The following is a transcript of Nonviolence Radio’s July 31, 2020 episode “Courageous Conversations and Actions.”
Stephanie Van Hook: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host Stephanie Van Hook. On today’s show we talk with Atlanta-based activist Amisha Harding about transforming grief and trauma with connection and nonviolent action as well about her organization, Courageous Conversations for the collective.
And later in the show we hear from two participants of the Reparations Procession taking place in the East Bay Oakland, California with information about what it is and who it’s for and how you can get involved in reparations work. Enjoy the show.
I’d love to hear about you, first of all, Amisha Harding. What’s your story? What has been your experience with the events in Atlanta? Because of the kind of energy that was present in what – how you felt about it. I wonder if you could speak to that.
Amisha Harding: During the first weekend of protest, you know, the protest had started first in Minneapolis and then throughout the country. And that weekend, that Friday, I remember watching the news and I literally broke down in tears because I saw these images of violence and chaos and anger and rage. And it was my city. It was Atlanta. And I couldn’t believe that what I was seeing on the news was really happening.
That there were cars on fire and buildings were being, you know, broken into. And I understood though, at the same time that what I was seeing was a manifestation of trauma and rage. And I understood that, for so long, black people have been disenfranchised and have been treated with violence and have just continued to press forward and move on and keep pushing.
And I think that when folks saw what happened to George Floyd and saw it happen right there and saw the video footage of it, I think that that untreated trauma and pain and frustration and fear and anxiety and oppression and hopelessness and despair and, you know, those feelings all bubble to the surface in the form of rage. And that’s what I was watching play out in my city.
And that Sunday, I decided to go downtown because I wanted to see it for myself and see what was happening. And I just was met with just a chaotic environment. There was no organized protest. It wasn’t a Black Lives Matter protest. It wasn’t anything. It was just a bunch of people downtown yelling at each other, yelling at police. Some people were peacefully protesting. There was a Christian group screaming at everybody to shut up and let God handle it. And it was just complete chaos and darkness.
Stephanie: I really like the way that you describe the emergence of rage. And that rage has a cause.
Stephanie: There’s also COVID where we’ve all been sheltering in place, you know? And there’s already a sense of unrest starting to bubble up too. And then to have to witness our society’s violence against black bodies was like a breaking point in our heart, in our collective heart and –
Amisha: It was.
Stephanie: Yeah. Do you want to speak to that?
Amisha: It really was. Like the morning I saw the George Floyd video, I have a group of girlfriends and I – and we always walk up Stone Mountain, or we’ll go exercise together in the morning. And that morning my cousin was in town from North Carolina and my best friend and I always work out. And we all met at Stone Mountain. And we were walking up the mountain and I couldn’t get myself together. I was weeping. I was hyperventilating. I was crying. I was – I had my Bluetooth speaker with me, and I kept playing Strange Fruit over and over and over again.
And at one point my best friend, she was like, “Do you need to stop?” But I wouldn’t stop. I remember I just was like, “No, I got to get to the top of this mountain today,” because I felt like I had to push through that pain, but I was literally broken. My cousin and my best friend had to hold me up and hold my hand and hold me on their shoulders walking up the mountain that day because I was in so much pain and so sad.
And I feared for my son that day like no other day. And I think that what people tend to forget and – or I won’t say forget. What they tend to not understand is that every single time we see these acts of violence and hatred and racism play out right before us, it breaks black people down and causes us to have a level of anxiety and fear and a sense of hopelessness like that I can’t even begin to describe.
And when that continues to happen over and over again. And when you see the justice system failing to provide any type of real true consequence for these monsters that are doing this, it is a type of pain that I don’t even know how to describe. And when that keeps happening, at some point pain turns into rage. Just like if there was a child that was being bullied every single day and he kept coming home and saying, “Mom, Dad, I’m being bullied. Teacher help me. They just stole my lunch money. Principal, I didn’t get to eat lunch today because they stole my lunch out of my locker and they beat me, and they hurt me.”
At some point, when that child goes crazy and beats somebody up or does something violent, it’s because of the manifestation of that untreated trauma. And I don’t understand why people don’t get that and why people just want to say that protesters are just violent criminals. That’s not the case at all. We’re broken down victims who have been victims of bullies and that bully is called, “Racism,” for far too long.
