Tuesday, August 15, 2017

These are our people (#TheseAreOurPeople) & This Is Us(#ThisIsUs)

by Erin Dunlevy
I woke up this morning in a cabin in northern Minnesota, safely nestled on a lake less than a half day’s drive from the Canadian border.  The morning news was on and nearly all of the 21 members of my extended family, gathered for our yearly reunion, quieted to hear the details of the act of white nationalist terrorism that took place in Charlottesville the day before.  Some expressed outrage (this side of the family “would have voted for Obama for a third time”) but most remained silently disturbed, brows furrowed in an expression of pale despair as 45 read a statement condemning the violence that occurred “on all sides.”
As I looked around at the 4 generations gathered by the television (all white) and glanced back at the outraged white crowd on the screen, an understanding bubbled up to my consciousness. 
Those are our people.
In that crowd of violent white nationalists, I recognized the faces on the screen.  These men and women could be my cousins, aunts or uncles. If I were to walk among them in a public place without knowing who they are or what they believe, I would likely not feel unsafe.  And this is what brings me to my understanding of what we as white folks must begin to take on as our loved ones of color are increasingly threatened in a white supremacist state newly emboldened with direct support from the highest seat of our government.  We must be willing to acknowledge that white supremacy is a kind of belonging that does not by any means require white skin for inclusion, but that does grant automatic lifetime membership for those who look the part.  This is painful to admit.  And when I’m working with other white folks I usually find this to be one of the first hurdles; the “but not me…” intellectual rejection of the fact that white supremacy loves us and we will always have a home in its arms. 
What do anti-racist white folks do with this acceptance?  What do we do when we recognize and acknowledge that these are our people?
I struggle with the idea that I have the right answer for anything.  Part of the personal work of undoing my own white supremacy is moving away from the idea that I know what’s best for people and that I have all the answers. Additionally, the only thing I can truly say I have expertise on is my own failures in constructing my anti-racist identity.  But with that said, white silence is proof of white supremacy’s embrace and our comfort within it.  So in addition to the obvious, (i.e. participation in local activist events that pop up in the coming days- a nationwide list of actions can be found here) I can tell you what I’m thinking about and planning for, and how I hope to act my way out of despair’s paralysis.  
We need to reach out to our people, so that they will reach out to theirs.  I drove to town for cell service and called my dad right away.  We talked about what happened and I asked him how he was going to talk about it with my much younger sisters.  I told him I would call our family in North Carolina.   My southern uncle was police for nearly 30 years.  When white violence occurs, I reach out to him. Our relationship has grown and deepened as we construct an anti-racist family identity together. As Black and Brown bodies continue to be assaulted with impunity, I want to know that my tribe is talking about it, engaging and acting. 
We need to participate in experiences of Black and Brown truth-telling and express gratitude for Black and Brown truth.  The Truth Telling Project of Ferguson is planning to initiate a decade of truth telling and asking white allies to aid in processes of healing for people of color by engaging in formal and informal listening for liberation.   TTP has organized a truth telling event on August 17th that I’ll be a part of.  Info about that event can be found here. We can engage with organizations like the Truth Telling Project and the Movement for Black Lives and organize truth telling and transformative and restorative justice events in our communities. We can bring members of our white tribes to these events with the understanding that we are there to be active(ist) listeners.

For those of us participating in local protests or organized action events, the Catalyst Project has just released a new pamphlet, "A Troublemakers' Guide: Principles for Racial Justice Activists in the Face of State Repression." This pamphlet gives practical information about how the state represses activist movements and offers solid guidelines for white activists around issues of non-compliance, which is urgent for those of us who work in schools where young people are increasingly at risk for arrest or deportation.
Finally, I am considering my long-term plans as an educator.  I need to be working in white spaces in which this deeply rooted historical racism is reproducing itself in schools and institutions.  How am I creating inroads toward working in school districts where young people have grown up around revered statues of Robert E. Lee?  How can I extend my reach as a white educator?
How do we as white people truly start to take responsibility for our people?
I don’t know what the answer is but as a white anti-racist this needs to be my line of inquiry as I move forward.  Every good teacher knows a line of inquiry drives deep exploration of a given topic, and a good line of inquiry is divergent- it leads to multiple, expanding answers.  I reached out to some family today and learned about extended family in Alabama.  I’m thinking I’ll start there.  I can’t say how it will go but it’s a start. Because when I was a young teacher, thinking I was the shit for some reason or another somebody wise told me;

“You think you got this.  You don’t got this.”

