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Processing: Who Does the Heavy Lifting

We sit in the chairs to get educated.

Attentive. Being a good student. Listening for what we can learn.
Giving up a whole day of our busy lives — because we know this is important.

Truths revealed. Layers of our privilege glaring before us, for us to see.
Asked again and again — where is your empathy?
Perhaps some words land in a particular way,
And we allow our hearts to break.
Shame, sorrow, rage, confusion.
We feel the tremble in our own bodies.
How can this be? This is not right.

And then what?
We go back to our homes. Back to our lives.
Perhaps we think about — What can I do? What will I do?
Perhaps we make commitments, tell others to hold us accountable.
We process what we’ve heard.
Perhaps the intensity of listening and actually hearing is too much and we run away,
escape into the comfort of our familiar, into the ease of our peace.

Meanwhile. For those for whom these realities are their every breathing moment reality —
Where is the rest? Where is the escape? Where is the return to “my life”? Who fills in when they need a pause?

The hustle continues. Trying to provide safe spaces for youth continues. Alternatives to the streets, the guns, the violence. Alternatives to the classrooms and the spaces for leisure, where adult and peer eyes look at these teenagers and young people and believe they are lesser, up to no good, not as smart, not on a path to a bright future, believe that their parents don’t care. Hustling to create alternatives to narrow views of what their future could be. Alternatives to always having to live in the hustle.

These leaders are providing opportunities to experience the joys and pleasures that life can offer, to see people glowing with pride and appreciation, recognizing the unique humans that these youth are, feeling the hearts of those who believe in them, who sacrifice everything they have towards the hope of their brighter future. Experiencing opportunities to learn relevant life skills, to grow networks of people who want to lift one another up. Laughing. Dancing. Playing. Smiling.

And then the late night hours, morning news… 12-year-old killed, 18-year-old suffering from gunshot wounds. Futures pierced with the bullets of a moment’s reality. Hope for tomorrow disrupted by the corruption of today.

And again — who is present to deal with the trauma as it is unfolding. Who feels the response-ability, the obligation to be part of the solution. And who sits civilly. In our chairs. Listening. Emotion-filled, but paralyzed in our bodies. How long have we been sitting in our chairs, at our desk, running errands, staying busy… and yet…

Today, July 1st, 2018, in Asheville, North Carolina — People of Color are absolutely disproportionately carrying the weight of leading actual change in this city. They are absolutely doing the majority of the heavy lifting to bring about more safety, fairness, justice and morality in our city. They are doing the physical and emotional labor of caring for one another in a city that is ready and willing to leave people to suffer and even die rather than actually change. They are creating spaces where we — liberal white women, progressive white men, social change oriented white folks — sit civilly, listen, and perhaps even feel. Sometimes we see that we are needed and we step in with them. Usually, if we get involved, we hang around the edges or yell loudly in inappropriate places. There are too few of us who get our hands dirty, follow their lead, and use our own deep listening and discernment to recognize what is helpful and what is more harmful.

Is today the day that one more person sees that our own life and freedom and peace and comfort is actually bound to the life and freedom and peace and comfort of others? Is today the day that more of us feel the obligation to be a part of the solutions instead of sitting by silently, or only speaking up on facebook or twitter or showing up at a rally once every few months?

It is summer time. Violent crime is on the rise in this city. Police officers can harass and beat residents on camera and still be found as innocent. Community leaders are busting their asses to try and create different realities, to try and find solutions, while being the ones leading the efforts to implement those solutions AND educate the rest of us about why what they are doing is essential and necessary. Meanwhile, they work fulltime jobs and care for their own immediate and extended families.

Are we ready to get organized as a city and make significant changes that cultivate greater care and support for one another and assertively address the oppressive and discriminatory systems that are in place?

Those who are vulnerable because of the racist, classist, and oppressive systems that this country is built up need all of us to be involved. Those of us that are privileged, detached from our capacities to empathize and connect with a greater whole and humanity, our well-being requires our involvement too.

The local is the regional is the national is the global. We can build strong networks of mutual support, resilience, and evolutionary action. There is a unique role that we each have to play. This is a massive puzzle, a huge ecosystem, and each of us have something different to contribute — what’s yours to do? What’s yours to contribute?

