People Stitching Earth | Oppression, Healing, Liberation, and Navigating the Terrain In Between

People Stitching Earth | Oppression, Healing, Liberation, and Navigating the Terrain In Between

When we made it back home, back over those curved roads
that wind through the city of peace, we stopped at the
doorway of dusk as it opened to our homelands.
We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story
because it was by the light of those challenges we knew
ourselves—
We asked for forgiveness.
We laid down our burdens next to each other.

Joy Harjo, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings,” An American Sunrise

Origin Story

The first beings were not humans or animals or even plants. The first beings were river, rock, lava, and sky. Later came plants, then animals, then last of all, came two-leggeds who became easily lost and had to learn again and again in order to remember their way. This is a story of that journey—one that started in harmony and abundance and has been transformed by settler colonialism, enslavement, and their aftermath: patriarchy, extractive capitalism, collective violence against aki, the earth, and all her inhabitants. The resulting interlocking systems of oppression choke lungs, poison waters, exterminate life, and obscure the sun. 

This is not a story about re-making a fictional ideal past. Harmony, in narrative or music does not preclude disagreement or conflict. This is a story about some of the ways we can return to who we truly are and how we are meant to be in right relation to each other and all beings, mortal and immortal, sentient, interdependent, free. 

The Journey

During this time of the great sickness—a time of tyranny, violence and greed—people have been harmed deeply by the practices of oppression: disconnection from source (a higher power and understanding of the world as greater than ourselves such as through spiritual, natural, cultural, ancestral, and/or creative practice); dissociation from our physical bodies; distancing from our emotions; and distortion of our stories.1 Some days the effects are overwhelming; the sickness is life threatening. Some days—with rest and soup, with love and community care—there are moments of shared understanding, connection, and transformational shifts in understanding and behavior. 

Beyond rest and community care, what makes these moments possible, and the potential for such moments to multiply exponentially, is not one but many things, things that operate across the dimensions of personal, interpersonal, organizational/institutional, and societal/social systems.2 For those of us working as racial equity change makers—whether as internal or external coaches and consultants, including those who work in intersectional roles as healers, artists, and liberation practitioners—there is a familiar route that embraces organic twists and turns and yields movement in the right direction. 

The current emphasis in our field on trainings, assessments, and curriculum—which are all good and necessary components of intersectional racial equity and can be catalytic, if used in their full potentiality—are too often leading people into thorny thickets and near cliff edges where they give up, abandoning the journey, or worse, go back from whence they came. This is not to say that these entry points are not useful ways of understanding our contexts and our own behavior in them, but they are insufficient in supporting the integration and embodiment of new ways of being, understanding, and engaging with the world. When we practice the elements of a liberating ecosystem, we enable the seeds of training and assessments to meet the nutrients and environments needed for them to take root and grow.

There are many ways to traverse the multi-faceted and challenging terrain created by the delusion of white supremacy, but overall the best possible paths are moving in the direction of intersectional racial equity that engages people and systems in practices of healing and liberation. We liken this process to a journey in the woods. There are a number of recognizable clearings or places that support visibility and understanding. And it is in these clearings that clarity, commitment, and learning is possible. 

Unlike rational and determinist approaches to intersectional racial equity—ones that center assessment tools, analytical instruments, and pre-defined linear processes—we have found that these pathways are open-ended enough to support opportunities to digest learning and engage in intentional action, through which we can engage in cycles of feedback and reflection to support unlearning white supremacy and re-membering our practices of interdependence, mutuality, and stewardship. 

Complexity and Justice-Oriented Change

Advancing racial equity is complex systems change, and while working in complexity there are very, very few, if ever, “best practices”. There are more good practices and most situations require emergent and adaptive practices. 

