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ACEs Connection Staff Reflections from our Race and Equity Workgroup


ACEs Connection staff who meet weekly in the race and equity workgroup have contributed some of their reflections on our time so far. These reflections are posted below, in no particular order.

Donielle: There is a fundamental connection between education and action

My background of extensively studying race and culture made me naive to the fact that most people get very little of this education. When our colleague, Ingrid, began a training process for our team that included the history of racism in America with an examination of the impact of historical trauma, even with my background, I learned new facts and concepts.

But the most critical thing I learned was the powerful role that educating people can play  in shifting their understanding of the central role that race plays in every aspect of American society. What I discovered from participating in a workgroup in which colleagues had varying degrees of background knowledge, is that I had always assumed that people who would not address the centrality of racism in this society, were doing so intentionally. I thought that they understood the importance of this issue, but chose not to engage.

The training process showed me that so many people never get exposed to any information about the true origins and history of this country. That lack of knowledge, is to a larger extent than I realized,  what drives inaction. And so, this training process has given me a lot of hope. A lack of education is a highly solvable problem, whereas lack of will is much more difficult to overcome. At ACEs Connection, we now have a regular workgroup to gain more training and knowledge, as well as to apply what we learn to our practice. This commitment would not have been possible without the education. The workgroup space has changed our platform content and increasingly informed our work with communities.

Cissy: From Resistance to Persistence

This is hard to do. Why? Because I am so aware of my failure to understand how much white privilege has benefitted me personally. I didn’t appreciate that just  being the mom of child of color, from a family that’s multi-racial doesn’t automatically mean I’m anti-racist. And just because I have experienced adversity, poverty, sexism, or a disability - that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for me to have white privilege. I do have white privilege. It is embarrassing and sometimes I feel guilty and ashamed of how superficial my knowledge of racism and historical trauma in the United States has been and how much I have assumed most social ills were “really about” poverty and class and far less about race. I wasn’t understanding, exploring, or even recognizing being white, and nothing else, has provided me with privileges and advantages, and has protected me from racism.

Sometimes, this shame and awareness that I may be far more ignorant than I am even yet aware of, is almost paralyzing. It makes me hesitant to speak, write, or engage. But I also know that “white women tears” and white-body discomfort is too often used as an excuse to remain ignorant and not to make change. It’s been hard and I’m trying to listen and learn more and talk and worry less about being comfortable. Every time I hear people talk about the “reckoning with racism” that many of us are doing right now, I wonder where we have all been, what we have all been doing, and why we weren’t listening and hearing and honoring and supporting the many people who were tirelessly working to wake us up? That’s the part that makes me feel bad. But feeling bad about being ignorant doesn’t serve anyone or anything.

I keep learning how being anti-racist is about more than not being racist and I have not always known that, said that, shown that and I am still learning. Our team is working and looking at ourselves, each of us individually, we are also having conversations and training, as a team as well. We are working to be transparent about our learning process as well and hope others in this movement will do the same so we can share best practices and encourage one another and also so we can embed anti-racism work into all of our work. We have had members of our team who have been pushing us, as an organization and team to be more equitable, safe, and anti-racist. I’m grateful for those people who were often being vocal and vulnerable and who were also hurt by our failure to do more sooner and to understand and to take responsibility for ourselves.  It’s fair to say this work was resisted, at first, and over time and with persistent work, we have grown, learned, and shifted as a team and an organization, as well as individually.

On the practical level, in addition to having an active race and equity task force, we have had and will continue to have internal training and discussions and public conversations about race, racism, creating an anti-racist statement. We have looked at our own hiring practices as well to make sure that we are not an organization only of white, middle-classed, middle-aged, and highly-educated women. We have made inroads and have more work to do. I’m proud to be on a team who is addressing this together and making it a priority though I am also aware that we’ve not done more sooner.

Jane: Integrating awareness of racism, becoming anti-racist is a daily, sometimes hourly, endeavor

Since hearing Ken Hardy a few years ago, I’ve awakened to the understanding that I have a LOT to learn, and that this learning will continue until I die. I actually thought I was pretty aware, but I’m not.

I’m grateful for our team, whose members are so willing and eager to learn about the history of racism and inequity in this country and how to be anti-racist, even though it may be very uncomfortable and even frustrating.

I’m grateful for Ingrid and Donielle for leading us in this journey, and Rafael and Marianne for expanding our understanding with their experiences that they’re willing to share, even though it can be very painful.

