Risk-Taking for Racial Justice: Building Networks That Support Us

This June, the Minneapolis St. Paul (MSP) Network Weavers Community of Practice hosted our semi-annual day long gathering. The topic was Risk-Taking for Racial Justice: Building Networks that Support Us. Our facilitation team collaboratively wrote this blog to share some of the learning and insights we gained from the event – we hope you enjoy!

Mishel House, Kirsten Johnson & Sindy Morales Garcia – Wilder Center for Communities, Scott Labott – Bush Foundation, Terri Thao & Chalonne Wilson – Nexus Community Partners, Susan Schuster – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Amanda Ziebell Mawanda – Propel Nonprofits

MSP Network Weavers Community of Practice

The MSP Network Weavers Community of Practice is a group of practitioners using network weaving tools in our work who come together twice a year to deepen our relationships and skillsets and expand our connections and perspectives. Our Community of Practice has made an explicit commitment to centering racial justice in our work and making our day-long gatherings places where can take a deep dive into challenging white supremacy through networks.

Kiara from LLC invited us to take a phone poll about how much our work was incorporating behaviors that support weaving networks to advance equity

This spring, Leadership Learning Community and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation partnered with our local Center for Health Equity at the Minnesota Department of Health to host a WEB Network gathering. In that conversation, Kiara from LLC invited us to take a phone poll about how much our work was incorporating behaviors that support weaving networks to advance equity. While we rated ourselves fairly high on things like building trusting relationships and talking about equity and distribution of power – we were quite low when it came to risk-taking. Our team felt like this presented us with an opportunity to help our local community of network weavers explore what risk-taking requires and why it is essential to advancing equity.

Our Invitation

Here’s the invitation we made to our local network weaving community about our June event: We’ll spend a full day together thinking about the relationship between Networks, Risk-Taking, and Racial Justice. We’ll talk about the importance of risk-taking to advance racial justice, about how networks can support us and hold us as we take risks to push against the status quo, and we’ll make space for peer assists so you can get support in thinking about the risks that will take your work for racial justice to the next level.

What does risk mean to you? What does it look like, sound like, feel like?

When we gathered in June, we began our day together with a Network Weaving 101 that we always offer to newcomers – reviewing some of the core concepts and values of network weaving. Then we gathered in circle for an opening where we shared some framing for the day and asked participants to draw on a sticky note in response to this prompt: What does risk mean to you? What does it look like, sound like, feel like?

We then each shared our post-its as we introduced ourselves – you can see a compilation of the drawings on the right. Once we had all shared we did some collective meaning making, talking about what stood out to us, what themes were emerging around risk – and what that brought to mind about risk-taking and racial justice.

The next part of our day involved hearing from a panel of story tellers sharing their stories of risk – and then taking time to self-organize into groups and share our own stories.

Telling Our Stories on Taking Risks for Racial Justice

There is power in telling stories and our panel was testament to the power of the personal story. Each panelist was asked to share an instance of taking a risk for racial justice from a personal and/or professional experience. Our panelists were three local leaders, all women of color, who have worked in the nonprofit and government sectors.

Panelists were asked the following questions as they told the stories of taking risks for racial justice:

  1. How did your network(s) support you?
  2. How did your network(s) mitigate the risk?
  3. Given your experience, what has this taught you about what to prune and/or cultivate in your networks? (or regarding your network practices).

The panelists shared the following:

  • Panelists felt comfortable taking risks because they knew they had a network of people to support them.
  • They built new networks over as a result of this work, but they also acknowledged the networks that were left behind.
  • Given the nature of this work, it is important to mix networks and be intentional as you go to people.
  • It is important to have empathy, compassion, caring for those who are the ones doing harm as you are seeking to educate or correct their harm: “Bless those who curse you.”

As panelists shared their stories of risk, we asked attendees that day to adhere to a double confidentiality to both 1) keep the names but share the stories and 2) give the panelists space since sharing these stories can be a reminder to painful experience and asking people directly about their experience might cause additional harm.

Our Harvest

We wrapped up with a collective harvest from our self-organized groups, in which we shared what we need to prune or cultivate in our networks in order to build the support we need to take risks for racial justice.

Chalonne wrote this powerful poem from our harvest:

Let Go. Take Risks. Let’s Grow
Let go of the naysayers,
The doubters, the haters.
Let go of the obligation to agree.
Certainly, let go of the idea of certainty.
Let go of the biases, the colonized mindset, the hierarchy.
That thinking and structure describes the problem only.
Let go of the ego and anger.
The fragility, the silence, and the notion of risk as danger.
Let’s grow a diversity of thoughts.
Let’s grow opportunities for reflection. Let’s grow lots!
Let’s grow more experiences to listen.
Practice stepping back, stepping up, and at times, stepping in.
Let’s grow time for deeper reflection.
Let’s grow bravery – solo and together. It’s for our protection.
Let’s grow our understanding of the harm of not speaking.
Let’s call out our network, no matter how far reaching.
Let go. Take risks. LET’S GROW!

Lessons Learned

Susan’s lessons learned:

  • Invest in your network. Your networks (and intentional network weaving) are important for growth and innovation. The experience we had together in June is only possible because we all made it a priority to come together on this topic, work and plan, and implement together.
  • A safe space to share, learn and ask questions is invaluable. A community of practice is just that – a community – and a place to practice. These are all too rare in our professional lives. We should grow and nurture these opportunities.
  • Innovation and Insights to the next step are messy. Embrace it. We had no idea how much we’d get out of our day together. Creating the next step is an art.

Taking a risk for racial justice matters, and telling your story inspires others to take risks and then tell their story.

Scott’s lessons learned:

  • Show up powerfully, not perfectly. The storytelling during our self-organized groups unearthed something big: Being a supporter of people in your network isn’t going to be clean. We can stay comfortable, particularly those of us that enjoy various forms of privilege. But being an active supporter of a diverse network—whether it’s friends or colleagues—means showing up powerfully.
  • Intention Matters. Grounding ourselves in purpose will guide risks we make for our networks. Throughout the day, I heard intentions ranging from advancing justice work to professional growth to love.
  • Your grandfather wouldn’t have used the term network, but he knew what it was.” We’re practicing something that looks differently across time, geography, and cultural landscapes. It is critical to acknowledge and honor the different ways in which people understand networks.

We are looking forward to building on the learning we did together in June – and taking risks for racial justice at our next MSP Community of Practice gathering on October 22nd, 2019! If you live locally, we’d love for you to join us. Contact sindy.moralesgarcia@wilder.org for more information.