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What We Can DO

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What can I do?
I hear so many people voicing their concern for these times and asking, “What can I do?”

Are you one of these tender-hearted people who believes in love, peace, and honoring the good in all humans? Are you afraid and possibly even paralyzed by the violence and hate that you are seeing and hearing around you? It’s real what you’re feeling. AND if your beliefs are authentic to who you are — you have to ACT also. Feeling the fear and sadness, talking about your concerns or sharing your beliefs on Facebook or with friends is not enough. We must ACT if we are serious about confronting the hate, violence, oppression and discrimination that is clearly alive and active in our local, regional, national and global communities.

Char Adams offers 4 very important things to DO. I’ve expanded on her words with my own comments.

1. Educate yourself – Google before you ask someone else to guide you. There is sooo much information on the internet – from how-to guides, the top 5 things to do, educational resources, to personal stories that show you a window into the lives of people who are different from you. Most likely you know what you are ignorant about and where you could use some education. Wether it’s what White Supremacy looks like in 2017, the racial disparities that exist in your local community, what someone means when they say they use “they/them” pronouns, or what Muslims actually believe… take time to learn.

2. Get involved locally – I have 2 big requests for locals in Asheville and I’m hoping my friends reading this will offer to help. 1. PLEASE donate money now to the Black August Bail Out Action to bail out Black women, queer and transgender folks who are still in prison only because they can’t afford bail. Info in comments. 2. Direct message me if you are free this Friday from 4:45-7 or 7-9:15 to volunteer at Downtown After Five to sell wrist bands and help raise money for a local organization, My Daddy Taught Me That. Beyond those two immediate requests, there are so many local groups wherever you live that are doing the important on-the-ground work of caring for, protecting, and nourishing people who are impacted by oppression. Wether you make calls to local people in positions of power, show up at civic meetings or the offices of public officials, volunteer on the ground, give money, or partner in another way… get involved.

3. Talk to your friends, families and peers about systemic oppression and privilege and how it effects people daily and address oppressive comments and behaviors when they come up (I amended this one) -

677625a3588698144ea69e24d52de82d425e62e1So many people think that White Supremacy is just the KKK and overt hate crimes. Yet the reality is that White Supremacy is profoundly alive in our schools, health care system, justice system, housing and transportation systems, etc. Talk to people about how the denial of home loans and housing discrimination has perpetuated poverty and allowed certain groups of people to prosper and accumulate wealth from one generation to the next. Discuss how racial profiling in policing and the judicial system and thus the disproportionate numbers of people of color and people in poverty that are incarcerated is effecting the lives of good people and destroying families. Talk about the impact of our segregated education system, the biased curriculums that so many learn from, and the impact this has on children’s lives and society at large. And be direct with your friends, family or peers when they say or do something that is racist or oppressive. Start acknowledging the jokes that are offensive or the off-handed derogatory comments. Don’t be silent. Don’t hide from difficult, uncomfortable conversations.

4. Constantly evaluate yourself – We have all been raised in a society that is steeped in ideology and behaviors of racism, superiority, oppression, privilege, etc. I seriously doubt that in the life time of anyone reading this, you will be healed from the impacts of oppression and privilege. The patterns of systemic oppression, White Supremacy, paternalism and patriarchy are powerful and insidious and we are all effected. It is a process of constant self evaluation to discover where these patterns are alive in me and how I can keep learning about myself, my beliefs, my sometimes hidden from myself biases, the ways I act that are offensive and oppressive and so much more. Don’t stop. Be courageous in your self-reflection. It may be hard to see parts of yourself that you didn’t know were there, but the liberation on the other side of that insight is so life-saving, both for you and for those in the world around you.

I thank you for caring enough to be asking yourself, “What can I do?” And I am profoundly grateful for your concrete efforts to join with others, to unite in action and grow in strength the numbers of us who are courageously committed to the liberation of all people from oppression, hate and violence. Together we can do this. May it be so.


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I’m Learning About Being a White Woman

I am devoted to creating a more loving and equitable world.
Navigating this commitment can be challenging. The purpose of this post is to share some things I am learning as a White, middle-class, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman saying yes to the challenges, staying committed to running this marathon, and making every effort to keep my heart open and to keep learning.
 
ChallengeStaying involved amidst the challenges means I am willing to face the realities of injustice and violence that folks who have been marginalized face daily and for centuries. It means recognizing when my actions play into those patterns of behavior and being humble when I make mistakes, growing beyond my sheltered life experiences, learning from my mis-steps and from others, showing up to the best of my capacity even when it’s hard and uncomfortable, bearing the emotional weight of keeping my eyes and heart open, staying active, listening deeply for what is being called of me, and remembering that the challenges I feel are nothing compared to what people of color and other marginalized folks face all the time. Lately I’ve been called out and called in for my mistakes, I’ve been mucking through the messiness of equity and justice work in a small community, and I’ve been struggling to get clear about where is ‘my place’ as a White woman committed to racial equity.

