In Episode 115, Melinda shares talks from previous Change Catalyst events made by Black leaders Daisy Ozim, Dr. Angel Acosta, and Ashantè Fray that tackle the impact of Black history on our present and future. At Tech Inclusion 2019, Daisy discusses the long-term impacts of intergenerational trauma and how it is perpetuated through technology. She dives into 10 things allies can do to help create systemic change. In Angel’s talk on mindfulness and healing in tech at Tech Inclusion Global Summit 2020, he shares the power of mindfulness and healing practices to support ourselves through trauma from the global health crisis and racial divisiveness. At Tech Inclusion Conference 2020, Ashantè talks about the importance of intersectional allyship. She taps into ways allies can support people from intersectionally underrepresented groups, such as learning to acknowledge our privileges in various spaces, recognizing the impact of microaggressions, and understanding where we are in our allyship journey.
- Learn more about Daisy Ozim
- Learn more about Dr. Angel Acosta
- Learn more about Ashantè’s work at Synchronized Souls Inc.
- Learn more about Ashantè’s work at Indeed’s iPride
- Read the book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
- Watch Steven Kotler’s Mini-workshop on Flow States
- Learn more about HealHaus – A Wellness Concept & Café
- Learn more about LIBERATE.CX Meditation app
- Learn more about The Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa (HACSA)
- Watch or listen to EP14: “Moving From Structural Inequality To Human Flourishing with Dr. Angel Acosta”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- Daisy: “Listen to learn…. As we’re doing the work, and you are listening to the stories of folks of color, you have to understand that those experiences, really processing that pain and that suffering, is what actually causes the transformation necessary to release some of that bias and those thought patterns; it’s a death and rebirth process, having to shed those old thought patterns and those behaviors and step into something new.”
- Angel: “How do we hold the trauma that comes from COVID-19 and the trauma that comes from living in a divisive world? We have to be gentle with ourselves and draw on human flourishing. But specifically, not just mindfulness…; healing is very important, and healing is actually one of the most important things that we can do right now; I’m not just being productive, but cultivating a sense of well-being that goes deep into our own personal psychology and in the collective psychology of the whole.”
- Ashantè: “You all may be asking…, what can I actually do as a way forward as an intersectional ally? Well, it’s acknowledging that oppression takes place in relation to other identities. If you acknowledge that, you start to see the web of connections… between yourself and other people. I believe that acknowledging your own identities, and how they have privilege and oppression in various spaces, is how we begin the way forward.”
Daisy Ozim (she/her)
Founder of DaisyOzim.co
Daisy Ozim is the Founder of DaisyOzim.co. She works at the epicenter of multidimensional education and awareness, technology, social justice and public health. Her goal is to help the public understand the ways in which these varying sectors all coalesce with one another in order to promote an improvement in public, interpersonal and individual health. As a public health practitioner, She has spent the past 10 years involved in community organizing, youth development as a former high school teacher and systems innovator working on various public health projects. She supports the funding and development of several technology projects, non-profit organizations and political campaigns as I’ve had the opportunity to hold multiple local and state appointed seats on county boards and commissions.
Dr. Angel Acosta (he/him)
Principal Consultant at Acosta Consulting
For the last decade, Dr. Angel Acosta has worked to bridge the fields of leadership, social justice, and mindfulness. He completed his doctorate in curriculum and teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Angel has supported educational leaders and their students by facilitating leadership training, creating pathways to higher education, and designing dynamic learning experiences. Angel began consulting and developing learning experiences that weave leadership development with conversations about inequality and healing, to support educational leaders through contemplative and restorative practices. He continues to consult for organizations like the NYC Department of Education, UNICEF, Columbia University and others. Over the last couple of years, he has designed the Contemplating 400 Years of Inequality Experience–a contemplative journey to understand structural inequality. He’s a proud member of the 400 Years of Inequality Project, based at the New School. He is also the Creative Director at the NYC Healing Collective.
Ashantè Fray (she/they)
Founder and CEO at Synchronized Souls Inc.
