Fostering Understanding in Our Community
Part 4: Black Lives Matter: What values do we all Share?
Fanshen Cox - An award-winning playwright, actor, producer, and educator, and moderator.
Noha Kolkailah - Peace Academy San Luis Obispo
Joslynn Ranae Flowers - Manager at Cafe Andreini
Kyle Berlin - Princeton Class of 2018 Valedictorian
Heidi Harmon - Mayor of San Luis Obispo
WATCH: Part 4
Well, here we go. Good evening. My name is Cornel Morton. I serve as president of the Diversity Coalition, San Luis Obispo County. On behalf of the board, the entire coalitions board, I'm very pleased to welcome you to the fourth and final dialogue in a series devoted to fostering understanding in our community, Black Lives Matter, with tonight's theme titled what values do we all share? Which seems like an appropriate theme, given the diverse and very interesting perspectives that have been shared over the past several weeks.
For those of you, very quickly, who are unfamiliar with the Coalition, very briefly our history includes activism and advocacy. Some of you may recall that, back in March of 2011, there was a cross burning incident in Arroyo Grande. This incident was determined to be a hate crime. The individuals responsible were in fact prosecuted and jailed. This cross burning occurred, took place in the yard, front yard of a black family living in Arroyo Grande. A cross-section of our community came together, a cross-section of county citizens, they came together to actually support the family. After the incident was addressed, the county residents or citizens who came together decided to, in fact, form what today we know as the Coalition. They did that in the interest of continuing the work of providing social justice, equity and advocacy for marginalized people and for those underrepresented in our community as well.
Just a little bit about the coalition, we provide educational programs, resources, other services throughout the county aimed primarily at promoting respect for all members of the county, especially working closely with local school districts to support students and teachers in diversity education and cross cultural competencies. Our work also includes providing programs, community programs throughout the year. In fact I'll mention very quickly that, on October 14th, our next program, will be focused on the history around the Japanese incarceration in our country and also will address some recent incidents and the climate, quite frankly, of harassment and violence directed at Asian Americans, especially related to the COVID virus. We have people in the highest levels of our government practicing racist behavior and racist comments when they refer to this virus as the Chinese virus or China virus, so we'll address that form of racism as well as other forms of racism and violence directed at members of our Asian American community.
Tonight's dialogue, what values do we all share, includes an outstanding panel, a panel of discussions from our community moderated by an outstanding moderator, Fanshen Cox. I'll introduce each of them in just a moment. We want to thank you for being here. The support for this series has been outstanding as well and we truly value that kind of participation. We look forward to having you join us on October 14th.
Let me start the introductions by introducing Joslynn Flowers. Joslynn Flowers is a second generation local of Arroyo Grande. After graduating from Arroyo Grande High School in 2002, she climbed the corporate ladder with Hyatt hotels, where she became a spa director. Having had the opportunity to live in many places, including San Diego, Hawaii and Key West, she decided to move back home to be near her friends and family and she made Arroyo Grande her permanent home. She is married to her husband of two years, a mother, a step-mom of four children. She recently left her manager's job at Cafe Andreini to stay home with her kids and homeschool her older three. Joslynn has been involved with her local community's Church from worship teams to leading youth. She enjoys volunteering her time. She firmly believes in equality for people of color in her community and wants to use her voice and experiences with racism in the community to help bridge the gap and bring awareness. She welcomes all healthy conversations and encourages you to follow her on her social media platform, Instagram Joslynns.
Let's introduce Kyle Berlin. Kyle Berlin is a product of local public schools in Arroyo Grande where he grew up. In 2017, with the support of the Davis Projects for Peace and other Arroyo Grande High School graduates, he co-founded Rhizome theater company. It's inaugural production, Nice Town, Normal People, is a community examining documentary play based on dozens of in-depth interviews that explores the idea of home in Arroyo Grande. Since graduating from Princeton University in 2018, Kyle has traveled north ... has traveled in North and South America pursuing various artistic and social justice related projects, including assisting migrants applying for asylum in Tijuana, publishing writing from the incarcerated and expanding his community examining documentary theater efforts. This year he will study culture and colonialism at the National University of Ireland, Galway, as one of 12 American Mitchell scholars.
I'd now like to introduce Noha Kolkailah. Noha Kolkailah was born in Cairo, Egypt and raised in California. After starting a summer school in Hawaii at age 16, Noha decided to become a teacher. She obtained a bachelors in biochemistry, her teaching credentials and a masters in educational leadership and administration from Cal Poly State University. After 13 years of teaching, Noha took on the role of vice principal at Mission College Prep Catholic High School and also founded the Peace Academy of the sciences and arts with a group of diverse thinkers, with a common goal of understanding the values that connect us humans and teach children how we can become stronger by celebrating our differences. The Peace Academy offers enriching summer programs that focus on self-awareness, global citizenship, social justice and environmental stewardship. Students learn how to build on each other's strengths in ways that inspire creative innovation.
Noha was awarded the David [Kahn 00:07:58] Diversity Advancement award by the Jewish Community Center. She received this award on behalf of SLOs Muslim community for leading the efforts put forth toward intercultural exchange with the 2016 Meet Your Muslim Neighbor event, which was attended by 800 people. This year, Noha was one of the six women honored by Congressman Salud Carbajal as a 2020 congressional woman of the year. Currently Noha is a teacher at San Luis Obispo High School, serves on the SLO Coastal School District's common ground task force, and has been recently appointed to serve on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force for San Luis Obispo.
Now I'd like to introduce our fourth panelist, Heidi Harmon. Heidi moved to San Luis Obispo as a college student more than 30 years ago and she quickly fell in love with this community. An honored Cuesta College alumni, Heidi graduated with a degree in early childhood education and subsequently earned a bachelors degree in liberal studies from Cal Poly. A devoted mother of two, Heidi balanced the important job of raising her children with her career as an early childhood educator. As mayor, Heidi is committed to engaging the community to work together, to implement creative housing solutions, develop practices to support local businesses, strengthen relationships within the diverse voices of our residents, revitalize the unique culture of our downtown and enhance community resilience through energy efficiency and sustainability in our changing climate. Heidi is a reform minded leader, passionate about keeping the concerns of her local residents at the forefront of everything she does.
Our moderator tonight, our moderator is Fanshen Cox, an a`ward winning playwright, actor, producer and educator. Fanshen Cox recently completed touring her one woman show, One Drop of Love. Fanshen is also a producer and development executive at Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Pearl Street Films. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cape Verde, West Africa and holds a BA in Spanish and education and an MA in TESOL, which is teachers of English to speakers of other languages, and an MFA in TV, film and theater. She has been honored with distinguished alumni awards from CSU LA and from Teacher's College Columbia University. She serves on the board of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and on the Kennedy Center's Turnaround Arts equity advisory committee. Fanshen is also a co-author of the Inclusion Rider, which was announced at the 2018 Oscar Awards by Frances McDormand.
We, again, want to thank you for being with us. I'd also like to, by the way, take this opportunity to introduce and thank our interpreters, Sarah Levanway and Jackie [Revas 00:11:40]. Again, thank you for being with us. I just want to mention, and I think Fanshen will reinforce this, please use the Q&A feature for Zoom when you are sharing your comments, your thoughts and your questions. With that, I will turn it over to you, Fanshen.
Thank you so much, Cornel.
Thank you to this entire community. I had a chance to do my show amongst you a few months ago and I feel wholeheartedly embraced, even by those with whom I've been having some pushback and some good, hard, uncomfortable conversations, which I think we all agree is going to have to be part of how we get to a place of shared value. I just want to say, again, thank you, especially to the Diversity Coalition for all of the important work you're doing. Also I've gotten to meet so many wonderful people who are panelists, so I'm thrilled and honored to be here.
Some quick housekeeping. As Cornel said, and I will reinforce this later just to remind you, please add your questions into the Q&A. Feel free to chat also if you want to say hi or have more of a comment, but if you want your question to be considered, to be asked, please put it there and I will do my absolute best to get all of your questions answered.
We've already got a good one, a good juicy one that I know will be great to start with, but I quickly also want to talk about one term that is important in any of these discussions that we've been having and that is systemic racism. Some people refer to it as systemic or institutional or structural racism and it really is kind of ... not entirely removing focus from individuals and the ways that we interact around race and racism, but also looking at a bigger picture, looking at the fact that you can consider yourself to be an actively anti-racist person but still live comfortably under a systemically racist system, or the systemic racism system. We want to look at more, what are these systems that are in place that we can push back against, that we can consistently acknowledge exist and how do we all come together? Which is our goal for this evening, looking at how we all come together.
I think one of our most clear examples of systemic racism is in school segregation. Schools in the United States are as, if not more, segregated today than they were just after Brown versus the Board of Education. What does that mean? In what ways was legislation continued to be used? How did we continue to use it in ways that completely counteract the decision that was made during Brown versus the Board of Education? That's one of those examples. There are examples in mass incarceration, obviously what we're all seeing right now around police brutality, so this is systemic racism. Again, it is separate from individual racism, but of course individuals make systems, so this is, again, a way that we can think about how do we all come together and think about the values that we share?