For me, in this moment, I had to write. The urgency to want to act and yet not clear what will best serve finds an outlet in words. And with these words is prayer, my own effort to extend my hand in a gesture of “please join me”, a prayer that perhaps one person reading will feel a new spark in their heart that says  — “Yes. I’m ready now. Let’s get to work. I will be part of the change.” And prayers for peace to those that are suffering, courage and protection for those that are leading towards different realities, and prayers for the web of our connections to strengthen so that we may be collectively more effective.

And to keep it vulnerable and transparent, today I also sit with my own personal conflict — my emotions are swept by this reality and so I’m not as available to loved ones today in the ways that I had planned to be. I’m preparing for 6 days away with family, and yet I feel that organizing and activation is so needed right now. I’m nervous about the time away when I’ll feel this need to pretend to enjoy this particular holiday season that makes me cringe… and yet the loved ones gathering mean the world to me. And I’m sitting with my white woman tendencies that feel an urgency to act — like I should be doing more now.

Breathing. Prayer. One step at a time. And LISTENING DEEPLY — to the spiritual guidance that I receive and to the guidance from those I am in community with. This is why I invest in growing strong and trusting relationships.

Thank you for reading. Your reflections are welcomed (though I might not respond).

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Reflections on Power: In the Role of a Facilitator & the Body of a White Woman

john-dewey-reflection-quote-16vbfv9I recently facilitated a session where someone shared in the closing reflections that they felt dehumanized. For anyone to feel dehumanized by my actions is, for me, a fail. When I mess up, it’s imperative for me to own it, learn from the experience, act differently in the future, and make amends as best as I am able. My hope is that this public reflection will help me integrate what I am learning and potentially be valuable for people reading this (as I know I am one of many who carries the identities of a facilitator and a white woman). I am committed to facilitating with integrity and humility. Reflecting in depth on the feedback I receive is an essential part of my commitment. What follows is my perceptions and analysis. I’m sure that there is more to see from the perspective of other people who were present.

Perceptions About Power that I had Walking into this Session

When I am facilitating a group, I always hold power in the room. I guide where a group goes or doesn’t go. I hold the actual or symbolic microphone, making decisions about whose voices are heard or not heard. I take up space. I am the center of attention at times. I have influence over what is or isn’t happening in the room. Sometimes I use my power in ways that are contrary to how a person in the room would like the time to be spent. I take very seriously this facilitator’s position of power and influence and strive to use it to make equitable spaces where people are respected and able learn from each other.

problem-of-whitenessI am a white person and a White Woman. I share these identities with many other people that have historically and still currently hold social power simply because we are white. We act in all kinds of ways, intentionally or unknowingly, that hold us as superior and others as inferior. We have and still do cause trauma and harm towards people of color. Historically (and currently), white folks and White Women had the power of being listened to and believed, our word would be taken as the true word when in relationship with people who did not have as much social power as someone who looks like me. I would be listened to while others weren’t. And many, many folks who looked like me used that power to not only get what we wanted and control other people, but to actually harm other people. When I show up in a room, I am showing up as myself in that moment, and I am also showing up in the image of other people who looked like me and were allowed to be abusive, harmful, and inconsiderate, to name just a few things, towards people who did not look like me.

When I’m facilitating (and in life), sometimes people will be responding to my direct actions. Sometimes people will be responding to my actions that resemble those of people who looked like me in the past.

Another identity that I can embody is that of a White School Teacher, an archetype that has historically been abusive with its power (along with the education system at large). 80% of teachers in public schools in the United States are white and it is well researched that white teachers and the education system that white folks have created have not been fair, kind, honest, or effective in educating students of color (and some might argue all students).

As a white facilitator, particularly when working in a multi-racial setting, I must be hyper aware of my whiteness and all the ways that I am using or releasing my power and even the ways that those who looked like me have used and abused our power in the past.