As Glenn Singleton said, “We have never lived a day without White supremacy. This will not come easily.” None of us know for sure how to create a more equitable and just world. Some have more relevant experience than others. And, as Marisol Jimenez said in a recent conversation (something to the effect of), at some level, we’re all bumbling around trying to figure this out.

Lessons I’m learning/ things becoming clearer:

  • It will get personal. Don’t stop because it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes I mess up and that sucks. People are mad or upset or frustrated with me. Relationships get strained. Some folks want to address the conflict. Some folks don’t want to address the tension and the issues don’t have closure. Sometimes I see a mistake I made and feel remorse. Sometimes I feel that I am being misunderstood. And yet, to be in the work I must accept that it will get personal, it will be uncomfortable and don’t give up when that happens.
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  • Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 2.10.41 PMAll levels all the time. My mentor and friend, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, stresses that when working together across differences, we must pay attention to and recognize that “all levels all the time” are operating and influencing one another — the personal, interpersonal, organizational, systemic, and structural. Sometimes people are upset about something that I, Ashley, did. Sometimes they are upset that I did something that “White people often do.” If I am part of a group or in a relationship with someone, I might think we are interacting strictly as people who are friends or colleagues with history to our relationship (personal/interpersonal) and I lose sight that my Whiteness is playing into the interaction (systemic or structural). As a White woman, I can forget that systemic oppression, a long history of discrimination, ignorance, defensiveness and denial can be effecting my interactions with people of color. It’s not just the intentions that I, Ashley, have when I do something. My actions also carry the baggage that comes from a long legacy of systemic ways that White people have been given access and ease, have used and abused our power, have taken advantage of other people, and the list goes on. And I am seeped in the socialization and point of view afforded me by my White skin and so there are things that I do that are hurtful and I am unaware. Sometimes I act in ways that are hurtful or harmful to another person or larger equity goals. Sometimes I take action and another person sees my actions as what White women do. The lines between what is personal and what is systemic can get blurred. And… The systemic is personal. The personal is systemic.
     
    What I have learned through many of these experiences is that when this happens, the primary thing I need to do is sit with the discomfort and keep listening. Allow it to be personal – to be about Ashley. Listen for where there is something for me to learn, where perhaps there is something that I am missing, where I am perpetuating patterns of inequity. And also to recognize in my core (and not necessarily out loud) and discern when it is about “White women” or “White people” and not necessarily just about Ashley.
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  • History matters, whether it’s history from centuries ago or from a few days ago. historypic2
    I can’t run away from the fact that the ways my skinfolk acted in the past deeply influences the way someone perceives my actions in the present. Even if I have a relationship or friendship with someone, that will not necessarily be at the forefront when I take actions that are similar to or actually are ways of oppressing other people. It is extremely unhelpful to my longterm goals if I am defensive or surprised when I am called out because my actions resemble the actions of other people with light skin who made efforts to keep power and maintain dominance. Part of being in this work is that I want to short circuit some of the entrenched historical patterns of power, money, and influence remaining in the hands of people of European descent. This means I must be keenly aware of how history is playing into the present.
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  • My view of social change is becoming clearer. I believe it will take all of us.
    My perspective is that for humans to experience freedom from oppressive systems and biased beliefs that tare apart the heart and soul of humanity, change must involve liberation for those most oppressed. And the process of getting there involves all of us working together. I am devoted to doing all that I can to cultivate a world that works for all, to bring about societies/communities/groups that operate with more equity, justice, love and compassion. When it comes to changing the dominating and destructive systems that society is currently built upon, I believe that those who have been the most marginalized and have found ways to survive and even thrive — those people are the leaders to follow. They have had to navigate outside of the dominant culture and thus their wisdom is tested and proven. Often these are folks of color. My path forward is deeply guided by the wisdom of these people. That said, I also feel that I have gifts to contribute. I am called and trust the calling that there is a place for me in liberation work.
     
    HandsMyceliumFacing my Whiteness and its implications is a mandatory first – and never ending – step in this work. Showing up with humility is a close second step. This is the pre-work required for me to be part of inter-racial, equity and justice work that has any depth and hope for developing trusting working relationships. (What else is necessary pre-work?) Sometimes it will be essential for people to gather in closed groups like all Black folks together and all White folks together or queer folks together and straight folks together. Other times it is most valuable for us to work together across our differences. In order for us to work across differences and not replicate patterns of White Supremacy and Whiteness, there is a lot of experimenting that we must do — trying out different ways of being in meetings, getting work done, making progress, listening to one another, addressing conflict, being in relationship and so much more. We haven’t done this before and it will not be easy. Marisol Jimenez caught my heart when she said “Where does mercy meet accountability meet grace meet growth?” I feel that we are all in this together and it will take all of us to see change. I am drawn to grow and build with other people who are devoted to finding those places where mercy meets accountability, meets grace, meets growth… the places where we might actually experience living as Beloved Community.

