We Are at a Crossroads
We are at an inflection point in our country. Every where we go, we see and hear nothing but bait and buzz words intended to solicit the most knee jerk reactions from us. Words that are intended to solicit reactions from us based upon our deep held fears or pain or prejudices or biases or greed. Our reactions that take us further and further away from who we truly can be, and need to be, as a community, a country, and as a society. And sadly, this is not new. This is the script of America. But over and over again, across our history, individuals have risen up to say this is not who we are and not who we need to be. These injustices will not rule our land, and we will not stand for this division.
During history class, all throughout our childhood, we are taught about the great feats of individuals that have laid the groundwork for where we are today. Individuals who fought against the narrative of the day to say enough is enough and my community will withstand no more injustice. Individuals that overcame seemingly impossible obstacles to end up changing the world for the better, whether through war heroics, leading social justice movements, or exerting political power. People like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and Cesar Chavez. However, in learning about these important powerhouses of our past, a deeper lesson became ingrained. A subtle lesson that in order to effect social change, one had to be special, extraordinary, extremely courageous, and exemplary. But this narrative is false.
What Will Your Legacy Be?
Fast forward to today. If you take out the bait and buzz words as you look at the social and racial unrest that is happening today, you will see that our communities just want equitable resources and policies, to have our human rights and dignity respected, to be included at the decision making tables deciding what is happening to us, to be heard without filters, investment, to be accepted and seen and loved for who we are, and to live comfortably. At its core, isn't this what you would want for yourself and your own community? So how do we achieve this? It starts with each and every one of us deciding that we will enter the fight and make a change. To actively choose to create equitable communities that are rooted in unity, acceptance, love, inclusiveness, that have the resources needed for all members to succeed. Now, before we move forward, I want to be clear that when I speak of communities, I want you to know that your community is defined by you. Your community can be your family and friends, your church, your school, neighborhood, city, region, or country. If we have lots of communities working towards the same goal, we will see ripples into our greater society.
Each and every one of us has the potential to positively impact our community. We don't have to be extraordinary, special, or exemplary by history's definition. In addition, each and every one of us has the potential to positively change the course of someone else’s life if we choose to do so. But that is the key, we have to actively choose to do so. Let me give you an example. In my career, I have humbly supported lower income women in their life journeys as they have become board members, policy council members, career professionals, spokeswomen, advocates, home owners, and more. Women that traditional society may have looked over, but given the opportunities they needed, they have thrived. So, why have so many women that I have worked with been successful? Because I have intentionally chosen to actively invest in those around me, to look beyond myself and create opportunities for families through processes where they have input.
So what does this mean? By me choosing to invest in my "community", the wonderful women were then able to achieve their dreams and then invest in their own "community". The ripples continue and stronger roots are grown for the next generation. Whether it means making small waves of change or large waves of change, it is up to all of us to actively choose to impact the lives of those around us, to make each others’ lives better. I must mention that at times it may seem impossible to do so when we feel like we are barely above water ourselves and the negative national narrative keeps beating us down, but I have found that desire and purpose are profound motivators.
So..... how do we do this? How to we create these waves of change? Well.....it all starts with you fully understanding what you want your individual impact to be on this world. What do you want your legacy in this work to be? What do you want people to say about you and your life’s work? Do you want them to say that you were loving, that you spoke up when things were not right, that you built community, etc? What exactly will be your thumbprint on the world surrounding you? Are you currently working towards fulfilling it, or are you waiting to act? Take the time to think about this, write it down, and then intentionally act upon it.
So, what would my personal legacy be, you ask? My legacy will be positively impacting my region through building bridges among diverse groups, organically developing leaders, and ensuring equitable policies and practices within the realms of my control. Pretty lofty legacy huh?!? But that is what I have decided will be my legacy. But that may not be what your legacy is, my daughter’s, my sister’s, your mother’s, your father’s, your son’s, etc. And that is what makes us all so unique. We all come from many different backgrounds, have many different experiences, and possess many different talents. Some of us are great at being the leader in the room and some of us excel by silently supporting the operations in the back. However, it takes all of us deciding to positively impact our community, aka leaving a legacy, that will lead us to a more human-centered, equitable society. How you do that, in what ways, is for you to personally decide.
Bringing You Legacy to Fruition
Phew......now you have done the easy part. You have decided what your legacy will be. The hard part is bringing it to fruition. Let’s take a moment to refer back to the beginning of this blog. We have learned in school that to be great agents of change, we have to be extraordinarily special, but that is actually a false narrative. We just have to have the desire to live in a better world and choose to act upon it. But let me tell you....at times, it becomes difficult. Obstacles arise. Self doubt creeps in. The uglier side of society seems to prevail. You will get discouraged. However, if we focus on the following, we can continue to lay the ground work, sow the seeds, and see our communities and legacies flourish. So, what can you do?
