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Wesley And Emily In Conversation: The Power Of Community

Huayruro’s November theme is: The Power of Community. When you hear the phrase ‘the power of community,’ what does it make you think about, particularly as it pertains to this cultural and political moment? What does the power of community mean to you on November 2nd, 2020? What comes up for you?

Emily: When I think about the Power of Community, I think about resilience because of how our communities are being tested right now. The polarization coming out of this political climate, because of the election, we are being forced apart in a lot of ways. But this current moment is also on top of so many other things that have emerged in these last eight months that have also tested our relationships. I'm thinking about how, because of COVID-19, it's so hard to see each other, be with each other, cook food together, so many of the things that we have used in the past to build community have been taken from us. And so we've had to dream up and build new ways of connecting, like over Zoom, social distance hangouts, etc... all these other ways that we have had to find connection. To be able to come over to your house for Halloween, Wesley, and just wave from the sidewalk; it's just one of the ways we can keep connecting through COVID-19. But then I'm also thinking about the uprisings around racial injustice and how White Supremacy continues to test us, as a community, and trying to be out in the streets with COVID-19. We’ve had to adapt our strategies. Our communities are being tested in such intense ways right now and yet we persevere. We don't stop. We don't give up, even in the face of the continual murders of Black folks, and not being able to connect in the same ways because of COVID-19, and not being able to be with our loved ones as they die from COVID-19. All of these connection points are being taken from us, and yet we continue to push on and be with each other and find new ways to move through the devastation. The power of the community for me is that we don't give up. We don't give up. And that feels hopeful to me. What about you?

Wesley: You know, Resilience is the is the watchword. And the challenge is, I'm fucking tired of being resilient because it's a burden that seems to always fall disproportionately on the oppressed. And so, in some ways it's just another day at the office. So they throw new shit at you. Go back to the 1850s….1865 with the proclamation Emancipation Proclamation, where they didn't tell anybody, “Oh yeah, you guys have been free for the last six months.” And how, as a community -- I’m speaking specifically of the Black community -- voter suppression has evolved in that the poll tax has changed. It’s still a fucking poll tax. The disenfranchisement of folks who have fought for the right to vote continues; the efforts to take that away continues. We've got COVID-19 as the pandemic, but then we have the racism pandemic that's been going on much longer than COVID-19 and probably has cost more than the 228,000-230,000 folks that have been killed by COVID-19. And the resilience to me is: I'm going to keep going, to ‘keep on keepin’ on.’ I'm going to engage and fight this in all the ways that I can for my children or my grandchildren. It feels like more than the power of the community, and I'm going to keep on moving forward and be unrelenting in my helpfulness and my sense of hopefulness that we really have the maturity -- political maturity, emotional maturity -- to persevere through these hardships. So whether it's the voting rights of 1965 or the assassination of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, it's another milestone, whether these racist motherfuckers that are currently at play, where the level of intimidation and terrorists behaviors that are accepted and acceptable is so morally reprehensible. And so how do I manage myself to deal with the level of how morally reprehensible these behaviors are and how can they just continue to justify it, is in my thought? Yeah, that's what this political moment and the power of the community is -- just that resilience -- is why am I doing this. And I'm not gonna give up. They can lynch me. They've been lynching me. The modern day lynchings or the shootings, the protests that are occurring -- peaceful protests -- and the fucking police are using tear gas. The difference is that, which is, I think is that a good difference, is that the recognition of how reprehensible it is is heightened to a worldwide level. And also recognizing that this is global. COVID-19 is a global pandemic but so is racism. And so is oppression. We still haven't recognized patriarchy as being at the cornerstone of that, those oppressive behaviors. We still haven't recognized that capitalism is at the cornerstone of it, but certainly, the modern day Gestapo, is our police. Period. They don't have the SS on the collar, but they got everything else going on with them. They're militarized; they're bringing militarized equipment against unarmed populations. The community has the resilience to fucking -- I'm gonna keep doing this, even though there is a desire by a bunch of folk, “Oh boy, let's get let's get out of dodge.” We're gonna go... well, not too many people want us, realistically, so.