Ashantè Fray (she/they) is a Black bisexual woman who is the owner and founder of Synchronized Souls Inc. After two years of unexpected growth in her business, she left her DEI career at Indeed to expand Synchronized Souls Inc. into Corporate Wellness to aid organizations with their wellness programs and wellbeing of their employees by leveraging her Indeed knowledge. She helps companies to reduce their employee healthcare costs and absenteeism, boost employee morale to reduce turnover and improve workplace productivity through wellness webinars and speaking events, lunch and learns, and tarot readings as team activities.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
Happy Black History Month everyone. For this episode, we’re going to do something a little bit different. We’re going to share with you some powerful and impactful talks from our recent events at Change Catalyst.
Many Black stories have been told on our stages over the years we’ve done events for since 2015. And when we talk about Black history, in particular, in February, many people recall the icons of the Civil Rights Movement. Often, with the idea that that was a long time ago, that the struggle is finished, that the moment is finished, the movement is finished. But Black history is long. It’s thousands of years ago, and it’s yesterday, and all of that impacts the present. The impacts of enslavement, of redlining and Jim Crow Laws, of oppression, discrimination, and marginalization, that still impacts Black people in the U. S. Similarly, Black people have been oppressed in countries around the world. There is an intergenerational impact of this, that history lives in people’s bodies and people’s minds and careers and finances. On the flip side, the intergenerational privilege and power impacts White people’s bodies, minds, careers, finances as well. That’s something we talk about a lot, much today.
These talks you’ll experience in this episode are from incredible Black leaders. For our Black listeners, and for our allies, there’s something here for each of you: from naming the experiences of intergenerational trauma and code-switching, to finding flourishing and understanding the keys to intersectional allyship, so that we can all work together to change this. We’ll listen to a few short talks from Change Catalyst’s Tech Inclusion and Icon Project events. To start, we’ll be sharing a talk from Daisy Ozim, from a talk she gave in Tech Inclusion 2019, on intergenerational trauma and allyship in tech.
Before we dive in, I want to share something else that really struck me at that same conference. At Tech Inclusion 2019, Leslie Miley talked about his experience as the Director of Engineering at Google, where he was repeatedly asked by other employees to see his badge because they didn’t think he belonged. So about once a week, he was asked, he said, Director of Engineering. Once a week, he was asked, not by security, by White people at work, to see his badge because they didn’t feel like he belonged. He said in his interview: “When you show up Black and unapologetically Black, some people just can’t deal with it, and I ran into that a lot.”
Okay, let’s hear from Daisy.
DAISY: Hi, everyone. So I’m apprehensive about doing this because it’s hard to really pull in two thousand years of history into 10 minutes, and then solutions for the next two thousand years, given we survive the 2020 elections and climate change. But I’m going to try as hard as I can.
So let’s talk about intergenerational trauma. Anyways, we’re going to really be talking about intergenerational trauma, what it is, how it’s perpetuated through technology, and what can allies really do to help to start to transform those trends and dynamics? Because as the previous speaker said, well, the couple of previous speakers said before, it should not be up to people of color, oppressed people, to do the labor to change systems that we were dragged into.
So what if I told you that all the experiences that your mother, your grandmother, your great grandmother, your great, great greats, all the way back to the very first original, what if I told you that all the experiences, trauma, harm and suffering that they’ve experienced is actually still in your blood today? What if I told you that those experiences will actually dictate your quality of life, where you get to live, where you get to work, your health outcomes, who you fall in love with, etc.? Things that happened 2,000 years ago impacting me today in the now, yes, it’s very possible. I like to use those Russian dolls as an example of what intergenerational trauma looks like. Because not only does intergenerational trauma impact our ability to thrive and survive, it also impacts our ability to understand who we are fully. It impacts our health. It impacts every aspect of our lives. So if you’re an oppressed person, if you come from a background of slavery, forced migration, poverty, give yourself a pat on the back. Because you’re truly resilient for being able to survive all that and be sane enough to sit here. Well, maybe half sane, because we know how tech goes. To be sane enough to sit in this room and ingest what’s going on in this world, and ingest your own experience, and understand the reality and the magnitude of what you are going through, and what our communities are going through.