So… in this time of learning lots of lessons, I am also seeing some reactive patterns that I’m not proud of but are real. I have to learn how to navigate these urges inside of me. I’m not proud of them because I feel weak and fragile. I look at the constant onslaught of discrimination, racism, threat to personal safety, and injustice that people of color face all the time and I feel the contrast of my daily privilege. It illuminates for me how fragile I can be when things get hard. And, I have to be real that I am a sensitive human being, these are some responses that come up for me, and it is my journey to learn ways to navigate these responses.

  • Sometimes I feel paralyzed by overwhelm. I am flooded by emotional responses and reactions – both personal and systemic. I feel overwhelmed by too much stimulation from staying attuned to all that is happening for individual people and society at large. The weight of the grief and loss is crushing. I feel intimidated by the height of the mountain we are trying to climb, shook at my core by anger and sadness for the unjust and cruel systems that have so much power and control and impact on people’s lives. And I feel discouraged when I make mistakes, folks are angered by my actions, or when I can’t discern where to invest my energy and efforts.
  • Sometimes I want to shut off. Go back to my White, middle-class, the-world-generally-works-for-me bubble. I want to reconnect with my (White) friends who I feel estranged from that seem to be living such happy and joyful lives. I want to find a way to pretend, for even a moment, that the horrors and traumas aren’t happening. I want to pretend to be in a place where I don’t know how bad it really is.
  • Sometimes it just hurts and I have to sit with the discomfort. Embarrassment. Regret. Confusion. I make mistakes. My actions or presence causes pain, mistrust, agitation, or anger for someone else. My intention was ultimately to create a more loving and equitable world, but I act in ways that cause others to feel harmed or triggered. It pains me to know that I am the cause for another person’s suffering or anger. I don’t like getting it “wrong”. Perfectionism. Saving face. Being seen in a positive light. My ego gets hurt. My feelings get hurt. And I can loop in my mind. Worry.

Here’s the thing. All of this is worth it to me, because I believe that another world is possible. 2010 Tee Shirt art id 8287412
I believe that we have the power to see one another as humans and create a world that works for all of us — or at least more of us. And, I know that in order for us to get there, it will take facing these dark realities, allowing our minds and cells to be unsettled and disturbed, and being bold enough to try new things and genuinely connect across our differences. In order for us to actually embody new ways of being with each other, seeing each other, and creating social systems that are rooted in love, equity and fairness — we must see and walk away from the cultural and behavioral patterns of White Supremacy (patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, etc.). We must be unsettled by the challenges in order to truly shake off these vicious and deceptive ways of acting and perceiving. And then we must be vulnerable and courageous to experiment with new ways of showing up, interacting, and taking action.

As I continue to take steps forward, I am currently wondering — Where do my gifts fit? Some feel there is no place for White folks in racial justice work. I know that I am called to contribute to seeing change in this unjust and inequitable local community and world I am living in. In addition to continuing to work on myself, I wonder –

  • Should I focus on working with other White folks, creating spaces for education, learning, practice?
  • Should I focus on using my light skin advantage to navigate the systems of power and influence, to encourage change in institutions through working with local government, business owners, people in positions of power in our local institutions?
  • Should I focus on trying to create more economical opportunities for people of color? More equitable and fair learning opportunities for youth of color?
  • Should I be more of a worker bee, following the leadership of people of color in organizations and efforts they are leading?
  • Do I keep trying to find and build with others who are also committed to living the vision of Beloved Community, learning and practicing together, discovering what can translate into other environments?
  • Where do my skills fit? Where are my contributions valuable and where are they harmful because they are delivered through my White skin?
  • How can there be more financial support for this work, particularly for people of color, and also for folks like myself who would make this their full time job if it also covered costs of living?
  • What combination of all of the above is sustainable for me and allows me to live in ways that are healthy for my body, heart, nervous system, and quality of life?

Thank you for reading my reflections and thus being on this journey with me. Putting the content of my inner world and the complexity of what I’m learning and experiencing into words has been a task. I am sure my words are imperfect, but they offer a taste. As always I welcome your feedback, insight, curiosities and stories of your own about what you are learning these days. May more and more of us with pale skin find the courage and strength to be with the discomfort, commit ourselves to learning and changing, and find the strength and grace to be even more courageous and effective for the marathon that we are running together.

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Homework Diner in Asheville

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Feed your brain: Homework Diner program offers families dinner and academic support.

Such a beautiful offering and community collaboration. Yes!!

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Social Emergency Response Centers (SERC)

Yes. Yes. Yes. THIS!

