12 Truths And A Poem

Photograph by Alexandra Thompson

On facilitating in an antiracism boom

On being a Black woman educator/facilitator during an antiracism workshop boom

  1. If I’m facilitating a group, my goal is for participants to do the work.
  2. If my goal is to get people to interact in equitable ways, I need to provide structures that ensure the group’s success.
  3. My facilitation tone is deliberately encouraging and invitational.
  4. Listening as a central practice is ALWAYS on the agenda.
  5. I see it as my duty to educate by introducing participants to potentially new voices – scholars, artists, new media.
  6. This keeps my own practice fresh and my curiosity piqued.
  7. When breakout groups are assigned I stay outside and welcome reflection after the fact.
  8. I trust participants to do what they need to do.
  9. That may or may not correspond with the given instructions and I still trust the people and the process.
  10. It is not always a comfortable thing as facilitator to get out of learner’s way but I believe it’s necessary.
  11. Every participant’s outcome is their own. I cannot predict or demand exactly what that outcome will be and what weight it will carry outside the learning space.
  12. Every facilitation event presents a beautiful challenge: leading participants to see, appreciate and embrace whatever work emerges before them as a result of our time together.

I’ve been thinking almost non-stop about facilitation since March. In fact, since Mid-July I have led a 5-day online course, 5 virtual workshops, 1 live workshop, and given 1 keynote talk. My google drive is full of slide decks of varying lengths, reflecting a range of topical objectives. But it’s still me. I’m the same person fumbling with the screen share button, responding to questions in the chat, hanging out while participants delve into breakout room conversations. I still go to work every day walking my kids through the building, out to the field, then back up to the playground.

In my dream world of facilitation, I spend more time in the background than in the spotlight. In most cases I end up doing more talking than I intended and it’s usually in the service of providing adequate context for the steps I’m asking participants to take on their own. I also consider my own energy household – how much do I have to give? With that in mind, I remind myself that I am not the miracle worker, nor does anyone expect that of me. I am not alone in this effort. On the contrary, the participants are there to make their own miracles. I provide processes and touch points as vehicles to those ends. I do not have the answers and I’m deeply interested in responses. Every time I engage with a group these thoughts are on my mind.

As I have recently been called to facilitate specifically in and around the umbrella of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), my mantra has become: I am not the race whisperer. Grounds enough for a poem:

I Am Not The Race Whisperer

Didn’t know I’d be here.

holding forth, expounding on the state

we find ourselves in.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them.

I am not.

Not a diversity practitioner or equity consultant.

I am a writer, a facilitator, an educator.

By now also an accidental speaker.

I prefer a page to a mic;

Feel more comfortable taking aim

in text

rather than raising my voice

to pierce the silence.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them.

Not here to instruct

but to lead you to your own

necessary reflection.

I don’t have your answers.

I do want you and me to

work out better questions

and by better I mean

deeper, more thoughtful

braver, imaginative, more

compassionate questions.

the kind of questions that make us sweat;

that reveal and reckon,

that show us what we don’t know and

exactly how mistaken we were.

Those kinds of questions.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them

I am not.

5 slide decks for reference:

Practice Over Perfection: A Keynote Talk, August 2020

Diversity and Inclusion: Which Questions Are The Right Ones? September 2020

Unpacking Systemic Racism: A Learning Conversation, September 2020

Boundary Work, October 2020

Beyond Armchair Racism: Gearing Up For Action, October 2020

2 thoughts on “12 Truths And A Poem

  1. “accidental speaker”…what a beautiful phrase for a writer/facilitator/educator to own. I haven’t delved into your slide decks (yet), but I am currently deep in the thick of Culturally Responsive training through the NYU Metro Center and I so appreciate reading your posts. I struggle with my continued work with adults when I am more passionate (and comfortable) with my young teens; often, your words remind me about how important this work is to make a better world for my students (and my own children) to inhabit. Thank you, again.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Yes, I hear you in contrasting the ease of working with young people vs. working with adults. It has helped me enormously to keep my focus on what learners may need and find helpful. Time to talk and think and talk some more really builds participant agency and involvement and those are my aims, almost regardless of the specific content.

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