The power of story

Day 2 at the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Summit 

“Our beliefs are shaped by the stories we hear,” says Gail Christopher as we embark on a “day of healing” at the TRHT summit. “Today is about stories…When we form a circle we suspend the hierarchy…we are not here to judge but to create a safe and sacred space.” 

We pause to celebrate the remarkable forgiveness ceremony that took place at Standing Rock

just twenty-four hours earlier where military veterans made a heartfelt apology to Native people for military action taken against them for centuries. Rituals of forgiveness, says Christopher, can give rise to “heartfelt commitments to change conditions.”

An important step in the healing process is to overcome false narratives that define us. So for most of the day, the entire conference is divided into groups of 20 to 24 people. Each “healing circle” is facilitated by two experienced “healing practitioners” who invite the participants to share a personal story about a time when they overcame, challenged, changed and/or stood up to what they felt was a false narrative about themselves or their identity group, and how that moment influenced them or changed their life and/or the lives of others. It is a powerful experience that one of my colleagues describes as a process of slowing down; of showing up as your authentic self; and of deep listening and being listened to without judgement. 

Later in the afternoon several members of a team working on guidelines and recommendations for a racial healing strategy discuss their experiences of racial healing with the whole conference. They include Elizabeth Medicine Crow of the First Alaska Institute, Jerry Tello of the National Compadres Network, Lloyd Asato of the Asian Pacific Community in Action, and Mee Moua of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Some important steps in healing highlighted in the team’s recommendations:

    • Let the voice and spirit of the community be your guide. Listen to the communities and consult with them; ask what they need; seek their ideas and visions and reflect back what you have heard.

    • Validate the practice of racial healing and recognize those who are doing healing work in your communities. Seek guidance and support from those who have done this in other communities. There are many people and organizations who have developed racial healing practices, history walks and rituals, as well as dialogues, community trustbuilding and community organizing. Map these resources, learn from them, amplify them and make connections.

    • Develop a racial healing practitioner network and affirm the necessity for healing by creating healing spaces for ourselves and others. Pay attention to reflection and to self-care, to relationships in our own homes and family life, as we try to heal our communities. Avoid a hierarchy of woundedness. Support each other.

    • Our work is centered on dialogue and connectedness. Recognize that the healing process is for everyone, both the oppressed and the oppressor.

    • Look for ways to connect racial healing to efforts for equitable public policy. Highlight the importance of connecting stories to data as a way to reach people emotionally as well as intellectually and to mobilize them for action in effecting needed structural change.

    Tomorrow’s agenda will focus on some of the key areas for where change is needed.