 

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Listen to and Follow Young Leaders

Me2WeYoung people want, deserve, and need spaces where it is safe to voice their opinions and where they can talk about the issues that are relevant to their daily lives. This event on MLK day was powerful because it was designed by young people, for young people. The adults collaborating were in service to helping the students create an agenda that allowed them to have the conversations that they thought were most important. CAYLA (City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy) high school students generated a list of over 20 topics and then narrowed it down to the 7 table discussions that they hosted (safe sex, housing shortage, police brutality, discrimination in school, leadership, dealing with stress, and gender equality/HB2). In the closing circle the power of the event was felt as participants shared that they were feeling educated, empowered, inspired, motivated, hopeful, connected, that their voices mattered, and grateful for the opportunity to talk about things that don’t get talked about in regular conversation. Asheville’s young people have so much wisdom, insight, and clarity about what our community needs. It was an honor to get to learn from them. Let’s keep listening to them and giving them opportunities to lead themselves and us.

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29th People of Color Conference

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29th People of Color Conference

Sponsored by The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) as part of their commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning.

This will be my third year facilitating the White Affinity Group Sessions at this phenomenal conference.

The mission of the People of Color Conference (PoCC) is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. It equips educational leaders with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools. It also focuses on academic, social-emotional, and workplace factors that impact equitable and just performance outcomes for students and adults alike. Programing attends to the fact that human beings are complex, with needs and concerns informed by multiple identities and intersections.

Unlike most independent school settings, the majority of the PoCC attendees and presenters are people of color. The wisdom and perspective of people of color tends to be a “minority” view in independent schools (and other businesses and organizations in the U.S.). The NAIS People of Color Conference offers attendees the empowering experience of an interactional space that more closely mirrors world racial and ethnic demography.

This year’s conference is in Atlanta, GA, a fitting location given the human and civil rights challenges we face today. This event is a call to action for schools in society, calling on educational leaders at all levels, from teachers to trustees, to work together to solve the challenges we face, recognizing that collaboration is fundamental to innovation. The conference invites critical thinking about the concerns of today. Working together magnifies the capacity to confront and eliminate the implicit and explicit structures that thwart the wellbeing and performance of all members of (independent) school communities and helps to ensure the relevance and success of people of color.

POCC is designed for people of color, relating to their roles in independent schools. The programming supports people of color as they pursue strategies for success and leadership. Its focus is on providing a sanctuary and networking opportunity for people of color and allies in independent schools as we build and sustain inclusive school communities.

This event is a distinct professional development experience in the national education landscape. It provides an opportunity for educational leaders to refocus their work and learning through an equity perspective. The conference includes general sessions with keynotes, dozens of practitioner-led workshops, extensive affinity group work, and dialogue sessions.

NAIS sponsors PoCC to support the complex dynamics of independent school life and culture and the varied roles people of color play and experience in these settings.

The first National Conference for Teachers and Administrators of Color in Independent Schools was in 1986 in Reston, VA with about 100 participants. 2016 will be the 29th PoCC conference with over 3600 participants.

Affinity Group Sessions

PoCC hosts affinity group sessions to provide an opportunity for sharing and exploring your life and experiences within safe and supportive spaces defined by membership in a specific racial or ethnic identity group. Affinity group sessions are designed to help conference participants engage in conversations that matter, share successes and challenges, celebrate identities and engage freely within a space defined and protected by and for those who share race and ethnicity in common. Unlike all other conference programming (which is open to all irrespective of race and ethnicity), affinity group space derives its meaning, integrity, and transformative power from participation by same-group members. NAIS recognizes nine identity statuses for affinity groups. NAIS recruits facilitators from each of these groups to support the process.

It is important to underscore that affinity groups are not places to go “to learn about others,” even when the “other” is a participant’s child, friend, or colleague. Each of us is welcome in the affinity group space that matches our self-identified race or ethnicity. Entering any other affinity group extinguishes the safety and trust that defines them.

The overarching vision for PoCC affinity group work includes

  • facilitating opportunities for affirming, nurturing, and celebrating lived experience of affinity group members

  • discussing issues related to racial/ethnic identity development in a safe environment where people who share that racial or ethnic identity can generate community, fellowship, and empowerment

  • modeling a structure that acknowledges the complexity of race and ethnicity by encouraging affinity groups to affirm, explore, and examine intersectionality (e.g. race and gender, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation), within each community.

Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC)

At the same time as POCC is SDLC, a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9–12) from across the U.S. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community.

 

***All of the text on this page is taken from the NAIS POCC website.

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Highlights from 2013

My latest newsletter update with a glimpse into 2013 and the launch of Mycelium Learning Journey. Highlights from 2013 include:

    • The Mycelium vision continues to evolve and find form
    • The Compass Project – A one week intensive for 18-24 year olds

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