We talk about this intergenerational trauma, what does that look like? That looks like the enslavement of African peoples. That looks like the forced migration and strategic genocide of the Indigenous Peoples whose land that we are on right now. We need to understand that, that’s major. Because we are on stolen land, and we are also on land that has been traumatized. What if I told you the border crisis, mass incarceration, and large-scale economic disenfranchisement will create lifelong trauma and harm for certain communities? So that means all the children that they will ever bring to this planet will have that trauma, their children will have that trauma, and the cycle will continue to perpetuate itself, from things that are happening today. Caused by people that we’re voting for or not voting for, caused by situations that we failed to stand up and say no to. Whole generations, whole entire bloodlines.
But what does this have to do with technology, and what are the long-term impacts? Let’s get there. Some of the long-term impacts is the emotional dysregulation. Because when you go through traumatic experiences — both micro, which is interpersonal: your mom hits you, abusive households, and macro: systemic oppression — what it does is it actually impacts the nervous system’s ability to regulate itself and to thrive properly. So think of a short circuit. People who have gone through trauma, their nervous system is literally short-circuited, and that creates the emotional dysregulation, that continues the cycle of trauma. The low self-esteem. Problems in relationships, where they’re either codependent, or too independent, detached. Anxiety about your emotional dysregulation. Don’t count being nearly diverse on top of that, because now you’re dealing with a whole other can of worms. Fears of abandonment, so you either hold on too tight, or you don’t hold on at all.
Problem-thinking and problem-solving. This is where some of the cognitive dissonance, when we’re having discussions about racism and allyship, come up. Because when you have not been exposed to adversity, or diversity, it keeps you very immature neurologically. So it’s trying to pour a big gallon of content and understanding and wisdom and knowledge into one of those little red cups that we used to play beer pong with in college. I had never had that experience, I just used to watch the movies. So I know what you all do. I went to community college, City College, San Francisco. That also looks like self-judgments. I’m not good enough, the imposter syndrome. Then being a woman or a person of color on top of that. Attempts to avoid or numb, this is where addictions come in. They all have their root in intergenerational trauma.
So we’re all running around trying to solve all these different issues, and their root cause is the intergenerational trauma and the systemic disenfranchisement — I’m trying to keep it in 10 minutes here — and the impulsive behaviors. There’s a song called 0 to 100. Maybe some folks may know that song, you understand exactly what I’m saying. But it’s the nervous system’s inability to regulate itself, regulate my emotions, regulate my behavior. This continues the cycle of trauma.
So what does it have to do with technology? Some people are like, “Honestly, I just work in IT. I’m not asking for any of this. I just want to go to work, I just want to make my money, I just want to go home.” Well, you have to also understand that tech has an empathy problem. This empathy, this lack of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their experience, is all a part of intergenerational trauma. Because, listen, if us as oppressed people, we inherited all this trauma from our great, great greats and our ancestors, well, those who have continued to do the oppressing, what do you think is happening to their bloodline, what do you think is happening to their offspring? This is where the level of conversation needs to go in technology. It’s not just about feeling bad for people of color and our plight. It’s not about getting us jobs. It’s about, have you done the work that you need to do to understand the reality and the magnitude of what is happening and what is going to continue to happen because of intergenerational trauma, structural violence, White privilege, etc.
Let’s take this to the next level. Some people may just stop right here, and you’re going to get off the train. Why? Because that lack of adversity and that lack of diversity is keeping you stunted. That’s where we have the empathy vacuum, the empathy issue. So when we’re talking about, we need to change things in tech, if you’re not talking about somatics, you’re not talking about anything. If you’re not talking about re-sensitizing the body, re-sensitizing your humanity, you’re not talking about anything. There’s a really good quote by Paulo Freire, he wrote a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and it goes: “When you dehumanize others, you dehumanize yourself.”
