I am a person who likes to move fast. I like to talk fast --so fast that people often have trouble understanding what I’m saying. I like to walk fast --so fast that anyone under 5’9” usually complains. I eat fast. I get through emails fast.
You know what isn’t fast? Helping organizations creak and groan and bend towards enacting their values. Pretty much any change, actually, I’ve found, but especially change in organizations, which is really change in the hearts and in the actions of the people who make them run. This is deep soul work. This is deep hand work. This is deep life work.
This year in Life Together has been a year of slow and steady change. Events at the end of last year and the beginning of this program year convinced Life Together, as an organization, to orient its work around racial justice, following the lead of fellows of color who were willing to bring their frustrations to the community and ask --no, demand-- it to do better.
As a non-POC (non-person of color) 2nd-year fellow, I found myself riding a wave of intentional organizational change work around race. And, compared to the year before, I had much more influence over how the organization functions through my role helping to plan and lead trainings. The momentum behind the wave was created by fellows of color, but it was abundantly clear to me and other non-POC members of the staff and second-year-fellow team that this was primarily our work to do.
So, I thought I’d share some notes from the field, which is to say, some advice I would have given myself back in August of last year when my 2nd year started.
→ You cannot fix racism in this organization. Get that out of your head this moment. That sense of urgency will do more harm than good!
→ No matter how carefully you think through that agenda, or that way of dividing up chores, someone will be unhappy with it, and it will fail in a way you hadn’t anticipated. You know what’s more important than getting it “right”? Asking for feedback and responding compassionately to how it affects people. And then changing things. And recognizing that you can’t change everything always.
→ No matter how carefully you thought through that system and tweaked it until it worked pretty well, it will probably need to be overhauled at some point. This is something to welcome! You created something that was used until it became obsolete! Yay, something changed!
→ You suck at this when you’re tired. You make bad decisions and say things that are at best unhelpful and at worst hurtful. Just go to bed and do it in the morning.
→ Just because you see a problem doesn’t mean you’re the person to fix it. Just because you’ve developed a system doesn’t make you the best person to implement it. Birthing things is just as important as letting them grow up and move out. That’s allowed to feel hard, but hard isn’t a reason not to let go.
→ Be prepared to meet Your Deep Fears (which you will go unpack with your therapist, thank you very much) and also Surprise Moments of Wonder that nothing has exploded yet (which you will celebrate with the people you’re working with).
→ Why are you doing this? Because you want it to be a little more possible for people to thrive here… in Life Together and in this world, gosh darn it! Do you count as a “people”? Yes. Take time to be inspired in relationships and nature and God if that’s a thing for you.
I wanted to share this with all of you mostly in gratitude. I’m grateful to have been in this organization in a time and a place where changing systems and structures (which, if you know me, you know I nerd out on hardcore!) is the name of the game. I’m grateful for all the people who gave me input and guidance in their offtime or non-LT work time especially. And I’m grateful to this program for being a sandbox where I could try a lot of things, and learn a lot of tough lessons, and then maybe just break down and cry in staff meeting but oh well. Big shout-out to next year’s Emmaus fellows who are also circling back. I can’t wait to pass on my mountain of Google Docs and so much love. Big shout-out to the Core Team of Lily, Sydney, Luke, Lindsey, Kelsey, Jerry and now Dominique, who keep coming back even when “moving forward together” sounds more like an empty campaign slogan than a true description of the work we’re actually doing.