Celebrating Curious & Diverse Communities: Transcending Racism and “Othering”

When Glenda Eoyang, Founder and Executive Director of Human Systems Dynamics Institute, invited me to co-facilitate an HSD Adaption Action Lab focused on transcending racism and “othering,” I immediately said yes for a couple of irresistible reasons.

We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.
—Maya Angelou

First, accepting the invitation would allow me to trade places with Glenda and share space for learning and teaching alongside Dr. Sam Grant, a fellow scholar of HSD and Executive Director of Rainbow Research - a national social justice-focused research and evaluation not-for-profit organization. How grateful I am to be in the company of such a respected thought leader and social justice advocate! 

Secondly, saying yes affords me an opportunity to candidly share my experiences with racism and “othering” in a safe space with other human beings who believe that it’s possible to transcend what continues to be ugly and wicked issues around the world. 

I first met Sam last year when we joined forces with four racially diverse women to co-create a space where reverence, reciprocity, and mutual thriving could occur for all. Although Sam was the only guy in the group, there was something much more important and relevant about him that stood out right away.

Sam demonstrated a pattern of curiosity through rich and surgically precise questions, and I was inspired by the long list of relevant books he’d regularly reference during our brainstorming and planning sessions.

The stories and impacts that Sam shared; his ability to vividly zoom in and zoom out of his heart and mind to see into the lives of others; the gentle way he always managed to find the energy in difference; his willingness to stand courageously in inquiry, search for the true and useful, and passionately celebrate life through his work, caused me to admire and respect the man, who just happened to look like me, even more.

When I learned that Glenda and Sam were co-facilitating the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Adaptive Action Lab last December, I didn’t hesitate to register. The six hours I spent with Glenda, Sam, and the other learners, was more than worth my time. Never before had I been given the grace and space to safely disclose wounds caused by racism and have them publicly acknowledged and validated. 

Just when I thought my time with Sam was coming to an end last year, we were both appointed to serve on the HSD Board of Directors and will complete our first year as elected members next month.  

When Glenda offered Sam and I the opportunity to co-facilitate the JEDI Adaptive Action Lab this year, we expressed equal excitement and delight about collaborating on this important journey. 

We began collaborating on our teaching and learning strategy in October. We found synergy in our ideas right away and allowed the reality of what we know for sure to organically emerge and meld into something we both found to be delicious and extraordinary. 

The ability to work intellectually, creatively, and emotionally with someone who not only looks like me but knows what racism and othering looks, feels and smells like, does more for my soul than my words can express. Our remembrances and revelations help me to reconnect with the resilience that black folks have always managed to pull from dormant reservoirs despite racism and “othering.”

Each conversation with Sam ends with a joyful celebration of life. 

Even though Sam and I have experienced racism differently, we’re wise and empathetic enough to see into each other’s experiences and gracious enough to give them a safe place to fall.  

I first experienced patterns of racism and othering in junior high school, when the boy who lived directly across the street called me the “N” word on the school bus. That day changed my racial reality forever. Many years later, the sting and stench of racism is still evil, pungent and ever present. I know it when I see it, and I’m certain that I can smell it a mile away. I wish I could say that was the only time I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous racism, but I cannot tell a lie. It’s a pattern that continues to show up in my world and in the world of other human beings, randomly and steadily. 

Although I’ll never forget what happened to me on the school bus in junior high school, I’m determined to not just move past it, but to move far beyond it. 

Healing is a long and worthwhile process that I hope everyone who’s been mistreated in any way and/or made to feel invisible, ignored, or irrelevant, willingly chooses.

Every human being deserves to feel seen, heard, safe, comfortable and welcome no matter where they live or who’s in the room. 

I’ve learned more than I ever dreamed I would about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion partly by showing up in the HSD community, unexpected, yet still welcome. It all started in 2015, when I was searching for a dynamic way to learn why people behave in certain, patterned and unhealthy ways, and stumbled upon hsdinstitute.org.

“People everywhere thrive because we see patterns clearly, seek to understand and act with courage to transform turbulence and uncertainty into possibility for all.” This isn’t just the HSD vision; these words welcome me back home every time I enter the HSD curiosity community.

I celebrate the curiosity community that Glenda and Royce Holladay, HSD’s Director of Services, have built over the past twenty years. Within the virtual walls they’ve created, I’ve evolved and expanded my identity, voice and power personally and professionally as a facilitator, leadership strategist and consultant, HSD board member, and host of the “Patterns & Possibilities - Thriving in Uncertainty with Miss Handie” podcast. 

Glenda doesn’t know it, but she’s given me the leading and learning opportunity of a lifetime. Although she and Sam both hold PhD’s, neither of them have ever made me feel like an “other” or that my Master’s degree education makes me less than who they are intellectually. In fact, they’ve helped me to realize and embrace that I’m a dynamic human being with dynamic abilities to help break the world’s systemic patterns and barriers. If they can do it, I can too!

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