How Facing Race 2016 helped me renew and deepen my commitment to racial justice following the 2016 Presidential election

Just a little over 24 hours after hearing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, I met up with a relative stranger and traveled overnight from New Orleans to Atlanta, the site of the 2016 Facing Race conference. I saw the tension around my sternum reflected in her face. Somberness, but not despair.

I’m convinced that this conference–the biggest yet, with more than 3,000 attendees–was the only place I could have been in the days following the election. The sacred space held people from every walk of life, every corner of the country, and many corners of the globe. But everyone had at least one thing in common: a deep commitment to racial justice, and everyone was ready to double down on their efforts given the recent news. The energy was incredibly high and indisputably electric–pretty much the only way it could’ve been in order to kick off a reinvigorated iteration of what will surely be a long and arduous road ahead to freedom and liberation for all. [Watch a clip from Mary Hooks of Southerners on New Ground here.]

I have been organizing white people to join the movement to end white supremacy for several years now, and through these experiences I have learned that one of the toxic byproducts of whiteness is an over-reliance on the brain and an under-appreciation for the body and other sources of wisdom. In short, mind over matter is a white construct. I have seen well-meaning white, middle class or wealthier liberals try to intellectualize their way out of the depth, severity, violence and trauma caused by whiteness. I find this to be an ongoing challenge for several reasons. First, it is harder for me to approach this more insidious position that is oftentimes heavily based in unaccepted implicit biases than the positions of white folks who come from backgrounds where explicit and outward instances of racism were normalized and accepted. Second, I come from a family of origin with positions similar to the former, so

Me with Race Forward Executive Director Rinku Sen--somehow I got invited to her 50th birthday party following the conference!
Me with Race Forward Executive Director Rinku Sen–somehow I got invited to her 50th birthday party following the conference!

the (supposed) political ends up feeling very personal. For these reasons, I chose to attend conference sessions that were more body-based than others. My hope was to garner skills in helping move white folks out of mind and into body a bit more.

I went to a session facilitated by Soyinka Rahim, a leader of Interplay, which is a “global social movement dedicated to ease, connection, human sustainability and play.” ( It is based on a series of iterative and sometimes cumulative “forms” (movements) that are designed to help people process a wide range of subjects and prompts via an integration of body, heart, spirit and mind. Though to the average person it may look like dancing or something belonging strictly to the creative arts, Interplay is intentionally made to be accessible to everyone.

During the session, Soyinka had the group engage in such activities as walk around the room at various paces and dimensional planes (e.g. crouching versus standing very erect), pair with a partner and move silently through that partner’s experience(s) of racism after they were verbally communicated to the other partner, and move through how the four elements (earth, air, water, fire) are affected by systemic racism and oppression. I left the workshop feeling ready and eager to achieve my goal of guiding people from thinking about how white supremacy harms to feeling how it does in intense and persistent ways that make resisting this form of violence the only option for all people, including those who identify as white.

This workshop was one of countless transformative experiences I had at the three-day conference, which felt both short, long, and timeless simultaneously. I made connections with at least a dozen new lifelong friends and mentors, including (very luckily) Rinku Sen, the Executive Director of Race Forward, which is the organization that hosted the conference. I am so excited to attend Facing Race 2018 and am forever indebted to the Taylor Center and specifically the Changemaker Catalyst Award for helping me get there this time!

[Watch a clip of activist/journalist Jose Antonio Vergas, on the importance of framing, narrative, and supporting independent media.]