Our Paths to Wholeness: Grounding Healing in Our Visions for Racial Justice

Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Marquéz

I.

I was very young when I started fearing my body and the pain it could hold. Often I would be at school, my parents would get the call that I’d fainted again, and have to take me to the hospital.    A few months ago, I was curled up in fetal position in my bed, my head inclined at the exact angle to prevent a fainting spell, when I got a message from an aunt in Mexico. I had just shared a Facebook post about the frustrating reality of living with chronic pain that breaks you at every level. She had seen it, and asked me what was going on. I told her. It was the same story as always. I didn’t have to say much for her to understand.  She suggested some herbal teas for the pain and reminded me to tend to my altar.

I was raised by circles of women committed to raising babies that are strong. Among them were my mother and my tías, resilient women who created sacred spaces where they could make their pain visible to each other, usually over a plate of food and often surrounded by the screams and laughter of their children. They would come together regularly when faced with heartbreak, domestic violence, crippling depression, but also at celebrations, rites of passage, birthdays.

Here I am on the right, at a blessing of the children in the procession to honor La Guadalupana in my hometown of Xico, Veracruz, 1994.

These circles raised us–their little girls–to honor ritual, the land, our bodies, the cycles of joy and grief.  When my family left México, it felt like my roots were ripped from my feet.  The loss of the land, of these spaces, these mujeres that had taught me so much about coming closer to myself, their children who were also my family, broke something inside of me.  As more years pass, and now that I have lived in this country twice as long as I ever did in México, I’ve found myself building community in a way that honors the teachings of these women.  As we hear more and more conversations emerging in different spaces and in our movements around healing, I know from experience that each of us have different stories and traditions that connect us to our innate ability to heal and be whole.

II.

So where do we begin?

What is really at stake?

What are we actually healing from?

It makes me think of that common saying: you have to know where you’ve been, to know where you’re going. For folks of color, immigrant populations and indigenous people living in this country and doing movement work, the histories and the legacies of violence we carry in our lines are not in isolation with the world we have inherited, and the world we are trying to build. This is deeply personal work.  We are bringing our abuelitas, our nieces and nephews and visions of our descendents into the room.

I think of my own story of coming from survivors, women who have endured unimaginable violence, of a grandmother who made the choice to escape with her babies from a violence that could kill, in a land where she didn’t speak the language, and then had to work long days at a sweatshop to put food on the table. Though she left to join the ancestors earlier this year, she is with me every day. My grandmother, my mother, my cousins, they are why I fight and why I understand that my fight is wrapped up in my and our healing.

A mentor once told me, that if we are not diligent about doing our personal work of addressing our traumas, it will come out in our organizing. To be able to see what we are healing from, we have to unravel the ways our histories have been impacted by colonization, slavery, genocide, forced displacement. We also need to realize we bring those histories into a room when we organize and build with community. Healing within a backdrop of white supremacy means contending with its legacy of trauma and the different iterations it has and continues to hold through things like police violence, incarceration, deportation. We experience trauma within violently racialized systems born of historical oppression.

Honest conversations of what we are healing means bearing witness to all that was taken from us. It means contending with the trauma we have inherited in our DNA, but also forcing ourselves to recognize all that the violence was not able to kill. In a recent conversation with a community healer I was reminded that healing is not about pacifying or even necessarily diffusing conflict, it’s about breaking open and building the capacity to be able to confront that which is difficult, that which is painful. As an organization we’ve had to think deeply of what it means to be people with our trauma working with people with their own trauma. There are countless examples in movement work where people’s trauma shows up and replicates a model of violence against each other, similar to the violence created by whiteness towards people of color, but this time it’s within our own communities. These are the realities that have necessitated a healing justice framework at Voices. Through the process of recognizing that we do in fact inherit profound histories of trauma, we recognize we also inherit the strength and resilience to sustain and transform ourselves.  

