Upswell Pop-Up #5: Interrogating the Narrative

Upswell Pop-Up #5: Interrogating the Narrative

// By Debra Rainey

Who among us could have foreseen at the start of 2020 where we’d be today – contending with a worldwide health emergency that threatens us all, limiting where we can go, what we can do, who we see – and with no end in sight?

We’ve also been forced to fully see and acknowledge the devastating impact of racism suffered by Black Americans and other communities of color for generations, depriving them from experiencing the fullness and opportunity of American life enjoyed by others.

But the pandemic and systemic racism also present us with an extraordinary opportunity to create new ways to build connections, to learn, to collaborate, and to develop and implement new approaches that will enable our sector and the communities we serve to flourish after COVID-19, and lay the foundation for a more just and equitable society.

Why is it important?

America’s strength emanates from the great mosaic of our people – a tapestry of diversity of thought, talents, and unique experiences that continue to move us toward realizing our nation’s ideals of democracy, liberty, and equality. Our shared humanity compels us to put our best thinking and resources toward collaboration to overcome  the challenges of the pandemic and racism that confront our sector and communities, and to work toward lasting systemic change – because when one community in our nation suffers and is diminished – our country is diminished as a whole.

During Upswell Pop-Up #5, we focused on anti-racism and COVID-19 recovery strategies to advance efforts to re-think America’s narrative and develop new approaches that allow us to look unflinchingly at the intractable challenges before us and solve them together.


Native Americans Leading Systems Change

Sherry Salway Black, Dan Cardinali | Watch here

Making Sense:

It is imperative that discussions about the impact of COVID-19 and systemic oppression include the voices, experiences, and insights of the people from disproportionately affected communities. Unfortunately, Native people have often been left out of those discussions. Yet the Native American community continues to make itself heard about the particular challenges it faces alongside a world in crisis – and to be an intrinsic part of creating solutions.

  • Revolution is important and activism is like fuel, but it is equally important to remain diligent and dogged in the pursuit of equality. Systemic change happens at a slower pace, evidenced by the protracted length of time it took to change the name of the Washington Football Team.
  • Unlike the 70s and 80s when there weren’t as many resources available, the growth of Native American nonprofits has meant that many more have stepped forward to provide funding and support for their communities during the pandemic and move Native American issues forward.
  • It is important for each community’s “culture bearers,” who hold the wisdom and knowledge of their individual cultures, to forge collaborations and partnerships to achieve equality.


COVID-19, Racism, and Chicago’s Enduring History of Segregation

Tonika Lewis Johnson, Lolly Bowean, Dr. Maya Green | Watch here

Making Sense:

The sad racial history of Chicago is being exposed yet again with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the city, and the racial unrest stirred by the killing of George Floyd and countless others. Yet news reports do not convey the real story, nor the true impact of decades of engineered segregation and intentional community disinvestment.

  • Historic and systemic racism has caused health disparities in a number of Black and Latinix communities – communities that do not have access to adequate health care; where members live in multi-generational households, making COVID-19 easier to spread; and where residents often work in lower-paying jobs considered “essential” during the pandemic – jobs that cannot be worked from home.
  • To minimize crime and violence, you must make investments in communities that have been ignored for decades, and in the residents that this willful neglect has affected.
  • We are all guilty of assigning blame, and cannot make change unless we address the thoughts and stereotypes we carry. We must be more open and vulnerable to honest conversations in our homes and neighborhoods about the terrible toll that racial stereotypes and implicit bias have had on impacted Chicago residents, impeding progress toward building strong communities.


The Indomitable Spirit of the Human Rights Struggle

Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Lynne Twist | Watch here

Making Sense: Her fearless and relentless advocacy on behalf of the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran – despite risks to her life and her family, and the loss of her position as Chief Justice – garnered the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for Dr. Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to receive the honor. Yet, despite the years that have passed, the fight for justice and human rights goes on.

  • While women in Iran and the Middle East have been very active in fighting for human rights, and some things have changed, there is still a long way to go to achieve equality.
  • COVID-19 threatens more than our lives. It also is a political crisis that threatens democracy, with statistics showing that countries with lagging economic situations are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, to the detriment of the world’s poor.
  • As we take on COVID-19 and racism in the United States, we must remember that discrimination against people of color exists in many other nations, as well.
  • Rather than bombs, throw books at people – we will have a better world.

Weaving Community Through Stories

Making Sense: America’s fabric is woven from the diverse stories of love, compassion, struggle, humanity, and triumph. And despite our struggles with the parallel pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, in this Pop-Up session, “weavers” shared their stories of care, connection, and compassion in the areas of development, politics, and community. They invited attendees to reflect in small groups about stories from their own communities, and how they might share and amplify these experiences through storytelling.

  • The power of connection matters. Storytelling connects the sameness and differences in community to drive towards change.
  • Your personal story is your personal power, particularly for those who have been marginalized and excluded.
  • We all have something special, and should think about the things already embedded in ourselves to help create change.


Individual and Communal Reflection and Inquiry for Deeper Connection to Self and Others

Making Sense: The Fetzer Institute staff continues their tradition of weekly gatherings for learning experiences and spiritual practices that support their collective and individual spiritual exploration and personal growth, although virtually due to the pandemic. Pop-Up session attendees were led through guided contemplative practices and small group discussions, learning how even from home, they can take physical and spiritual pilgrimages or retreats — symbolic journeys that enable us to search for meaning through the experience.

  • As we deal with the isolation of the pandemic, deeper longings are surfacing. We should be thoughtful about how we attend to these yearning for retreat, renewal, and connection.
  • Small group discussions raised longings for pilgrimage or stillness, and how we might respond to those longings and take a mini-pilgrimage or retreat daily, weekly, or monthly.
  • “Sometimes it takes going away to come more deeply into self.”

As changemakers, we have an extraordinary opportunity in America to start anew — to re-think our country’s narrative and the stories we tell ourselves about who is and isn’t valued, and to dismantle the structures that have perpetuated these false narratives and a culture that has held back Black and Brown people.

We must be willing to be in relationship with each other, to make the space for hard conversations across communities, to push our thinking and understand what it is we’re seeing in ourselves and others, to interrogate the narrative and the unjust systems in which we operate, and then marshal the full force of our collective talent and resources to change our communities and nation for the better.

1778 1000 Debra Rainey
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