Stephanie: Wow. There’s Kimberley Crenshaw, who’s a feminist theorist. She coined the term, “Intersectionality.” About how oppression is intersectional. She described in a way I feel like resonates with what you’re saying too. She said, “If you see that black and brown and indigenous people and people of color are at a disadvantage in society. Do you think that’s because of who they are?” Right? If you answer that question and you say, “No, I don’t think that’s who they are,” then you say, “Well, then what do you think is the cause?” And you say, “Well, the system.” And she’d say, “Well, then what are you doing about that system?” Right?
Like either you’re helping to dismantle that system or you’re helping to sustain it.
And if you’d feel comfortable speaking to any other ways that racism shows up in American society besides in the policing or besides in people saying, you know, “Well, those protesters are just being violent. We shouldn’t listen to them.”
Amisha: Oh, my goodness. I mean there are so many instances. I grew up in Manhattan, Kansas where my father was in the military.so I remember, you know, most of my friends growing up were Caucasian because there weren’t any black people in my city. I was one of three black children in my entire elementary school. And at that elementary school, there were well over a thousand kids because it served the city of Manhattan. So, it was a very, you know, it was – we had an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. We didn’t have all these multiple schools because it was a small town.
And I remember my first time being called the N-word was by one of my dear friends, Jennifer. And we were at the playground and there was a bar that we used to like to do backflips on. And we were doing – I was doing backflips on the bar and she said, “It’s my turn. I’m ready to – I’m ready to flip.” And I said, “No, I’m not done yet. I’m having fun.” And she said, “Get off the bar.” And I said, “No, I’m not ready yet, Jennifer. Just wait a second.”
And she said, “No, get off now.” And I said, “No, I’m not ready. I’m still playing.” And she got – her face turned red and I remember, she yelled at me and she said, “Get off the bar you stupid N-word!” And she –
Amisha: – said it in such anger. And I remember, we had broccoli at lunch that day. And she was so angry spit came out of her mouth and I remember when I wiped my face off, a piece of broccoli was intermingled with the spit. And I’ll never forget that as long as I live. And when I came from school that day, you know, we might have been younger than 7 because I moved to Georgia when I was 7, so I might have been 6.
So, I remember when I came home that day, I said, “Mommy, Jennifer called me this word. And what does,” I said, “I don’t know what it means, but she sounded really, really mad when she said it and she spit.” And my mom looked at me and she was so sad. And all she said was, “Baby, you can’t spend the night at Jennifer’s house anymore.” And I was like, “Why not.” And she said, “You can’t spend the night over there. We can’t – that’s not a good place for you anymore.”
So, when I think about that, you know, that was my introduction to my own personal experience with racism. And that was my introduction to that kind of hatred and that kind of deep-rooted emotion behind race. And you know, when I reflect back on that, I realize at 6-years-old, there’s no way Jennifer could have had a negative opinion about black people that would make her call me that word. Somebody taught her that and somebody not only taught her that but had such conviction and anger and hatred behind the way they taught her that, or the way she overheard it, that she came at me with that same type of energy.
And it just made me realize at a very young age that that hatred and that level of malice is taught, you know, and learned. And then you see it play out as you get older in different ways throughout your life. But that was my introduction to it.
Amisha: But yeah, I hope and pray that she did not, you know, continue to carry that kind of malice and hate in her heart, you know, throughout her life. I’d hate to know who was the victim of that, you know, who knows what kind of position she’s in and where she works and if that’s how she really feels and if that’s what she was taught, how that plays out in the workplace, how that plays out in, you know, any instance. Or if her children have friends from diverse backgrounds, how they’re being treated.
Stephanie: And so, in your work with Courageous Conversations for the Collective, so how did that come about?
Amisha: Actually, the idea for Courageous Conversations started many years ago after Trayvon Martin was murdered. When he was murdered I posted on Facebook and talked about the fact that I’ve been teaching my son how to survive being black since he was about 8 or 9 years old. And that that, you know, training and teaching centered a lot around how to deal with authority figures that are white, specifically, and how to deal with police and law enforcement, should you encounter them.
And it happened because one time my son asked me if he could walk to the store with some of his friends because our next-door neighbours were a little bit older than him and looked at him like a little brother and they were walking to the store to get candy and my son wanted to tag along.
And I remember without even hesitating, I immediately said, “Well, you can go, but let me tell you a few things. Make sure you make eye contact with the person behind the register when you go in. Don’t put your hands in your pockets under any circumstances. Only touch something if you want to buy it. Make sure that you have money with you. How much money do you have? Let me give you some more. And make sure you say yes ma’am and no ma’am. Make sure you look people in the eye, but not too long because you don’t want to come off as being disrespectful. And if anything happens whatsoever, if any of your friends do anything wrong and something happens, make sure you call me. Do not hesitate. You just call me. Don’t say any –”
And I immediately went into this spiel. And I stopped because I was startled that it came out of me so easily and so readily. But I realized that I was carrying around this fear because of the killings that I’ve seen of young black men, in particular, at the hands of law enforcement where no justice was served.