Our journey to Healing Justice at Voices has taken some time. When I joined the team four years ago, conversations had already begun around how we should be addressing trauma in our communities as part of the work. Alumni from our organizing training were expressing the need for spaces that held truthful and grounding conversations on how to be whole in movement work.  Then, one year later in the first week of our first Youth Cultural Organizing Institute, our powerful cohort challenged us on what our stance on healing was. “You guys need to do better than what’s happening in the organizing community,” they told me. “You have to model something different.” It was a reminder that youth are used to being taken advantage of by organizations and movements, and that there needs to be a plan for supporting youth through their organizing journeys. We honor the powerful voices of the youth who pushed us to walk the talk. As a result of that first week with our first youth cohort, we began to dig deeper into conversations of trauma and healing at Voices.   

 

 

Our first Youth Cultural Organizing Institute cohort, July 2015

Recently I was listening to Kate Werning’s Healing Justice podcast featuring Francisca Porchas Coronado, an Arizona based anti-racist organizer and healer. In their conversation, Francisca articulated a tension that shows up all the time in movement spaces when trying to pair organizing with healing justice:

How is healing really challenging the culture in organizations and for people on the ground? There is a bridging that needs to happen to really integrate individual and collective transformation into the work of political and popular education, the work of organizing door to door, the work of campaign planning. Is this a tactic that we’re using?

This resonates with questions that as a team we’ve been grappling with:

  • How can we authentically integrate healing justice in how we do this work and how we relate to each other and our communities in the process?
  • What is our commitment to our individual healing journeys so that when we do show up to do that work collectively we are engaging in our best way?

As we work towards innovative approaches to engaging healing justice in life-giving ways in our movements, it’s important to remember that not only can it be done, but it has been done before.  We have rich examples to draw from, not only from the present, but also from our cultural histories and ancestral knowledge.

III.

Over the last year, through our strategic planning process to ground our mission and vision in nurturing the soil for racial justice organizing, healers from the People’s Movement Center have helped to guide us on what healing justice can look like at Voices. Through this, we have realized there is profound knowledge we can share and learn from each other that will help us in this time of transition and deepening of our work. We are learning as we go about what this will look like in the long run. We don’t have all the answers, but are committed to engaging in a healing justice framework that transforms.

Healing in its simplest sense is to become whole again after trauma.  Susan Raffo and Ayo Clemons, local healing practitioners with the People’s Movement Center who have supported us in our own healing process at Voices, have described healing as supporting your body, heart and spirit.  Resmaa Menakem framed trauma for us as “too much, too soon, too fast.” Healing Justice takes into account individual trauma we have lived and historical trauma we’ve inherited created by systems of oppression, to then build community strategies of resilience and transformation.

So what does that look like at Voices right now?

  • Buddy system:  Each staff is paired off and meet weekly over the course of 2-3 months to check in around their wellness and the things they are wrestling with that is impacting them personally and in their work.
  • Wellness check-ins: Every meeting, gathering, and training starts with an opening circle where people share how they’re doing and what if anything is impacting the way they are in the space.
  • Wellness program: Staff receive 2 hours/week of wellness time during the work day that can include but is not limited to walking or other forms of exercise, meditation, therapy; wellness dollars for each staff member include $50/month for gym or other health membership and $250/6 months for wellness related services or trainings. Unused dollars are used for collective wellness activities.
  • Meditation practice with our weekly staff meetings.
  • Ongoing work with community healers:  We are in  deep relationship with the People’s Movement Center and other community healers to continue to define and guide the ways we frame healing individually and collectively as we move through our work.
  • Every gathering, event, and strategy has healing at its core.  As an example, last year we held an event titled, “Breathe and Heal,” which was a gathering of organizers and advocates working for racial justice coming together for conversation and healing. In addition to holding a space where organizers and community members could have deep conversation about the impact of the session, we invited healing practitioners into the space to offer their care. As we were envisioning what this space should hold we were guided by the following questions: How do we reduce harm to our communities from the government while having enough time for joy and building with our people? How do we heal from the legislative session and remain resilient and healthy in the face of a political climate which is violent to indigenous communities and communities of color?
  • Integrating Healing Justice across our trainings: We frame historical trauma as a way to understand systems of oppression and the need for healing, as well as share embodiment practices to ground participants.

Our team at Voices for Racial Justice.

IV.

