Updated: Jul 13, 2020
I am an African-American woman, a 70s born, Ivy League and top university groomed, Fortune 500 corporate trained professional who is obsessed with the concept of where people, actions, and where even I belong. I am obsessed with the conversation of belonging because even with all of the "things" and qualifications I can blurt out about who I am and how I show up, I still ponder where and how I belong in various circles.
Welcome to Creating & Claiming. This is our space. You and I belong here… Just as we are! I started Creating & Claiming because I have the fortitude and training to navigate these questions much differently now than I had 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, I was in my 20s leading college recruiting efforts in financial services and biotech. Twenty years ago, diversity was implicitly coded for "hire a few more women, brown and black folks, so we don't look so bad" in the corporate space. Today, the true practice of Inclusion and Diversity is a whole real thing. It is a practice backed by certifications from top universities and HR organizations alike. There has been a paradigm shift in some regards, where we are actively having conversations about how different identities equate to different experiences in organizations. This is happening because society can no longer hide from the systemic practices that have fueled the racism which led to human injustices like the loss of children like Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, LaTasha Harlins. Or fathers like Medgar Evers and George Floyd. Daughters like Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland and countless meaningful lives before these mentioned that have ignited movements like #blacklivesmatter. Or the LGBTQ+ movements spearheaded by the likes of Harvey Milk. Those like César Estrada Chávez who fought for workers rights in the farm fields. Or like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who paved the way for a women’s right to vote... We struggled to create and claim a sense of belonging. These are not trends, they are movements rooted in the reality of what it takes to create and claim space. Not trends. I said, not trends but movements. Movements meant to evolve and to make it uncomfortable to ignore the underpinnings of society’s ideals about where people belong. Because the people are more engaged, society is becoming more engaged in the accountability of creating spaces where people, their ideas, and their cultures are showing up at work, in schools, and other organizations, because they cannot ignore the fact that these are issues of humanity. No matter what your views are on the matters of society today, the things that are happening in the world affect everyone. Not only when you are at home, but at work, or school and while driving down the street. We need to acknowledge that. This accountability that we're speaking of is about where and how we-- all people belong. Proof that evolution does happen!
All of this said I do not want to engage in the trite discussion that's anchored in, "let's make everyone feel comfortable" way. But I will very much want to participate in the "let's uproot some ideas and concepts and get into the weeds on this idea of belonging" way. The "let's get into, under, and in between all the cross-sections of what belonging is, who's accountable for it, why and how do we do this thing called belonging kind of way."
Let me say it for the people in the back one more time: I am not here for the surface conversations. I just can't do that! Nah, if you come to C & C, come all the way ready for the realness. What I am here for are the grit and the grace of the process of creating and claiming spaces to belong. The grit lies in telling the story-- the whole story from the origin to the end (or, in some cases, the current state). Grit is getting into the metrics, the details, and the specifics. Grit is really seeing the environments that we are moving in as a society for what it is and what it is not. I will go deep on the factors that play into the sense of Belonging, including socio-economic challenges, the concept of privilege-- who has privileges and who doesn't and why. The audacious idea that we all have the privilege to spend when we see value in ourselves and in others. Because privilege is more than money. Privilege is not solely rooted in economic or monetary value. Privilege is also the value of and skill of having a vision and perspective and the optimism (or as my aunties might say the unmitigated gall) that it takes to apply what we learn as a result of getting gritty. Translating those learnings into specific, tangible, actionable results-oriented practices that will evolve perspectives on the issues of inclusion, diversity, equity, access, and social justice and how the foundation of it all is where we feel we and others belong. But it is a journey.