Emily: Can I ask a follow up question?

Wesley: Sure.

Emily: You started your answer with resilience and said that you're tired, which, probably because of my race and also my age, I'm not that same kind of tired; I am still fighting.

Wesley: Good.

Emily: And so I just wonder, when you think about the power of community, what's the role of rest, particularly across racial demographics, across age demographics, etc, how can we be a part of a community and also let people rest when they need to? How can people who need to rest have the agency to rest? And how can we create the conditions for that rest to take place without thinking the movement will stop, without the movement stopping, the community stopping?

Wesley: Part of it is building a sense of camaraderie and by being in relationships. You are able to know that just because I'm not there, doesn't mean that the movement has stopped. And it gives you the ability to say, “Okay, so I need to chill for a minute, for a day, for a year.” And there are others who are in the struggle. For me, I look at who the others are. I see the Sean’s I see the Emma’s, the Noah’s, the Yusuf’s, the Aya’s, the young people coming forward. I see them leaning into it into the work with a sense of spiritual, emotional, communal responsibility, spiritual responsibility that says, “I'm not happy with what it is and I'm willing to work and lean into trying to make it better.” And so, if we're in communication with each other, then you're able to say, “Okay, we’re good. Or Lacy Steele, the NAACP local guy, 94, still out there, showing up for shit, with his canes. I think it gives them agency to say and “I need to take care of myself, because there really are people who are fighting this.” The Dom's, coach Dom's, that are out there. The Paul's and Malek’s and the John's and the folks of all ilks help. So it gives you a chance to redefine what it is you don't have to be doing, the exact same thing you were before. You can adjust to the emotional, spiritual capacity that you have and you can then even tweak it. But I think that that helps to give you a sense that just because I'm not there doesn't mean it's not happening. There's lots of people that care and there's new people that care, as we mobilize as we engage young folk. I mean, the Noah's, the Yusuf’s, those are the folks who we need to be there. Aya is an upcoming star. If we can keep inspiring that age group to lead, we get to see that. Aya came to me to engage with me and she says, “what about this, what about that?” And suddenly, a couple years later, she's writing articles for the Japanese language newspaper about Black Lives Matter because of the tension between Japanese Issei, first generation Japanese immigrants; first generation, second generation, each have different names. There is this dissension because Japanese oftentimes don't view themselves as falling in the group that is oppressed, because, for the most part they're married to white folk. And so they're a part of the dominant culture process and Aya's saying no, you gotta do it in a different way, so that's that's helpful. If you can energize new people, different people who were not energized before suddenly they're engaging. How do you see it?

Emily: I agree with almost everything you've said, and I think for me, our tiredness is on different scales, but there are days when I get tired, too. This summer, I was probably doing two or three white affinity groups a week, I was already emotionally taxed, and I was getting physically tired from the amount of work on top of the regular work I was doing. And I thought about how do I do a sprint inside of a marathon? How do I keep my energy for the long term while tending to what is needed in the short-term, especially when there's a sudden demand in the short-term? I think it's hard, as a white person, to understand when I should rest, because it's a really weird thing. Do I deserve rest? I don't even know if I deserve rest. But I also have to rest sometimes, to stay in it for the long haul. I took yesterday off, did you notice? I took yesterday off. I was like, I just need to be with my kids and watch football...yeah, I get the irony there. Football is, like, the most capitalistic, racist, sexist, horrible thing… and that was my “rest.”

Wesley: you have a million dollar… millionaires... Black people essentially playing…

Emily: killing themselves…

Wesley: Literally! And not not doing it in a good way. Most of the folks who retired from the NFL struggle financially the rest of their lives; there there's only a few that have the wherewithal to not. What's the young man from Kansas City, the quarterback? He just signed a outrageous 100 million dollar deal and is now part owner of the Kansas City Royals. I mean he's killing it! Absolutely killing it and he's on all kinds of commercials, so hopefully he’ll figure it out, because it doesn’t take you about a hot minute to do a Michael Vick kind of stupid shit.

