Being the #1 charity won’t end systemic racism

On my drive home from the gym this morning, I spotted a proclamation from the roadside glowing marquee of a nonprofit organization:

“Ranked #1 charity in North Carolina” alongside the Guidestar logo

This organization provides vital services to people experiencing homelessness; who are facing food insecurity; who are under-or-unemployed; who lack access to mental or physical health services.

So, what’s the problem? Why should we not also celebrate the achievement of being recognized as the top charity across the Old North State?

As my friend Atrayus reminded us at the YNPN Triangle NC #NonprofitSTRONG Summit in 2016, on the whole, nonprofit organizations are not achieving their missions. Whether we work to end homelessness, increase access to the voting booth, or close the achievement gap, we’re working in systems that have been intentionally designed to lead to inequities. Therefore, until we address that we’re operating in a flawed framework, we will continue to fail, number one rankings or not.

Each time the conversation, especially in nonprofit circles, turns to tackling systemic issues, the typical positive, optimist outlooks morph into echo chambers of negativity.

“It’s too much.”

“It’s too hard.”

“No one will fund that type of work.”

“(Insert group impacted by nonprofit’s service) needs help now. They don’t have time to wait for us to construct a new infrastructure.”

Each of these pushbacks isn’t wrong, per say. A commitment to systemic change can be too much; it is neither easy work nor work considered sexy by typical funders. Yes, people/animals/communities/natural resources do need champions in the here and now.

When we hear of individuals in other fields — science, business, sports — overcoming seemingly impossible odds, we laud them with accolades. They are our new muses, our latest inspirations. These innovators have defied what we thought possible within our current systems of knowledge and understanding.

Why can’t the nonprofit sector do this too? Why do we let the trope of being undervalued and meek permeate into our assessment of our own capabilities to upend and re-imagine systems? We are committed, passionate individuals whose values extend beyond the individual and to the whole. But, if we refuse to shrug off the restraints we have placed on ourselves — not to mention the ones broader society wraps around our bodies, hearts, and minds — then we will never be able to fully live our values.

Systems are behemoths. They can exist without us even interacting with them. And we allow this cycle to continue, day in, day out. I believe this happens because we either aren’t able or aren’t willing to push pause, really take a close look our systems, and name them for what they are: racist. Therefore, systems plus racism equals…

Systemic racism. The folks at Race Forward have fabulous resources on what systemic racism is and how it shows up across a myriad of ways: employment, incarceration rates, education, health outcomes. Here’s one video focused specifically on how systemic racism is connected to wealth.

It doesn’t matter if we’re good people committed to racial equity. It doesn’t matter if we work at a nonprofit with a fabulous mission. We need to continue to do both of this AND actively disrupt systemic racism.

How do we start?

  1. Learn the definitions. What is race? What is racism? Is it the same as prejudice or discrimination? Community-based organizations like Dismantling Racism offers answers and more free resources.
  2. Explore how systemic racism shows up in your life, work, and community. Tap into an existing organization or network to get started.
  3. Learn more about systemic racism. Check out Podcasts like “Pod Save The People” . Read books like “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “Stamped From The Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi or any on lists provided by Internet-favorites Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Attend a training or workshop. Talk with friends who have to a training or workshop.

Baby steps, yes. Every day, we have to take at least one step. What is your step today? What will be your step tomorrow?

Plod forward. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. But it’s way to truly achieve what we all believe in.

Instead of charity rankings, we’ll be able to close our doors. Nonprofits shouldn’t have to exist. We fill holes, gaps, flaws in our systems.

Let’s go to work.

Why I’m here?

We live in a time where so much is done without true purpose: from “liking” a Facebook post to scrolling mindlessly as endorphins flood our brain (see “captology“), we expend a massive amount of time not doing a whole lot.

I’ve been thinking about this concept in connection to our nonprofit sector. How often do we sit in meetings without a clear understanding of what we hope to accomplish? Why do we allow distractions from our email, social media accounts, or inner voice to derail our best laid plans? And if we don’t take action now, what is going to happen to our ability to accomplish our critical missions?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for most of my life. And, I thought starting a blog would allow me the space to grow my skills, reach new audiences, and fine-tune the voice I wanted to establish. But, since starting this blog two years ago, I have yet to approach it from the other side: what do people want to read about? What is going to help add value to our social discourse?