So, when I posted about this education that I’ve been giving my son since he was 8 or 9, I had several of my friends that I went to school with, since elementary school – and they were white women with children and with sons.
And they said, “Wait, wait. What do you mean? Like why are – do you mean you have to teach your son this? Like in our household we look at police officers as friends and helpers and great people in the community. Like wait a minute, you’re teaching your son how to survive against the police?” I realized it was so foreign of a concept for them that I had to take some time to educate them and explain what my reality is and the fear that I live with as the mother of a black son.
And I realized that I needed to create space to, one, for people to be able to process this type of experience, both as mothers, as black women, as black people, and as white people and white allies in the movement or just in general. And I also needed to create space for a true shared understanding.
So, the idea for Courageous Conversations happened years ago, but I just didn’t act on it. But after so many years of continuing to see this pattern, I was like, you know, “If not you, then who? Who’s going to do this? You’ve been saying you’re going to do this. Do it. And this is the time.” So, it was actually the day before Mother’s Day this year after the Ahmaud Arbery video came out that I trademarked Courageous Conversations and said, “I’m going to do this.”
And then I had my first call with a diverse group of people that I know. And we talked about race and we talked about Ahmaud Arbery and we talked about, you know, some of my friends on the call that were white and Hispanic and Indian and said, “Okay, well, what can we do as allies?” And we had a great conversation, but we had to create space for it.
And that’s what Courageous Conversations is, is how do you create space for healing and shared understanding so that you can take informed sustainable collective action with love and understanding and wisdom. That’s what Courageous Conversations is.
Amisha:one of the things is, you know, I think that the first thing we have to do is sometimes take a few steps back and approach the person with a positive intention. I think that sometimes it can be very difficult to – when somebody is spewing out what we feel is negativity and hatred, sometimes it can be – it can feel difficult to come back at them with love and peace and understanding.
But if you don’t, if you come back very combative, it’s not productive. You know, so I think that one of the things that we can do is just setting the intention for the conversation as a positive one. What do you want the outcome to be? Do you want this person to get cussed out and to feel bad about what they said? Or do you want to enlighten them, help them learn, help them grow, and possibly change their heart and change their mind. And, you know, setting the intention, I think, is important.
The other thing that’s very important, I think, is telling stories. Sometimes people don’t understand the history of slavery or the history of oppression in our country. But when I’ve told people stories about my son and the measures that I’ve taken to protect his life, people are like, “Wait, what? You did what?” And those stories are extremely eye-opening for people. And when I talk to people about my son and mention the fact that he graduated from high school with honors.
While he was in high school he started a program to teach coding to kids that were having problems in school – elementary school kids. And he raised $3000 in four days to make the program free for kids. And he’s an Oprah Winfrey scholar and he spent the day with Oprah Winfrey. And he’s an AT&T scholar and he’s a Morehouse academic scholar and he has 3.9 GPA. And when I talk to them about this young man and then I say, “But I fear for his life every day. But because of the color of his skin, he can easily be shot down in the street and no one would ever know or care that he’s this incredible human.
When I make it about a person and a story of humanity as opposed to making it about history, I find that having conversations and changing hearts and minds is a lot easier to do. I gave a talk in Forsyth County in Georgia for Juneteenth at a rally in Forsyth County. I don’t know if you know about Forsyth County or not, but Forsyth County is the county where black people were not allowed to live in Georgia though the 90s. They weren’t allowed. Like period.
There used to be a sign, a billboard up, up until the 80s the said, “Get your black ass out before nightfall.” A billboard.
Amisha: Oh yes. A billboard. You can google it. A billboard. And so, Oprah Winfrey did her show from there in 1987 and she was one of the first black people that had been in Forsyth County in over 75 years because it was that racist. And the show was about racism in Forsyth County and the fact that the people of Forsyth County who very openly, on the Oprah Winfrey Show said they did not want black people in their town. That was what her show was about.
And I spoke there for Juneteenth which was a big deal. And I remember what I did was I told stories. I talked about experiences with race. I talked about, you know, what I had seen out there protesting and why I decided to protest. And that my son was one of the main reasons. And I told stories about, you know, different things that I’ve experienced trying to protect him and trying to keep him safe. And I remember after that, a woman walked up to me.
