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July 19, 2023

Transformation Teachings

I am recently back from the Transformations Community gathering in Prague in the Czech Republic and still savoring and making sense of the time. That trip capped a flurry of work travel that began in May and took me from Jackson, Mississippi (Food Policy Council Network COLP) to New York City (Ford Foundation Global Leadership Meeting) to the Seacoast of New Hampshire (Food Solutions New England Network Leadership Institute) to Haudenosaunee Territory in Buffalo, NY (Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Network Voice Choice and Action Gathering) to the District of Columbia (DC Legal Aid Transformations Network) to water ravaged northern Vermont (Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont) to Eastern Europe.

All along the way, there were messages of what the times are calling for in terms of practicing resilience and transformation. Each of these deserves a fuller unpacking, and I offer them here for now, with much gratitude to many teachers along the way. I begin each of these with the word “remember,” as that was a core teaching from our gathering on Haudenosaunee lands, that one of our greatest gifts is to remember, and that so much of this is about remembering …

Remember that everything is designed to work together through reciprocal relations.

Remember where you come from, what your “creation story” is, as there is great guidance there.

Remember what matters most to you, your values, and align with them in practice.

Remember what is yours to do in this lifetime and in/with Life.

Remember to go below the neckline (to the heart and gut), without throwing out what is above it (the head).

Remember to practice belonging and accountability (they go together and support one another).

Remember to do intergenerational work/learning, thinking of those living, those passed on, and those yet to come.

Remember to bring in “the periphery” (whatever that means in your particular situation – this generally relates to power and access). There is much wisdom and fresh insight here.

Remember the importance of putting in place a “resilience or transformation infrastructure” (think process, roles and relationships) – this does not necessarily happen on its own.

Remember when it makes sense to “institutionalize” and do so in ways that do not kill spirit, vitality and diversity.

Remember not to make assumptions and be prepared to be surprised.

Remember to have faith in the unseen, the power of “practical magic.”

Remember to break bread with one another, to talk with one another and to keep leaning in to the (apparent) differences. Learning awaits!

Remember to find what grounds and nourishes you (individually and collectively) and cherish/honor it.

Remember to listen …

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July 13, 2023

What do we do now? Five Strategies for Action After the Recent US Supreme Court Decisions

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, it need not be lived again.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou. John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0] <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0> via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re asking the question “What do we do now?” you’re asking the right one.

With the recent plethora of dangerous decisions by the US Supreme Court, many of us were not surprised. As soon as former President Trump added new members to the Court and set them on a course for an anti-civil rights and anti-equity agenda, we knew many of the transformative gains we had made over the last sixty or more years were in danger. 

Civil rights and civil liberties that protect human rights are, and never have been, guaranteed. America has a history and deep practice of white supremacy, control of women’s bodies, and discrimination and violence against Black and Latinx peoples and LGBTQ+ communities, land theft, confinement, and erasure of Indigenous communities, and scapegoating of immigrants. And it is all firmly backed by politicians and their carefully selected court appointees who threaten the rule of law and everyone’s security by dismantling protections to live, work, go to school, and love freely.

We knew the plan and we knew the pain that was coming. Now we need to understand and analyze the decisions. And, most importantly, we need to act and exercise our power – organizationally, collectively, and individually.

Here are five actions to take after the recent US Supreme Court Decisions:

  1. Stand firm and advance racial, gender, sexual orientation, and class equity like never before. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. If you’re a boss, offer your staff benefits and protections that no court can take away. Don’t use vendors, professional services, or companies that do not reflect your values. Sit your human resources professionals and managers down and ask them to do everything in their power to remove impediments to equity and justice in your workplace. If they’re too attached to the law and not willing to be creative or take a few risks to protect the rights of your employees, find the person who will. 