So all these microaggressions and bias and implicit bias, yeah, you may be traumatizing me and creating stress in my body, which is going to impact my health. But what are you doing to yourself on the other end of that? You’re losing your own humanity, by believing in dehumanizing and distorted and delusional thoughts and behaviors and patterns. That’s how deep we have to take it. Because you see what’s happening at the border, and all of it, whether you believe it or not, has come from our reluctance to have difficult and hard conversations. That’s how we got that man in the office in the first place. Because we can’t have these difficult and hard conversations — and we like to live in la-la land, we like our UberEats, we like our little politicians that are bought, sold, and paid for — we can’t have these conversations because we live in a fantasy. Those of us who don’t come from privilege, that don’t have to live in the slums, that don’t have to live in the ghettos, that don’t have to experience systemic oppression. When you live in that lifestyle, you’re in survival mode every single day. So things like that make very much sense to you how they happen, because you have direct experience of how these things happen, and it’s going to continue to happen as long as we don’t have those hard conversations.
Microaggressions, who knew? A microaggression can lead to macro issues, that’s how it starts. Because oppression doesn’t just happen in a cloud and go to place to place and just rain. It manifests through our everyday behaviors, actions, and thought patterns.
So what can you do, and what can I do? Because I may be limited. But there’s things that we can actually do every single day to stop this. Because this is actually impacting people’s health. Going into tech, having their own trauma, and then experiencing microaggressions and bias on top of that, a lack of diversity on top of that.
What can you do? 10 things you can do. Take a picture, yes. First, it’s not about Black Indigenous Peoples of color, it’s about you. Well, it is about us, to a certain degree. But no, it really is about you. You do your work. You do that inner reflection work. I feel like a lot of the diversity, inclusion, and allyship focus on: “Let’s get people of color jobs.” Well, we’re going to integrate you into a burning house. Yeah, we’re going to get you a job, but I think it’s going to be hella toxic. So what’s the point? I don’t want to work with you. Start from the ground up, change the whole entire thing, throw the whole thing away and start over.
Two: anti-racism is a constant process. For those of us who do diversity and inclusion work, really focus on how can I continue to do that work to re-engage with my humanity, to continue to decolonize from the conditioning and the brainwashing of living in a White supremacist, capitalistic society? Comrades versus allies. I don’t want an ally. I don’t want you to be my friend and understand my plight. I need a comrade. Get into the dirt with me, be on the frontlines with me. That’s what it’s about. I need to see action. Because all these ally cookies and badges that are getting passed out, I don’t know who’s passing these out. But a lot of people really do not understand racism, and they’re causing more harm than good. Let’s keep let’s keep it real. Me personally having experienced dehumanization and racism as a child, and you come and tell me I’m an ally and I’m doing DEI work, your energy speaks for itself, exposed. So make sure you’re doing that work. Because we’re getting to a point where the wheat is going to be separated from the chaff, and you just don’t want to be caught with your pants down, if you understand what I’m saying, or skirt.
Listen to learn. A lot of the times, as I do DEI work or whatever you call it, I call it decolonization and breaking illusions versus diversity and inclusion. But as we’re doing the work, and you are listening to the stories of folks of color, you have to understand that those experiences, really processing that pain and that suffering is what actually causes the transformation necessary to release some of that bias and those thought patterns. It’s a death and rebirth process, having to shed those old thought patterns and those behaviors and step into something new. It is. So if you’re not uncomfortable doing this work, then there’s something going wrong, truly wrong.
You have to center trauma as a constant force, center what it does to people’s psyche, center what it does to our interpersonal relationships, center colonialism, center trauma, center structural violence. Only then, when we bring together the macro with the micro, are we able to make true long-term systemic change. It needs to be a coalition effect. Not just one company doing really well, and they’re the unicorn example of how to do it. It’s like, no, we all have to get on this board, on the same train, at the same exact time.
Another, promote decolonization and equity versus diversity and inclusion. What do I mean by that? Because by focusing on decolonizing, you’re already going to get to diversity and inclusion. Because by addressing the poisons that we’ve been implanted with living in this society, and understanding that’s not the way to go, you automatically would then know what is right to do.
