Author Archives for Cynthia Silva Parker

March 29, 2023

Bending the Arc Toward Racial Justice Part 2:  Lifting Up Emerging Trends

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

In the first post in this series, we lifted up a set of juicy questions about capacity building for racial justice. Here, we dig into one of those questions: “What trends are you noticing in the field?”

Let’s start with a little good news. In spite of all that conspires to the contrary, we are seeing some positive trends. 

People are hungry for effective action. We are seeing a shift in some quarters away from “help us establish agreement on why racial justice and racial equity are important” to “help us build agreement on how we are going to make a real difference.” There is more need than ever for creative thinking and evidence about the effectiveness of efforts. People don’t just want to be busy, they want to move the needle on outcomes that matter within their organizations and within the communities they are serving or organizing.  

Racial justice advocates are more paying attention to moving at a human, sustainable pace and nurturing organizational cultures that will support this intention. While the concerns and needs continue to be pressing and urgent, at least some leaders are leaning into practices that put people first and create more spacious, supportive organizational cultures. 

Healing and embodiment are finding currency in more spaces. As part of the shift to more sustainable cultures, more people who are advancing racial equity

Some funders are working to shift power dynamics and make their processes more accessible. This includes a revival of interest in general operating support, streamlined paperwork and the emergence of trust-based philanthropy as a framework for shifting power dynamics between funders and grantees.

And, of course, some of the news isn’t so good, and some of that “news” it isn’t even that new. 

Burnout is on the rise. Between the trauma of repeated racial violence and mass shootings, the multiple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and high vacancy rates in many organizations, both workloads and psychological burdens have risen dramatically in the past few years. Long-time racial justice advocates within organizations and networks are especially weary. 

Some organizations are coming apart at the seams and struggling to achieve their missions, in part because of the impact of the effects of systemic racism, power struggles, generational tensions, and gaps in basic management functions. Sometimes there really is an “elephant in the zoom” or “in the room” as Ryan Grim lifted up last summer.   

Up is down. False is true. We live in a time where polarization is intensifying and facts seem unimportant to a growing portion of the public and public officials. Public discourse and the public’s ability to think clearly and critically seems to be eroding as race discourse heads in opposite directions at the same time. In the year following the murder of George Flyod, the term “systemic racism” appeared more in the media than it had in the previous 30 years combined. That good news has been met with backlash, as white supremacist and white nationalist rhetoric continues to move from the margins to the mainstream and state legislatures are enacting Orwellian laws to ban books and prevent teaching of a caricature of Critical Race Theory on the grounds that it teaches hate (which it doesn’t) and might make white children uncomfortable (which it might, but has anyone noticed how uncomfortable Black and other children of color feel when their histories are erased or confined to just a few problematic mentions?!).  

Among people working for racial equity, the temptation to lump diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into a single bucket is leading to frustration and stymying progress. Making diversity a proxy for equity or justice does a disservice to each of these concepts. And it gives cover to those who want to declare victory prematurely (“We have people of color in leadership. We’re all good.”) or who want to point to a lack of progress (“That diversity training didn’t work. So let’s not do any more.”) as a reason to stop pursuing equity and justice at all. Diversity training and efforts to diversify leadership are good things but they will not end systemic racism on their own. 

Unclear ideology and analysis leads to muddled thinking and disagreement about what’s needed to make change and what strategies and tactics will get us there. Maurice Mitchell points to this and a host of other challenges to our collective thinking and action as he sheds light on what it takes to build resilient organizations characterized by joy and durable power.

Racism, colonization, and other forms of oppression are baked into the structure of our society and our organizations. Many of our efforts to transform single organizations, systems, or networks run into practices and norms that work against equity and justice. We will not transform the consequences without exposing, uprooting, and replacing the ideology and the practices that hold them in place. This will require new ideologies and new practices that are equal to the task.

In the face of these trends, we have been tailoring the way we work with groups and examining how we operate as an organization. As we enter into a strategic thinking process this year, we will be asking ourselves how we can meet these trends in the field with deepened or transformed ideas, practices, and systems – for our clients and partners as well as for ourselves. 

What trends are you seeing as you work for racial justice and racial equity? How are you transforming your ideas, practices, and systems to meet them?

