Racism: changing this river’s course

Forces whose timing and movement we cannot fathom and must act on

Across the globe, a virus we cannot see exerts its gravitational pull towards safety, protection, distancing, isolation. We do not all have the same choice to hunker down.

An equally potent force pulls newly mobilizing white people alongside seasoned activists – to rise and move together with our neighbors – and “strangers” of color. 

(I am painfully aware I might well be marching alongside the same black man who I crossed the street to avoid on a city street at night six months ago.)

Often masked, sometimes social distancing, protesters flow like a river down streets emptied of automobile traffic by Covid-19 even before protests began: to grieve, rage, chant, home-school our children in the streets, make vivid the pain and we-are-doneness in a cultural body that perhaps is on its way to becoming one sensing, healing and awakening body after all. 

Young people lead once again, as they have on environmental justice. Often black youth in the foreground: kids likely to die of racism before Covid-19 threatened them. White children as young as preschool are getting newly inoculated with a race-appropriate version of “the talk” – a talk that has a moral compass.

We may be in a position to watch these events live-streamed…from within our home offices / home schools / home kitchens

or we may be in a position to march….

or to honk our car horns in support…

or, as my sister living in a high-rise for seniors in Berkeley…to light a candle on her 2nd floor balcony that may not actually be visible to anyone.

What is it that is happening on the sidewalks, in the streets?

Sidewalks and streets that have belonged to white people since the early days in America’s history?

How is it that our grief walks the streets, hundreds, thousands together, when we have not been able to gather to sit with our dying family members, bury our dead, witness wedding vows, eat, study?

How is it that strangers have emerged from siloed neighborhoods, the red-lined and the privileged, to walk together?

Washington Post reporter Marissa J. Lang writes

“They didn’t have a plan at first. Five friends determined to join protests over the police killing of George Floyd arrived in downtown Washington on Saturday with one goal: Get to the White House.

As they walked south toward the bright white pillars in the distance, the group began to call out to passersby — people out for walks or jogs, some curiously eyeing the young people brandishing signs and face masks, marching with their fists held high.

“Walk with us,” called Jasmine Grobes, 27. “Come on! Walk with us.”

By the time they reached the metal barricades around Lafayette Square, that group of five had swelled to nearly 50 times that number. “

If you want to move a river, dig a channel…the river will flow into it.

There is movement, a change in choreography: police and protesters reach out to one another in small moments even as tear gas and rubber bullets fly elsewhere. The channel that protesters, and sometimes police officers, are digging reclaims public spaces.

There are stunning and tantalizing examples of a different kind of listening and bridging that is taking place. 

There are messages everywhere: on signs, on fences – most notably on the security fence surrounding the White House.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish.”

“When do I go from cute to dangerous?”

“Racism makes our patients sick.”

“We all bleed the same color.”

“Racism is the pandemic.”

“Why do you hate me?”

“Am I next?”

“Enough.”

We don’t know if we are in Langston Hughes’ Final Curve, as much as we may long for it

When you turn the corner

And you run into yourself

Then you know that you have turned

All the corners that are left.

We cannot foresee the outcome of this moment of letting go and coming in.

This is a mass of “unorganized” humanity beginning to sense itself – what one theory of change says is the key to transforming consciousness. 

In this view we observe, observe, observe. We go to the place of greatest potential to listen with our minds and our hearts wide open.

The place of most potential is our own being - and so we practice

With modest, not grand gestures, we begin to lay a foundation for racial repair and reconciliation.

We recommit to practice, to owning and freeing ourselves from our personal and cultural history.

We wrestle with responsibility, shame, and forgiveness of self and other, one second at a time.

We walk together, dismantle the shared racial structures together.

We make changes of the heart and let them guide changes in the law.

 

This is how we dig the channel to move the river of racism.

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Banner photo by John Salvino

To explore your own stories about race is hard to do alone. If you are ready to let your mind and heart break open into a larger story, let’s talk about how the practices of Radical Inclusion can support you.