Be on the frontlines. Like I talked about this earlier, don’t be afraid to have those hard conversations. Really, folks of color, we deal with so much on our day-to-day microaggressions. Our own family being in trauma, having to deal with our own traumas of growing up in a society that teaches us that we’re not human, and that we have to come to work and do that emotional labor too is too much. So what can you do to pick up that slack? But not doing it in that whole White savior mentality, but doing it in an authentic way. Think about that. How do you support authentic actions for change, not giving money to the same organizations that do watered-down DEI. No, how are you really bringing in those radical players that are going to make people hella uncomfortable like me? People hate to see me coming, because they already know what’s going to happen next. Yeah, we’re not here to play, because people are dying, and I feel that sense of urgency because I’m connected to that suffering. Because I’m humanized, I’m in my full humanity. So if it gets uncomfortable, I’m ready to go there with you. I’m going to be uncomfortable, too. But guess what, we’re both going to come out transformed, we have to be willing to go that far. Where’s the sense of urgency? Because I would have really thought that having this man in office would have really kind of changed things, but we’re still kind of complacent. So when he gets elected 2020, then I guess that’s when we’re going to really start to do the work.
Align with justice. What does that look like? A lot of the times, we have the same exact programmes and the same exact issues coming up and coming up, because we’re just putting band aids on them. So how do you align with the side of justice and what’s right, even if it’s not popular? Because let’s be real, there’s a lot of popularity cliques and dynamics that do go on. If you do side with the person that’s on the side of justice, you’re a pariah. “Oh, I can’t be friends with you, because it just doesn’t look cool. They’re the troublemaker, they’re the loud one, I just can’t be friends with them.” That thing does happen. How do we get out of that? We’re not in high school anymore. We’re talking about real people’s lives are on the table.
The last one is, radical versus progressive/liberal. Words can be walls or windows. So when people start saying progressive and liberal, I’m already knowing that there’s something missing. I want to be radical, and radical means addressing the root cause. Radical is actually a term that we use in organic chemistry, which I did take, I am a nerd as well. Radical just means addressing the root cause. How do I be that change agents to come in and shift structures? How do I be that person that comes in, and just by how I carry myself, my energy starts to create change? How do I be that person that creates hell for toxic people in the workplace? Let’s flip the script. So these are the things that you can do. Thank you so much.
MELINDA: How can you be that person that creates the change we all need to see? At Tech Inclusion 2020, Fay Horwitt shares the past from Black and White history that leads into current entrepreneurship ecosystems that still keep out Black entrepreneurs. As she’s discussing that history, and how it seeps into our current system, she says: “History doesn’t repeat itself, systems do.” Many of our systems are made by White men, and have not been remade for us all. So our systems, including our cultural systems, still perpetuate inequities, until we all work to change them.
Next, I want to jump into an incredible short talk from Angel Acosta. This was a talk that inspired me to ask Angel to be a guest on our show later after this. So if you haven’t checked it out, please do check out Episode 14 with Angel Acosta. So in this episode we’ll be sharing today, Angel spoke at our Tech Inclusion Global Summit on the spring of 2020. This talk is called Mindfulness and Healing in the Tech Space: From Structural Inequality to Human Flourishing.
ANGEL: I actually have so many thoughts to share with you. I want to apologize in advance for any ambulances, any sirens that you may hear. I am currently in the Bronx, in the epicenter of the epicenter in New York City. So we are still coping with COVID-19 and its outbreak and the contagion. I want to start there, the fact that this pandemic has brought on a serious, serious disruption in our daily lives. This idea that it has exposed how fragile we are, and it has also exposed how interconnected we are as a global unit as a species. To suggest that there is an array of resources right now that we can tap into, to build our resilience and to support us in transitioning, and even thriving through this very tumultuous time. I want to actually talk about that piece around the siren and the ambulances. Right now, on average, they’ve reduced in terms of frequency, but four to five ambulances drive by my neighborhood, all of them carrying vulnerable people with all kinds of different ailments, maybe even those infected by COVID.
