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!
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.
There’s never been a more important time to claim your full power in philanthropy. We need you – your authentic and most daring selves during these times. This is the moment to relinquish power and exercise deep trust in the field. This is the moment to recognize the important role we need you to play as a catalyst for transformative and progressive social change.
Remove and redefine the boundaries of what a funder or program officer should be.
Resist rolling out long applications and grant reports again. The field is working and we can’t be overtaxed as we fight the many battles that have been placed upon us. We need you working alongside us, not reading proposals and reports.
Avoid reverting back to prioritizing program grants. We need unrestricted general operating funds to apply what we are learning each day to what must be done.
Fund movement organizing and capacity building organizations so that we can work together to unlock profound social change during this period.
Make strategy with us, not for us. Together we must be emergent and adaptable to our challenges and opportunities. Change is not always linear. Like COVID-19, further attacks on social and racial justice will be unpredictable and hate and greed will produce new variants.
Please…come now out of your homes and offices to toil alongside us. You are not apart from us. You are us. And we need you.
We need all hands on deck. Come as you are, but come, and please do all that you can to make justice easier for us.
P.S. I share these words as someone who has spent twenty years in philanthropy – leading a charitable foundation, working with foundations, and advising donors. Discard the constraint of what you think philanthropy is and was. Philanthropy, a Greek word, means love of humanity. That’s your job now – to love humanity – and it’s urgent.
A personal blog about the power of the Juneteenth holiday to foster Black joy and freedom.
I woke up to a text from my community health center that it was closed for Juneteenth, something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. This started my week of JOY and FREEDOM! I cleared my eyes from sleep and imagined my Black ancestors on the plantation celebrating their freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation reached most corners of the country.
Black people still experience deep racism and racialized trauma and yet we are living dreams our ancestors could never have envisioned. Running organizations and businesses, taking our rightful place in elected office, saving lives during COVID as doctors and nurses, and seeing our children off to college and on to planes to places in the world our ancestors were forbidden to see.
This week alone, I walked freely in the streets, sat in the front of a bus, ate at an integrated restaurant, and hugged my husband and child who will never be sold away from me to a white person in the middle of a town square.
This week I participated in the Embrace Ideas Festival sponsored by KingBoston, a program of The Boston Foundation, one of our racial equity change clients. On a panel of Black leaders of arts organizations, one leader shared that while white people must do the work of anti-racism, what’s really needed is for BIPOC leaders to embrace and experience joy and fun.
I co-sign this belief so where will you find me this weekend of Juneteenth? I will be wearing traditional African clothing, line dancing with my Black friends, eating scrumptious soul food, kissing my child, and praying for greater forces of justice to prevail in our future.
Ok, you know the way the movie starts about the state of this country.
Opening scene. Racism is deeply embedded in communities and every institution, our world is at war, reproductive rights are crumbling, COVID has weakened our health, our economic system is collapsing, and climate change is wreaking havoc on the planet. Among these and other crises, Black people, Indigenous people, and Latinx and Asian & Pacific Islander communities are the first and last to be impacted. They are trying to stay alive, protect their children, and hold onto their bodies, lands, and dignity.
Scene 2. You get out your cape. A really nice fitting, fabulous, super hero, version of a cape that ties around your neck while you stand effortlessly on top of a mountain. You’re a hero for this moment. You’re living in this mess so you might as well join with others to make the movie end better than the first draft of the screenplay.
Scene 3. Imagine the faces of people who are in your sphere of influence. Who are they? Go down the mountain and get them! Build power through collaboration. Join organizations and networks and train up your skills together.
Final scene. You pack your social justice emergency kit. It’s a gorgeous cool suitcase that matches your cape. It’s got everything you need to make change:
A bowl of laughter for the tough days
Fulfilling relationships with people who care about you and will also support change
A mutual aid handbook that helps you find rest, money, food, water, and shelter as you work for justice
Good nights of sleep and putting your feet up on the couch
Movement of your body, exercise, and breath
And, lots of cuddles!
You stroll out to the road and your cape billows in the breeze as your suitcase rolls behind you. Your favorite power song comes on cue as the credits roll. It’s the kind of walk, the kind of music that comes at the end of a movie and makes you feel connected to something greater. You feel ten feet taller, you feel – and are! – more powerful and wiser. You got this!
Back in the 1960s women talked about the personal being political. They linked their personal lives and situations directly to the impacts of sexism which operates at the personal, interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels to devalue and systematically oppress women.
Sexism and its companion, male domination, are powerful forms of oppression. And if you intersect these with others like racism, classism, transphobia, or the oppression of mothers, it’s clear that a woman’s life and material well-being are in danger.
