Exactly two weeks ago, I used packing and preparing for my trip to the 2016 Facing Race National Conference as a distraction for what quickly became reality the night of November 8, 2016. While physically packing my clothing, toiletries and other items that I would need to ensure I was well “suited” for this conference, I also packed up my emotional response to the election results and mentally put them in to my luggage to bring along to the conference. As I zipped up my luggage, I said to myself, “Katie, you are better off processing these feelings in Atlanta.”
My excitement to serve as an EPIP delegate at Facing Race, both pre- and post- Election Day, came from knowing that at the end of a very tough year I would be among 2,300-plus movement makers who have the common goal of achieving true racial justice in the United States. Beyond this, I longed for a space where I could hear the stories of my fellow conference goers and learn about how they are leading the movement and processing current affairs.
Entering the conference, I mapped out my schedule for all three days of the conference right down to the minute in my usual Type-A fashion. I knew I wanted to gain practical tools to support my endeavors to become a social capital community engagement entrepreneur, while learning as much as possible to bring back to my colleagues at the large global corporate foundation I work for. Looking back, this precisely timed schedule of mine was a vision of everything the Facing Race Conference is not intended to be and certainly was not what I needed in that very moment. This space was clearly created by the Race Forward team to encourage authentic dialogue, build community and continue the momentum and energy that defines the racial justice movement, all while gaining the practical tools that I was so focused on.
By 10:00 am on day 1 of Facing Race, I was pulled in to my first hallway conversation around rethinking how we “conference”. I was quickly reminded that Facing Race was meant to be an organic (Ugh, I know many folks have qualms with this word!) learning opportunity. Formal and informal opportunities arose left and right that sent one clear message about why we were all brought in to this exact space, at this exact time: We all have a profound role in the movement.
During my three days in Atlanta, I saw this narrative come up time and time again.
In a workshop on “The Business of Racial Justice”, a group of emerging entrepreneurs of color shared their experiences of gaining access to capital in wildly inaccessible spaces while leading start-up organizations that address the deep racial inequities that our communities face. They gave advice on how to navigate and leverage sources of wealth to support social businesses that serve communities of color.
Author and feminist Roxane Gay highlighted how she uses her privilege and platform as a world acclaimed author to bring light to the injustices that she had experienced and that the masses still face. She gave advice on how allies can talk about the movement with their peers, “Talk to your men, talk to each other, and get your *#$% together.”
Executive Director of the Arab American Society of New York Linda Sarsour, used her vibrant personality to “light a flame” under the backsides of those who were uncertain of how to participate in the post-2016 election movement. She shared about her own exhaustion caused by constantly being on the frontlines of the racial justice movement and followed up with a call to action for those who were looking for tangible ways to become a part of the movement.
Knowing that I live in an incredibly racially homogenous, un-diverse world that can so often be taxing on my ability to walk through the world in a whole manner requires me to serve as a formal and informal conduit between the stories and experiences of my brothers and sisters and those who are not necessarily aware of or a part of the movement. I know that by owning my role of being a “storyteller” I can inform how decision makers create policies, allocate funds and include communities in the decision-making process.
All of us have these days, weeks and months ahead of us to reiterate, define or discover what our roles will be in the collective movement toward racial justice in the United States. I, myself, will continue to listen to the experiences of our individual and collective communities and share them far and wide with the intention of creating personal connections back to the movement for the sake of creating equity.
The words that closed the Facing Race Conference from Race Forward Executive Director Rinku Sen said it best, “We all have a role in the movement, some radical, some not as radical, but we must support and love one another.” I say this all to share my hope that Facing Race created a renewed energy and intention that we will all identify and affirm our roles in the movement with the spirit of support, love and compassion.
Medtronic Foundation, Minneapolis, MN