What happens when thousands of racial justice leaders and practitioners come together after a pandemic? So much power and knowledge-sharing – and plenty of dancing and hugs, and even a few martinis!
At the 2022 national Facing Race Conference in Arizona, sponsored by Race Forward, participants were graced with gratitude for their work for racial justice, invited to be even bolder in our approaches, and instructed to avoid internal implosions at a time in which our organizations and the movement are needed the most.
I heard five important calls-to-action:
Backlash Means We’re Winning. Keep Going!
We’re winning! The number of people of color leading and pushing change in institutions is at its highest levels. We see movement wins such as the growing people of color electorate and the halt of the Keystone pipeline. The use of the word “systemic racism” is now commonplace. We were encouraged to keep pressing forward and harder to break through on our biggest ideas. Opening plenary speakers said, “Fight for your impossible idea… and let us dream and fail.”
Get out of Isolation. It’s Time for Reconnection!
We’ve become accustomed to quarantine and staying close to home but we were encouraged to move out of our comfort zones. Specifically, we were reminded to talk to people at their doors and to bring them back into protests and visible organizing. One speaker said, “we have to retrain people, including ourselves, to interact again, especially in person and in public.” At IISC, our mission is creating skills for collaboration and interaction. We’re exploring how we can enter and hold physical spaces with care while still centering those at risk from COVID through an equity and disability access lens.
Don’t Underestimate White Nationalism. Expose and Bring it Down!
As distinct from the ideology of white supremacy, white nationalism is coordinated and direct action fueled by hatred and violence. Organization-building to support white racist and anti-semetic attacks and violence is on the rise and getting very sophisticated. From Boston to Michigan and Florida, leaders pointed to overt and well-organized actions in their communities from white nationalist organizations. They encouraged us to work with community organizations, government leaders, and neighbors to develop strategies to prevent their inroads and to frame messaging to drown out their discourse.
Stop Internal Organizational Implosions. Build Organizations on Soul Work!
We heard a loud and clear call for each person inside an organization to take responsibility for extinguishing the internal fights we are waging against each other so we can focus on the external fights for justice. No organization, person, or leader is perfect so we can’t cast each other to the curb in punitive and harmful ways, stay in victimization, attack each other, and fall into gossip. They asked us to build our organizations so people can do their soul work and be liberated to do work with joy and happiness.
Move Forward. Live into Possibility!
I was struck that you barely heard the name “Trump” around the conference. The focus was on moving and organizing for what we want and imagine. Not that we don’t pay attention to the war on our democracy and progressive values but that we go in the direction of creating even more conditions for change and living good personal lives as we do it. IISC held a workshop at the conference on fighting the return of the old normal by envisioning and leading for liberatory systems and racial justice transformation. We produced a resource guide to help you and other organizations do that while attending to the current challenges before us. Check it out.
In summary, we have power, we’re winning, and we need to reconnect and get our own house in order. Now that’s a push we at IISC appreciated and definitely needed, and maybe you feel that way, as well. We hope to see you at the next Facing Race conference in 2024.
IISC was thrilled to host a workshop at the Facing Race Conference 2022 called “Let’s fight the return of the ‘Old Normal!’ – Leading for liberatory systems and racial justice transformation.”
The workshop was offered on the Institutional and Sector Change track, which “is a home for practitioners from a wide range of sectors wanting to get real about transforming how our institutions operate in order to dismantle structural racism and generate racially equitable outcomes.”
We created a space where participants could take a breath, experience something new – a space that was infused with joyful music and where they were surrounded by provocative art and quotes and could imagine a more beautiful future. Here’s a brief workshop description, followed by a link to a resource guide that we hope that you will use and adapt.
Are you fighting the “return to normal”? Unsure about what “new normal” looks like? Marian Wright Edelman taught us that, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” So we’re going to spend some time trying to see the new normal together. These past few years have taxed racial justice leaders and organizations in unimaginable ways. Join us for a moment of collective hope. We’ll co-create visions of racial justice in practice, sharing stories that feed our collective imagination. We’ll strategize about leading our organizations and networks out of “old normal” white supremacist systems and practices toward liberation and transformation. We’ll share tools for helping leaders to demand, envision, and build more liberatory and racially just futures. We’ll raise up structural and organizational strategies for creating a new normal of moving from trauma to racial justice transformation in organizations, workplaces and networks. Together we can fight going “back to normal” using the greater strength of both vision and strategy to bend the arc of society to transformative futures.