It’s tough to know that I’ll feel shame when I think about all the things I did and didn’t do over my lifetime to address racism and inequity, but the more I’m willing to acknowledge that shame, the more determined I am to do my part in the long path to eliminating it, including embracing the rage that can sometimes knock me off my feet and that I know can’t hold a candle to what Black people and others who experience the constant duress of racism feel.

That means making sure that I integrate awareness of racism and inequity into everything I do. Just as I have an ACEs science lense on everything I do, I am learning how to integrate an anti-racist and equity lens, too. It also means making a concerted effort to learn more about historical trauma, a process that is equal parts painful and freeing.

Dana: We are part of the problem, or, we part of the solution.

Hearing the words “white privilege” in 2005 when author Robert Jensen was on a book tour in our nation promoting “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege”, I left the University of San Diego campus with tears streaming and made a vow, that day, to learn the true history of this nation, and deeply understand the impact of the dominant culture. Researching these truths (Doctrine of Discovery, genocide of Native Americans, enslavement of African Americans, Manifest Destiny, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Executive Order #9066 (Japanese internment camps), etc.) and researching the facts on our tax dollars (Privatization of the prison industry, War on Drugs, Big Pharma, etc.), I’m struck with the staggering investment of how our tax dollars perpetuate “systems-induced trauma”, every day, all day long, especially with children, youth, and families living in inner-cities, rural, and marginalized communities.

Learning about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study in 2005, and connecting the dots of complex trauma with my own life, I vowed a lifetime commitment to raise awareness with the masses on the impact of  ACEs Science and systems-induced trauma, especially in under-served communities.

Very aware of my whiteness, I strive to be a bridge between those impacted, those who serve, and high-level policy- and decision-makers. Those who are served are the well-informed advocates with a Call to Action on solutions.

Concurring with Cissy, this deep, internal, equity-focused work was resisted initially within ACEs Connection. Recalling many painful weekly, virtual meetings with tears, frustrations, and not feeling “safe” to be vulnerable, I’m now equally uplifted with the courage and bravery of our team to fully embrace, learn, engage, and deeply integrate healing-centered, intentional focus on being an anti-racist organization.

Our global, online learning community has, with intention, from inception, created a safe, trusted environment with our members. In response to COVID-19 (which has sorely highlighted the disparities of the social-determinants of health) and the civil unrest in our nation, ACEs Connection is, with intention, creating a safe virtual community for shared learning on our opportunities to foster brave spaces for uncomfortable conversations with our friends, family, colleagues and the greater communities.

Race is a social construct. We are all 99.9% the same. Let’s celebrate our .01% variances as we advocate for equity-focused, healing-centered, sustainable systems-change, cross-sector in a socio-ecological model. Collective impact.

Carey: How we do the work is the work we do

It started out as a joke. I bet that is how a lot of micro-aggressions start out;  they begin with somebody saying something they think will be funny. (I know this because I am one of those people who pops out with something intended to be humorous to help break the mood of a sad or tense situation. Quips used to come out of me almost automatically, as quipping was, until recently, a lifelong defense mechanism. AND because most of the time I am aware of it now [thanks to a lot of mindfulness work] I can stay with the sadness or tension without having some part of me whip out a quip to break the mood.)

All that is to say, on the day I began to see more clearly how our processes work, I don't think I piled on when, on a Race & Equity call, people started commenting on what they would do if Donald Trump wins a second term. In the Zoom chat box I learned one person had citizenship in two countries, and would consider moving to the other country.  I believe another person said she was heading to Canada. There were a few other quips and then we moved on with our work.

The next day, on the next call most of us were on together, we learned just how un-woke we are, and I began to see how we would look at ourselves and our roles in perpetuating racism; what we would do to spot it and correct it ourselves.

How we do the work is the work we do.

Here we were, people leading the trauma-informed movement, and in the company of a fellow staffer who is Indigenous (his people were here before this land was called America; before Mexico was called Mexico) we had talked about abandoning our country if we didn't like the leader. The irony was rich. And sad.

Our fellow staffer shared his pain at the thought of all of us leaving; his frustration over our insensitivity. And we were called out. In a most trauma-informed way.

It was a telling moment as the emotion welled up and we learned just how painful it had been to our colleague to hear — even if we were "just kidding" — that we would think of abandoning him and our country.

And that is part of what led to our reaffirming our commitment to “practice hope, no matter what."