What I learned in the Experience I Facilitated

  • Knowing all of that above — There was a 15-minute section of time where I forgot that I was white. I was centered on the task of facilitating a process and learning experience. I slipped into the role of a teacher. I used my power as the facilitator to teach the group something that I thought was important for them to learn. I did not realize that when I was the facilitator interrupting participants (an act that felt appropriate for what I was teaching in the moment), I was also a white woman, perhaps a white teacher, interrupting and shutting down people of color — a behavior that is very common for white people to do. In hindsight, I think if I had been holding in my awareness that I was white in that tense moment, I would have used my facilitator power in a way that did not replicate patterns of white folks using our power to oppress and silence people of color. But I forgot that I was white (a privilege and pattern that happens often for us white folks). It was a harsh reminder about how much diligence it takes to consciously disrupt habits of whiteness that are alive in me. I’ve grown up in a world that allows me to not know what it means to be white, but to just exist as “a person.” That ignorance is unacceptable if I am facilitating multi-racial groups and working towards racial justice and healing.
  • As a facilitation team, we were teaching something that the group did not give us consent to teach. This is contrary to how I like to operate, how I believe education is effective, and to my own sense of respect for learners. But I did not realize I was living that until it was too late.
  • I am reflecting on the wounds people carry from up to 25 years of schooling with white teachers that were abusive with their power. When I am facilitating and “teaching” something, how often might I be summoning up past experiences of trauma or mistrust from the white teachers of someone’s childhood?
  • I am also reflecting on — what could it have looked like for someone to interrupt and name the ways my whiteness was showing up and influencing the moment?

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What Happened — The Facilitated Experience

A social justice fellowship hired 3 consultants (a multi-racial team) to guide the Fellows (majority people of color) in a process to co-design the rest of their programming and curriculum with an allocated amount of money to work with. We facilitated:

  • Pre-session: 1-on-1 interviews
  • Session 1: Connecting, understanding the mission, the kind of learning environment that they want to experience and create
  • Session 2: Relationships with money, capitalism and collectively shaping a power analysis of what they want to amplify, interrupt and innovate
  • Session 3: Collective Decision-making process and begin designing

Session 3 is the session I’m reflecting on here. Our goal was to give the Fellows an overview of a collective decision-making process and then facilitate them through the process, highlighting the process in action along the way so that they could take over the facilitation and facilitate themselves as our contract ended after session 3. In session 1 we asked if anyone had experience with a collective decision-making process. No one raised their hand so we proceeded with the assumption that we would be offering them a process that would be new to them, something for them to experience first hand and then they could choose to use or not use it. We chose a consent-based decision-making process as the tool that we would offer.

Some mistakes that I and we made:

  • We did not explicitly get consent from the Fellows to teach them and guide them through the particular consent decision-making process.
  • Before we began practicing and using the process, I was assigned the role of explaining the process. We had created a handout and I explained the elements of the handout. My approach was very didactic teaching. In session 1, the majority of the Fellows indicated that they did not like learning in a lecture type environment. At least one Fellow indicated that they did like more traditional teaching styles sometimes. I was not listening to their request to learn by doing, but was instead taking 45 minutes to teach and explain.
  • I used my power as the facilitator and the assumptions that I had made that they were open to receiving the process and forced them to participate in the process, at times interrupting an organic flow so that I could fit their organic reactions into the process and highlight for them how to follow the steps. While I knew why I was making those choices, they did not and I think it felt like me inserting my power to control the process in the way I wanted it to go, disregarding their wishes and efforts towards shared leadership.
  • When I was using my power as a facilitator to interrupt people while they were talking and connect what they were saying to the process, not only was I forcing participation into something they didn’t consent to, I was also wearing my white skin, in a position of power, and interrupting people of color and exerting my power over people of color.

Some comments made in the closing reflections that particularly stood out to me:

  • Over-explaining is a form of Anti-Blackness
  • To point out process feels dehumanizing
  • Trust us that the work you’ve done is effective and we’ve got this
  • It felt like we were being blocked by the facilitation

I apologized for the mistakes I could see in the closing circle and I will continue to listen for ways that I can make amends for any harm that I caused. And, I think the best way for me to repair from these mistakes is to be diligent in myself about not replicating the same mistakes. I know as a white woman, my whiteness will continue to be revealed to me, and my inability to see how I am part of the problem or perpetuating problems will be illuminated. My prayers are that I keep learning, unlearning and embodying my growth and that I cause as little harm as possible. I know that I am on this journey of racial healing and racial justice for the long haul and I pray that I show up with humility and integrity, contributing in places where my presence is of value and is not a disruption to healing and justice.

P.s. This article was shared with me as a follow-up to this group: Consensus is a means, not an end.

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Solutions: Listen to the Stories. Invest.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 9.42.53 AMSolutions: Listen to the stories of those who are most impacted by inequity. Invest in organizations that are informed by and lead by those who are most impacted.

In Asheville: Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jovenes is one of those organizations.

