When my sons were little and I was dropping them off at a friend’s house, my last caution was always, “Now be on your best behavior and maybe you will get invited back.“ I was repeating what my mother had said to me . . . and her mother before her. Southern nice-isms to which we all agreed to adhere. I now realize this advice leads to an enormous barrier that keeps social equity from moving forward. Let me explain what I mean.
The change that I want for my community is equity. I want to know that leaders of color and those with a disability–are supported as much as I was. I want someone to take a chance on them, and then lift them up with coaching, mentoring, and unfiltered advice about how to be successful. That’s what my board of directors did for me.
I want LGBTQIA+ and immigrant colleagues to feel like they can take risks and fail, because they will learn and still be supported. That’s what happened for me. And when I have the chance to start an uncomfortable conversation or take a bold action, I want to make sure I do it – even if I don’t get invited back.
Today, when I find myself in a situation where I witness someone launching a microaggression or using a subtle (or less than subtle) racist reference, I cannot ignore it. I challenge it. I don’t want to be implicit. I am more concerned with moving forward and creating change than I am with how uncomfortable I make someone else feel. I haven’t always felt this way. It has been a journey. One that I began when I was in my high school history class and my teacher showed us that history books don’t tell the whole story. That was 32 years ago and I am still trying to understand.
When we created The Equity Journey, our purpose was to help people interested in adopting an equity lens. The training defines equity at a foundational level. It empowers learners to challenge what isn’t working. For some, this may be the first time they are using equity lens. For others, it provides a roadmap for moving them along in their equity journey. Our hope is that it will embolden all of us to do something.
I cannot help reflecting on John Lewis’ charge to all of us who want to fight injustice. We’ve heard it so many times over the past several days as we’ve celebrated his life. “Get into good trouble.” John Lewis was unbreakable. He led without fear, but knowing the risk.
Most of us fear the risk of awkward situations and uncomfortable conversations. Challenging the status quo takes practice. We have to push ourselves to keep going. Just like any other learned behavior, the more we do it, the better we get. As the social sector responds, our success will depend on each one of us stepping up to play a significant role in our country’s equity journey.
This reminds me once again of my mother’s rule to get invited back. One time I went to pick up my youngest son from a playdate. After locking him into his car seat and hopping in behind the steering wheel, I looked into my rearview mirror and asked “How did it go?” Pumping his arm with a clenched fist just like a professional golfer after sinking a 30 foot putt, he said, “I am so getting invited back!” That’s the aspiration for every guest. But when you do the work that we are called to do now, you may not get another invitation. And I know my mother would be ok with that.
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