Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

4Jun/120

Ground Rules – Part 1: Speak your truth!

As we start down this road, it seems appropriate that we begin with some initial rules of the road, if you will... or in this case, rules of the page.  These are rules or guidelines or principles that I expect to follow, and that I'm asking you to follow as well if you'll be joining us - especially if you'll be making comments and/or submitting an essay for posting.

For starters, I'd like to offer up a preliminary set of "ground rules" that were suggested by the team at Casey Family Programs that developed Knowing Who You Are.  For those not familiar, Knowing Who You Are is a set of tools developed to support professionals and family members in exploring and appreciating the meaning and significance of racial and ethnic identity in their work with youth and families involved with the foster care system.  The tools include a 24-minute video, an online learning curriculum and an in-person training.  Of the tools, the Knowing Who You Are Video has long been the centerpiece of the set of tools (it sets the stage for the two subsequent components), and can either be viewed online, or can be ordered free of charge through Casey Family Programs.

The ground rules offered by the KWYA team are pretty straight forward.  The work involved, however, is more complex.  This week, I'll spend a little more time saying a little bit more about each of the ground rules, as I think about them in the context of this work.  Surely, in addition to my commentary about these as a set of guidelines for this blog, I also think there are parallels for how we think about the work of supporting families - both at the individual and organizational level.  For sure, we'll build on these in the weeks to come.

Today, we'll start with the first ground rule (again... the ground rules or guidelines come from KWYA, and the commentary is mine).


1.  Speak your truth.

The reason I created this blog, and the reason I wrote the essays that are featured in my first book, is that there isn't enough truth-telling about the experiences of African American families in this country.  For that matter, there isn't enough truth-telling about other families who are not white nor white families themselves.  I'm clear that people can reasonably develop different perspectives about the same set of experiences and the same set of dynamics they see play out within child welfare and other systems.  Many factors influence our perspectives.  The issue for me is that only "certain" perspectives get recognized or get air time, if you will, in many professional settings - be they child welfare settings, educational settings, juvenile justice settings, etc.  Unfortunately, the perspectives that get left out most often are those of family members whose experiences with the system are less than favorable, and those professionals and community advocates who share their sensibilities.

Making the truth-telling endeavor more complicated is the reality that most organizations involved in this work have an interest in "staying relevant" (i.e. having something to contribute that speaks to and even advances the current state of the field) and "staying viable" (i.e. keeping the doors open and bills paid).  Sometimes this means they also have to balance the desire to do what they believe is right for children and families - including speaking the truth about their lived experiences and the systems they wind up entangled with - with the need to get funding or financial resources to continue their work.  The exceptions to some extent are the national foundations that have their own independent operating budgets.  But even they have to balance the tensions in other ways.  Also important to note is reality that their funding and investment decisions can significantly shape the nature of the discourse in the environment in which this work occurs.

It's not an indictment on the organizations, not totally at least.  It's just the reality of the field.  Our responsibility and challenge is to be clear about that, and to speak our truth about that as we experience it.  Organizations are made up of people, with sensibilities and perspectives just like you and me.  When they are mindful of the experiences of the many children and families who are struggling to make it (families, by the way, whose reflections on their own experiences and stories could be of value to the field) then their organizations' investments are more likely to support those kinds of responsive efforts.  That's why your role in this work is so important.  You can (and many of you are already) making the difference we need.

The operational word for me is "integrity".  How do we advance the field and do our individual part in a way that has integrity, in a way that speaks truth and does justice to the children and families that are on the receiving end of the system's efforts.  We can disagree about where the appropriate balance is when it comes to resolving this tension.  The point is that there should be space for these different perspectives - and most importantly perspectives of the families whose voice and perspective is most often excluded.  There's so much more I can say about these organizational tensions given the environments within which I have spent much of my professional life, but we'll leave it there for the purpose of this post.  More to come later...

Students, professionals and community members alike - that's why we need you involved in this work of developing and challenging and advancing ideas.  You have to apply the skills you have and those you continue to develop with your growing understanding of children and families, and the systems that can and should be supporting them.  You have a lot to contribute, and it begins by developing your ideas, taking your ideas seriously, applying them, reconsidering those ideas, and continuing to grow and develop.  Challenge the prevailing ideas and practices and approaches when they don't make sense.

Speak your truth!  You are the emerging present - and the future  - of this critically important work!

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