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The Baobab Area—for People of Color

This report was assembled by Diane Shisk from many e-mails by all parties mentioned in the article.

HISTORY

In March 2009, three RC leaders (Barbara Love,* Maya Rege-Colt, and Eunice Torres) in the Western Massachusetts Region (USA) approached their Regional Reference Person, Russ Vernon-Jones, with a proposal to create a new Area in that Region for people of color. In a letter to Tim, Russ wrote: “They pointed out that what we have been doing here has not significantly increased the number of people of color in the Region, nor enabled many people of color who do learn RC, to stay active or come to workshops repeatedly. Rather than keep trying harder at what we’ve been doing, they proposed that we try something new. Their proposal was that we create a new Area in our Region for people of color. Their thinking, as I understand it, is that if we create an Area that is for people of color, new energy will be unleashed that will enable people of color to see RC and their Area as their own. It will enable people of color to grow in their understanding and practice of RC in the safety of other people of color before they take on the racism of the predominately white Region.”

“About ten Co-Counselors of color are either in class or get to support groups fairly often. At least another ten have been involved in some way over the last year or two. Our thinking so far is that those who are already connected to other Areas might have dual Area membership for now. White Co-Counselors would be invited to be active allies and Co-Counselors with the people of color, but would remain members of the Areas they are currently in. This new Area would be fully a part of our Region and its members would attend Regional workshops and probably some other activities and would be encouraged to build relationships with white Co-Counselors as they were ready.”

Tim responded that the idea was well worth thinking about and asked Barbara, Maya, and Eunice to send him more of their thoughts and their plans for the Area if it comes into existence. He said, “I understand the benefits of simply being free from some restimulations, but I think that alone is unlikely to be sufficient to make things move forward. And I suspect (and hope) that people can create some solid plans for the near future.”

THE RATIONALE

Barbara, Eunice, and Maya responded with the following thoughts:

• Because we live in an Area that is predominantly white and geographically spread out, a people of color Area would be a significant contradiction.

• It is a contradiction to the isolation people of color feel and experience.

• It would create a safe space, a “holding space,” for people of color, to give us a chance to use the theory while not constantly fighting the restimulation of racism.

• Our track record in this Region is abysmal. Setting up a people of color Area would possibly make it easier to keep people of color in the Community.

• It offers hope! There are enough Co-Counselors in the Region who know the “promise” of RC. The existence of such an Area would contradict the discouragement.

• People could be better connected and could more easily get sessions.

• People of color would get to see the liberatory promise of RC.

• It would force a focal point for organizing the efforts of allies. Our allies have tried hard, and have done a lot of work on eliminating racism. This project could help rally allies toward a Community goal, a more visible, concrete reminder of our collective goal.

• We created a “Back Up Bunch”  last year of allies to people of color. It was a good first step. It was helpful in some ways but needs further development to be effective and long lasting.

• It would be a way to incubate new ideas, energy, and enthusiasm about the people of color Community building.

• In the words of Harvey Jackins, “Some people look at things and say ‘why?’ We say, ‘why not?’”

• In the words of Eunice, “It just makes sense.”

• It would create a structure in which people of color could see and counsel with each other on a consistent basis, which is essential to retaining people of color Co-Counselors in the Region.

• It would provide a point of contact for people of color inquiring about RC.

Tim encouraged them to pursue their next steps and stay in touch.

THE PLAN

Our ideas for next steps in developing a Community for people of color in our Region are as follows:

• Initiate regular Co-Counseling sessions among the leaders.

• Gather the experienced people of color Co-Counselors (people who have stayed in RC in one way or another over many years but have not kept in consistent contact with an Area). Gather this “core group” and use the Wygelian leaders’ format to discuss this idea.

• Inform Area Reference People, allies, and people of color about the introductory lectures and classes. Invite them to recruit people for them. Schedule introductory lectures and fundamentals classes.

• The fundamentals class will be for people of color and will meet 6:00 to 7:30 PM. An ongoing class will follow, from 7:45 to 9:30. People in the fundamentals class are invited to stay for the ongoing class. This class meets every two weeks. In the alternate weeks, we will encourage people to meet for three-way Co-Counseling sessions.

• Focus on the development of four heritage groups: African-heritage, Asian-heritage, Latino/a heritages, and Native people’s heritage.

• Asian Heritage: Maya will call a meeting of this group. She will invite Francie Chew to lead a one-day workshop and will continue leading the South Asian women’s group.