With that, I'm going to begin to introduce our beautiful panelists. Each of them will have about five minutes to share their stories and talk about themselves and then, afterwards, we'll get into the Q&A. We would like to begin with the lovely Joslynn Flowers.
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
Thank you so much. It's such an honor to be here. This is incredible that we have community who wants to come together and learn how to be better. Like Cornel said, I grew up here, second generation, and I grew up in this town and with an all white family. My whole family, my mom, my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents were white, so not only did I grow up in a very white town, my family was also white. I immediately was treated very different from the black community here in Arroyo Grande, but also the white community, feeling like I didn't really belong in either, I didn't really have a place to fit in. People always say that this town is extremely welcoming, but for someone who looks different than the majority of this town, I've always felt the slightest bit of exclusivity and feeling like I didn't really belong.
Many times growing up in high school I was reminded that I was African American, I was a person of color, I didn't belong. I had someone follow me across the quad at AG and make the comment that, if he had a nickel for every black person he drove behind in his truck, he would be the richest man in the world. I was 17 years old and of course all of his friends laughed. I remember feeling helpless in that moment. I always had to tone it down because I was always overreacting or escalating the situation when I was acting no different than my friends who were white. I mean, even now, that's something that I have to be aware of when I'm out in the public. If I'm being treated differently, I cannot overreact, I cannot express how I feel because then I'm escalating the situation.
I've been stopped leaving stores here in our community and had my bag checked, whereas my friend who left with me who was white did not. I've walked into local restaurants and been ignored by the hostess or the servers and there's been a few times that I've had white people come in after and they were seated prior to me. I've been called many different names, a lot of which I won't repeat on here because it's really inappropriate and very hurtful. I've had it said in front of my husband to see if he'll react, my husband who is white, to see if he'll react or cause a scene.
Lately in our community, obviously there's a lot going on and I've watched this community begin to tear itself apart, essentially. It's very sad to see an area that you've grown up in really start to turn on itself and see other members in the community that you consider to be friends and family turn on you and turn on one another. I want our community to be a community of love and acceptance for anyone, regardless of skin color, gender preference. I want us to love everyone and I want people to be able to feel safe. I want my children to be able to feel safe and to know that this community is one that's going to be loving and accepting of everyone. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Joslynn. I love that we got to start with you, because I think those personal narratives are really the key to finding our shared values. I think everyone knows what it feels like to be excluded in some ways, but not everyone knows what it feels like to experience racism. Your sharing those and being vulnerable is amazing. Thank you so much. Next we have Kyle Berlin.
Hi everybody. Thank you, Fanshen, and Diversity Coalition for making the space for these conversations, despite a pandemic and the exhaustion of modern life and the tearing national and local fabric that might stop them from wanting to happen, so I'm grateful to be here. I wrote out my remarks. That's how I think best, so you'll forgive me if I read. I'm something of a performer also, so I'm going to read it a little performatively. Anyway, as you know, my name's Kyle Berlin. I grew up in Arroyo Grande and was educated, like Joslynn it sounds like, at all the local public schools. Contrary to her experience as a white person, as a young man growing up in this predominantly white community I sailed easily through. I didn't have to think about my race. I didn't have to worry about being the object of extra scrutiny or worse, violence by the police or other authority figures. I didn't consider how the very fact that I grew up in an upper middle class family, lived in Rancho Grande and not Oceano, was a fact inseparable from the material history of race and wealth.
In 2017 in my junior year of college I got a Peace Project grant and a couple of friends and I from AGHS, actually including Joslynn's sister who was super helpful, investigated what home means in Arroyo Grande and surrounding communities on the Central Coast. We conducted over a hundred in-depth, wide ranging interviews with people of all walks of life. Then we transformed those interviews into a live documentary play and a community discussion event. What we heard from all of that listening was quite revealing. Many people of color told us that they did not feel safe or welcome on the Central Coast. They confided in us stories of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, both small and large. LGBT people, unhoused people, Muslim and Jewish people, Central American immigrants, they all spoke to their experiences of exclusion on the Central Coast. They also, it's important to note, spoke to what they love about living here, about the wonderful people and places and potential, but their words shattered the romantic notion of Arroyo Grande as a nice town with normal people as an unofficial slogan and as the show's title goes.
What does it mean when you are not seen as normal? For too long, also known as white. What does it mean to be nice, really, if significant portions of the population here do not feel equal? The thing about these experiences that they related is that they're not passive. It's not that they were discriminated against by some unknown entity, real lives, specific people, mostly white people and maybe even well-intentioned liberal white people, our neighbors, or us did the discriminating. The onus for change to me is clear. White people need to step up and do better. Indeed, our interviews laid bare the fact that many whites people, myself among them in this community, live under, or lived under this veil of ignorance informed only by their own experiences by the whiteness of their own reality. After all it's all they have known. This is perfectly human. It does not make them bad people. As I said, that's where I was and it's where I still am in many ways. Evolution is a slow process, I believe. Why shouldn't I believe the Central Coast is paradise if it always has been for me?
That doesn't mean we can't listen to and believe other's experiences, can't open ourselves to their realities, educate ourselves in the long history of race in this country and the black radical, prophetic tradition. It doesn't mean we can't talk to a neighbor, really listen and understand what they say to be true. It doesn't mean we can't change our behaviors or beliefs accordingly to make political and personal transformations in how we live and make those demands of the systems with which we comprise.
Here's the thing, and this is what I want to emphasize, believing other people, listening to people of color and other marginalized voices, this is not a threat to the idyllic notion of our community. Those in the streets and downtown SLO activating against injustices at every level are not a threat to America's greatness or SLOs tranquil paradise. On the contrary, it is only these things that will usher in that idyllic community, that will truly make it so finally and for everyone. This is no paradise, no nice town so long as our neighbors do not feel safe, are not housed and fed and cared for, are not made equal and whole. Now the route to making that paradise, specific tactics and strategies is contentious and long, but we must be united in vision because that is the theme for tonight and I believe it truly. We all must want, I don't think it's a radical proposition, a community and a country that treats people, in a word, as human, worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to reclaim those words. Thank you.
Thank you so much. I think we got two lessons from our first panelists. One is the young folks are going to save us. No, it's so not fair to do that to you, but thank you both. Kyle, I think obviously this point about listening is everything, right? That is how we get closer and closer to even understanding what our shared values are. Thank you so much. I also, just on a personal note, think we kind of look like brother and sister, so when you go to Ireland, I might need to go some time in early November potentially, depending on outcomes, so if I can pass for a little bit ... no. Thank you both so much though, it was beautiful. Now we have Noha, please. Noha?
Yes, thank you Fanshen. Good evening everyone. I am so honored to be with you all here tonight and grateful to be part of this awesome panel. I'm going to share with you a little of my story, which illustrates where I'm at today with my world perspective and will give you a little bit of the why behind that perspective.
Like Cornel said, I was born in Cairo, Egypt and came to the States when I was two years old. My parents came to pursue their PhDs and begin a life in America. With both of my parents being students, we had very little money. We actually moved 13 times and, at one point, we had to live apart from my dad and that was harder than anything because I love him so much. He's the sunshine of my life to this day. With the 13 moves I was always the new kid and school was challenging. I could never hold a solid group of friends.
The real change in my life started when I was seven. That's when my mom started to wear the headscarf and naturally I wanted to copy her. This made school even more difficult. I was always the new kid who was always visibly different. I'm not sharing this with you because I want sympathy, but because it's through our stories that we connect with each other's experiences and better understand one another. I wasn't in SLO yet, but when I arrived with my family 30 years ago, I was the only kid wearing a headscarf, so you can imagine I was bullied, I was harassed. Kids pulled off my scarf, they laughed and they questioned me. I was isolated for being different. Eventually I withdrew from the world. I struggled to feel a sense of belonging. Ultimately my experience of people's ignorance, cruelty and narrow-mindedness allowed me to see more clearly.
By the time 9/11 came around I was a much stronger person, thanks to my parents. I was still in college, but had built up resilience and became more confident in my perspective. I got married and I had my own little girl. That day 9/11 happened I was right here in SLO and Muslims all over the US, especially women dressed like me, vowed to stay indoors, too scared of being targeted. I insisted that I had a right to grieve and mourn the losses just like anyone else who loved this country. This is my home, I am American and I love my people, but I was naive. Not only was I yelled at on the street, "Go back home," multiple times, but I was also reminded that maybe I didn't belong when a couple of high school students threw a large sickle knife at me from over a brick wall, missing my head by two inches. That was right here in SLO.
That's when I realized that maybe this isn't home for everyone, not because I didn't love my country, but because I portrayed an image that was drawn in people's minds by the media, the school system and generations of instilled stereotypes, images inherited from stereotypes that served people in power. Images that dehumanize Arabs, images that devalue blacks to blind us from the injustice of systemic racism, images of illegal immigrants and refugee aliens that justify closing our doors. Images that minimize how we've erased Native American heritage because it was uncivilized and inferior. These images feed into people's ignorance about cultures, race, and religion. It dehumanizes the other and allows us to justify a history of slavery, genocide, denial of land rights, systemic racism, the Muslim ban, immigrant family separation, children detention camps at the borders. It's why we can not only ignore the atrocities overseas, but some of us may even think that it's a moral obligation to fund them.