Initially, when the outbreak really first began in New York City, every time I heard a siren, my nervous system became overactive. I became really nervous, and I was on edge. I noticed that that is the state of affairs for many people around the world. Our nervous system is a hyperdrive right now. One of the things that I’ve done is to reframe. Anytime a siren drives by, instead of thinking about it as a reminder of the outbreak, but rather, giving me an opportunity to express compassion for the person in this siren, and express compassion for the person driving that ambulance, and express compassion for the healthcare workers who are going to be taking care of that individual. That shift, that reframing has been so helpful for me. It’s in the line of what cognitive therapists called cognitive reframing. So reframing and relabeling reality, in order to look at it from an alternative perspective.
I also want to provide you with some information on some of the leading researchers who are doing some very powerful work. I want to begin with Steven Kotler. Steven Kotler is a profound futurist and researcher doing work around flow psychology, thinking about what are the activities and approaches to sustaining flow and peak performance. So he has done incredible research on high-performing athletes, and has brought together a rich array of scholars in the flow research collective. They are looking at what are the conditions that need to be in place to increase our productivity, but also sustaining performance, especially in times of crisis? So he looks at high-performing athletes, he draws on Navy SEALs with a higher performance, metrics and exercises. He draws on positive psychology as well, and this beautiful field, titled human flourishing. So think about that, what a powerful time now, in light of this crisis, to think about human flourishing, to think about positive psychology, to think about peak performance!
So I want to just highlight three things from that part, those particular strands and fields. One is, gratitude. It’s very simple. They’ve done all kinds of research on people, looking at the impact of gratitude. They’ve noticed that people who have a gratitude practice in the morning or in the evening, spending five minutes or so just jotting down what you’re grateful for, literally increases your sense of wellbeing at incredible levels. So having a gratitude practice. Two, exercise. Of course, exercise produces all kinds of chemicals in the brain and the body, that increase endorphins, and that really supports with giving you a little thrust and momentum in the day. We know that, exercise is important. But gratitude, exercise. The last one is a mindfulness practice. So a mindfulness practice, it can be an example of many things. You can be in silent meditation when you close your eyes, and really find your center. It could be a walking meditation, it could be a writing meditation, it could be a dancing meditation. All kinds of different mindfulness practices are really powerful for centering the body.
So what you want to really understand is that what mindfulness does, is it creates an opportunity to balance the nervous system. You have the parasympathetic system and the sympathetic system. The sympathetic system is usually involved when we are afraid, and we fight, flee, or freeze. The parasympathetic is creating feelings of ease and relaxation. So by engaging in mindfulness practices, you end up really, literally, when we engage in mindfulness practices and breathe deeply — not just shallow breaths, like into our shoulders, but deep breaths down into our diaphragm, gentle, deep inhales and exhales — we literally massage the vagus nerve. One of the most powerful, powerful parts of our anatomy, the vagus nerve is pretty much in charge of regulating our nervous system, especially our parasympathetic system. So by engaging in mindfulness practices, we literally massage the vagus nerve, and create and intensify our feelings of ease and wellbeing.
Now, I’d remiss without making a comment on the fact that there are limits to mindfulness. Because we are in the face of not just a pandemic, but structural forces and conditions that have been in place for several hundred years. As we can see how COVID-19 has really disproportionately impacted communities of color, especially the African-American community, in my city, New York City, Latino communities specifically as well. But we know that those structural forces have been in place for a very long time, since the arrival of enslaved Africans in 6019. So what we need to understand now is that, yes, mindfulness helps. Yes, thinking about positive psychology supports. Yes, thinking about peak performance also enhances our wellbeing. But this is an opportunity to look at the structural forces that produce inequality in the first place. So I want to acknowledge that, and I want to acknowledge the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the young brother who was running. Because his death is an example of the racial divisiveness and the tensions that are still present in this country, that are remnants, and they remain there from this 400-year period.
So what do we do with all that? How do we hold the trauma that comes from COVID-19, and the trauma that comes from living in a divisive world? We have to be gentle with ourselves, and draw on human flourishing. But specifically, not just mindfulness. Being clear, healing is very important, and healing is actually one of the most important things that we can do right now. I’m not just being productive, but cultivating a sense of wellbeing that goes deep into our own personal psychology and in the collective psychology of the whole.
