For the past year, Brigid Bello, Sarah Yee, Faith Garnett, and Kelsey Seong-Hoskins have brought energy, intellect, heart, and dedication to their individual roles as Fellows in our first-time, two-year Fellows program. We learn so much from them each and every day. Here’s your chance!
-Can you share a bit about yourself and why this work?
Brigid: There’s a Toni Morrison quote that I think about every time I’m asked why I do this work: “If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” As a queer, Black, mixed cis woman, and as someone who grew up comfortably middle class in a stable household and who currently has most of my needs met on a day to day basis, figuring out how to leverage my various privileged identities while holding space for my marginalized, racialized existence is something that I am always working on. My ultimate goal is to do liberation work in tandem with mental health counseling. I want to provide trauma-informed therapy services that acknowledge how systems like capitalism and white supremacy impact our well-being. Basically, I want to help individuals heal, cope, and thrive in spite of the oppressive conditions that we live under, while also actively working to change those conditions at the structural level.
Faith: I am originally from Washington DC though I lived in Northern Virginia before moving to Portland, OR for the fellowship. My educational background is in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, which I’ve found to be useful in observing how DEI tools and strategies are operationalized in the organizations that we partner with. I do race equity work because I want Black professionals to leave DEI spaces empowered in their racial identity, equipped with the knowledge and tools to recognize and decenter whiteness and white supremacist culture, and connected to communities and networks that advance the cause of Black liberation. Right now, I’m finding a great deal of energy and excitement in developing curricular learning for Black Affinity spaces and Employee Resource Groups. Along with the provision of a technical framework, I’m interested in exploring the use of art and music as an underutilized mode of healing within this work.
-What’s it like being a Fellow at CEI?
Sarah: Being a fellow at CEI has been a humbling, eye-opening experience. I have been reflecting on my experience because my husband recently asked if my work is personally sustainable. At first, I was a little taken aback, as I have always prided myself on stress-management and ability to multi-task. Upon some more reflection, I acknowledged that this never-dull work we call “equity work,” is taxing, AND finding my new growth edge(s) is showing up differently in a purposeful way.
While I loved my job as a classroom teacher and will always miss my kiddos, the work I get to engage in with educators is challenging and empowering. In my role as a fellow on the education team, I get to be a part of the Equity Certificate Program, serving teachers, administrators, and school staff in a year-long partnership. There is a strong sense of community that has been built in that space, creating a brave call for me to step into trying on some facilitation skills! I have especially enjoyed leading a few site time meetings, where we get to dive deeper into the application of concrete tools educators are trying on in their schools.
It has been an incredible opportunity to learn from each and every person at CEI, and I am excited to continue creating relationships with our guest speakers! CEI has been a place where I feel supported, held, and there is a real sense of investment in my development as an individual.
Kelsey: Being a Fellow at CEI is an adventure! I am assigned to a facilitation team throughout the course of my fellowship experience. So far at CEI, my day-to-day experience has not been the same in that it depends on the type of work that we are doing with clients. One day, I might be sitting in a leadership team meeting and another day I might be with an organization’s equity team and observing the tools and resources that my team’s facilitators are introducing to folks. Right now we are still operating virtually due to COVID, and I support my team with technical logistics on Zoom. I also support my team through project management related tasks such as scheduling, organizing slide decks, researching/compiling resources, etc. Throughout my process so far, I’ve been able to observe how facilitators hold space for these challenging conversations around racial equity and how the use of questions can be powerful with groups. I’ve also learned more about myself along the way and what drives me to this work, which is the power of voice/storytelling and amplifying BIPOC voices in organizations and communities. It has been empowering and inspiring for me to see the possibilities of how folks, specifically folks of color, in their organizations can really embrace and champion equity work in their culture.
-How do you ground yourself in this work?
Kelsey: DEI/antiracism work can be taxing emotionally and physically, so in the last few years I’ve really tried to be more purposeful in how I approach wellness. I ground myself in this work by being more in tune with my body and how I’m feeling (both physically and mentally). I tend to my body by being outdoors and through physical movement by playing soccer and dancing. I also check in with close friends and loved ones. Building community has been very important for me over the last several years. I also have been tapping back into creative channels through writing short stories. I’m currently in the process of writing a ghost story with a friend. It incorporates themes of intergenerational trauma and healing for a family of color who are forced to reconcile their past. I love creative writing because it gives me the power to write stories featuring the representation of BIPOC characters that I’ve so been wanting and needing!
-Can you share a recent client experience that felt fulfilling?
Brigid: We launched with a new client a month or so ago and I had the opportunity to hold a bit more of a facilitator role and walk the group through a few pieces of content. My team was incredibly supportive and It felt super rewarding. I’m looking forward to doing more of that work!
Sarah: I have recently been in 1-on-1 coaching sessions with an educator in the Equity Certificate program. This educator has been weighing her future career options and how she’s been feeling lost and questioned her role. Through some questioning and relationship building, it was clear that she needed to stay in education, but simply explore all potential opportunities. In our last check-in, she shared about her career decisions moving forward. I heard so many places of growth and strength as she was clearly appearing more centered and confident, even if some things were still uncertain. Bearing witness to these interactions and relationships make the challenges all worth it!
-What are you watching, listening to, reading that inspire you these days?
Faith: Recently I’ve been reaching for the poetry and literature of brilliant Black women for inspiration. Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me” as a declaration of resistance and a celebration of the self, has been particularly liberating for me. I’m finding freedom in underscoring the importance of Black Joy. Not as intangible, escapist, or even audacious, but as a material birthright for Black people to know and experience. In true foodie fashion, I must say that I’ve also been inspired by the delightful chocolate chip pancakes at Fuel Cafe, a Black-owned bistro in Portland’s Alberta Arts District. Lol!
Kelsey: I recently watched the Pixar animation film, “Turning Red” directed by Domee Shi. This movie highlights so many aspects of family, intergenerational trauma, and healing. I also started reading the book “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee that is about a Korean family who immigrated to Japan in the 1900’s.