“I’ve been wanting a place where youth can just be themselves,” said 14-year-old Serenity Lewis

“It’s kinda helping youth of color get their voice out within the community. We’ve all noticed there’s a problem, and we want to go at it and fix it, or try to.” – Quantasia Williams, 18 years old

Listen to this segment about them on public radio.

 

 

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Earthseed Series with adrienne maree brown

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 10.07.02 PMSo much goodness in this podcast about Octavia Butler, her books, particularly the Earthseed Series, Emergent Strategy and fierce guidance for liberation movement work. Continued gratitude to Adrienne Maree Brown.

Key Questions in the podcast:

  • Who was Octavia Butler?
  • What are the lessons of Acorn, the post-apocalyptic community that was created in Parables?
  • What does it mean to shape chaos?
  • How do these books teach us about resilience? survival? Love?
  • What can people do to practice radical compassion and empathy?
  • What does it mean to practice humility and create space for everyone when it might also mean that we let in potentially harmful people?
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Indigenous Youth Leaders & Man Camps

These indigenous youth are badass. So much important information here. Their analysis, leadership and journalism is powerful and clear. They have updates about Keystone as well as other significant things to be aware of. Worth listening to all 27 minutes.

Do you know any farmers in Nebraska?

Keystone XL Pipeline Update from the NoKXL Gathering 2017 in Kul Wicasa Territory -Lower Brule, SD.
Youth voices from:
Seeding Sovereignty
Indigenous Environmental Network
International Indigenous Youth Council – Denver Chapter

I did not know about “man camps” until these videos and their correlation with missing Native women. This is disgusting and unfortunately extremely easy to imagine a sex trafficking industry and violence surrounding temporary housing for oil workers. More about Man Camps.

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Restorative Justice with Juvenile Cases

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“Our system has proven woefully inadequate, so we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing.” Said Jimmy Hung Chief Prosecutor for Juvenile courts in King County (Seattle, Washington). He doesn’t see evidence that jailing them changes anything. He’s most concerned about a system that funnels teenagers through detention and sees most leave no better than when they arrived — sometimes far worse.”

Last week I got to catch up with an old friend and someone whom I deeply respect and am honored to learn from and with, Saroeum Phoung. Honestly, he blew my mind as he shared about the incredible work they are doing in King county… on a systemic level and impacting the lives of thousands of people. Below is more from the articles:

Prosecutor Hung and his colleagues in King County took a risk and began implementing Peacemaking Circles, a form of restorative justice, for both misdemeanor and felony juvenile cases, working with lead consultant (and phenomenal human being) Saroeum Phoung from Pointonenorth Consulting LLC.

“The peacemaking process promises a clean start in return for hard conversations, intensive self-reflection, empathy-building and public amends.

“What people don’t realize is that this restorative justice work is harder than going to jail!” – Saroeum Phoung.

Getting the teen to connect his victim’s experience with his own feelings for family had been an essential goal for peace-circle leader Saroeum Phoung.

“There’s a solid amount of kids that this won’t work for — kids who think ‘I’m a gangbanger, and that’s all,’ ” said Vincente, now 18, who was a senior at Ingraham High School when he threatened another student, over social media, with a semi-automatic weapon.

Vincente met with the mother of his victim.

“I saw a lot of my mom in her, and I really began to understand what my actions had done to their whole family,” he said. “I thought it was just going to be why I’m a bad kid, but it turned out to be about fixing my family, too, getting at the root of why I was struggling. That’s really what it’s about.”

“If we can see kids enter the system and actually come out better on the other end,” Hung said. “That’s what we should be striving for.”

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Rosh Hashanah and Being Alert to the Raw Truths

Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah. Thanks to Phyllis Utley I was able to attend services. The Rabbi spoke of the symbolism of blowing the shofar (a ram’s horn). Its sound is raw and piercing. It sounds pained, like crying. It is also a triumphant sound of joy and celebration.

She told us that it’s meant to remind us to pay attention and be alert to the raw truths happening around us. To listen to people when they tell their own stories.

To hear the cries of those who are suffering. To hear the mothers wailing for their lost children, even if their children are your enemy.

In her sermon, she connected this to the need for us to hear the declarations that Black Lives Matter and the accounts of how Palestinian people are suffering. We must listen to their stories in their own words. We must allow ourselves to hear and feel their cries.

I had thought I would write more about this sermon, but life took another turn. Here is a letter that she read fully during her sermon.

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