“These are times that try our souls.” – Facing Race 2016
I didn’t know what to expect in Atlanta, but something about the moment, even beyond the election – just felt like it was the place I needed to be. While I didn’t know exactly what my soul yearned for, I knew that I needed to change my environment and be in the presence of critical thinkers, advocates, and racial justice progressives. I had trouble putting words to my thoughts, but exhaustion was one thing I could tangibly notice within myself. Before the conference began, I recognized that I had a foggy mind – present, yet disconnected to real and raw emotions.
How did I know that disconnection had fallen upon me? Was it the tears that started to flow the first day of the conference? Tears – a form of release; an indication of the weight one holds inside. The tears that streamed down my face were like a strong, warm, and salty ocean current. They were effortless as if I had been waiting for this very moment. Although the election sparked thoughts of racial injustice, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia, my own experiences came rushing to my mind.
Facing Race allowed for me to connect my thoughts with my emotions, to a point where I had to face myself. As I entered the warm, crowded, large, colorful ballroom with raw emotion, I had no choice but to start feeling my deep emotions. I was not going to leave the same way I came – an open soul that couldn’t turn back. I walked into the room welcomed by drums, singing, laughter, love, peace, and insurmountable energy. My mind was full and my racial justice spirit fueled. At this point I still couldn’t understand the disconnection between my mind, body, and spirit. While I embraced this opportunity to learn, love, and be free to celebrate being a part of this powerful movement – my heart was still tired. I asked myself, how do I find full release so I can do the work of racial justice?
As the days went on I was hoping that the pieces would come together so that the stormy clouds I was feeling inside my mind would subside. One moment that stood out to me during the conference was when a speaker said, “You can’t separate systems change from changing the hearts and minds of people.” When I heard this, I immediately thought, my experience was justified. It was okay for me to connect my emotions with my thoughts when trying to eliminate inequities. In another session focused on systems change, I read “if you do not understand your role in the problem, it’s difficult to be part of the solution,” which made me think about how this relates to my work in philanthropy and how we are undergoing a phase of streamlining and developing clarity around our funding priorities. This led me to think about the relationship between systems thinking and consciousness. How conscious are you? What does it mean to dive into your consciousness? How can you lead with equity to make systems change without first understanding your piece in the puzzle? So then, does systems thinking that leads to lasting systems change require consciousness? ABSOLUTELY.
So how do we move past just theorizing our actions around racial justice and start to connect our mind and hearts when approaching the work?
To move past theory, we must love. In the closing ceremony, Rinku Sen shared with us a message of love. We cannot be specific about who we love and how love comes to us. We must love everyone– not just the usual suspects, but even those who have opposing views and values. We must have conversations with each other and really be willing to listen.
In addition to loving others, we must also truly love ourselves. Rinku’s message echoed the mantra we heard throughout the week – I am love. Sharing love with yourself. Sharing love with each other by learning and building together. I think this requires listening, thinking and feeling with yourself and with other people. Loving yourself means also forgiving yourself. There have been times when I have questioned if I was being true to myself. Facing Race set me free and gave me permission to fight for me.
Ultimately, we need our minds and hearts to be connected to do this work. We need to spread love. We must create spaces small or large to have honest open conversations as we move forward in this movement towards racial justice. Facing Race awakened me, but also nourished me to continue to do my work. I will always ask myself these questions: What is my role in creating spaces of consciousness? What is my responsibility to bring those around me to consciousness? What do I need in order to remain connected to my heart and mind as I do this work? Love. Forgiveness.
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