The breadth of possibility of what we can build together when we ground healing in our lives and organizing is transformative.  As a team over the last year, we had the chance to read adrienne maree brown’s “Emergent Strategy.” This book helped us find words for a more holistic approach to understanding the ways of trauma in movement but also our capacity to create new approaches that treat us individually and collectively as whole.  One of the affirmations, prayers, that I hold close and go back to often from her book is the following:

I am living a life I don’t regret

A life that will resonate with my ancestors,

and with as many generations forward as I can

imagine.

I am attending to the crises of my time with

my best self,

I am of communities that are doing our

collective best

to honor our ancestors and all humans to

come.

Our next steps are to continue to move forward in this collective work of healing in racial justice organizing. This means moving past a healing justice that solely talks about self care, and honoring models of organizing that are healing rather than violent and depleting. We will continue to ask questions, to listen, to build with our communities to make visible that which we have inherited in order to  transform our pain into something new, something whole, something resilient. We don’t have all the answers, nor do we claim to, but recognize that work informed by trauma and rooted in healing can no longer be treated as a luxury. Our lives and our movements depend on it.

 

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Apply for our 2018 Youth Cultural Institute!

Are you a youth artist, or activist passionate about making change in your community?

Want to build a strong toolbox in community organizing and racial justice with other youth?

Our Youth Cultural Organizing Institute builds organizing tools rooted in art, culture, healing, and storytelling. We create the space for youth to share their stories and grow in their leadership and organizing.This year’s institute will run July 10th- August 2nd, meeting Tuesdays through Thursdays. Apply today!

Youth of color and indigenous youth ages 14-21 encouraged to apply. Deadline is April 30th.

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our mnisota: Racial Equity in 2018

Brett Grant, Research & Policy Director

“ We Are What We Imagine. Our Very Existence Consists Of Our Imagination Of Our Selves. Our Best Destiny Is To Imagine, At Least, Completely, Who And What, And That We Are. The Greatest Tragedy That Can Befall Us Is To Go Unimagined.” -N. Scott Momaday

In 2017, Voices for Racial Justice, in collaboration with community partners, created the our mnisota policy agenda. We use mnisota in lieu of Minnesota to honor the original Dakota words Mni Sota Makoce, a term that, according to Dakota elder Chris MatoNunpa, translates to “land where the waters reflect the clouds.” We believe that our goal—racial justice and the end of all racial disparities—isn’t possible without first acknowledging the history of the land that we occupy: land which was stolen from Dakota people, people who had lived here since time immemorial and were killed or forcibly expelled in order for us to live here today.

2017 Racial Equity Agenda

Little of the 2017 our mnisota agenda was achieved during the 2017 legislative session. Of the issues named in last session’s agenda, the legislature passed the following proposals:

  • Supporting an increase of Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota. For an overview of final signed 2017 Legislation visit this link
  • The Urban Agriculture Bill (HF 1545) was funded $250k/year for 2018-19. Additionally, $250k/year was appropriated for the Good Food Access Fund.
  • The legislature passed a 2-year extension for the Driver Diversion Program in the Public Safety bill, which helps people get their driver’s license reinstated.
  • The legislature maintained ongoing annual funding for the Capacity Building Grants and the Minnesota Emerging Entrepreneur Fund programs. The MN Emerging Entrepreneur Fund is a revolving loan program for small businesses and the Capacity Building Grants support small, culturally focused, workforce and economic development nonprofits.
  • The legislature lowered the age requirement for eligibility for the Working Family Credit for households without children from 25 to 21, beginning in 2020, and added $7 million for certain married couples, starting in 2019. Additionally, the legislature passed a provision that makes more people from the American Indian community who earn income on reservations eligible for the credit.
  • The legislature required the creation of a disparity impact note for any proposed legislation upon request of the chair or ranking minority member of any committee if it appears enactment could significantly increase or decrease disparities (HF 142/ SF 295).

There were also a number of proposals that threatened racial equity, such as:

  • A number of bills that would have increased the penalty for protesters intentionally obstructing a highway, as well as “unlawful assembly” legislation that would have authorized governmental units to sue to recover for the “public safety response costs” related to unlawful assemblies and public nuisances. All of these bills were designed to restrict the right to protest by making protesting punishable by fine (HF 55/SF 148; HF 1066/SF 918; HF 322/SF 679; HF 26).

