Amazing! Enlightening! Energizing! Life Changing! These are just a few ways in which I describe my experience in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during Dana Hall’s Spring Break. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity and yes, privilege to attend this year’s 20th White Privilege Conference.
Prior to the conference and without knowing what to expect, I felt excited though nervous to spend two full days learning with strangers. I was surrounded by students, educators, social workers, activists, healthcare workers, clergy, members of the corporate world, and experts in the field of racial and social justice. Wow, did I feel inadequate as a “newcomer” to this challenging work. June from Missouri, another conference attendee, kindly corrected me when she said that I was not new to this work, rather I was learning a new language.
From the first moment of the opening session, I knew I was in the right place, on a journey to learn with and from the people around me. There were so many workshops on such incredible topics led by brilliant minds that choosing where to learn became a puzzle. I learned from Vernon A. Wall about many social justice myths that hinder equity and inclusion. Corrie Wallace presented Black Girl Magic, where I learned to listen with my eyes, ears and heart. Ritu Bhasin explained The Authenticity Principle: choosing to know, embrace, and be who you are, especially your differences. Howard Ross talked about power, privilege and the unconscious mind. I was reminded during another workshop of several panelists that hate’s best friend is silence, and if we are to break down walls, we must learn each other’s cultures.
There are many others — Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., Peggy McIntosh, Debby Irving, Hugh Vasquez, John-Paul Chaisson Cardenas, Ivory Toldson, Jim Loewen, Yusef Salaam, Elizabeth Denevi, Jenna Chandler-Ward, to name a few from whom I learned other important messages:
- We were all born human but it takes effort to be humane.
- We mustn’t see through each other, we must see each other through.
- We must stop, heal, and change to write a different story.
- Keep the momentum going and don’t give up on this difficult and discouraging work.
- Be patient and persistent.
- Keep an open mind and lead with your heart.
As I sat on the plane and reflected on the two, 14-hour days of learning that I had just been privileged to pursue, I thought of the Jewish text, Pirkei Avot. “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I am also moved by Michelle Obama’s writing in Becoming, “Kids wake up each day believing in the goodness of things, in the magic of what might be. They’re uncynical, believers at their core. We owe it to them to stay strong and keep working to create a more fair and humane world.” I pledge to continue learning how to make this a more equitable world.