Some characteristics of complexity—as outlined by David Snowden and Mary Boone3—are contexts where: 

  • “Large numbers of interacting elements are involved.
  • The interactions are nonlinear, and minor changes can produce disproportionately major consequences.
  • The system is dynamic, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and solutions can’t be imposed; rather, they arise from the circumstances. This is frequently referred to as emergence. 
  • The system has a history, and the past is integrated with the present; the elements evolve with one another and with the environment; and evolution is irreversible.
  • Though a complex system may, in retrospect, appear to be ordered and predictable [eg. history], hindsight does not lead to foresight because the external conditions and systems constantly change.
  • Unlike in ordered systems (where the system constrains the agents), or chaotic systems (where there are no constraints), in a complex system the agents and the system constrain one another, especially over time. This means that we cannot forecast or predict what will happen.”

This articulation of the characteristics of complex systems is helpful. And too, it is important to recognize that indigenous cosmologies and teachings—particularly those from the Americas and Africa—situate a complex world in which binaries and closed systems do not exist. The cynefin model, the sense-making tool that visually represents Snowden’s complexity theory, is itself from native Welsh principles and language. The word cynefin means roughly “place of our multiple belongings.”

The metaphor of a path or route, one that is organic and emergent, has the flexibility to hold the complex nature of the change we are seeking toward equity and liberation. When traveled with practices of power and leadership sharing, committed attention to innerwork, and embracing multiple ways of knowing, we live in iterations of change that both begin to prefigure the world we want and create the necessary conditions for advancing liberation in the world we are currently living in. 

Charting the Terrain

Clearing One – A Reflective Pool

There are many ways to gain an understanding of where an organization and team is in terms of living into intersectional racial equity. Many equity practitioners use written or online assessments. Others hold interviews or focus groups. Some establish storytelling circles or work together to develop murals or other forms of visual narrative. Some use a mix of quantitative and qualitative (including artistic) approaches. Regardless of the approach and the associated tools and practices, the purpose is to get a complex, aggregate picture of what is, a picture of the terrain that is so much more than an organizational map. It is a layering of perspectives that helps the organization and its partners gain some sense of the contexts and conditions comprising the culture and lived experiences of people in the organization or network.

Together we are holding multiple stories, supporting generative tension

Clearing Two – A Rocky Outcrop

Once a picture of the terrain is made visible, another clearing presents itself. This rocky outcrop is a place where everyone is able to see the full and discrete snapshots of the organization and participate in a shared meaning-making process about what these snapshots might say about the team and the organization. However, collective sense-making requires some shared understanding of the current and historical structures, strategies, and belief systems that benefit some people at the expense of others. This is a juncture in the journey where indepth, whole-system conversations are crucial to restore the very real stories of settler colonialism, enslavement, genocide, wage theft, and extractive capitalism that have largely been disappeared from and or greatly distorted in our education systems. Building on these understandings, teams can also develop a shared understanding of how the continuing impacts of these legacies and other ongoing systems of oppression and inequity interact to perpetuate the manifestations of inequity in our lives and organizations. This discordant recognition is fundamental to the path.

Disagreements about what it all means and why—this generative tension—is what pushes teams and organizations toward deeper understanding. How is it that our shared language is so full of references to militaristic strategies that supported western expansion, manifest destiny and Native genocide? And how is it that the end of the enslavement of African and then African American people has done little to shift the fundamental economic, health, educational—insert just about anything here—disparities between whites and Blacks? The actual questions that teams grapple with have a lot to do with who’s on the team, their lived, racialized experiences, and the depth of their power analysis. 

What matters is that teams are moving towards a shared understanding that interrupting current, intersectional racial inequities isn’t possible without having a depth of knowledge about historical inequities and the practices and systems that support their perpetuation. In this rocky outcrop, teams will often read, attend workshops and trainings, participate in caucus or affinity groups to support interrupting internalized oppression and internalized privilege. This learning journey is essential and what it entails depends on who is on the journey together. Among people of similar racialized identities it may mean grappling with global colonialism and the ways that it has impacted different peoples and different families’ histories. Healing often becomes a central focus, calling in ritual and ceremony to support the processing and release of past and present trauma.

