How to turn tenderness into fearlessness. A conversation with the leaders of Racial Justice Institute.
Are you tired of conversations about race that quickly turn into shouting matches? Do you feel uncomfortable, as a white person, bringing up race, or feel your “help” is not wanted in movements like Black Lives Matter? Do you feel frustrated, as a person of color, being asked to explain things to white folks? Is it possible to confront white privilege, promote racial justice, and still have friends?
The Racial Justice Institute is a day-long pre-festival event put together to tackle these questions and more. And though it’s called an “institute,” which may make you think of a stuffy classroom with long, boring lectures, it’s designed to be anything but. Instead think “interactive workshop” — a day to talk deeply and honestly, sometimes awkwardly, about race, in a place where you will be respected and listened to. A time to feel, reflect, sing, pray, possibly even laugh, and most importantly, figure out how we can individually – and collectively – do something about racial injustice.
This personal and communal journey will be facilitated by a group of gifted and wise, multiracial and interdisciplinary facilitators including Micky ScottBey Jones, Kenji Kuramitsu, Rev. Jennifer Bailey, AnaYelsi and many more.
We caught up with some of these folks recently and tossed them a few questions about what to expect from the day and why it’s so important to be there.
Why do a whole extra day about Racial Justice? Won’t that be a big part of the festival?
Sure it will. There will be conversations and talks and storytelling and music around this subject throughout the festival. And on lots of other subjects.
This is a time to drill down, to participate in a facilitated conversation where you can engage honestly and openly, be comfortable asking uncomfortable questions, and spend more focused time with other people coming up with ideas for transformative action.
As you leave this event, we think your head will be spinning with new ideas, new understandings, and an increased depth of awareness, so as you go into the festival you’ll very likely enter into it more deeply than you would have before. Our facilitators will also be leading workshops throughout the festival, so participating in RJI will prepare you to get even more from those sessions. Not to mention you may also make some friends you can hang out with throughout the festival.
Who is this for?
Everyone who wants to have a deep, open, challenging, thoughtful conversation about race and oppression. It is for people of color and for white people. It’s for people just beginning to engage issues of race, and those who have been engaged for years and need fresh perspectives.
What will I take home from it?
More awareness and wisdom. You might even leave with a commitment to change your life and the systems around you.
Why should I attend?
Because although ignorance can be bliss, one person’s bliss can create another’s hell. Attending this will create knowledgeable bliss and less hell. It’s backwards that way.
What will I learn?
How we’ve gotten to this place where certain people have privilege and others have been “disprivileged,” how it hurts, and what we can do about it. How you fit into the story of race, inequality and justice and what that means for you. How race has shaped American culture and systems like education, prison, economics and civil rights, where we are today and where we might be going. How none of us are free until we are all free, and the beauty of getting there together.
What will we do all day?
Open our raw hearts so that the tenderness becomes fearlessness.
Yeah, but are we going to sit and listen to people talk all day?
Only if you want to. You can also speak if you’d like to share. And participate in all kinds of other ways. Which is why we call it an interactive workshop.
How will it be “interactive”?
Through contemplative exercises and small group conversations (including those we have at meal times) occasional singing, journaling, even, yes, possibly dancing. (For those who see themselves as “dancing challenged,” don’t worry, we aren’t talking “Dancing with the Stars” dancing.)
Is this going to involve a lot of debate?
Only if you can find someone to debate with. We’re planning opportunities for one-on-one conversations with each other and with the leaders…no game playing, just sharing our best truths. Clear-eyed, vulnerable, compassionate truths.
Why are there so many people leading?
We want everyone to feel welcome, and we don’t want anyone to feel alone. Also, race isn’t just about black and white. So we’ve included facilitators with many different stories, many different perspectives and experiences — black, white, Asian, Latinx, straight, queer, gay, 40s to 20s, Anglican to evangelical, black-churched to Pentecostal.
We heard there might be a campfire…will this be just another feel good campfire conversation about race?
It will be more like being the marshmallow in the campfire. We’ll let the flames burn away our sugary falseness.
If I attend am I going to get yelled at? Am I going to leave feeling more frustrated and/or guilt-ridden?
We recognize it can be scary to talk about race. We have created RJI to provide a place to experiment with being brave, to ask questions that bring up big feelings, risk vulnerability and to crack open complex ideas. In the process, perhaps we will find personal and cultural healing. Even transformation. It’s designed to be a day that leaves you not with more guilt but with deeper knowledge, inspiration, different questions and new relationships as well as resources and ideas for action. We hope that you’ll be changed and leave ready to help create change in the world.
Have more questions? Contact Micky ScottBey Jones