• Latino/a Heritage: Talk with all Latino/a people in the Region. Invite them to a meeting on issues of Latino/a heritage. Plan a one-day workshop.

• African Heritage: Eunice will lead a monthly support group and set up sessions among African heritage people.

• Native People’s Heritage: There are no participants at this time.

• Identify and be in regular contact with a white ally who is interested in developing and supporting allies to this project—a “reference person” for white allies.

• Involve our white allies in this project from the beginning. Start with an e-mail describing what we are doing, and how we would like them to assist us. We want allies to:

• Recruit people of color for the fundamentals class. Offer encouragement, counseling, and other support for people of color to come to class (for example, transport people of color to class).

• Help organize classes and other activities for the Area. Counsel people about coming to class. Transport people to the class, workshops, and other activities; offer child care. Help set up meetings. Call people to remind them to get to class, workshops, or other activities.

• Be a buddy to people of color who attend the classes and workshops. Support their buddy to stick with RC. Counsel them through discouragement, disappointment, and so on. Make sure their buddy gets to class.

We have talked about Maya being Area Reference Person, Eunice being Alternate, and Barbara being consultant and support to the leadership of this Community.

FIRST STEPS

• The first meeting with allies was held February 7th (a report follows).

• Barbara Love held an introductory lecture on February 8. More than twenty people of color attended.

• Eighteen people of color attended the first night of the fundamentals class the following week. Four of these people stayed for the ongoing class.

• Barbara Love is teaching the class. Maya Rege-Colt and Eunice Torres will be assistant teachers.

(Watch for updates on this project in Present Time and on the new teachers email discussion list.)

A NEW PROJECT

A Gathering of White Allies to People of Color in Western Massachusetts was led by Barbara Love, assisted by Eunice Torres and Maya Rege-Colt, on February 7, 2010. The following report is by Mary Renda.

On Sunday, February 7, twenty-six white allies gathered with Barbara, Maya, and Eunice to celebrate and to help initiate a new and exciting project of our Western Massachusetts Co-Counseling Communities—to create an Area specifically for people of color that will make it possible for people of color to stick with RC and have the full benefit of it, not just for a short time, but for their whole lives. The new Area is to serve as a home base for people of color, while being completely connected with our existing Areas. It will enable people of color to be deeply connected to one another and, from that base, eventually to choose one or another nominally geographical Area to join.

STICKING WITH RC

Barbara led the gathering, assisted by Maya and Eunice. She opened the evening by asking us each to say something about our connection to RC. As we went around the room, we heard reminders of the many ways that RC makes a difference to us as well as how others have been allies to us, enabling us to stay with and benefit from the project. Barbara pointed out that people of color have tried RC, but most have been able to stay only for a short while. We want to make it possible for people of color to stick with RC and get the long-term benefit of it. That is the key: creating the conditions necessary for people of color to stick with it.

INITIATIVES

To make this possible, we are creating this new Area for people of color, which Barbara likes to think of as the “Baobob Area.” (The baobob is a tree with a wide, strong trunk that contains a large reserve of water to nourish its limbs and branches as they reach outward and bear fruit. A nice vision for our work here.)

One cornerstone of the new Area is to be a fundamentals class led by Barbara, assisted by Eunice and Maya, which will begin on Monday evening, February 22, following two introductory gatherings, one led by Maya and Eunice and another by Barbara. Other classes for (or including) people of color will be expected to go forward, and wherever Western Massachusetts people of color begin counseling, they will be part of this new Area.

The Area will also have support groups for particular constituencies. Eunice has already begun leading one for African heritage people. Maya announced that Francie Chew would be coming this spring to help establish something for all Asian-heritage Co-Counselors in our Region, including West Asians. The overall idea is to create a kind of container that can nourish counseling among people of color.

THE ROLE OF WHITE ALLIES

This project will strengthen RC for everyone. Each white ally has an important role to play in making the new Area a success. We all get to be invested in this project and see to it that it goes well. We get to share RC with people of color, and support them to have it for themselves. Barbara explained that we are not a proselytizing organization, but we do want people to be able to choose RC for themselves, and they cannot choose it unless we share it with them and let them know about it. So we must invite people of color with whom we have relationships to join us in this project and then be prepared to provide the support they will need to make it work for them. Barbara counted off nine things for white allies to do to make this possible, and by the time we had finished, her list had expanded to ten.

TEN THINGS YOU CAN DO AS A WHITE ALLY

1) Teach RC to one person of color in your life.

