Gaining Strength from the Struggle and Each Other at Facing Race

From November 8-10, more than 3,000 racial justice advocates, organizers, educators, creatives and other leaders descended on “the D” (aka Motor City, Motown) to build power together in a collaborative space at Race Forward/The Center for Racial Justice Innovation’s Facing Race conference.

Known for its success in automobile manufacturing and labor unions, Detroit has a complex racial history. It is situated on Native land and its legacy of systemic racism and segregation persists. Most are aware of the race riots of 1943 and 1967 but many may not see Detroit as a city of resilience and restoration.

Welcome to Detroit

Facing Race presenters opened the conference by reminding us that Detroit is not past its prime, but rather on the front lines of movement and action. Monica Lewis-Patrick, co-founder and president and CEO of We the People of Detroit, gave the welcome and challenged attendees not to just come to Detroit and “talk about structural racism and violence without connecting it to the very land you stand on.” She spoke of the challenges Detroit has overcome, as well as the residents and experiences that helped shape the city, from Rosa Parks to Aretha Franklin to the Labor and the Black Power movements. She inspired attendees to be energized, mobilized, and deputized to do the work. Watch the amazing video below.

Tarana Burke is in the House

The Facing Race conference included three inspiring plenary sessions, two amazing keynote speakers (Hari Kondabolu and Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement), and more than 100 breakout sessions. Additionally, there were art exhibitions, racial justice film screenings, a literary fair with book readings and signings, a marketplace of booksellers and vendors, and of course, one incredibly lit dance party. This is not your typical conference. Facing Race curated an unapologetically anti-oppressive, anti-racist space for harnessing collective and communal racial healing and power. By asking us to reimagine how we fully participate and show up in the space, they encouraged us to shed our preconceived notions and biases and be fully present. The use of conference weaving by Soyinka Rahim, the grassroots spiritual practitioner, helped us ground our bodies, minds, and spirits by breathing, dancing, and chanting to generate “ashe”—a West African concept—to draw on our individual and collective energy to produce change.

Engaging in a Space Designed By Us and For Us

Relationship building was also deliberately centered, with numerous opportunities for attendees to engage in informal dialogue and connection between sessions and during lunch breaks. Facing Race managed to pack an abundance of thought-provoking content and sessions ranging from Afro-futurism and Black Horror to Decolonizing Motherhood in Community while staying on time and maintaining a leisurely vibe. Music helped to set that tone, through impassioned performances and chants in the plenary space and soothing background tunes in breakout sessions (check out “The Black Joy Experience” playlist on Spotify). Each detail was carefully and thoughtfully arranged, the benefit of engaging in a space designed by us and for us.

If you’re looking for tools to advance your thinking and your work toward racial justice, the Facing Race conference has something for you. Unfortunately, it only comes around every other year, so in the meantime, you can watch the plenary videos from the recent event and explore the Othering & Belonging conference, coming to Oakland, California April 8-10, 2019.

Get Ready to Get Counted in the 2020 Census

While the 2018 Midterms are over, there’s still a lot on the agenda for those of us who want to fully participate in and live in a free society.  This includes fighting racism and fascism and building our political and economic power.  Topics we’ll discuss in future issues of BlackHer. Stay tuned.

But according to many of the speakers at Facing Race, making sure we fully participate in the 2020 U.S. Census, which is only one year away, is job one. For example, Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and principal of Black Futures Lab urged attendees to take the Black Census. According to the Black Future’s Lab. “It’s been more than 153 years since Black people were asked to talk about what is important to us.”  The Black census seeks to change that by collecting the thoughts and opinions of over 200,000 Black people so that our collective voice can once again be heard. The Black census closes in August 2019, but don’t wait to take it until then. Take it now!

As explained by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, Black people have historically been undercounted in the census because we live in extreme poverty (and census workers are reluctant to come to our neighborhoods), live in hard to reach places (same issue), and we sometimes distrust the government.  That a BIG problem because not being counted has serious consequences, including:

  • Under-representation in government because representation at the congressional level is based on census data;
  • Smaller allocations of government resources;
  • Less say in social policy;
  • And more!

That’s why we all need to participate in 2020!

Our Conclusion

Sorry ladies, but there is no neat conclusion. The struggle continues for our progeny and us.  The good news is we’re not giving up!  We are learning how to move our own agenda forward in the age of Trump.  And we are combatting the day-to-day racism that we can expect for at least the next two years.  We are also reflecting on the eight years of the Obama presidency to remember what hope feels like.  Ultimately, we must accept what Frederick Douglass said 160 years ago, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.”



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