    Protesters at the 4th Precinct Occupation in Minneapolis.

  • A statewide preemption bill (HF 600/SF 580) designed to strip local governments of their authority to improve state or federal workplace standards. According to a recent MinnPost article (February 17, 2017), “Preemption laws are the latest version of a pernicious strategy: changing the rules as soon as they actually start to work for people of color, women, immigrants or the working poor.” (https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2017/02/statewide-preemption-most-dangerous-bill-you-ve-never-heard)
  • School disciplinary action modifications that would allow educators to remove students from the classroom for acts they deem inappropriate or unsafe, without proof that the student had intended to cause harm or intended to violate school policy (HF 905).

Mónica María Hurtado at November 21, 2017 budget hearing at Hennepin County.

  • Immigration injustice proposals that sought to prohibit and/or reduce aid for cities with sanctuary ordinances (SF 881; HF 1664); and language was included in the public safety bill barring administrations appointed by the governor from ushering in driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants without legislative approval.

2018 Legislative Session

There is a lot of work to do in 2018 to cultivate seeds of  racial equity in Minnesota. Our policy team will be watching closely the following bills and proposals:

  • The Academic Balance Bill (SF 2487) introduced this session works against racial equity. It “prohibits school employees from requiring students or other school employees to express specified social or political viewpoints for the purposes of academic credit, extracurricular participation, or as a condition of employment.” The bill also prohibits public education from engaging in “political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.”
  • This session, the legislature has the opportunity to restore voting rights to approximately 51,000 Minnesotans who live in our communities but cannot vote due to felony convictions.
  • Working Family Tax Credit – the legislature will consider Governor Dayton’s proposal to provide a roughly $50 million/year expansion starting in 2019 for working people and families across Minnesota.
  • Renters Credit/Property Tax Refund – the legislature will hear proposals regarding this tax refund for Minnesotans who earn low wages and/or who are on fixed incomes, and struggle to afford the cost of housing and other basic necessities. HF 4183/SF 3796 would protect these tax refunds from cuts that would occur because of how it interacts with federal tax law changes.
  • The bill that ends the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic tickets (HF 3356/SF 3389) was included in State Representative Linda Runbeck’s omnibus policy bill. Representative Runbeck is the Chair of the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee.

Voices For Racial Justice New Direction in Policy

After being around for nearly 25 years, Voices thought it important to pause and hear from communities about the effectiveness of our policy tools. Our policy team will work in collaboration with community partners to determine how we are going to engage with communities and legislators in this review of our policy tools. This is important because after over a decade of grading legislators, we found that while the number of racial equity champions has increased at the Legislature, racial equity in Minnesota has not.

Voices for Racial Justice is on a journey to build creative approaches to grassroots policy that tend to the soil of our movements and that honor the culture and healing of our communities. We ask, what does grassroots policy look like that is life-giving, shifts culture, rooted in beauty, real governance, and bridges the divides within our communities? In response to these questions, we will hold space for communities of color and Indigenous communities to share their stories & experiences. These stories will move us through our commitment to center trust-building across issues and cultural groups in our movements. The values that will continue to inform our work during the 2018 legislative session are listed below. This is a broad agenda which sets an important framework that goes beyond this particular session:

Arts and Culture

Estefania, Youth Organizer.

Minnesota has a unique history of cultivating major artists who have influenced people all over the world. Legislators can build on this legacy by investing in the emerging artists of today who will influence the future. It is artists who allow us to heal and who give creative expression to what it means to be human. Our state must recognize how art and culture influence every aspect of life and support legislation that elevates the value of the arts in all of our communities.

Civil Rights

Minnesotans are proud of our state’s reputation of being one of the most progressive states in the union. But that pride is overshadowed by the dramatic racial and economic disparities in our state. Building a racially equitable state means working with communities of color and American Indian communities throughout our cities to restore integrity and trust in our civil rights institutions and police departments, and practices, including the right to protest. We ask legislators to pass bills that honor every person’s right to protest and that promote a climate of care and intergenerational respect in our communities.