I want to give you some tips around personal healing practices. One, again, the mindfulness practices, the gratitude. But also, finding opportunities to co-regulate. Co-regulate, meaning, having opportunities to connect with other people and making sense of the current moment and sharing anxieties. That literally allows you to sync with another person’s nervous system, and really stabilize and find support. And spiritual resourcing. Finding resources, looking at people who are grounded. So looking at community, who is grounded. It could be in the immediate community. It could be in the virtual community. Really, not just following them in terms of lights, but literally tuning into their spiritual energy.
I want to end by saying that the work of diversity and inclusion, and tech inclusion, is not just to have more bodies in the room that represent communities that have been historically marginalized. It’s not just about having more Black faces in high places. I argue that diversity and inclusion, the work that tech inclusion is doing, is intergenerational healing, structural healing. Creating opportunities for voices that have been historically marginalized, to cap us a room and a seat at the table to make decisions, and be part of this Fourth Industrial Revolution that is happening right now.
So with that being said, I want to send so much energy your way, so much energy, as you build the resiliency that we need to transcend and move through this moment. I want to plug in the organization HealHaus in Brooklyn, incredible subscription service to find wellbeing. I want to plug in Liberate Meditation app, and lastly, the Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa. Because we know now that the long legacy of slavery has cut across the globe in terms of inequality.
So with that being said, thank you so much, and I hope that some of the resources that I’ve briefly shared provide you with some spiritual and psychological sustenance. Thank you.
MELINDA: We are fragile. We must build our resilience, and we must create a world where we all flourish together. Black people are not a monolith. It’s important to recognize the many unique identities, experiences, and cultures of Black people, through this month and throughout the next 11 months.
So lastly, we’ll hear from Ashantè Fray on the importance of intersectional allyship, from our fall 2020 Tech Inclusion Conference.
ASHANTÈ: Today I’m calling in from Niagara Falls, instead of where I’m usually residing, which is in Toronto. I mention my location because I wish to acknowledge that the sacred land that we have the privilege of operating on is situated on the traditional territories of the indigenous nations and people. I choose to acknowledge this land, not only as an identity, as an employee of Indeed, but also as a descendant and forcibly displaced ancestry. These identities make my relations with this land a little complicated. But I strive to continue to respect it, and in doing so, I recognize my privilege and my oppression. I’m grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land. I also want to mention that this talk will have mentions of sexual abuse. You may hear the construction in the background, that just seems to be a theme throughout my city dwelling. So I do appreciate you choosing to spend your next 10 minutes with me.
So let’s start there. My visible identities, as you see me, is that I am Black and I am a woman. From looking at me, you would have absolutely no idea that I am cisgendered, that I’m bisexual, 25 years old, second-generation Canadian. My background is Jamaican. I grew up Christian, but I identify as spiritual now. I own my own business called Synchronized Souls, where I conduct tarot readings, oracle readings, and one-on-one coaching. I have a Bachelor’s Arts in English and French literature. I have a Master’s degree in English literature. Most recently, I’ve been promoted to diversity, inclusion, and belonging education specialists. I’m also the regional Co-Chair for iPride. I’m a survivor of sexual abuse, and I’m living with PTSD. I don’t say all of these things just to brag. I say all of these things because they are part of my identity, and they shaped the way that I experience the world. They all intersect to create different opportunities and barriers, discrimination, oppression, and privilege.
We tend to categorize and stereotype, because it’s easier; easier to process, to other. But people are not binary. Humans are complex and complicated; all identities are intersectional. We are multifaceted by nature, and no person is one-dimensional. Instead of othering, it means that we must learn to recognize a piece of ourselves and other people. Instead of simply reflecting on other people as differences, reflecting back to see how we can help grow or heal those aspects in ourselves. If you strongly react to somebody, positively or negatively, that is an indication that there is some healing for you to do. All people in your life are Forel characters. Considering my Literature degree, I like to bring up Dr. Holmes and Sherlock. If anyone has that combination, the ability to contrast or contradict, it’s so that you can figure out what am I feeling? What is this feeling telling me, and what is it that I need to heal?