Check out IISC’s new resource guide that shares some of the prompts, practices, and artwork that were featured in the workshop. Please use the comments function below to let us know how you are using the resources offered here and what you are learning by offering this opportunity to others. We hope the resources are useful in support of your own visioning and your own practice!
What these and many other networks that I am working with, have in common, is a commitment to social (and particularly racial) equity, characterized in large part by a vision of equitable wellbeing and a deeply rooted sense of belonging for all people, in food, public health, legal aid, and related fields. The Full Frame Initiative has developed a robust body of work, that brings nuanced attention to what supports individual and collective wellbeing, systemically. This includes focused attention on different domains of wellbeing, as well as a set of principles that are meant to help people design systems that give everyone access to wellbeing.
Inspired by FFI’s work, I took their set of principles and turned some of what was presented as a set of descriptive statements into questions that might help different kinds of social service providers and policymakers integrate wellbeing into their work. Curious to know which of these catch people’s attention, and what they might and or adjust for their particular system change work.
Principle 1: Start with what matters to people: wellbeing.
Are our decision-making processes being informed by the lived experiences and expertise of people receiving services/most negatively impacted?
Are we defining people by the issues they are facing? Are we seeing them as whole people with their own strategies for navigating systems?
Are we asking people, and especially those who have been historically marginalized, to make unsustainable tradeoffs in our service models/policy work?
Are our services trauma-informed and culturally responsive, recognizing the different challenges and values at play in people’s lives?
Are we focusing on the level of the family and/or community, not just the individual?
Principle 2: Design and implement with, not for.
Are we partnering with community to vision and frame issues, rather than engaging community for feedback around solutions designed by others?
Are we ensuring that those most impacted dictate what matters, rather than externally determining what “should” matter?
Are we shifting power to community and shift risk and burdens out of community?
Are we allowing communities to be complex and non-monolithic?
Are we valuing- not exploiting- people’s and communities’ vulnerability and shared experience?
Principle 3: Push against harms in communities already facing the greatest adversity; support healing and regeneration.
Are we reaching/considering the least resourced/capitalized communities in our area?
Are we respecting Indigenous and informal cultural norms and values?
Are we collecting data on structural/systemic barriers and how people receiving services/most negatively impacted work around these barriers?
Are we addressing biases in expectations for the outcomes of those receiving services/most negatively impacted?
Are we explicitly supporting healing and tying our work to shifting harmful patterns of the past?
Are we supporting and creating space for creative solutions, including from those receiving services?
Principle 4: Foster and build on social connections and social capital.
Are we supporting people helping people before adding programs to help people, including removing obstacles to family/community members helping one another?
Are we enabling and enhancing social networks in our policy work, especially for those receiving and providing services/most negatively impacted?
Are we building on and not undermining social connectedness, belonging and social capital in community?
Are we supporting bridging and linking capital (relationships that connect us across differences of identity, experience and power), not just bonding capital (relationships with those most like us)?
Are we focusing less on individual change and considering how changes in relationships between and among people might be more useful?
Principle 5: Span boundaries.
In our services/policy work, are we leveraging different and diverse aspects of the human experience, including arts, culture and joy?
Are we seeking out uncommon partners and solutions?
Are we Integrating with and advocating across other systems, leveraging other fields and sectors?
Are we identifying and illuminating when policies of one system (including the one in which we work) create barriers in other systems for those receiving our services?
Principle 6: Build (on) assets and innovation.
Are we striving to preserve innovations sparked by the pandemic and/or other crises?
Are we ensuring that our services/policies we are advancing do not require (further) financial sacrifice and that they do support or connect to others supporting financial wellbeing?
As we provide direct services, are we also attending/connecting to anti-poverty work and programs?
Are we addressingpolicies that undermine people’s and communities’ ability to accumulate wealth, knowledge, data and other kinds of capital?
Are we starting with what communities already have and diligently seek ways to avoid circumventing what works well, as defined by the people who are impacted?
Are we hiring/compensating people with lived experience in navigating structural challenges?
This post is a continuation of the one that appeared earlier this week (Tuesday, November 29th), and together both form an extended article that was written for participants of this month’s Wellbeing Summit, hosted by the Full Frame Initiative.
What is network weaving?