This can be a difficult time in an organization. The fallacies that held the team together have been stripped away. But nothing new is yet in its place. It is a time for care and humility. It is a time to support the ingestion and digestion of the pervasive, corrosive presence of racial equity, making space for the restoration of our collective humanity within and across all racialized groups. It is a time for reconnecting to source, reengaging our bodies, reclaiming our emotions, and reweaving the fullness of our stories. This can mean a necessary, intentional, and sometimes scary unmooring in the day-to-day. And too, it is an opportunity for people to show up differently and build the muscle and heart necessary to get to the next evolution in the process. It requires cultivation of courage, humility, and room for risk-taking, as well as tools supporting accountability and collective tending to harm. This place demands space and time. This place requires more of us than we have sometimes been able to give. There is a necessary clarity that comes from such disruptions. As Norma Wong says, “transformation requires agency.” Some people may, in fact, choose not to move with their team or organization. And that is part of the journey too. 

Another world is possible

Clearing Three – A Sudden Vista

Through a commitment to authenticity and rigor—and doing the necessary work of deepening our understandings of historical and current conditions that affect our individual and collective experiences—we come to a sudden vista, an opening in our capacity to see a different future. A future where we all have the ability to thrive. 

It is here that a visioning process can truly expand our shared picture of a liberated and liberatory future. From this vision, we can outline the values and principles that guide how we be with each other in liberating ways and define some key short term and long term transformation efforts, arriving together at those aspects of the organization that, if transformed, would enable people to experience an actual taste of equity in the immediate term while working on efforts to change the organization overall in the long term. 

What we are creating is not new, yet it can be wholly unfamiliar. However, we have everything we need to make this visionary future possible. It simply requires courage, imagination, and the willingness to move as if we have one foot firmly on land and the other submerged in the tumultuous and profuse waters of the sea.4

“one foot in the water / one foot in the sand is where I hear the best.” – Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Clearing Four – A River Flows

Once the vision, values, hopes, and dreams, the team can start developing some focused priorities and goals and the implementation effort begins to flow. But equity transformations are always a mix of inspirational visions and more tangible decisions and practices. Weaving across the two is the art of advancing complex systems change in which we are developing experiments across the organization’s functions and programs. Or it might be one or two short and long term efforts from which the team and organization is continuing to learn and to refine in ongoing cycles of reflection and growth. What matters is that the effort is continuous and fluid, and that the fluidity takes into account boulders, logs, beavers, otters as obstructions are also natural innovations to the existing ecosystems. Throughout this process, the team is meeting current capacity and emerging circumstances in ways in which both the vision of equity and the realization of equity are contiguous tributaries in the river’s powerful flow.

Context Affects the Terrain

While we are all swimming in the torrential waters of racial inequity and other intersectional forms of oppression, we are affected differently. Some are buoyed by floatation devices. Some are carried along by speedboats. Others are fighting to keep their airways above the surface of the water. The same is true for leaders, teams, organizations, and networks. 

To make sense of these differing contexts—at all of the levels of racial oppression including internalized, interpersonal, institutional and systemic—we are going to describe differing approaches based on where different types of individuals, teams, organizations and networks live along a white dominant-to-liberatory spectrum: 1) White Supremacy Culture, 2) Multicultural Stance, and 3) Pro Black and Indigenous. 

While such classification efforts are inherently overly simplistic, there is sufficient value in outlining different approaches based on these categories, contexts and associated conditions.