With Roe v. Wade on the brink of being overruled, Black women who already have poor maternal health outcomes will lose their lives and low-income women will have to scrape together their last dollars to make it across state lines to get safe and legal abortions. Parenthood is difficult, even for those who choose it. Very few of us talk about or normalize the pressure of raising a child: the deep exhaustion, the financial cost, and – if you’re in a dangerous relationship with the other parent – how life threatening it can be. And this is all nearly unimaginable if the person who placed the child in you did so against your will.
Roe aside, the psychic wounds of being a woman are real, whether you are a cis woman1 or a trans woman. Women’s lives are threatened by domestic and sexual violence including in our own homes. Many work for less pay than men and toil away in unsympathetic workplaces that don’t provide paid family leave, child care, or flexibility around school drop-off and pick-up schedules. Women are cut down to size by cis-men2 who they think they know more, know better, and know what we need. We have watched every woman who has run for public office belittled, objectified, dehumanized, and even fetishized. We can’t elect a woman as president even though the stakes are high for women without representation as we are witnessing now.
Women are in mourning. Whether they support a woman’s right to choose or not, they know deep down that their lives are not as valued as cis-men. They can feel it in their homes like a fog surrounding them and as they enter into workplaces and places of power. Women need powerful allies in this moment – people of all backgrounds, even from various political parties, to rise up and challenge the status quo. There are women’s marches, elections, and policy decisions that we can participate in and influence. Otherwise, we risk a major roll back of rights for women – from reproductive freedom to same-sex marriage and equal pay for equal work.
These times aren’t easy but they won’t get any easier if women minimize their struggles and allies stay quiet. We can fight many oppressions at the same time and because they are inextricably connected, if we win in one place, it’s a win for the others.
We took to the streets to #resistracism and #resistfacism.
We have #masked, #vaccinated, and #boostered.
Even when others wouldn’t to save our lives.
What would it take for us to #emerge&envision?
To free ourselves from the mass social psychosis of COVID fear, loss, and restraint?
Yes, we’ve been sick. Yes, our beautiful ones have passed. And, yes we are tired. And we’re still alive and our futures are waiting for us.
We will either be in a regular cycle of variant upswings and downswings, or COVID will become endemic. In either case, I believe the time has come for us to make a decision. To no longer just survive COVID, but to live with it like a storm we come to expect or eventually will retreat, and to emerge from it and envision futures that are equitable and resilient.
Futures, plural because people, communities, and continents may need different kinds of futures; there isn’t not just one that fits all. We deserve and can design together futures that are full of joy and wellbeing, and that reflect systems of liberation. Futures that are grounded in collaboration, love, equity, and networks.
I hope to be immersed in these questions with you and other leaders. In the blog comments, will you join in?
What is this country and this world crying out for?
What is your vision for equitable and resilient futures?
How can capacity builders like IISC, and leaders in general, help make your vision possible or help make your vision come into view?
What experiences, resources, and tools do leaders and networks need to deepen their heartset, mindset, and skillset for emergence and envisioning?
What kind of experiences and transformative spaces can help us emerge from this time of pandemic, fear, and deeply exposed racism and oppression, to futures of joy, wellbeing, and systemic liberation?
After the start of the new year, I returned to my organization to posts about Omicron ripping through families, the death of loved ones, and calls for us to attend to our emotional well-being. In a recent Zoom staff meeting, you could feel the stale air of malaise and resignation from living through nearly two years of a global pandemic awash with political toxicity and economic anxiety. I delivered whatever at-home test kits I could to staff stuck in their homes while holding a mug of tea to quell the burning in my lungs from COVID long-haul symptoms.
Like many employers, IISC was ill prepared to meet this moment. We’re doing our best, but no one on our team was trained in the art of managing survival through abject chaos. That wasn’t part of our leadership classes or what our mothers taught us when we left home to face the big new world.
As we hit the precipice of another variant wave and potentially others in the future, the government is withholding funds and resources that can keep people out of distress and poverty.
What we’ve come to realize – and, honestly, already knew – is that we need strong, shared, and collaborative leadership, especially in our government, to dig us out of this kind of mess. Nonprofits cannot pick up the slack of a country in crisis. Our government provided desperately needed financial help in 2020 and 2021, but it was inequitably distributed and many essential needs were ignored through a lack of cooperation. However, because of this investment, poverty fell historically for every demographic group.
No more stimulus? No more child tax care credit? No more Paycheck Protection Program funds? Limited access to COVID testing? A stunted supply of vaccines and boosters throughout the world? This makes no sense. And anyone teetering on the edge – health-wise, financially, and/or emotionally (and that’s 99% of us if we’re honest) – can see that.
2020 was rough, 2021 was tough, and 2022 will be brutal if we retreat from providing a safety net to our communities.
We’re running out of time. The policies and practices of yesterday won’t be enough to extract us from this hole. They’re not what humans need during this time and they’re not reaching us fast enough.