Childhood is where the trauma starts and it's where the problems can be cured, because we're definitely not born racist. It starts with things like bullying in schools and it's our responsibility to stop that. The Peace Academy's goal, Cornel mentioned that I founded the Peace Academy a few years ago, the goal is for us to be proactive about our future. It connects children of diverse backgrounds and builds common ground so that our children ...
... children of diverse backgrounds and builds common ground so that our children lead us into the future with compassion and justice. We learn about the fundamental similarities that connect us all as humans. And it is then that we learn to appreciate rather than fear our differences. To accomplish this, one of the very first things that we had to do was to figure out which values we all had in common. And I intentionally invited people who were of different backgrounds based on ethnicities to be my co founders.
And we spent two years honing in on what we each valued and found where we overlapped. We had to limit our overlap to eight values so that we could have a focus for our curriculum. And those eight values that we settled on were peace and peacemaking, humility, compassion, kindness, seeking knowledge and wisdom, generosity, gratitude, and love. And I'm so grateful to the Diversity Coalition for helping to fund the Peace Academy since its inception three years ago.
With the community's donations, we've been able to provide full scholarships for approximately 60% of our student population every summer. And I'll just close by saying that our goal is to reverse the impact of dehumanization on society so that we gain empathy for others and make those emotional connections. In the end, we all strive for the same basic human rights; food, shelter, peace and happiness.
Oh my goodness. That was amazing. Noha, I think we know how we should end this session tonight, which is for you to read those, your principles again, because that is, I think that those are so clearly how we'll be able to push towards sharing our values. So we've got our ending speaker, so thank you so much for that. And last, but certainly not least, we've got Heidi.
Thank you so much. Fanshen and to the Diversity Coalition, and thank you for all of these conversations, I've been watching them all. I've been taking copious notes. It's had a huge impact on me and I just very, very much appreciate it. I've been learning so much and I'm looking forward to continuing that learning tonight.
So we're talking about shared values tonight. And so I think that everybody wants to feel a sense of belonging and belonging here in our communities and feel like they're welcome. And no matter how we look or where we're from, we share this common desire to move through our communities without fear. And San Luis Obispo aspires to be that city. And I think San Luis Obispo thinks or thought it was that city. But in truth, not everyone has felt welcome here. And over the last months and years, we have witnessed the stories of people of color who have shared with this community their pain of unwelcoming experiences. These experiences have been so raw, and real, scary, and just at times downright excruciatingly painful.
And this pain has largely gone unnoticed by the vast majority of people in our town, allowing us to believe that all was well, right? That this place actually is the happiest city in North America. But it hasn't been the happiest city for some, or even for many, I think, would be fair to argue. And we have this movement, the young leadership of color to thank for disrupting this narrative. We have them to thank for giving us a new vision. And I feel like we're waking up or we're awake. And a lot of people are awake, whether they like it or not. And it's so clear that a mirror is being held up for us all. And we are deeply struggling with our reflection, it's a reflection that we can't unsee.
And so San Luis Obispo is in the midst of an identity crisis, I think. And while I share the concerns about some of the methods of protests, I unequivocally support the first amendment right for people to protest. And I am deeply, deeply concerned about the growing criminalization of protests throughout our country. And I firmly stand with the intentions of Black Lives Matter Movement and have been deeply disappointed by some who have intentionally tried to divide and distract from the essential goals of creating belonging and racial equity here, and in our community.
This has been incredibly tough and difficult, and I feel determined, and I hope this community is determined to see beyond this challenging moment to the greater movement. Beyond the individuals involved in some of the stories that are being told right now, but into the collective community wellbeing that I think we're all striving for. Because I think something beautiful, like something deeply, deeply beautiful is trying to be born here in San Luis Obispo. And just like any other birth, it's painful and it's messy.
And the outcome is definitely not guaranteed. And I think we're seeing right now how far we have to go. And this has been a difficult realization for people here, but there is too much at stake for us to give up on each other or to give up on justice itself. So I'm hoping that we can stand up for justice together, that we can have the courage to do that. Because number one, one of the things... People call me controversial, I guess, in that I'm an activist and not a mayor, but I think that you can, and under this current federal administration, have to do that both actually. Because number one, this racial uprising, right? It's the ethical call of our generation, right? So that's the activist side of me that really deeply feels that.
And that's my number one. But also, the mayor side of me also understands that because we want a thriving local economy, a thriving economy that we will never achieve as long as we deeply lack diversity of all types. So that's real too. And so we have to reject the intentional division that attempts to keep us from being able to solve the pressing problems that we face in this time of compounding crises. And let's be clear. And to me, this phrase has been so helpful, and hopefully it's helpful for you. "We can not allow others to gaslight us into believing that our fighting for justice is divisive."
I'm going to say that again, "We cannot allow people to gaslight us into believing that fighting for justice in and of itself is divisive." This is the human rights issue of our time and it calls us all up to meet this moment. To not meet this moment and this movement would be the biggest moral failing that this community could ever commit. And it's an incredibly harmful, missed opportunity. So I'm here to learn, and I'm here to listen, and I'm here to do my part to put policies and practices into place that create belonging. By joining together across race, I truly feel like we can make this a place where everyone feels welcome, seen and supported.
Thank you so much, Heidi. Again, I'm like, could I move up North? I'm really inspired by all of you. And also, I'll say, by the questions that have been asked from this community, on your point about divisiveness. Anyone who does this work, and I know that's true for all of our panelists, have been accused, and will continue to be accused of being divisive. And I always just request back of the person saying that, what are the demographics of your community? What are the demographics of your children's school? What are the demographics of the leadership or the administration at work? And then, really, who is being divisive?
If that's what it looks like there, and it probably does if you haven't had exposure, or you've had so little exposure that you think talking about this is divisive, that's where we have to look and say, "This is divisive." Right? Segregated spaces are divisive. And so, thank you so much. We're going to get to these wonderful questions. And so our first one is from Laura, and her pronouns are She Her. And she asks, "I'm always surprised to see a panel on diversity without a Latino, Latina, or Latin X on board, especially on the Central Coast. Please address your perspective on this oversight." And Joslynn, I'll ask you to begin please.
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
I guess I was muted. Hi, Laura. I think not that it's necessarily an oversight and I obviously cannot speak for the coalition itself, because I'm just a panelist, but I think we are talking about Black Lives Matter. And that seems to be a big topic of conversation right now. So I don't think it was necessarily to be hurtful or an oversight, as obviously, there's a very big Latino community here on the Central Coast and should absolutely be represented.
And I would encourage you if you feel like someone who wants to speak on behalf of the Latino community to get in touch with the leaders here. I'm sure they would love to sit down and have a conversation with you and see what they can do to help you get your voice out there as well.
Thank you so much. Yes, and that's not to discount, for example, Afro Latin X voices who very much are under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter. And so I think it's a great point. I wonder if potentially anyone from the Diversity Coalition wants to come on and answer? Otherwise, or I'm going to go on to our next question so that I can address the questions that are there, but if someone from the Diversity Coalition would like to respond, just put it in the chat, and I'll respond for you, or you can come on and respond. So our next question... Oh, and sorry, Noha, yes.
I can add to that. So just being of a minority group, I can just say that we're spread so thin, because I mean, I'm speaking on behalf of, for example, the Muslim community. There's only a few of us who can get out there and have the ability to speak on behalf of the larger group. And so sometimes we're spread so thin and it's just hard to get out there. So in defense of the Diversity Coalition, the last time it was about religion and Islam wasn't represented, for example. And I get, it's hard to include everybody every single time. And so just, in defense of the Diversity Coalition.
So we just started a diversity equity and inclusion task force of the city of San Luis Obispo, and we had almost a hundred applicants. And very, very few of those were Latin X folks. So we noticed that, and that was a challenge. And so the questioner is, it's a good question. I think, so the question is, why this absence? And to me then as an action-oriented person, what do we need to do about it?
So, we maybe could have done a better or different job, proactively getting into some of the more specific areas of our community, for which folks may not traditionally know, for example, that we're engaging in this diversity task force. And so I would be very open in the chat or to my email personally, to learn more about how we can be more proactive in making sure that those voices are included, because obviously, it's a predominant and important voice on the Central Coast.
Thank you so much. And we do, we will find ways to make sure the chat is shared with everyone. I know we wanted to do that the last time I was on. So we'll get to make sure that we can answer some of these questions. And I'll, in response to both Noha and Heidi's comments, I'll just say that if, at the leadership level, you don't have anyone that reflects that experience, you don't always feel welcome. And so, potentially, even if you're saying, "You're welcome," but those folks don't feel represented, that is a big part of why they may not want to participate.
