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Qualities of a Powerful Conversation Across Differences

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

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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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A Conversation with White People on Race

White folks being honest about how rarely we think about our race or speak up about race and racism… and some beginning the journey of self-reflection in productive ways that could lead to more courage and compassion. 5mins.

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The Horrid History of Convict Leasing

In 1865 the 13th amendment abolished slavery except as punishment for someone convicted of a crime . The crimes that people were convicted of were ridiculous (being recently “freed” from slavery, but arrested and convicted for not yet having found employment). So convict leasing as a form of slavery continued. And basically still exists. If you don’t understand this point in history, I highly recommend educating yourself. It is critical to understanding the present moment and recognizing how much of this country was literally built by enslaved Africans and African Americans. This recent finding in the article below also further illustrates the lengths those with power have gone to in order to hide and obscure the truth of this practice and the treatment of people.

From the article: Bodies believed to be those of 95 black forced-labor prisoners from Jim Crow era unearthed in Sugar Land

” The convict-leasing system proliferated across the south in the late 19th century and into the 20th, overwhelmingly targeting black Americans picked up for offenses such as vagrancy, flirting with white women or petty theft, as historian Douglas A. Blackmon reported in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Slavery by Another Name.” The prisoners were then leased by the state to private businessmen and forced to work on plantations, in coal mines and railroads, or on other state projects — such as building the entire Texas Capitol building from scratch.

When the state leased convicts out to private contractors, they had no financial interest in the health or welfare of the people working for them,” said W. Caleb McDaniel, a history professor at Rice University in Houston. “And so the convict-leasing system saw extremely high levels of mortality and sickness under convict lessees. If the prisoner died, they would simply go back to the state and say, ‘You owe us another prisoner.’ ”

From sunup to sundown, convicts who were leased by the state to plantation owners toiled in the fields chopping sugar cane sometimes until they “dropped dead in their tracks,” as the State Convention of Colored Men of Texas complained in 1883.

Reginald Moore, started researching Sugar Land’s slavery and convict-leasing history after spending time working as a prison guard at one of Texas’s oldest prisons, and his curiosity intensified. He had a hunch. Based on what he learned, he believed that the bodies of former slaves and black prisoners were still buried in Sugar Land’s backyard.

For 19 years, he searched for their bodies, stopping just short of sticking a shovel in the dirt himself.

At the former Imperial State Prison Farm site, archaeologists have unearthed an entire plot of precise rectangular graves for 95 souls, each buried two to five feet beneath the soil in nearly disintegrated pinewood caskets. The 19th-century cemetery was unmarked, with no vestige of its existence visible from the surface.

But more crucially, he said, it vindicates the prisoners whose backbreaking work helped rebuild the state of Texas in the ruins of the post-Civil War era without so much as a proper burial to acknowledge their contributions.

“This is a completely rare site. It’s going to change how we think about Texas history and how we think about ourselves and how we built this state, how all of us built this state.”

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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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50 of the most impactful creators, artists, and activists in 2017

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Who are the people whose ideas you are listening to? Whose leadership are you following or respecting? Are you making efforts to seek out and learn from the perspectives and insights of people who have been oppressed (for generations)? If not, PLEASE DO. Your life will be better and collectively we’ll be one step closer to a better life for all of us.

Not sure who to learn from? Here’s a list of 50 impactful creators, artists, and activists whose imaginations extend beyond normalizing and affirming the same mainstream messages, folks who have taken risks and are pushing us closer to democracy being a practice not a hope, and racial inclusion being a basic starting point instead of a goal. Google any of them and find some media to consume. Let it touch your heart and activate your spirit.

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