Healing, Belonging and Eldership: The Journey of Diversity and Inclusion.

November 13, 2022

Healing, Belonging and Eldership: The Journey of Diversity and Inclusion.

May 29, 2023

As I see the commercials for Wakanda Forever, Black Panther 2 movie (a just-released sequel to the 6th highest-grossing superhero film of all-time), I immediately think of the extraordinary experience those of us had a few weeks ago at the first-ever Black Modern Elders workshop.

24 amazing African-American (Black, People of African Descent) elders, including the five planners, deemed the “Sistahs”, convened at the MEA campus. It was one of the most extraordinary professional experiences of my 30+ years of co-designing and co-facilitating learning communities.

During that week, we created our own Wakanda --- where Black culture, legacy and heritage were spotlighted, appreciated, and celebrated. The songs, the music, the laughter, the tears, lessons learned and smiles of recognition filled the week --- seven days that changed lives. The adapted MEA curriculum and experiences combined with sharings and dialogue laid the groundwork for “collective effervescence” that Chip often talks about. Beyond our week together, we have hundreds of posts on What’s App, a voluminous collection of photos and two casual get-togethers in the works.

The 24 curious, courageous, creative and mindful attendees represented the full mosaic of Black experience --- seasoned professionals from the DC, Maryland, Virginia corridor; changemakers from the Bay Area; coaches and consultants; artists; elder advocates --- all reflective of the array of lived experiences that exemplify Black love, Black joy and Black excellence. The uniqueness of this week emanated from the intensity of the healing, camaraderie, respect and “ubuntu” that was often referenced (Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term meaning "humanity". It is sometimes translated as "I am because we are” or "humanity towards others").

What MEA teaches us is the power of reflection, the power of journaling, the power of shifting mindsets, the core elements of visioning and purpose as we move into eldership. The components and principles of modern eldership when viewed and applied through the lens of distinctive Black lived experiences – was exponential in their impact. One of my substantive “Baja-ahas” was that those of us who hold social locations and identities that are different from dominant culture can powerfully transform and heal the trauma of the dominant culture that creates “the othering” of Black men and women. Many of us who have lived lives informed and influenced by racism, sexism, homophobia and other “isms” can effectively use the tools of modern eldership in a way that blends the best parts of our cultures into new visions for our personal, professional and community lives.

The resilience, brilliance, dynamism and soulfulness of the week spoke to the essential nature of Black cultural heritage and how our legacy demands our individual and collective healing. The journey of creating diverse, inclusive equitable respectful communities of belonging that includes the wisdom informed by culture, history, ancestry and legacy benefits MEA and the expanding global community Chip and the founders are creating. The world In these contemporary times requires us to find our way into learning, understanding and creating inclusive communities that herald, acknowledge and affirm the various cultures that have historically been under-represented.

MEA is on its own journey of crafting an inclusive, DEI culture of belonging. In the past several years having hired a DEI consultant, establishing a Black Alumnae network (both informally and formally), hired more diverse staff, and brought on more black guest faculty (now representing 20% of MEA faculty). These actions are reflections of the embodiment of MEA’s own sojourn towards inclusivity that can only strengthen the reach and impact of MEA. I cannot wait to see and experience how BMEA (Black MEA) will catalyze relationship development and the continued growth of MEA.

Diane J. Johnson is CEO/Founder of Mmapeu Consulting, a national firm working with conscious businesses, social sector organizations and national initiatives on creating cultures of transformation and inclusion. She is one of the “Sistahs” of Black MEA having designed the BMEA curriculum and served as a co-facilitator.

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