It was 3:43am on Wednesday, November 9 when I awoke from a dead sleep and looked at my phone to see the election results. As I tried to clear my eyes and refresh the page, a sense of sheer devastation washed over me. When I woke up again a few hours later, I looked to confirm the results. How could this possibly happen? What is going to happen in the world now? At work I felt a sense of relief to be able to share these fears and feelings of despair. Then came a small sense of reassurance. I am so privileged to be surrounded by like-minded, progressive, forward thinking, deeply concerned colleagues who are committed to serving the world through social justice and by putting our faith in collective action through our work with the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock.
Immediately upon arriving to Race Forward’s Facing Race conference, the energy in the air was palpable with more than 2,000 people present. Somehow, despite the uncertainty of the goings-on in the world around us, being at Facing Race felt like a small slice of life where everything was going to be all right because we would figure it out together. From the conference attendees to the speakers, conference weavers, performers, planners and protesters –emotions were running deep and flowing wildly through every element.
With an abundance of pre- and self-organized sessions to pick from, no matter which room I entered I knew I’d leave with a greater understanding of myself and the world and how the two come together for me to make my mark in whatever ways- big or small. Each session and speaker was better than the one before, provoking deeper thinking into the subtleties of everyday life that we often take for granted. From the moment I received the invitation to apply to be part of the Emerging Practitioners In Philanthropy (EPIP) delegation attending the conference, I relished the opportunity to be a part of this monumentous event during a pivotal moment in time. Racial equity has always been close to my heart and this was the opportunity to dig deeper into all of the biases and prejudices that have surrounded me my entire life and to try to make sense of it.
One of the biggest takeaways from the conference for me was about how to put that sentiment into action. By examining my own self, my family life and upbringing, this experience will influence me going forward with an even deeper understanding of the fact that racial justice not only is important to the lives of people of color, but really is fundamental for people of all backgrounds. Being of Italian and Polish descent I have always felt conflicted when issues of race came up, questioning any off-the-cuff remarks and challenging their validity and place in any conversation. I have many family members whose beliefs toward others, quite frankly, make me sad and ashamed. To this day, many people in my family are staunch Trump supporters. On the one hand, turning away from the strife and harm faced by other communities is akin to having a hand in the commission of those injustices. Though I love them, I strongly disagree with their logic, and there lies the long and short of my dilemma. Good people with bad beliefs, do we love them or turn them away?
When I presented the question of what to do in these instances to the EPIP delegation over dinner, people suggested that I listen, try to learn why those I disagreed with had made the choices they had, find ways to connect and challenge lovingly.
When I got to thinking and reflecting on all the sessions I attended, the opportunity to attend the Facing Race conference and hear, not only from peers, but from a multitude of powerful leaders and speakers such as Rinku Sen, Alicia Garza, Michelle Alexander, Van Jones, Roxane Gay, Jose Antonio Vargas, Pramiya Jayapal, Linda Sarsour and many more, the prevailing message I received was that of unity. Now it is time to take what we feel in our hearts and use it to continue to break down racial divides by bringing injustices to light so they may be confronted and dismantled, to create the just and equitable world we each wish to live in and leave for future generations. This is the task we must do through our piece of work. We must be open minded, we must be active participants in our communities and we must be the change we wish to see in the world by sharing the message of love in every area of our lives until we can see, treat and advocate for each other as we do for ourselves.