We have to accept that no person can truly understand your soul. That means that your emotions, your experiences, your motivations are yours and yours alone. Everyone is made up of different experiences that shape up their own lives. For that reason, I choose to lead my life with compassion and empathy. I mentioned my identities earlier, as hopes of inspiring connection. You may not know me, but I hope that you might remember what it felt like to be unheard, to be gaslighted, underestimated, to feel small, or to feel like you have to dim your light in certain spaces, and let that feeling be the way that you discover your way forward.
Now you all may be asking, so what are some actionable steps? What can I actually do as a way forward as an intersectional ally? Well, it’s acknowledging that oppression takes place in relation to other identities. If you acknowledge that, you start to see the web of connections; the web of connections between yourself and other people. I believe that acknowledging your own identities, and how they have privilege and oppression in various spaces, is how we begin the way forward. I acknowledge my privilege in corporate spaces, that being a Black, bisexual female, in technical spaces is quite rare. So I use my privilege in these spaces to help educate, to help uplift, with the hopes that we will continue to do better than the generation that came before.
The second thing that I acknowledge, as a way forward, is realizing the importance and the impact of microaggressions. Your intentions matter, and they do matter. But your impact is far more important than what your intentions were. I hope if you walk away with nothing, you walk away with that. I’ve heard so many microaggressions throughout my life, that I am an Oreo, whitewashed. One of my particular favorites in technological spaces is that I am very articulate, not recognizing my educational background and why I am as articulate as I am. There are times where I feel like I am not Black enough, because I grew up liking literature, liking Sherlock Holmes. It didn’t even really occur to me that I could be bisexual because I wasn’t White, and there was no LGBTQIA+ representation within the Black community, much less if we take it a step further and talk about Black female bodies or Black transsexual bodies. For this reason, I believe that it’s very important to recognize the power of your words, and how much weight your words and the connotation of those words actually have.
My last thing, as a way forward, is recognizing where you are in your allyship journey. Allyship is a journey. There are, in my personal opinion, three different stages of allyship. You can be an ally: declare that you’re a part of this cause. That may be a sticker, or that may be a t-shirt to some. But recognizing that in certain spaces, wearing a t-shirt might cost somebody their lives. That doesn’t mean that they are any less an ally, it means that they are in a different stage and a different space for them to show their allyship. You can be an accomplice: a person who actively helps for this cause. Which is a beautiful thing to do if you have the ability to do so, if you have the privilege to be able to be an accomplice. Then, what I’m asking for, advocates: people who represent this cause as if it was their own interest. Empathy as a way forward, feelings as a way forward. Where you are in your allyship journey is up to you. But I hope that you will continue to listen and to support.
Being an intersectional ally is committing to a journey of allyship. It’s recognizing that it will change with time, and that it is your obligation and your responsibility to hold space, to listen, so that you can learn and self-reflect and change. The most important parts being, of course, self-reflect and change. Every day, even when you’re tired. Every day, even when you think you can’t. Every day, when you feel like there is no reason, no way forward, you show up. Because that is what I’ve been doing, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of an economic crisis that’s showing up. That is what we’re all doing here today, is declaring that we are a part of this movement. But how you show up is up to you, and that is nobody’s responsibility to tell you.
I hope that this talk serves as a reminder that we can find a way forward, through wholeness, and through unity, and through equity. I thank you for your time. If you wish to get in contact with me, I am available, of course, via LinkedIn, and my personal contact email is Ashante@Indeed.com. Thank you.
MELINDA: You all are a part of this movement. How will you show up? To our Black listeners, you matter deeply to me and to the whole team at Change Catalyst, as we continue to work to create equity and inclusion across our ecosystems and cultures. To our allies, join us in creating positive change, take action. Find something that resonated for you in these talks today, and take action on it now. Happy Black History Month.
If you’re interested in learning more, we’ll include a number of our other talks in our show notes for this episode at ally.cc.
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Remember, the more we take action, the more we grow as humans and as leaders, and the more we transform our communities. So what action will you take today? Let us know your actions by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or reaching out on social media.
Leading With Empathy & AllyShip is a show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. You can learn more about us at change catalyst.co. So let’s keep building allyship across our communities and around the world.
Thank you for listening.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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