It was strange to be put into a space that made me feel both anxious and protected. It was February 2022 and I was getting started in
my work with our client's community based Equity Action Project and their HEARTspeak trainings. I was a fly on the wall, there only to take notes and capture important moments for facilitators so that they could show up with more clarity in future meetings. In this role I was ready to learn and see how the facilitators brought folks together to engage in tough discussions, but I wasn’t expecting to become so emotionally involved in the process. As I sat in on the training and dialogue sessions, I found myself leaving with questions. The main question that stuck with me was, how could sitting in on a conversation, while not speaking, pull me into the depths of my thoughts and leave me feeling emotionally tired and excited at the same time? How were the facilitators able to create a virtual environment where even those struggling to grasp the training content still felt empowered to speak up and share their thoughts? There was power in that space, and it made empowerment possible.
Setting up a Zoom room and having organizational conversations about anti-racism is not easy; especially when the people involved in the conversation are not happy with sitting in their discomfort. There were so many times where I saw cameras turn off, scrunched up faces, and participants not speaking at all for the entire two-hour training session. I wondered how they could be getting anything out of the session and, at first, I assumed they must be closing themselves off to our discussions. I thought they weren't getting as much out of the discussions as they could because they weren't actively participating, but I knew they were being exposed to information and ideas that may have been completely new to them by remaining in the space. I reflected more deeply. Sure, they weren't talking, but they may have been listening.
Over the next few weeks I began to witness the learning that was happening. In being with the participants, the facilitation team was gaining an understanding about where everyone was on their anti-racism journey. Participants were actively working to engage in the program. Some people reacted strongly to hearing something that was shared and pushed back. Others agreed with everything that was said. Regardless of the reactions, it was clear that providing the space for conversations about anti-racism was equally new and transformative for folks. There was intentionality in the space for everyone to learn, discuss, and ask questions while being transparent in the conversations. As a black woman, hearing some things white participants shared was harmful to me, and I was still amazed to see how open other people were when given the space and time to express themselves.
While this was true for me, I was also inspired. I became excited for conversations each week, even though I knew that it may be hard, because I wanted to hear what participants were thinking about and see the shifts they were starting to make. If they weren't making shifts, I wanted to see that too. As it happens, experiencing harm and being a person of color often go hand in hand in anti-racism work as we are collectively learning how to engage in these conversations. Though experiencing both harm and discomfort can be a part of learning how to have the discussion, on a personal level, I was excited to have the privilege of being in a space set up with so much care and effort to minimize harm to individuals and maximize learning. There were community agreements shared before each meeting. We took pauses to allow the participants and facilitators to process heavy information. We sat through long "uncomfortable" silences to give participants a chance to speak if they chose to. We addressed potentially harmful thoughts and ideas in real-time so we could get clarity and then work towards healing and restoration. All of these things were new to me. I am more accustomed to spaces rooted in white supremacy and capitalism that accommodate the status quo. I was not used to getting time to process before speaking and not being forced to push past difficult discussions because everyone else was "fine" when I wasn't. This was different. We were centering BIPOC voices, experiences, and healing.
During this process, I learned about the importance of not only giving people a chance, but also giving them a space created with intentionality and care, and making room for the power this can create. I had this experience because of the HEARTspeak curriculum and the values that Full Circle and our facilitators consistently live out in doing this work.
A Note from the Full Circle Team:
The HEARTspeak program creates a unique space that has room for difficult conversations, growth, and transformation. If you are curious about what this kind of experience could look like in your organization, please reach out to us at: email@example.com.