1) White Supremacy Culture (aka “The Delusion of White Supremacy & the Culture that Upholds It”)

In an organizational culture of white supremacy, organizations are habituated to working in ways that uphold the delusion of white supremacy whether intentionally or not. These cultural practices have been laid out in the work of Tema Okun and continue to be deepened by other racial equity practitioners. Initially identified as thirteen habits, the framework has evolved to include nuanced descriptions of behaviors that reify inequity, transactional relationships, and oppressive power structures. These cultural habits are exemplified by valuing perfectionism, individualism, fear, right to comfort, competition, urgency—and drive most organizational decisions and overall organizational culture in white dominant organizations.

These organizations are most often:

  • White led and/or have a history of white leadership and predominately white staff (not always white-led; may include people of multiple races at various levels of the system but not in large numbers in leadership and if so, not for very long);
  • Equity focus is on diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI), with an emphasis on diversity; and 
  • People exhibit and experience disconnection from source (a higher power and understanding of the world as greater than ourselves such as through spiritual, natural, cultural, ancestral, and/or creative practice); dissociation from their bodies; distancing from their emotions; and distortion of their stories.5 
  • There are also historically people of color-led organizations that operate predominantly in this fashion; most often they are in areas of work that are deeply steeped in white supremacy culture such as some legal, policy, research, philanthropic and merit-based youth-serving organizations.

Deep equity work in this context focuses on making visible the ways in which white supremacist ways of being and doing are operating as an uninterrogated norm which serves to reify white leadership and the myth of white supremacy and/or undermine the wisdom, gifts, and value of BIPOC people. Organizations in this category are often set up to support the learning, comfort, safety, and power of those in leadership and particularly white leaders. Change processes can unintentionally replicate these patterns at the expense of native people and people of color. 

Racial equity change makers will often focus on cultivating equity-based awareness and understanding with white leaders in the system to ready them and thus the organization for deeper equity work. This aspect of the change effort can be very depleting for staff of color in every level of positional power as well as for all staff with less positional power within the system. The tax of this effort is in direct relationship to white leaders willingness, courage and capacity to develop a baseline understanding of structural racism and intersectional elements of oppression. If leaders are resistant to deepening their awareness and/or actively suppressed learning then little progress can be made without developing alternate leadership structures to support the organization in its evolution.

2) Multicultural Stance

In multiracial/multicultural contexts, organizations tend to exhibit characteristics of both white supremacy culture and what Okun would call “antidotes.” In this instance, an organization might be more recently led by people of color and/or have significant numbers of people of color throughout the organization including on the leadership team. In this context, the racial equity and liberation (REAL) work is more often focused on equity, which is made possible by the fact that people in the organization have a solid understanding of structural racism and intersectional elements of oppression. 

The organizations are often actively seeking to disrupt the habits of white supremacy culture and people have more shared practice of expressing the harm caused both within and beyond the organization. However, having not yet fully developed the muscles of an equity-based organizational culture, the organization and its leaders will often default to white supremacist ways of working in urgency or in high-stakes decision-making, for example relying on positional power instead of embracing wisdom, experience, and skill-sets from multiple people in the system and therefore have trouble implementing equity-based systems change internally. 

While all racial equity work needs to center healing, the work in multiracial/multicultural contexts often necessitates a focus on healing at intra-personal, interpersonal, and organizational levels simultaneously in order to create the needed conditions for equity-based systems change. REAL change in this context is about unlearning our beliefs and related actions as a result of internalized oppression and our complicity with white supremacy as people of color. For white people in all contexts, the work is about interrogating internalized white supremacy so that long standing ways of maintaining privilege are dislodged, making space for new ways of living and being that don’t center whiteness and the power it exerts in explicit and implicit ways. Specifically, in multiracial/multicultural contexts, white people tend to have more systems based understanding but are often still struggling to recognize that impact is not exclusively the result of individual intention. The arc of learning in this context is to develop a more complex understanding of the relationship between “it’s all my fault” and “it’s all the systems fault” in order to recognize that—because of race, power and privilege—they are both simultaneously true. In order to live into this complexity, it calls on all of us to begin to embody new ways of being.