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March 21, 2023

Bending the Arc Toward Racial Justice – Part 1: Juicy Questions about Building Capacity for Racial Justice

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

If you’re a regular reader or part of IISC’s network, you’ll know that we build collaborative capacity for individuals, organizations, and networks to pursue social justice and racial equity. Organizational and network capacity isn’t the only thing we need to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, but there’s no doubt that we need the collective ability to deepen relationships, sharpen analysis, create shared visions, and make space for joy and for rest, even as we design effective strategies and develop action plans. 

Last fall, I participated in a panel of grantees of the Borealis REACH (Racial Equity to Accelerate Change) Fund at the Exponent Philanthropy Conference. Moderator Makkah Ali asked us (myself, Judy Lubin of the Center for Urban and Racial Equity, and Natalie Bamdad of Change Elemental) to respond to a series of thought-provoking questions. Our pre-panel dinner and the actual conversation was too juicy not to share! For now, just sit with the questions (some of which were asked directly, and some of which emerged as I was writing this post). 

How is racial justice work evolving in organizations and networks?

  • What racial equity trends are you noticing in the field? 
  • What are people interested in working on? What goals are they focusing on?
  • Where are you finding more resistance?
  • How is the work (i.e., the analysis, goals, methods, language, etc.) evolving as people encounter positive energy and resistance?
  • How are people thinking about the relationship between racism and racial justice and other systems of oppression that matter in their work? What kinds of strategies are they using?

What does it look like to build the capacity of organizations and networks to pursue racial justice?

  • Walk us through an engagement that demonstrates what it looks like to make inroads toward racial equity. What were you hired to do? What happened? How did you assess the group’s progress?
  • Walk us through an engagement that demonstrates the barriers or blockades to effectively carrying out racial equity work.
  • What are signs of an organization’s readiness to engage internally in racial equity work? 
  • How are we supporting people to stay focused and sustain their efforts over time?

How can funders support their grantees’ racial justice and racial equity work?

  • What would you like funders to know about the future of racial equity work and the role they can play in it?
  • What types of support has your organization received that has been most useful to meet this moment? 

How can people prepare themselves for this work?

  • What does it take from us as practitioners to design and facilitate this kind of work? What kinds of skills, attitudes, and practices do we need to cultivate?
  • What does it take from leaders and staff in organizations? How does that differ for BIPOC folks and white folks? How does it differ for folks from different generations, genders, and other identities?

What other juicy questions are emerging as you work toward racial justice and racial equity?

We will dig into our experiences and responses to these questions in other posts throughout the year. Stay tuned!

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February 21, 2023

How Things Could Get Better

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’ve always been drawn to complexity – messy problems that overlap without clear boundaries or tidy solutions. The kind of issues for which many of us long for a straightforward solution. The kind of issues that many people rush to oversimplify in their quest for a solution. Racism is one of those issues. Here are just a few who’ve shone a light on the need to think and act comprehensively.

  • Reflecting on lessons from the 1960s, Audrey Lorde reminded us that “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” She was reflecting specifically on the intersections of racism and sexism, and also on the fact that our current struggles for justice are built upon the work of those who came before us.
  • Dr. King organized against the triple evils of racism, poverty, and militarism, declaring that “the promise of a Great Society was shipwrecked off the coast of Asia … I intend to keep these issues mixed because they are mixed. Somewhere we must see that justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Building on Dr. King’s legacy, the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is calling for a comprehensive, multi-issue Third Reconstruction that addresses not only racism, poverty, and militarism, but also the failure to care for people and the planet, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.
  • In her 2017 book No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, Naomi Klein stated “It is becoming possible to see a genuine path forward – new political formations that, from their inception, will marry the fight for economic fairness with a deep analysis of how racism and misogyny are used as potent tools to enforce a system that further enriches the already obscenely wealthy on the back of both people and the planet. …[formations that are] knitting together a multiracial and intergenerational coalition bound by a common transformational project.

How does this matter for the work we do at IISC every day? I can see a few lessons and am curious about what else you see.

We can do more to help people explore how their central issues and concerns are inextricably linked to other issues and concerns, so that they can see more clearly the opportunities for partnership and solidarity. In the spirit of practicing net-work, we can help people understand how their work can be better leveraged if connected with others in the wider ecosystem.

We can do more to help people focus on building power through that partnership and solidarity – the kind of power that is necessary to meet the forces that hold the current social, political, and economic arrangements in place. We can focus more attention on what it would take to change those arrangements, even as we support people to strategize about how to survive and even thrive within those arrangements. We can remind ourselves to think and act more like organizers and less like administrators because we are, in fact, working to build the power necessary to birth a more just society.