“A network weaver is someone who is aware of the networks around them and works to make them healthier.”
June Holley (writer, activist, network consultant)
Network weaving is an umbrella term for the practice of network leadership/stewardship, and it refers to a specific role. If you think about weaving with fabric, it is about bringing different strands together to create a tapestry or cloth of some kind. This can create beautiful patterns, functional garments, and also strength where individual fibers might otherwise be relatively weak. The same goes for weaving connections between people, places and ideas. This is what network weaving is about!
Network weaving is not necessarily the same thing as networking. Networking is generally about putting oneself at the center and making connections to others that create what is called a hub-and-spoke network (see middle image below).
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.” It’s always about critical connections.”
– Grace Lee Boggs (author, social activist, philosopher)
A core activity in network weaving is what is called “closing triangles.” This happens, for example, when we connect people we know who do not already know each other. This effectively creates a triangle of connection (see the many triangles created through the connections in the left hand image above). These triangles, by extension, can bring the connections that those three people know together, potentially creating more diversity, intricacy and robustness in a larger network (see image below). This is how we can begin to realize a sense of abundance, if these many connections are actively engaged, sharing, contributing and caring for each other and the whole network.
The work of network weaving is also about strengthening existing connections, keeping them warm and engaged. This can happen through activities such as asking questions, making requests and offers, and sharing resources of different kinds. Beyond this core function of supporting greater connectivity, network weaving can also be about supporting greater alignment and coordinated or emergent/self-organized action in networks. Other key moves for weaving and activating networks can include:
designing and facilitating processes to achieve a sense of shared identity/destiny
curating a variety of resources for and diverse communication pathways between members
creating conditions for self-organized and emergent action
helping to coordinate joint ventures
What do networks and network weaving have to do with having a fair shot at wellbeing?
“Connectedness is a social determinant of health. The degree to which we have and perceive a sufficient number and diversity of relationships that allow us to give and receive information, emotional support and material aid; create a sense of belonging and value; and foster growth.”
– Katya Fels Smyth (wellbeing/justice advocate, Full Frame Initiative founder)
Wellbeing, as defined by the Full Frame Initiative (FFI), is “the set of needs and experiences that are universally required in combination and balance to weather challenges and have health and hope.” FFI notes further that everyone is wired for wellbeing, but we do not all have a fair shot at the core determinants of wellbeing, or what FFI uplifts as the 5 Domains of Wellbeing.
Social connectedness to people/communities that allows us to give and to receive, and spaces where we experience belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
Stability that comes from having things we can count on to be the same from day to day and knowing that a small bump won’t set off a domino-effect of crises.
Safety, the ability to be ourselves without significant danger or harm.
Mastery, that comes from being able to influence other people and what happens to us, having a sense of purpose and skills to navigate and negotiate our life.
Meaningful access to relevant resourceslike food, housing, clothing, sleep and more, without shame, danger or difficulty.
The first domain above has clear connections to networks and network weaving. Being embedded and engaged in supportive social networks is a great contributor to individual and collective wellbeing! Beyond this, being connected to others in authentic, caring and mutually rewarding webs of relationships can contribute to a sense of stability, safety, purpose, as well create access to resources (financial and otherwise) that sustain and enliven us. So let’s notice the networks around us, who is in them and who is not, who has access to the five domains (see above) and who does not, and invite others to do the same. Ask, “What systemic changes need to be made for greater inclusion, equity and belonging?” And then together, let’s weave our way to everyone having a fair shot at wellbeingll!
“i think of movements as intentional worlds … not as an unfolding accident of random occurrences, but rather as a massive weaving of intention. you can be tossed about, you can follow someone else’s pattern, or you can intentionally begin to weave and shape existence.”
Last week, the REACH Fund (the Racial Equity to Accelerate Change Fund of Borealis Philanthropy) invited us all to participate in the building of a collective muscle that reflects the future we envision. With Kelly Bates from Interaction Institute for Social Change and Natalie Bamdad from Change Elemental leading the way, we explored the journey of racial equity, trends we should anticipate, and what’s needed from philanthropy to elevate and prioritize this vital work.
Here are a handful of high-level learnings the REACH Team shared after the conversation with Kelly and Natalie:
We must expand our lens for the type of work that contributes to the advancement of racial equity. Racial equity work is about more than toolkits and evaluative reports—it is about data and also storytelling, relationships, process, design, healing, and implementation. As funders, we must acknowledge the value and breadth of this work and its unique component parts.
