REACH Storyletter: #liberationispossible

June 5, 2020

Volume 1

Welcome to the REACH StoryLetter. Each month we will bring you one interview from a REACH grantee, donor or team member with a deep dive into an area of their work in racial equity. We will also share articles, podcasts and reports that the REACH team are engaging with in an effort to continue to inform our collective conversation on racial equity.

A Letter from Ain

We are living through a highly critical inflection point in our nation’s history. Over the last few months, we’ve witnessed the unprecedented and disproportionate health and economic impacts of COVID on Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities. Today, we’re seeing a global rebellion calling for an end to anti-Black racism and police brutality. This moment forcefully and unequivocally confirms the urgency and the importance of our collective REACH intention to accelerate change through racial equity.

If we are to transform the deep and often fatal disparities flourishing within each and every one of our American systems, including our own organizations, then we must confront and shift the status quo within ourselves, our roles, our communities and our institutions.

This inaugural StoryLetter, provides us with the opportunity to delve into practices— daily, moment by moment practices—that can help us do just that.

In power,

Ain Bailey, REACH Program Officer

#liberationispossible

Meet Bari Katz and Tanya Williams—the people behind the consulting practices Bari Katz, Inc. and Authentic Coaching and Consulting and Borealis REACH Fund grantee partners. Their approach as a team is to create programming that incrementally increases awareness of white supremacy and encourages structural shifts to dismantle racism within individuals, teams, and organizations.

Bari and Tanya discuss how they apply a framework of liberatory consciousness in their coaching and consulting work, lessons they have learned, and what they would recommend to consultants interested in operationalizing this framework.

What brings you to your work?

Bari: I am committed to doing work that creates space and allows people to explore their own identities, whether that is one-on-one coaching, facilitating workshops for small and large groups or teaching. For me specifically, I do a lot of work with white folks around understanding our own privilege and the dynamics of oppression are both perpetuated by us, and also harm us and continue to rob us of our own humanity in our relationships with and toward others.

Tanya: My work is connected to helping people think about identity and power, and understanding the ways that systems and power are created, and how we still live them. I am most committed to liberation. It gives me a particular lens to see any of the work that we do is about power.

Can you tell us about the framework that you apply in your practice: liberatory consciousness?

Tanya: I first want to name that we did not create this. Dr. Barbara Love wrote an article in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, and all of the work that we do is from the framework of liberatory consciousness that she came up with: awareness, analysis, action, and allyship:

“A way of living in a world characterized by oppressive systems with awareness and intentionality.  It enables us to maintain an awareness of the dynamics of oppression without giving into despair and hopelessness and an awareness of the roles played by each individual in the maintenance of that system without blaming them for the roles they play.  And it enables humans to live outside the patterns of thought and behavior learned through an oppressive socialization process to support us in being intentional about our role in working toward transformation.” – Dr. Barbara Love, Developing a Liberatory Consciousness

How did you operationalize this framework?

Bari: We asked ourselves, if liberatory consciousness is what we’re moving toward, then what do we have now? The conversation yielded this concept of oppressive consciousness.

I think talking about liberatory consciousness can make people feel like it’s really out of reach. Instead, if we could start with an awareness of the kind of consciousness we have now, and move intentionally toward a different system, we find ourselves in, and root ourselves in  a system built instead around liberation.

What does it look like to know that we have all been indoctrinated in our minds, hearts, and bodies in a way that is really about power, harm, and exclusivity? It is more accessible for people to think: Okay, this is the system in which I operate, but I get to choose how I think and see. I can intentionally act from a different place than what the system has taught me about where I’ve been situated within this power structure that’s inherently both unequal and completely inequitable.

This is systems work, because any shift in an individual is working to break apart the system. But it’s really about allowing people to change things in their daily lives internally. It’s constantly noticing: “I just walked by somebody on the street and a thought popped into my head.  Where did that come from?” Naming a biased thought, and then being able to unpack where that’s coming from.

Tanya: I want everybody to live like that because I know the world will be better. And it’s not short work, it’s not light work. I think the work that Bari and I are trying to do within organizations is to help individuals in organizations understand that there are moment by moment things and ways of seeing the work that you do that moves us towards a liberatory consciousness that will help support a movement in the system of equity that we’re trying to build.

What are you learning as you operationalize liberatory consciousness in your work?

