Reflections on Spaciousness and Liberation in the Current World

Posted on October 20, 2020 | Leni Dworkis, Weissberg Foundation

These feel like heartbreaking days.

The outcome of the Breonna Taylor case reaffirms the value our criminal legal system places on White safety, personal property, and police.

We uneasily celebrate the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg – legal trailblazer and feminist icon – as political pressures around her replacement mount.

Fears around voter suppression build, COVID-19 continues to take the lives of Black and Brown folks, and essential anti-racism work has been halted by way of an executive order.

Amid our heavy reality, I was able to sit down virtually with multi-disciplinary healing practitioner Richael Faithful and the Two Brown Girls powerhouse cooperative of Aja Taylor and Nicole Newman. We were scheduled to explore healing justice and its relationship to movement work, organizing, and facilitation, but exhaustion was contagious. After an elongated round of check-ins, it was clear that headspaces and hearts were focused elsewhere; that strands of hope, happiness, and energy were scattered amongst and between the overwhelming sadness and fatigue that is consistent with these times.

Not wanting the preconceived conversation to feel mandatory, we pondered collectively about where the day’s conversation could lead. In our hour together, we tapped into aspects of personal practice and possibility, recognizing that some days our tanks are just empty. Wrought with physical tension and mental exhaustion, it feels inconsequential to balance the self relative to the weight of the world, but tending to personhood is restorative and it is through conversation, connection, and community that we are sometimes able to breathe a little easier.

I wanted to share just small chunks of their infinite wisdom:

Nicole Newman

Nicole Newman

“What feels hard for me in this moment is not the political, but the personal – just coming to terms with my own limitations, the distance between the spaciousness that I want in my life and what I actually have on a day to day basis, coming to grips with how limited I feel by all of the conversations that we’re having. Whether it’s around the racial injustice, or ICE and women in detention centers, or trans and gender nonconforming folks being murdered – I just feel all of that is hitting at a political level, but also at a personal level around what and who we have become as a people. I feel this element of that I shouldn’t be surprised at the lengths by which humanity goes to destroy itself, but also it feels so surprising to me every single time that we just keep reaching for something that’s not love, that’s not compassion and then wondering why we get the results we got.”

“The more I ground myself in what liberation means to me, the more there is a requirement to go back. It’s not a future orientation to some desired future state, but an actual reckoning with and dealing with the past and the legacies and lineages that I come from that allows me to be fully present in this moment.”

Aja Taylor

Aja Taylor

“I don’t feel called to [being a grief holder], I feel dragged by it. I don’t feel energized by it, and for me there’s this real disconnect between what I have capacity to hold and what I have desire to hold and for many reasons people trust me to hold their things – their conflict, fears, disappointments, grief – and I do it because I have capacity, but then I also feel like I don’t know if I have the spaciousness for that to actually be a sustainable thing. I can do this thing, but it feels like eating poison sometimes.”

“Who gets to define and decide what is liberatory in any given moment? It’s almost like when you get under your covers and you snuggle in a little more, get a little more comfortable – that’s how I feel about freedom, how can we every day get a little more free? It doesn’t mean we won’t have missteps, it doesn’t mean that sometimes your partner won’t take all the covers and now you’re cold, but it means how do we recalibrate and how do we use all the tools we have access to do that?”

Richael Faithful

Richael Faithful

“There’s not going to be a single person that rescues or saves us. It is going to be our collective contributions and grit that will allow us to continue – I won’t even say survive, I’m not exactly sure what this means at this moment. I have long been tired of the expectations that there is going to be a deliverance. Liberation is what we are making in every moment, until we’re not.”

“I think the reason I hold all the politics that I do and the reason I’m able to hold space for a range of different people, especially white folks who are trying to find their way and white folks doing healing is because when I feel in my own clarity about what liberatory practice can be and I have a community to support me in practicing consistently, honestly, transparently – it’s a way of being that can get met. I find it more and more dangerous for me to keep going back for folks.”

The powerful thoughts and questions posed speak to so many things – the real and raw essence of human nature; the multi-layered and cross-identity manifestations of grief, fear, and pain; and personal and interpersonal understandings of and reckoning with the self and the collective relative to liberation.

While we search desperately for some light at the end of the long tunnel of injustices, we must contemplate how we best aid in this foraging for restoration and healing. For some of us, our power is guiding others to join the search. For others, it’s innovating outside of what’s available in our existing toolboxes. But for all us – we must start with the recognition that being in the dark does us no good and the affirmation that change really is possible.

Leni Dworkis is the program manager at the Weissberg Foundation, where she provides robust programmatic support to Grantee partners seeking to advance social, racial, and criminal justice. Prior to joining the foundation in 2019, she served in research and programmatic capacities at the Vera Institute of Justice where she contributed to strategic development initiatives, measurement and evaluation efforts, and exploratory investigation around reaching and serving under-resourced and marginalized crime victims. Her long-standing passion for working with and giving voice to underserved populations has fueled her interests in breaking down oppressive barriers and rebuilding social structures to better meet the needs of all individuals.

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