We can do more to help people use their awareness of their own identities, particularly the identities that put them at the margins of society, to expand their consciousness and their circle of moral concern. As they say in the Poor People’s Campaign, “Everybody in. Nobody out.” We can encourage people to build relationships and learn from movements and leaders in other sectors, other countries, and from other identities. We can stand up against efforts to restrict what books we and our children can read and what pieces of our history can be taught.

And, in the face of such enormous questions and pressing needs, we can continue to encourage people to slow down, truly see one another, and find beauty and joy in the midst of struggle. We can celebrate the moments when we manage to weave together a network of both likely and unlikely partners, moments where we achieve small and large victories in our individual and shared work, and moments when we amplify ways in which justice, peace, and love manifest in our daily lives and work.

What does the path forward look like to you? How are you helping others to find a path through complexity and towards connection?

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October 8, 2022

Are you a Decolonizer?

Original artwork for New Yorker cartoon published April 10, 2006, by J.B. Handelsman; Retrieved from https://libwww.freelibrary.org/digital/item/67896

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. 

In 2019 and early 2020, my colleague Eugenia Acuna and I had the privilege of working with Edgar Villanueva and the Decolonizing Wealth Project to help develop some of the project’s tools and resources. Since then, I have been diving more deeply into Edgar’s work (Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance is now in its second printing!) and taking baby steps toward using money as medicine to heal what’s broken in our world. I got my decolonizer t-shirt (You should get yours too! Proceeds support organizations working with Native-led organizations working on racial justice.), though I still feel like I have more to do before I can actually wear it. 

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?

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August 8, 2022

When urgency is actually necessary: Making Change at a Human Pace

“The times are urgent, let us slow down.”
Bayo Akomolafe, The Emergence Network

Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

Thanks in part to the work of Tema Okun, Dr. Kenneth Jones, and DismantlingRacismWorks, we have been leaning into the characteristics of white supremacy culture for decades. I find the sense of urgency particularly challenging. Okun and Jones define it as “our cultural habit of applying a sense of urgency to our every-day lives in ways that perpetuate power imbalance while disconnecting us from our need to breathe and pause and reflect. The irony is that this imposed sense of urgency serves to erase the actual urgency of tackling racial and social injustice.”

I struggle with this regularly. In the early days of the pandemic, IISC wrestled with what contribution we could make. I had to temper my desire to move quickly with a sober assessment of our actual human capacity. Even now, on any given day, our team – and the staff and volunteers practically everywhere I turn – ranges from sick, exhausted, and overwhelmed to joyful, optimistic in the midst of it all, and eagerly seeking new possibilities. I continue to remind myself that we can only go as fast as we can go, even if that doesn’t seem fast enough given the conditions around us. 

Therein lies the struggle. The work of making a better, more just world IS urgent. People are paying with their lives every day because of the way our society is constructed. Take health as an example. Healthcare is a for-profit industry and the profit motive drives who gets treated, what kinds of treatments are approved or even exist, and what unhealthy conditions are allowed to persist. Access to healthcare is granted mostly as a privilege for people with certain kinds of jobs, rather than to all people as a human right. People are dying every day because of this. Getting care to people who need it most – people who are unhoused, and/or unemployed, disabled, elderly, or otherwise unable to participate in the paid labor force – is urgent. At the same time, we have to devote attention to the necessary, long-term work of building political will and shifting the political system in the direction of making health care a human right. Otherwise, we’ll be forever doing the urgent work of helping people on the margins to survive. As our friends in public health remind us, we have to “get upstream” to stop the “flow” of people who need urgent support that the system doesn’t provide. 

Generations of warriors for justice have taught us that the struggle for justice is costly and urgent. In my earliest days of political formation, my mentors argued (sometimes explicitly and sometimes by example) that I didn’t deserve a good night’s sleep or many creature comforts because people were suffering and dying every day due to racism and poverty. This led me to an unhealthy kind of self-denial and overwork. While my group members saw me as productive and committed, in the eyes of some folks who I was both critiquing and attempting to recruit, I appeared unbearably self-righteous and absolutely no fun to be around. 

This posture didn’t win over a lot of new people to our way of thinking and it ingrained in me a habit of ignoring my own needs that has been extremely hard to break. While I can say with conviction to others that “self-care isn’t selfish,” and “it’s essential to find joy in the midst of struggle,” I still have trouble taking my own advice sometimes. I’m making progress, though it’s slow! I still hold onto this quote from George Bernard Shaw: “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” 

Image by 1239652 from Pixabay

One thing I find striking and encouraging about the current generation of racial justice activists is their explicit focus on wholeness, healing, belonging, and restoration – think of emergent strategy and the work of healing justice to name just a few. We are beginning to recognize that we can’t do any of this necessary and urgent work at the expense of people and relationships. And I think we still have a long way to go. 