So I think, and again, just kind of staying open, and critical, and listening and always looking to do better. Okay. I'm going to go on to our next question. "How do you feel about the concept of universal service, for example, military peace corps, conservation corps, or et cetera, to community and country as a possible way to bring young people of different backgrounds together in furtherance of a decrease in division, racism, et cetera?" And Kyle, I'll have you begin please.
Well, I appreciate that question. Actually, just last week, I was talking with a group of friends from school. We all participated in this program. I took a year off, before going to college, where I worked and lived in Peru at a nonprofit [inaudible 00:45:04] with a local family. And that was a life changing experience for me. And it opened my perspective on the world and what was possible and what it meant to be of use and to have a more expansive vision of humanity.
So in general, I like the concept. I am worried, one of my caveats would be, there's a lot of things you would have to work out in terms of, how do we avoid colonial dynamics if we're sending a bunch of people to other countries? Or, what I think would be cool would be to, and this is what my friends and I ended up agreeing on, it'd be really cool if we just did a sort of a domestic service thing that was opt-in and people could do it.
And they would get their... They would be paid instead of having to work a job to make ends meet at a store, for example. They could work at a community develop agency or something in a different part of the country with different people from different parts. And anyway, there's lots of, I think it's a good question insofar as it provokes thoughts about what does it mean to be of service and how do we break down the divisions. So I vote for it in some form.
Yeah, what a great answer. As a former peace corps volunteer, I can say that while I was really excited about doing that service, I also saw very much this kind of colonialist perspective, even from myself at the time. I was in my twenties and this kind of American savior narrative running in my head and this, I'm the martyr, coming in, as much as I thought I was conscious at the time. So it's probably something that there would need to be a whole lot of thought put into around the power dynamics and to be careful of that. Would anybody else...? Yes, Noha looks like, you'd like...?
Yes, I just want to echo what both of you are saying, although I've not had my own experience of traveling to another, except for Egypt, because I was born there, but traveling and experiencing that. But I completely agree with this notion of, it could be taken as a colonial affect or impact. And so I think that it's good if there is training ahead of time to make it an authentic and genuine experience for both sides.
And that when we, as Americans go to another country, that we are genuine in our intention of getting to know people and not changing them or not imposing our own culture or ways of doing things and just absorbing what they have to offer and learning about different cultures and backgrounds. And bringing that home to share, rather than wanting to change people.
So more of a mutual exchange, beneficial for everyone?
And Kyle, a follow-up to that is, someone wants to know how you feel about AmeriCorps?
I confess, I don't know that much about AmeriCorps. So I don't feel qualified to answer on that. I know it's a domestic service program, but I haven't looked into the details. So, sorry.
Okay. I am going to... I'm going to read Laura or Laura, sorry if I mispronounced your name before, her response to the question about Latin X representation on the panels. And I think it's important to note that she does not feel welcome from the responses. So I think the important thing within the responses, and we did see in the chat that Cornell has responded that this is something that the Diversity Coalition will take note of and do better on. And I think that's kind of the best place we can be as we talk about shared values is the listening happened, as well as a commitment to do better. And Laura, I think there's certainly lots of requests here for you to hold folks accountable. And Noha, you'd like to respond.
I would also like to reach out to Laura and say that the Peace Academy needs more diversity. We are looking for people. We need representation in our group. So, we have a lot of it, but obviously, it's hard, again, to make sure everyone is represented. So please, I'd love to be in touch with you and perhaps you can help me out.
Great. The next question is from Ron Tilly. And Ron asks, "Do the panelists have experience with peace building circles and are there any currently in SLO County?" And I'll just see if anybody raises their hand to answer that? I think the answer is no. So Ron, this is another opportunity for you to reach out to the Diversity Coalition, make some connections, and share the information that you have on it. And potentially, that's something that can be implemented. And Ron says, "Thank you."
I've got a question. So one of the things that I talk about a lot in storytelling, I do a panel or a presentation on narrative as resistance, how we use our stories to push for social change. And I have this mantra of truth, justice and love. So that, you always start by telling the truth.
You then use that truth to pursue justice, once you've told the full truth. And that that's what love looks like. So that's love within your storytelling. It's already built in once you've told the truth and pursued justice. So, and then people inevitably ask me, "Well, what do you mean by truth? Whose truth?" And my response is always, "I mean the non dominant narrative."
And so I wanted to ask each of you to think about non dominant narratives, and you've done this on a personal level, already beautifully in your intros. But I also wondered if you think about what is a non dominant narrative, a truth, that needs to be told. It could be within your background of what you do, or someone else's background as Laura, I would clearly say, the Latin X experience is a truth that needs to be told that she feels is not being told.
So I want to ask each of you to think about what is, if you can, one example of a non dominant narrative that needs more attention, that needs to be told? I just threw that out at you, so I'll give you a couple seconds to think and raise your hand if you'd like to answer. Yes, Heidi.
Okay. So I'm going to take a crack at it. I'm not sure I fully understand. So feel free to correct, or guide. One of the things, one of the many things, that I feel is this, I'm going to call it discomfort or this knowing that I am a leader, or I don't want to say the leader, but I am the mayor on the lands of the Northern Chumash tribes. And so that feels like maybe that speaks a little bit to what you're talking to, that, I want to call it a disconnect. And I'm not sure, again, that's quite the right term as I'm grappling with this new idea that you're bringing up.
But, I definitely feel that. I feel that in an embodied way that I can't necessarily articulate verbally, but so that's something that speaks to me in terms of non dominant narrative, that people would see me and say, "Oh, she's the mayor of San Luis Obispo." Even the name San Luis Obispo, our history of San Luis Obispo, the mission, the mission system, Junípero Serra. All of these pieces that go into this place where I sit literally right now, feel like that's a part of what isn't often spoken into.
And you can feel the discomfort, even if I bring it up, like at a beginning of a city council meeting or any kind of meeting that we stand on the unwelcomed, uninvited guest of the Chumash people. The discomfort that, that creates for people just to even weave in that piece that's often not spoken to. So I'm not sure that's quite...?
Heidi, for not being sure, you just [crosstalk 00:53:54]. It was perfect. And as a matter of fact, I think tonight has been so great because we're learning lessons for the Diversity Coalition moving forward. And certainly, for me as a facilitator, which is, everything we do should begin with a land acknowledgement. That's a perfect example of a non dominant narrative. And someone asked to define it.
So the dominant narratives are the things that we learned in our history books, things like Christopher Columbus discovered America, right? So, and the non dominant ones, are the stories of the people that he "discovered," that do not, in any way, agree with that narrative we've been told. And so the land acknowledgement, I think, is such a perfect example. We've got lots of questions coming in. So I threw that one in, because I hadn't seen any, but Noha, if you'd like to respond to the non dominant narrative and then we'll go with more questions from the participants.
I was just going to say that our curriculum, generally speaking, is a dominant narrative curriculum in schools. And so that needs to be [crosstalk 00:24:02].
All the time. [inaudible 00:55:05]. Yes, perfect example. Thank you. Okay. Let's go to, there's a question for Joslynn. "Joslynn, in what way do you see the community tearing itself apart? You referred to that in your intro. Can you give an example and do you observe any of the opposite, which would be coming together?" And that's from Sandy.
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
Hi, Sandy. That's a very loaded question. I think there are a lot of ways that I see our community tearing itself apart. I'll just pick one that comes to the top of my head is, I see a lot of people who are in leadership, or in some form of a leadership, whether it be ministry, or running for congress, or anything along those lines that are spreading false truths.
There was a post that was actually going around social media, I think it was on Thursday, about five buses coming in that were Black Lives Matter buses coming into the community and going into SLO, and they were coming off of the 46, and it was 100% lies. And it got spread quite a bit and people were being very hateful about something that wasn't even true.
So that's just one thing. And that comes to the top of my head is a lot of leaders in our community are spreading false truths, which create diversity, or I mean, divisiveness in the community. So that would be one of the big ones. And as far as what was, I'm sorry, the follow-up about...?
[inaudible 00:56:53] observe any of the opposite, of people coming together?
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
Not as much as I would like, if I'm really honest with you. I wish my answer was yes, but no, I don't. I hope I answered your question.
Thank you, Joslynn. Okay. This one's from Erica. She says, "I'd love to hear suggestions regarding further action that we can take as individuals to address systemic racism." And I love that she's conducting this a bit with the non dominant narratives because she says, "We have rallying, and protesting, conversations with loved ones, joining political action or human rights initiatives and voting, but are there other actions we can take?" I think it's a good point that we have our go-to's for social change, and what are maybe some non dominant initiatives or actions that we can take? Noha, have you got an answer?
I can just pitch in my immediate thoughts. Equity in the workplace. So I think, if you're involved, if we are involved in systems that, where we can influence policy, then we should try and do that. I know it's hard, but that's where we're at.