Certainly, I have enjoyed sharing vegan recipes and travel adventures; various running endeavors and moments of zen. But, I am ready to make a change, as I see an opportunity to contribute to a broader dialogue through this blog. As a young leader, I often seek out the advice of others when it comes to navigating sticky situations or answering questions I may not be able to ask of my peers. I’m looking for resources; for ‘a-ha’ moments; and for solidarity.

Moving forward with this blog, I want to give back for the next generation of leaders, particularly those working for social good. Does that automatically mean the nonprofit space? Absolutely not. If our communities want to thrive, we have to pool all of our talents, brains, and resources together. The nonprofit sector cannot do it alone, nor should it. But, the nonprofit sector does need to do a better job of educating its funders and partners on how they can engage in a more equitable and fair way.

Thanks to the inspiring and incredible Alexa Sykes over at Black Professional Magic, I’ve taken the steps to establish a content calendar moving forward, to keep me accountable and to also ensure I don’t waste your time.

Cause ain’t nobody got time for that.

What would a world without racism look like?

Breathing is a radical act.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of an anti-racist yoga convergence, led by two social justice advocates, yogis, and powerful women:  Michelle Johnson and Patty Adams. The two hours began by each instructor sharing their Dharma talk with us – an emotional and moving grounding on why this work matters and how yoga provides a place to practice skills critical to movement building in the efforts to eradicate white supremacy.

Sharing from her experience as a person of color, Michelle’s words stirred within me feelings of shame, guilt, and fierce determination. She encouraged the white people in the room to be mindful on how we are waking up to being a part of the racial justice movement. She noted the tension between the budding excitement of white allies and agitators to the sheer exhaustion experienced by people of color as they have been waiting for us. It’s not as if this entrenched system of racism popped up overnight. Decades upon decades of systematic oppression, from the very founding of our nation, have fueled a society built on the backs of black and brown people. And as more folks, particularly white people, join this effort, it is imperative we recognize that while it’s great we’re here now, we cannot allow that to overshadow the everyday trauma experienced by people of color in our lives and in our communities.

The idea that ‘breathing is a radical act’ was new to me. Oppression succeeds only if people never reach their full potential – their space becomes smaller and smaller, essentially cutting off their ability to breathe and exist. Yoga is all about the breath. It allows us to practice discernment. It allows us to move closer towards full integration of our entire selves. We move in ways that re-negotiate our own boundaries, climbing towards that state of calm yet expanded and energized.

As Patty noted, yoga provides an opportunity to bring all of us in a place together. And we have to recognize the risk it takes for many people to be in that space. As a white person, I have to seek to understand what privilege to not have to think twice about participating in such a practice.

After the Dharma talks, we spent the next 45 minutes on our mats, moving from the floor to standing and then returning to our backs, maintaining the breath through each sequences. We sought balance and strength; quieted our minds; secured our intentions; and rooted ourselves in the power of healing and compassion. If we stopped showing up during that time together, we would let the rest of the people in the room down.

Finally, we ended by reflecting with a partner near us about what our next step would be to crate a world where racism didn’t exist. I talked about my need to let go of any inner fears of “rocking boats” when it comes to exchanging dialogue with people in my life, particularly white people, about racism in our culture, institutions, and within ourselves. I talked about the importance of asking my friends of color: “what do you need from me?” And I need to continue to grow and learn more about systemic racism and oppression; I need to listen – really listen – to what is being said and unsaid about injustices taking place in our world. And I need to always reflect on what impact my words and actions are having on dismantling racism. I cannot be a leader in this work if I am contributing to maintaining white supremacy.

I’m so grateful to Michelle and Patty for bringing us together in this anti-racist work. If you live in the Triangle area, there will be two additional opportunities in August and September to connect yoga with racial justice.