A white woman walked up to me with tears in her eyes and she said, “Thank you so much for sharing your story,” she said, “but I’m so sad because I don’t know where to start. My entire family is racist.” And I said, “Here’s my information. Let’s talk. Let’s continue this conversation. And she just reached out to me the other day. I gave her some movies to watch. I gave her some advice – and even with dealing with her own mother around her racism. And she reached out to me the other day and she said, “You’re not going to believe this, I got my mom to watch “Just Mercy” and we had a really good conversation about race. And it’s just the beginning for us, but she’s listening and she’s open. Thank you.”
And that just gave me so much hope and so much joy because that’s what it takes. It takes those conversations. It takes exposing people though stories. It takes sometimes you not necessarily being the voice that is sharing the message. Sometimes you have to rely on a movie, or you have to rely on an academic or scholarly article. It can’t always be you, but you have to know your audience and you have to try different methods and means of conveying the message and really of opening someone’s heart. That’s your goal and that’s what you’re really trying to do is open up hearts and minds. And what’s the best way to do that?
Stephanie: So, you work with individuals and do you also work with organizations who are looking to transform the culture of the organization and how do you do things like that?
Amisha: Yeah. So, I’m actually getting ready to do one of my first group events since getting started with this. And I’ve only just got them started in May. And then I started protesting every single day. But I’m going to be working with a group of law firms in Georgia that are coming together. Three of the largest law firms in Georgia want me to come out and talk to them. And one of the things that I do, that I started doing the protest is something called, “A healing wall.”
So, what I do is come up with a theme for a healing wall. And for the protests, I’ve been using these – they’re kind of like big sheets of heavy plastic. You actually – it’s something that you actually use for insulation in houses. I found them at Home Depot. And it’s – but what I do is come up with a theme and let people express themselves on the wall.
And so, that’s one of the things that they want me to do at the law firm, is to, you know, have a healing wall where people can express themselves. And then they want to keep the healing wall as a constant reminder of their feelings or their commitment, depending on the theme of the wall, of what they plan to do around an issue of race and equality. So, that’s one of the things that we’re doing.
But I find that really telling stories and sharing experiences is one of the most effective ways to do that. And getting people to make a personal commitment. It’s one thing to say that black lives matter, but it’s another thing for me to ask you, Stephanie, why do black lives matter to you? And it has to be personal.
Stephanie: That’s a great question.
Amisha: See, it’s different, isn’t it?
Stephanie: Yeah. No, I like that. I like that because then it involves you personally.
Amisha: Mm-hmm. Because that’s really what this is. It’s really – you know, unfortunately, our country was founded on a broken system. Our country was founded on pillaging, taking, theft, violence. That’s what our country was founded on. I mean if we’re being honest. So, anything that’s built upon that is inherently broken. The systems weren’t designed and weren’t built upon equity and equality and justice for all and love.
You know, when the Constitution was written, black people weren’t even considered to be whole people. I believe they were 3/5 of a person at the time that the Constitution was penned. So, it didn’t even apply to us. So, if the system is inherently flawed like that and broken and not equitable for everyone, then how can anything that’s built upon that system and foundation not be flawed? It is. And until we honor that and accept that as individuals and as a nation and as a world, we’re going to continue to find ourselves right back here every, you know, 40 or 60 years. It’s going to continue to happen.
Stephanie: And I think that the work is so big too that it can be daunting because of the silence, because of the trauma, because of the fear – like people being conflict avoidant, even.
Amisha: Absolutely. And people being attacked too. Like I realize that there are people who want to be allies that don’t know how to be allies and get attacked for being ignorant. And that’s also an issue. Like I saw a woman walking around with a sign when there were hundreds and hundreds of people down at the protest every day back in June. And she had this sign and was walking around with it. And it said, “Be colorblind,” and you know.
And I saw her with the sign, and I looked at her from afar. And she came over to the healing wall and she wanted to sign the healing wall that day. And I came up to her and I said, “Hey.” I said, “Thank you for signing our healing wall and thank you for being here as an ally.” I said, “I don’t know what your motivation is for being here, but I know that you’re here because you care.”
And I said, you know, “I’m working on this organization called Courageous Conversations for the Collective. And one of the things I’d like to do is capture your information, but I want to personally commit to you that as a black woman and as the mother of a black boy, I will take the time to share my experiences with you because I want you to be an informed and empowered ally who feels completely comfortable out here on the front lines like you are advocating for equality and justice.”
