The Long Play…

Forgive me for if this post wanders a bit from power mapping, but so many emotions run through me this week… I have been thinking about how this power we speak of is reserved for some and searched for by many. This past weekend marked the anniversary of the death of Desmond Jenkins, an 18-year-old kid who was shot and killed in August 2019 just feet from the front door of his Raleigh home. His mom is one of my closest friends- someone I have known for over 40 years. She did everything right. She did great in high school. Went on to excel in college so she could get a leg up on a great career. As ADOS people in this country, we are told education is the great equalizer, right? Getting a good education and a good job should be all folks need to make it…. The circles we naturally inhabit just make this conversation so complex and confusing.

My guy Des grew up in a good and safe two parent household with his sister in a thriving area of NC. But life happened. My friend got divorced. Desmond’s father lost his job and could not keep up the alimony payments. His mom had to take a couple extra jobs and move into a not so safe neighborhood for a few years until she could scrape up the funds to get into a more stable environment. The people who had access to Desmond and in turn he was bonded to from grade school until high school were not exactly part of the “talented tenth” ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) folks can self-segregate towards. (Look it up…). Unfortunately for Desmond, his fate was to lose his life senselessly due to association. Those bullets were not meant for him that day, rather some friends of his that lived in the old neighborhood he was fortunate to move away from years ago.

So, what the hell does that have to do with our conversations today about power and access to power? Proximity my friends… It is an interesting concept. So many people are proximate to power just by being born, some folks make intentional plans or are trained to be close to it and use it, some folks have to build towards it, some folks have a natural pathway to it and may never lose it, some folks can lose access after a critical life event. Access to resources and the ability to make change is power. Bonding people and ideas is power. It manifests personally, in groups, and at an institutional level- I opined last week that neither way really had more impact than the other. While I feel and see strong powers who resist change, I am continually reminded that there are more people who want justice, than not… at least must believe that.

Martin Luther King spoke to this a year before he was killed. He said in a 1967 sermon about authority that “Power” is the ability to achieve purpose.” For me, access to power has been like one of those “choose your own adventure” books. I wonder all the time if the tactics I have used were smart or dangerous to myself or others I care about. What paths to mapping power and searching allies for change have cost me some emotional toll? How are my conscious or unconscious stereotypes impacting how I think about this? Am I counseling the right people? What is the long play here?

When mapping out relationships and strategies to create and build power, I am not always clear if I have documented what my goals are for my mental edification and if they match the results I want to achieve in partnership. How natural am I being in leveraging relationships and intimate time with individuals making connections? To truly be an ally is to unite myself with another to promote a common interest. Someone who I trust in this work must really be interested in justice and be aligned to the fact we both stand to benefit from the bond or connection they share. There is something honest and powerful about naming that. I am happy to occupy the spaces I am in but highly critical of those spaces at the same time…

The work I have been adjacent to and possibly guilty of myself can reek of paternalism- where decision-making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without it. I have a particular life experience as an ADOS and challenge those who often don’t think it is important or necessary to understand the viewpoint or experience of those for whom they are making decisions, but must be just as thoughtful of spaces where I can be guilty of the same thing. There’s so much to unpack here about these circles of power we can access and use… I’ll be thinking about my how whatever I’m doing can help make sense of what happens to the folks that can’t access this power directly and the folks who are resting in power.

Published by meraldh

Advocate for education, workforce, and economic empowerment, and civic engagement, with over 20 years of experience in sales, corporate retail operations, staff development, non-profit management, finance, community development, and diversity and inclusion practices. Skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Budgeting, Sales, Asset Merger and Acquisitions, Team Building, and Public Speaking.

5 thoughts on “The Long Play…

  1. That was powerful. Thank you so much for sharing. What a terrible anniversary for you and your friend.

    I am curious if you could dig deeper in the emotional toll it has cost to search for allies and mapping power. If you had not sought out those relationship that had a personal cost, what impact would it have had on your goals or work? Looking back on some of those relationships, what would you change? We spoke a bit in our group about some of those relationships that we have cultivated that have come with a lot of strings (banks, foundations)- can we find a way to be independent and more innovative?

    Thanks again.

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    1. I appreciate that- I wish more than anything that it wasn’t something I had to share or think about, but it fuels me in ways I feel great and guilty about.

      I love the question you asked about these emotional tolls we pay in our journeys towards justice- I’m very much of the thinking we are a sum of our parts. Those tolls were my destiny. I benefited from those experiences, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Today’s work couldn’t exist without yesterday’s.