Awesome. An example we have that just came out today in Hollywood, is that the Academy is now changing the prerequisites in order to be nominated for Academy Awards, that you will need to include inclusion or have inclusion or diversity within your films in order to even be eligible to be nominated. So it's an example of how we can take our workplace and change what makes merit as an example, right? And that if inclusion is not there, diversity is not there, that that means that you haven't achieved that. Anybody? Let's see. Yes, Kyle.
I would just chime in on that. I mean, it seems like the list that she provided was pretty good. I mean, getting involved with different political movements, or talking to people. And it spans the range from the super interpersonal, to the more trying to exert your own power upon the systems that we make. The thing that occurred to me though, which I've been noticing a lot in, particularly [inaudible 00:59:30] younger circles, but also a really nice intergenerational mix, not so much in SLO County, but in other parts of the country, which is mutual aid networks. And also, more informal ways of just supporting [inaudible 00:28:46].
It's great to have non profits and government services and all these things need to exist, but there's also a way of creating a more horizontal... I have two loaves of bread and you need one, here's one. As opposed to, there's a Chilean poet who talks about, I have two loaves of bread, I'll eat two loaves and you eat none.
And that's the current system in a succinct way. So anyway, I don't know actually if anything like that exists in SLO County, but that's one way that occurs to me of... And then the other way, which I think was implicit in what you said, but just continuing to educate yourself with the real truths of American history. And that often comes from reading, but there's lots of other ways of doing that because that's what has to come out. And that's what everyone has to recognize in order for us to achieve the society that we need.
Thank you so much, Kyle. And I'll ask you Kendra to go ahead and place Kyle's reading list there in the chat. So everyone can see some great resources for really learning the truth about the history of construction of race in the United States and other important non dominant narratives. Okay. So we have a question for Heidi from Casey Gravell, "Heidi, there are a longstanding families and business owners in SLO with history and comfort in established relationships, which can create an exclusive culture. What efforts are underway to become more inclusive and diverse?"
So maybe I'll start by saying, one of the false narratives that has been woven in recent weeks and months here is that, if you are in support of Black Lives Matter, you are against business. And this is largely grown out of the idea that these, some of these protests have been disruptive, right? Which is...
Of these protests have been disruptive, right. Which is their point, but have been disruptive to the businesses in the downtown of our community primarily. And so I think that, that really is a course of false choice. And we need to really respond to that clearly that you not only can be both in support of small business and equity, but those two things I think go hand in hand. And so yes, you are correct in noting that there's an idea in San Luis Obispo, throughout the whole County, I'm sure, but I just can speak more specifically to my city. And for example, a lot of folks will come to a city council meeting and start their whole comments by stating my name is thus and I have lived here for generations or 60 years or whatever. And as if to establish themselves as basically having more value and finally, one night at a city council meeting, a man just flatly articulated that.
And he said, I've been here longer. So I have more rights and this has a very localist, I'm going to call it nativist quality in our community. And I think we're really feeling that right now. And I think there is a sense on the part of some that as we've heard over and over again, there is no racism here. What they're really saying is because there is no race here or there is such a lack of diversity that we are not confronted with it. So we can allow ourselves to believe that we don't have that, or we don't have that experience here. And so I'm not sure exactly about the business focus of this question, but I would say that the culture at large in the city and in the County of San Luis Obispo definitely has this generational claim to power or importance and a very suspicious eye towards so-called newcomers of whatever type, but certainly anyone that doesn't fit the dominant group in our community.
We have one of the lowest diversity's rates in the state of California. And I'm sure most people here know that Cal Poly, is definitely the whitest, certainly the whitest public school in the state of California. And those two things definitely go hand in hand the impact of Cal Poly, on the city and vice versa probably. And so this whole thing has been incredibly disruptive for what I think the question is getting at the sort of... I want to say old school, but I'm not sure that's quite the right term, but this idea that a lot of folks have.
And so unfortunately some are spinning this narrative that this movement has been anti-business. And I think it's really incumbent upon all of us to combat that narrative whenever we can. And I'm not sure that, that fully answered your question, but I do hear what you're saying, that there is a sense that people have been in our community for quite some time and they are reluctant to relinquish the power that they have experienced for in many cases, generations. You're talking about old ranching families that have land ownership, intergenerational wealth, and all of that. And that's why I say that I think that we're really under an identity crisis because what also is happening is that we think we are so... I'm going to use the word nice, right? This happy city in America, I think is one of the most toxic designations that has ever happened to any city anywhere.
We have a significantly higher than suicide rate here also. So let's be clear that San Luis Obispo is not, and has not been the happiest place in North America. What it has been is a place that purports to be nice, but underneath that, there is a real disconnect for a lot of people, certainly people of color, but also people that are experiencing mental health issues that aren't popping up out of bed feeling like, yay, I love it here. And I'm successful and doing well. We also are the fifth, most expensive place to live in the United States as well. Right? So we have a lot of different challenges in that way. So we definitely have a lot of work to do with that sort of old school orientation that a lot of families that have lived here for quite some time have.
It's a great point. And it is yet another way that we can answer with that nondominant narrative, right? If you're a landowner, you didn't start off being a landowner. White people in San Luis Obispo did not start off being the landowners. And so to really examine the history of how anybody ended up owning land there, who now believes that they're in this exclusive position, I guess we want to hope that as we tell these truths about how land ownership happened in SLO, that we hope that, that folks who are in these positions of exclusivity start to have at least some compassion for those who, whose land was stolen from them in order for them to own this land. So I feel it always comes back to that truth telling and those nondominant narratives.
And I'll just quickly say for the participants who are adding questions in the Q&A place, I will only read them if they are actually questions. If you have a statement or a chat, especially about who's been left out on the panel, it is so important to all of us, but I won't read it in the questions section. And however, the Diversity Coalition will be reading and absolutely acknowledging and considering your concern.
So I just want to say that real quick and our next question is asking for all of the panelists to respond to this. So the panel represents various backgrounds and experiences. Can panelist explain for us what are your shared values and how do you find those and put them into action? Well, this person says because we are just meeting, I think is the question, how do we find those and put them into action when we are all just meeting each other? Joslynn, would you like to begin?
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
Yeah. So I think the fact that all of us are meeting and coming together for the common goal, which is to create more diversity and diversity acceptance in the community. I think our common goal would be, we want people to feel accepted and welcomed and to feel that they have a voice in this community.
Yes. I would say that we even take it prior to that, the precursor is understanding that we are all human. We are one race and that we care about the same things, which is love and family and peace. We all want to be happy. I think we have to remember that every second of the day, we have to remember that when we make our decisions and how we live, how we meet people, how we treat each other, and that should be our guiding force or vision is that we are one race and that we should care about each other in the same way. We shouldn't in our minds differentiate.
In other words, we should mentally combat the stereotypes that we are fed. And the images like I was saying earlier that we are constantly fed and in our minds, remember that it's on us to search for the truth. And those are the narratives of the nondominant and to connect with those narratives. And at that point, we will see that we care about the same things in the end. All mothers want to take care of their kids. All parents want to feed their kids, and have a family and grow. It's all the same basic needs. And so those are the values that connect us. And if we deny each other those values, we are committing injustice. We are part of a system that denies people, their rights.
I'm going to add to this and then ask Kyle, and then Heidi, to include your answer to that question and to this one. Oh, I think I just lost it in the hold on. So how do we deal with, cope with, respond to, engage with those, for whom there is no satiation of what they want? Those who will damage the cause because there is not immediate gratification, whatever that may be for them, which may not be articulated. So I wonder if you can talk about both, what are our shared values? And also it looks like there's a question about what if we continue to pursue meeting our shared values, but some people are maybe never satisfied with that meeting of shared values? So Kyle, do you like to begin?
Well, that's a tough one. If I am able to answer this, then that would be great, but I'm not going to, but I'll give it my best shot. The first thing that comes to mind with the combination of these questions is just, how many activists and political groups, both that I've engaged with personally and have learned about in history have fallen apart because of difference in values and the difference in tactics and opinions about what, how and what needs to be accomplished? And so in as much as that's deeply disappointing, whenever that happens, I also think it's part of the process that unfortunately, we're not all going to join hands and sing kumbaya and get along. We can't wait until everybody is on board in order to keep pursuing progress.
I think, sort of building on what Noha, was saying in as much as we can be rooted in a profound and radical humanism, a humanism that recognizes that race is a fatal invention to reference the book by Dorothy Roberts the sociologist. It's a great book about how race is made up, but it doesn't mean it's not real and deadly in this country and in many other countries across the world. But that said, being able to recognize the profound humanism, which we can all tap into. Keeping as a vision the society building on that vision, of course there'll be differences in values. There's that famous Martin Luther King, quote about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice. I think it was a Obama, who said this as well. It doesn't bend on its own and it's a long arc. And I think that just maintaining the motivation and supporting each other also is crucial that you're not always going to have victories and immediate gratification.
And Kyle, while we have you in Heidi, I'll remind you if you need a reminder of that question while we have you, we do have someone who asked are the results of your interview project published or available to review anywhere?
