On Tuesday night “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life,” was released by Equity Collective’s collaborator Megan Stielstra.
It was awesome and fun and literary and groundbreaking.
There were old fashions and tears and reunions of people that have been working together for decades. People that now fan across the country and globe. Megan was flawless. Megan also shared the stage with Parneshia Jones.
Parneshia shared her poem, “What Would Gwendolyn Brooks Do?” The poem is about sadness, anger, emptiness and finding the strength to keep moving. And the refrain, the mantra, the repeated phrase is “hold on.” Parneshia is a Chicago poet, someone who’s poetry saved Megan’s life and allowed her to move on, to “hold on.” So, it was fitting that Megan invited Parnishia to share a stage where she read from a book about saving lives and confronting fears.
We all have so many fears. Internal fears, external fears. Fears that keep us up at night and make us wonder if we can let our children out of our sight. Fears that propel us into workshops and classes. The fears that make us stand up and fight, and those that reduce us to puddles.
Fears that ask us, what must we do to “hold on?”
Over the last year, there have been a few concepts that have helped me hold on. Ideas that are on the lips of everyone I interview, things that pop up in workshops, meander on to the page or rear up in the yoga classes I teach. In all the work I do, there are specific things we underline when talking about how to move a justice and equity agenda forward. They are the lessons I share with my family, my clients, my students. Fuck, honestly anyone who will listen. They are on repeat because those of us working for equity and justice include them in the fabric of our lives. Not so much as a framework for change, but as a map to how we live.
- Solidarity. You stand with those on the margins. You make the circle wider. Your shoulder is situated next to theirs at rallies. Your work takes into account their work and the agenda is inclusive. It is radical, it reminds me of the show Sense8. Their fears are your fears, their pain your pain. It’s not so much empathy as it is family. You develop a capacity for connecting to the human family, no matter what space that person occupies. You use your positional power to support their agenda and vice versa.
- Resource sharing. Housing, childcare, groceries, rides, ACCESS. We share what we have, freely and without strings attached. We share because we can and if we didn’t we would all suffer. We share because it is the right thing to do, like leaving a small footprint and speaking kindly. Sometimes in diversity and inclusion work the focus is on compliance, morality is frowned upon because no one wants to be told what is moral. But, it IS a central concept. We do it because without that commitment, the world would be a much more awful place.
- Healing. I take responsibility for my shit and you take responsibility for your shit and we meet in the middle. It is impossible to do systems change without first acknowledging and addressing individual and historical trauma. To be a citizen means attending to your own wounds as well as being responsible to the wounds of your community. Put on your own damn facemask, but make sure that your share that air if your seatmate doesn’t have one. That way we all thrive and we support unwinding the spaces where people don’t want us to thrive. We encourage speaking truth to power and to hearing the things that need to be said.
- De-centering. There is no us, no them. There is no “more important.” There is critical and necessary. We attend to what is critical and build for what moves us collectively. What does it look like to see each person as a center and part of a whole? We are an organism.
- Holding paradox and multiple ways of knowing. Your understanding is not how everyone understands and that is ok. It is ok, even, that we contradict each other sometimes or that this and that exist simultaneously. See points 1, 3 and 4. If we incorporated a yes and mentality, so much is possible.
These are what we cultivate to “hold on” – to make spaces “to be heard, to be free, to be loved.”
Also, let’s nod to indigenous and communities of color that have these tenants as integral parts of culture. And, every time we think we are on to something, we recognize that our ancestors knew it and we are simply remembering what’s buried in our souls.
Today, I am grateful for those that remember, authors like Megan, poets like Parneshia, painters and dancers and policy makers, doctors, bakers, electricians and technologists. Every time we showcase our solidarity, resource sharing, healing, de-centering and holding paradox, we support someone else in holding on.
What allows you to “hold on?”