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It’s Time to Genuinely Protect ALL Children

On this Father’s Day, I am thinking about the societal role of father’s as protectors. I’m profoundly grateful for all the men who show up to protect, love and nurture young people and I’m grateful to all the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, and aunties who fill that role when the fathers aren’t able. I’m also feeling how self-centered and self-absorbed many white families are, how often the parenting of children is mostly just one’s own children and how easy it has been, across history in this country, to protect one’s own children and be silent and inactive as other people’s children are given no protection from hatred, violence, and injustice.

Today… like so many other days… my heart is with all the children who are being harmed, violated, tortured, and traumatized, those who have no real protection. Feeling this is hard.

When I saw the video of inside the Walmart detention center and they spoke about how the children are being taught lessons about America, underneath the large mural of Trump, I kept thinking about the many indigenous youth that were stripped from their families and abusively forced to assimilate to white society. Here we are in 2018. Doing the EXACT SAME THING. When I hear about the tent cities being constructed to warehouse these children without their families, I feel the Japanese internment camps. Here we are again, 2018. This is America.

As I hear that 2000 children have been forcibly removed from their families in 6 weeks, I also feel the 10,000 children that are in ADULT prisons in the United States RIGHT NOW and the 3000 youth that have LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE sentences. We have 13 states that have no minimum age for trying a child as an adult. This is America. All children are not valued. They never have been.

On this day, June 17th, 47 years ago in 1971, President Nixon declared the “war on drugs” which increased the prison population by 700%. The millions of children that have been and continue to be terrorized and traumatized by the incarceration of people of color, the incarceration of their family members, is inhumane. This is America. These children’s lives were never valued.

So I continue to wonder and strategize, to feel so many feelings and stay in the pain and motivation — What will it take for us as Americans, and particularly us white women, to finally see the horrors that are imposed upon children of color, families of color, white children living in poverty, and say “no more”? We have opted for hundreds of years to perhaps feel in our hearts that something isn’t right, but to choose to “keep things safe for our own children and families” which means — pretending that lynching is okay, pretending that we don’t see the diffrent quality of education being offered to children of color than to white children, convincing ourselves that there is nothing that we can do or believing that we are too busy and too tired trying to raise our own families to do anything, pretending that the juvinal justice system and the criminal justice system is actually serving justice and protecting people of color, pretending or avoiding the fact that immigrant children have been abducted from their parents, or their parents forcefully removed from them, for years. Pretending or avoiding the realities that Native young girls are being raped and violated. And not being concerned that many white boys are suffering from a fierce complex that causes them to brutalize and terrorize other people, feeling superior to other people.

I know that I have not personally done anything harmful to these millions of children that are being tortured and abused around the world, actions inspired by Capitalistic, White Supremacy, Patriarchical motives that are often justified by Christian beliefs. However, I do feel that the blood is on my hands. I wake up with this feeling daily. If I am not actively working to face the cruelty that has been present since the beginning of my country and doing what I can to change the reality here, my conscience does not rest.

It will take us coming together and acting in many different ways to address once and for all the horror of who we are as a country. All of us are required, those of humane conscience, the hearts of gold, the people who are genuinely all about freedom, equality, and LOVE. No one can opt out if we genuinely want to create a more humane world. And there are as many ways to participate as there are people, there is no one right strategy. If you’re still reading this, PLEASE don’t hear my words as saying — “you have to act in the ways I act.” That’s not it. But you do have to act — and find the ways that are right for you, for your family, for your abilities, for your current emotional state.

This is not an easy journey. May as many people as possible find the courage to step in, for real. May we be supported by one another as we do so. May we be motivated by, accountable to, and guided by love. May we truly feel our interconnectedness.

And if you feel inspired to do something and you don’t know what to do — one key step is to educate yourself about history. Use google. Understand the patterns that are repeating themselves right now.

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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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If Change is Why You March…

womensmarch2017Some people marched yesterday.
Marching at a Womens March illustrated numbers and allows people to feel the presence of other bodies standing up at this tim. It’s a chance to sing, chant and learn from each other, be in conversation about what is important. As my brother said, yesterday’s march was the “easy public place” to vocalize resistance or vocalize what you believe in. It was also a day for many people to be recharged and revitalized in a time when it is essential that as many of us as possible have the energy and motivation to keep acting so things will change for those who are most vulnerable at this time. If you marched, I hope it nourished and motivated you in some way that helps you stay engaged.

Some people did not march yesterday.
Some are not able to march. Some did not feel included in the purpose of the march. Some did not feel a clear purpose behind the march. Some are standing and resisting in other ways all the time and did not feel the need to march. Some saw this as an opportunity to hold people in positions of power accountable and educate about the ways officials are using their power. Some did not feel safe at the march.

I believe that the majority of Americans are unpracticed in how to stand up to the state, corporate, and institutional powers that control and govern our society. More of us continue to wake up every day, feeling the churning in our gut, the fire in our heart that says, “Things aren’t right. You have to be a part of changing things. You have a role to play in creating a future that you dream of. You are part of the solution to stop the horrors that many are facing right now.” Fortunately, elder organizers remind us that civic engagement is a skill that gets better with practice.