Economic Equity

The health of our state’s economic future depends on the economic well-being of all Minnesotans. Given the epidemic of rental apartment conversions to market rate properties and “flipping” by speculative real estate firms, the state needs to respond with urgency to a chronic shortage of affordable housing options across Minnesota. U.S. Census data show that most communities of color in our state have median incomes significantly less than that of white Minnesotans. We ask legislators to promote economic opportunity by supporting legislation that offers technical support to assist entrepreneurs in launching or expanding a small business or a co-op, especially small business owners who are men and women of color, working class, veterans, and/or people with disabilities.

Educators for Black Lives rally, 2016.

Education Equity

A statewide vision for equitable schools would include: increasing the number of teachers of color and American Indian teachers in K-12 schools in Minnesota, establishing government subsidized living wages for teachers, the creation of meditation and mindfulness programs in schools, ethnic studies pilot programs in K-12 schools throughout the state, programs that re-engage children who are no longer in school, and programs to enable elders from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to work in schools. We ask legislators to support bills that make this vision a reality in our state.

Environmental Justice

We are in solidarity with indigenous voices and tribal nations across the world struggling to protect the sacredness of the environment. For example, state and national attention around water has increased in recent years. Water is the lifeblood of the universe that nourishes every person, every plant, and every community. Water can be still, it can be peaceful, but it can also be a powerful force for change. Just like us. We can transform, and in that process transform the environment around us. We ask legislators to support and pass bills that honor and protect the sacredness of water and the environment.

Health Equity

Everyone in Minnesota deserves to live in a community where the health and wellbeing of each individual should not depend on their race, identity, education, gender, place of origin, or where they live. In order to advance health equity, efforts need to be intentional in addressing structural racism. Therefore, health care policies must pay attention to the social determinants of health, and must be developed in partnership with impacted communities, including communities of color, indigenous communities, and incarcerated communities. We ask legislators to pass bills that support the health and wellbeing of all Minnesotans, including men and women who are incarcerated. Voices will be sharing a report on the impact of incarceration on health in the coming months.

Immigration Justice

Minnesota flourishes when people who come to our state from other countries are able to live in dignity and peace, and contribute to our economy, democracy, and culture. Yet immigration policies and practices continue to negatively impact immigrants disproportionately. Despite federal threats to immigration justice, including increased deportation and expansion of detention centers, Minnesota should take the lead in state level reform.We ask legislators to pass bills that make our state a model of immigration justice for the rest of the nation. Furthermore, we support the efforts of a recently formed multiracial immigrant coalition of peoples who are asking legislators “…to commit to a long-term relationship and partnership with Minnesota’s immigrant communities… As constituents and as community organizations, with directly impacted membership and who experience first-hand the implications of anti-immigrant policies, we urge [legislators] to include us in the decision-making process, and not to make any commitments bargaining with ours and our families’ lives without consulting with us first. Additionally, as a gesture of good faith to our communities, we request town hall meetings in our communities as we move forward.”

Justice for People who are Incarcerated

Minnesota’s correctional facilities continue to impact Native American communities and communities of color disproportionately. The rates of disparity for youth of color in the Minnesota justice system are both higher than national levels and more severe in magnitude than those of many comparable states. In order to advance justice in our state’s correctional facilities, we ask legislators to pass bills that: Treat people who are incarcerated as human beings, including offering nutritious food and adequate health care; reinstate the office of prison ombudsman as a way to give people who are incarcerated a way to address grievances; restrict the use of solitary confinement; ban placing youth in solitary confinement, as the federal government has already done; eliminate all private prisons in our state; and allocate more funding for alternatives to incarceration, including more funding for chemical dependency treatment, mental health treatment, and other forms of treatment.

Tribal Sovereignty

Minnesota is home to eleven tribal governments – seven Ojibwe Bands and four Dakota communities. Minneapolis has one of the largest urban American Indian populations in the country, representing a diverse array of tribal citizens from many of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Tribal sovereignty refers to the inherent rights of American Indian tribes to govern themselves and their lands, to define their own membership, and to regulate tribal commerce and other domestic relations. We ask legislators to pass bills that honor tribal sovereignty among American Indian communities in our state.

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