I can't believe I has been almost a year since I started this fellowship. Many things have changed at many levels: the country with the COVID-19 situation that seems to have been here for the past 10 years, a new president inheriting an even more divided country, the level of polarization that turns a public safety issue (among many things) into a partisan debate, the murders of the "George Floyds" and the racial tensions that increased, the open hate towards people of Asian decent creating new fears and causing brutal attacks on innocent persons, the Native American children who perished in boarding schools and whose mass graves are being slowly uncovered in North America, and most recently, the news from all media inundated with inflation-related coverage, etc.... the list is truly endless. There are also positive things that happened over this past year, but I am choosing to list the things that impacted me and my fellowship the most.
At a personal level, I am more self-aware and others-aware. I am more confident in my ability to walk being less apologetic for existing and sharing space with groups of people who, at times, make me feel a lesser human being. That confidence is often challenged by systems that are hard to navigate for people of color. I am humbled by the magnitude of the work that people who are tirelessly working to change these systems and build a more inclusive /equitable world have. We, indeed, have a long, hard road ahead of us. One of the biggest surprises throughout this fellowship is how often people who are supposed to work together toward racial, social, economic justice turn against one another weakening a community that is already too small and disadvantaged. I am always saddened and helpless when I am unable to bring my fellow activists to understand that our limited resources of time and energy should not be wasted fighting and that we are, actually, helping the oppressor when we are divided. I watch young activists burnout and be consumed by self isolation leading to depression when change isn't coming fast enough or when they think that another collaborator was given/took credit for "their ideas". So much ego and need for recognition that detract from the real goals. Maybe the task becomes too big (which should not be a surprise) and some of us become frustrated and impatient that we start looking for someone to blame, which seems like some kind of "win" in the moment. Maybe this is is also part the consequences of oppressive systems. I need to research this more as I am fascinated and disturbed by this phenomenon. I have been the target of these tensions from fellow activists who thought that I was "too accommodating" or "not aggressive enough" and that it was hard to trust how committed I am to the cause of black liberation. Being married to a white male has not helped those situations of being questioned. The self-awareness part helps me not to take things personally like I used to do in my younger years. It also validates the fact that we all have our styles of activism and that many tactics are necessary, especially for a cause as complex as racial justice and in a context where the problem is hundreds of years old. Another surprise for me in the past 12 months or so was to truly understand, perhaps for the first time, that we (activists) can't run on empty and that we need to incorporate self-care as regular practices to sustain the work we so deeply care about. I have now muted the guilt that always came with stepping away from work or activism for some much needed TLC, be it an hour, a day or a week. I also encourage my mentees and my children to do the same. Even a 20 minutes nap does so much good to my soul and body.
I would regret concluding this month reflection without mentioning that my self-awareness growth combined with practicing self-care have lead me to declining certain partnership opportunities that I would have never turned down in the past. Sessions with my leadership coach have also been very instrumental in helping me discern what project to take and which ones may not be fully aligned with my highest purpose. It may take me a week of thinking over it, but eventually I will come to a clear conclusion on what direction to take. As hard as it can, sometimes, be for me to turn down those opportunities mostly because i don't like to disappoint others, it has always felt right afterwards. I have also become better at doing it tactfully in a way that leaves the door for potential future collaborations open, which is always appreciated by my partners or patrons.
I have grown tremendously in terms of technical expertise, skills, and networks that I developed through the fellowship to date. That is undeniable and, certainly, very helpful. However, the absolut surprise that I am most grateful for is understanding myself better as well as my new found consistency to nurture my soul and my body. I feel more grounded today than I did a year or so ago.