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“Try A Thing”: Collecting Dust No More! Take Aways from the PolicyLink Our Power. Our Future. Our Nation. Equity Summit

How many of us have had the experience of spending valuable resources to attend workshops, trainings, conferences … we feel energized (and totally overloaded with information) and then we get back to the office and set our packet of info on a shelf or in a binder to come back to? Then, 2 years later, when we’re cleaning our office, or packing up for our next adventure we come across stacks of conference material, under layers of dust, and forget what they were even about.

Well, you’re not alone—it takes a whole lot of intentionality, maybe even an accountability buddy to process the information, let it marinate and then “try a thing” as a colleague of mine, Alfonso Wenker, would say. I’ve heard before that as a learner if you don’t try out a new skill, technique or practice within 6-8 weeks then it’s lost forever. Wow. Think about all those resources we pour into our own personal or organizational development that slips through the cracks of the all too familiar: “oh, I need to get caught up on my 300 emails—I’ll come back to it.”

At the beginning of April, the entire Foundation staff joined a Minnesota delegation of over 240 people for the Our Power. Our Future. Our Nation: 2018 Equity Summit convened by PolicyLink. None of us had attended this conference before, but had heard great things from colleagues in the field. Along with our relatively recent shift in focus to work in more community driven ways, we thought this would be a great learning opportunity for us as a staff.

So, in an effort to hold myself and my team here at the Foundation accountable to integrating some of that learning, to “try a thing” as it were, we’re each offering up our reflections and an action step we’ve taken as a result of attending the PolicyLink Equity Summit.

Patrick Troska, President

As an old white guy whose on-road to this journey around race and equity is fairly recent, I was particularly intrigued by Angela Glover Blackwell’s conversations with Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans.  Landrieu recently penned and published a book entitled In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.  Now, admittedly, I have not read the book, but I should and I will.  According to Landrieu, the book is less about the statues and more about his journey confronting the racism that has shaped this country and is symbolized by the statues themselves.  He describes his journey to understanding and personal transformation that led to his bold decision to remove the statues in 2017.

In his interview with Glover Blackwell, Landrieu describes his speech to the New Orleans community where he communicates that decision, “I want to gently peel your hands away from a false narrative of history that has guided us in the wrong direction,” he says.  His purpose was to highlight why many of the statues were erected, and that in fact they weren’t historic at all, but rather a commemorative reminder of a time when black and brown peoples were subjugated as property and treated as less than human, less than white people.  This was misremembering history as a form of corrupted religion. 

As I said, I was less interested in the “statue” story and more interested in Landrieu’s personal story.  I’m guessing he and I are around the same age. I’m guessing we had similar upbringings (although he was raised in the south, I in the north) with overwhelmingly white schools, church on Sunday, and a wide-open world in front of us.  I’m guessing we dream of happiness and good fortune for our family and loved ones, and a long and productive life for ourselves. I’m guessing that somewhere along our personal journeys we each had a pivotal event or series of events that “woke us up” to racial inequality and the many ways it manifests in our everyday world.

So what am I going to “try”?  My list is long, but suffice it to say, I’m going to continue learning from the many opportunities in front of me to interact with Black folks, shut up and listen to smarter people than myself, and speak truth to other white folks.  Oh, and I’m going to read Landrieu’s book.

Tracy Lamparty, Grants and Operations Manager

Attending conferences can be inspirational, drab, or somewhere in between.  The PolicyLink conference contained all three aspects for me- and I like that.  I have personally never attended a conference this large and for an introvert like me, it provided many opportunities to sink into the shadows and move through the space without being put on the spot.

In one of the sessions I attended, the facilitators grouped participants into a variety of different ways.  In each grouping, one of the first questions they asked was “When did you first become aware of race and how?”  I heard many powerful stories about where and when different participants learned about race- whether it was they themselves realizing they were a person of color vs. a white person or whether they, as a white person learned about how they experienced a privilege that a person of color didn’t- and thereby becoming aware of race.  As I sat there wracking my brain trying to think of when I first became aware of race- I honestly was not able to come up with “the first time”.  I had no powerfully moving story to share.  So, I chose not to share at all.  I sunk into the shadows and no one remarked otherwise.  So many people have not been granted that opportunity, that right- in the past and unfortunately- still today.

