"The Work is the Work"
Lessons Learned From Leading an Allies Group
Some of you will know these two things about me:
I facilitated an allies group for an Ed Tech startup for more than 18 months, between November 2020 and June 2022.
I’m transitioning to co-leading the Anti-Racist Leaders Association for Diverse Leaders Group*.
As I move into this new phase, I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve learned in the process. I believe that you learn from everything, and for me, this has been no exception, so here’s what’s occurring to me.
1. Not everyone who signs up is all in
In leading the group, I’ve come across people who are all in, and people who are not. People who will put themselves out to show up, and those who will not. People who will say the right things, and people who will DO the right things, speaking of which…
2. People have to be willing to do the work
As my sister Lisa Hurley often says “the work is the work”. I’m a lifelong learner, and I value reading, learning and discussing. However, it’s important to DO something with what you read, learn and discuss, otherwise how will anything change? A big part of the group was accountability at the start and end of every live session. We’re keeping that in the new group, too, and will be taking it even further to help people really commit to personal action.
I’m happy to say that I have seen people who joined the group step up into taking a more active role in anti-racism, whether that’s haranguing their local school board for more equity, making DEI a core facet of their job search, or stepping in to interrupt and call out racism where they see it. Those people’s actions keep me motivated to keep doing the work, because I can tell that it’s making a difference.
3. There’s no substitute for learning from lived experience
Some of the most powerful sessions we had in the group were when we had guest speakers who share their every day experiences of racism - and it IS every day when you live in white majority spaces. We had people come in and talk about common microaggressions, medical racism, how white people react when Black people take up space, what it’s like to be a transracial adoptee, the legacy of enslavement, and more. Without exception, people who attended those sessions were able to look at where they sat in relation to anti-racism in a whole new way. We’ve got big plans to bring excellent speakers to Anti-Racist Leaders.
4. Mixing kindness and challenge is a skill
I personally have discovered a wellspring of what many call “auntie energy” - firm but kind - in forcing people to look harder at their heritage and behavior. Kind, because if you show up to a group I’m facilitating you are signaling your intention to do some work (I don’t give cookies), but challenging, because it’s the only way to address unearned advantages and center the needs of the deliberately disadvantaged (at Diverse Leaders Group that term is how we acknowledge historical and current marginalization). The feedback I’ve had from group members suggests I’ve been able to walk that line effectively, so there’ll be more of that, too.
5. As the facilitator, you will get triggered
The original group stemmed from a workshop where Lea Jovy-Ford and I shared our own experiences of racism, and invited people to continue to do the work. But that meant we also had to be prepared to talk about experiences that had traumatized us or those close to us. I see it as part of my role to be open about my experiences, though I’m also prepared to say when there’s something I can’t talk about in a particular moment. And I’ve learned that if there’s something particularly difficult in a session, it’s a great idea to have a way to de-stress. Beach time is one way I do that.
As Lea and I move into facilitating the Anti-Racist Leaders Association, I’m happy to see more people stepping up and willing to work on themselves. We bring our lived experience to the table, plus everything I and we have learned in the last 18 months, so we’re starting strong, and initial feedback is super positive.
This time round we’re explicitly prioritizing something that started to happen in the last group: people taking a leadership role in their circles, communities and businesses to help end racism. We’re encouraging people to move beyond allyship to being accountable advocates and accomplices in the anti-racism fight. Remember, the work is the work, and we want to help you have the confidence to learn, grow and do the work.
If you have led or participated in an allies group, what lessons did you learn?
Want to get involved with the Anti-Racist Leaders Association? Learn more, join us, or help us spread the word.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
*N.B. I’m currently with DLG on a volunteer basis, but that will change.