Yeah. So the interviews were all done on the condition of we weren't going to share the recordings, but we have the transcripts and we turned those into a play, which I guess there's a script of it, which I wouldn't mind sharing. And there's also live performances, which we have done and continue to do. So if that person, I encourage them. If they're interested, reach out to the Rhizome Theater [inaudible 00:01:14:57], I'd be happy to share the interviews that we were given permission to share for that. And can I also just add one more thing that just came to mind that I want to... That comes to mind with this.
There's a Malcolm X quote and I thought of Malcolm X, because I referenced Martin Luther King. And I think the relationship between the different strategies and tactics of a more radical, well, actually they're both radical in their own ways, but different tactics, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. A history shows and a lot of analysis shows that in fact, they were effective because they each had their own tactics that it needed the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, which is amenable to so many people, but also the more radical and aggressive tactics of Malcolm X.
And there's a quote by Malcolm X that says something to the effect of if you stab a knife in me, nine inches, and you move it out six, that's not progress. If you take it out of my back, that's not progress. Progress is healing the wounds. And people are going to have different visions of how to heal the wound, but keeping that as a vision as well of how do we heal the wounds and move forward.
Thank you. Heidi, did you want to respond to these questions around... So many of the questions here boil down to what can we do? What are our shared values? [inaudible 00:14:22].
Well, in terms of shared values. The older I get it feels like a gift of aging actually. And also the journey that I've been on has really led me to a more spiritual path. I think I would describe it as, and it seems to me that there's basically two choices to come from and it's love or fear and fear comes out all kinds of ways, right? It can look all kinds of ways, but essentially that's the choice that we have, and it doesn't always feel like a choice, but ultimately at least that's what I'm really recognizing is that I can come from love or I can come from fear.
Which doesn't at all mean that it's at all easy to come from love, but that's what I aspire to. And I think that in terms of the shared values, that's ultimately, I think what we're all aspiring to because we need like on a deep DNA, biological level to belong. Now it's less true, but maybe not, traditionally throughout human experience and evolution to be rejected from the tribe or the group was literally death. And so still on some level, we experienced that when we feel that type of rejection from a group. And I think, that's what we're all striving for is to belong.
And so I think whether we even admit it, acknowledge it, name it or not, we always share that value or that desire to belong. And that's the work that I'm really interested in is trying to be part of creating that belonging in our community. And in terms of what we can do, there's been a lot of good ideas already offered up. And like I said, we have our diversity task force and so many other things that we're doing, but some things really happened for me. And I think for so many people over the last few months in the midst of this uprising. Before it felt very intellectual, I guess I would say, of course racism is terrible. Of course, I'm not racist. Of course, of course, of course, very up here, right? Let's do something, let's do something.
I'm not sure what to do. A big conversation in my head and with others. Now, it feels so much more embodied for me. It feels like it sunk down into my being more. Why? I'm sure there're several reasons, but top of that list would be the real relationships that I have built with folks. And especially the young people leading this movement have impacted me so deeply that I am linked with them. I feel like and this makes me emotional forever. And like that saying goes, there are no such thing as other people's children. So the young people that I have had the honor to get to know and learn so much from, in this movement work have really helped me embody this anti-racism work and feel like this isn't something that I'm getting out of ever again.
I have no intention or desire to get out of it, but that word like that phrase, get out of it, comes to mind. I don't see that tunnel out anymore nor do I desire it, but I feel very much in it and in it for the long haul. And so I think it's those real relationship building with folks from different backgrounds that to me is the key. Bigger than policy, bigger than all the things that we might write down on a list, but it's building real relationships with people that embody it somehow for me.
I feel confident from the folks I've met, that they will hold you accountable for that Heidi Harmon. [inaudible 01:20:09] we got you recorded, you are [crosstalk 01:20:11].
I'm in it, I'm in it. It's interesting, as a white woman, right? I'm in this experience also to have been so associated now publicly with Black Lives Matter and have received... I don't want to center myself in the story, so I'm not sure how to navigate that fashion. So please call me out or up or over. But having received so many racist comments, myself and threats and anger, rage, all of that, it's been interesting for me. I feel like, okay, just a taste right. Of what it is like to never be able to opt out. And so I think that's actually been a profoundly informing experience for me. And so, yes, please do hold me accountable. I'm in it.
Good. So that we're not centering whiteness too much. I'll have the two panelists of color answer the next question. And I'm going to combine Deborah and Brenda your questions because they're very similar. And the questions really are around, how do you talk to the most conservative of your neighbors, your friends, your family members? Deborah, says she usually just avoids them or talks about the weather. And Brenda, says she grew up very poor in poor areas. She's looking for the best way to help educate people, that racism is real and lives here in SLO County. How do you speak to the super conservative and conservative is a blanket term. Let's say the racists in your life or in your vicinity, how do you reach them? Noha, do you want to begin? Or Joslynn, either one.
I can start. I think the key is to really back up the conversation to where you find the most basic commonalities, the most basic similarities. I also think that it's important to build relationships so that our conversation is heard, right. People want to feel heard and people want to feel understood. And so I know this is really hard but earlier, before the session, we were talking about how people of color and people of minority backgrounds like myself, take on a huge responsibility. Somebody sees me and thinks of the entire world's Muslim population, right? If you don't know another Muslim, and this is the only Muslim you know, then that's who you're going to be thinking of when the word Islam or Muslim is stated. And so I take that as a responsibility. It's a huge burden on my shoulders, but I accept it because what is the alternative?
The alternative is what we're in right now, is that people are ignorant. People stay in the dark. People don't understand us and so on and so forth. And so I think that being authentic about who we are and being authentic about building connections, and then we bring in the conversations. If we really want to make a difference, we have to build those relationships and then have the difficult conversations. And when we have those difficult conversations, we make sure the other person is heard. And then we can express our perspective, but starting where... And I know that I'm preaching to the choir, and this is why I'm saying what I'm saying, right. I get the sense that our audience tonight is the choir. And so I think the key is to just really back it, up to where once we've built those relationships and we are ready to have the difficult conversations is to back it up to our most basic commonalities. So that they feel heard. And we also have that opportunity to have a meaningful conversation.
Amazing. I'll just put it out there that your friends and family and neighbors are very lucky people because I just use the block button on Facebook. I just use the unfriend and the block. And I'm out of here. Joslynn.
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
Yeah. You definitely hit the nail on the head. One thing I wanted to say was I, for a very long time, never spoke up. I was very fearful of how my family whose white and my friends who are all white would feel, I was more concerned with offending them than speaking my truth. And so something shifted kind of like Heidi was saying that something shifted and I felt that I can no longer keep quiet. I could no longer not share my experiences because I've had many. And I had a lot of people say to me, I never knew you went through that. And I never wanted to share it because I didn't want them to take on that blame. And I have come to the realization that, that is part of this process. No, my white friends didn't call me a black bitch.
[inaudible 01:26:14] allowed to say that. Sorry, if [inaudible 01:26:14], no, they didn't personally call me that, but it is part of this whole process. And in order for me to help bridge this gap in the community, I have to share my experiences. And I do pretty much have, I would say everyone that I come in contact with or most is conservative because I'm very involved in my local church. And then my family tends to be very conservative. So that is what my social media feed. That is my friends and family that is who I'm around. And so it is hard to speak my truth. But I have to remind myself that not everyone is coming at a place of attack or a racist. They just don't know. They don't have the experience because they're not a person of color.
They've never had someone call them a name. They've never been ignored. They've never been asked to leave the grocery store because of the color of their skin. So they don't know. And so I do my best when I am talking to them to say, look, this is my experience. And I'm speaking from my heart and just approach it with love because there are some people who choose to not hear the truth and it really is the truth. And they choose to remain ignorant or close minded. And I have to bless and release as some people say block them. I choose not to, because I want them to see what I have to say, but I bless and release and know that maybe they're just not ready to hear it right now.
And I'm hopeful in the future that they'll want to have a conversation with me. And I do my best to tell everyone, sometimes things get lost in communication over text or social media. So I always want to have a conversation in person and approach it from that place of love and respect and friendship or family relationship.
Again, amazing. Your friends and neighbors and community members are so fortunate to have both of you. I'll just mention something that really helped me navigate these kinds of conversations was reading, White Fragility by Dr. Robin DiAngelo. And even though that's still problematic because here is a white woman profiting off of what black and Brown people have been saying for years, what she manages to do is to really break down the feelings and then the behaviors of what white people display when they are uncomfortable, having conversations about race. And the goal of that behavior is to shut the conversation down. So it's both useful for white people to read because you can be self reflective and observe yourself having those feelings and behaviors and know why you're doing it.
And I think it's useful for black and Brown and Asian and indigenous folks, because you can observe it and you can kind of navigate how you can enter the conversation. And I will say that part of the reason I have used the block button or the unfriend button was for self care. And I am deeply concerned about how far we push ourselves in order to have these conversations or try to do actions with our white counterparts, family members, et cetera, and not always take care of ourselves. So self care, self care, self care. All right. I'm going to... Oh, yes, Joslynn.
