Gavilán Rayna Russom has spent most of her life in the nightlife scene. Nightlife is how she has found community, refined her politics, earned a living as a musician and a DJ, and gained a deeper understanding of herself as an embodied being. Her work “fuses theory with expression, nightlife with academia and spirituality with everyday life.” She not only uses synthesizers but also uses synthesis as a structuring principle of her work, "weaving together highly differentiated strands of information and creative material into cogent expressive wholes."
This year I’m keenly aware of when my birthday falls. Why you ask? Because, this year, my birthday coincides with the U.S. federal Election Day: November 3. It feels like I’m getting hourly reminders of just how few days remain between now and then. And as Election Day quickly approaches, companies who care about the health and safety of the people who work for them must spend time — especially if they’re not already — planning for November 4 and the months ahead.
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Denise Shanté Brown didn’t always know that her life’s work would be at the intersection of well-being and design. Through her thesis work in Social Design for her Master’s degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she saw not only the ways that Black women are excluded from decisions about their own health and well-being, but that Black women were able to create their own structures of healing and community. The research process became a healing process for her, as well as a way to explore manifestations of both systemic inequality and resilience in its face.
With my heart pounding out of my chest and feeling an urge to vomit, I raised my hand and then watched as the microphone was tossed across the cavernous room towards me. There I was, shakily holding one of those foam box microphones and standing in a room of some of the most recognized CEOs and companies in the U.S. I then opened my mouth hoping audible words would form as I nervously said that I didn’t think the Conscious Capitalism movement would be sustainable if it didn’t confront capitalism’s role in perpetuating racism and oppression.
We all have job interview horror stories. Mine have included interviewing for a gallery communications position where the interviewers spent the hour complaining to one another about how dysfunctional the gallery was, getting ghosted by the HR representative I was supposed to meet with, and having an interview for a retail job consist entirely of taking pictures of me instead of asking any questions about my experience (I could say RIP American Apparel, but I wouldn’t mean it). A major feature of bad interviews is the inappropriate question. The interviewer asks you something that doesn’t quite feel right, that doesn’t relate to the job, and that makes you divulge something about yourself that you don’t want to (and shouldn’t have to) share. It’s hard to know exactly how to respond to these inappropriate interview questions, especially when you really need a job. And right now, a lot of people really need a job.
So much of what seemed impossible this time last year is now happening. Police abolition is part of the mainstream discourse, all of the jobs that we were told couldn’t happen without an office might be remote permanently, and the buses in NYC are now all free. The Overton window has shifted dramatically for a number of issues over the past few months. So much more is on the table, and collectively we can all recognize new places for our society to become less racist, less transphobic, less classist, less ableist, and more equitable overall.
We’re in a moment where workplaces are having more serious conversations about how to become more equitable, less racist, less oppressive. If you aren’t in management, HR, or operations, it can feel like you’re waiting around for the decision-makers at your organization to implement change, however long-overdue.
Maybe you’ve recently published a statement in support of Black Lives Matter and committed publicly to begin working towards being an anti-racist organization. Maybe folks internally or externally are asking what changes you plan to make after seeing that statement. Maybe you think that you’ll have your staff go through a full staff training and will be “done with it.” Maybe you’re a white person in an organization who thinks that it’s not something you need to worry about because it’s something that some other department needs to figure out. That’s not enough. If we are committing to being anti-racist organizations, we have a lot of work to do that touches every organization and every department. There is a lot of rightful skepticism about statements companies are making right now, so how can we as organizations work towards making sure these statements are not hollow or performative?
By now, you’ve almost certainly seen the Angela Davis quote that reads “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” We have to do more than share a somber tweet or email to members and donors. Anti-racism is an ongoing commitment and practice. For individuals and organizations, it involves examining the way our organizations operate, who and how we hire, how people are compensated, how meetings are conducted, who receives funding, and other structural considerations.
As we can see in the widespread protests against the murder of George Floyd, people are filled with rage and grief at his individual death and at the systemic violence against Black people in this country. As an organization committed to anti-racism and anti-oppression, we are all feeling that rage and grief ourselves.