    And take advantage of any loopholes in recent US Supreme Court decisions. For example, even though the Supreme Court restricted affirmative action in admissions programs, Justice Roberts writing for the majority said “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life.” At UC Santa Barbara, for example, students still write about their race and ethnicity in college essays. Although the admissions team can’t consider race, they can evaluate how students responded to significant issues that impacted their lives and factor that into their admissions decision. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission noted in a statement that the recent cases do not “address employer efforts to foster diverse and inclusive workforces or to engage the talents of all qualified workers, regardless of their background,” clarifying that it is still legal for “employers to implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs that seek to ensure workers of all backgrounds are afforded equal opportunity in the workplace.”
  1. Own Your Power. Get political! Some people think of politics as an ugly endeavor (or dirty business), but politics – the building and wielding of power and policy to help lives – is, or at least should be, the essence of democracy. Understand what you can do within the confines of your organization. There are fewer limits on nonprofits than you may think. For instance, 501(c)(3) organizations can educate voters and elected officials, and even lobby under a certain threshold. And organizations can set up 501(c)(4) organizations and PACs to do direct electioneering and endorse candidates.  

    And up your personal political game. Participate as a voter if you’re eligible. If not, register voters and campaign for candidates that show up for civil rights and racial justice. Research the legislation politicians are voting on and make sure they hear from you about your priorities. Consider running for local office. Make your voice heard by showing up at school board, zoning commission, city council, and other public meetings. Don’t assume that because you’re in a more progressive state that we don’t have work to do –  it could just be a matter of time.
  1. Reclaim the streets. We have to continue to organize, demonstrate power, and march in the streets at unprecedented levels to protest the perilous actions of the court and politicians. We need a narrative and set of demands that undergird our outrage about how the American people can no longer trust the courts because precedent and human rights no longer matter to them. We must call on Congress and state legislatures to pass new laws that grant civil rights and personal freedoms. 
  1. Vision, plan, and execute for the long-term. Anti-civil rights groups have been planning and building for this moment for decades. They have focused on five crucial areas that have brought them wins: policy, candidates, gerrymandering, courts, and messaging. They laid plans years and sometimes decades in advance to identify policies they wanted to change, recruit candidates, draw political districts in their favor, elect politicians that would approve their court picks, and cultivate messages online and offline that resonate with voters. Those of us who focus on progressive social change need to do the same – unapologetically and now. 
  1. Build and expand community – even those you think are not with us. Anti-civil rights groups and networks have captured more of the working class vote and white imagination than the progressive movement thought possible. They have been digging into white, middle America communities, swing states, and emerging swing states,  spreading misinformation and fear throughout. They have been present and listening to communities that some progressives have abandoned, believing erroneously that they only need each other to make change. 

    We’ve got to reach more people, understand their concerns, find connections, and foster greater love and empathy for others. The people who are opposing affirmative action, reproductive rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, cancelation of student loan debt, environmental protections, and reasonable gun restraints are not fighting a single-issue battle and neither can we. They are fighting for a narrow conception of what it means to be the United States and who this country and its resources are for. We will not win the moral battle for justice as discrete communities, but rather together – as a collective so strong and a movement so large, diverse, and inclusive that we cannot be divided!

And, as you take these actions, know you’re not alone. While the forces against justice have gained ground and visibility, there are many individuals, organizations, and networks who are “fighting the good fight” and getting into “necessary trouble.” This is a time to collaborate across traditional boundaries and put your justice values into practice. IISC can partner with your organization or network to help you advance and operationalize racial equity and equity of all kinds at every level of your organization. This is the time to dig in deeper and we’ve got a full team ready to dedicate our services to you.

Knowing that our country needs more political action and organizing, IISC wants to work with more advocacy, organizing, and electoral organizations and networks so that we can support movements for justice by sharing our facilitation skills and tools for collaboration, equity, and network-building. Can you connect us to them? IISC is also available to bring seasoned facilitators to organizations and networks that are eager to clarify their vision for the future and develop a pathway forward to realize that vision. And we can support you in facilitating conversations with people who are nontraditional allies and with whom you may even be at odds. Learn more about our offerings here.

