Collaboration that Fosters Equity, Participation, and Co-Creation

In the last couple of years in the US, we have witnessed many examples of white supremacy – how the patterns of power, domination, oppression, and separation play out. These patterns are hundreds of years old. What does it take to work and live from patterns and behaviors that embody mutual respect, dignity, equity, belonging, and being more together? I gratefully had the experience of teaming with four other facilitators* to host a learning exchange with people working on collaboration and equity, primarily in New Hampshire. The invitation was to build our collective understanding of how to create collaborative spaces centering on equity and liberation. We offered a spacious series of conversations for these experienced practitioners to share knowledge and experiences.

Here are some key ideas that surfaced from the conversations and insights from the day:

Where Do You Come From?

At the start of a meeting or gathering, it is traditional to go around and introduce ourselves with our organization and role. This gathering began instead with an invitation to reflect on where you come from, from several dimensions, and then share where you now work. People’s sharing was poetic and moving. We heard of the ancestry, places, challenges, traumas, resilience, people, and ideas that shaped them. Some people in the room I primarily knew through a work context. When I heard their stories, it made me realize how limited the lenses I had seen them through were.

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This reminded me something Melinda Weekes-Laidlow said in a class I took with her on racial equity. She spoke of the importance of “locating ourselves” within the history and systems around us, saying: “the past is present in people, things, and systems of oppression. Because our histories, upbringing and socialization create the lenses by which we see the world and make sense of it, as leaders, we must become aware of the lenses by which we understand the world and the biases those lenses bring with them.” 

The metaphor of location in a system/community is helpful as that implies a vantage point, where I see and experience things in ways that differ from others in a different location.

Vision: What Does Equity Look, Feel, and Sound Like?

In these times, so much attention and focus is on what we don’t want, resisting, criticizing, and galvanizing action. In equity conversations, there is a great need to name and illuminate the patterns and statistics of inequity and the deliberately hidden histories of those oppressed. Yet, we also need to imagine a different future. adrienne marie brown, in her book Emergent Strategy, writes “How do we cultivate the muscle of radical imagination needed to dream together beyond fear? Showing Black and white people sitting at a lunch counter together was science fiction.” Using the process of 1-2-4-All, we explored the questions of What vision, or elements thereof, guide you in your work? What does equity and liberation look, feel, and sound like? What are we working toward?  We can see that it is not only some distant goal, but we can glimpse what is possible in microcosms in the present. We recognized that this looks different to different people. Here are some of the themes that were shared:

  • The experience of being oneself without being judged. Being seen and respected as a person – not needing to act or play a role.
  • In all settings (family, work, school, etc.), people experience authentic relationships where others genuinely see them and care about their well-being and growth.
  • Education institutions are about helping individuals to thrive and become fully themselves.
  • Now the level of fear in relationships, community, and society is higher than the level of love and trust. When the level of love rises higher than fear, it changes everything.
  • There is an emphasis on truth telling and seeing the world as it is, feeling what is happening, and being empathetic. We excavate and acknowledge the problematic histories that shape the present situation.
  • When those who see power in an “either/or” way experience sharing it, they see that there are other kinds of power in collaborations that are not as hierarchical. It is possible to move beyond that one lens of power.
  • Those who have a dominant identity, e.g., whites, take leadership and active roles in dismantling the racist patterns and systems.
  • We relate across identities with solidarity in many forms: accomplices, mutual lines of support, thinking partners, networks of friendship and sharing resources.
  • “Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people. Healed people create systems for healing.” A vision of the future is a large and varied investment of time, energy, and ways to bring about healing and restoration individually and collectively, and with the earth.

Moving from Transactional to Relational

We shared stories of what we find most challenging and most promising in our work for equity and liberation. A common dynamic is that leaders and those in positions of power may say they value equity, yet, their urgency to get action on narrowly defined outcomes can override the raising of concerns or conflict, allowing the patterns of injustice to perpetuate. It takes time to fully understand the dynamics and history that underlie inequitable situations. It takes time to build authentic relationships that are trusting enough to support fundamental change. Truly valuing equity means prioritizing the relational aspects of the work, seeing the health of that as critical beyond the success of one transaction.

*Thanks to my co-facilitators Jennifer Near, Curtis Ogden, and Karen A. Spiller…and Michele Holt-Shannon for hosting. Great working with you to co-host this rich learning exchange.

On March 6th, I will be offering an on-line workshop called Working in Collaborative Ways that will offer practical methods for designing meetings and collaborative work that foster equity and participation.

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