A Different Approach.
I have been working for social change my entire career. I began as a trainer and facilitator in social movement spaces and as a community organizer.
I have organized in liberation movements, the movement for environmental justice, as well as, electoral campaigns and civic engagement initiatives.
I have also worked in direct service, specifically addressing economic injustice and food insecurity.
And I currently work in the social sector, leading inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity and access efforts at a philanthropic, nonprofit, member-association.
Throughout the last decade, I have borne witness to countless discussions, strategic planning sessions, advisory board or committee meetings, staff retreats & trainings - around the topics of inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and access (IIDEA).
Some, few, have made tangible and measurable progress; but none of them have seen success (as they or those most impacted would define it).
That is not to say that the lack of success signifies individual failures.
Nor is it to say that the strategies developed or trainings delivered were impotent.
It IS to say that in my experience, we as individuals - but also communities and institutions - are missing some essential pre-work to achieving our collective liberation through IDEA efforts.
The generally accepted approach toward IIDEA is one that is conceptual or academic, with emphasis on intellectual interventions. In other words, we prepare to think our way out or through.
However, white supremacy, colonization, racism, xenophobia, sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other oppressions are visceral and physical offenses.
We feel them deeply, we feel them in our bodies, and if not sufficiently addressed they become racialized traumas and trauma responses.
There is a common analogy for IIDEA work; this work is often referred to as a journey.
We hear in nearly every conversation or meeting - that people, teams, and organizations are on a journey, and that everyone - person and organization alike - is at different points along this journey.
Like any sound bite, it can feel a bit trendy or jargon-y. However, I do believe it to be an apt description!
Because being embarking in efforts of inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and access is really like going on a journey, a trip, or a voyage.
In fact, it is a bit nomadic!
If we were to take that analogy a bit farther, say when we prepare to go on an extended trip, there’s a process by which we approach preparation for the adventure. For instance, we pack the items and belongings we foresee we might need while traveling.
We may even need to learn a new skill or language - even if not fluently.
Launching out on an IDEA journey, without having properly prepared for the trip is why many of our journeys stall.
We come to a point in our travels that requires tools and practices to navigate the terrain of racialized trauma & trauma responses, but we haven’t packed them; we learned them!
So, I come to this work, proposing a different approach.
My proposed approach is no silver bullet; it won’t shorten the journey. In fact, it could prolong it.
Before I get into the approach, let me quickly share with you how I came into this line of thought.
During my time as a facilitator, trainer, and organizer I experienced burnout. Not only was I energetically spent, but other brilliant young leaders I worked with were “crashing” too. I realized then, that we had not packed properly for our journey.
Observing this, I started a personal quest of self-care & compassion, which developed into a practice, which has evolved into my personal purpose, and calling, and into the offering of my medicine, my juju, to those that recognize that their liberation is tied up with mine (Lila Watson reference).
Since 2009 I have:
Researched new findings through the reclamation of my ancestral, cultural & collective ways of being and knowing.
Encountered the wisdom of N.E.A.R. science (N.E.A.R. stands for neuroscience, epigenetics, adverse childhood experiences known as ACEs, and resiliency). Which has and continues to provide the scientific validity for many of our ways of being and knowing.
Become a practitioner of culturally indigenous and spiritual mind/body practices which help facilitate and clean our body’s natural, hormonal response to trauma;
Accessed formal education and certifications as related to coaching, healing, and mind/body practice.
Now, you may be wondering what science, healing, and mind/body practices have to do with the concepts of inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and access.
Let me offer a thread of connection.
Our physical bodies’ innate way of knowing is sensory.
Our sensory perceptions are processed through our nervous system, primarily though our vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve, is really a network of nerve endings that provides feeling and emotional sensory information to our lizard brain.
Specifically, the amygdala & hippocampus; the part of the brain responsible for our survival, self-preservation, and protection. It’s our body’s natural alarm system.
Sensory information filters through our lizard brain before any information reaches or can even be processed by our cognitive brain - frontal lobe; and it, the lizard brain, tells us to fight, flee, freeze, or fawn.
Those reactions (flight, flee, freeze and fawn) are the four basic trauma responses that occur when we are, or perceive ourselves to be, unsafe or in danger.
These trauma responses are absolutely inclusive of racialized trauma and other traumas of oppression we experience.
Meaning our lizard brains do not know if we’re being attacked by a bear or if we’re being called a racial slur because that information hasn’t made it to the cognitive brain yet.
In short, this means that when we are on our journeys, both individually and collectively, for inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and access and we experience triggers from OR instances of racialized trauma, our systems - our physical bodies - have a trauma response that prevents us from accessing our cognitive decision making.
Thus, cutting off access to all those discussions, skills, and training -- all the intellectual interventions we’ve acquired.
Therefore, we are unable to navigate the terrain of trauma responses, unable to move forward along the journey, so we stall out - individually and collectively.
SO I propose a different approach!
Transformative Praxis is my proposed, different approach.
It is an approach that centers healing justice as a necessary prerequisite and anchor for ANY inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and access work;
BEFORE discussion, before planning, before strategy, before training &/or implementation can or should be done.
The framework is adaptable and applicable to individuals, communities, institutions, and systems.
Transformative Praxis is a cyclical, spiraling process that starts with and combines the necessary, internal capacity for healing from racialized & other traumas of oppression, with the external capacities of intercultural competence.
The framework facilitates this though interconnection and mind/body practices, which result in greater opportunities to successfully navigate IIDEA efforts and initiatives AND the racialized trauma and other traumas of oppression that will undoubtedly surface.
In closing, we cannot continue to solely apply intellectual interventions to our inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and access work.
We cannot just think our way out of oppression.
The triggering presence of racialized trauma & other traumas of oppression is inevitable in the work of inclusion/intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and access.
Because these traumas happen in our physical bodies, we must be open to doing things differently.
We must think and feel our way out!
My proposed approach provides interventions of connection, healing and mind/body practices along with intellectual ones, so that we have access to the full range of ourselves, our cultural ways of being and knowing, and the acquired cognitive skills to achieve the liberation we’re working towards.