And she looked at me and she broke down crying. And she was like, “I know it’s COVID, but can I hug you?” Because I could see by her sign and by her body language, I could tell that she knew she needed to be out there, but she didn’t quite understand why or what her message should be. She was just there. But people like here get attacked for having a sign up that says, “Be colorblind,” because that’s very – that can be very offensive to people of color. I don’t want you to be colorblind. See my color, just don’t hate me or think I’m threat or think I’m stupid or a criminal because of it.
But attacking her at that time and in that space for that isn’t appropriate. She doesn’t know. So, how do we help her know? By making her feel bad? No. And I think that that’s another thing that we have to work on too.
Stephanie: I’ve interviewed somebody recently who was – did this film called, “Free Trip to Egypt.” He’s Egyptian and he noticed that all of the anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. And he was bringing people to Egypt who had some bigoted views and xenophobic views to live with Egyptians and have cultural exchange and really see what kind of transformation they could go through. And he recruited people at rallies – at Trump rallies. And sometimes he would have to go in wearing a hat – a MAGA hat.
Stephanie: And he said that when he walked through a line of counter-protesters, he said he would just get attacked without people even knowing anything about him or what he was, you know, what his intention was in being there and so forth. And he said that’s – you know, I think its part of the trauma too. That we just – a lot of white people just don’t know where to start and so, we take it out on each other. And there’s like also almost a sense of we have to fix this all right now. And it’s going to be a big process.
Amisha: Oh, my goodness. This is just the beginning. And that’s why I tell people, like people don’t understand why I go to the protests with a healing wall and with music and encourage people to dance and protest with joy. Because this is just the beginning. I mean it’s not even the beginning. This is the continuation of a fight that started a very long time ago. And we’re just – somebody just passed us a baton and now we’re running with it.
And we’re going to get exhausted if we’re fighting with malice and if we’re fighting each other. And if we’re angry all the time there’s no way we can endure with that. The only we can endure for the long haul is with peace, with unity, with love, and with patience, and with the understanding that we have so far to go. We have legislation. We have reform to suggest and to fight for. We have retraining of police officers and systems that need to be re-examined. We have cultural understanding, an awareness to create.
We have one on one conversations that white allies are trying to have with their racist family members. There’s so much to do. So much to do. And if we do that with a negative toxic energy, there’s no way we’re going to be able to endure this fight. And we have to be in it for the long haul, period. Like I’ve been telling people lately that if racism is a way of life for some people, activism has to be a way of life for the rest of us. And we can’t be activists if we’re exhausted and tired and we’re fighting and we’re bitter, and we’re constantly angry and we’re flailing our arms and we’re just, you know, being as angry and vicious and hateful as some people are toward us. There’s no way we could endure. Absolutely no way.
Stephanie: There is a reparations procession taking place in the East Bay where white identified people commit to a roughly ten-mile procession, “Of mourning and returning,” which starts at the Berkeley Shellmound and then it ends at Oscar Grant Plaza. The goal of the procession is to practice a form of reparation action by raising consciousness and $1 million for equal restributing to East Bay organizations which are the Black Solidarity Fund and the Sogora Te’ Land Trust.
I speak with two anonymous participants about the nature of the action. What and who it is about and what it meant to them. They want you to know that you can get involved by finding the work on social media and you can contact the organizers of the action on Instagram, Facebook. It’s both @reparationsprocession. Twitter is @rp40days #ReparationsProcession. And you can find the Gofundme @gofundme.com/f/rp2020. Let’s turn now to that interview.
Speaker 1: So, a big piece to creating this action was receiving the blessing of local community members that are considered elders, as POC elders, indigenous and Ohlone elders, which is relative to the Bay Area. And I think that the organizers receiving that blessing was an important piece in terms of actually putting the power in the hands of the POC community saying, “What would be supportive? Would this be supportive?”
And then the blessing of, yes, this gives us, as white folks, the okay. We can move forward on this. If this were to be replicated in other areas, we were talking about how it could be really important to seek out those sorts of blessings and have some conversations with the communities that you’re hoping to serve and to give back to, to be in conversation with them about what would be supportive and the best way of finding this reparation process within that particular community.
Speaker 2: Yeah. And the other piece I can think of is to name the organizations that the funds are going to are the Black Solidarity Fund and the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust that gave us permission to raise funds for them and to be connected with them in this way, to be the recipients of the funds that are moved, the reparations that are moved through this reparations procession.