For my work as an anti-racist this may have been the best advice I’ve ever gotten.  The minute I think I’ve done it, that I’ve made my contribution, that the work is complete, I’m nestled back into White supremacy’s embrace, tucked in for the night, choosing safety over life.  Not this time.  These are my people and I need to be accountable for them.


This article was originally published on https://creadnyc.org

Erin Dunlevy is the Founder and Director at Restorative Practice NYC, a Restorative Justice Trainer and Equity Coach with over 15 years of professional experience in NYC public schools.  Erin works to develop strategic solutions around issues of critical consciousness and anti-racism in schools. Particular areas of focus include developing a restorative model for critical consciousness, anti-bias strategies and examining the impact of race, power, and privilege in schools and professional settings. Her work has also focused on developing and implementing strategies for addressing equity issues within classrooms, specifically as an advocate for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Native Language Arts Education and restorative circles in core content classes. Currently Erin works for the NYC Restorative Justice Pilot Initiative and the NYPD Warning Card Pilot Initiative and and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Truth Telling Project of Ferguson.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Three Years Since Michael Brown, Calling for a Decade of truth Telling, Listening and Action

Three years ago, founder of the American branch of Peace Education and two time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Betty Reardon told me, “We need a decade of truth and reconciliation to deal with racism  because we are all complicit or impacted by racism. It’s in the air that we breath.”  While I believe a Truth and Reconciliation process is needed to heal the racial divide and redress past harms, we have learned from experiences that truth and reconciliation, with reparative justice does not address structural conditions.
On August 9th, three years ago, I joined the protests because St. Louis (Ferguson is part of St. Louis) was my home. My parents, siblings, nephews, cousins and grandparents are in the St.Louis/Ferguson area.  At the time, my work in peace education, nonviolence, anti-war activism and restorative justice did not prepare me to witness the strength of the American empire on streets that I had been harassed by police on decades before.  While not quite prepared, I wasn’t surprised that police and other authorities in the region seemed to value property and the flow of business more than the lives of outraged citizens expressing their right to dissent.  The continuous flow of news about police violence against Black people reinforces the care for property, not people.  The videos showing the police officers slamming the black student onto the floor from her desk, first shows the officer carefully taking the computer away so that it was safe before he brutalized her.

What White Americans must face is, that there is a huge gulf that has yet to be traversed for Black folk to become human in this society.

It’s not new that the constitution held Black folk as ⅗ of a human. We were property.  This, as Derrick Bell founder of critical race theory describes in And We Are Not Saved, was lowliest of state, where one was property from birth to death without hope of any kind of autonomy.  The inability to make basic life choices around marriage, childbirth and family was not allowed for the black slave. The introduction of the Black slave class provided the elite landowning class a buffer from poor Whites who inevitably faced economic hardship in light of an already unjust labor system.

In such a state, where race determined humanity, whiteness was prized, and prosperity derived from the oppression of others was justified through legal codes and pseudo science.

Today police and prisons reinforce the sense that White America has difficulty seeing Blacks as human.  Michelle Alexander compares slave catchers to police and private prisons have historic links to slavery. The profiting from the ‘use’  of black and nonwhite bodies continues throughout the U.S.

When I lived and taught in college towns in Pennsylvania, I saw how one of the primary economic drivers throughout the state are federal, state and private prisons. Many communities and thousands of businesses around the U.S. are deeply dependent on prisons for their survival.

Sadly there is little change to report from three years when Michael Brown Jr. was murdered and the protests began. The power resides in White supremacist institutions and the individuals that support the same order. Yet there is hope.

There is a new sense of consciousness, where people are woke, and acting independently to secure their basic needs. Also history teaches us that no groups are a monolith. The fugitive slave laws required white persons to assist in return slaves or be subject to heavy fines and or jail. Yet there was deep resistance; as there is resistance to the violent deportations of our Latina\Latino\LatinX  brothers and sisters.


In this political moment, peoples whose immigration status, religion, sacred land and sacred bodies, that are most at risk should and must lead this struggle supported by our White Allies.
So in the coming year, I believe we need a decade of Truth Telling, Listening and Action. The purpose of this decade is to provide a framework for political education overlapping with the UN decade for the people of African Descent and encouraging action that responds to the Truth being told. We would see our  stories told in communities across the US to create our own narrative, connecting the past to our present conditions.

The stories told in the decade of Truth-Telling connects historical trauma to our current experiences, as reminders and reasons to demand reparative justice as a first step in truth and reconciliation.

