be together, our group culture. I am really interested in the difference between these two lists — between the qualities of a good conversation and the qualities of a good conversation with people who are different. What do you notice?

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Professors Who Were Part of Desegregating UNCA Retire

In the summer and fall of 1984, as part of a statewide mandate that the UNC system hire more black professors, Dr.’s Dolly and Dwight Mullen and Dr.’s Charles and Deborah “Dee” James began teaching at UNC Asheville. This year the four are retiring. Here is a great interview and article sharing about their experiences being part of the small handful of African American professors at that University and the legacy that they have created. I have so much respect and appreciation for the Mullen’s (I have not gotten to know the James’). And I wonder what other ways the efforts of creating a colloquium, a community within a community, might be replicated in Asheville? What can programs and initiatives like My Daddy Taught Me That, My Sistah Taught Me That, and YTL Training Program learn from these initiatives of the past?

From the article:

“James taught a variety of chemistry courses, like molecular spectroscopy, and humanities, and he remembers students writing very comfortably on their teacher evaluation forms that the school needed to “stop hiring just another n-word”.

Mullen taught political science, and he regularly received death threats. Sometimes students would check to make sure he made it home OK.

“I was part of the apartheid movement of ‘88 and there were also klans in Madison County who knew my name,” he said. “I would come in to work and find things plastered on my classroom walls saying ‘go back to Africa’.”

In addition to teaching a couple of classes at UNCA, Dolly Mullen taught night classes at Mars Hill, as the first and only black professor at the school in 1986. She was pregnant at the time. Her husband would never let her go to the school alone, and he would wait in the car for hours while she taught.

The need to address the setbacks and high dropout numbers [for African American students] motivated the four of them as they established the African-American Colloquium in 1991.

‘Black students were failing out at horrifying rates when they shouldn’t have been’

Dolly Mullen felt the real problem was a social one, with many black students repeatedly hearing racist taunts at sporting games and on-campus events, she said.

“If you were acknowledged in class at all you were treated as remedial or pointed out as the representative of all the black students in the school,” Charles James said.

It was a bold idea – to require that all black freshman students take additional classes with them with the hope they would have a better grasp on their identity and what they wanted to accomplish at UNCA.

The colloquium include field trips to historically black cities, like Charleston and New Orleans, and included a mentorship component that often led to students going to the Mullens’ home after hours to keep discussing their future.

“I never had a black male teacher before coming to UNCA,” said Gaipher-Eli, an entrepreneur. “So for me to see a black Ph.D. like Dwight and watch the way he handled the classroom, it was like seeing superman for the first time. He was like a superhero to me.”

The colloquium allowed him to access resources he never knew were available and to stay enrolled in school.

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Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, Justice

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Under the Veil With My Tender Heart

There is a tendency inside of me to feel responsible for the world, responsible for the well-being of others. If I can see someone suffering, if I can feel the presence of sorrow, if I can recognize that injustice or unfairness or cruelty is happening, I feel a sense of responsibility to “do something” — I am able to respond, response-able, and thus a feeling arises in me that it is my obligation to act. Easily I can deny my own feelings or needs, ignore internal voices that are looking out for my own well-being, and invest all of my energy into this perceived need that I see “out there” in another person or situation. Or… if I choose not to act, I can get caught in a spiral of guilt, fear, worry and concern that my actions or lack of actions are causing further harm to another. I can completely exhaust and deplete myself with these tendencies, with this inclination to jump out of my own skin and over-prioritize my perception of the needs of others. I used to think this pattern in me was compassion. I am growing in my ability to see that it is actually an unhealthy habit that is self-centered, toxic, and codependent behavior.

This year I have invested a great deal of energy and attention into my own healing. I am growing in my ability to stay rooted in myself, listening to my own body and my own needs while also sensing what is going on around me and with others. I’m making choices about how to act that keep my well-being in the equation and aren’t reactions to some self-imposed mandate. I am learning how to not give more than I have and how to not act from a place of pity, guilt, or that unhealthy flavor of “you have to…”. Often I am still confused when discerning between healthy human family obligations and unhealthy codependent perceived obligations. This is one of my learning journeys. And I feel my boundaries and discernment ripening.

My Mid-Life Labyrinth

This has been a huge focus of the 40th year of my life. I was initiated into my 40’s with a powerful and sacred full solar eclipse that moved me to my core, returned me to my core, spun magic and awe and love all around me, and tossed me into life like a shooting star, aware of my trail of light and clear that I was on this journey with many other light beings. I was hopeful for the alignment that would unfold in me in the coming year. I had dreams of me glowing in my body, strong in my big-hearted, bright-eyed, wise sense of self, and vibrant with the flow of connections weaving between me, the people I love, the places I live, and the work in the world I am doing. I was committed to this journey… as I often am at the beginning of a cycle.

