By Marcus Lorenzo Penn
On February 6th, 2019 we at the Peaceful World Foundation (PWF) held our largest gathering yet at the Tides Foundation Pacific Room. We also had our largest representation of diversity around the table in the largest room that we have ever held for one of our conversations. There was an air of anticipation and joyfulness in the room as everyone began to trickle in before the conversation started, while soulful yet intimate soft music played in the background. It felt as though there was a celebration about to begin and indeed it was as our lunch conversation topic was the following:
“Celebrating Diversity and Advocacy”
Our guest facilitators for the afternoon were two of our 2018 Grantee Organizations: Mark Yanez and Christabel Nunoo of The Mosaic Project (TMP) and Elizabeth Gutierrez and An Bui of Oasis for Girls (OFG). As a grounding and creative icebreaker exercise our facilitators invited us all to write a haiku poem (3 lines with 7 syllables, 5 syllables, and 7 syllables respectively) and share it with a partner. They gave us the options to write on what we wanted to gain from our lunch conversation on diversity or write on what we wanted to let go of.
We were also asked to share with our partner after the prompt “If you really knew me…” Some poignant phrases used in our shared haikus were “slowing down”, “truly important”, “collective journey”, and “expand my heart”. Each of these words and phrases could be associated with various perspectives of diversity, so it really set the tone for our conversation.
All of us in attendance were treated with comprehensive presentations from two 2018 Grantees informing us of their major program components and communities served in the name of advancing and advocating for diversity. Based in San Francisco South of Market (SOMA), OFG arose from the realization that there were not enough girls of color organizations in the community.
Their series of programs serve high school-aged females within San Francisco with personal development skills, creativity, arts and pay a stipend. They shared how intentional they were with words throughout their programming and interaction with the young ladies. It was imperative throughout their programmatic facilitation to create a space of open acceptance with no tolerance for violent language.
The first OFG program shared was called the Rise Program. The experience from this program was focused on the young ladies embracing the moment and sharing moments that shaped their lives. It involved creating a healing circle cultivating vulnerability as well as building community, sympathy and sisterhood. The second program described focused on youth leadership roles entitled Woke Women.
Themes covered included sexual violence, health literacy, practicing public speaking and review of articles for education and advocacy. The third aspect of programs revolved around Social Action Projects. Our presenters said they asked the young ladies to, “Choose a topic you feel strongly about and go in the community to do something about it.”. And the fourth and last aspect of the OFG programming involves a Youth Advisory Board. Their roles include community organizing, sharing helpful resources around town, and helping to interview new staff.
Our second group of facilitators Mark and Christabel from TMP spoke of how their organization’s mission is to create tools for a ‘Peacemakers Tool Belt.’ The name of their organization MOSAIC is an acronym for:
Each of these components of their organization were also reflective among those of us at the lunch conversation. They first guided us through a diagram illustrating the Pyramid of Violence Model. It was quite masterful how they led us to see how segregation leads to ignorance and fear and then to prejudice moving on to discrimination and then to violence and ultimately to war.
All of their work is to begin to dismantle these components within society and public consciousness through their programming for youth. Ultimately they want to construct more Pyramids of Peace within society, which they also shared with us. Our presenters shared with us it all starts with a sense of connection along with respect and having recognition of others perspectives along with empathy of being assertive in communication and conflict resolution leading to peace.
We were reminded during the presentation that peace is a process, an active process to invite us to perform Acts of Peace. Their programming highlights this during a specific week as each day is a focus on a peace component within the triangle involving games, activities and fun learning opportunities. I must say, as I was listening to the presentations and learning of these peace principles, I felt that so many adults in society could use this information too. How wonderful it is that TMP is passing this information to youth to bring wisdom to their adult counterparts.
It was interesting how assertiveness was a big part of the peace process as shown in TMP’s model. The presenters went on to share how assertiveness is a choice for the peace making process and only when it is used with aggression does it not support the peace making process. Through their programs the youth are taught this by being strong without being mean, incorporating ‘respect, protect, and connect’ principles, reading body language, and practicing skits for role-playing. They largely work with 4th and 5th graders using the made-up character ‘Cardi Peace’ to promote their positive peace agenda to a younger population, while also highlighting historic assertive peacemakers like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Mark, the co-facilitator from TMP was very transparent with the audience sharing that as a person of Latinx heritage he was initially very skeptical of their practices of peace. He shared with us that within the Black and Latinx communities where he grew up, having certain eye contact and body language could almost mean life or death or a very different response than intended.