Emily: We're getting really abstract, but, yeah, that's capitalism yeah. He's risen, but he’s risen at the expense of so many other people and at the same time his body is suffering from all of the years that he will have been an NFL... concussions, injuries, you name it. So, I don't know, it's complicated. But I think taking yesterday off just to be with my kid and bond in that way. And, of course I have things to say about what we’re watching... the whole time. I'm narrating. So it's an opportunity to share something he loves.

Wesley: Oh you're narrating the whole time for him?

Emily: Oh yeah, totally. Commercials come up and I'm like, “Okay look what's happening here.” And when we’re watching the game, I’m like “Where are the white people here and where are the people of color? Who is sitting in the owner’s boxes?” I don't know if my kid likes watching football with me, because there's always a political commentary.

Wesley: But that's excellent because it shifts his point of view, his perspective, that he carries forward in life. He may not be able to articulate it to you, particularly right now, but there will be opportunities in the near future where suddenly he's speaking to that, specifically in his own work and then it will cause him and his friends to suddenly have a different point of view so it's it's it's seed planting is what it is.

Emily: Well, I just want him to start noticing patterns; that's the thing that I'm interested in. Because systemic racism, systemic capitalism, all of these things have patterns if we can just see them and we can open ourselves up to seeing the patterns. So noticing patterns is what I'm interested in, but we should go back to the question: it is about connecting. For me, it is about connecting, relationships, trust, and empowering the next generation. Even though the NFL is highly problematic, if I can sit with my kid and connect with him over something he enjoys and we can continue to build that trust, we will both be changed for the better. My kids have been going to protest since they were three and five years old, so if I can just keep encouraging them to show up in a good way, that's all I can do.

When you think about your lived experience and all the things you've seen in your life, what lessons have you carried with you around the power of community? Where have you seen the power of community in your life? And what are the lessons that we can hold on to in this political and cultural moment?

When you think about the next generation, about our children and our grandchildren, what is the power of community that you hope for them or you see them building or the lessons that they've shown you?

Wesley: What about legacy? And the power of the community? It also feeds into that last question about how do we inspire and empower the next generation.

Emily: You probably know that I've been really inspired by the work of adrienne maree brown, who talks about fractals. And the way adrienne maree brown talks about it also connects to the Grace Lee Boggs quote “Transform yourself to transform the world.” And if I can do something at a micro level, then my hope is that it will fractal out to the macro level. I mentioned that I'm in a Bible study with Reverend Sekou through Valley & Mountain; wednesday nights we have Bible study and the way he talks about it is how Empire is within us, and he says, “what's the cop in you,” which is a pretty common phrase that I've heard in other spaces too.

Wesley: The cop in you?

Emily: Yeah, like the police officer, the cop, within you. The way Reverend Sekou talks about it is how the Empire is within each of us. Because he connects White Supremacy, Capitalism, Patriarchy, Heterosexism, all the systems of oppression into one, which he calls Empire. So where's the Empire within me? And so I think a lot about that and how I’m working building the world that I want to live in, particularly in my relationships, in my home, and as I'm raising my kids by trying to rid those things from myself. My partner and I are raising our children and asking ourselves, “how are we not being cops in our own small way? How are we not training them to have a cop mentality? So, for example, how are we not punishing them the way that cops would punish citizens on a smaller scale, our scale? How are we taking a more humane, a more restorative, a more transformative approach? How are we teaching about consent? How are we not teaching them to treat people as disposable? Oh, you don't agree with someone or you're mad at someone? You think you can just throw them away like a plastic bottle?” That's not the world we want to live in. So when I think about inspiring young people and trying to build the power of community within our small unit, our family, it's trying to dream -- to dream to the world that we want to live in. And then we have to try to live it, to do it on a smaller scale, within myself -- to dismantle the cop in myself -- and then try to build that world in this household, in Huayruro, in the community, that dreams that different world. That's not to say that we don't still have our struggles, that I still don't have a cop within me that sometimes comes out, that I don't get angry at one of my kids and then sends them to their room like a cop. We're not perfect, I'm not perfect.

