Why and How We Mourn as a Community

Hi, Thanks for returning to the Fakequity blog. Our colleague Vu at Nonprofit With Balls said we have to blog consistently so we don’t become a fakequiblog (fake-equity-blog). We’re taking his advice and will blog on Fridays, unless it is a holiday, school vacation, we get hungry, or the moon rises. Tell us what you think and that will make the fakequity team want to blog more, fakequity@gmail.com. -Erin


This blog post is a sad one. We have to acknowledge the sad to get to the funny, the truth, and to build a community. How we mourn also says a lot about how we live and the communities we live in.

flowerEarlier this week a high school football player died after a tragic accident. I heard about the accident through the news and figured I would hear of someone who was connected to the family. That is what it is like in communities of color and when our work is in the community—we are all connected. The connection to the football player was through Heidi, a member of the Fakequity team. Heidi spent most of last year riding her bicycle with students from the same high school as the student who died. Yesterday, she was back on her bike with the kids because that is how they wanted to process the death of their classmate, they were sad but they wanted a sense of normalcy and to release some pent up energy. The ride was meaningful because the organizers and students acknowledged the death. They made space to talk about the loss, it sucked, and we are sad. They did what they needed to do together, the students asked to ride so that is what they did.

Death is like taxes— it happens, but unlike taxes we don’t know when. Unlike taxes it isn’t anonymous, we often know someone who is connected to the person. In communities of color this is doubly true and it requires sensitivity. I share office space with the Vietnamese Friendship Association. Last year one of their students died while swimming in Lake Washington. Like the football player it was tragic, sad, and the community came together. Even though I hadn’t met the teen, I heard stories about him and watched a video of his dancing at prom just weeks before the drowning. The hard part was seeing how this was affecting my colleagues, then jumping onto a conference call with people who had no idea about the death even though they live and work near Lake Washington. I remember joining the conference call and saying “Hi, how are you… yeah, I’ve been working with my colleagues to share information about a memorial fund…” I had to do some serious code switching on that call.

Often times after a death there is still work that needs to get done, there are still clients to serve, people who need something in order to keep organizations moving. Yet when we don’t pause to honor and reflect we lose a part of our community. We sometimes need to change course and be bolder and say “the work can wait,” people and our relationships are more important.

We Share the Burden
kodenCustoms around death are an important part of how we mourn, celebrate, and honor our colleagues and friends. I’m a Hawaii raised Japanese American, in my culture when someone dies we send koden, condolence money, to the family. It is an acknowledgement of the death and a way to say we want to share the burden. As my mother tells me (she’s not an anthropologist or a scholar on Japanese in Hawaii, so take this as mother-lore) the Hawaii version of this Japanese tradition stems from the plantation days where the community would come together to help pay for a funeral and help the family through the immediate future. I love this custom, I love that we come together in good and in bad times. I love that there is a tangible way to honor and say we want to help without being intrusive and with no expectation of reciprocity.

I decided to write this blog post because if I’m doing my job right I’ll meet lots of people. It also means life and death happens. I want to celebrate with friends and colleagues when babies are born, congratulate people on achieving milestones, and when death happens I want to be there to share the burden and loss. In community building, which is a part of equity work, it is the relationships that matter and the relationships that sustain us and bring about change. We need to nurture relationships and be there for the fun and the sad. If you only show up for the fun that is fakequity, equity requires embracing the full experience.

Grace Lee Boggs, the legendary centurion social justice philosopher and activist, said “The only way to survive is to take care of one another.” That is the epitome of equity work, we take care of each other, we value each other, and we work together. Next blog post we’ll talk about something more fun, unless I decide to blog about equity in the Washington state tax structure.

Posted by Erin

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