From a cultural perspective, he shared, eye contact many times could have been received as a form of aggression. What this highlights is that the approach to peace is very much also a cultural journey to be approached with ‘mutual respect and open-mindedness’.
At this point in the afternoon, we switched gears as the two sets of presenters had questions prepared for us in the audience to ponder on and then share about. As the afternoon took on a more interactive workshop feel, there were 4 large Post-it Notes sheets that were put on the wall for us to answer questions. The questions included:
- How do we define diversity and advocacy in our respective organizations?
- How did we get to these definitions?
- How has the definition changed over the existence of your organization?
- How do we personally connect to these definitions?
Right off the bat the first term shared in response to define organizational diversity and advocacy was ‘inclusion’ of any color, gender and able-bodied individual. However, the gentleman who initially responded was also very introspective and thought to bring the same 4 questions back to his organization to get a better idea from his colleagues.
He also introduced to the group the term ‘emotional diversity’ and how he continues to work on embracing it. The next share spoke to diversity within and without their organization, while honoring multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-generational aspects to reflect the communities that they serve for environmental and social justice.
Given that definitions of diversity differ person to person, it was brought up that it could be a challenge for an organization to provide an inclusive definition of diversity so not to discriminate. One organizational representative present looked to address this by having their programs reach out to all cultural and ethnic neighborhoods so to not have to worry about discrimination of one versus the other.
What this brought up was that different cultures have different standards of diversity. All this brought us to recognize that one ‘diversity’ does not fit all. This was so well encapsulated by a quote from Audre Lorde that our co-presenter Mark shared with the group,
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
A very transparent share from one of our attendees provided a tender opportunity for us all to bring out into the open and explore racist verbiage, white privilege, complicit behavior and culturally assertive communication. A major point that was addressed in regards to celebrating diversity by one of our participants was that highlighting people of color (POC) does not mean to exclude acknowledging the perspective of others of non-POC heritage.
We went deeper into the facilitated questions going into how we arrived at our definitions of diversity and how it has changed over time. One response came from someone who after working with a family in Rwanda saw how their definition of diversity had shifted after learning of other people’s life experience.
This was an opportunity to explore ‘cultural humility’ (as defined by Drs. Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia) as a humble and respectful attitude toward individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases, realize they cannot possibly know everything about other cultures, and approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.
Given that any conversation on diversity must include talk on oppressed peoples and the oppressor, a question was posed to our group from one of the attendees about “How do we shift the focus from the perpetuation of oppressive practices to honoring the pain of those who have been oppressed?” Since we all embody some aspects of privilege, and an oppressed identity it was important for us to learn how to navigate both.
Also introduced to the group was the term ‘white fragility’ seen as discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. Other terms introduced to the group were ‘environmental racism’ and ‘ethical fundraising’ speaking to the process of large energy companies using their power dynamics to push their own agendas through funding across communities and whether or not recipient organizations should actually accept those funds in integrity.
Thankfully we were given the opportunity to reframe this process from the wisdom of our co-facilitators from TMP who identified the 3 Major Peace Blockers:
So they addressed our participant’s question saying the process starts with an interpersonal journey and conversation with family, friends and oneself to move past blame, guilt and defensiveness. Beautifully put it was said our desire is to “end violence but not end conflict” as conflict brings to the surface what needs to be addressed. So to bring balance to the peace process, TMP also introduced us to 3 Major Keys to Peace:
There was a full arc to the experience of this Lunch Conversation and at the end it was wonderfully embodied in one of our participants who spoke of her evolution to approach conflict. She shared how she is “now not afraid to make her voice heard or to step in and step up.” She felt more “empowered to not back down and advocate for herself” more. One of our artists in attendance shared a fitting quote that “Peace is conflict done well.” We all were reminded by this special Peaceful World Foundation Lunch Conversation that the approach to peace is no different than the approach to diversity, as it invites us to arrive at both with cultural humility and assertive communication. With that, we can always keep the peace alive…