If we want to make change at the scale of an entire society and beyond, we have to find new ways and rediscover ancient ways of doing both the urgent work of survival and the urgent work of structural change in ways that don’t exhaust and exploit the people doing that work and that make space for new more beautiful ways of being together. At IISC, as we take up this challenge and offer what we can share, I’m trying to remain vigilant so that a sober assessment of the urgent need for justice doesn’t push me toward dominant-culture ways of pressing beyond the capacity of our human community. 

How are you replacing a dominating sense of urgency with an appropriate sense of urgency that honors and cares for people?

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July 25, 2022

Fascists in our Front Yard

When the Patriot Front marched in Boston earlier this month and assaulted Charles Murrell, a Black artist and activist, city officials and residents alike were taken by surprise. The Patriot Front was back in Boston over the weekend, this time in Jamaica Plain, spewing their vile ideology on the LGBTQ community. We can’t claim to be surprised any more. According to the Boston Globe, the Patriot Front has been building a constituency right here, in one of the supposedly most liberal states in the country. And they have spent more time in Massachusetts than other places over the past few years. This isn’t in our “backyard” folks. This is the front yard, where we can’t deny it any more.

I used to think of the visible, vocal, and sometimes violent displays of racism as the death throes of a dying beast. But white nationalism is reproducing itself, finding support among a whole new generation of young people. We’re told that these extremist groups offer the allure of physical discipline, gun-toting machismo, community, and ideological unity. It’s frightening to me, though not surprising, that this ideology has such allure; an ideology laden with hatred and lies that obscure the real drivers of economic insecurity and political polarization and instead scapegoat people of color and LGBTQ people. It’s literally a page from the Nazi’s playbook.

If nothing else, January 6, 2021 should have taught us that it’s time to get behind efforts to prevent and intervene on the radicalization of young white people. Since 911, law enforcement has had a relentless focus on monitoring radicalization of young Muslim men, trampling civil liberties and demonizing whole communities in the process. Police have been monitoring Black and Brown street gangs for generations, also often trampling civil liberties and justifying police violence in the process. When young white men become radicalized, the strategy seems to be “do nothing,”  and to explain away any crimes they commit by focusing on their mental health and social marginalization. I’m not calling for a trampling of their civil liberties, or justifying the abuses of Muslim, Black and Brown youth at the hands of police. But I am calling on us as a society to take the radicalization of young white people seriously. In the words of Wajahat Ali, author of Deradicalizing White People, “I have lost count of how many times I have been asked as a Muslim, ‘Where are the moderate Muslims?’ So allow me to ask, ‘Where are the moderate whites, and what are they doing to combat extremism?’” 

What are we – those of us working for social justice – doing to combat extremism in our communities? It’s not a problem over there, in “red America,” it’s right here, in our front yard.

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June 7, 2022

More Online Gatherings? Yes, Please!

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

These days, folks love to hate Zoom as much as they used to love to hate meetings in general. And “Zoom fatigue” is a problem most folks didn’t even have until the last couple of years. I know from experience how taxing it can be to interact with people through a computer or phone screen all day long. AND, for a minute, I want to sing the praises of online gatherings. 

Online gatherings can be powerful. I’ve born witness to deep heart-opening moments and moments of relational repair in online meetings. I’ve seen people have important moments of insight and learning. I’ve seen folks inspire one another and discover their power to speak into difficult situations and confront unjust dynamics within their organizations. And, I’ve seen folks share important information and make really strategic decisions. It’s all about how you create and hold the space. When we bring the best of what we know about creating containers for meaningful engagement, designing for the whole person, the magic can still happen.  

Online learning can be more fruitful than in-person learning. Before the pandemic began, most of our workshops were in person for two or three days at a time. As we transitioned to online learning, we broke the content up into smaller bites (typically 3 hours) and spread sessions out over several days or weeks. We’re finding that participants enjoy taking in content in smaller doses, absorbing the information,  and practicing a little before layering on the next set of ideas. 