And the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, one of their goals is to buy back, right? It was already indigenous land, but to buy back the ancestral Ohlone land and have land owned by the indigenous Ohlone people now in the East Bay. There are still Ohlone people here in the East Bay. And wanting to support them in that land stewardship. So, literally, transferring the funds to be able to steward the land.
If you don’t know where to start, start by looking up the indigenous people that used to live and probably still do live on the land where you live. What is their history? What is their names? What are their sacred sites? And how can you support understanding the history of your land and also of your community, and also their current needs and perhaps struggles, and how you can support making amends and having indigenous stewardship of the land in your own community.
Speaker 1: Reparations, as a personal issue for me, is a belief that as a white-identified person that I have a role to play in repairing and giving back to, particularly, black Americans and indigenous communities. And use the privilege that I have to put that forward what was rightfully theirs in terms of land, in terms of finance, financial wealth and resources.
So, for me, reparations is part of the role that I can play now. I can’t change what happened in the past by my ancestors, but I can in the present make a different choice and act as part of a larger community towards making reparations a more understandable or a more achievable reality amongst other communities so that the message can be put forward. That I think – a returning. There’s a – on our walk, the shirts say, “A walk for mourning and returning.” So, an act of returning what was rightfully others, particularly, indigenous Americans as well as black Americans.
Stephanie: And what about our other guest, would you like to speak to the question of why reparations matter to you?
Speaker 2: Yes. For me, also, as a white-identified person, I am wanting to better understand my identity. And even coming to say I identify as white was not always true for me. I remember in high school having a standardized test, then checking the little Scantron bubble and being like, “Well, I guess I’m white. I’m not any of the other ones and I don’t want to give inaccurate data. Like I value accurately collecting data and information. So, I guess I’ll check the “White” bubble.” But it wasn’t comfortable or familiar for me to identify as white.
And so, I’ve grown into that and realized that it’s actually that disconnect is what helps to perpetuate harm. And so, for me, claiming an identity of whiteness that is both honoring our own history and our own cultures and ancestors and legacy good and bad, earth-based traditions, ancestor’s difficulties and journeys, and also the ways that my ancestors perpetuated and benefited from racism and institutional racism in their own individual beliefs that I’m learning about through stories.
And yes, my ancestors also had difficult experiences and definitely did not have an easy life or an easy time of things. And lots of trauma and pain. And how much more difficult would their lives and therefore my life, you know, have been if they also faced systemic racism as another additional factor. And so, recognizing that not just attitudes of people that people run into on the street, but actually systems, like redlining – like the housing loans and the real estate zones and like who was allowed to buy a house or get a loan and live in a certain place and accumulate wealth and land to be able to pass down.
That same underlying sense is a system that still exists, and I benefit from it, whether I want to or not, right? Whether I like it or not, I am benefiting from white supremacy. And all I can do is recognize that and work to shift within myself. And then also do what I can in society. And so, having those difficult conversations with my family and with my friends and other white folks in my community, and doing wider systematic awareness and literally moving of funds, right?
Even if my ancestors didn’t own slaves, I can still be part of the solution in recognizing the harm that was done by slaves when they were freed. People who were – and I want to be careful of my wording here because I’m remembering learning that like people who were enslaved instead of slaves. I’m trying to shift even my wording.
So, people who were enslaved and then freed had nothing. Had no payment or return for all of their labor. And in fact, were still forced out of their communities and everything that they knew and had to flee oftentimes and face tremendous lynching and murder and violence. And when there were black areas of wealth and culture and achievement, those were also oftentimes targeted by white violence and white terrorism.
What I guess what I’m saying is that regardless of my own family’s involvement – and I want to look and understand my family history too. And regardless, I recognize the harm that was caused and that was – by not allowing families of color to have safety and security and accumulate wealth and support their children. And there’s a real harm that I can still help to make better and make amends for. Regardless of my family’s specific role, I can be part of the solution.
Stephanie: And so, I hear in what you’re saying – to condense it into some pieces, the idea that this is an action that you’re taking that’s a white community-based action, first of all, that this reparations process that you’re part of in Oakland is for the white community to participate in. So, recognizing one’s whiteness and how one benefits from systematic racism and white supremacy culture. And then through that recognition also feeling that one is accountable to it and then responsible for taking action that helps to dismantle that system.
And reparations really speak to the awareness that part of dismantling that system, besides the awareness piece, is action. And what’s part of that action is the redistribution of money and the economy. It’s an economic – there’s economic repercussions of white supremacy. And so, by addressing those, even in small ways is a beginning of this process of showing good faith of being willing to heal harm. Do you want to speak to any of that?