1.  After the civil war, while public education was set up- mostly with the efforts of freed slaves and aid societies- the U.S. never paid its debt for slavery, apologized publically, or held widespread events or public education to counter the hatred of Blacks by even those who fought against the confederacy. Some of the only people paid for the ending of slavery were former slaveholders, who (almost 1,000 slave owners) were compensated $300 for not fighting against the Union.

2.In 1917 East St. Louis saw over 7,000 Black people fled and over 200 and possibly 500, unhindered by authorities, murdered by angry gangs of Whites because northern factories recruited Southern Blacks, blamed for the low wages and joblessness of White workers.

3. In 1918 237 black sharecroppers were lynched in Arkansas for seeking better working conditions. Thousands of other lynchings spread terror throughout the black south with little intervention from law enforcement
4. The U.S. government sabotaged and infiltrated Black empowerment movements since the 1910’s.

5. It was U.S. government policy to take over relocate communities and business without fair compensation in  programs like urban renewal

6. Many black families could not build wealth because they were excluded from U.S. government sponsored wealth building programs like the GI bill and Federal Mortgage programs. They were redlined in when attempting to get housing and now gentrified out of their historic communities.

7. In Black communities in Michigan, democracy has been subverted by the emergency management system that has led to Flint water crisis, education, housing, health and water crisis’ in Detroit.

8. Thousands of Black folk have been killed by police and very few (if any) officers have been held responsible.

In these and so many other cases, the U.S. has never listened, accepted responsibility, made policies or provided broad education to counteract simmering feelings of hatred and racism after flashpoints in history. This is a history schooling can no longer ignore. Broad public education must be undertaken to insure future generations to fully understand this society.
In the Ferguson-St.Louis community, we started our own process we described as Truth-Telling, to make sure we had a record of what people experienced. We consciously focused on internal healing and reconciliation, so that forgiveness would not be expected without repairing the deep harm that has traumatized generations.

The Decade of Truth Telling, Listening, Healing and Action - would center voices of color, from marginalized communities to have their truth acted on in ways that actually repair harm, by supporting Black folk in ways that actually build capacity in our neighborhoods. For instance, in Black communities, where the majority of teachers, nonprofit support organizations, police and social workers are White, there is little culturally relevant support for youth and families.  Our communities are taught to look elsewhere for leadership and basic support.

In a society where money is valued reparations is a reasonable expectation for a society that has benefited from the use of black bodies since our arrival in the western hemisphere.  Reparations or reparative justice includes more than money.  Georgetown provides some examples.  But others include but are not limited to: proportionate employment in black and white communities and institutions; percentage or fee paid by middle and high income persons or their parents-when moving into gentrified communities like Detroit, Washington, D.C., Harlem, Los Angeles etc.; Black State Colleges and Black and P.O.C. should be paid reparations for failure to fund equitably.

While this day symbolizes the spark of a new kind of protest, let us remember Michael Brown Jr. and the many other people killed by police, as a call for rejuvenated struggle. While we do this work, let us listen to each other, to awaken more folk to the struggle, build political power around our narratives and to support and heal together.
We ask that you join us for our webinar on August 17th where we will share the stories from Ferguson and beyond in our online learning platform “It's Time to Listen”. You can begin the listening and learning now.

Originally published by https://creadnyc.org

Follow me on TWITTER:

@davidragland1, @TruthTellersUSA and @WeStayWoke2k


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

No Hero Coming to Our Hood: The People’s Infrastructure Plan to Save Ourselves...

As we end of one of the most widely contested and covered election cycle, this country has done it it again. The campaigns of the two major party candidates presented Hillary and Trump as heroic figures who would take on all of our problems and solve them. This narrative, not unlike the fiction which portrays law enforcement as heroic, from the perspective of many in my community, is pure fiction.

Like many of you, I’ve been enthralled with Luke Cage, the indestructible Black super hero.

While entertaining and exciting to see a Black man in this role, I shudder at the deeper meaning it communicates. Our society transmits an extraordinary amount of psychic energy on others to address the deepest concerns that each member of our society, by virtue of our mutual humanity, shares collective responsibility to engage. Politicians, police and the power elite in this society are vested with superhuman responsibility and power.

No one is coming to save us. We have to do it ourselves.

The reality is that many Black and Brown folk as well as those in the margins don’t trust police and are afraid to call 911 even when urgent attention is needed. The U.K. reporter Tim McCarthy Guardian writes about how trust given to police by many white folk is surprising given the availability of videos showing police violence. Given the sick state of things, it makes sense that one Massachusetts judge said Blacks are justified to run from the police given the violence that might occur during an interaction.