The pie is big enough for everything. Funders must abandon a scarcity mindset in funding racial equity work and choose multiple streams of work to resource. The potential for change is limitless when we collectively approach our work with abundance.
Racial equity work is reparations. Racial equity work is reparatory work. As funders, we have to acknowledge the source of concentrated wealth, incorporate this history into our funding decisions, and let resources “flow like a river.”
Philanthropy must grapple with the scale of transformation needed. Part of “readiness” for radical racial equity work is understanding the depth of engagement required to untangle the impacts of white supremacy on our organizations and ourselves. Racial equity work is not one-off, project-based work. It is a years-long journey and a vision that must be embedded into the core of our organizations.
We have to design for the future we envision. Ultimately, racial justice requires we exist to serve the future we envision—not simply act against oppressive and oppositional forces. We must center our vision for the future in our organizations’ racial equity journeys and missions.
The REACH Team also shared that they were meditating on a lesson they learned long ago—one that speaks to their Fund’s very existence, which they are reminded of repeatedly: the work of racial equity practitioners is vital to leading the movement ecosystem towards liberatory principle and practice. The wisdom, approach, and tools of these facilitators, coaches, and healers are essential to supporting the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to dismantle and repair the systems designed to uphold white supremacy—and, importantly, to do so in a way that centers healing and joy.
The following post was written for those who will be attending the Full Frame Initiative’s (FFI) Wellbeing Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina December 11-14. The Interaction Institute for Social Change has been supporting FFI staff and signers of the Wellbeing Blueprintin developing network ways of thinking and doing as they work to equitable wellbeing in systems ranging from health care to transportation to housing to education to legal aid to food and beyond. Feel free to sign the Wellbeing Blueprint by going to the link above and join the movement to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at wellbeing.
“It really boils down to this: all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (minister, activist, civil rights leader)
What are networks, and why should we care?
Networks are collections of “nodes and links,” different elements that are connected to each other. These nodes or elements could be people, places, computer or airport terminals, species in an ecosystem, etc. Together, through their connections, these nodes create something that they could not create on their own. This is what some might call “collective impact” or what network scientists call “net gains” and “network effects.”
“While a network, like a group, is a collection of people, it includes something more: a specific set of connections between people in the group. These ties are often more important than the individual people themselves. They allow groups to do things that a disconnected collection of individuals cannot.”
– Nicholas A. Christakis (sociologist, physician, researcher)
Network effects and net gains can include the following (see image below):
Resilience – The ability for a network to weather storms of different kinds, literal and metaphorical, and to bounce back from adversity. Healthy networks can bend without breaking.
Adaptation – The ability for a collective to change with changing conditions. Healthy networks can rearrange themselves to adjust and respond to disruptions and perturbations.
Small World Reach – The ability to reach others relatively quickly, across different lines of separation or difference (geography, culture, sector, etc.) . Healthy networks have a diversity and intricacy of pathways, so there are a variety of ways to reach many different nodes/members efficiently.
Rapid Dissemination – Related to reach, this is about the ability to get crucial resources out to a wide variety of nodes in a timely manner. Healthy networks can ensure that different members can get the nourishment (information, ideas, money, food, etc.) they need to survive and thrive.
“Connections create value. The social era will reward those organizations that realize they don’t create value all by themselves. If the industrial era was about building things, the social era is about connecting things, people, ideas.”
-Nilofer Merchant (entrepreneur, business strategist, author)
Other “network benefits” can accrue to individual nodes or members of a network. For example, when surveying members of different kinds of social change and learning networks, some of what often gets mentioned as benefits include:
Being with other people who inspire and support me
Learning about topics relevant to my work
Understanding the bigger picture that shapes and influences my work
Gaining new tools, skills and tactics to support my work
Having my voice and efforts amplified
Accessing new funding and other resources
Forming new partnerships and joint ventures
What is a healthy network?
“We are the living conduit to all life. When we contemplate the vastness of the interwoven network that we are tied to, our individual threads of life seem far less fragile.”
