Calmer Choice, non-profit organization in Barnstable, Massachusetts Calmer Choice, non-profit organization in Barnstable, Massachusetts

Calmer Choice Engages with AWARE (Awakening With Anti-Racist Education)

It seems you can’t turn on the news or open a magazine without some reference to the fall-out of the pandemic, and not all of the fall-out has been negative. Calmer Choice has been witness to the silver lining of quarantine and lockdown, including the opportunity to create new content and begin to offer virtual programming options. At a time when people needed support and comfort the most, we were able to bring them mindfulness tools that helped manage the impact of what was happening to us all. Another opening for us was an honest and hard look at our organization and how we stand in the wake of racial protests, hate crimes and the public murders of George Floyd and others.

As an organization whose mission states: Cultivating Awareness, Living Mindfully, Enhancing Resilience, we aspire to be able to offer our programs to anyone who is interested. And, we firmly believe that mindfulness can benefit everyone to some degree. But, when we stopped to ask ourselves, “Are we serving ALL of our community?”, it was obvious that racial diversity in our organization is just not there. To be honest, looking at our staff, board, instructors, and those taking our classes- it’s a very homogenous group. Yes, we are mostly white. What can we do? Where do we start? How do we change the culture and create a more diverse group? How do we invite people into our community, so it feels welcoming?

In looking into how to start this work we learned a lot about what not to do: don’t try to “fix it”, avoid tokenism, no one-shot workshop/training, don’t ask a person of color what we should do, etc. We needed to start somewhere and began a collaboration with a local educator who teaches a program called AWARE: Awakening With Anti-Racist Education. Nan Moore was a Director of Religions Education for over 20 years and served as a chaplain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for 5 years. Her anti-racism education began in 2000 while working in youth communities in the US and Canada.

With Nan’s leadership, we began a deep look into our individual selves and our organizational culture. We have been working on the program for over a year now, and still have a long way to go. In fact, this work is truly a lifelong introspective journey for an individual and at least numerous years for an organization. We are just beginning. It feels daunting. And inspiring. And frustrating. And hopeful.

In our first year of work, there was an optional 2-day workshop led by Nan, monthly assignments introducing us to the context of racism and how it infiltrates our culture, and an organization-wide retreat focused on AWARE. We spent time at each of our monthly meetings (staff, board, and instructor) discussing what we’ve learned about ourselves and the system. We had a book discussion of White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo with our instructor team, and now we have formed an AWARE leadership team that will continue the work we started with Nan.

As someone who participated in the workshops offered by Nan, is on the AWARE leadership team and sought out other groups to learn from, this is what I have learned about myself and come to believe:

  • I am white and I have a lot of privilege that I have been unaware of for most of my life.
  • Even though I would not ever identify as a racist, I have been complicit in systems that perpetuate structural and institutional racism- and I have benefited from these systems.
  • I have used microaggressions and used language that perpetuates stereotypes.
  • I have blind spots in how I think about race that I am just beginning to understand.
  • Our culture in the US has “whiteness” as the standard by which everything is compared.
  • There isn’t a quick way to “fix this” and it isn’t the job of BIPOC individuals to help us fix it.
  • Calling yourself an anti-racist or an ally is only lip service unless you are investigating yourself deeply and looking for ways to interrupt the structure of the system. If you think you are already there, look deeper.
  • When the introspection becomes too overwhelming, I’m able to stop engaging with the material, conversations, learning- and that is part of my privilege.
  • I need to be uncomfortable to really understand this.
  • The shame and guilt I feel sometimes is not helpful- because it’s not really about me. And, it’s all about me.
  • What I believe to be true and what is actually true are often not the same.

All of this is difficult to say (much easier to type), and I have hard time discussing it with other white people who are not doing the work, even my family and close friends.

I have a long way to go. Calmer Choice has a long way to go. We realize this is work for the long term. We are fortunate that we have individuals in our organization who are opening their hearts and minds that challenge belief systems, structures, world views, and personal interaction.

We are uncomfortable, we want to “fix” it and know we can’t, we are hopeful.