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June 22, 2023

Kelly Frances Bates: A 2023 Living History Maker in Hyde Park, Massachusetts

IISC President Kelly Frances Bates was honored this Juneteenth holiday as part of the groundbreaking launch of a new exhibit titled “Living History Makers of Color in Hyde Park”, a pictorial installation of Boston residents and leaders of color who have made historical contributions locally and nationally.

The exhibit features 13 Hyde Park residents of color who are having a positive and enduring impact in the local and national arena and who have committed themselves to service in addressing marginalization, disparities, and inequities. Consisting of larger-than-life pictorial stands of each honoree, the exhibit is scheduled to travel to various sites around the state over the coming months and will have its home during the winter months at the Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library. 

The exhibit was conceived and produced by the Forum for Racial Equity in Hyde Park, led by Marcia Kimm-Jackson. The Forum for Racial Equity in Hyde Park via Educational Experiences (FREEE) believes that acknowledging modern Black and Brown contributions and history is important for many reasons. First, it allows us to eradicate the pervasive and damaging myth of inferiority that has been perpetuated throughout history about communities of color. By highlighting the achievements and successes of Black and Brown residents, we challenge this false narrative and promote a more truthful and positive view of the residents and the broader community in Hyde Park and beyond. Second, by recognizing the valuable contributions of Black and Brown residents, we can help to create a more inclusive city and state that values and respects the diverse experiences and perspectives of all individuals. And third, acknowledging the contributions and history of Black and Brown residents is a crucial step towards achieving racial justice and equity.

The full list of honorees, in addition to Kelly Frances Bates, includes:

  • Reverend Dr. Bruce H. Wall – “Defining the Church Without Walls” – Groundbreaking pastor/activist/changemaker
  • Aisha Francis-Samuels, Ph.D – “Educator at Heart” – First female college president at Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology
  • Conan Harris – “Purveyor of Fortitude and Foresight” – Esteemed purpose-driven leader and mentor
  • Segun Idowu – “Man of the Moment” – Exemplary economic and equity leader
  • Wyatt Jackson/Dianne Walker – “Ambassadors of Black Creativity, Giants in the Arts” – Impactful educators and award winning and historic artists
  • Ruthzee Louijeune, Esq. – “Working for the People, Advancing Equity” – First Haitian American city councilor; accomplished attorney
  • José C. Massó III/José Fabio Massó – “Voices for Change, Pride and Unity” – Award-winning broadcasters for equity and unity and living the legacy of love in service
  • Pat Odom – “Trailblazer” – First female of color in Massachusetts Army National Guard
  • Imari Paris Jeffries, Ph.D – “Keeper of Stories” – Exemplary and influential nonprofit leader & equity advocate
  • Ayanna Pressley – “Policy is my Love Language” – First Black woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress
  • Tanisha Sullivan, Esq. – “Courageous Leader and Fighter for Collective Advancement” – Visionary and impactful attorney, humanitarian and civil rights leader
  • Ricardo Arroyo, Esq. – “Making Space for All” – First city councilor of color in Hyde Park

Congratulations to all!

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May 26, 2023

Equity May Not Be So Deep, Even If It Isn’t Easy: 10 Things You Can Actually Do Sooner Than Later

Just wrapping up some work with a network focused on just and sustainable food systems, and based on work we have done and conversation we have had to date on equity, networks, and love, here is a list of 10 things that might be transferable to your work (remembering that you can’t always transplant directly, without some fine-tuning to context):

