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Restoration and Community Healing: Leadership Strategies that Build Connections

By building the practices and connections that local leaders need to continue their work and thrive in it, we move one step closer to the sustainable and scalable networks and resources that local leaders need to dismantle structural racism, mitigate childhood adversities, and advance equity and wellbeing for children.

One of the goals of the 2020 National Community Leadership Summit, “Our Future, Our Communities,” was to truly see and value servant leaders and help provide a space for internal and communal restoration and healing. By building the practices and connections that local leaders need to continue their work and thrive in it, we move one step closer to the sustainable and scalable networks and resources that local leaders need to dismantle structural racism, mitigate childhood adversities, and advance equity and wellbeing for children. This signature event uniquely lifted local wisdom and practical lessons from pioneering cross-sector partners.

Coming together for individual, family, community, and societal healing were at the forefront throughout the summit. Indeed, opening keynote speaker Loretta Ross challenged us to learn how to call people in and call on each other to come together and use our collective determination and strength to help “heal the planet” of the triple evils identified by Dr. Martin Luther King: racism, sexism, and poverty. Creating a calling in culture starts with healing our relationships within our own families and communities and also with those we don’t yet know. Ross urged us to hold ourselves and others accountable for the harm we do, but to do so through radical love for humanity.

This theme of healing and living in harmony was prominent in the words of Colleen Roan and Emerson Toledo, members of the Navajo Nation, who described how they begin their days with prayer and bring spirituality into everything they do, asking “May I proceed with harmony … with love and positive intention?” Drawing on ancient wisdom and traditions, the Navajo people for many centuries have navigated their way through life’s challenges by doing everything from a place of love and caring, working together in harmony to pursue the common good. There are few better examples of a calling in culture.

Community healing begins at home, with self-care and self-healing. Social worker Dacia Thompson made the important point that self-love is not selfish or self-indulgent; rather, it is an act of survival. Yet all too often, when we take time for ourselves we feel as though we are taking time away from someone else. There really is no reason for caregivers to feel guilty about self-care, but it seems as though we internalize that guilt, which makes it hard for us to love ourselves as much as we love others. We can, however, rely on our character strengths and proven coping strategies to mitigate burnout, and Thompson provided some helpful tools for doing that. Family therapist Melita Quance spoke to what self-care means for those who work with people who have high levels of trauma, especially if they have experienced trauma themselves. Working in an oppressed community, especially if living there as well, makes it impossible to go home and simply turn it off. Quance shared a quote that epitomized the life of a care provider: “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.” Like Thompson, Quance rejected the notion that there is anything selfish or shameful about taking care of ourselves. How can we love and care for others if we don’t love and care for ourselves?

Community healing really is all about love. Calling in involves employing radical forgiveness and radical love to help people have a good opinion of themselves and envision positive outcomes, which is also essential to our own healing. By giving people the right to be angry and to grieve the harm that has been done to them and by bestowing grace upon those who have harmed us, we no longer self-identify as a victim, and in the process we reclaim our dignity and our own power. We become who we want to be in the world, and reject the way that our oppressors have defined us. But perhaps the most important takeaway from Ross’s description of calling in is that the most meaningful relationship for any of us is our relationship with our own integrity, which is what enables us to acknowledge, respect, and protect the dignity of others and build meaningful connections with them.

Exercising radical love and forgiveness is an essential aspect of honoring the dignity and worth of every person, which is in turn essential to healing our communities. Dave Ellis described the community journey to self-healing through the example of the Community Capacity Development model, a “public health approach to solve interrelated problems by improving people’s connections, their shared responsibility, and the collective impact of their efforts.” It’s an iterative four-phase process for nurturing the development of healthy communities through 1) leadership expansion, 2) coming together around issues that matter, 3) shared learning, and 4) results-oriented decision-making—all accomplished using community resources and based on what is most important to the community. One of the most impactful takeaways from this session was the redefinition of “neighboring” as a verb—not an adjective indicating proximity but rather the act of reaching out, calling in, leveraging collective resources, and working together to build the world we want to live in. That’s what it will take to heal our communities and build a human rights movement that encompasses all of the many factions into which we tend to divide ourselves. Mayra Alvarez spoke of the ability to “break down silos, redefine challenges, and align efforts” as essential to bringing about meaningful systemic changes for children through policymaking. And just as Ross called on all of us to value partnerships and strategic alliances rather than hold on to rivalries, Jenna Gaarde and Xavier Morales from the Praxis Project spoke of focusing the collective energy within our communities to transform power relationships and structures. In talking about meeting the urgency of this moment, Dr. Raul Fernandez provided a great analogy in telling a story about a few folks coming together spontaneously to move the contents of an apartment in a fraction of the time it would have taken the two people they showed up to help. “We’ve all got to get from here to there, and we can’t go without everybody.”

Unfortunately, we can’t expect people to show up to help exactly when their specific talents are needed unless they are invited to do so. R. Simone Lee, May Losloso, Adrienne Troy-Frazier, and Nilsy Rapalo described the beloved community as being “very much about community as being “very much about establishing the culture of calling in, which is truly a part of the practice of centering equity and serving others through the lens of dignity,” sharing Dr. Monique Liston's definition of dignity as “the relationship between how you value yourself and how your community values you,” which is affirmed or negated by lived experiences—interpersonal, institutional, organizational, and societal. Essentially, dignity is a matter of self-love at every level.

Ross’s presentation on calling in to build connections was regarded by many as foundational to their conference experience because it established the basis for everything that followed. It provided a structure for gathering people in to a movement that aims to solve systemic problems through collective effort. That collective effort begins with individual learning and growth, healing ourselves through self-care as we help others heal, finding our own dignity and acting with integrity, radical forgiveness, and an abundance of love to heal our relationships, our families, our communities, and ultimately, our planet.

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