1. Continuously reflect on your relationship with power and whether or not you believe you actually have the power to make change. Stripped down and removed of any positive or negative connotation, power means the ability to act. Our experiences with, or stories about, "powerful" people and "powerful" systems tinge our relationship with power, making us feel like we cannot make these waves of change. So, it is important to deeply reflect on your personal relationship with power and your view of yourself as a powerful person. Reflection: Do you view power as positive or negative and why? Do you feel like you deserve to hold power? Why or why not? Do you want to hold power and if so, why? If not, why not? How can holding power help you fulfill your legacy and contribute to the movement of positively impacting your community?
2. Identify and physically write down the morals and values you want to guide you in pursuit of your legacy and live them out each day. For me, I am clear that I want to demonstrate integrity, respect, love, acceptance, social justice, community-led solutions, and equity. In knowing exactly what guides me, it helps me choose which projects I will participate in, when and how to speak up, how to develop and evaluate programs, and when it is time to walk away. It also serves as a continuous reflection and self awareness point for me when I am not acting within the realm of my own morals and values. It helps me correct course if I falter. And I do falter sometimes....because I am human. Reflection: What morals and values do you hold? Do they infringe on the rights of others or do they lead to a more equitable, loving, and unified society? Are you actively living them out each day or are you currently finding your actions out of sync with your morals and values?
3. Continuously reflect and combat on your biases and prejudices. When investing in your community, you will see how much people flourish if just given the right opportunities and investment. What I am saying is....your set stereotypes of who people are and what they can achieve are actually the very thing that can be holding them back. If you are holding back investment in someone, or resources, because you have consciously or subconsciously set a glass ceiling, you are inadvertently contributing to the very problem you are trying to change. So to break this, continuously reflect on your biases, your prejudices, your beliefs in what someone else can achieve and come with an open mind. Listen with an open heart and leave any prescribed futures you may have at the door so you can be a partner in THEIR dreams. Reflection: Are there currently any biases and prejudices, whether conscious or subconscious, that are holding you back? If so, how are you actively working through them? What trainings or readings are you currently taking or working through to help you in this?
4. Prepare to take risks and leave your comfort zone. Sometimes we are scared to take risks because we are scared to fail. But we must understand that in failure we will find success. Failure means we are one step closer to finding out what works. We must not be afraid of failure, we must be afraid of stagnation and in bringing life to our legacy, we are not always going to be successful. I have not always been successful, but I have learned some life changing lessons that have helped me help others and my community better. By taking risks and leaving your comfort zone, you will grow in ways you will never knew you could, and you will see your thumbprint expand. Reflection: What risks are you currently taking that are helping you fulfill your legacy? If you are not taking any, why not?
5. Do not compare yourself to others. Your legacy is your legacy and we need people at all levels making change. As I mentioned earlier, there are those who are making big splashes and impacting millions of people’s lives. And there are those leaving legacies by impacting the lives of their families and friends. The great thing about a movement is that we don’t need everyone at the top or everyone at the bottom. We need people across all levels choosing to make a difference and bringing all their different talents to the table. So, if you think that your legacy or your job in the movement is not enough, or you find yourself comparing yourself to others, or someone is trying to ask you for more than you can give, remember, what you are doing just enough.
6. Remember to breathe and take care of yourself. Change making is not easy. Fighting systems and building a more human-centered, equitable community is not easy. If it was, it would have already been accomplished. The great thing about us humans is we are capable of great achievements. The bad thing about us humans is we can be our own biggest downfalls. So remember, take care of yourself, take time to re-charge, find your self-care routine, and celebrate your accomplishments. Reflection: What is your self-care routine? If you do not have one, what do you need to do to create one?
7. Search our opportunities to insert yourself into the greater movement. If you want to see things changed, join your local neighborhood association, start a local group, write letters to your senator or representative, join a fellowship that trains you on organizing skills, etc. There are so many opportunities out there, you just have to search them out. But the opportunities should be intentionally tied to what you want your legacy in this work to be. Create your own plan of action. Reflection: What opportunities do you think are most interesting to you and why?
8. Believe in yourself and your voice. You are special. You are amazing. You are talented. You are deserving. You have so much to contribute. Let the world flourish because of your talents.
Together, we can do this. Together, we can change the narrative and our communities.