June 6, 2020
Friday Fuel: Inspiration for #Firestarters

Dear #Firestarter:

We have lived a full year in a quarter of the time.

I have seen things in the past 10 days that I never expected to see.

And I must admit that I’ve felt things that I tried to ignore or not process because the pain runs so deep.

On Tuesday night, all of it hit me at once, and it felt like bricks.

Since the death of George Floyd and the protests and riots that have followed, many people have expressed their disappointment in our criminal justice system. They have shared their sorrow, and they have questioned how to take action.

Credit: Xena Goldman

As a social impact strategist with a graduate certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion from Cornell University, I have been incredibly busy. I’ve helped individuals with social media statements, companies with their future plans, and more than a dozen nonprofits with their statements. I’ve done this before or after working a 10-12 hour day at my full-time job. Let’s just say I’ve graduated from decaf coffee to medium roast.

While the hours on the clock record more work than sleep for me, and I’ve been tired, there is likely no greater movement that I can be a part of at this moment. And certainly not one where I’m better suited to guide others through their journey.

On Tuesday, I got a break around 10:30 p.m. and just sat on my sofa. I looked up and saw the three windows closest to me and broke down in tears. I imagined Martin and Coretta sitting on their sofa debriefing the day’s actions during the Civil Rights Movement — and hearing a crash. We know from our history books that their home was regularly targeted. People would throw bricks through their windows. I couldn’t help but think about their work, their pain and how we have lost our way. I asked myself, “How has our country gotten to this point where we are repeating questions asked decades ago?”

It’s a question that I still debate in my head as I write this message at 5 a.m. two days later.

Picture Credit: iStock

Thoughts and prayers won’t get us through this period of time. I feel strongly that listening, expressing empathy and learning from mistakes are things that everyone can do to move us forward.

And those of us who want to be a part of social action for change must focus on protest, policy and purpose. I’ll put that on my to-do list as my next blog article.

Listening is important right now. Every person has a story, especially Black Americans. As someone who identifies as a Black woman who is a native of the deep South, I have more stories than one might expect.

Even with my fair complexion and green eyes, I deal with unconscious bias and microaggressions. Just a year ago, I was a part of a team meeting. One of my colleagues was speaking and finished their thought. I began to share why I agreed, but how we could take the idea one step further. While I was speaking, a white male peer placed his hand on my shoulder, and said, “No, wait. I have something I want to say.”

He didn’t just interrupt me; he placed his hand on me to do so. It was the largest and most public microaggression I’d ever experienced. And yet no one at my old workplace addressed it with him, not even a peer. I still shake my head on that one.

If you want to practice listening, instead of asking someone, “How are you doing right now?” maybe ask them to tell you a story of when they felt injustice.

At this very moment, people need empathy and not sympathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another can go a long way. People of color do not want feelings of pity or sympathy. They just want to know that you see them and that you understand that this is a difficult time.

And try to be fully present. On Monday, I was asked FOUR times, “How was your weekend?” I really wanted to write back and share that I watched riots all weekend, including one twenty miles away from home, and I was not OK.

We are going to have to learn every step of the way. We are working to turn the tide on centuries of misconceptions, systems of injustice and practices that don’t fit our world today. The elephant has left the room, so it is OK to ask questions with curiosity (and not judgment). If you don’t know the right thing to do, it’s OK to ask for help. And if you’re unsure of how to handle something, turn to a friend that does.

Picture Credit: iStock

Before I sign off, I want to remind you that our human connection is the tie that bonds us. That makes it our moral compass during this time.

In this painful week, the most painful for me was when someone overlooked that I was a human. A nonprofit board that I am a member of sent an email with resources to support a diverse community, but did not say how they would actively be a part of moving the needle forward.

I received the email in my inbox as a viewer, not as a person that was part of the conversation on its content and delivery. I will extend them grace and assume they believed that I was busy (as I have been). But by not giving me the opportunity to opt out of a conversation, they once again ignored my identity, my credentials in the DEI space and my commitment to their purpose and mission. That hurts deeply. I don’t share this with you for sympathy. I share this with you because you will have to make a decision at work, in the grocery store or at the board table.

Our daily lives don’t hit pause during this time, and we certainly can’t add a buffer to make them look prettier. Please let this be a reminder to err on the side of human compassion. That will go the furthest.

Thank you for allowing me to share what is in my heart and mind right now. I am one person, so I am not the sole voice for Black America, social justice warriors or those on the frontlines. Because of my faith, I do have hope for our future.

Here are some of my favorites out there that might help you find your fire:

Above all, I’m here for you. If you need a resource, have an idea or want to ask a question, just hit reply. Sometimes it takes a human connection or email to get us on the right track.

With Faith & Fortitude,

Originally published in our #FridayFuel Newsletter

Friday Fuel is a newsletter for #Firestarters who are building movements for social good and within themselves. Join the #MovementMakerTribe and sign up for this monthly inspirational letter today.

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