2017: the power to act weds healing and awakening

It’s 2017 and I’m determined to see that the power to act weds nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for my individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

I was a reluctant student of power. And in my efforts to exercise power and speak truth to power, I burned out as a non-profit professional by the mid ’90s.

My life took a different turn. I learned about other kinds of power: the power of the body to heal itself, the powers of the plants, the transformative power of embodying the nondual. I grew into a healer and an herbalist. The social activist entered a long sleep even as other parts of me were awakening.  

Still, my years as a community organizer taught me to listen to my clients’ stories, to listen not only for the impact of their family life, but the impact of skin color, wealth, opportunity, gender, sexual identity, and the other societal constructs that shape us.

The Baltimore Uprising in April, 2015 woke up that sleeping seeker of justice. The November election energized me.

2017 promises me ample opportunities to explore the relationship between healing and empowerment, to marry the seeker of justice with the healer, to explore ways to heal our civic body.
What could that look like? How about we figure this out together?

 

Here’s my back story,  with a deep bow to remarkable teachers of mine.

I was a reluctant student of power.

Charm and subtle manipulation served me so effectively for so many years in the daughter-mother-wife-entrepreneur roles. And when my few strategies failed me, I had learned to simply withdraw. I was 36 and recently separated when I was hired by the Northeast Community Organization and underwent a week-end church-basement training in Alinsky-style organizing. Among other things, I learned that those who have not amassed wealth to spread their influence around had better learn to amass a lot of human bodies. Also that an opponent, aka enemy on one issue might well become a bedfellow on the next.

Over the next fifteen years, two black professionals tutored me in different aspects of power. I inherited Organizational Psychologist Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. as my mentor when I took over as Director of The Maryland Food Committee, a statewide anti-hunger organization where I’d been working for five years. He was the first person – yes, really – to talk with me about “use of self”: actual skills for becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and using intention to choose behaviors that would optimize getting desired results and minimize or at least manage difficulties along the way.

A few months into working with me, Michael cut through my foggy persona like a knife through butter with five words: You’re not helpless, you know.

I certainly had been helpless up to that moment, given how unconscious I was about my – um thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

I went on to learn an enormous amount from Michael and his colleagues Edie and Charlie Seashore, deans in the field of organizational development. How to participate in and then facilitate race and gender conversations in organization settings. How to run multi-day large-group consensus-building processes to address social problems.

But to learn play in the political arena, I needed more street smarts than my tidy upbringing could ever have imagined. My tutor and role-model was Reverend (now Bishop) Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church. Doug also headed Baltimore United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church and neighborhood-based organization affiliated with Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). He picked up with me where the church-based week-end had left off. No, I never set out to learn how to preach from this master of conscience, nor inspire crowds to action as he did.

Doug taught me about the importance of relationships built on trust, and the time, skill and heart needed to develop them.

He taught me about the courage and inner strength human beings draw from standing together, walking a street together, powering a meeting together. About the importance of everyone being crystal clear about the goal and the negotiating position.

Twenty years later

When I left social justice work, my colleagues and I had made some inroads in opening up what we thought of as the real conversation: the poverty that fostered hunger and birthed hundreds of food pantries and dozens of soup kitchens. The resistance to naming and delving into next level of reality, the institutional racism that drove poverty that drove hunger – that resistance was fierce.

Now racism, and all its kin are the stuff of daily conversation, from the raw to the scholarly. The lid is off and #this is our history, #this is who we are. What are we – together – going to do about it?

I am determined to figure out how you and I can each use our life of practice to see that we wed the power to act to nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for our individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

How can we open up meaningful conversations across the divides in our families and communities, make life-changing strides for our hurting kin, all while being our wise and foolish human selves?

Here’s my invitation:  Join me via Zoom, Tuesday, January 17, 7:30-8:30 pm EST

in observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

Let’s mobilize our yearning and our practice to bend the long arc towards justice.

TO REGISTER: email me at alifeofpractice@gmail.com

Please make Subject line BEND THE ARC