Tanya: It has definitely helped me deepen my understanding of systems work, recognizing that individuals are parts of systems. Every single thing that an individual might do from their lens, from their identity, from their place of power, both in the organization systemically, and in social society, really has an impact on the culture of the organization they’re in.

I love the concept of consciousness because there’s the individual consciousness that exists, but that individual consciousness builds a collective consciousness and we are in the midst of a particular collective consciousness moment in the United States and globally.

What would it be like if we were in a liberatory consciousness as a collective? I wouldn’t be in conversation after conversation where people are filled with anxiety, and feeling alone. That is a collective oppressive consciousness. We are very good students of oppression. We need to be very good students of liberation right now.

We all approach systems work from the 30,000 foot view and maybe we’ll come down to the 10,000 foot view where we look at organizations and say, “If we switch these policies, these policies will help us get to an equitable space.” Liberatory consciousness work has helped me understand that I have got to be down at the five foot view with the human who has experienced deep harm because of systems, and work at transforming the ways in which they think about themselves, and how they think about others.

Bari: Every time we facilitate a conversation or do a coaching session around liberatory consciousness, something sparks for me either in terms of an idea or a deeper knowing and awareness of my own identities and how connected we all are.

It’s such an incredible insight into our shared humanity and how we’re all deeply tied together because of the consistency of hurt, pain, and dissonance that exists in every group we have facilitated. It shows up differently depending on identity, depending specifically on racial identity and positional power within an organization. But the way that we have all been and continue to be really harmed living in this system and knowing that the work that we’re doing is really about providing people the opportunity to see that they can do something and see themselves and see each other differently is such a powerful way to move through the world. It’s the way that I strive to live and practice every day and build my own consciousness every day. I know what it’s done for me and my relationships and the way that I’m able to show up in the world and do this work and so yes, it definitely has shifted things.

For consultants interested in engaging in this body of work, what is critical for success?

Tanya: Practice in your own life first. Sometimes we get seen as experts and that’s why I love adrienne marie brown’s book, Emergent Strategy. Liberation is emergent by its very nature. Ain’t nobody been there. We may have flashes of it. I believe to truly do liberatory work is to be on the learning edge at all times and as a consultant, people will set us up as experts. It’s taking yourself off of that pedestal and being willing to be in the muck with it.

Bari: The other reason why it’s really important for whoever might pick this up to get comfortable and actually embody it is because there will be resistance. There will be resistance from people across all spectrums because, as Tanya said, we haven’t been there before. It’s like imagining a life post COVID-19—nobody has been there yet. When the resistance comes up it’s not about having the right words and it’s not about regurgitating anything. In this work, it feels really important to always be coming from a human place first, and not a meta academic place. And it’s not just the next trend. This is something that’s much deeper and can be much more transformative in a real way.

Tanya: It’s not a deep thought, but I use it as a hashtag: #liberationispossible. A lot of times in racial equity work, people say, “I know that this is what we’re supposed to do, but I actually don’t believe racial equity is possible.I don’t believe social justice is possible.”

This work is actually calling the question, do you want a socially just world as the ending?

We have to believe and actually want all of these things. I want my liberation, more than anything else in the world. And I want other people to have it, too.

What We Read, Listened to, and Watched This Month

We’re in a moment of collective trauma. But there are glimmers of hope.  There is so much to say about the present moment…and thankfully so many brilliant people sharing their understanding. This open letter, by the prolific john a. powell resonates deeply.  (10M Read, 26M Podcast)

Managing When Things Are Not Okay (And Haven’t Been for Centuries). This article shares how managers and non-Black people can practice anti-racism in the workplace without further burdening our Black coworkers. (5 Minute Read)

Racial Equity In Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding Leaders of Color Leave Impact on the Table. This 2020 report highlights racial equity disparities in philanthropy, including understanding the role of race in the problems philanthropists are trying to solve and the significance of race when it comes to how philanthropists identify leaders and find solutions. (32M Read)

Who Belongs? Podcast: EP 23 – Racism and COVID-19: The historical, political, and social foundations. In this episode of the Who Belongs? Podcasts from the Othering & Belonging Institute we hear from a three-guest panel of Berkeley faculty who provide various perspectives on the different forms of racism we’ve been witnessing since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. (41 Minute Listen)

CodeSwitch Podcast: Why the Coronavirus is Hitting Black Communities Hardest. This is a REACH favorite podcast that covers race and society in an accessible way. This particular episode digs into the underlying stressors contributing to the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black Communities. (24 Minute Listen)