Wesley: I like the concept of ‘how do I not become what I'm complaining about right now? How do I not embolden that, allow it, give license to that?’ And so, really, I think it’s about being introspective. It's about calling it out in a strong way, recognizing it within us. Because it is inside of us, and we’re not always willing to accept it, as a fait accompli. We don't have to be that way. It doesn't have to be that way. So the inspiration is to empower them. You actually end up giving them license to call you out and for you to be okay with that and saying “yeah you're probably right I need to... these are things I need to work on.” And then listening, of course, and being willing to step back and let them drive. Because we've driven so poorly. We have these outcomes that are so bad. There's a sense of -- they have to do better than what we did. And so why not give them the opportunity to engage? And how do I not let my sense of urgency get in the way of their development, because there has to be a naturalness that comes with it that deepens the well of support for it and engagement of it. And for me it's how do I use my elderhoodness in a good way? Do I have anything to add? How do I do it in a way that makes it okay for people to reach out? And how do I step back? because for me, lately, I've been struggling on the stepping back and the emotional cost of not being there. COVID-19 contributes to it because I look to see all the people demonstrating and I think, “I’m going or I should be there.” But I can’t, because I'm one of the prime ones that would die, when you look statistically, not only from what law enforcement does to us but what now the health systems have created for outcomes for Black people of color, for Black communities. So, part of my challenge is I don't think I inspire. I don't. That's just me dealing with my own sense of self worth, etc. But I know that's not true. I guess I wish I could do more. But I guess I have to be okay with what it is. So what inspires me is giving them space, encouraging their growth.

Emily: You mean a lot to me Wesley and I'll be out on the streets for ya.

Wesley: That's that is actually helpful. There's this guy who writes to me regularly, probably every six weeks. And he always begins it with -- he just wrote the other day -- and he begins his comments with. “Dear Elder. I humbly ask you, checking in on you. Do you need anything? I would be so honored to get you things.” He doesn't have a car. He just got out of prison, but he's working with Community Passageways as a community ambassador. And in March, I just happened to go to an event, the last public last public event I did, up at a Shoreline High School talking to a couple of kids who were kids -- 17, 18 year olds -- who were trying to engage. And he was there and it was the first time I met him, and ever since then, every month, he's calling, emailing me, texting me. I invited him to a Men of Melanin circle and he was so honored to be there and, for me, I was just glad he showed up, more than anything else. So he makes me feel that I have value. I have been humble, I don’t know if humble is the right word but I communicate in a low-key fashion. We elbow bump. He says, “You elbow-bump?” I say, “yeah, we can't be touching people!” He says, “Oh! That's the first time!” So, we can speak when we can. We have to use our agency, our apparent authority, to better the outcomes for the community as a whole.

Emily: I look forward to the day that you believe the data and the statistics of how many people you have touched and inspired, because there's a lot of data out there for that.

Wesley: I appreciate your acknowledgement. I do, I do I'm, I'm, I keep on saying, keep on actually try to press my kids you know you guys need to do more. They're not. They're pretty self absorbed. Understandable.

Emily: Part of the Power of Community, I think, too, is to understand our roles and bring our strengths. And so I really appreciated the strength that you bring to Huayruro and the role that you've played as an elder, but also keeping us really focused on a larger vision. And I share that sentiment about every person in Huayruro. Each of us brings such an important piece to our work. And it's through all of our strengths that we hold our power -- our collective power, our individual power and then our collective power, as a group -- and then how can we continue to build that out to the rest of the community? So I feel honored to be walking alongside all y'all.

Wesley: And it's not just our strengths. It's actually all of our attributes and their weaknesses and you know it's you know it's it's the whole thing that contributes to it. I think we have to be focused. It's important that we have a sense of hopefulness: we do not have to be defined by our past, but we actually have the ability to impact our future. And therein lies the true power of the community.

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