I have been reflecting about the current social, political landscape and the long road to justice that lays in front, behind, all around us- and the work that calls our names. Given the times, it has been tempting for me to resign myself to cynicism, depression, rage, or simply to numb myself out from it all. I have been in a deep reflection on what it means to find hope in hopeless times. I’ve had to keep reminding myself that our generation’s story is not doomed to be a mere repeat of the last generation’s story, and the one before and the one before, and….
My work over this year directly and indirectly with so many people committed to racial and social justice has begun to nurture a response to these reflections. Taking a pause in reflection is helping me understand what I need to anchor into if I am going to sustain in this work, and what we are going to need to hold on to, if we are going to dismantle what has been constructed to oppress us.
Over the last month I worked with 45 educators into the evening who were committed to understanding how to better partner, include, and empower the diverse families who have entrusted them and our education system with their children’s academic growth as well as their physical and social/emotional well being. Through the whole session these educators engaged in real conversations that surfaced the ways in which our education system has underserved and excluded families, and more importantly these educators began to reflect upon new ways of being, new ways of educating, new ways of collectively coming together to create a more inclusive school experiences for children and their families. One small group of educators chipping away.
Over the last month a small work group working within a prominent local business continued what has been a year long engagement, focused on building a new organizational identity. An identity that is rebuttal of the exclusion, oppression, and exploitation that sits at the foundation of all of our institutions. They are pushing each other and the rest of their organization to name and live into a new more inclusive and equitable organization identity, to create an organization in which everyone is included, everyone is valued, where everyone has what they need to thrive. One small group in our business sector chipping away.
Over the last month I presented with a brilliant judge and passionate and driven lawyer to a group of 70 lawyers on the concept of structural racism and the central role it has played in our legal system. Together hitting at the core of injustice and the oppression this country was founded upon. One group at a time, one space at a time. Chipping away.
Over the last month I have seen individuals unpacking their racial identity, unpacking privilege and unpacking the way in which they have internalized racial oppression. Over the last month I have heard stories of parents having more conscious conversations with their children, I have heard stories of individuals having the tough and authentic conversation about race, intersectionality, and social justice that are essential for progress to be made. I have witnessed individuals from communities of color representing their community with dignity, grace, integrity. I have witnessed people stepping out their box and into their potential. Individuals courageously exercising their voice, doing everything they can to gain valuable ground back in the spaces that they occupy. Every single day, individuals chipping away.
I could go on and on about what I have seen, been a part of or been inspired by just in the last month. So many people, so many groups, so much conviction, such a commitment to waking up from what Ta-Nehisi Coates so aptly named the “dream”, and what is experienced by so many as a nightmare. People in so many spaces, in so many ways waking up and working tirelessly to put consciousness into action. Chipping away.
These small steps forward are not nearly as inspiring to me as the commitment, strength and courage that have fueled those steps. The commitment held to every space, to every person, to each moment being our best, filled with our highest selves. It is the strength to do what is needed to ensure every space is rethinking the foundation it sits on, the strength to recreate something new within ourselves, as well as within the spaces we occupy. It is the courage to act differently, the courage to prioritize truth over comfort. Chipping away, chipping away, chipping away. And moving forward.
Now I want to be clear. The aforementioned is not an endorsement of, nor is it intended to perpetuate that favorite white American past time: The celebration, centering, and overall idealization of incrementalism. Rather it is a reality check, an acknowledgement of what we need to hold onto while living in institutions, a society, a country, a world, in which racism and its intersectional web is permanent. It is resisting the paralysis, hopelessness, and feelings of resignation that white supremacy tempts us to sit in, live in, and eventually die of. It is digging deep into faith, holding that “hope” is more than a word, it is a belief in Dr. King’s words, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” and an understanding that nothing bends on its own. That we must collectively take responsibility for bending that arc. It is the understanding that we can only dismantle our oppressive foundation collectively, and that collective action starts with you, with me, with us, moment to moment through our every-day interactions and actions. It is staying engaged, listening well, speaking our truth; it is finding balance and taking care of ourselves, it is building and rebuilding community, it is acknowledging that there is work to do within the spaces we operate in, it is exercising our individual and collective agency-in the name of justice- in those spaces. It is holding on to the idea that these actions can not be measured as big or small rather we must simply acknowledge that individually and in sum, they matter, that they really matter.
I am not fooled by any grandiose imagery my ego can present to me about our work; Nor am I waiting for our government to decide to abstain from the racial diet upon which it has sustained and gorged itself. I have always believed that real change happens not because of an amazing speech or some significant event where an individual gets to shine, nor will it be found in some big government action. I have been reminded again and again, that change happens because people, like yourselves, are willing to fight and push, and challenge, and resist, and walk a very long walk. More than ever, I am anchored in the step by step, the unseen actions, the grind, the chipping away, the moments of transformation. I think it is our willingness to grind that positions us to make lasting change. Our willingness to step by step do what it takes to fill each moment with passion, commitment, healing, hope, listening and validation. It has been in these “small” moments with you all where I have found inspiration, the only place where I have found hope, the only place where I have found progress. It is in these moments of being in solidarity in which I am recognizing the path forward and more importantly the path out. It is in these moments with you that I have felt white supremacy losing its grip and possibility taking hold.
We are engaged in the most important work in the most critical time of our generation. Given this reality, it is important I think to anchor into the idea that our individual and collective contributions matter. That the work must be located in large part, in our spaces of influence whether that is our family spaces, our work spaces, our friend spaces, our community spaces; we must take whatever steps necessary to restructure those spaces, build a new foundation upon which those spaces reside. Step by step we must chip away and recreate our spaces. It is important to not underestimate the impact of each step, the power of chipping away, that our individual efforts add up, in fact they actually multiply. It is important to remember that you are part of a movement-one that is picking up force. That you, your grit, your heart, your commitment, your strength, your actions,- everything that you are- that we are, truly matters; and given the task at hand, is needed more than ever.
Chip away, chip away, chip away. Keep chipping away.
Author: Hanif Fazal, CEO and co-founder of the Center for Equity and Inclusion