So, what would a world without racism look like? I’m continue to mull on this question. Some of my initial reactions include:

  • A place where no one fears being killed simply by existing;
  • A place where everyone receives the education to be successful, thriving contributors;
  • A world built on sharing and abundance, not on selfishness and scarcity;
  • Communities who care for each other, no matter what;
  • People, not systems or institutions, hold the most political power;
  • The idea of ‘silenced voices’ is inconceivable
  • Safety is a norm, not an exception.

I invite you, if you have not already, to envision what a wold without oppression, racism, and white supremacy would look like, sound like, feel like. If you are willing, I also invite you to share. Perhaps journal about it. Create a vision board. Our humanity is depending on us, and I refuse to let us down.

 

a constant hum

Sitting cross-legged here at LaGuardia. Faces glow from the thousands of iPads position throughout the terminal, delighting children and adults alike. The rest of us, leery of touching such a communal device freely, stick to our own. CNN drones on while music more fit for a nightclub pulses overhead. 

Ipads at LaGuardia

It’s the lunch hour. I inhaled a vegan falafel sandwich that I held so triumphantly (look – it’s vegan food at the airport!) as the bread crumbled in my hands (oh, to have that $12.back to reinvest). A layover is both a comfort for rest and a dreaded pause in ending travel. 

Vegan fare

It’s time to board. This vacation, which you will get to read about in the coming days, was a gift on countless levels.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

In front of the foul pole at Fenway Park

Bucket list item = checked

Now to harness this energy…and finish another book before touchdown. 

Bon voyage!

#BeCrueltyFree Week: 10 Under $10 for Your Beauty Bag

Need ideas for how to shift your personal care products? Here are some fabulous ideas!

The Friendly Fig

By now, you all know that the three of us are big supporters of the #BeCrueltyFree campaign. So… you can imagine how excited we were when we were asked to participate in this year’s #BlogForBunnies for #BeCrueltyFree Week!

#BeCrueltyFree Week is a global awareness raising week where everyone joins in to make some noise about cosmetics cruelty, promote fab cruelty-free brands, and tell people about how they can support the campaign to end cosmetics cruelty in our country or globally. I thought now would be a great time to go over some affordable cruelty-free options. It’s NOT hard to #BuyTheBunny!

What’s in your vegan beauty bag? For me, I carry the essentials: lip balm, lip color, blush, liner, concealer, and mascara. If I wanted to go all crazy-Mary-Poppins-style, I would carry nail color, powder, hand lotion, face wipes… the works!! But I like to keep it simple.

We’ve found…

View original post 264 more words

I’ve missed you.

Dear blog:

What happened? I thought we were doing so well. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together, exploring avenues of thought, reflecting on adventures, trials and errors. And then, as suddenly as you came into my life:

we went our separate ways.

How about another go at it? So much has happened since our last encounter: more vegan recipes, another half-marathon, a wedding, a honeymoon, and more travels. Oh, and all of that other day-to-day life “Stuff” that keeps us preoccupied.

Time to slip on that favorite pair of sweats and ease back into the land of not just my perfunctory words and phrases but returning to those put forward by others (far less perfunctory than my own).

What happened?

Is history repeating itself once again? I have felt so disconnected from the blogosphere, as both a faithful reader (with attempts at pseudo-engager) and dedicated writer, exploring the various aspects of my life that continue to bring adventure, satisfaction, and challenge. Over the last two weeks, I have been struck by various post topics in the shower, in the car, and while at work, but none have actually manifested themselves into the “pages” of online print.

After spending this weekend in a prone position due to the onslaught of germs, I have tried to catch-up on what I have missed, mostly for the love of reading other people’s words. I certainly appreciate the content as well (because what would be the point of reading otherwise?) but I take such pleasure in how other people express themselves.

Overall, one of my current challenges is computer burnout. After spending my entire day in front of a screen, I am coming home to total avoidance. Unfortunately, I have been slipping back into the bad habit of bringing my phone with me to the couch (a habit acknowledged this weekend with Aaron and now that is in the open, can be improved upon again). But, I still have little desire to crack open my laptop.

How do you all find balance in sitting in front of the screen to read, write, work, play, and stay connected? Advice wanted!