Earlier this week several partners and my organization co-hosted a candidate forum for Washington’s highest education position. We had a great event with over sixty community members, many of whom were people of color.
My colleagues Sharonne Navas, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Equity in Education Coalition, and Joyce Yee, Community Organizer at League of Education Voters, came up with a community designed and centered way to host the event. The candidates met with attendees in table groups of about ten people each, spent fifteen minutes conversing, and then rotated to the next table group. At these table conversations attendees could ask questions and have a dialogue. No one screened questions or reinterpreted questions; a barrier, in this case a stage barrier, was removed between candidates and the audience. It was great to hear table conversations happening and also telling when the table sessions went silent.
At the end of the event we invited the candidates back to the stage for closing remarks. Instead of inviting the candidates to give their stump speech closing I asked each candidate to share what they heard from the attendees. In equity work it is important to reflect and to think about what we heard and how we interpret it. By asking the candidates to do a one-minute reflection we were inviting them to internalize what they heard from the community. This reinforced the event’s focus on our community and centering the event in communities of color. The candidates’ comments were telling about who listened and heard from the audience versus who wanted us to hear about their platform.
Mindfulness, Reflections, and Moving Forward Together
Good, thoughtful, and ongoing racial equity work requires time to reflect and to check in on our assumptions, beliefs, and values. Today while facilitating a coalition meeting at the last minute I switched things up and I’m glad we did. Normally after the main presentation we transition to announcements, but today we paused- literally paused for ten-seconds, and created space to share appreciations. I’m glad our coalition took valuable time to do this. The appreciations spoke so much to the type of community we want to create – one where we value people and relationships, and one where we can also focus on the good. A partner reflected ‘I appreciate taking the time to say appreciations.’ After I heard this I said this was a new practice, and I felt it was important to focus on good experiences, not just the negative news about race and inequities. I’m grateful this appreciation was shared because it makes me want to embed this more into facilitation skillset and it helped me learn and grow from a positive experience.
The appreciation exercise brought me back to mindfulness practices and embedding it in our everyday interactions. Often when I’m facilitating or executive directing (a.k.a. being an executive director of an organization) I’m responding to others. Many times when we are on the spot we have to react quickly and think quickly, however racial equity work is about purposefully slowing down and capturing the disconnects that allow racism to continue – being mindful in my responses allows me to slow down for a moment and reprocess and ask, how do I change my response to a situation.
My former boss studied mindfulness and he was a better boss because of it. Once we were driving to a meeting and already late, I gave my boss wrong directions and we missed an exit. He didn’t get upset he said “In being mindful, I can’t control or change the past. The only thing I can do is control my response to what is happening right now. We missed that exit one minute ago, it is now the past.” This mindfulness message resonated with me, he had every right to get frustrated with me, but he didn’t—we moved forward, together. When we think about racial equity work we will inevitably slip up and say or do something offensive or be on the receiving end of an inappropriate comment or action. We also have the choice to linger on it or be kind and brave in how we respond and continue to build a relationship.
In reading more about mindfulness I’m reflecting on how we arrive at the work and our conversations around race. We can choose to arrive at conversations around race with an openness to learning and generosity, or we can choose an attitude of race-baiting (using coerce language to provoke a response), predatory-listening (waiting for someone to slip up and throw what they said back at them), and looking for fakequity. I hope we choose kindness, which takes intentional work of both whites and people of color. As a poc I need to make sure I’m looking for learning and being open to hearing multiple versions of a story openly and with an intent to understand. Being open and willing to learn allows for so much more learning and generosity.
For me reflecting and mindfulness show up as:
- Reflecting back on what I heard about race or culture and linking it to a different experience.
- Being mindful with my words also requires listening first before speaking.
- Reflecting means intentionally slowing down and changing a practice or behavior.
- Mindful about the biases I hold and how I project them, am I cutting off a person from speaking because of a bias, am I avoiding a meeting because of something unreasonable, do I complain about certain things because of a bias?
- Finally, how do I show appreciation, especially to people I have a harder time naturally connecting to.
Posted by Erin Okuno