When you know better it is an opportunity to do better
I am not the same person I was in 2010. I resigned from a nonprofit fundraising job, accepted a Peace Corps placement, and became an HIV/AIDS educator & community development volunteer in Namibia with the Ministry of Health and Social Services. My work in the international development space made me assess the complexities of toxic charity, white saviorism, poverty "porn," intentionality vs impact, and modern colonialism.
Would I have joined Peace Corps knowing what I know now? Would I be able to contextualize these issues if I had not had that lived experience? Did my work unintentionally perpetuate harm on the communities I sought to engage?
In 2015, I again resigned from a job as an executive director, dove headfirst into full-time consulting, and moved across the country. As a consultant, I work with grassroots, social service, and justice-oriented organizations many of which are led by women of color with numerous intersecting identities. They are fighting to support their communities while also working to overcome the barriers that keep them underrepresented in the nonprofit sector.
Knowing their struggles and being able to stand alongside them as they fight systemic injustices provides me a unique opportunity to deeply engage in ways not possible even 5 years ago. It informs the way I:
Advocate for organizations to engage with their communities: using community power to advocate for systemic change
Lead training: using an explicit focus on an equity framework
Provide services: identifying and dismantling barriers through tools and educational resources
I see the broad strokes of the evolution of my beliefs, choices, and actions. It's the micro-evolution; the day-to-day changes that are more difficult to track. Recently, I began concluding my workshops with three statements:
I used to think ________. But then I learned ________. So now I ________.
This encourages folks to qualify their learning at a micro-level. What incremental personal change do you see as you do this work? Can you identify a small change that can act as encouragement while you undertake the difficult, uncomfortable, complex, and messy work?
Start where you are but don’t stay there. When you know better it is an opportunity to do better.