Drastic times call for unprecedented measures. If we want people to survive this chaos, we must be bold and pursue transformative policies. My background in politics tells me that If there ever were a time to go big or go home, it’s now.
I believe we need:
A guaranteed income for every person and family
A mental health corp to help us heal and sustain the will to live through the ups and downs of variants
A renewal of the stimulus, child care tax credit, and Paycheck Protection Program
On-demand vaccinations, boosters, and COVID testing
Exceptional health care for COVID-19 long-haulers
Respite for essential workers and health care workers to keep people from getting sick and dying
Creative in-person, remote, and hybrid school options
Unparalleled investments in climate resiliency
Meaningful racial justice and electoral reforms to protect our democracy and bring equity of resources to our communities
Employer-imposed work slow-downs so that we can attend to the health of our planet and to our own physical and mental health
A four-day work week (32 hours) so that more of a worker’s life is about living than working
And we need a moratorium on attacking one another – including political candidates, parties, and all public figures. Accountability is necessary; threatening each other’s character, well-being, lives, and livelihood should be off limits. We’re not all right and we need our biggest and boldest solutions to get out of this. When people are on economic and emotional tightropes, it’s not the time to cut holes in the safety net or pass blame to others. We need fierce collaboration and transformative policies to come out of these times healthy and whole for our future.
After shedding joyful tears, I was thrilled to share this news with our team. Many years ago, we aspired to attract an angel investor, but never had the capacity to pursue one rigorously. Since then, we occasionally joked about this possibility, but never really thought we would be on the receiving end of the biggest charitable donation of our careers. The $2 million gift, with no strings attached, was validation for a team whose members have been humble over the past thirty years as we worked to build collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity.
In the midst of the excitement and overwhelm of the unexpected gift, we also recognized the responsibility that comes with our windfall. For many organizations led by Black, Indigenous, & other people of color (BIPOC) — like ours, operating on relatively small budgets — a cash infusion of this magnitude could enable us to grow our programmatic work while also focusing on often neglected internal needs. Yet, rather than rejigger our budget, we are choosing to take a long pause before doing anything with the grant. We are faced with answering an otherwise hypothetical question that we often pose to the networks and organizations we work with: ‘What would your non-profit do with $1 million?’ In our case, what would we actually do with an unrestricted $2 million grant?
We are keenly aware of the freedom to make expansive choices and explore new possibilities now available to us. At the same time, we are also aware of: 1) the countless entities we support or are in partnership with that did not get a grant as we did, and 2) that the grant has created an implicit power and equity differential between IISC and those with whom we work. So what is the way forward?
To guide our response, we are drawing on our organizational values — to ensure that this gift benefits not just our organization but also the ecosystem within which we operate including our clients and partners.
Social change is possible through shared power and equity, network building, and love — our lens for collaborative change which guides our internal and external work. As we consider how we will spend these grant funds, and what we want to do with them, we hope to foster a sense of power-sharing, ensure equitable outcomes, build relationships and networks, and express love in action.
With that in mind, we are clear that decisions on how we spend the money will be led by BIPOC staff, including our affiliate consultants and trainers and our board members, with input from other IISC stakeholders. We want to ensure that historically marginalized and racially oppressed groups and communities have an equitable share in the power and control of organizational and societal resources. This is particularly important to us because BIPOC are typically not centered in big money spending decisions. Furthermore, centering BIPOC is an act of trust, with the understanding that the people involved in the decision-making will do so with the strengths, aspirations, and needs of their organizations, networks, and our communities in mind.
Transformative leadership is the kind of leadership we need in the 21st century. With this organizational value, we are considering how this potentially transformational gift to IISC is an opportunity for us to lift up organizations and networks that were not chosen for the grant. We are already using our position to leverage funds for other great organizations. We are excited that this is one way we can expand our circle of influence and promote greater equity in philanthropy.
The change we seek in the world ultimately comes down to the decisions we make about how we expend resources in our lives from the individual to community, organizational, and societal levels. IISC envisions a healthy planet where people thrive, value their differences, and work together for peace and justice and we are committed to leveraging the gift from MacKenzie Scott towards realizing this vision. As we come out of our pause and initiate conversations on how we will utilize the grant, we invite you to stay tuned as we share what we are learning and where we land.
If you or the people in your organization are fraying or even crumbling, ask yourself why wouldn’t you be? After over a year of a vicious virus, political disruption, and continued racist trauma, of course we are unraveling. What does fraying look like in organizations?
