Change Begins With You: Holding Space for Difficult Conversations
Last week was another difficult week. A week in which we had to collectively process more murder at the hands of the police. Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man was shot and killed by a police officer just blocks away from the site of the murder of George Floyd. While trying to process this, we learned that in Chicago just days before this new tragedy in Minnesota, an officer in Chicago shot and killed an unarmed 13-year-old named Adam Toledo. There was also another story circulating last week, which luckily did not result in death, but still involved harassment and violence when two police officers pulled over U.S Army Second Lieutenant, Caron Nazario. We’ve been reading these stories and watching the videos for years and years. And if we want this cycle of violence to stop, it is going to take major cultural shift.
Last July, we wrote an article about how we cannot be silent about these matters -- not even at work. It is a privilege to be able to take a break from these news stories. It is a privilege to be able to put distance between yourself and the victims. It is a privilege to say, “Well, I’m not racist” and look the other way.
We cannot afford to avoid these hard conversations. And we can’t expect our colleagues to detach themselves from violence that is threatening BIPOC lives. And if you are a leader at your place of employment, you not only have to lead the change but also be willing to look inward and change yourself. And like the prolific writer James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
Here are Colorful Connections, we keep going back to the hundreds of diversity statements we saw last June in the wake of Geroge Floyd’s murder and the thousands of black squares that popped up on social media in solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement. Almost a year later, what has changed? What actions steps have been made? What commitments are we making to learn empathy? What commitments are we making to unlearn unconscious bias? And are we willing to sit in our discomfort when we hear and discuss the terms anti-racist and white supremacy?
It was reported that officer Kim Potter, who killed Daunte Wright on Sunday, April 11th, was a field training officer and was training a new officer that night when she shot Mr. Wright. We mention this because people get promoted, they get leadership roles but if they have not taken the time to understand their own biases and gaps with cultural competency – the fear of others, the unconscious bias, the overt racism, the covert micro-aggressions, and so much more, will continue to be passed on.
The first step is holding space for these conversations to process, reflect and to strengthen your team through empathy. It is important to remember that not everyone will want to talk these issues but holding consistent space for processing, listening and checking in how your colleagues are holding up, is important. At the top of meetings, make a habit of ensuring that your team members are doing okay and ask them what they might need if they aren't doing well. While these check in moments for small and large meetings is important, we encourage you to also carve out separate time for processing how the violence in the news is affecting people.
And remember, change starts with you, what actions are you willing to take to begin?
Written by Katie Avila Loughmiller
Note: This article is a part of Colorful Connections’ new Brave Lil Convos series, a set of articles that equip leaders and individuals with tools and resources to lead and participate in brave conversations about racial injustice, equity and tolerance in the workplace. Colorful Connections is committed to creating long-standing change in organizations, and sometimes the biggest change happens with the smallest conversations. After our clients work with us (whether it be talent placement or focused workshops) it is important that they maintain their commitments to upholding inclusive environments. This commitment starts with being brave to listen and converse with empathy. Having difficult, and often uncomfortable, conversations, will have long-term affects that make teams stronger and more successful. If you'd like to subscribe to our Brave Lil Convos series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.