Given these experiences, a hero like Luke Cage (and Hillary as the savior from Trump) has been welcomed for all the reasons that he should be. Super heroes emerge from the collective social imagination as a way to respond to deep existential anxiety from impending doom and threats to safety and existence. For instance, Golems emerged in Jewish mysticism to protect their communities in the face of violence throughout Europe.

Luke Cage is the heroic fantasy we collectively conjured. Politicians and the wealthy elite with false narratives of self-reliance that don’t account for preferential admissions at elite universities, inheritances and other social capital associated with being white and wealthy, are often mythologized as heroic. Law enforcement, who protect this narrative and the status quo that maintains the power elite, are vested with the most lethal power- immediately impacting our very existence. While I hate to be the spiller of sour milk, I believe we don’t need heroes, especially when the strength of most heroes is in the use of violence (despite the mythology the violence will be used for good).

Yet fantasy is fantasy. The answer, I’m pretty sure, is not the Dallas police chief who suggested protesters join police to be a part of the “solution”. Many communities around the country have responded to police violence and the structural racism and violence it emerges from in a myriad of different ways. From Chosen For Change’s youth support programming, Ferguson Response Network’s community engagement, Hands Up United’s - Books and Breakfast, Sophia Project, the Truth Telling Project, Artivists STL, Cop Watch, A Conscious Conversation STL, Justice League NYC, Million Hoodie and Yarn Mission in St.Louis to the Movement for Blacks Lives there are organizations that have been responding and working to build something different so that we can be our own heroes.

I don’t advocate weapons or violence and that’s personal because sometimes dehumanized communities use whatever means available. I also know that a singular hero arising to take on the ills of our community is not coming and on this election day we should not expect to elect one.

I’m feeling some type of way. I’ve felt a kind of existential anxiety at its deepest level arising since before the murder of Michael Brown Jr. It’s a sense of anxiety that arises from what W.E.B. DuBois described as double consciousness. Double consciousness is a framework created by DuBois to describe to internal turmoil between how we are viewed by the broader society, the pretext that the laws created protect and are applied equally and fairly. While we are told that we can be inspired and confident in our work and contribution to American society, we are continuously treated inhumanely in the criminal justice system, employment and everyday encounters with overt and micro-agressive racism. Double consciousness is the lens through which Black folk hold this contradictory experience in the world.

The other side of double consciousness is bad faith which Sartre in Being and Nothingness later described as objectification. Professor Lewis Gordon translates bad faith which see the gaze that inform policies against Black, People of Color, or anyone considered ‘other’ as anti-black racism. For example, I remember being accused of plagiarism by a professors because she could not see me, despite my good work and efforts, as a serious student. The anxiety emerges from the false narrative this society tells us, in the face of the objectifying power-holding gaze of whiteness only views you as a criminal or unqualified. How long before the perception of you catches up with your treatment? DuBois, Derrick Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw, in this mix of the bad faith gaze, articulate the utter confusion between the equality we demand (and supposedly codified by law) and the reality of treatment encoded in legal and criminal justice systems affect our intersectional (poverty, gender, ability and race for instance) encounters.

The most disturbing encounters have to be people murdered after seeking help when injured disabled or in a need of roadside assistance or otherwise. The most basic duty as part of the Judeo-Christian ethic (for which our legal system is based) is treatment of the poor, socially marginalized, and visitors as the good Samaritan parable noted. Michelle Lee Shirley, Deborah Danner, Terence Crutcher, Rene’ Davis Quintonio LeGrier, Kenneth Chamberlin, Renisha McBride ,Jonathan Farrel, Kevin Davis, and most recently Alfred Olango were all murdered while impaired, seeking help or otherwise. In general, police murders violate the most basic sense of human decency and those tasked to ‘protect & serve’, but continuously violate the most marginalized people and communities.

I won't call 911! Don’t call 911, Public Enemy warned us that 911 is a joke. The people coming may give you substandard treatment because of your race. In our society, 911 is the what we dial when situations go beyond our control. One protester recently shared (in the most recent podcast episode We Stay Woke) how police appeared in her home, when her father was being attended to by emergency medical services. As police stood with their hands on their side arms, she demanded they leave and EMS told her they called the police for their protection. Describing the past mental breakdowns of her father, she could only feel the rage and fear as all of her agency drained away in this most vulnerable moment.