A healthy network is one that is able to achieve its collective purpose/core functions, while also addressing the interests of its members, and continuing to be adaptive to changing circumstances. Some key features of these kinds of networks include:
Intricacy of connections(many pathways between nodes)
Common sense of purpose or mutuality; a sense of a “bigger we”
Robustness of flowsof a variety of resources to all parts of the network
Shared responsibility for tending to the health and activity of the network
Resilient and distributed structure(s)with a variety of shared stewardship roles
A sense of equitable belonging and ability to give to/benefit from the network
Ongoing learningand adaptative capacity
Like any kind of living organism, networks require care and feeding to keep them vibrant. This is where network weaving comes into play! More on this in the post to follow on Thursday, December 1st …
This post is a revision of one that was shared on June 11, 2020. The poem has been revised.
As the world tries to return to the “old normal” of racism in every facet of our life, or to the exhaustion from an overproducing system, let’s resist it fiercely and walk into the next one hundred years together in the spirit of new creation and norms.
May this poem that I wrote be a source of vision and inspiration.
Let not the slow creep of the old return
Like childish feet come slipping through your doorways
Look in the direction of the sun
Remember the lessons of staying in place?
Wading into presence
Tending to family
Resting your breath
Slowing your heart to hear cries of “I Can’t Breathe”
For the futures of humankind
Erase the “old normal”
Walk toward the light
Grieve the long path of injustice you were in
And stand upright
There can be no turning back
You can look over your shoulder and peek once in awhile
But there is no freedom behind you
Greed, exhaustion, and oppression live there
You said you wanted change in your lifetime?
Keep walking forward
Keep pausing to hear your heartbeat
To hear the people in the streets
And create the next 100 years
And you will not return
Because we will rise forward with the force of 100,000 horses galloping
Tens of thousands of drums pounding
And a Planet alive with millions dancing
Life spilling over into our lineage of children
With Earth healing
We will reclaim the Earth!
And live into a future we’ve never been to before.
IISC is delighted to share that a number of our staff will have the opportunity to attend this year’s Facing Race National Conference, presented by Race Forward. Enthusiasm for this flagship racial justice convening is popping, especially given that it’s happening in person for the first time since 2019.
We are looking forward to being in community with other racial justice practitioners as we gather to gain a deeper sense of what is needed in this moment and how we at IISC – both individually and collectively – can best contribute. We’re also excited to hear from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, now our fellow Bostonian in his role as director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research.
In addition to attending the conference as participants, members of our team will also be leading workshops!
IISC President Kelly Bates and Director of Practice Miriam Messinger are co-leading a session – Let’s fight the return of the “Old Normal!” – Leading for liberatory systems and racial justice transformation – in which they will lead participants through a process of co-creating visions of racial justice in practice and strategizing about leading our organizations and networks out of “old normal” white supremacist systems and practices toward liberation and transformation.
IISC Senior Associate Cynthia Silva Parker is co-leading a workshop with Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Executive Director of Building Movement Project on behalf of the Deep Equity Practitioners Network. Real Talk About Building Organizational Capacity for Racial Equity: A peer exchange. The workshop will offer people who facilitate learning, strategy development, healing, team building, coaching, organizational change, and more to advance racial justice an opportunity to build community and share ideas about engaging tough issues – from getting past performative efforts and moving toward liberation to helping organizations embody racial justice in their operations as well as their programming.
We are committed to sharing reflections once we attend and process the conference experience. Stay tuned!
“We now know what each other is made of. We can start weaving this beautiful tapestry, this community.”
“I don’t want to wait another 8 months until we are back in person!”
“I want others to know about this. I’ve never experienced anything like this. Others should know about this.”
The three quotes above came from participants in the newest Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Network Leadership Institute cohort, at the close of our opening session two weeks ago. After a year of doing an on-line only Institute, we made the decision to move to a hybrid model for this sixth annual offering, launching and concluding in-person during the warmer months (September and June) and going on-line for five sessions during the colder months late fall through early spring 2023.
Like so many, we weighed many considerations before making this choice. As one participant said during the session, “Many of us had to push through vulnerabilities to be here.” Ultimately we felt we really needed to tap into the power of the in-person gathering to ground people and set an energetic tone for the rest of the program. Many conversations were had about COVID protocols that would ensure safety without being overly onerous. This ended up including a wrist band system (see photos below), testing the day before, at arrival and after upon returning home (tests provided by the program), meeting for the bulk of the time outdoors in a tent with plenty of ventilation, light and spacing, and making masks available for those who wanted them, when we met or ventured indoors.
