Reflection Pool by the Social Change Institute's Christina Garza
It has been a few weeks since the Food Systems Leadership Network (FSLN)’s Leadership Retreat in Kansas City, and I am still chewing on the wisdom and learnings. I had the honor and privilege of being a co-facilitator after being a retreat participant just a few months before (June 2018). Despite having a 25 year career in nonprofit work, and having delivered numerous capacity building and leadership development activities over my career, and working for an organization, Community Health Councils, that has advocated for health equity and food justice since 1992, the FSLN took me by surprise. My journey with the FSLN has taught me three key things. First, we don’t always know what we don’t know. I came to the FSLN retreat as a participant thinking that I was attending your business-as-usual nonprofit networking/learning event. I knew what I wanted to learn and what I had to offer. I was surprised to have so many of my assumptions challenged, and my commitment to my social justice work deepen. Despite being a newly licensed minister with three years of full-time ministerial school and ten additional years of spiritual training yet, I was not prepared for one of the most profound spiritual (and political) insights that occurred by being introduced to the work of Theory U by C. Otto Scharmer. Who knew a white, male German intellectual could have such a profound effect? Sometimes when we are open, we get some pretty cool surprises, and in unexpected spaces. But what if I would have stayed in critique, which was my initial tendency, with this material? Sometimes challenge and critique are necessary, but more often, especially in a safe space of allies, we need to just sit, be quiet, and trust the process. If we come into settings thinking we know it all and have nothing to learn then we do ourselves, and our food systems work a disservice. Staying in the question, the curiosity, and seeing again for the first time is required to be an effective leader. Second, we don’t always know what we need. In my experience, the Food Systems Leadership Retreat is a welcoming, affirming, and safe space, where you feel you can let your guard down and just be. It is a place where you can admit you are tired or bored or unsure or hurting and receive unconditional support and coaching. I have talked to numerous participants who experienced the retreat as a time of deep wonder and knowing, or as a time of deep reflection and introspection, or even as a time of pain and mourning. As committed and passionate food systems leaders, we don’t always fully understand how we are burnt out or how the work has taken a toll on our lives, till we step back and take time. The Retreat opens up a space for people to really see themselves with fresh eyes and raise some necessary insights to be a leader with healthier, sustainable, and just personal practices. Third, we don’t always know that the way we show up in the world has a huge impact. I love to wear clothing with bright colors often with sequins and glitter. I was taken aback by numerous retreat participants who commented on or thanked me for what I was wearing. One person said I made their day and another said they were feeling sad but seeing me made them happy. Perhaps it is not the fashion, but more my willingness to show up in the world in a way that is authentic and makes me happy and free. But what if the way I show up has a negative impact? What if me “doing me” shows up as discord and disconnection in a collective space? What if my showing up and showing out fundamentally undermines others? We can never be the change we wish to see in the world if we think we have the right to judge, insult, and humiliate others with our progressive politics and social change process frameworks. We have to remember that having voice is not about speaking with rudeness, disrespect, and "treating" each other with words of violence. That is what we have been taught by oppressive models of communication and engagement. How do we take up space in a collective setting in a way that is loving and liberatory, not from a place of woundedness? How do we challenge our own ways of replicating systems of dominance that feed on political arrogance, blaming, and shaming? I wholeheartedly believe we need voice. And we need to call out injustice. But the WAY we do it is key. There are people out there that really don’t care about the work of FSLN or would even seek to destroy the work (knowingly and unknowingly). We don’t have the luxury of alienating allies in our circles. This work calls for respect and compassion. It also calls for a deep commitment to helping each other be our highest and best selves, but we must do it in a way that opens dialogue and healing. If we really intend to make deep and lasting change, we need to first start with ourselves. We need to start by challenging our own assumptions and understandings about what we know, what we need, and how we show up. As we become more in touch with our true selves, we find more sustainable, equitable, and complete ways to source, and “re-source” ourselves. As we learn to feed and nurture ourselves and others, we grow the greatest gift for food systems work.