      Now in an alternate timeline, there’s a ton of relationships I think if I’m honest- I truly leveraged for some positions where I overvalued that proximity to power to be some type of savior maybe? The same things I’m critical of institutions of doing now- I’d be just as critical of myself as a fly on the wall looking back at several relationships I made to serve myself in the name of serving others. I’d like to think I would have a better ally to people I claimed to care about deeply.

      That’s why this cooperative movement and the shared ownership conversations here are so inspiring and reaffirming to me. I truly believe the relationship building that happens in a community looking to build on common interests together can be just as powerful as the relationship building by becoming proximate to power in institutions…

      I often find myself thinking about how different my professional life may have turned out if I had the sophistication to really understand what I was watching the first time I watched Norma Rae:)

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  2. Merald – thanks for telling Desmond’s story. How did it feel to share this story?
    What was it like in your body?

    I love how you drew in King’s definition of “Power” as the ability to achieve purpose.

    When have you felt most powerful?

    What is your long play?
    What might it look like for you to make meaningful time to sit with that question for yourself?

    Reading your last couple paragraphs reminded me of your last conversation and so much of what you’ve awakened in me — that feels like such important work to be done… around access to power — and how we use them…

    These are such ripe questions:
    “There’s so much to unpack here about these circles of power we can access and use”
    Who might be good allies for you to unpack these questions with?

    What kind of space would it be fruitful to unpack these questions in?

    You have so much to offer in this moment. Do you see that?

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    1. Thanks Felipe… I stay so focused on these liberation strategies for the near future in my daily work, I rarely get a chance to be with my thoughts about how to stay connected to the individuals that are impacted by the lack of investment from public systems and institutions. My body isn’t much different than the body of the kids who took Desmond’s life, I had a break or two that kept me from suffering in the ways some marginalized people do, but that same break or two is a barrier that keeps me from realizing natural relationships with folks who do…

      I feel the most powerful now. I have the words, self-awareness, and wisdom to know that pushing a boulder up a hill alone isn’t holy. Someone always is there to push right behind me and one day my time to push will end, and that’s ok.

      It’s also been most valuable to gain that ability to really understand the value of intentional conversations to seek alignment with folks in this work and outside of it too.

      The long play is being ok with whatever time it takes to organize the right amount of people to move in really consistent ways. This gathering of minds and ideas is part of that…

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  3. This piece strikes me as incredibly dense and heartfelt. I am left with more questions than answers as, I think, is in line with the writer’s intent. This subject of power, and its many layers is not something that lends itself to quick and easy action after reading a paper or two on theory of change.

    I’m so grateful for this reminder to stop and think — and think again — about my relationship to power as an individual in the various stages of my life, as a voter, as a taxpayer, as an employer, as an activist.

    There is so much in here that I’ll choose one paragraph to unpack a bit:

    “When mapping out relationships and strategies to create and build power, I am not always clear if I have documented what my goals are for my mental edification and if they match the results I want to achieve in partnership. How natural am I being in leveraging relationships and intimate time with individuals making connections? To truly be an ally is to unite myself with another to promote a common interest. Someone who I trust in this work must really be interested in justice and be aligned to the fact we both stand to benefit from the bond or connection they share. There is something honest and powerful about naming that. I am happy to occupy the spaces I am in but highly critical of those spaces at the same time”

    I have a sense that the first sentence is VERY powerful. But because I’m not totally sure I understand what it meant by “mental edification,” I also can’t be sure that I’m not reading my own thoughts and opinions into the passage. Are you saying that advancing justice requires partnership, and in order to choose the right partner, one needs to be sure of one’s own theoretical foundation or theory of change? I think that’s what you mean, but I find that I’m not just quite sure. I’m also curious about what you mean by “documented” goals. Is that documentation literal?

    Further on you ask how “natural” you are in leveraging relationships. I’m so curious about this! Are you suggested that the best partnerships are born of organic connection, but that you’ve noticed in yourself a temptation to jump into the partnership part before the organic connection is forged? Or did I miss the point entirely?

    I love the next part. “Someone who I trust in this work must really be interested in justice and be aligned to the fact we both stand to benefit from the bond or connection they share. There is something honest and powerful about naming that.” I’m curious what you did when you find yourself in a setting where you’re not fully trusting of those you are doing justice work with? What if others that you DO trust, trust that person, but you don’t? Or you don’t yet? When someone is almost trustworthy but doesn’t quite “get it” in the way you need them to, is it ever worth the effort to try to bridge that gap, or do you think justice work is most effective with a smaller but more tightly aligned group of activists?

    Thanks again for this emotional, vulnerable and thought-provoking piece

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