The tone we aimed to set from the outset was one of community care and belonging, acknowledging that for some this would be a new and welcome experience, and others may well be feeling anxious and uncertain. Hosting is always a spirit we aim to bring to the Institute, whether in-person or virtual, and includes working to ensure that everyone feels welcome and that their well-being is front and center. This included providing clear information on the front end around expectations and supports, a warm welcome upon arrival, a care package of local/regional food items (appropriate to our common work), keeping food and beverages available and setting a tone of ease and enjoyment (fidget items on tables, art supplies and a diverse music playlist).
More recently, the network has honed its focus on four overlapping impact areas as its unique and essential contribution, complementing those of its partners in the region, to bringing the FSNE vision and values for food system transformation to life. The Network Leadership Institute (NLI) is an outgrowth of both Network Building & Strengthening as well as Racial Equity & Values Leadership, but also touches on the other two areas as well in its content.
From the start, we knew that the main value of any kind of leadership development program would be in the people that came together and the relationships they built with one another. You only need to read about the current cohort to feel how much potential there is in simply creating opportunities for these individuals to connect and identify as more of a collective! From there, we were interested in connecting those involved in the program with other values-aligned change agents in the region. In addition, we looked at giving people an experience of different and diverse places in our region (rural, urban, coastal) and to see their work in a regional context. Lastly, we wanted to offer an opportunity for participants to hone their skills as collaborative/network leaders and social (especially racial) equity champions.
This year’s program integrates all of these elements, again with a particular theme of care and welcome. What we heard from this year’s cohort was how this was very much appreciated and built over the course of the more than 24 hours we were together. Here are some highlights of the programmatic progression that were intended to contribute to our themes of care, trust, truth and belonging:
We began by breaking bread together, at small tables, in the tent. Good food, relaxing music and informal introductions were meant to help people land softly.
We formally opened, as we generally do during FSNE gatherings, with an offering and a grounding exercise. The offering might be a poem, a quote, a song, a short story, a dance …. We read one of our favorite stanzas of poetry from William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” (see below), again to set a tone for the session, and then led people who were interested (making sure to let people know it was voluntary) through an embodied exercise to ground bodies/nervous systems, honor feelings and any thoughts people might be having as we got going.
We were joined by NLI alum Rachel Sayet, a Mohegan tribal member, Indigenous educator, essential oil crafter and Reiki practitioner, to provide some background on the land on which we were meeting and the history and present of Indigenous peoples who have stewarded them. This included the terrible and truthful telling of the actions of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, for whom the town in which we were meeting is still named, as well as efforts by indigenous educators and students in the area to reclaim their foodways and advance food sovereignty.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
We introduced everyone to the Welcome Table ritual, through which people share objects that are meaningful to and say something about them, and share a bit of that story. At the end of our session, participants are invited to take their object back and say what they have gained during their time with the group. People always remark how “deep” this goes very quickly in helping people get a sense of one another.
We collaboratively built community care agreements, by consensus, first by inviting people to consider their self-care practices and then inviting them into conversation with one another about what might support the entire “village.” We guided them through one of the Liberating Structures practices known as 1-2-4-All for this.
We introduced people to a brief history of the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute, the Backbone Organization (convenor, coordinator, communicator and fundraiser) for Food Solutions New England, how it defines “sustainability” broadly (including cultural diversity and social equity) as well as the history and current reality of FSNE. In presenting this, we made clear that this new cohort was already a part of FSNE and we welcomed their contributions not just to the Institute, but its various other programs and initiatives.
We started our second day by sharing a land acknowledgment in the form of a poem (another favorite – “Being Human” by Naima Penniman) that personalizes our connections to the Earth).And we shared an offering with some of the same themes in the form of a quote by Penobscot educator and advocate Sherri Mitchell ((Weh’na Ha’mu’ Kwasset) from her book Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change(see below), which encourages the reader/listener to attune to the rhythms in the natural world for greater ease and alignment.
“When we merge our internal rhythms with the rhythms of creation, we develop grace in our movement, and without thought or effort we are able to slide into the perfectly choreographed dance of life.”
On our second day we also invited offeringsfrom the cohortmembers, whoever felt moved to do so. There were three – a short personal story, a reading and a poem. We look forward to more over the course of our next six sessions!