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
Sorry. Can I just add something to that? This is something that is super important for people who are white and who want to learn more about people of color and their experiences. I've said this to friends before, but I really want to encourage you that please be respectful of people of color, because having to say the same story over and over and over again, it is heartbreaking every single time. And so not necessarily every person of color that you know, will want to have that conversation because maybe they just had it. And so to be respectful of that, because it's very, very hard there're times that I've sat in my room and cried. And my husband's like, what can I do? And I'm like, I just need you to leave me alone. So please be respectful of people of color that you know, who might not necessarily have the strength to have the hard conversation yet again.
Thank you beautifully said, Heidi, we'll pass this one to you. What is being done in this County to teach human rights?
It's a big one. So I don't know about County wide efforts outside of the efforts of the Diversity Coalition, for example. Also, I would say organizations that you've had on your calls in the past to restorative justice efforts, feel like it's very much a part of expanding the conversation about human rights and certainly restorative justice in the criminal justice system. As I've mentioned, a couple of times, we do have this new task force, which we do not at all pretend is going to solve the problem. We recognize deeply that this is the beginning of what will almost certainly be a decades long process and conversation. We are hopeful in the city of San Luis Obispo that this task force, which has a primary mandate of advising the city on this about $150,000 that we set aside for diversity efforts, they will be guiding the allocation of that funding in the most impactful way possible.
Certainly there'll be many, many ideas and concerns shared throughout this taskforce process that we will not be able to engage with right away. I'm hopeful that all of that will roll into a diversity and equity major city goal that the city will then put more significant funding, staff time, et cetera. And hopefully that will be a major city goal for the foreseeable future that we will continue to have this conversation. And so that also brings up, yes, we have a task force, Michael Boyer from the Diversity Coalition for example, is on it. And we're grateful for that. It's a relatively small taskforce, but the voices that we need are everyone's. So for the Latin X community, especially which we've noted-
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For the Latin X community, especially which we've noted is at times like in this call and on our taskforce, relatively absent, that does not mean at all that we do not want those voices to keep sharing concerns and ideas moving forward. Ideally we would be working as a county, as a regional effort.
I would be hopeful that other mayors would be open to joining those types of efforts. It's not clear to me who else in the County is as open to that conversation, but I definitely am. And so if anybody has some ideas about County efforts that I might be able to participate in I'd be really open to that. But right now it feels like the diversity coalition of San Luis Obispo is definitely leading that sort of County regional effort on human rights.
Thank you. Oh yes.
I can just put in a little something. Last year the peace academy had a one week intensive and Heidi, you are one of the guest speakers to that week. I don't know if you recall. Probably not because you do so much. But we invited a United Nations ambassador to Skype in with the kids. And that was an awesome experience for the kids. We spent the whole week doing just human rights and they did human rights projects. So on a much smaller scale of course, this is a group of teens that were putting out these efforts. But I will say again, I think teaching kids the way we teach them, what we teach them is so critical to investing in our future.
Fanshen if you don't mind me sort of adding in a little bit, oftentimes whatever the topic is. And obviously I have my own point of view as an elected person, but there is a little bit of, what are you going to do government or elected person, right? And that's an appropriate question, right? I'm not saying that question shouldn't be asked that question absolutely needs to be asked and accountability needs to be created absolutely.
And we need to put the problem in the center not the city, right? These are very deep as we've noted structural issues that we all need to step up and step into. All the questions that are being asked here in the chat, there's an opportunity for all of us that are here tonight to be involved more.
So if people are hungry for regional effort on human rights and racial justice then we need, y'all everybody watching in this community too. There's an opportunity for us all to step up in our own way, whatever feels comfortable for us and how we want to show up to be part of that. I was going to say concerned maybe the word is aware. I feel a very heightened awareness that we're at a very crucial moment.
Like it honestly feels like in the next couple of weeks or certainly Months. Like we're in this moment here where we've had this uprising, we've had some bumpiness around at this community is really grappling with it. We're having this identity question. And the last thing that needs to happen right now is for us to get overwhelmed by it and just set this down and walk away.
And that includes everybody. And so even though it continues to be uncomfortable for many that the moment to push is now. And I think it is my sense though. It is maybe time to consider transitioning a little bit from protests, potentially, although they can certainly continue if that feels impactful and helpful. But, having been transitioning from activists who elected myself this is kind of the hard part when we transitioned from protest to policy, that's a moment to navigate. And so I'm hopeful that we can now transition into that and really sit down at tables of inclusivity to have those conversations. To figure out what policies practices and all of those sorts of things that we all need to be advocating for as an unified community.
Thank you. That actually connects well to this next question, because it is so prevalent among the current protests that are happening and where we might go. And Noha I will ask you to begin with the question, especially if this is something you look at at the peace academy. Which is how can we differentiate support for black lives matter without people who support police in general, feeling attacked by that.
And then the question goes on to say, it seems there's no room sometimes that the real issue has to be about addressing structural racism amongst some in the police and not all, and among prosecutors around the country and that there can still be genuine support for policing, even if you support black lives matter. So I wonder how you'd tackle that Noha.
I was muted again. I am not 100% sure that I understand the whole question, but I can kind of see my initial thoughts on what I think I understand. I think that we need to train our police better. I mean, they have a job that is not being done well, and there's a lot to improve on. So of course we need to keep our streets safe and all that, but what does that mean? There's a disagreement on what that exactly means and what our standards are and to be fair, and to be just, and to be equal. I just am appalled by the lack of cultural awareness and education that goes into training our police force.
Okay. I'm going to go to the next question, which... Oh yeah kyle would like to respond.
I just wanted to jump in there real quick. I think this is an example of where I would probably disagree with maybe some of the other panelists or other people in the chat and we can hopefully still have a conversation about it which is, I think that there's a lot of talk of defund the police or more aggressive attacks against the police verbally. And I understand why people don't want to demonize the institution in general.
I think the question that that needs to be asked and to this moment provides a really unique and almost single opportunity in our history to ask is, what is this weird system that we have where we have people going around with guns all the time who are like our fellow citizens and are militarized?
Like why do we have an occupying military that is our fellow citizens and that's paid for with our tax dollars? And like how for centuries humanity... of course it's much complex now, but for centuries humanity and many communities were able to police themselves? Policing, we have to totally reimagine what that means.
And I think yes, definitely training but also a broader question about why do we need this in this form now? Can we not have more social workers? That's what defund the police means. Can we not have more educators? That's what defund the police means. Can we not build better infrastructure, build better housing? That's what defund the police means because this isn't a zero sum game budgets that's probably Heidi are zero sum.
And like when the money goes to the police, that's not going to other things. Anyway, that's my radical youth intervention there.
I so appreciate it. And of course back to the acknowledging of the truth and the non dominant narrative modern day policing is a direct descendant of slave patrols. So it is built into our structural racism. What we see today as what we call policing today was created and some of the OG structural racism in this country.
And so to not really examine it fully and think about huge changes, sweeping changes would be to probably not completely address what needs to be addressed. Thank you. Okay. I believe I'm going to get this question right here, which is why were there no charges against business owners and a Royal grand day who were on roofs with long guns, but protestors were arrested from the July 21st protest? Heidi, I'm assuming that might be for you if you're able to respond or anyone else raise your hand if you can.
I feel like this question you could probably do your doctoral thesis on. It really would take understanding and navigating the deep roots of this country in general about race certainly, but also about what I'm going to call toxic masculinity and this sort of false idea of rugged individualism.
So you have people in this case in a row grounding and I don't want to claim to be an expert on this particular situation, but it seemed like there was a fear, right? Love or fear and coming from a fear of blackness, right? Basically also as someone I think it might've been Jocelyn was speaking to this big, false story that was being told basically in every city across the United States that were experiencing uprising about these mythical Anti fa busloads of people coming from Oakland, right? That sort of thing. And this fear being created by these stories.
And so apparently in America it's legal to stand on your roof fully armed as a community member so-called defending your business. Side note, this was a martial arts business. So I mean it didn't speak well to their martial arts skill, in my opinion. I never understood that. That was my main takeaway. One of my main takeaways from this whole story. Like what happened to the martial arts? Anyway, it's kind of funny, but it's also a good question.
So it wasn't about defense really then, right? It was a performative thing to me about white supremacy and masculinity it seems. And then it is really a sharp juxtaposition. Then when you have a young black woman leading a movement who then gets arrested, right? And was in the context of what happened that night the only one to get arrested. We know Elias also got arrested, but it was a slightly different context I feel like it might be fair to say.
And so I don't know exactly how to answer all of that except to say that I think we're all pretty clear that the criminal justice system is usually anything but just oftentimes for many, especially people of color. That we live in a country for which guns are considered one of our fundamental rights.
And so we have a constitution that says you have a fundamental right to be armed. And it's curious that we do also have a constitution that says that you do have a fundamental right to express your freedom of speech as well. But people have very different interpretations about the accountability piece of Freedom of speech.
I'm on a Royal grand day, so I wasn't that close to that particular situation. So I don't know the details of exactly what happened there. But I feel like America is the answer to that question.