3) Pro Black and Indigenous

In contexts where Black and Indigenous people, wisdom, and cultures are centered, organizations are led and predominately composed of multi-identitied or single-race identified Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) that have done work to address anti-blackness and anti-indigenity as a collective. The organizational vision and mission are rooted in social justice and liberation. People exhibit greater connection to source. They are in touch with the wisdom of their bodies and their emotions and are resourced by and able to be in whole and simultaneous stories. The focus of the work is beyond equity toward liberation and sovereignty. 

In this context, healing work (individual and collective) is both foundational and ongoing as the organizational culture exists in a wider, toxic, and systemically oppressive society.  In addition to engaging in healing and liberating practices, liberation requires continuing to address inequities; building our collective muscles for engaging in generative conflict, giving and receiving feedback, and holding each other in loving accountability; in addition to developing and evolving more equitable power structures and practices. It takes collective care and courage to embody and enact the systems, structures, ways of being that emulate the world we want.

There is great potency in this context as it creates the ability to experience some of the new world that we want while still living in the hollowed shell of a decaying, oppressive society. And too, the dissonance between two worlds requires rigorous attention and care on the part of the team as well as humor and love. It is here that we begin to crack open the old and spill toward the new.  

“When I dare to be powerful to use my strength in the service of my vision then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Audre Lorde

Approaches and Practices

So much of the focus of racial equity-based system change is on tools and frameworks. This tendency reflects the white dominant habit of overvaluing numerical data and the written word. While surveys, assessments, numerical analysis and the frameworks that outline how to apply them are valuable, they will not, in and of themselves, lead to intersectional racial equity let alone liberation. What will lead to equity is changing both what we do and how we be together. Assessing where an organization in terms of racial equity is the first tiny step and can be harmful if other steps don’t follow. 

The Elements of Transformation

We have found that the most essential approaches to advancing intersectional race-equity systems change are those rooted in the elements of transformation toward liberation acting as the five fingers of one hand: 

  • Deep Equity & Liberation
  • Complex Systems Change
  • Leadership & Power Sharing
  • Innerwork
  • Multiple Ways of Knowing

What we are up to in our justice work boils down to equity and liberation whether we are talking about environmental justice, gender justice, educational access, or any of the social and economic harms resulting from the legacies of slavery and colonialism in the U.S. Advancing this kind of change IS complex systems change. In order to lead complex systems change, we must expand our understanding and expressions of leadership to embrace power-sharing and collaborative action. Leading together in this way requires innerwork, so we can be present for and resilient with change, and expanding how we know and what is considered wisdom in order to dislodge the dominance of white, western culture. This is individual and collective work. We have written extensively about this. For a deep dive, please read our blog on Practicing the Elements of a Liberating Ecosystem and earlier articles published in the Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ): Pursuing Deep EquityCultivating Leaderful EcosystemsEmbedding Multiple Ways of KnowingInfluencing Complex Systems Change, and Centering Inner Work

Equity-Focused Teams

In organizations and networks, particularly majority white and/or white dominant culture and multiracial/multicultural ones, any equity focused effort needs to be supported by an internal equity team—one that draws on the organizational diversity in terms of roles, experiences, expertise and identities. In order to advance equity, there needs to be an aligned and skilled group to shepherd change that has the credibility to champion emerging changes. Some of the qualities of equity team include:

  • people committed to equity;
  • people who have some lived experience of the effects of intersectional and systemic racism;
  • people committed to the mission and vision of the organization;
  • people who have either have the decision-making power and/or influence ability to advance change;
  • people willing and able to commit to the time and effort equity efforts will require (note: the organization needs to be sure to make this focus and attention possible, e.g. this can not be an additional item added to people’s work expectations without removing other things);  
  • people able to hold confidentiality (share learning not other people’s information) and
  • people able to engage in difficult conversations and see the potency of generative conflict

​​In contexts where Black and Indigenous people, wisdom, cultures are centered and organizations are rooted in a liberatory stance, the commitment to and experience with advancing racial equity exist across the organization and power is shared more broadly. In this context an equity team may or may not be necessary. Rather equity transformation efforts can be held in existing structures and team compositions. Racial equity coaching and consulting support in this context is even less about the doing and more about the being, tending to the complexities of transformational change in interracial teams and organizations while existing in a violent, toxic, and oppressive society.