The realization of our own display of privilege and our owning it and yearning to correct it is a stunning example of the kind of turnaround we hope to help others see. For such a turnaround to be evoked in our own ranks made it all the sweeter. Because there was not the guilt or shame or blame in the being "outed." There was just the sadness and the despair. The raw, honest pain.  And the blessed "ahas" that we all experienced, letting us know we all had more work to do.

We grow in relationship(s).

Humor to break tension can contain a micro-aggression. In an open, honest, caring space, the sting of little quips can lead to revelations. When there is acceptance and compassion, there is the encouragement of truth. There is the honest desire to know if someone isn't okay. There is the willingness to allow sadness or other discomfort.

Some racism or elitism or classism is expressed as humor at times to break a mood, and it is often done at the expense of others who need to be in the mood space they are in, and not glossed over or jolted out of the emotional space by someone making light of the situation.

The incident made me more aware of my own behaviors. I hadn't shared an escape plan if Trump wins. I hadn't thought about it because I really don't have another place to go. And in that I join the ranks of millions of people who don't think they have a place to go, though many people don’t think they have a choice due to finances, or lack of a passport.

I realized again my white privilege, and my economic privilege, when I pondered it all a bit and saw that I do have a choice about where to be, and that I have pretty much always had a choice.

This is an experience of our process of incorporating equitable practices. When one of us was hurt by something others said, we could hear the pain and anger and honor it, learn from it, put in corrections, and start again with love and affection and a deeper understanding of each other.

And all ships floated higher on a rising tide. And not one of them left our safe harbor.

Laurie: Comfort with Discomfort

I am grateful to Ingrid and Donielle for helping us deconstruct and analyze both our own individual biases as well as helping to provide tools for  us to look internally at our own histories, and how that has shaped our ideas about identity. I also appreciate their guidance in looking deeply at the historical underpinnings of systemic racism. I also appreciate the candor of all of my colleagues for sharing their own stories, often painful ones. The more we meet, the more I learn, and the more I realize how much more I need to learn, and that this is a process that’s going to take time.

As an American Jew, who identifies with the culture, and not the religion, a couple experiences have stood out and are among those I have shared during our meetings: At the age of 11 while riding my bicycle in the predominantly Jewish area I lived in, populated by a large number of Holocaust survivors, two boys passed by looked at me and one yelled to the other while pointing at me, “Look a Kike!” I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know what it meant at the time.

Fast forward to college, when I was up late talking with three fellow students in my dorm, who were African American. In the wee hours of the night we started talking about racism. I remember one young woman telling me that white people enslaved her people and that I was responsible, because I was white. I was quick to tell her that my family was being oppressed in Eastern Europe at the time of slavery in the United States, and later terrorized by pogroms who were burning down villages and killing Jews. At the time, I thought, ‘I showed her!’ But as the night wore on, it dawned on me for the first time that whatever Jews have suffered throughout history, I have white skin, and the privilege that goes along with having white skin.

That experience back then, and the process that we’re all undergoing now involves moments of discomfort. I think that’s the only way that we can honestly tackle building a team and workplace that reflects equity.

Gail: Getting Unstuck

When starting this journey as an organization a couple of years ago, I  was nervous, anxious and fearful to look at my white privilege and to look at my whiteness.  I am on a journey to unpackage why it is so hard, still is so hard, to talk about my whiteness, to talk about racism and white privilege; why I go to shame and guilt and get stuck, inarticulate, frozen (even here and now trying to write this).  Recognizing  how deeply white supremacy runs through our veins and the veins of our organizations is what I hope we as an organization can do together.  And I hope we can look at the “Pernicious Ps” as Dr. Ken Hardy references - our policies, principles, practices that perpetuate white supremacy.    I am so grateful for Donielle, Ingrid, Rafael and Marianne to lead us on this journey and I am grateful for our entire organization for having the courage to show up and do this work.

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Lydia: Thanks for the suggestion. We plan to do exactly that! We'll be offering training, education and conversations about this through the ACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities for Coop affiliates and for the ACEs Connection community.

Thanks for your interest!

I know what I'm about to suggest is much too soon, but the work you all are doing internally can help launch so many journeys to dismantle the systemic racism that exists in most American organizations. Please consider offering training to other organizations that... and individuals who... want to do their part to become anti-racist.

Kudos to all of you for having the courage to do the work!

Peace and Blessings,


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