We invited people to get artistically expressive through illustrating their River of Life– with crayons, pencils, markers – and naming where they are in their leadership/change agency journeys. They then were invited to share these in trios and talk about how they want the Institute to support them moving forward, and what their intentions were for learning from and contributing to the program and one another’s journeys.
We delved into Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, our collaborative skills curriculum for the program, and led off with the practice of “Balancing Dimensions of Collaborative Success: Results, Process, Relationship.” This practice includes a small group challenge exercise (building a tower) that tends to bond people (lots of laughter) and helps them think about the trust, care, truth and belonging that is needed to ensure long-term “success” in collaborative change work.
Mutual trust, holistic care, truth-telling and equitable belonging. Those words were expressed throughout our first session in one form or another, in word and in deed, by the hosting team, guests and by the participants. It was evident how these were not just ideas, but becoming part of the collective body that will carry this program and network forward, as we move into an on-line season. “That’s okay,” said one participant,” as some bemoaned going back to more life on Zoom, “we know each other now. That will stay with us.” And we are delighted to already see one subset of the group looking to meet in person soon in the southeast of our region.
This is how we do and will do it, as the poet Marge Piercy writes in two stanzas of her poem “Seven of Pentacles” (see below image) …
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses. Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving. Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in, a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen: reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in. This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always, for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.
In middle and high school, I challenged (and most likely annoyed) my teachers around this time of the year. I went to school in Plymouth, MA and wondered out loud why Native Americans would want to celebrate Columbus Day. “Shouldn’t it be a day of mourning for them?” I’d ask. I don’t recall any teacher having a good answer to my question or even being willing to engage in meaningful dialogue. I’ve always been a little proud of myself for having some level of consciousness at that age. And, I’m well aware that there is so much more to learn and to do.
Indigenous People’s Day isn’t just another three-day weekend. It’s a great opportunity to honor Indigenous people and to recognize and grieve the genocide and land theft that is at the heart of the founding of this nation. It’s a day to tell a more truthful story about the founding of this nation: the story of how the land that is now the U.S., which became the basis for wealth and well-being for the original settlers and their descendents, was stolen, swindled or taken by force. We Shall Remain and Unnatural Causes Episode 4: Bad Sugar provide powerful reminders of that history and connections to present-day conditions. Honestly, the more I learn, the more I feel regret, shame, and powerlessness to redress the wrongs. After all these years, I am still looking for ways to be an effective ally to Native American communities and to leverage the considerable privilege that being a U.S. citizen affords me.
Indigenous People’s Day is also an important opportunity to learn what Indigenous communities are doing in the present day and what it means to decolonize. It’s an opportunity to live into solidarity. For me, one powerful step in that direction has been learning from and participating in small ways in the Decolonizing Wealth Project, from which I borrowed the title of this post. The project asks:
“Are you a decolonizer?”
“Are you fighting for a more just and sustainable world? Are your efforts to bring about change rooted in a deep love for humanity and the earth?”
My response? Yes, I am fighting for a more just and sustainable world. Yes, my efforts to make change are rooted in a deep love for humanity and the earth. And yes, I have a long, long way to go to call myself a decolonizer.
This year I’m revisiting Edgar’s seven steps to healing and challenging myself to apply them more consciously and consistently in my practice and my life. The steps are so straightforward. They are simple to state and oh, so challenging to do. (No spoilers here! Get the book and find out what the steps are.) As I reviewed them recently, I realized how often I skip past some of the steps and sometimes even practice their exact opposite. I invite you to join me in digging deeper, reflecting more honestly, loving harder, and practicing grace with oneself and with others more often. How will you open yourself to being guided by Indigenous wisdom as we seek to heal divides and restore balance?
IISC is honored to share that we were selected as a finalist in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion category of the 4th annual .ORG Impact Awards. This program – sponsored by the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the people behind .ORG – honors and celebrates inspiring mission-driven organizations and leaders from around the globe that not only demonstrate a passion for making the world a better place, but also work tirelessly to create a positive impact in their communities. IISC is pleased to be one of only five finalists in this category – selected from a record number of submissions from around the world.
The winners in each category will be announced on November 15 and we will certainly be even more delighted should we win that final honor (along with a cash prize!). That said, regardless of the outcome, IISC is pleased with this recognition as a finalist and will be happy to celebrate with the winner should it be one of our co-finalists.
Most importantly, we honor the people of IISC who make this all possible. So much hard work and dedication is behind why we have been recognized in this way. Learn more about us here!