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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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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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Do you feel this obligation calling to you?

What is needed to consciously host and work through tensions of race, power and privilege while honoring unity and diversity?

Last week I gathered with 40 practitioners of participatory hosting and facilitation around the above question. Some were like me, stepping into this space with aspects of this inquiry alive in our every day, every breath, burning scars and lighting up paths as we follow our devotion and respond to the world that is, and call to life worlds that could be. Others arrived holding the value of the question, but not necessarily feeling it burning as their own. Open to learning. Willing to support. Seeing the importance. Participating from the edges. But not necessarily their call.

And so it was asked — “What needs to shift in you for you to recognize that this IS your call?” ~ Maurice Stevens

Let me be clear, it was only white people who were on the edges.

For five days we wandered around this question, dove into it, felt the fire and discomfort at its hearth, retreated to the edges, asked and acted on “what can we do?”, shared stories, and sat with the inquiry with a spectrum of responses — awe, curiosity, timidness, courage, fear, pain, shame, anger, exhaustion, righteousness, warriorship, and so much more.

My reflections and learning will continue to reveal themselves. However, a question that is fiercely alive in me as I return home, emboldened from witnessing people in its struggle is — What needs to shift in you for you to recognize that fair and just treatment of other human beings is an obligation, a response-ability, that is calling to you?

My own learning edge is to hold with grace my own judgement about the fact that so many of us still need to be invited into this call, convinced of its importance, handled carefully as we wrestle with our ignorance and shame, pushed and nudged to pay attention to the impact on people’s lives and the history that laid the foundation for this moment we are currently living. I have been this person.

I am learning to accept the facts… make statements… name what I see… don’t try and teach… acknowledge where people are at or coming from… and do so with a clear grounding in myself — grounded in my prayers for wholeness, equality and justice, grounded in the reverence I have for the life and goodness in each human being, grounded in connection with the other, grounded in love, and grounded in my core, so as to not take reactions personally.

White Supremacy culture and white privilege are real. I will continue to see it and name it in myself and in others. This might feel painful and uncomfortable if you are not yet able to see what is being named. That’s okay. Please know that my intentions, the intentions of others who feel the burning of this call, is usually towards our collective liberation. The personal pains are because we want you on this journey with us. We feel the strength in our collective commitment.

We are stronger together. We are wiser together. We are in this together. Whether we like it or not.

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Talking About Race with Young Children

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As a teacher, I witnessed racial prejudice in 4 and 5 year olds — explicitly racist behavior from a child who lived in a home with racist beliefs and racist behavior from children who had never interacted with other children (or likely adults) who were not white. Silence is violence… in so many different ways.

Infographic by early childhood educator Jarrod Fischer Green. Full pdf here.

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And here is a very comprehensive Resource list for Talking to Kids About Racism and Justice: a list for parents, caregivers & educators

 

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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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Freedom School with Desiree Adaway

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I see a lot of people who are feeling anxious about the state of things, want to do something, and aren’t sure what to do. To really be involved in making change, we have to do our homework and understand the complexity of the situations we find ourselves in. If you are committed to ending a pattern of caring-but-not-really-knowing-what-to-do — Freedom School might be the next step for you.

Desiree Lynn Adaway is a powerful leader and educator and is offering a great service by creating this introductory exploration of the ideas and topics most relevant to understanding and navigating our current social and political landscape. Freedom School will help you develop your self-awareness and capacity to take action in ways that will create lasting impact. Check it out. Spread the word. And let me know if you sign up!

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Free Online Courses

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