  1. If you have an equity commitment, revisit it often, if not during every significant meeting that happens. Integration is key. If you have not developed a commitment, consider it. You might ask your team, “Why are we committed to advancing equitable wellbeing and belonging in and through our work? What does this mean to us? What is in it for us? What happens if we don’t live into this commitment?”
  2. Go back to your group agreements (assuming you have a set of guiding principles) during every meeting (think about opening with these). Ideally these agreements help you to answer the question, “How can we create conditions for a sense of equitable wellbeing and belonging?”
  3. Have more discussion with people in your organization/system about Zoom and on-line etiquette. This has to do with supporting equitable wellbeing and belonging and also leaning into collective accountability, which is a big part of “justice infrastructure.” Talk about what you all mean by “accountability” in terms of “showing up” for each other and “speaking up” when together and why it is important. 
  4. Clarify an equitable “system of roles” in your meetings/work (facilitator, scribe/memory keeper, sponsor, lead organizer, point person, etc.). These roles can (and probably should) rotate, and be distributed (not all held by a single or few people). Know what your system of roles is in any given moment, whether you are making meaning, making decisions, or taking action together.
  5. Schedule equity-focused facilitator training for anyone who facilitates groups in your organization/system. This could be, for example, Facilitative Leadership for Social Change and Fundamentals of Facilitation for Advancing Racial Justice Work, which we offer through IISC. This is about facilitation skills and also meeting design, and also so much more (like tapping into our shared human dignity).
  6. Create and maintain a broadly accessible list of recommended equity tools for all. Ideally co-create this, revisit it together from time to time, and think of it in terms of different modalities (text, audio, visual, etc.). Keep it fresh and pruned. Here is a great resource to get started.
  7. Fine-tune the structure of your organization/system so that it reflects your equity commitment, following the notion that “form (structure) follows function (activities) follows focus (what you are trying to make happen in the world).” Revisit structure in light of changing functions and your evolving understanding of equity at least once a year. How is it supporting equitable wellbeing and belonging? How might it be adjusted to be more aligned? Consider using an equity impact assessment to guide you in this work (see image below).
  8. Keep broadly accessible equity learning and cultural celebration events going, monthly or quarterly. This could be movie nights, discussion groups, guest speakers, book clubs, multi-cultural food potlucks, storytelling festivals, etc. This could also include something like participating in the FSNE 21 Day Equity Challenge. And certainly see if you can attract a diverse flock to these events and celebrations.
  9. Think about how to do your events in such a way that a wide variety of people feel engaged and included, as participants, contributors, presenters, etc. Consider who has access and feels welcomed and who does not.
  10. For a bigger stretch, perhaps, consider doing relational organizing or “conversational weaving,” focused on discussing and practicing equitable wellbeing and belonging. You can do this in small groups starting in your organization/community and spread out from there. A resource that might be helpful in this regard is Marshall Ganz’s work.
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May 5, 2023

Mississippi Learnings: Deep Trust, Values, Accountability and Faith as and for “System Change”

One of many murals in Jackson, celebrating local s/heroes.

I have been trying to capture my learning from the past few days in Mississippi. I feel pretty shifted by the experience, in directions that we at IISC have been pointing towards (along with partners such as the Mississippi Food Justice Collaborative, Food Solutions New England, The Full Frame Initiative, National Parent Leadership Initiative, and many others), though now personally I feel it at another level of depth and conviction. For that I am so grateful.

This is something that I put into a digital journal as I was traveling home to capture what was moving through me:

“Just leaving Jackson, Mississippi, where I was for three days, co-facilitating and participating in a gathering convened by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future of food policy councils from around the country (US) that are trying to advance social equity in their work. It was incredibly powerful to me to gather in Jackson, for all its history; to meet the likes of Reena Evers-Everette (daughter of Medgar and Myrlie Evers), Charles Taylor (head of the NAACP-Mississippi), Savi Horne (Land Loss Prevention Program), Ed Whitfield (Seed Commons) and Dr. Cindy Ayers-Elliott (founder of Foot Print Farms); and also to learn more from colleagues there about the network weaving and healing work they are doing in and around food systems, which is about so much more than food – community, local economy, and culture. 