Internal Skill Development

In all contexts, advancing intersectional racial equity requires that we develop and/or deepen our skills in being deeply present, loving, and human with one another. It means we need to lift one another out of survival states—where all energy is necessarily focused on getting our basic needs met—and cultivate the ability to be present to past and current suffering, giving voice to what has been unspeakable, entering conversations from a place of deep curiosity, and being willing to engage with difference—different perspectives, experiences, ways of making sense of the world. We do this because the change we seek actually requires all of us. It will not happen because of a few exceptional leaders. American exceptionalism is actually part of the knot that binds us in deeply inequitable ways. 

Depending on their context, as outlined in the earlier section, and the existing experiences and expertise of different teams, new skills and/or muscles (as the nascent skill may actually exist it is just underutilized) will need to be developed. That said, there are some foundational skills and/or muscles needed to advance racial equity and the interdependent elements of a liberating ecosystem. They are:

  • the ability to engage in generative conflict—actually embracing difference and the ways it can lead to conflict as a source of creativity and change;
  • providing real-time affirmative and critical feedback on how we are impacting one another so that we can learn and grow;
  • recognizing that organizations, leaders, teams and networks need supportive structures and practices to survive in all times and most certainly to thrive during equity change efforts so be sure to get your foundation set before building something new; and
  • holding loving accountability with one another – “the practice of loving accountability consists of honest and authentic communication, vulnerability, and the willingness to hold each other accountable for our impacts—beyond just words. If a collective value or guiding principle is repeatedly violated by someone, and no amount of communication and support can interrupt it, then loving accountability instructs us in employing meaningful consequences—not as punishment but rather as ensuring the health of the collective through meaningful boundaries.”6 

Depth of Engagement

Any authentic, intentional and focused effort to advance intersectional racial equity has the potential to lead to transformational change. Such change could be evidenced by significantly increased understanding of systemic racism and the ways internalized supremacy is playing out in a white leader’s priorities and decision-making. Transformational change could look like a BIPOC team’s success in deepening its generative conflict muscles and being able to really unpack unspoken assumptions and internalized oppression in order to create new ways of advancing its vision and mission that supports the team in being and acting from liberation. 

There is no “right approach” to support equity-based systems change. Rather there are necessary nutrients to ensure such an effort will seed, root and flourish. These nutrients are similar whether we are providing one on one coaching, team facilitation and support, or an organization-wide equity change effort. While all plants require differing amounts of sun, water, warmth, all require the fundamental macronutrients of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and potassium. 

  • Clear sense of purpose of and strong commitment to equity effort and its alignment with vision, mission and strategies;
  • Willingness to let go of existing practices, structures and approaches and experiment with new ways of being and doing in order to change, learn and grow;
  • A recognition that the wound of intersectional racism is still festering and any effort to heal and transform it brings with it the possibility of new injuries, discomfort, alternating periods of remission and acute illness and requires an enduring commitment to stay the course. 

As individuals and teams evolve their application and wisdom of intersectional race equity and liberation, there are some frequent markers of understanding that mark this transformation. We draw these from some of the components of Jay McTighe’s and Grant Wiggins’ Understanding by Design framework.7 

Perspective

Regardless of the context they are in, individuals and teams are able to articulate and apply the importance of race equity work in their day to day intentions, priorities, and decision making. 

Empathy

In all contexts, individuals and teams are deepening their capacity to listen and see and feel things from different points of view and honor the lived experiences and perspectives of one another all while moving toward equity and liberation.