2) Make sure that person gets at least one session each week, either by counseling them or by making sure they counsel with someone else, and offer phone time as necessary.

3) Support that person to get past any discouragement that might get in the way of pursuing and using RC.

4) Encourage that person to be in an RC class.

5) Take him or her to class, if that is necessary.

6) Do child care to make it possible for that person, or another person of color, to be at their RC class.

8) Be a friend to the person of color with whom you are sharing RC, whether or not they take an RC class. Know that they are important to you and will be in your life permanently, whether or not they do RC.

9) Discharge white racism. Discharge upsets about not being wanted as well as any feelings about proselytizing, feelings of superiority, or feeling that “I know best what is good for you.”

10) Support Barbara, Eunice, and Maya in this project. In particular, Maya asks that you stay current about what is going on with the project and check in with her about it from time to time. At the very least, let her know you are thinking about her and about this work. Eunice asks that you do what you need to do to make a real relationship with her. Barbara asks that you let her know what you are doing to share RC with people of color and that you show up.

MISTAKES, AND REGULAR DISCHARGE

We discussed other ways to support this project. An important point is to be willing to make mistakes. When we try lots of things to make something go well, we will make mistakes. But our mistakes won’t outweigh the effectiveness of what we do. And when we get to discharge on the mistakes we make, this will move our re-emergence forward. We did mini-sessions to put our minds to what, specifically, each of us will do to support the new Area. We organized regular three-way sessions for white allies to continue discharging in order to stay on top of our commitment to it.

ALL WELCOME

All white allies are invited to be part of this project and to set up a regular three-way session to discharge white racism or to be part of an eliminating white racism support group. Please let us know if you do set up such a three-way. If you would like to be connected with others for that purpose contact Maya Rege-Colt.

DIALOGUE BETWEEN BARBARA LOVE AND TIM JACKINS ABOUT THE ROLE OF ALLIES

Dear Tim:

Thanks for meeting and thinking with us about our local efforts to build an Area for people of color. I am writing to ask you about one part of our plan.

We want to ask allies to support us and support people of color in being in a fundamentals class in several ways—being a buddy, counseling people, and so on; and in particular by providing child care. We have three or four people that I have taught counseling to who are parents of young children and who cannot attend a class unless they find child care. Two of these are students and living on very low income—child care for attending a class is beyond their budget.

Our specific proposal:

We want to make participation in a class possible by making child care available for the duration of the class. We want to ask allies to be available to provide such child care. We would set up a space and each week (we are starting an eighteen-week series of classes every other week and three-way sessions in the alternate weeks) where we would ask an ally to provide child care for two hours.

Also, we want to ask allies to support us by helping people of color get to class. We are mostly able to work out transportation and car pooling, but in a couple of cases, we need to provide transportation for people in order to get them to the class. Is it okay with you if we ask allies to buddy a particular person and transport them to class?

What do you think of our proposal? Is it acceptable for us to ask allies to support us in this way?

Barbara Love

Dear Barbara,

Thanks for your e-mail. I’m glad that the efforts to build an Area for people of color are proceeding. (I think this Area will be most effective if the people in it are also welcomed by their local Area so that they have access to those resources and get to build relationships there, too.) I think it’s fine to inform allies on the ways they can help this project proceed, including child care and transportation. For allies to function well in doing these things rather than feeling they must do them, and then either being grumpy or irresponsible about it, they need to have a support group going, with some strong leadership in it. This support group needs to meet at least every month and probably every two weeks.

I think you also need to define precisely and limit the extent of assistance you are asking them to give. I suspect eighteen weeks is too long a commitment and something like eight or ten weeks is probably a good upper bound.

Also, you want to provide assistance, especially child care, on a basis that does not go on forever. You want to give the new RCers the chance to learn counseling and counsel through some places where they are hurt and confused about who they are and what is possible. In particular, people need to not rely on the RC Community for child care long-term, but need to face building relationships with people who could look after their children well.

In all of these things you are asking Co-Counselors to do things they haven’t done before and which our society discourages their doing for anybody, even their own family members. So it’s important to understand that they will struggle and to provide some structure of support in counseling so that they can take on the job by choice and that it will move them forward in their lives as well as being useful to this project.

I’m glad you’re doing this.

With love and appreciation,

Tim Jackins
Reprinted from the RC
e-mail discussion list for
African-heritage people 


* Barbara Love is the International Liberation Reference Person for African Heritage People.


Last modified: 2017-05-07 06:35:41+00