Online gatherings can reduce the time, effort, and resources needed to participate. Since 2020, I have been able to participate in waaaay more conferences, convenings, and gatherings than I would have in the ‘before times.” I’ve been able to gather wisdom and inspiration from the Movement for Black Lives, Race Forward, and the Othering and Belonging Institute, to name just a few. I’ve participated in somatics workshops and disability justice workshops, and connected regularly with peers who are committed to deepening our practice of equity. I’ve been co-learning and co-leading a peer exploration at the intersections of racism and classism. And as a volunteer, I’ve been able to get deeply involved with the Poor People’s Campaign and both learn from powerful leaders from across the country and plan with leaders from across our state. On the flip side, while the cost of an online gathering isn’t zero, it can cost a lot less and make it possible to engage more people. While an online meeting does expend energy, I’d be surprised if the carbon footprint of a Zoom meeting exceeded a trip by car, train, or airplane.

Online gatherings have been good for my health. Because I haven’t been traveling for work and because full-day events are rare, there are rarely multi-day stretches where I’m 100%  involved with only one group. This has meant much less late-night hustling for one group before an all-day in-person event for another. And I’ve done literally no late night work on train rides between NYC and Boston after a full work day (a regular feature of my work life before COVID). As someone who is chemically sensitive, it was not unusual for me to have to wear a mask to deal with chemical exposure in hotels and offices long before the pandemic. As someone with food allergies, eating on the road is fraught with difficulties. In the world of online work, it’s been a blessing to work from spaces where I can control fragrances and chemical exposure as well as my own meals. I have heard from others with chronic conditions and mobility challenges that online participation has enabled them to participate more fully in things that matter to them, with an important caveat. While we’re getting good at using features like chats and breakout rooms, we haven’t done as well with accessibility needs like ASL, spoken language interpretation, captioning, or other aids for folks with visual challenges.

Of course, there are caveats to all of these upsides to online gatherings. They can be boring, taxing, and even exclusionary. They can make it possible to sit still for too long, strain our wrists and hands, and spend too much time with our screens. They can make it possible to say yes to too many good things and thereby fail to carve out space for other meaningful things in our lives. They can create real accessibility problems for folks without a reliable internet connection or device. And, given the limited ability for participants to engage with one another as they would choose, there are a lot of power dynamics to address and manage. Still, the rise of online meetings in response to the pandemic has taught us that if we design carefully, facilitate attentively, and address equity and access issues, they can be a vehicle for more participation, less environmental damage, and more powerful thinking and action. 

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May 23, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Joyful!

I had already fallen in love with Dante Bowe’s song Joyful just from listening to the track. But when I saw his video today, it stopped me in my tracks. Dante oozes a joy that is grounded in a deep spirituality and a deep connection to community. This is a great anthem, an ode to #Blackjoy and to the power of choosing joy. Even when the events of the world constantly envelope us in fear, anger, grief, and hopelessness, we can choose joy. As we used to say in Sunday School, joy is choosing to be happy, even when things don’t go our way. There is so much that is not going our way in this country and around the world. And yet, without denying the forces arrayed against us, we can still choose joy. We can choose to build a deeply grounded sense of community. We can choose joy that doesn’t have to wait for poverty, war, racism, and oppression to cease. We can choose joy “in the midst.” I hope this video puts a spring in your step and joy in your heart, even as we struggle together to create a better world.

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April 16, 2021

How Long?

Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona, on Unsplash

Reading about Adam Toledo this morning has me wondering, in the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock

how long, how much more long, how long
how long, how much more long, how long
I wanna know how much more longer is I just gonna have to wait on you?

This society has wired the fear of Black people so deeply into the psyche of so many white people that a 13-year-old can be killed by police while surrendering. 

And it has created conditions where too many people turn to all-too-readily available guns to settle disputes and vent their frustrations. Whether that’s in a Chicago neighborhood, an Indianapolis FedEx center, an Atlanta massage parlor, or a Colorado supermarket. And too few politicians are brave enough to do anything about it. 

It has wired the fear of a country not dominated by a white majority so deeply into the psyche of so many white people that they are willing to do anything to continue to oppress Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian-American people, reduce the political power of their vote, and  normalize violence against them as well as against actions of government that are meant to reduce their oppression. Last summer, an eloquent and fed-up activist said of Black people that white people should be happy that we only want equality, not revenge. She’s right, but I think the fear of the moment that white people will not be an absolute majority is driven by the fear of revenge and “replacement.”

It has wired the “otherness” so deeply that the society continues to reproduce racist ideas and actions among its youngest members … so deep that white high schoolers can think it’s ok to “auction off” their Black counterparts online. And little Black children still cry because they don’t think they are beautiful.