As I was walking through the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum about two hours after we closed the convening, I was hit in the forehead and heart (literally had to sit down) by the messages from both the history I was taking in and also what I had just experienced in Jackson. And I should add that it links to the work we at IISC have been supporting through Food Solutions New England for over a decade. To distill “success” (or encouraging movement) in the Civil Rights movement (especially in Mississippi) and what is happening now in Mississippi and in New England around food systems change, much seems to come down to this:

  • Foregrounding relationships and relational culture, and especially bridging beyond bonding (like-to-like)
  • Being grounded in core values and principles that are co-created and co-evolved
  • Establishing, collectively, accountability structures and processes focused on the values and principles and maintaining relational culture 
  • Relentlessly keeping those who are most negatively impacted by the existing system(s) at the center, not to exclude or peripheralize others, but rather to make sure their experiences-voices-ideas-advocacies serve as a guidepost for systemic redesign (the curb cut effect suggests that when we design for those who are most marginalized, we catch others up in the process)
  • Grounding in the anchoring power of faith, which may or may not be religiously-sourced, and nonetheless is about having humility in the face of Life’s gifts and grandeur, which is complex and awe-inspiring, and asks us to both never give up but also to let go …

On top of this, or infused with this, comes the work for policy change, creating new civic infrastructure, and the like, and never losing sight of the list above. 

Picture from Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

One peril, over and over again, in social/system change work, seems to be the pitfalls of abstraction – making what we are doing too intellectual and inaccessible to most, not to mention unactionable; not addressing the abstractions that people make of one another in systems (seeing someone only as their role, or other aspects of identity); inappropriately “scaling” or “franchising” efforts and not shaping the work to real places where there may be some familiar patterns but always uniqueness in terms of history and culture.

Another peril is perpetuating fragmentation – not working with living breathing wholes, siloing our “knowing” to overly intellectual/analytical thinking, failing to integrate/weave strategies and perpetuating unhelpful competition (playing into the oligarchic capitalist narrative and way of doing things).”

Now reflecting on this a few days later, something else comes up, which is the importance of ongoing work on ourselves as “change agents,” care-fully watching our own automatic tendencies, biases, and inclinations (including towards groupthink), and especially being careful of the rearing of the overly pride-full ego in the forms of fear, envy, greed and striving for control. Much seems to come down to the abiding power of Love (and from it the expression when necessary of “holy rage”) and the never-ending practice of making room for regenerative flows …

Still sitting with it all, and curious to hear reactions, resonances and other reflections …

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April 12, 2023

Racial Affinity Group Field Guide

Welcome to the Racial Affinity Group Field Guide produced by the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) for public distribution. Affinity groups are an important part of the journey towards understanding and promoting racial equity and racial justice. We are so glad that you have signed up to support people in having these important conversations. 

This guide provides practical advice for leading and facilitating racial affinity groups in your organization or community. It includes the nuts and bolts of organizing affinity groups; potential topics to cover in your groups; the importance of managing your own interior condition while participating in an affinity group; and links to various tools and resources. 

Many questions are likely to arise as you design and lead your affinity groups. It’s important to remember that there are no perfect answers to these questions; there are always pros and cons to trying different things. We encourage you to avoid a false sense of urgency and the pressure to make everything perfect, both of which are characteristics of white dominant culture. Some things will work and some things won’t. You’ll make mistakes and that’s okay, particularly because that means you are learning along the way. 

We encourage you to try out different affinity group content and techniques, and eventually you will have greater comfort and ease in the role. If possible, surround yourself with a community of other facilitators so that you can learn, experiment, and grow together. Please know that there are many others doing this work; you are not alone! 

Please note this guide was written for people living and working in the United States. Racism is a global phenomenon, as Europeans displaced and oppressed non-white people all around the world. However, racism in other countries may operate in unique ways based on the historical context and the expression of modern-day racism in that location. We encourage you to further adapt the ideas in this guide to reflect your own local context. 

HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE 

This guide is structured to address the most common questions that arise when designing and facilitating race-based affinity groups. It addresses the who, what, when, where, why, and how of all things related to affinity groups. Read the whole guide or skim to get the answers to your most burning questions. And, as always, we welcome your comments.

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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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March 7, 2023

An Ever-Evolving Journey: On Moving to Equitable Wellbeing and Belonging

The project of our society is to constantly re-imagine how we belong together.

Bridgit Antoinette Evans’ 

This year, we are again excited to partner with Food Solutions New England on the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. This will be the 9th offering of what began as an experiment to bring a region together in exploration of the connection between race, racism and the food system, and what can be done to ensure equity and fairness across all lines of identity. Each year the Challenge has evolved, including more and different resources, topics, tools, and features. And the number of participants has grown from roughly 250 in the first year to several thousand over the last five years, with a total of more than 30,000 people signing up from all 50 US states and over 30 other countries. For more on this evolution, see this post.

What we wanted to highlight this year is that we are framing everything under the theme of “Moving to equitable wellbeing and belonging in food systems and beyond.” Why wellbeing and belonging? Because most everyone can relate to the ideas of wellbeing and belonging. Also because this phrase can help to answer the question regarding what some of the big goals are of doing racial and other forms of “equity work.” 

At a time when we might feel confused about what it means to work for equity and justice, and when many words have become political footballs, we find that focusing on the core values and destinations of equitable wellbeing and belonging can help to ground and focus people. This is especially so when we focus on definitions of wellbeing and belonging that (1) most if not all people across identities can relate to, (2) emphasize the systemic, structural, and social nature of these terms, and (3) help us better understand how racism and other forms of bias and oppression can get in the way and ultimately impact everyone. We are especially fortunate to be able to turn to our partners in and experts on wellbeing at The Full Frame Initiative and on othering at the Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California at Berkeley

“We are all wired for wellbeing.” So say our friends at the Full Frame Initiative (FFI). And while this may be the case, they go on to say, “We do not all have a fair shot at wellbeing.” This ends up being due in large part to different kinds of treatment and opportunities that can fall along lines of identity, including race and ethnicity. While this clearly impacts the victims of racism and other -isms, it also ends up impacting everyone in society. 

So what is wellbeing? According to FFI,

“Wellbeing is the set of needs and experiences essential, in combination and balance, to weather challenges and have health and hope.”

Wellbeing here is not the same as “wellness,” which often is used in very individualistic kinds of ways – for example, whether or not you are “well” is because of the choices you have made.

The work of FFI around wellbeing also points to five key factors or domains in play, which are largely socially determined:

  • 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 resources like food, housing, clothing, sleep and more, without shame, danger or difficulty.

The first domain above has clear connections to social location and connection. 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, and purpose, and it can create access to resources (financial and otherwise) that sustain and enliven us.

To learn more about these “five domains of wellbeing” and why they matter for everyone, you can check out the interactive graphic at this link and/or watch the short video below with FFI’s Tanya Tucker.

Belonging. This is a powerful word, feeling, and condition/situation. It is more than inclusion, simply “feeling or being included.” It is about being fundamentally “seen” and “respected.” The concept of belonging has been explored and expressed by many over time, and with great depth, nuance, and relevance more recently by the staff at the Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California-Berkeley (OBI). OBI contrasts belonging to “othering,” a process which fundamentally denies certain people recognition of their full or even partial humanity. You can watch or listen to a roughly five minute segment of a talk that OBI founder john a. powell gave in 2019 about othering and belonging (see below – start at 9:10 and end at 13:45). 

As with the concept of wellbeing, belonging is understood here as being directly connected to power dynamics. According to OBI,

“Belonging means having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures that shape one’s life — the right to both contribute and make demands upon society and political institutions.”

