An Evening on Black Liberation for Everyone

Last month New York City (New York, USA) Co-Counselors held an event to raise money for scholarships to the Black Liberation and Community Development Workshop (BLCD). Fela Barclift, the Regional Reference Person for Brooklyn North, led the event and I organized it.

We advertised it as “An Evening on Black Liberation for Everyone” and invited New York City Co-Counselors to bring friends, family members, and colleagues. Many of them did, and some came alone.

Fela did a fabulous job of talking about the mission of BLCD, the stark awfulness of racism, and the need to keep our attention balanced. She beautifully naturalized RC. (See her talk below.) There was also a panel with Azadeh Khalili, speaking as a South and Central Asian person; Nelson Simon, speaking as a Latino person; and K Webster, speaking as an Irish-heritage person. They each spoke eloquently about how racism had affected their lives and those of their people. And we did mini-sessions between all the speakers.

Fela was determined to have a good balance of attention, so we had a song committee that led us in several Stevie Wonder songs, a Nina Simone song, and a Bill Withers song. We ended the evening on a high note, getting people up for three dances—one led by African Heritage women, one by Latina women, and one by Jewish women.

At least a hundred people attended—about half RCers and half not—and we raised close to $5,000. We had a silent auction and “garage sale” that people donated to very generously. We made almost $1,000 just on that.

It was a wonderful evening that brought the tools and perspective of RC to many of our acquaintances and helped bring many African Heritage New Yorkers to BLCD.

Randy Karr

Brooklyn, New York, USA


Fela Barclift’s Talk at the New York City BLCD Fundraiser

Good evening, everyone.

It is absolutely terrifying to be here.

I don’t know about you, but every time and any time the word racism is brought up, it sends a little shiver down my spine, my ears prick up, my defenses go up, and I’m ready for a fight.

It’s so uncomfortable to talk about.

The words “race” and “racism” bring up images, thoughts, feelings, and reactions nearly always unbidden and never good or welcome.

But here we are—gamely, courageously present together and willing to take a look, to think about this, to try to talk about it, to make some effort to deepen our understandings of what we can do individually and in community to challenge, to end, to dismantle the false construction that is racism that is unfailingly and successfully used to keep us separated and unable to think well about ourselves or each other.

But before we take our dive into this very touchy [sensitive] subject, let’s get to know each other a little bit.

We are going to do introductions, and in a little nod to [with a little acknowledgement of] how things are actually done in our society, we’ll start by introducing ourselves in our racial groups. So if you’re African heritage, please circle up to the right; if you’re a person of color but not African heritage, please circle up in the middle; if you’re white, please circle up to the left.

Once you’ve made it into [successfully gotten into] your circle, please choose a partner, someone you don’t know, and we’ll do paired-listening introductions. (Explains paired listening)

These are the things to share in introducing yourself to the person you’ve chosen:

My name is _________.

I’m here because _________.

One thing I do or have done to challenge racism, racist beliefs, implicit bias, racist practices, anything like that, is _________.

Each of you will get two minutes to talk about these things with your partner. Then once introductions are finished, we’ll have a song. Please do sing with me.

(Paired introductions)

Many of you may be wondering what this BLCD—that your friends have convinced you deserves your fundraising dollars —is. So first let me share with you a little about BLCD.

The acronym stands for Black Liberation and Community Development, which is a part of the peer counseling network known as Re-evaluation Counseling and is specifically organized for Black people so that we have a big, open, safe space to think, discuss, strategize, and do something we’ve named “discharge.” Discharge is the physical expression of emotions using the natural, inborn tension-relief mechanisms of crying, shaking, sweating, laughing, yawning, and angry noises and movements. These are the ways to relieve ourselves of the unhealed trauma from living with the strictures of racism over our entire lives and the trauma of racism passed down through the generations. This trauma has left Black people writhing in pain while we try to navigate the challenges of daily life in a difficult class-based society in which it’s every man for himself and only “God” for us all.

Larger and larger groups of us African-heritage people are making our way to Black Liberation and Community Development, to access the healing that comes with being listened to and taking an honest look, with guidance, at the self-hatred that has been ground soul-deep into every Black person whose ancestors were enslaved in this country or colonized in their own countries. At Black Liberation and Community Development events, African-heritage people get the chance to reveal the running scabs and open sores left by generations of mistreatment. We reveal to each other where it really hurts, and in the process (like going to the best doctor) we heal and then see the true humanity and possibility in each person, especially each Black person. We get to experience the humanity that can remain hidden underneath what we call distress—the unhealed trauma that stops us from thinking clearly and having the lives we dream of instead of just settling for what we can get.

