By: Tabatha Donley
Queering Leadership. The Hero’s Journey: Reigniting a Passion to Serve and Lead. Changing the Conversation on Global Development through Powerful Messaging. With over 90 workshops and panels offered at the annual IMPACT Conference, it was a daily struggle to pick and choose among enticing topics. Most insightful for me was attending the “Forward through Ferguson: A Path Towards Racial Equity” panel, which featured three scholar-activists, two of whom served on the Ferguson Commission.
Weaving in the history and demographics of St. Louis, the panelists answered poignant questions regarding the aftermath of Michael Brown’s unjust death, examining the value of protests and “calling out.” Through the course of several hours, I was in absolute awe of the sheer intelligence, passion, and dedication these women (yes, they were allwomen) possessed. Chills ran through my body as these fierce women shared their experiences and expressed their opinions, unapologetically.
“Can’t you find another way to protest?”
The Q&A session revealed how much work is needed in our own social justice spaces. As with anything, good intentions do not necessarily equate to good results; in fact, even the best of intentions can have harmful consequences. A fellow conference participant (white, female) prefaced her question with her disdain for protests that interrupt traffic. She stated that one such protest in her hometown shut down the freeway which resulted in a large inconvenience: her commute to work was severely delayed, therefore she lost money. She pleaded that there must be a better way to protest — one that does not inconvenience others who would otherwise support causes like #blacklivesmatter. She reiterated that she was all for social justice. It was interesting to observe the crowd: some were nodding in agreement with the questioner, while others shook their heads. Panelist Amy Hunter (check out her amazing Ted Talk here) answered with perfection. She acknowledged that certain protests do indeed inconvenience others…yet, she encouraged the student – and the audience in general – to see the big picture: if a traffic blockade is what it takes to save another black child — to prevent another black mother from grieving over her dead child — surely, it is worth the “inconvenience.” Money can be replaced; lives cannot. The whole room fell silent and was taken away by Ms. Hunter’s candor in reminding folks what is really at stake here: human lives. Most commonly, black lives. The questioner was visibly shook, as she received a big reality check assessing her privilege and power.
To call OUT or IN?
Another highlight was the discussion of calling out. A common practice for social activists, calling out brings public attention to one’s oppressive behavior, and paves the way for increased education and accountability. Yet, as many conference participants expressed, calling out seems ineffective or harsh at times — deterring possible allies from joining the movement. Once again, Ms. Hunter came in clutch: she first reminded folks how imperative calling people out can be: not only is oppressive behavior identified and corrected, communal healing can take place if folks were directly harmed by the oppression. Yet, Ms. Hunter also gave the questioner’s claim some legitimacy, and advocated another approach: “calling in.” She talked about radical love, and how addressing someone’s oppressive behavior more personally and privately can reduce embarrassment – but most importantly, help the individual learn, grow, and be hip to cause.
Immediately afterwards, a co-panelist stressed that calling out is more effective, and that there is simply not enough energy to call people in all the time. Ultimately, the panelists agreed that both calling out and calling in hold merit, emphasizing that each situation is unique. Energy and compassion cannot be easily renewed – particularly if one experiences frequent micro and macro-aggressions. Marginalized people are not obligated to educate their oppressors; their self-care comes first. As Audre Lorde famously expressed, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” My time in St. Louis rejuvenated my passion for social justice, reaffirmed the importance of community, and inspired me to continue the good fight. I encourage everyone – especially underclassmen – to partake in IMPACT and stay woke. A million thanks to SAIL for affording this senior with the opportunity to continually learn and grow.