I am a woman of faith, and firmly believe that it IS possible to have a country and a world without exclusion and oppression; a world where there is no “bottom” that people will do anything to avoid; a world where everyone has enough to thrive; a world where no one goes to bed hungry, no one is unhoused, no one is sick or addicted and unable to get treatment, no one has to suffer indignities on the job or in their communities, no one has to fear that they or their loved ones will not return home safely; a world where we live humbly with one another as humans and in harmony with the rest of creation and with our Creator. Where we are each driven by the desire to ensure goodness for everyone.

How long will it take to get there? No one can say. But on days like today, it seems so very far away. And yet, on we travel toward that day. May we each do our part to build that world. 

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March 24, 2020

Living and Working Virtually in Uncertainty: Balancing the Dimensions of Success

Facilitative Leaders balance three essential dimensions of success: results, process, and relationship. That means not just paying attention to getting the job done successfully, but paying attention to the relationships among people along the way, and to the processes and use of resources to get it done. Most leaders tend to emphasize one of these dimensions more than the others. That it makes it important to create teams with people who are inclined to focus on different dimensions. That way the effort is more likely to experience three-dimensional success.

Dimensions of Success

© Interaction Institute for Social Change

Typically, when in doubt or under stress, I default to process. I’m asking questions like: Are we including all the right people? Do we have the resources we need in place? Can we get it done on the timeline we envision? Sometimes, like recently at IISC, I’ve been defaulting to results. On a recent Monday, we began thinking through how to create some short webinars focused on bringing love, equity, and network practices to virtual meetings. The question was how to offer something that was uniquely IISC, that could be useful in this time of uncertainty and virtual working, and that wouldn’t require more than we had to invest in the effort.

I was focused on the results. We have a lot of content and enough know-how to create something that could be really useful that could be complementary to the resources we’ve seen others share recently. As for process, I thought we could put together a viable product with minimal effort, and I wanted to engage the relevant stakeholders within IISC early. As expected, bringing in a broader set of players kept making the ideas better. As for relationship, I was focused on doing this in ways that honored our different kinds of expertise. I was hoping this would also build our team spirit through an “all hands on deck” experience that didn’t create much stress.

But I was wrong … As the week progressed, it seemed that around every corner there was a new technical impediment that made the effort seem less and less simple. And, team members were feeling more and more burdened by this new effort on top of various personal and workplace challenges. So, in order not to get way out of balance in our efforts to help others get in balance, we are rethinking the project. In the meanwhile, here are a few ideas about how you can attend to results, process, and relationship as you design and facilitate your virtual meetings.

Results

  • Establish clear desired outcomes. What are we trying to accomplish in this meeting?
  • Make sure the outcomes are can be accomplished in the time allotted. If your team is new to virtual meetings, you may need to make the outcomes even more bite-sized than usual.
  • Make sure the outcomes are relevant and meaningful to the participants, particularly in light of everything else they have on their minds.

Process

  • Remember your best in-the-room meeting processes
    • Make sure you have a clear agenda. Ask for input and feedback on the agenda before the meeting.
    • Assign or ask for volunteers to facilitate, keep time, and take notes.
  • Especially for virtual meetings
    • Assign virtual meeting roles (e.g., people to check the chat, help with technical problems, check the energy in the virtual room, etc.).
    • Create multiple opportunities for engagement within each agenda item (e.g., spoken comments, chat, white board, writing in a shared document).
    • Use visuals (e.g., slides, shared documents).
    • Call on people, mix up the speaking order with each conversation.
    • Ask a question and have each person “toss” to another person until everyone has answered.
    • If you don’t have access to video conferencing, use real-time shared documents (like Google Docs) to create notes that everyone can see and contribute to while the call is in progress.
    • Keep audio-only participants in the loop, by updating them on anything you’re sharing visually and remembering to invite them into the conversation.

Relationships

  • Begin and end with time to connect personally, through full-group check-ins and check outs.
  • Use breakout rooms to increase opportunities to connect.
  • If you (or some of your participants) don’t have access to video conferencing, create a visual team roster in your shared document so everyone can see a photo of everyone on the call.
  • While it may not always be appropriate to have other household members “pop in” to your meetings, we make a point of acknowledging and welcoming children, partners, other household members, and pets when they pop into the room. Especially in these times, far from being unwelcomed distractions, we view these moments as precious opportunities to really see our colleagues.

