Guest Post: The million-dollar question: am I a catalyst for change?

Editor’s Note from Erin: We welcome a guest post from Lilliann Paine from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We’re excited to have a fresh point-of-view, and one from outside of Washington State. Much of racial equity work includes diversifying who we hear from, so thank you Lilliann for sharing your thoughts and broadening our views outside of Washington.

paine2016There is a high cost along with the toll of emotional labor that comes with being a catalyst for change. I am learning to “speak up and speak out” without losing myself. There are moments when I protect myself with silence. There are other moments when I do my damnedest not to succumb to the bulling of elitist elders and privileged peers. At this point in life, I want to learn and practice being more strategic.

It’s not easy being the first “anything.” Legacies are sustained intergenerationally, or so my elders say. However, if each generation speaks a different language and there are no translators, how does the work get done? How are legacies passed down? A generation frustrated with potential is the result of it all; how can change be promoted when it is not understood?

I am also the beneficiary of the Chapter 220 program, a state led solution to de-segregate public schools. From kindergarten through high school, I was shaped in an environment that wasn’t always fair or just. Consequently, there were few people who looked like me. As a Chapter 220 student, I learned to navigate spaces that were racially isolating, while simultaneously helping to change the spaces just by being present as part of the counter-culture—being the opposite of what the dominate counterpart considers to be the “other.” My Chapter 220 experience prepared me for the real world—academically, socially, and professionally. This is important to know as the lens through which I am interpreting my lived experience.

When I became aware of power structures and the role I played in maintaining them, I wanted things to change. I encountered some moments that required me to add up the cost of daring greatly, you may experience them too:

1)      You will be called names – described as feisty, being intimidating, threatening or practicing relational aggression.

2)      You will be misunderstood – Reyna Biddy said it best: “soon you’ll realize that many people will love the idea of you but lack the maturity to handle the reality of you.”

3)      You will experience isolation – everyone wants to be radical until they see what it actually entails.

4)      Elitist Elder Syndrome, aka bad mentor of a certain age and generation – a) they will make you feel small for having big ideas; b) they will exhibit the psychological defense mechanism of projection (“I was just like you when I was your age therefore I know exactly what you are going through and what you need to do”); c) they will exploit – take advantage of rather than develop your skill set; d) they will undermine you by taking your ideas to be their own; e) render you invisible or make you hyper-visible out of their fear of being replaced or forgotten.

5)      Your lived experience will be discredited/disrespected/devalued.

Living every single day with institutionalized racism and then having to argue its very existence is taxing. I should not be expected to speak on behalf of people of color everywhere. I should not be the barometer of racism.

My academic training is in public health. Once you opt into public health, one does not simply opt out, but leads and leads daringly. My public health experience has a foundation in community building. I convened groups that service “the economically vulnerable and disenfranchised” with a collective interest in reducing infant mortality. I helped to push the urgency for change around how individuals and organizations think about health and social determinants of health. I have the honor of amplifying the voice of communities with whom I have a shared lived experience, while being a resource to my academic peers and colleagues.

A few things to consider when you are a catalyst for change:
1) A heightened sense of emotional intelligence, empathy and capacity for collaboration as it relates to our concepts of inclusion, diversity and equity is required of you.

2) You can’t do this work alone. Alicia Garza #BlackLivesMatter Co-Founder said it best: “Co-conspiracy is about what we do in action, not just in language.” Black Girl Dangerous paints a perfect picture of the difference between taking action verses performance.

3) Professionally, academically and socially do not create cultural exceptionalism dynamics. I don’t know how many times I’ve been hit with “you’re different than the others,” or “you make for a great ambassador,” or even been straight out called a token! The benefits of creating a pathway to success and equitable representation outweigh the tokenism of tasteful diversity.

4) As a person of color, I have to remind myself that I have to care about people, not for them! I’ve been put in environments where it was an unspoken rule that I protect people from their ignorance, whether it is willful or not around racial justice. Cultural awareness is like a virtue!

5) Allow people to do their own research! Or be prepared for the emotional labor it will take to build capacity on an individual level before creating change on an organizational or global level.

I accept that racial injustice/battle fatigue could be a medical diagnosis and that self-care is a form of self-love. Folks in informal and/or formal positions of leadership must come correct about social justice work. This work cannot be viewed as a burden, but a clarion call to be the change you want to see. Justice does not come without consequences.

Posted by Lilliann Paine, is a public health advocate. She says: Public Health is my life! I have held various positions in the health field, having worked in local government, academic settings and the healthcare systems. I have advocated for equity, justice and fairness. I am energetic and cordial, yet grounded with a work ethic that is guided by integrity and productivity. Myers-Briggs: ESTJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judgment) – I flex from Sensing to Intuition; Thinking to Feeling. I’m a CoreAlign Alum: Speak Race to Power Fellow.

The views I am expressing are my own and do not reflect any past or current institutional affiliation. I am positioned in age between Gen X and the Millennials. I’m on the older end of the millennial spectrum. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin! I grew up in a city with poor health rankings, unabated poverty, seemingly intractable unemployment and deteriorating urban core beset with socioeconomic disparities that challenge the best thinking for place-based solutions.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: The million-dollar question: am I a catalyst for change?

  1. Grrl Jeanius says:

    Excellent article! I too experience the world through a 220 lens and never thought about how useful this info is to others for relating and working. It did absolutely have a powerful impact on who I am.

    Your points on the Elite Elder Syndrome are so painful to read about because they are true. I’ve experienced selfish mentorship living and working in desinvested communities Milwaukee. I have had the exact opposite experiences with mentors in Nashville, Atlanta, DC, and NY. Like you said, I think it was their way of intergenerationally passing down the “harm” done to them without reflection or pause.

    Your piece just shines well from every angle and remindes this hardened justice worker to keep my reflective spirit and compassion for self. Thanks!


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