This is part of a series of blog posts from Zenaida Peterson, QVS Director of Equity and Empowerment, in which they talk more explicitly about QVS’ equity work.

In Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, Lloyd Lee Wilson’s talks about the importance of worshipping together, that there is a closeness to God’s energy that is easier to feel in company. 

As the Director of Equity and Empowerment at Quaker Voluntary Service, I’ve come to realize my work is not always as visible as other parts of QVS; for instance, Fellows’ service work, delivering furniture to newly housed people or advocating for undocumented workers in front of the state house. Equity and empowerment work happens under the surface. It is at the very experiential root of feeling safe, heard or misunderstood, trusting, afraid, and more, and understanding those feelings’ relationship to identity and power in a group.

Just as it would be less cumbersome to worship alone and not deal with business meeting, I could create a formula for what makes an equitable organization and run with it. The loss, however, would be akin to worshiping alone. For the same reason that I worship with others every morning on Zoom, I need to connect with the QVS community to hear what is alive in contrast to what could use some medicine. This is also to say: equity work is an ongoing process that is not possible in isolation. This is important to me because being committed to the work of healing collective trauma around racism, ableism, classism, fatphobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression, is to be committed to hearing divine truth. This is what being faithful is to me.

 

Reflections from the Equity Retreat

In April, I held an “equity retreat,” and invited community members (through our eNewsletter), Fellows, and Alumni to join me for worship and reflection. Additionally, I tried diving into the resources on the internet for non profit equity work. As someone who has prioritized equity work for the last decade, I come into this work with experience, instincts, and my fair share of mistakes. Still, since this official role is still relatively new for me, I thought I could learn a lot from what other people are doing. I got lost in discredited rabbit holes and was affirmed to see many tools we already have in practice at QVS. What should come as no surprise: worship was the most fruitful aspect of the equity retreat. It turns out reading scientific journals about unconscious bias doesn’t have a lot to say about how to retrain our brains to make new associations. It doesn’t have much to say about how to embody the understanding that oppression damages all of us, and we all have work to do to see communal liberation.

Every day during my retreat Friends joined me for worship. We arrived at queries together.

      • How are we prepared to hold and be conscious of the baggage Fellows bring into QVS?

      • How are we cognizant of the fact that Fellows exist within an experiment that prioritizes relationship over capital, while living within capitalism?

      • How do we make this vulnerable, ever-changing work sustainable for our staff?

During the retreat, Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo were murdered by police. I hosted a worship vigil on Monday, April 19, and days later Ma’khia Bryant was murdered. Minneapolis Fellows took to the streets, and I sent out resources for protesting mindfully. Many QVS staff are queer, two of us are Black, many have mental illness — we are people. We live in the same cities as the Fellows, where tragedies happen regularly; we, too, are heartbroken in a pandemic. I consider how our staff team can embody equity ideals. I see the ways that being a person who cares is hard. On calls with Fellows and staff, I encourage them to have compassion for themselves. During this retreat I wondered how much caring for my emotional body is necessary for this work, and how to support others in caring for their emotional bodies. I realized some of the most radical things we can do in this culture is honor our feelings, rest and celebrate. I invite you to join me to do all three.

There is no clean conclusion. I didn’t leave the retreat with a formula, but I did leave it with more questions, all of which I am committed to being with. Thank you all for being a part of this work.


 

Below are Resources that Help QVS Staff on our Journeys:

  • Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad: Using a step-by-step reflection process, Saad encourages people with white privilege to examine their racist thoughts and behaviors. (book)
  • Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Marie Brown, is a radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. (book)
  • White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun lists characteristics of organizations that are used as norms and standards without being proactively named or chosen by the group that promote white supremacy thinking and their antidotes. (article)
  • Brene with Emily and Amelia Nagoski on Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle is about what causes burnout, what it does in our bodies, and how we can move through the emotional exhaustion (podcast)
  • TRICIA HERSEY on Rest as resistance/185: With a historical analysis of slavery and plantation labor, this week’s episode prompts us, at this critical time, to consider what is stolen from those among us who cannot rest under white supremacy and capitalism. (podcast)
  • Use Indigenous Land Finder to find out whose land you are on. (website)
  • White Women doing White Supremacy in Nonprofit Culture by Heather Laine Talley:  modeled after Tema Okun’s article, Talley writes about patterns of harm perpetrated by white women, and antidotes in order to do things differently. (article)
  • White Fragility by Robin Diangelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively. (book)
Zenaida Peterson (they/them)

Zenaida Peterson (they/them)

Director of Equity and Empowerment

If you want to connect about QVS and our equity work, you can reach me at [email protected]oluntaryservice.org.

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