Seeing Systems: Exploring Stories and Histories

Posted: October 24, 2013 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

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When we first started the project, I was unsure about it but I didn’t quite know why. I knew it was that it was hugely ambitious,. That we were a small organization. That there was resistance to looking back on this past even though this history was very alive for many.  That there was so much I didn’t know. Now, though, as we prepare to enter the 40th anniversary year, I am beginning to learn what was at the root of my own ambivalence. That fundamental learning has been the complexity of the systemic nature of Boston’s busing/desegregation crisis— the history(ies)  that undergird it, the patterns that continue to repeat.  A lot of my work before coming to UMN was popular education largely focused on systemic oppression—especially systemic racism. Initially, I tried not to lead with models most familiar to me. I didn’t want to miss new understanding by imposing my own but I soon saw that using the lens of systemic oppression helped make sense of a lot of what we were hearing and seeing.  One of my best teachers, Malidoma Some, used to say that it often takes a simple model to help understand a great complexity. And I’ve found this to be true, as we’ve listened to and learned from those who have been on this journey with BBDP. In 2011, we adapted the “four dimensions” model of understanding systemic oppression* to what BBDP was seeing and hearing about the crisis and the public education system (see  phase one report). We created and shared the chart above as a way to sort the information and reactions we were getting to the Project and the relevance o f it that people were seeing (or not!). As we begin sharing and learning from the stories we’ve been collecting, it’s important for us to share our unfolding frameworks for understanding those stories and the current context in which we’re hearing them. One thing we’re clear on is that we don’t have the last word or any final solutions but BBDP as an effort is learning and has learned some things that need to be shared. Perhaps we should have been sharing them more consistently as things unfolded but we’ve tried not to put out our impressions as staff and leadership without doing as much listening, learning and reflecting as possible. BBDP will likely end up with more questions than answers and with more curiosity than solutions. But we trust that if as many of us as possible fully engage this material together we will end up with something valuable to the many people and organizations throughout the city who are committed to race and class equity, democratic access and excellence for all. We will deepen our courage to wade though the vast differences among us about what that means. * the idea of the “democracy gap” came from the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro, NC

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