Speaker 1: Yes, I think all of that – how you worded that was all really beautiful. Exactly this idea of the economic piece and the – there was a way of wording it that I heard just like this image of we can’t break the system as it is, but we can move funds in a different way. And we can move actions in a different way towards reparations. And it might not just include funds. It might also include just the very act of acknowledging the need for the funds.
So, it’s like this movement process that works kind of against what the system is perpetuating – the dominant narrative system and coming up with new solutions and new bridges towards these financial operations. Yeah. I think how you said it was really beautiful, Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thanks. And then this idea that even if the action is small or imperfect, we still do the action because in doing action it leads to bigger actions down the road. And so, we’re carving a path, however small, into something that’s galvanizing other people to get involved. And maybe a legislator sees what individual citizens are doing the best that they can. Say, “Well, I could – you know, I have this other arena that I work in. I can do more in this arena.”
So, there’s a system – a theory of change underneath of the small action too that I think is pretty interesting and empowering.
Speaker 2: Yes. Like I feel like if people – like you said, if a legislator or someone that has this power to go in and dismantle more then maybe some of us feel that we do – it kind of speaks to the – to what I hear a lot of white folks saying. Like, “What can I do? I don’t know what I can do.” Almost like in a defensive way, right? Because it’s this – it’s like when – such as white folk – and I guess I can identify – when you learn and fully awaken because of your privilege you didn’t have to awake. But once you finally see it and you feel the guilt, the shame, and all of the surrounding emotions that come with just acknowledging the inequality and what you’ve benefited from just on the basis of your skin. And the historical colonialism that backs that up.
I think it’s like, “What do we do?” And I hear a lot of folks speak to that. And I felt that at times before. And like you said, the small step, this walk, you know, it’s this interesting mixture of we’re doing this daily act for these 40 days, but then we’re also trusting that whoever sees and hears about the walk will be moved to give any amount – $5, $50, to $5000 or more. I’m not even sure at this point what the max number of gift has been so far.
And I think the opportunity is not the amount as much as it is the awareness and the, “Oh, this is something.” And almost like the ripple effect. And if more communities found ways to move funds towards this acknowledgment and towards this repair and toward – and in the hands of POC and marginalized communities so that they can take the funds and do with it what works for them and within their communities. And trusting that that will be a way that they can take and move forward.
And it’s just the giving back and it’s very reciprocal and hopefully, larger entities will see it and make a case for it on a larger scale. The conversation is happening on some levels in recent days in America, but I’m hoping that this will be just one of maybe many ripples that will cause that conversation to be brought to the forefront.
Stephanie: And I’d like to go over some of the details too of the action that you’re participating in. Part of it reminds of what I learned from a former professor at Berkeley, Catherine Cole, who did research on truth and reconciliation Commissions, particularly the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Her book is called, “Performing Truth and Reconciliation.” That this was the first truth and reconciliation commission that had been performed on camera.
So, there was a more dramatic aspect to it, where they were actually – literally, dramatic. Where people would be more dramatic and act out more dramatically because the world was watching more because it was on a stage in some way. And I see that there’s an element of performance in this action. It’s not just an online fundraiser, we’re going to redirect these funds, donate anything you can. So, talk about the performative aspect and what its symbolic meaning is and what it’s, you know, emotional and spiritual meaning is too.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah. I love your connection with the truth and reconciliation commission. And for me, one of the things that is so important about the conversation and the movement around reparations is that it’s not just talking, right? It’s both. And we need to have the conversations. We need to support people to connect and realize what is possible. We need to have the intellectual figuring out and calculating and research, you know. And we need the support and the integration and the processing and the connection at the body and community level.
And so, our reparations procession is an attempt at that, right? We’re not just raising funds. We’re walking through communities in mourning. So, it’s a very personal process. It’s a very personal journey. Like for me, a wide range of emotions I feel that are not just mine are flowing through me and I get to help feel them and move them and may this be for the greater good, right? May this help heal and cleanse and shift things within me and even beyond me and for the greater good.
And as I take each step to have whatever needs to move through me, move through me in that moment. And to be acknowledging exactly where I am and the lands that I’m walking on and the people that see us as we process. And to be in relationship with the community and with the land as we process and as we have this deeply personal processing as well. That it’s, for me, I’m able to feel the depth of emotion and the range of whatever needs to flow though me because I’m in public and because I’m walking on the land.
