Creating a Culture of Care

Artwork by Koy Suntichotinun from Amplifer Art. ACT! Fear Has No Place In Our Schools! People on a megaphone.

A POC friend shared with me a thought that has been rolling around in my brain since I heard it. She said, paraphrasing, “Erin, when I am in a relationship with someone and I care for them, I deeply care.” She isn’t talking about a romantic or familial relationship, she meant a relationship between friends, colleagues, and community members. As we come out of a week, month, year of extreme violence we need to return to a culture of caring for others.

Today, I had a conversation with an experienced Latino educator. He’s taught in middle and high schools, and has family members who are educators across the country. Over tea, he quietly said he is afraid of the violence that he is starting to see return. He shared how in the past he saw kids start gangs right in front of him, and he doesn’t want to see that happen again.

Creating Belonging and Care

COVID life, repeated violence against communities of color, economic inequality, and personal and community stress has strained many communities and people. In the early days of COVID we saw and participated in amazing acts of community care and resilience. Much of this is still continuing; out of the COVID disruptions came new ways of taking care of people. And we know there are still people who are not connected or feel like they belong.

The recent wave of violence against the Black community in Buffalo, the shooting of Koreans in Dallas, and now a school shooting impacting the Latino community in Uvalde, TX is reinforcing that we need to acknowledge the brokenness and care for others – including people who are not like us.

Caring for others means doing the deeper work. My friend shared with me that when she cares for someone she invests in the relationship. She works and expects the other person to build trust back, this is part of her personal and racial value system. Racialized trust can be difficult to navigate, but when we care deeply, we can get through it.

Who Belongs

A friend reminded me of the song Fast Cars by Tracy Chapman, she played it at her wedding — “And I had a feeling that I belonged, I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.” Everyone wants to feel this.

Belonging is simple and hard to cultivate. When we create spaces where people belong, it often means we have to exclude some. This is a hard juxtaposition to come to grasp with since it antithetical to belonging. Yet we can create spaces where people belong AND we can help to cultivate spaces where everyone feels belonging. The notion of sharing, not resource hoarding, and seeing ourselves as part of a broader community that cares deeply and mutually for each other is called for.

Here is a practical example. At my kid’s school, there is a strong Chinese immigrant community, Latino immigrant community, and a Black community. I want these communities to thrive. Their thriving does not take away from my feeling of a sense of belonging to the school community. They deserve their space to be comfortable without having to accommodate outside needs. Racial equity also allows for these groups to have different resources when they need it – some of these groups may need money to accomplish projects, others relational capital, and others time together. While many of us in dominant positions may feel FOMO of wanting to belong to their groups, we shouldn’t – this isn’t about us.

We also need to create belonging in ways where those who are traditionally left out can find their own belonging. Sometimes this means getting out of their way, other times it is supporting the effort, and sometimes it is helping to cultivate the space. Being specific is important to allow this to happen.

We all need to belong to someone and something beyond ourselves. Let’s create that space for each other while caring deeply.

Our broken hallelujahs may be the thing that heals us.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.