All the best as you balance the dimensions of success in these trying times. And stay tuned. More resources are coming – whether they are webinars or something else remains to be seen.  🙂

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March 13, 2020

Living (and Working Virtually) in Uncertainty

Artist: Prawny

By the time you see this post, you will no doubt have read a lot of reflections on this time of uncertainty. In a recent IISC staff check-in, we lifted up several principles and practices to support our community as we, like so many other organizations, move to largely virtual work. We hope these ideas will provide some comfort and guidance to you, as well.

Lean into relationships.

The COVID19 crisis brings into stark relief an awareness that we’ve long held dear. We are all connected and the well-being of each of us is important to the well-being of all of us. So, first and foremost, we want to lean into our relationships, engaging with our colleagues, clients, and partners as people first. If ever there was a time for people to know how much you care, it’s now.  You can demonstrate that care in very practical ways.

  • Pause and connect. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or a meeting, make space to find out how folks are doing before diving into what they are (or should/shouldn’t be) doing.
  • Think respect. Knowing what we know about human differences and structural inequities, expect that people will have different perspectives and experiences of these uncertain times. Respect will look different for different people. So, upgrade your Golden Rule (do to others as you’d have them do to you) with the Platinum Rule (do to others as they’d have you do to them). Find out what respect and support look like from their point of view.
  • If in doubt, communicate. Connect with people more, not less. Be as clear as you can about actions, risks, policies, and open questions. Be clear about how decisions are being made and when/how contingency plans might go into effect.
  • Pick up the phone to handle tough or emotional conversations. Enhance that with video conferencing whenever possible so folks can see one another.
  • Minimize unnecessary emails to leave room for critical communication.
  • Be a spirit, not a ghost. In other words, let folks know that you’re available. Don’t let virtual work turn into a disappearing act. Reach out to colleagues through whatever communications mechanisms you have at your disposal.

Deepen trust.

Now is a time for us to deepen our trust in both people and the process. When we know who’s around us and what they are about, and when we have confidence that they operate with integrity, transparency, and skillfulness, it’s much easier to trust leaders and the processes that they facilitate.

  • Continue to tap into one another’s strengths as individuals and as a collective. Remind yourself of what you and others are good at. Connect to folks within your network who are good at different things from you.
  • Trust the process. This is often easier said than done. It’s easier to do work in community when we trust our leaders and have experienced their commitment to transparency and to our core values. Here are some of IISC’s core values:
    • Shared power: People have a right to be involved in the decisions that affect them so they have influence over the quality of their lives
    • Love: We believe in the dignity of all human beings and in taking care of each other and of our planet. Love is a force for social change.
    • Accountability: We align our work with frontline and grassroots communities of color most impacted by racism in general and this crisis in particular. 

Take appropriate actions.

  • Take care of yourself so you can take care of people around you. If ever there were a time to “put on your own mask before helping others,” as the airlines advise in an emergency, it’s now. Everything we can do to stay healthy makes us able to resist the virus, reduce the likelihood of spreading it, and be in a position to support others at work, at home, and in our communities.
  • Take risks for what we might do. As a small organization, we face economic and other risks, just like every other nonprofit, foundation, and small company. We may need to take some financial or other risks in order to support our colleagues and serve our clients in these times.
  • Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. While it’s important to be prudent and thorough, we don’t want to be immobilized by a false expectation that we can act with perfection. In fact, that expectation is a marker of white supremacy culture that we’d do well to abandon in general, and especially in these times. Let’s figure out what “good” looks like and move forward.

An addendum: Given the specific conversation we were having as a staff, we didn’t discuss several very common sense and justice-oriented actions beyond our work community. Here are a few other important actions that we can take as individuals and as a society.

  • Keep yourself informed about how to avoid spreading the virus. The CDC’s guidance for individuals and businesses is a good place to start. If you see something in social media that’s hard to believe (or if it’s new, outrageous, and too easy to believe), be sure to fact-check it before heading the advice or sharing it with others. Start with the World Health Organization’s Myth Busters page and sites like Snopes.com.
  • Support mutual-aid efforts in your community. Check with your local Black Lives Matter chapter for starters.*
  • Support the hourly workers in your life and community. “Tip outrageously if you are out. Say, ‘This is for the tips I know you’re missing right now.’ Call your hair stylist if you’re not coming in like usual. Ask how they are doing. Send your tip or the cost of your haircut via Venmo.*
  • Advocate for government action. Remember that our government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people. Let your local, state, and national representatives know what you and your community need. Advocate for school districts to keep feeding children even if schools are closed. Insist that evictions be halted during the emergency and help people find support if they face eviction. Insist that water and utility shut-offs be halted during the emergency. Help people connect with legal aid if needed in these situations. Support efforts to provide economic relief to hourly workers and small businesses. Insist that everyone needs access to health care and all workers need paid sick leave. “Call and … talk as long as you want. Tell whoever answers the phone that you think healthcare should be for everyone. Now more than ever.”* See this list of demands from organizers for even more concrete things to demand from the government to protect the public and especially the most vulnerable members of our communities in these times.**