Self and Group Knowledge

People demonstrate a recognition and ability to grapple with their biases, triggers, and self perceptions in order to deepen their own and the team’s capacity for equity-based systems change.

These markers reflect some of those outlined in the modes of the Liberatory Design8 cycle, although those modes are stages of a process and what is being outlined here are markers of understanding, how you might know things are shifting in meaningful ways. Nonetheless, Liberatory Design provides an integrative approach—weaving across design thinking, complex systems change, and racial equity— and serves as another way of thinking about cognitive and behavioral approaches to change rooted in experimentation. 

Moving through an Unfamiliar Present Makes Possible an Equitable and Liberatory Future 

To live as if. It is not easy. Inner work and our cultivation of the capacity to be present, to see what is, to be part of the rapid, long and slow process of evolution, revolution, to breathe through it all is so necessary. Throughout this work we will dance and sometimes stumble and fall. Our cores must be both strong and flexible; and it takes all of us to reach our appendages toward each other, to lift one another up. 

The world depends on us. Race equity and liberation (REAL) work gets us closer to holding each other in a field of love, from which place so many of the ills of the world are healed. As Paula Gunn Allen writes in Grandmother’s of the Light: 

“It is said at the time of the beginning, the Goddess will return in the fullness of her being. It is said that the Mother of All and Everything, the Grandmother of the Sun and the Dawn, will return to her children and with her will come harmony, peace and the healing of the world. It is said the time is coming. Soon.”

We are here to turn the wheel toward a new beginning. One in which all of her children are free.

Collage credit: Naima Yael Tokunow

Originally published at Change Elemental


Elissa Sloan Perry
 (any pronouns used with respect) is of African and Mississippi Choctaw descent, hails from Missouri, and is a 30-year resident of California. She supports people with a vision for an interdependently thriving people and planet to be better in what they do. Elissa joined Change Elemental in 2013 as the Program Catalyst for the Network Leadership Innovation Lab, became CoDirector in 2015, and transitioned to the Leadership Hub in 2021.

Aja Couchois Duncan (she/her/we) is a San Francisco Bay Area-based leadership coach, organizational capacity builder, and learning and strategy consultant of Ojibwe, French, and Scottish descent. A Senior Consultant with Change Elemental, Aja has worked for 20 years in the areas of leadership, equity, and learning. 


This framework for understanding the ways oppression separates us comes from the profound and inspiring work of Monica Dennis.

2From the work of Camara Phyllis Jones, “The American Journal of Public Health,” Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener’s Tale 90, no. 8 (August 2000): pp. 1212-1215, https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.35.12.1319, and john a. powell, “Structural Racism: Building on the Insights of John Calmore,” North Carolina Law Review 86 (2007): pp. 791-816.j

3David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, November 2007, pp. 1-9, https://doi.org/https://www.systemswisdom.com/sites/default/files/Snowdon-and-Boone-A-Leader’s-Framework-for-Decision-Making_0.pdf.

4“one foot in the water / one foot in the sand is where I hear the best.” Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2020).

5 This framework for understanding the ways oppression separates us comes from the profound and inspiring work of Monica Dennis.

6Aja Couchois Duncan and Kad Smith, “The Liberatory World We Want to Create: Loving Accountability and the Limitations of Cancel Culture,” NonProfit Quarterly, May 19, 2022, https://doi.org/https://nonprofitquarterly.org/the-liberatory-world-we-want-to-create-loving-accountability-and-the-limitations-of-cancel-culture/?utm_content=208660872&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin&hss_channel=lcp-542508.

7David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, November 2007, pp. 1-9, https://doi.org/https://www.systemswisdom.com/sites/default/files/Snowdon-and-Boone-A-Leader’s-Framework-for-Decision-Making_0.pdf

8“Introduction to Liberatory Design,” National Equity Project, https://www.nationalequityproject.org/frameworks/liberatory-design.

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