As I near completing another spin around the sun, reflecting on where I am now and where my soul and psyche have traveled this past year, it seems like I’ve been walking my mid-life labyrinth. I’ve had stretches of joy and celebration where I feel aligned and focused, and I’ve had stretches of depression and darkness where the sparkle in life has faded and the depths of personal and societal work has drained me. It’s been both an orienting and disorienting year.

Today I find myself in a familiar and yet possibly an unfamiliar place. There is a dark and shadowy pit of insecurity, self-doubt, stories of inadequacy and lack, and beliefs of scarcity that I know all too well that is close by. A magnet that pulls at me, whispers tales of failure and self-deprecation, and fills me with dark, negative images of myself. So much energy is required to counterbalance this force. As I said, it’s familiar. Yet today I find myself thinking that perhaps it’s a situation of “two steps forward, one step back.” I imagine the terrain I travel is a spiral, spinning towards wholeness, evolving and devolving on a windy road that ultimately takes me home to myself and my purpose. I know that I am aligned with my North Star and the universe gives me signs, though I don’t always understand them. This latest return to the shadows has arrived after an incredibly intense gift from the most holy.

Divinely Protected

Two weeks ago I felt the most divinely protected that I have in a long time. Driving 70 miles on the highway, in a state of bliss and celebration as I traveled to experience a birthday gift I’d bought myself, tickets to see Janelle Monae in Charlotte. I lost control of my car, skid for 384 feet (longer than a football field), spun around, hit the guardrail, skid backwards another 61 feet, and stopped on the right hand side of the road, snug against the guardrail, facing oncoming traffic. Once the car was stopped, the clearest memory for me is the perception of, “Holy shit. I think I’m okay. I know I’m in shock, so don’t believe my thoughts. But I really think I’m okay. I am protected. Gratitude.” I recall the moment of heading straight for the guardrail, recognizing that “this could be it,” feeling a sense that I may die or be seriously damaged by the impact about to take place. Then the next thing I remember is the car stopping and my recognition that I think I’m okay.

The highest priority for me this last year has been my spiritual practice: Deepening my sense of faith and trust, strengthening my partnership with forces unseen, settling into myself, breath, acceptance and finding new connections and life-threads. I always pray before leaving for trips, but that day my prayers lasted longer than expected. I imagined it was because of the goodness of the gift of my pleasure and joy I was giving myself for my birthday. I did not realize it was genuinely connected to the gift of life that was being given to me.

The Drive to Keep Going

Thanks to my dearest friend and family who drove out to meet me, check-in that I was really okay, and swapped cars with me, I still went and danced and glowed with Janelle Monae and another dear friend and family. With only mild pain in my neck and head and a couple of commitments that I felt I needed to keep, I “pushed through” for another week… mildly listening to my body. One week after the incident, I had time to pause and stop, to recognize that I actually needed a lot more of that, likely had a mild concussion, needed rest and restoration, and so slowed way down.

And then… the shadow cloud moved in. I had been feeling that I was taking steps forward in many areas of my life, but that I was just on the edge. It was requiring a lot of effort to keep the hustle moving forward. With this mandate to slow down and listen to an aching body that also needed to rest and go slow, doubts and uncertainties and stories of “see what you’re NOT doing, see how you’re NOT living the world you dream of, see how you haven’t brought to life what you’ve been working towards” came flooding in.

I Am a Work in Progress

So I’m in a familiar place, and I’m not. Tears return with a smile right now. I still have so much to learn in regards to how to genuinely listen to myself, listen to and nourish my body, trust in the patterns and cycles of the universe, and show up for my purpose here on this Earth in ways that are enlivening for the world around me and the world within me. Once again, my body is speaking to me and it feels like a foreign language… clearly a language meant to reach me, but one I’m not sure how to understand. Once again, she says, “I get that this is hard for you, and you must give it your attention.

And while the dark shadow threatens to cloud my view, I recognize it for what it is. I see it’s familiar neural pathways in my existence, and I also have the strength and insight to not indulge it (or catch myself when I am). A taste of its presence comes accompanied with the reminder that this is a habit, pattern, it’s familiar and not the full truth. I am so much more than the stories it whispers to me. I can recognize its presence and yet not indulge its desire to settle into me. I can feel that it is close while also staying connected to life-giving sources that nourish and inspire me, that allow me to dance with the sparkle in life, I do not have to be shaded by life-draining habits of my psychology.

So, here I am, walking vulnerably on this path of life. Marveling at the labyrinth of the year I was 40 and curious about where I am going on this journey, which souls I will partner with as I continue to live forward my purpose, and what we will bring to life. I am so grateful for those who are on the journey with me now, living and weaving love to the fullest of our capacities. Thank you for reading my tender storytelling and heart sharing. And if it feels right for you, please join me in offering a prayer for me and for you — May we shine with the light of our souls, radiant in and devoted to our purpose here on Earth, loved, supported, protected, and divinely guided. Thank you.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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