Thank you so much for coming out to support Black people who want to access this transformative process but who face the institutionalized racism that typically means that Black people are economically disadvantaged and unable to afford those things that would benefit them. We are here to challenge that uneven economic balance and make sure that every Black person who wants to can access this wonderful Black Liberation and Community Development healing process.

That includes me. I have used this process to wake up and find myself.

Given where I came from, I truly can’t believe that I’m standing here in front of this auditorium talking to you and sharing myself.

I’m a fortunate survivor and one who has what people call “resilience.” I don’t know how I survived, but I sometimes feel that the reason why must have something to do with my being here with you right now.

Like many if not most Black people, especially dark-skinned Blacks like me, I’ve been treated badly from day one.

Roseanne’s recent tweet about Valerie Jarrett [a racist tweet by U.S. actress Roseanne Barr about Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to former U.S. President Barack Obama] is nothing at all compared to the N words, violence, disrespect, neglect, and more that have been heaped on my head since I was a very small child.

Right from the beginning of my life, I was told not to look at people in their eyes, and to keep my head down, and to stay in the back, and to not make any noise, and to not bother people, and that I wasn’t very smart and was definitely not important, and that I couldn’t expect much out of life, and that I better not [should be careful not to] ask for anything, and that I was okay as long as I had clothes, a roof over my head, and some food. Fortunately, those messages aren’t given so literally to little Black children anymore, but they still are right out there—implicit and nuanced, but there.

Even with all of this, somehow I became a leader in early childhood education. I remember being at a conference once where all the Black people were sitting in the back, and none of us were speaking. A tall, well-dressed blond white woman stood up and began talking about early childhood education in the Black community. She said (I’ll never forget it), “We don’t have to worry about the disenfranchised (code word for Black people); they never say anything.”

The reason I felt the stab through my heart at those words was because I fully recognized the truth in them. Black people don’t speak, except for the precious few like an Oprah or Al Sharpton! [Oprah is Oprah Winfrey, a famous U.S. media executive, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Al Sharpton is a U.S. civil rights activist, Baptist minister, television and radio talk show host, and former White House adviser to President Barack Obama.]

Here’s a very important thing to remember: Many times when Black people spoke, our tongues were cut out or worse. It’s not surprising that a legacy of silence has been passed down to me through the generations. But what I’m realizing and understanding by using the process of Black liberation is that every old cycle can be broken.

I came from a family of extremely hurt and distressed survivors of ancestral enslavement in the Southern United States. The psychic marks from that devastating experience were passed down to me, and I felt I would never be able to rise above them.

But I have begun, slowly then more quickly, to understand that it’s possible to transform myself as a Black woman and from that platform to transform my people; to set myself free and to set us free from generations of self-destruction; to heal myself from the trauma of so much death and destruction until I can truly smile, think about my health and family, and fight for peace and justice for all humans.

I speak for us, as so many of my people and ancestors have spoken. I realize that every voice fighting for me and us is critically important. That’s why I can no longer sit in silence out of fear and lack of confidence. I can no longer not share my truth with you or anyone who will listen. I have to speak, just as I hope every Black person will, here and at BLCD.

Racism wounds and has wounded me. I have to cry out that truth at every opportunity, even if it’s so hard to hear and hard to speak!

No one wants to hear that they are hurting another, but unless we take courage and listen to each other’s pain, we’ll never emerge from this vortex of separation, loss, and human destruction that we’re all lost in.

I’ll end my piece here by reminding all of us that racism, while directed at Black-skinned people and all people of color, actually hurts all people. No one is free while one person is enslaved, and we’re all enslaved to this fabricated concept that’s been used for several hundred years to cement in place a system that works well for only a very, very few.

I have some friends here with me who have agreed to share some specifics about how racism impacts each of them and their communities.

But before they speak, we’ll do some more paired listening to give you a chance to digest what’s been said so far. Choose a partner from the same group you were in for introductions and listen to each other for five minutes each about any thoughts or feelings you’ve had about things I’ve said.

Fela Baarclift

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 193, October 2018)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00