Staff needing to call in sick more often or take leave from their jobs to heal, restore, and pivot
Employees quitting or moving onto other opportunities, including relocating to other states as they reevaluate their priorities after a year of survival
Staff engaged in greater conflict with each other as the tensions they have tucked away come into fuller view
Individuals lacking patience as Zoom fatigue deepens to intolerable levels
People complaining of new physical pains, aches, and challenges arising from working in home offices that are not adequately set up to support physical well-being
Too many meetings and projects and not enough people to manage them, which causes stress in the workplace under the best of circumstances
Lack of purposeful attention to relationships as people focus on quickly moving into reopening
Staff taking care of children or others unwilling to return to in person work and old office norms that don’t support flexible work options
As we navigate the space between how things used to be – the “old normal” – and the emergence of a new way of being and working with one another – the “new normal”- we are essentially emerging from a metaphorical portal. Indian novelist Arundhati Roy introduced the concept of the pandemic as a portal when COVID-19 first broke. She shared, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” I believe that we are emerging from the portal like a shaking and vulnerable rocket ship returning back to earth after it breaks through the sound barrier.
What can we do to support ourselves and our teams to emerge from this portal?
There’s braiding to be done. Bringing people back into connection and collaboration to build toward the future. And it will be gradual.
We can validate the experience of others. We can help those who work for us, as well as our peers and partners, to understand that it’s normal to feel the fraying and crumbling that comes with being isolated and in survival mode for so long.
We can reflect and re-collaborate. This involves regrouping as a staff, reflecting on what’s happening to us and our organizations, and recommitting ourselves to operating in the spirit of human and community care and collaboration. We need to focus on building and sustaining relationships while we build better processes and strive for results that can build a better future.
We can give people a sense of control and hope. Ask staff and communities, what new opportunities do they envision for themselves and organizations and networks as we emerge from this portal?
We can close down our offices. For a week or two, or even a month, several times this year to replenish. If everyone’s not working, everyone can attend to themselves without distraction. It’s like a mini sabbatical for all.
We can continue work-from-home options. For many jobs, offering flexibility through continued remote work will be critical in retaining high-performing staff and boosting morale. Twenty-nine percent of working professionals say they would quit their jobs if they couldn’t continue working remotely.
We can center Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in all of what we do. Whether it’s in our planning processes, implementation, organizational culture, or visioning, we can follow their innovation, ideas, and leadership to deepen our strategies and approaches. Our workplaces can benefit from the traditions of BIPOC cultures to slow down and take time to reconnect in human ways. Strategies informed by a racial equity lens will be relevant and timely to all the decisions we are making in this moment.
We can come together in-person as soon as people are fully vaccinated. It’s not too early to plan the reunion which will offer connection and signal a new beginning. Consider planning a ritual or exercise during the time together to leave behind the old and bring in the new.
People are exhausted, mentally and physically. Expect the crumble. It’s coming, if it hasn’t already. Plan for the crumbling and consider new ways to braid people, yourself, and your community back together.
 According to an online survey of 1,022 professionals by LiveCareer, an online resume and job search consulting service.
Are you feeling a bit weary and maybe even crumbling? You’re not alone. We’re almost at the one-year anniversary mark of the pandemic, a few months out from the storming of the US Capitol, and ten months out from the murder of George Floyd. If you’re working from home, you’re lonely, and if you’re a frontline or health worker, you’re exhausted. The anxiety we’ve all been experiencing is real.
What to do when we feel like this? We need to acknowledge it for sure. And we need to pause because the big reopening is coming and it may not be the cure.
Vaccinations are spreading, warmer weather is returning in parts of the world, and traffic is ramping up. States are rolling back to the “old normal.”
But that “old normal” is not what many of us want. We desire the old normal of hugs, social time, and in-person experience. We crave the return of play and the lightness of habit and ritual. Yet, we don’t want to welcome back stressful mornings, back-to-back meetings, political rancor, and racist violence.
Before it’s too late, we need to reimagine the new normal that replaces old norms with ones like joy, rest, and connection. A new normal that creates oppression-free lives and systems.
It’s time to plan, It’s time to gather your family and plan your new normal. What will you discard from the old, and what will you bring into the new, before the pace of life takes over?
It’s time to gather, Gather your teams and ask, What will your organization live into? What can you do to build and maintain human-centered and anti-racist workplaces and communities?
And for all of us, What do we need in order to heal and repair? It’s been a really tough time. How can we discover new ways to foster self and community care?
The negatives of the old normal will clash with our individual and collective well-being unless we work now to get rid of them.
So, when the snapback of the old calls you,
Stop See Love Slow down And ask yourself,
What can I do right in this moment to bring in a new normal that centers humanity, equity, and living?
We now understand that living is loving and being loved. It’s radical collaboration and sharing. It’s large openings and small slivers of joy.
Look for the small invitations around you to create a new and better normal. Jump in. If we develop the practices of the new normal, we have a chance to create the world we want, not the one that will overtake us yet again if we let it.