Okay. Thank you. I'm going to go to the next question. And I'll just remind the folks who are participating in the Q and A, if you don't have a question mark it's probably a comment. So I'm not going to read it but if you find a way to turn it into a question, I'm more than happy to ask it of our panelists.
So I'm going to go to this one, which is focusing on curriculum and children. What practical steps can we take to promote diversity and inclusion in the minds of our school children? And here's the great important piece of this without generating huge curriculum fights. I know Noha has plenty to say on that. I'll check it first because we'll definitely go to you. Kyle or Jocelyn do you want to begin on that or we go directly to our educational expert? Joslynn do you want to, it looks like you're going for the unmute, yes.
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
I mean obviously I'm not a educational expert [crosstalk 01:46:28] to the fact that I am a black woman who went through this curriculum. And if I'm really honest, I don't know much about an African American culture. That was not taught in school. So imagine my surprise when I'm reading about gosh, the was the Oklahoma massacre.
I mean there's all of these things that I was never taught about my culture and I am biracial. So not to like discount my white heritage, sorry mom. Like, obviously I was taught that, but the African American culture, I was never taught that. And so a lot of it, I have to do research on my own and that's wrong. It's very wrong. I am American.
for me, and this is probably what the person means by curriculum arguments or whatever the word it was used. But African American history is American history like this is what it is. There shouldn't be black history month. I'm sorry, but that's stupid.
Do you even do it? No, I went through school and while we maybe talked about one thing for a week, so it needs to be all inclusive. It's American history. It Is part of America. So that's just my take Noha I'll let you-
I'll just quickly mention that a lot of us think that we know white history, but we don't tell the truth about that either. Like we don't tell the truth about the origins of whiteness. Because nobody can take a DNA test that tells you you're white. It might be able to tell you about regions but, and Kyle you know this from reading fatal in pension it's one of my favorites as well.
Even white identity this thing that we are taught all the time is, understanding of it is very limited and it's another one of these things where if we tell the real truth about whiteness and how it was created and how it continues to be used to perpetuate the ideology of white supremacy. I think that's a shared value that we can all have and start to say, "Okay, we can do white in the curriculum but we've got to tell the whole truth about it. And Noha.
I completely agree with you Jocelyn. I didn't learn about black history until college either. And it was like the biggest shock and aha moment. And I continuously asked, why am I learning about this now? And why didn't I learn about it in elementary school when I was supposed to? Why aren't children taught to not feel entitled? Why aren't we exposing them to the truth of our history? Is it too inconvenient, too much to handle? Are we afraid that they're going to care?
So these things really I'm very passionate about and I don't see a way around recreating curriculum. And that's what the peace academy is really trying to do is to rebuild the curriculum. To include diversity and say the narrative of the non-dominant. But also to empower kids. So they can feel that they can solve world problems. They can lead us into that and more so when they grow up obviously and become leaders in their communities. And so my question is why does it become a fight? I don't understand why we have to fight?
We need to come to terms with the truth, right? And so I know that's hard and the school district will play a big role in that. And so teachers need to be trained or retrained. School culture needs to be more inclusive. We have to do all that.
It's a process, it's a journey. It's not something that can be done overnight. It's a lot of work. And so even just redoing curriculum is going to take a very long time. It's not something that's going to be done in a year or two years and it's going to be a buildup, right? Like I'm going to have to start from kindergarten and build up from there.
So it's quite a process. But I would say that the people in position of influence have a direct role. But also I think as parents we have a role at home. To check out what the kids are learning and to know our stuff and to know other people's truths and to be able to make those connections with other narratives. The narratives from the non-dominant and to be able to tell those stories to our children as they are learning this curriculum in school and to empower them to question what they're learning in school and what's missing and allow them to become critical thinkers and true seekers. And that's our role as parents.
Beautiful. I started by talking about how schools are segregated today as prior to a brown versus the board of education. And it was the parents who fought to get us back to segregated schools. So this is such a good point that it can also be the parents that push us to tell the truth and the curriculum, the schools have to listen to the parents.
And so what if parents say, actually we want these things taught in our schools. We want the full truths. Heidi I see you, but I've got to say we are very close to wrapping up. So I want to, and I apologize to all the folks who have questions here, I'm going to ask one more question of the panelists. And I'm going to ask you to try to condense your answer into one sentence.
Good luck. I'm sorry. And then Noha I'd love it. If we can wrap up with your principles for the peace Academy and then I'll turn it back over to Cornell to wrap up the entire session. So this last question, and again, I'm so sorry to those whose questions I didn't get answered. But we'll keep them and we'll share them with the panelists.
But this last question, one sentence answer if you can. With everything you have been through, how do you hold onto hope, given the prevalence of racism in our County? And I don't know if they meant country. Yes they did. In our County and our nation? How do you hold on to hope? One sentence if you can.
I believe that we are born good people and at the core of our heart we are all good people. And so that's where I hold the hope is that everybody is good and we just need to bring out that goodness in people,
I would say that it comes from those fighters and revolutionaries and activists and thinkers who have come before. And those who humans who are yet to come.
Joslynn Ranae Flowers:
Yeah, I definitely agree with Kyle, but I think for me, it's everyone who encourages me to keep sharing my voice instead of keeping quiet and encouraging me that they want the change too that support.
So I want to clarify, I got something wrong if you don't mind. Our coordinator is on the call. So I don't want people to walk away with bad information. We haven't met yet tomorrow we're meeting. So I'm not as grounded in it. And I remember an important conversation about Latin X people being included. So I want to make sure people know that two of our 12 folks are Latin X and our facilitator as well. Is Latin X so I apologize for getting that wrong.
The young people leading this movement gave me hope. I don't know what else to say. There's definitely been some dark days. But the young people leading all the movements, the climate movement, the racial justice movement, it's sort of like let's pass the reigns over to the young folks and let them lead.
I love it. I'm second, third, fourth, all of that. All of the above and Noha can you read us your peace academy? Am I using the right term goals? Principles?
Yes. Values. We call them values. So again what we have in common is that we want peace and peacemaking. We value humility, compassion, kindness, seeking knowledge and wisdom, generosity, gratitude, and love.
Thank you so much. And Cornell, I will hand it over to you.
Wow. Thank you so much. I want to again thank the participants, those of you who tuned in so to speak. Thank you so much for your support for each of these programs. They've been we hope, instrumental and raised a good question. But just as importantly, they've inspired us I hope to do good work in our community.
And as John Lewis would say to get in good trouble, perhaps even along the way. I just want to very quickly, I thank each of you individually. Jocelyn, you got us off to a great start and thank you so much. One of the things that Jocelyn taught us, and I think the sooner we learned these lessons the better. And that is to not allow others to define us. To be mindful of how important it is that we walk our own path, obviously with mentorship and support and always open to learning.
So that's very important. But Jocelyn, thank you for your stories and thank you for your courage. Kyle, my brother, you can't be more right. White folk have to step up and you are a young white man as I look at you, I've been taught that people look like you are white. I don't want to make any presumptions, but you have really helped us. And I appreciate that.
And I think as we move forward and more young white men and more white men generally and white folk, more particularly pay attention to these issues and get out and become what some have described as anti-racist and certainly more prophetic. We will move, I think more quickly toward what all of us are interested in. Noha I really enjoyed what you had to say. And thank you so much for being so open sharing with us, very personally your own experiences.
You came to a community that didn't always embrace you. Didn't welcome you. Did not treat you with the kind of respect that you are entitled. You were harassed, you were bullied, you were misrepresented. And in spite of all of that, you persisted and you gave us a real treasure you and your colleagues, the peace academy and that lives on, and that's what we call legacy.
That's what we call the Testament to what I think is really important in all of us. That is our capacity to not only endure, but to make a difference along the way. Mayor Harmon you may be the most woke mayor I think I've experienced in my life, my political and personal life.
I truly appreciate your comments and especially your prophetic observations about what we can hope for and what we can work toward in San Jose Obispo. You are right on, we are at a critical juncture. You are right on my sister. We are at a critical juncture in this County and in this city in particular and what we do over the next several weeks and I think you said next several months is going to be critically important. Thank you for your leadership and for all the work that you're doing.
And then Fanshen if this was an orchestra and you had a Baton. You would have conducted a wonderful concert concerto or symphony because you are skillful masterful at making certain that there was a broad conversation and that people felt engaged and were encouraged to comment and to share. I really appreciate that Fanshen. Thank you so much for what you've done over the course of this series.
I just want to mention very quickly again, October 14th our next program. I hope you will join us all of you, and that you'll continue to support the coalition. Continue to quite frankly, to support social justice efforts throughout the County. There are organizations that we collaborate with, that we are more than happy to continue to work with, and we want you to continue to support those organizations as well. They make a real difference. I'm going to stop there.
I'm going to thank all of you again for your participation, our panelists, our moderator, last but not least. Please join me in thanking our interpreters. They have done an outstanding job and made this program one that is accessible, and that is important. So Sarah loving way, and Jackie Rebus, thank you both because you've made a difference tonight as well. We truly appreciate that. Thank you all. And good night.