And so, there’s a way in which that public, like you said, the performative nature of because we are in public, because we are walking and we know people can see us, there is a performative nature and that helps make it more powerful and helps me feel the more extreme emotions and gives me permission. Like I wouldn’t otherwise cry and sob deeply as I’m walking down the street if I wasn’t in a full veil in the reparations procession.
You know, that probably would not happen except that we’re creating this container and this specific process. And then that’s what happens for me at times in the walk, right? And because it’s such a long procession – it’s about ten miles from the West Berkeley Shellmound to Fruitvale Station that you get to go through waves, and it varies.
And the first part is especially more mourning and really strong grief and sadness and pain flowing through me. And especially at the very beginning, I appreciate putting my hands on the pavement, of the asphalt that’s a parking lot now that is also the West Berkeley Shellmound, the historical site with Ohlone sacredness and including Ohlone ancestor bones that are under that pavement whether we recognize it or not. And feeling into the earth and feeling that connection to ancestors and to the earth and to the water that flows to the Bay, even though that also has been paved over, and yet, that life flow continues.
And so, that’s been a very powerful connection for me is to feel into the earth. And there’s one point where we find where we cross a cement tribute to Temescal Creek. You can’t even see the water. But I can feel into the earth and sometimes I can feel into, “There. There you are water.” And that flow and that connection and that pain of the disconnection. That lack of connection to our common humanity and to the life flow and systems.
And so, that’s been really powerful to me, is to feel the place and feel the connection. And then the strong emotions that need to come through that.
Stephanie: Would you like to speak to your experience of the procession? Especially where it ends too.
Speaker 1: Sure. The intentional path of the walk, like from where it starts with the West Berkeley Shellmound and it ends at Fruitvale Station at the spot where Oscar Grant was killed. And I think that was a beautifully intended trajectory for this walk to take because it both honors the indigenous Ohlone peoples and tribes that were present so long ago and not so long ago and continue to be present. And then moving us into 2013, Oscar Grant, and then now into 2020 where obviously we are still fighting against police brutality.
And both my great-grandfathers were law enforcement in the deep south during the 1930s through to the 1970s. So, when I do the walk, I think of them a lot because both of them had much power and much privilege, particularly around brutality and particularly racism within their roles as high-ranking police officials. And so, when I walk, I wonder about them and I wonder what this means for me to be walking at this point and acknowledging what’s being acknowledged at this point.
So, there’s a mixture in the walk of just observing and listening to what the land, to what the community around is speaking and saying as well as an internal reflection process of what’s there for me, what has brought me here, and what do I still need to learn? What do I still need to acknowledge and atone for and learn and listen to? So, that would be kind of my overall experience.
Speaker 2: Please help spread the word. This reparations procession in the East Bay is going until August 12th – is Day 40. So, we’re doing 40 days. We launched on July 4th. So, looking at freedom and independence and for whom and what work still needs to be done. Yeah, so please get involved, share, contribute. And if you want to walk in the procession, message us on social media. Direct message us, Reparations Procession, and we will connect you as well. We definitely need all the support.
And one thing really quickly to mention is that another way to contact us is you can email ReparationsProcession@gmail.com.
Speaker 2: And so, that’s another way people can connect with us if they want to do this in their own communities or be involved with our procession.
And we offer this as a template, as a model, as a starting point. If you feel inspired, what are some sacred sites in your own community? And maybe you don’t know. Maybe you don’t know the indigenous history and you’re not sure exactly where police killings might have been. So, research, right? Talk to different community groups and find whatever sacred sites are meaningful in your community and you can organize your own reparations procession and we will help you. We will support you now there’s a template, now there’s a model. You don’t have to start from scratch. And we want this to be replicated and expanded by whoever feels called as well.
It’s not about us. We’re serving. And I’m so grateful to have found an authentic way to be of service. And it’s not about us as individuals. It’s really about what is flowing through us and what we can help support to flow greater, to have a greater flow of both awareness and literally resources and money, right? There are many flows that are needed – emotional and physical flows, right?
So, we’re here in service of all of that, of all of the movement and the importance and the shifting that is needed and that is so much greater than us. And yet, we can do our part. And so, it’s not about us and us getting our good white person cookies that we’re doing this, right? So, [laughs].
Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. I want to thank our mother station, KWMR, to our sound engineer, Matt Watrous, and to all of our listeners and staff and volunteers of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. Thank you very much. You can find an archive of the show at MettaCenter.org and at Waging Nonviolence. And until the next time, please take care of one another.
Extra show resources:
Courageous Conversations For the Collective
Transcription by Matthew Watrous.