Recently, I was sitting in my living room, scanning Instagram when our kid came over with the iPad on his shoulder like it was a boombox from the 80’s. He was boppin’ and shakin’ and dancing to the rhythm of his own beat. He invited me to join him, putting down the iPad, turning up the sound, and reaching his hands out to me as an invitation. We danced all-out for 10 minutes, starting with “Happy” by Pharrell, then cruising through some 90’s R&B, hip-hop, and go-go. He was so happy and free-spirited. It was contagious and lovely.
It was a live flashback to my childhood. Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, my parents made it seem like crises were not crises and problems weren’t problems. I don’t know exactly how they did that, but I do remember them finding ways to be in loving community with each other, all the kids, and all of their friends and family. They danced, played music, cooked out in the backyard, and laughed with friends and family nearly every weekend. There was always a gathering, a meeting place – often our house – for everyone to come and just be together.
I didn’t realize then that those gatherings were a powerful place of restoration and rejuvenation. They served as a place to talk about it all. I remember the conversation huddles, mothers at the kitchen table, brothers on the porch and my sister and I often huddled with them. Those were the wise council meetings that likely saved our lives.
Leading a social justice organization these days is, in a word, HARD, but I find myself referring back to those parties as a means to find ways to get support and council in my own life.
The context in which we find ourselves fighting for justice is brutal. At least that seems to be the message that I get from leader after leader and I feel it at Rockwood as well. People are tired, burdened, afraid, desperate, and lonely. Our organizations often feel like a suit that no longer fits – too tight in too many places to be worn comfortably. It is a difficult time in which to lead anything, let alone organizations and movements focused on our collective liberation.
Yet, those memories of my parents building and holding community remind me that we – all of us, in our own individual and mutual ways – thrive in deep community and through deep connection. Whether it’s making space during a meeting to just chat, hosting an in-person or virtual cookout with our people, or all-out dancing with an eight-year-old, it’s how we sustain ourselves through this and future moments of crises and grief. It’s how we make it possible to hold ourselves and our teams, families, communities and give everyone what they need to feel and be supported.
I hope that each and every leader gets the gift of deep connection, presence and joy. That we can grieve out loud and continue to move the work through to the next transformation.