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Janet Levinger
I want to help make my community a place of opportunity for everyone who lives in it. This requires a good education, reproductive freedom, and a fair democratic process.  So I work with organizations focused in these areas. I am action-oriented. I support, serve, testify, write, fund raise, hold events, promote, connect.
Beyond Diversity — Having Courageous Conversations Jul 1, 2015

I attended the Beyond Diversity training given by Pacific Educational Group – called Advancing the Courageous Conversation and Defining Courageous Leadership in Education.

I was skeptical before starting the two-day training. Quite honestly, there are few trainings that are worth giving up two full days. Usually, I don’t find the information sufficiently stimulating. Usually, the presenter is not particularly engaging. So I was pleased that the facilitator was high energy and kept my attention.

I took the training with staff, board members, and partners of Eastside Pathways (http://eastsidepathways.org/) a nonprofit on whose board I serve. Eastside Pathways works with the Bellevue (Washington) School District which has adopted this training for all of its staff. We wanted to have many people from the community who focus on education to take the training so we are all using the same language.

I think there were about 200 people at the conference. Half were in Beyond Diversity I, the training that I was in. The rest were scattered amongst other advanced sessions. In my group, I am guessing about 25-30% were people of color. I also knew and worked with quite a few people in the session.

The session presented facts and figures about race in our country, about racism, and about bias. There were discussions about white privilege and institutional racism. We learned about history, about bias in news reporting and in advertising.

The second day was deeply moving. Many of the people of color told their own stories – of being followed in stores, of assumptions being made about how smart their children are, of feeling that their race and color are not fairly reflected and depicted in the general culture, of being asked to speak for their entire race, of being told they are a credit to their race. They talked about micro-aggressions: little things that happen all the time. And they talked about how this wears them down, makes them hyper sensitive.

The training was especially powerful because I knew some of these people personally. It meant a lot that they felt safe enough to share. There were many tears – from everyone. There was a lot of anger – also from everyone. Some of the white people said they felt guilty. Others said they felt hopeless. The facilitator acknowledged that these were appropriate feelings but urged us to not get stuck there, to keep moving forward.

I learned some things that are actionable to me. I learned I need to be vigilant in what and how I approach a conversation where race might play into the situation. I need to examine my own assumptions about how others may react to my actions or words.

I was reminded that we should not attack or be judgmental of others’ experiences. Instead we need to listen and be open to their perspective, not always wanting to jump in and share our own.

 I learned to make sure that people of color are at the table when decisions are being made. The people impacted by a decision need to help identify the problems and the solutions. And it cannot be just one token person of color, but instead a sufficient number to reflect the community.

I learned that when you have privilege, you can use it to oppress or to humanize. You can become anti-racist by deliberately, intentionally using your privilege to make a difference. This is messy work. It takes courage. But we have to do it for our children.

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