Undoing Racism

 

In September 2007, Sylvia Morrison joined CPT's Support Team as our first Undoing Racism Coordinator.  With Sylvia's leadership, CPT embarked upon an Undoing Racism "Audit."  Between May 2008 and February 2009, Valentina Satvedi, Harley Eagle and others from Mennonite Central Committee's Anti-Racism Program walked with us to facilitate a clearer self-understanding on which to base undoing racism work within our organization.  This unconventional process culminated in two days of strategic planning.

 

Could This Be Our Finest (H)Our?

by Sylvia Morrison

 

The evening of February 10, 2009, has finally arrived.  For several months now, I have been thinking, talking about, and planning for this evening and the next two days - the time set aside for CPT's Undoing Racism Strategic Planning.  Thank God it's finally here!  I am excited to see how these days will unfold as the Spirit leads. 

People come from many locations, some having traveled all day.  I watch as folks enter the room and greet each other.  All are tired; most are hungry.  We gather in a circle, give thanks and help ourselves to the delicious supper Esther has prepared.  I eat very little...I am already full.  Full of excitement, anxiety, fear, tears.  Full of questions and answers.  Full of great expectation and the Spirit, who always sustains me.  This is a holy moment. 

Over the next couple hours we introduce ourselves and engage in community building exercises.  Individuals share thoughts and feelings about the racial justice audit report, which our consultants, Valentina and Harley, recently submitted after months of observing CPT life and work.  Participants reflect on what or whom we have brought to this space, and what we hope for the next two days.  Our collective hope is that our engagements with each other and the audit report will help us develop a strategic plan to create an anti-racist identity and culture in CPT.  That will be an historic moment!

The next morning we re-gather - 23 of us committed to the task of strategic planning.  We have read the report and discussed with our teammates how to move CPT forward on our undoing racism journey.  Some bring questions that must be answered before they return to team.  We have much to do and very little time, it seems.  Let's get to work. 

The whole morning and part of the afternoon the consultants present the audit report.  They share no summaries from collated checklist responses, no percentages or charts, no maps or graphs.  Instead they tell the story of conducting the audit in a variety of settings, from Peacemaker Training and the biannual retreat, to Steering Committee meetings, the CPT website and internal resources.   Harley and Valentina present a slide show depicting statements, images, and music - The ART of CPT.    This is not the typical audit report.    

Then Valentina and Harley open space for the group to share our reflections on the presentation.  As the tears stream down my face, my body shakes uncontrollably and I wonder why I am weeping.  I feel fear and gratitude simultaneously.  Since September 2007, I have taken a risk, a leap of faith to go on a frightful undoing racism journey with people I did not know and who did not know me.  Now we are at an important sign post on this journey, and I am afraid that because this process is so unfamiliar and unconventional, people may lose faith in the process or trust in my leadership.  They may turn aside.  Still, I am grateful Harley and Valentina are also taking the same risk. 

I once heard a friend say that when you find yourself crying so hard it's because the Spirit has taken you over.  The Spirit always sustains me!  I inhale and exhale deeply a few times; my tears stop flowing and my body relaxes.  Now I can listen to my friends share their reflections.  Are the CPTers in the room still walking forward?  What I hear opens into another holy moment. 

The CPTers present express various emotions and thoughts.  They all say how different this audit report is from what they expected, yet they embrace it because of their commitment to the process of creating an anti-racist CPT.  They express gratitude to the consultants for the respectful, honorable way in which Valentina and Harley conducted the audit.  CPTers also expressed affirmation and trust in my leadership on the journey thus far and their commitment to the future.  Could this be our finest hour?

We spend the rest of the afternoon identifying the organization's strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, based on the audit report and recommendations.  The energy level in the room is exhilarating.  Undoing racism doesn't seem so daunting anymore, or even if it does, there is a feeling of trust that we can journey together holding each other's hands.  After we have been walking around the room for an hour, reading and adding to each category on the wall, taking it all in, one person shouts: "Excuse me, I just noticed something in our list of threats.  We are well on our way because WE are our only threat, and we can take care of that!"  An extremely important revelation, and another fine hour. 

A First Nations Elder once said that our society has put the ‘h' on ‘our' and in doing so we do not have enough time together.  I think of this on February 12, the final day of our strategic planning.  During our morning worship, the group listens as I read some letters past CPTers wrote expressing their hearts' deep desire for an anti-racist CPT.  Harley plays the flute while we reflect on the question "What does your heart long for?"  Deep and real sharing emerges, and the group moves to another level of commitment and trust.

The rest of the day is a dynamic, exhilarating roller coaster ride as we discuss and strive for consensus on strategic directions for an anti-racist CPT.  We ask hard questions, challenge each other, take risks in making statements, ask for clarification sometimes.  We notice when power is not shared appropriately or when other dynamics of oppression are present, and we deal with that respectfully.  Some step back at times so others will step forward, or stop speaking for a while so others can speak.  At times the energy shifts with worry that we will not complete the process in time for folks to catch their flights...the ‘h' is still on ‘our' time together.  But I know our facilitator is highly skilled.  We refocus and continue to challenge, question, affirm and wrestle together.  Staying with the process, by the final hour we have articulated our strategic direction in seven statements.  This has indeed been our finest (h)our together. 

 

Strategic Directions For Shaping An Anti-Racist Identity For CPT

1.    Resourcing the wellbeing of CPT and its members;

2.    Cultivating a CPT culture that is anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and anti-colonial;

3.    Articulating and sharing a transformed mission for CPT;

4.    Honoring the voices of our partners throughout CPT communication vehicles;

5.    Widening ownership of CPT;

6.    Empowering CPTers through clear, accountable processes of decision making and leadership;

7.    Making all of CPT accountable to our partners in an open and transparent way.

 

Undoing Racism Scholarship Fund

 

CPT is committed to expanding the diversity of participants in our delegations.  To enable us to assist interested persons who have been disadvantaged by racism and otherwise could not afford to participate in a CPT delegation, we need your help!  Please consider sending a generous donation earmarked for the Delegation Scholarship Fund.  Thank you!