What is real and evident is that not everyone has the power or a power structure that allows for evolution to occur independently of a community, an ally, or a sponsor. C & C will be a space where we talk about who feels included and who doesn't. Here at Creating & Claiming, we will get into it on the subject of systems and systemic practices of all the things aforementioned and yes-- why? At C & C, we are action-oriented. We also will discuss and provide resources and empowerment on what we can learn from one another while identifying what we can do? We will be encouraged by the grace to learn, to listen, and to gain perspective. Grace is about allowing the questions to be asked, given space for those to share and learn from one another. Grace is the complete understanding that a sense of Belonging is a journey, and we each have varying starting points and destinations. For some, the destination is the courage to be authentic. For others, it is the eye-opening process that the world is not an equal playing ground. For some, it may be in the lexicon and understanding that equal and equitable are, in fact, different. Or the exposure to the cultural competencies embedded in the different realities. For example:
Being a male is different from being a female.
Being an Asian American female leader is different from being a Latinx millennial leader in a corporate setting…
Or that as a mother of a black boy-- there are different and specific concerns that I will have for my son than a Caucasian mother may have for hers.
These realities are not nuances, they are real, valid, and actual differences. The C & C community is committed to the fact that there is not one singular experience for any marginalized group of people that should be reliant on any generalization of the way a group of people thinks, live or see themselves. As we go on this journey to the destination: Belonging, along the way, we have opportunities to be intentional about creating a sense of belonging for groups and individuals alike. The ultimate goal is achieving that feeling of freedom in its real sense. Freedom that looks and feels like: "I am respected, regarded, and both physically and psychologically safe here… Just as I am.
Here we will focus on a journey together on the many definitions of Belonging, but allow me to provide a baseline which I find decent:
According to vocabulary.com, "Belonging means having a sense of fitting in or feeling like you are an important member of a group. ... A feeling of Belonging describes this sense of truly fitting or meshing…" To go deeper, I've looked at definitions of why Belonging is so important. An article for PsychologyToday.com stating: "A sense of Belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong most important in seeing the value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. ... A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health, and happiness." So, then I was led to examine what does this all means when we think about the individual, the organization, and the interconnectedness of the two?
As I explore this concept for myself and those I work with, I am tethered to one word: community. “A community is a group of people who share something in common. You can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it and/or by the strength of the connections among them. You need a bunch of people who are alike in some way, who feel some sense of belonging or interpersonal connection," says theartofrelevance.com. Here at Create & Cultivate will continually question, assess, pressure test, and evolve the idea of community and Belonging.
Belonging is about the community of it all. I know why I am here, and they understand why I am here, and we accept and respect one another (no small print or asterisks required). Communities in the physical sense are about creating and claiming a physical space. The root of Belonging is about the connectedness to that physical space while having a sense of connection to the people who share that space with you. But, let's get into this idea of people. People have experiences-- some are shared, and some are independent, Experiences are based on so many factors including but not limited to: where you are, what you look like, what you have, what you do not have, what you believe and the other part that is so tricky… How you are perceived. The narrative about who or what you are or represent is such a big player in this. Belonging is about shifting from narrative to storytelling to connectedness.
The art of Belonging is about the freedom to be and the confidence to be while feeling connected to the spaces you show up in.
I would be remiss if I did not call out my shared accountability to grow as I lead. Yes, I am a Belonging and IDEAS thought-provoking leader, coach, columnist, and speaker, but I am also a student of society. I didn't get to this space in a vacuum. I must listen to the lead. Here at Creating & Claiming, I will hold myself accountable the same way that I hold anyone else. I will be intentional in identifying my own growth areas, calling out, and being challenged by my implicit and explicit biases and perspectives that I have because of these biases. I expect and welcome the challenge, grit, and grace of my continuous learning and growth process.
This space is not about blame. It is about accountability with a capital "A." Creating & Claiming is about the journey from being an "I" to the empowerment of connectedness. The goal: achieving a sense of belonging that is centered in the word: "we." Ultimately never losing the unique power of what makes you-- "you" or your complete identity. We all have to be aware of our individual and the shared accountability to own the learning journey and the actions we all take to claim & create spaces to belong. At C & C, we are accountable for authenticity. I created this space so that we all have a space to claim! A place to say, "I BELONG here!" The C & C community is empowered to share our stories. As storytellers, we will share perspectives that will ultimately lead to connectedness, resources, and skills to create and claim our spaces as individuals and organizations. This is Belonging!