Regardless of your political affiliation, when we woke up on the morning of November 9th, the political climate in the United States had changed dramatically. Fear, anger, shock, sadness and uncertainty dominated most interactions and conversations that I had before, after and during meetings I participated in. I recall feeling the need to hug people and or allow some time for them to unload the feelings that they were carrying, and which their faces and voices could not conceal. Their sense of despair and helplessness was palpable and overwhelming, and having now been a few weeks removed from the election results, I realize the risk people face if they allow all those feelings: fear, anger, shock, sadness, uncertainty, despair, and helplessness, to turn into paralysis and depression.
While there is a lot of work left to be done, and we by no means live in ideal circumstances, there have been many hard fought gains in voting rights, education, housing, healthcare, criminal justice, equity, etc, that now appear on the cusp of being rolled back. With this as the backdrop, I packed my bags and headed to Atlanta for the Facing Race conference, a lot less enthused and hopeful than when I had initially made my plans to attend. I even had thoughts of canceling the trip and staying back in Chicago to rest a bit but I had made a commitment to attend and so I was off. My flight into Atlanta was not the best for various reasons, which I won’t get into here, and as I laid on my hotel bed I remember thinking that I was off to a bad start on this trip.
Once in Atlanta, you couldn’t help but feel all the amazing energy from the people attending the conference. At the opening ceremony I was able to connect with the numerous folks from Chicago who had made the trip to attend the conference which buoyed my spirits! It is always great to connect with Chicago folks outside of Chicago (even if we struggle to connect when in Chicago). Connecting with the EPIP delegation for dinner on Friday evening was one highlight of the conference. While many of us had never met, we were able to create a sense of community, share our insights and experiences, and really begin to develop ways we could stay connected, support each other and work together after the conference.
I was truly humbled at how open and vulnerable the EPIP members were at the dinner and throughout the weekend. I have found that projects and collaborations move at the speed of trust, and that while people may be open when you first meet, that it is rare and unique to have people be vulnerable in such a short period of time and with some many people. I would say this speaks to the foundation that Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy have laid in each chapter and member, and also to the amazing group of individuals in that room that night. I will carry the memory and energy from that evening with me and I hope to pay it forward.
The two main themes from Facing Race that I kept thinking about on my flight home were from my last workshop and are centered on relationships, trust and accountability. The first theme is actually a question that was posed to the participants as we started the workshop: How do we create organizations and communities that are accountable to everyone, and where everyone thrives? I couldn’t help but think that that question could apply to the whole experience at Facing Race. We were all there looking to be a part of a community or communities, and looking for ideas, relationships and support to ensure that we are all accountable and that we all thrive!
Since I have been back in Chicago, I have found myself asking, what can I do to create communities that allow space for everyone to thrive and to be accountable to everyone. This question has provided me more clarity on my role and my decision making, it has allowed me to be vulnerable when I otherwise would not have been, and it has pushed me to be better at building community others. While this question or theme wasn’t what I thought I might leave Atlanta with, perhaps I was looking for a model or strategy that would apply to my work, it has helped me work with others to combat the paralysis many of us have felt since November 9th. It has helped me understand how to better build and nourish solidarity.
The other theme, which is related, is that of the Arc of Transformation. Many of us work to create change at various levels: community-wide, citywide, statewide or national. But we must never lose sight that change starts from within, and by that I mean within ourselves. So, we have to cultivate and nourish that within us. We must care for ourselves so that we can care for others. In the Arc of Transformation change starts with self-care, which leads to community-care and finally to business care, or taking care of business. I think stuck with me because as we discussed the Arc, I kept thinking of all the people I had spoken with whose voices cracked and eyes watered as they tried to push through the meeting and day since the 9th. We must engage with each other, support each other and love each other, so we can support communities that support all, love all and conquer all.
These are not deep, nor profound reflections, actually they are basic and intuitive actions we can take to move away from despair and depression and towards love and action. And so, I leave you with the words that many people shared with me in Atlanta: Take care of yourself, stand in solidarity with those who need it, fight like hell, be safe and never lose hope!
United Way of Metro Chicago
Incoming EPIP-Chicago Chapter Leader