The protests around the nation inspired by the Ferguson Uprising, while appealing to the world, showed both the limitations and power of civil disobedience. The activism that emerged from Ferguson appealed to the broader society sense of fairness in the face of state sanctioned police violence and militarized occupation of our communities.

Some protests appealed to law enforcement to police themselves. Even I initially advocated for body cameras. Now the police have them, some refuse to use them, claiming cameras malfunction, or they simply turn them off as they prepare to kill us. As well, I believe at the policy level, there is lopsided advocacy for body cams and additional technology - but this only transfers policing dollars to militarized tech manufacturers', increasing in police budgets rather than supporting communities. Increasing amounts of police and skyrocketing law enforcement budgets don’t fix the root causes of structural racism and poverty. While funds could be used for education and employment building a green infrastructure, communities languish with officers who often don’t live in the neighborhoods they police; adding no value to the local economy.

The appeal for a hero has to be to us, people of color, black folk and white folk who know this is wrong. This appeal was trail-blazed by the Black Panthers’ who created a survival program that focused on constructive community building, beyond self-defense, but in the face of the crushing heel of poverty, violence and racism.

It is time to appeal to ourselves, our networks and organizations to connect with each other and firmly take up mantle saving ourselves. I’m not saying anything new. Gandhi too, while focused on noncooperation, believed a ‘constructive program’ was necessary to create self-reliance and relocate power into community hands.

In many ways, the movement for black lives policy vision provides a road map of possibility, and many other organizations are building cooperatives and systems to cope with direct violence and structural racism while working toward system transformation.

I propose a national hotline, where Black, POC or any people in need of attention, be it medical or otherwise, who would call police, should instead call us. Upon calling, you would be routed to on-call professionals, who would evaluate your situation and needs and then route you to the person or persons who could help you and your family member with an issue of diminished capacity or otherwise. I’m essentially proposing a “National People’s Infrastructure” funded by people who understand we have to do something now to take power over our lives, and to take power away from police and institutions that care nothing for us.

I know what you are thinking. What capacity do we have? Well the fact is, there are activist and protesters around the country who have developed infrastructures emerging from organizing around issues and protests to deal with legal concerns, emergency medicine, and nonviolent conflict de-escalation. While protests are important and necessary in dramatizing issues and demands, we can no longer afford letting our protest dollars fund the (in)justice system through bail-funds after widespread arrest.

This is in part an effort to move from just making demands toward self-determination pushed by Marcus Garvey, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman and many others. While we still have to make demands and arrests are at times necessary if connected to strategies and movement goals, we also must stop police violence, which emerges from occupation by police, and the borders that are created by self-hatred that humiliates and withers our dignity. We can be reactive, no longer

A People’s National Infrastructure would have at its reach a national network of restorative justice, violence de-escalation, conflict resolution, mental health and social work practitioners. There would also be rape counselors, and national listings to build and train new folks want to help build our capacity for self-reliance people’s first responder. This idea is not new, there are communities from Chicago to California working with local citizens. An example might be We the People of Detroit, who created a water hotline to deal with the water shutoffs, connect community members and simultaneously raise the alarm on its connection with gentrification and human rights violations.

A People’s National Infrastructure would connect and support groups like We the People of Detroit and the Rapid Responders Network, as well as call for a nationally recognizable network that people know they can call to deal with issues from A-Z resulting from structural racism; especially since heroes are not available at this time.

Every city with a protest infrastructure has medics, nonviolence de-escalators who would be our first line of defense. This infrastructure would not necessarily take the place of police, it would be part of the mechanisms to help us transition away from a criminal justice system that profits from the misery of the most vulnerable people in our society. I recall being told by an administrator who works for NYC courts, ‘police don’t want crime to end, its our bread and butter’. Our work must refocus and limit the authority and capacity of police, who are essentially civil servants, to wield unchecked violence and serve the interest of an status-quo maintaining police-state-security complex, rather than the people.

I believe and know we have to do more than “like” a facebook post or create a hashtag. Let’s build an alternative people’s national infrastructure since neither politicians nor police, who are often our first responders don’t respond well to Black and People of Color in need.

If you believe we need an alternative to 911 and police in the form of a people’s national infrastructure, join and support one of the organizations listed above or send an email to drdavidjragland@gmail.com with your your name, skill, training or refer a friend to be a part of building systems we need to survive and flourish.




The outcome of this election suggests that many are looking to Trump, a very wealthy individual, for some heroics. At least in my communities, I know for a fact, we have to do it ourselves.