On Monday, December 14, in partnership with Family Action Network, Chicago Beyond hosted the final installment of Unpacking, a four-part series with cross-sector leaders designed to unpack issues such as privilege and bias that drive racial discrimination. Our Founder and CEO, Liz Dozier, was joined by Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, to discuss her new book and guide to transformative movements, The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. The conversation spanned many topics, from the Black Lives Matter movement and its origins, to respectability politics, to the “culture wars” that we see today. Watch the full interview below. 

Liz and Alicia discussed the true power of movements beyond a brand and a hashtag, and highlighted that the Black Lives Matter movement is the largest protest movement in history, not because of its media presence, but because this year alone, more people than ever have stepped out of their homes to join a protest in solidarity with Black lives. The power of the movement lies in the sum of its parts, and when we as individuals make an effort to contribute, we are not only utilizing our power, but adding to the power behind the broader movement.

Alicia shared that in order to change society, both collectively and individually, we need to have the courage to step forward into our future, knowing that the future of Black people in America has not been written. She added that we need to be mindful about how our stories shape how people take action, and that we need to take control of our narrative and invest in counter points that battle back against falsehoods and hyperbole. 

“Part of the healing process is telling the truth of how we got here.

Alicia Garza

That is what motivated her to start the Black Census Project, one of the largest surveys of the Black community ever, with the goal of telling a more honest and nuanced story about who Black people are in this country. Likewise, in Chicago Beyond’s guidebook, “Why Am I Always Being Researched,” we explicitly named and framed the power dynamics in the philanthropic space and outlined the actions that each entity should take to ensure the space is more equitable.

Alicia talked about the process of change, and making sure that when we institute new ideas or create new spaces, we aren’t just replicating oppressive systems. To avoid this, Alicia shared that we must learn about what we have to dismantle within ourselves in order to build things that disrupt the system around us. It’s important to understand that in some way, our understanding is influenced by systems that were birthed from inequality, and narratives that are either blurred or in direct opposition to the mission of equality

To close out the conversation, Liz asked Alicia about the notion of healing, and how we take care of the people on the frontlines so that we can all stay in the fight. Alicia talked about the difference between self-care—a bubble bath or a yoga class—and reckoning with the reasons why we are experiencing trauma. She said that sometimes, part of our trauma comes from being gaslit and told that the things that are happening to us are not actually happening to us. But when we look around and see poverty, inequitable education funding, under-resourced communities and the like, who is to blame? For Alicia, reaching a space of healing and reconciliation means acknowledging the truth about the harm that society has inflicted upon people of color, and from that truth, working to build the kind of world where that harm is no longer an organizing principle.

Each of us possess immense power as individuals, and we possess even more power when we come together collectively. The Black Lives Matter movement started as a Facebook post, but it wouldn’t have reached its current status if it weren’t for people collectively mobilizing around the message and taking to the streets in solidarity with it. But more than protests, if each of us are embedded in systems, institutions, companies, or boardrooms where we see imbalances taking hold, we must ask ourselves what our power is in those situations, and how we can effectively work with people to achieve our nation’s highest ideals: liberty and justice for all.

In June of 2020, Chicago Beyond launched the Unpacking series to engage cross-sector leaders in dialogues on unpacking their own privilege, and how race, wealth, and power have driven decisions and policies that perpetuate bias, discrimination, and racial disparities that many communities of color are facing today. Thanks to a partnership with NowThis News, these conversations reached hundreds of thousands of individuals interested in learning how they, too, can unpack these issues to arrive at a more authentic truth. Click here for videos and recaps of all four sessions of Unpacking.