Great, Beautiful Metamorphosis: Journey of an organizer of young people of color with wealth

2012 has been a transformative year so far. I moved across the country from Seattle to New York, started a new job at Resource Generation organizing young people of color with wealth, and turned thirty. I was excited to step into the unknown, and ready to take on big challenges. I expected that there would be struggle and great, beautiful metamorphoses.

All of this has come true, and much more than I could imagine. What I didn’t begin to expect is how this work would crack my heart open, and transform my ideas of what it means to lead, and to be supported as a leader. I didn’t expect to learn about radical intimacy, a process by which we deepen closeness by deepening the truths we tell each other, by sharing the most difficult things because they are true and need to be said (Thank you Mai Doan).

 

A little about me

I’m a young South Asian queer immigrant woman. I’ve lived in the U.S. for 12 years now, most of that time split between Atlanta and Seattle. Here is my introductory blog post describing my path to RG, when I was 3 months into this job (I’m now 9 months in). My whole life and personal-political journey have led me here, and I seized the opportunity to join RG staff because it gave me the resources to go after what I needed so badly – connection with other people who shared both my race and class experiences.

As new staff at RG I was filled with hope, and I also knew it would be a challenging process because RG’s 15 year history has been rooted in the experiences of white inheritors. But the timing was ripe, because the organization was deep in a process of examining why it is committed to racial justice. The staff were ready for me, and I was poised to bring a vision to life with this momentum: mobilizing masses of young people of color with wealth and/or class privilege for an equitable redistribution of resources, and to change the mechanisms of power to be more just.

 

The Quest

In every new beginning, there is a moment of pause, and anchor. Entering RG, I was inspired to embark on a quest. I feared becoming immersed in a specific job and becoming disconnected from a broader social change movement. The analogy that works best for me is that RG is a vehicle, and we are clear about the direction we are moving (people) towards, and why, and our place in the larger movement.

Why is activating people of color with class privilege critical to a social change movement? Nicole Lewis says it well, in this excerpt from RG’s upcoming book about the experiences and potential of being young people of color with wealth. We are at an important center of class justice work because  –

“We don’t want our personal stories used to bolster the claim that we now live in a post-racial society. We don’t want our families’ successes misconstrued and appropriated as evidence of a “level playing field” or “equal access for all” . The playing field is not level. We believe our successes and upward social and economic movement were made possible by the many people who organized, protested, marched, resisted, created, rebelled, reformed and agitated for change. In our experiences lie a key to understanding the complexities and nuances of many forms of privilege and power.  We have tremendous access to the kinds of stories which highlight the way privilege operates to keep some folks “in” and other folks “out.” Even if we have known class privilege all our lives, chances are just a few generations before us there are stories full of struggle and triumph.”

If our goal is to move resources, and to change the mechanisms of power to be equitable, my job is to bring people of color with class privilege along. But in order to do that, they/we need to have input on where we’re going, and they need to trust the people behind the wheel. I was determined to use my time at RG to push something concrete forward, to make a difference that was grounded in a vision based on community input.

I talked to many many people; primarily RG’s constituents of color, as well as current and former staff & board. These are the questions I asked across 30+ conversations –

  • How can we as young people of color with wealth best plug into the social justice movement?
  • How can Resource Generation be a vehicle for that role?
  • What do we need from RG to support us in being effective?

It was exciting to hear the strong themes that came out of these conversations, and also the range of ideas.

 

Top 5 Priorities

  1. Build community – We want to inspire and engage other young people of color with wealth to join us in this work, some of whom are already involved in social change work and many who aren’t yet, to join us in organizing our communities for social change.
  2. Develop our leadership – we envision a strong multi-racial leadership at the forefront of class justice work at RG within 3-5 years, centralizing leaders of color. We are building upon all the current leadership of people of color in the organization – members, allies, and a cross-class staff and board.
  3. Embodied personal transformation – We are centered in doing liberation work that does not fragment our minds, hearts, bodies and spirits. We are bringing our whole selves into this process with imagination and openness.
  4. Politicization with a community of peers – We want to know and share our histories of how race and class are deeply intertwined, and how that affects us today. We want to share a compelling analysis and stories with other wealthy folks of color so that we do not perpetuate competition or divisiveness between different communities of color.
  5. We are taking concrete and intentional action in collaboration – We are passionate about moving resources to the most marginalized communities, to shift power and resources and decision-making into the hands of those most affected by injustice. The wealth in our families is often more recently generated, there is less guilt about it compared to many white inheritors, and we are living and sharing resources in cross-class families and communities. We are already taking action, and want to be more collective in our thinking and impact, and in continuing informal or faith-based traditions of giving.

The more that I reflect upon these key priorities, I realize that these are the stops on my roadmap for people of color in RG. With these 5 priorities as guidelines, we can actually begin trying to embody our politics and our visions for change.

And so much has happened since these initial conversations. At the first official caucus of people of color at RG’s annual conference, Making Money Make Change 2011 – we stated our desires. We wanted to make an impact in the world with our unique identities, values, and resources. There were 12 of us at this pre-retreat caucus, and we could not get enough of it – the dialogue, the questions, and each other. A dinner and a half-day convening left us all wanting more. Participants wanted a whole retreat that was people of color only, to talk about the unique opportunities and differences of being at this intersection of racial oppression and class privilege. And we did it!  We just completed emeRGe, a leadership retreat for constituents of color in RG, held in August in San Francisco.

It has taken much radical truth-telling to share these visions with RG staff and board as they emerge, and for us to collectively figure out what it means to support me as a woman of color leader in manifesting this vision. I am inspired and challenged, and heart-opened and heart-broken often. But my learning is, the heart never breaks. It is much softer and flexible, it expands with all that it receives, and our capacity for holding complexities is ever-growing.

This is an offering, and it gives us several gateways into the depths we want to explore. I’ll hold off on those for now, but invite you to go there, and share with me your discoveries and questions. The next post in the racial justice blog series will focus on what it means for RG to organize its white constituencies as we center racial justice in our work.

Meanwhile, I am delighted to confirm that the great, beautiful metamorphosis is well underway.

 

Nikita Raj

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