Belonging then requires power, access, and opportunity among all groups and individuals within a given social structure, such as a society, organization, business, club, etc. And as Brian Stout, ever curious explorer of “building belonging,” writes, “Belonging is a felt sense in our bodies of safety, power, wholeness, and welcome. It is a relational quality that can be cultivated and practiced.”

With this relational and systemic understanding of belonging, we can see how the different “levels of racism,” in food and other systems, can create othering in interpersonal, institutional, and also individually internalized ways, which can and do ripple through the broader fabric of our shared social body, or what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called as our “inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

If you are interested in further exploring these topics and engaging in this conversation about giving everyone a fair shot at wellbeing, repairing, healing, and building belonging in food systems and beyond, join us for this year’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. Registration information can be found here.

We are all tied to a lineage of love that has existed since time immemorial. Even if we haven’t had a direct experience of that love, we know that it exists and has made an indelible imprint on our souls. It’s remarkable to think that the entire span of human life exists within each one of us, going all the way back to the hands of the Creator. In our bodies we carry the blood of our ancestors and the seeds of the future generations. We are a 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. We are strengthened by who we come from and inspired by the those who will follow.”

– Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset)

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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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February 2, 2023

IISC is Trying a Four-Day Work Week! (Updated)

In June of 2022, IISC decided to experiment with a four-day work week. First, it was just for the summer. Then we extended it into the fall. Eventually, after careful review of its impacts on multiple levels, we decided to make it permanent.

Here is the original post about this decision, which provides important context.


For years, our visionary president, Kelly Bates, dreamed of implementing a four-day work week at IISC. But it wasn’t until Covid broke open every preconception we had about work that it actually seemed possible.  While Covid has led to a lot of heartbreak, it has also given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely reimagine our work, from where and when we work to how we manage our time and productivity and more. And so…we are trying an experiment this summer. From mid-June through August we are implementing a four-day work week at IISC.

Some background to this decision might be useful to share. 

During Covid we went fully remote as an organization, as did so many others. And eventually, as we grappled with the impact of the pandemic on our work and personal lives, we implemented monthly restoration days (one Friday off each month) and started ending the workday on Fridays at 2 p.m. (essentially giving staff a 37-hour work week). These interim steps made a four-day work week experiment seem possible.

Before taking this step, we took a look around and learned from a lot of other organizations who have done this and we talked extensively with our staff. We learned that four-day work weeks are not a perfect solution to all that challenges us and that sometimes people will still work some on Fridays. But we also learned that a four-day work week can make the work/life balance significantly more manageable; multiple staff from other organizations that had implemented it  shared that they’d not now have it any other way.

Another stop on this journey has been a simplification of our goals here at IISC to our intention to become sustainable, whole, and purposeful. Trying out a four-day work week is just one of the steps we are taking in pursuit of these goals.  A four-day work week will require us to be more purposeful and intentional with our time and, ultimately, we hope that it means our staff who work diligently for racial justice will feel their work is more sustainable and that they are better able to show up as whole people. 

We enter into this experiment with a lot of questions. Will it reduce stress or cause more? Will we be able to get our work done by getting better at prioritizing how we use our work time?  Will it impact our finances? We are also entering into this experiment with a sense of gratitude for the out-of-the-box thinking it has taken to get us here, and with the hope that this change will better support our staff as vibrant humans who are living, being, and working in myriad ways to make the world a better place – within IISC and beyond.

The myth of the nonprofit sector is that we achieve our mission and creativity through a 9-5 workday. And if we have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that we all need to be better supported to live into our full potential. This policy change is in deep alignment with our values of love, networks, and racial justice and we are excited to launch an experiment that challenges us to live out these values in new ways. 

Maybe some of you are already doing this, or will soon join us? If so, let us know how things are working out – you can use the comment section below. And check out this TedTalk with Juliet Schor discussing the value of the four-day work week – from retention of employees to enhanced productivity and overall wellness for people and families. 

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December 13, 2022

Five Calls-to Action from the 2022 Facing Race Conference

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:

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.   

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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