I am beyond grateful that we are hearing the calls. I pray that we will take risks, be bold, and turn towards one another to learn from each other about how to move forward in response to this call. I emphatically believe that the answers emerge from:

  • listening deeply to the inner voices of divine guidance
  • listening intently and responding to the guidance from those who are most impacted by the injustice, discrimination and inequity
  • working together

Nothing-changes-if-nothing-changes-252x300If you are feeling uncomfortable with the diverse perspectives around the march and how to make change, if you’re feeling uncertain about what is the “right” thing to do — GOOD. If we are not practiced in standing up for what is right, it is valuable for us to feel unsettled as we step into this territory. The habits and patterns and behaviors that have allowed us to get to this point require undoing. We need to be disoriented and unsettled so that we can connect to the solid ground of our values, be vulnerable in unfamiliar territory, and allow the fire-to-act to grow stronger within us. The more we unsettle our old ways of being, the clearer we will get. That means unsettling feelings of righteousness as well. Then we can genuinely recognize when we take steps forward that influence growing the world we dream of. A better future requires our participation now in order for it to come to life.

Thank you Chris Corrigan, for inviting me into the power of the word/practice of unsettling.

More reading:

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The Rise of Hate and Overt White Supremacy

During the election last year, I had 2 conversations with Trump supporters where I shared of my concern that Trump’s candidacy and potential election is bringing to the surface a quality of hate and violence that resembles Hitler’s era. They both responded to me with surprise, “You really believe that?” (met by my own surprise that they really couldn’t see that). Their responses to my emphatic YES were their own perceptions of how “he’s not that bad” and “folks wouldn’t take it that far.” And that’s “not what I support”. And here we are. A year of Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, and KKK activity on the rise. Horrendous murders and violence like the one below. And the continued systematic deployment of a White Nationalist agenda that lives tucked in the legalities of all of the major US systems (criminal justice, education, housing, employment, healthcare, etc.). I have not revisited these conversations with these 2 people… I should.

I strongly believe that we must be able to see and face the reality that we are living before there is any hope of transforming it to create a brighter and more compassionate present and future… for ALL people. May we find the courage to act in different ways, to make different mistakes, to honor the many lives that are lost to hate, violence and discrimination, and to summon up the bravery, imagination and wit to create a future we actually dream of. (my “we” in this post is all the people with goodness in our hearts).

Articles:

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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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Largest HBCU in the Nation Loses 50 Year Old Political Science Department

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Black folks are needed in politics and the power grabs that are happening in this country continue to be atrocious. Two conclusions that I jump to in reading this news.

NC A&T State University is the largest public HBCU in the nation. Its Political Science Department has existed for about 50 years. They just announced plans to collapse this department into another one. I imagine that move will, in various ways, involve a shift in power and resources. This seems intentionally manipulative to me. Especially in a state that appears to be the testing ground for government to explore how much they can get away with that impacts how society exists… without people noticing.

Derick Smith is a professor of political science and speaks highly of their department, “We’ve produced a lot of great students. We have a reputation for speaking truth to power, for strong advocacy and social justice. We still get students elected to office. A lot of them go on to law school.”

This move by A&T makes me think that those who currently hold power do not want black folks to be educated and wise in areas of political science. They want to disrupt social and educational systems that are addressing poverty, civil rights and civic engagement. It’s easy to jump to this conclusion as it follows the trends of US history, so many efforts to limit black folks from having access to education and participation in government.? And so one of my conclusions, black folks are needed in politics (for so many reasons).
. . .
?May we notice what is happening in institutions that shape society. May we shift the quality of leadership that holds power in these institutions. May we see more and more people stepping into this experiment of democracy and discovering if it’s possible to create a government that is accountable to serving the public interest of the greatest good.

Thank you Derick Smith for allowing the public to see that this is happening.
Thank you Joy Boothe for drawing my attention to this.
Article about this news
Derick Smith

BREAKING NEWS! After a 50 year history of serving the University, the State, Community and Nation as a highly credible, extremely competent, remarkably active academic department; the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at NC A&T State University will be COLLAPSED after this semester.

NC A&T State University, the largest public HBCU in the nation, committed to its “Preeminence 2020” goal of cultivating an environment of high civic engagement is dismantling its POLITICAL SCIENCE department.

The Margaret Spellings, Betsy DeVos, UNC Board of Governors trends continue. Long live the dismantling of the Academy; death to the NC A&T Political Science Department…death to the UNC Poverty Center…death to the UNC Center for Civil Rights…death to the NCCU Center for Civic Engagement…death to the ECU Center for Special Education….DEATH to the ACADEMY!

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Because we are wiser together…

FullSizeRender (1)Last week, 80 leaders in Chicago opened my heart and inspired me to dream a new dream about how organizing is possible in a city. The majority of these folks use conversation as a tool for invoking the wisdom of the people, and supporting the people in organizing themselves to see the change and action they know is necessary in their communities — creating safer and more just communities, creating opportunities for healing. This group of people included folks using the World Café, Peacemaking Circles, and Art of Hosting practices in school districts, classrooms, with law enforcement and youth, to increase child protective rights and trauma-informed behaviors, to bring about social and emotional learning and restorative justice.

Midway through the day, I offered a woven poem, streaming together quotes that had been said throughout the day into one collective expression. You will hear snippets from these leaders sharing stories of their work, Juanita Brown offering insight into the roots of The World Cafe, and meaningful conversations about what we are all learning and what we hear these times calling for.

Deep gratitude to Lina Cramer and Renee Jackson and all of your mates who have been building the capacity for this inspiring network of leaders over the last 10 years.

The workshop was: We Were Made for These Times: Becoming Wiser Together (invitation here).

Here’s an audio of the woven poem.

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