I think we barely scratched the surface. But we did scratch.
Dr. Taylor, who says she was called Laura or ‘LT’ while at Urbana, followed her publicized agenda very thoroughly. I totally failed on naming the musical selections – I might have recognized one of them. One of the ladies at our table couldn’t stop dancing to most of them. 🙂
On “The Purpose of the Committee”, I am pretty sure Laura said that this will NOT be a committee. I had to grin at that. She talked briefly about some of her visions for this group, about how we are going to try engaging in “Courageous Conversations” (hat tip to Karen) and how we have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. I very much appreciate her passion and vision for this.
We were divided into about 8 tables averaging about 4 or 5 each and Laura did not take long to give us our first group task; discuss the ground rules. For instance, our table talked about things like respecting each other, employing active listening, don’t take things personally, don’t dominate the conversation, have a thick skin and just be honest. Each table had an opportunity to relate to the whole some of these ground rules, which were complied by Angi Franklin (the designated notetaker). I am anxious to see that list posted on the website.
Although Laura never really attempted to define “Social Justice”, she did have us collaboratively come up with thoughts about the term “Ideology”. Several folks shared common ideas about belief systems; I wrote down “A framework for belief or world views”. She used this as a springboard to launch into the Big QuestionⓇ – Who defines what is ‘normal’? She passed out her “Circle of Ideology” (will link when I find it) and we spent a bit of time talking about this circle both as a larger group and in our smaller groups. Laura tried to make it clear that it was not her intent to judge the current system, but rather to observe. For instance, she started with the example of those that are “able bodied” versus those in wheelchairs or with hearing aids – think of how different our water fountains, entrances and signs would be if most of us were not able to walk and/or blind. According to the Ideology circle, the folks who sent the ‘norms’ are typically english-speaking, between 20 and 70 (which I thought was too large of a range), heterosexual, male, Caucasian and “rich, poor, educated” (which took a bit of explaining). As we were going through this, I started to think “well, the majority defines what is normal, right?” but then I saw not only is that not 100% accurate, it is also not the point even if it were. I think the point became that just because a ‘norm’ is defined as one way, it will inherently not be normal for some folks. And I think the point of Laura’s take on “Social Justice” is recognizing and acknowledging that ‘norms’ are not normal for everyone.
As we were getting close to the end, we held table discussions about “things we do that keep people from being involved”. In other words, what ‘normal’ things do we practice that automatically are inorganic to some folks? The example Laura gave was that of modern day graduation ceremonies, based on age-old traditions when rich white folks were the only ones going to school and graduating. Actually, I would probably go a lot further back in time. Some of the words used to describe such ceremonies (by participants) were “stuffy” and “boring” (my personal favorite). “Orderly”. At our table, the issue of clothing became a major topic – differences in brands may cloister those who cannot afford the big price tags, and reversely may lead to more violence thus exacerbating isolation. An example from another table really made my ears perk up. “Sometimes PTA can keep people from being involved.” Laura prompts “Who goes to PTAs?”. “Women. Caucasians”. Interesting, that.
I think one of the ladies are our table said “when kids feel engaged, they have more ownership over their own destiny.” If they are disengaged, they lose that sense of control and ownership. Would it not behoove ourselves to encourage and cultivate such engagement?
As we were wrapping up, the last thing was to fill out a survey form. One of the questions was something like “What can we do better?” Laura made a point to emphasize that they are going to “take this show on the road” and hit up Rose & Taylor on a Sunday and also hope to go out to Shadow Wood. So when I answered that survey question, I emphasized how the Social Justice Team really needs to not only go out to where people are, but they need to also ask what “they” (those the team is going out to) need and want. The Social Justice Committee cannot come up with solutions in a closed environment – they have to go out and find the questions first. I also observed “Look at who is not in this room; why are they not here?”
Overall I thought it went very well. I am excited about where this can go. Laura expressed that she was really hoping for more people, but the fact that she got about 40 or so is pretty good. “We start by starting.”
I fully hope that those of you who were there (don’t make me call you out 🙂 ) will speak up and share your own thoughts. Mine are but a small window, my own lens. I would really like to hear from those who did not appreciate the meeting tonight, or thought it could have gone a bit differently. I almost wish I could interview everyone.
Personal action items:
- Connect with William Jones and 1) ask what he wasn’t able to make it and 2) if he is serious about doing this at Rose & Taylor. I believe Laura is ready to bring it.
- follow-up with Ileana and folks at Shadow Wood about getting the Social Justice folks out there.