*Thanks to Jen Lemen for these ideas. Check out her post 31 Things You Can Do in the Time of Corona Virus for even more.

** Thanks to our friends at Change Elemental for this. See more ideas in their message, With Care

Cultivate a strategic, collaborative mindset.

Human actions are driven by a complex set of factors, including how we are thinking, how we are feeling, and the relationship between the two. In times of uncertainty, we want to lean into a few essential aspects of the collaborative mindset. 

  • Assume the best. Without overlooking the difference between intent and impact, we also want to make the generous assumption that everyone is doing their best to show up and contribute.
  • Offer and receive grace. If people make mistakes, offend, cause harm, or miss opportunities to do good, we want to offer grace and forgiveness. This isn’t an effort to erase the harm or error. Rather, it’s an offer to see the whole person and support them as they correct or repair. If we are the ones making the mistakes or causing harm, we invite ourselves to be gentle with ourselves, avoid self-shaming, and graciously receive grace that is offered by our colleagues.
  • See challenges as opportunities and growth.Like “trust the process,” this is not new advice. And yet, in these times, it’s especially important to look for opportunities as we survey the landscape. We’re asking questions like: How can we move important work forward without face-to-face gatherings? How can we share our particular strengths in this moment? How can we repurpose “found time” that will no longer be used for workshops or convenings so that we can advance projects that have been waiting for time and attention? How can we improve our communications and deepen our relationships?

When we introduce IISC’s Dimensions of Success framework, we point out that the goal is for leaders to balance their attention on results, process, and relationship over time. The corollary is that sometimes, as collaborative leaders, we need to focus more heavily on one dimension than the others. In these times, it’s hard to overdo the focus on relationships. And, if we’re going to achieve the results we are seeking to manifest in the world, it’s essential that we build or strengthen our processes so that they are sturdy enough to carry us through these tough times.

So, as you go about your day-to-day work, and even as that work is interrupted and transformed, we hope that you’ll hold tight to the people around you, stand firm on your values, and take the actions you can to mitigate the crisis. Let’s all strive to water seeds of hope and nurture the seedlings of possibility, wherever we find them.   

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December 16, 2019

Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations:

Equipping your Race, Equity, and Inclusion Team to Lead Organizational Change

Are you an “accidental equity leader” in your organization, or one that is regularly tapped on the shoulder to address equity and inclusion challenges? Ever wonder how on earth to get your smart, passionate collection of staff, board members, and other stakeholders on the same page about what racial equity means for your work? Ever wish you and your team had more strategies and skills for moving your organization from affirming racial justice values to adopting racial justice practices and pursuing equitable outcomes? 

IISC is delighted to announce a new cohort-based learning experience designed to equip existing or nascent equity teams. This experience builds on our workshop Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations, creating deeper opportunities for learning and action than are possible in the one-day workshop format.

We know that operationalizing racial justice values and pursuing racial equity requires not just insight and information, but also changes to organizational culture, systems, process, and practices. Whether you are leading a single organization or a network, and whatever issues you address, you need a carefully designed plan and process for making those changes together. And, in order to design and facilitate such a collaborative process, you need a team that is well-equipped to guide your stakeholders to learn and plan together. 

This cohort experience is an exciting opportunity to learn with your colleagues (you’ll come with a team of five or six people), leaders of other groups (the cohort will include four organizations or networks), and IISC’s team (an experienced pair of consultant/trainers). The experience includes: 

  • A detailed application process with prompts to guide your team’s thinking about organization’s readiness, assets, and challenges
  • In-depth pre-work assignments to continue exploring your organizational and personal strengths and growing edges
  • A webinar to establish shared language and analysis 
  • A two-day workshop to learn together 
  • A virtual peer coaching session 
  • Two virtual coaching sessions with the IISC team

You can download more information and the application here.

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