I should be sleeping. After days of work travel I’m surprised to find myself awake after only five hours. But, I can’t sleep. My mind is buzzing, spinning, winding out. Because I just spent the weekend at Facing Race 2018 in Detroit. Let me throw a few names out there and you should get a sense why my brain is swirling the way it is: Bree Newsome, Hari Kondabolu, Tarana Burke, Linda Sarsour. Starting to get the magnificent picture?
Facing Race is a biennial, national conference on collaborative racial justice movement making. Per their website, it is the largest US multiracial, inter-generational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives and other leaders. Launched in 2004, the conference is presented by Race Forward: The Center For Racial Justice Innovation and has been previously held in Atlanta, Baltimore, Berkeley, Chicago, Dallas, Oakland and New York. This year, the ninth Facing Race conference was held in Detroit, Michigan.
At the last conference–In the wake of the presidential election–Facing Race saw record-breaking attendance with over 2,000 participants in Atlanta, Georgia. But 2018 broke that record by far, with over 3,500 people from at least six countries in attendance at the Cobo Center in Detroit. Of the decision to convene in the Midwest, Facing Race Manager Leslie Grant said:
Detroit is home to some of the most visionary organizing in the United States. We see Facing Race 2018 as an opportunity to uplift authentic narratives about Detroit and Detroiters of the past, present, and future while amplifying local struggles, solutions, and collective leadership to overcome racially disparate outcomes.
I’ve been trying to get Facing Race for years. Conferences are hard to get to though. There’s registration fees, the expense of food, travel and accommodations. For those of us who aren’t sent by places of employ, there’s also loss of income from work missed. As an independent artivist who doesn’t make much, it didn’t seem like it would ever happen. Until Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) flew me out this year as a co-presenter for our Facing Race workshop, “Mobilizing Families of Color for Racial Justice.”
I’m so grateful to FOCS for bringing me on board and hosting me at Facing Race. It was an enormous, humbling, changing weekend. Look at the program and you’ll see why. As a presenter, it was glorious to link arms and represent Seattle with other mamas of color. As an attendee, I set my intention to center Black women; learning from their lived experiences, leadership and wisdom. Which happened in so, so, so many beautiful ways. Some of my personal conference highlights:
- Listening to adrienne maree brown and Bree Newsome speak truth on the Friday morning plenary: “Narrative and Arts Amid the Culture Wars.”
- Having my mind blown at Malcolm Shanks brilliant workshop, “Decolonizing Gender,” during Friday Block 1.
- Splitting my time Saturday morning Block 3 between “Emergent Strategy 101” again with adrienne maree brown (cause I couldn’t get enough!). Also, “Never Too Young: A Community-Based Model for Race and Equity Work with Kids Ages 4-12,” with Tanya Nixon-Silberg of Wee the People and Innosanto Nagara, author of A is for Activist who are doing visionary work radicalizing youth.
- SATURDAY’S KEYNOTE by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and, following, her conversation with fierce Muslim activist/organizer Linda Sarsour.
- Getting schooled (warmly) by the sharp intellect of Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson on the closing plenary: “Is America Possible? Building a Multiracial Democracy in an Era of Division.”
To convey everything that I learned at Facing Race in this one post–all the lessons, ideas, inspirations, revelations–would be impossible. I’ll be processing, reflecting, and unpacking for a while. A looooong while. But I’ll leave you with a few gems that have been at the fore of my mind since I got home. As adrienne maree brown said, it’s time for us to move from pain and misery, to joy and possibility; to restore our power and turn our attention towards liberation. As Bree Newsome said, it’s not just policy change that we need. We need art, which gives us the room to dream and envision. As Tarana Burke said, the real work happens after the hashtag; we can’t let our power be taken away. And as Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson said, enough with the “electoral trauma” and talking about “mediocre-ass white women” and white people in general. Between now and 2020, What Are We Going to DO???
Shout out to Facing Race organizers, workers, presenters and attendees for an outstanding conference, and to Detroit, an incredible city, for opening its doors and holding our space to be together.