As I’ve reflected on that conversation over the last few weeks, I sincerely still have not come up with a story that I could have shared that afternoon- and maybe that is just my bad memory, but I have doubled down on my commitment to myself that I will not to be silent when my voice must be heard.

Joel Luedtke, Program Director

Not all of the action at a conference is confined to over-cooled, drab hotel ballrooms.  The best professional gatherings create innovative opportunities for participants to get out into the community and learn with their peers. That’s how I found myself biking through downtown Chicago and the near South Side with 20 of my newest friends on a recent and chilly April 11th.  PolicyLink had arranged for us to visit schools where parents were organizing to secure a greater measure of justice and educational quality for their kids.

Our local guide provided the prepared content.  Parents and students we met along the way also share their ideas.  Chicago drivers made is abundantly clear what they thought about 20 slow cyclists passing through downtown during rush hour.  All in all, it was a great experience.

But, I was most surprised to find myself riding along with Anthony Taylor, Adventures Director at North Minneapolis’ Loppet Foundation, and a key leader of our local Slow Roll team.  Slow Rolls are community-led casual bike rides that bring cyclists into neighborhoods they might not otherwise experience, while providing those neighborhoods with a new opportunity to interact.  In short, they are fun, easy bike rides (with music!) that introduce you to great people and places.

The Slow Rolls MPLS group organizes rides most Tuesday nights throughout the summer.  Check out their Facebook page.  I’m committing to hand out with Mr. Taylor at some Slow Rolls this summer.  Feel free to join me!

Sarah Reiter, VISTA Leader

I have a personal interest in environmental justice and water equity so I attended many sessions related to these areas. These sessions were extremely meaningful to me because they addressed core values of mine. I discovered amazing organizations and people working for justice and equity. Water issues are extremely prevalent and show up in different ways across the country. Look at Louisiana which is literally losing entire counties to the gulf, Arizona and California are set to run out of water in the next few years, and Flint, Michigan still does not have clean water. Environmental crises are all around us. There is a clear push in the environmentalist community to say that water equity must include all nature. As one panelist said, “water is a human right but we need to consider non-human species- all the trees and animals and mountains. We need to advocate for them.” Thankfully there are water warriors fighting against the privatization, pollution, and misuse of water. As I wrap up my year of service and look for my next step, I know that environmental justice will be the next thing for me. I’m grateful to have been able to attend PolicyLink. It served as an important reminder of the issues at hand and the innovative solutions to address them. So, my action step will be to seek out pathways to fight for environmental justice—in my future job and, of course, my daily habits.

E. Coco, Program Officer

I’ll admit it. Sometimes I feel like conferences are kind of “meh.” I prefer immersive experiences, usually in a cohort, where there is time to integrate information in a more meaningful way with others. Never having been to a PolicyLink conference, I was a bit skeptical—but hey, it’s Chicago, it has the word equity in the title (which, as we know, doesn’t necessarily mean it will speak to racial, economic and social justice explicitly), so I was ready to make the best of it, looking forward to learn and meet new people.

And that I did. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sessions that focused on trusting in community wisdom, investing in community driven and owned solutions. In particular, I heard loud and  clear that community organizing is the core of cultural, social, economic change. This is not to say that work within the web of institutional policies is not important or effective, but without proactively organized communities, we will maintain a reactionary orientation—things happen to us v. by, with and for us. As Fredrick Douglass once said,

 If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters….Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

It’s a refreshing and important reminder for me, both in my work at the Phillips Foundation and as a board member of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. I deeply believe that community organizing is a necessary ingredient in the many community wealth building efforts we are proud to support on the northside. My action step coming away from my time at the Equity Summit is to double down on my commitment to raising money and investing in the organizing ecosystem that weaves the threads of change together.

Well, that’s a look inside of what is swirling around in our brains.

What did you learn?

We’d love to hear about it and continue to build change together.

Phillips Family Foundation

Author Phillips Family Foundation

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