At the beginning of August, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop called “Undoing Racism” with TxCC/LaCC Program Director Jody Karr and American Youthworks CEO Parc Smith in New Orleans. In addition, there were representatives from Los Angeles Conservation Corps, Montana Conservation Corps, Mile High Youth Corps, Green City Force, Civic Works, and The Corps Network. There were around 25 people there, including three facilitators from the People’s Institute. As one of only two corps members in attendance, I imagine my perspectives, interpretations, and take-aways are quite different than those of the non-profit executives and CEOs.
I tried to go in without expectations to leave my mind free to absorb as much as I could. What I gained was an overwhelming amount of information and concepts about systems of oppression, institutionalized racism, cultural norms, and power distribution, to name a few. Over the two and a half days we were there, I experienced a range of emotions. I arrived excited to learn about such a relevant problem in our country; this excitement quickly turned into anxiety, as we moved through the history of racism and the scope of how it affects people in the United States today. This progression seemed to be expected by the facilitators, who have done these workshops many times, and they helped us transition into a feeling of determination. I feel determined to keep listening, to keep paying attention, to understand as much as I can, and to help be part of the movement to undo racism. By the end of the workshop, this determination became empowerment. I feel more educated about the topic, my role in the problems we currently face, and how I can encourage and enable others.
These two and a half days felt very much like a journey, one which we traveled with a small but engaging group of people. There was always time for discussion, for understanding, and for sharing of experience and emotion. The environment was open and inclusive; the voices were authentic, expressive, and educational. I was surprised at how comfortable it was to discuss such a substantial and difficult topic, and this has everything to do with the people who were there. It was inspiring to be welcomed into a group that was so passionate in their contributions, so captivating in their stories, and so forward-thinking in their attitudes.
While this particular workshop was developed for people in the non-profit sector, the things we discussed are extremely applicable to every aspect of our lives today. TxCC is very motivated to gain more diverse representation in staff and corps members, so it was important to them to send a group of people who have different roles in the organization. As an AmeriCorps member, the ways I think about how prevalent prejudice and underrepresentation are quite different than those of our CEO. I don’t believe, however, that this means I should be any less resolved to work towards a more inclusive work environment and be part of the movement of change.
While there is no one solution and the changes we want to see will take time, the more people we can engage with and include in the conversation the better. Thank you to American Youthworks and TxCC for sending me to New Orleans, and thank you to The Corps Network and their Moving Forward Initiative for the funding that made this happen. It was an absolute honor to be able to attend this workshop; I can easily say without exaggeration that I will carry these lessons with me for the rest of my life.
Marinda Hanson – Field Crew Leader