Equity Ain't for Me
I was inspired recently to write this because I had to answer application question for a fellowship. I love thinking about and answering application questions because they help me understand myself and my work better. The prompt for this question was: “ What is your equity statement/philosophy?” Because this is a personal statement, it does talk about more than equity. Find my response below and tell me what you think. I’m growing as a writer and sharing helps me get more comfortable.
Random: Notice the image above? Everyone is watching a baseball game.. but why? Does everyone event want to watch the baseball game? I can think of plenty activities that I find more exciting.
by J. C. Humphries
This question gave me much pause and I struggled to formulate a response realizing that the reason is because it doesn’t resonate with me or how I approach my work no matter which way I spin it. I pondered and told myself “I am a great storyteller and I can easily make connections between concepts so why would it be difficult for me to answer this with an equity lens?” After much thought, I determined that while equity has great intentions it can sometimes distract from doing what my peers and I call “The Work” if we’re not careful. Oftentimes, it is folks of color and of other marginalized identities who work in the non-profit sector that end up doing harm mitigation in white-led organizations instead of working on things that serve people. I am proud to say that I do not have an equity statement or philosophy to share with you but rather I do have a liberation, freedom, and restoration statement. I will share with you my guiding platform of holistic community development and lessons I’ve learned that shape my philosophy.
I started my community development career on my 24th birthday in November of 2014 and at the same time I was in the middle of a yearlong yoga teacher training program. These things were and still are things that I love and I did not want to be pulled in different directions or have to choose. I sat down to figure out how my worlds were linked and I’ve been doing “holistic community development” ever since. I focus on three primary areas : individual wellness through yoga and bikes, adult and youth engagement around urban planning and design, and later would like to work on a larger scale to shape communities and cities. Bikes are a recent addition as they are “yoga on wheels” and a mode of transportation, thus bringing my two worlds together.
I am an abstract visionary and constantly testing out ideas. I also firmly believe that I can do anything thanks to my Girl Scout training. Designing organizations and implementing projects helps me to make sense of the world. My intent is that with these initiatives and projects, I can set the foundation and infrastructure for others to build upon. All of these help to build a "well-oiled" machine that optimizes actions taken by others to improve our neighborhoods. The traditional community development model looks like a pie: health, education, housing, arts & culture, etc. The model that I propose is a bit more complex but that's because it involves making each piece relevant to the other, thus working from the inside-out and outside-in and creating a culture of wellness. It’s complex but can still be very simple. My key drivers that are at the core of my work are collaboration, optimization, and being open to change.
I used to see having to depend on others as a weakness but I've grown to see it as my strength. Who was I to be leading urban planning and architecture programs? I even considered pursuing graduate school. I realized that as long as I kept architects, planners, and others around me, then the work will get done and I can do what I’m good at. This dependency and lack of expertise ensures that others are involved, makes things better, makes the process more fun, and also keeps me humble. I'm not an expert and I'm comfortable with that but I do know enough to be dangerous..
I create out of necessity and convenience. Its efficient for me. If there's a problem or a question that intrigues me, I create an experience be it a program or event that helps me understand it better. By creating events and programs, other people are able to 1) learn with me and 2) are able to use their talents. That way time isn’t wasted and instead it’s optimized. My intent is that with these core initiatives, I can set the foundation and infrastructure for others to build upon. All of these things help to build a "well-oiled" machine that optimizes actions taken by others to improve our neighborhoods.
3) By any medium necessary
The way I identify professionally changes as time goes by and the audience I am communicating with. The same goes for the “medium” I choose to use. My work never looks the same and I always give a general description because depending on the audience, the time of day, social trends, current events, it may call for me to do something different. Sometimes it’s bikes, sometimes yoga, facilitating a workshop, public health research, a photography project, building a park, and now my work is calling for me to organize performers, visual artists, large crowds, and small, intimate groups. I don’t put myself in a box but I do pay attention to the things I’m good at and oftentimes, they build on each other to help create the next thing.
I help to create experiences that liberate people, especially Black people, through education, wellness, connection to themselves and others. I believe that when people feel free, then the equity and everything else will follow. The more I learn about environmental design, the more I connect to my body and creator, the more I let go, I feel more free. I want that for others and I try my best to take them along with me and go wherever it takes us. “...the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” was added to the Declaration of Independence by former slaveholding president and philosopher Thomas Jefferson. A broken clock is right twice a day and I believe that he was on to something.