I am very glad to see the two articles discussed below. I’ve known the authors, Diop Adisa and his father, Imhotep, for seven or eight years. As Diop writes below, he, his father, mother, Miss Fair and Alvin Sangsuwangul have been working for over a decade to build the Kheprw Institute (KI) community in Indianapolis. They eloquently express what needs to happen now, as people are demanding changes in policing and to address systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
I’ve experienced a lot of pain, anger, and frustration over the last few weeks especially. It’s good to see that people have had enough, that they really need and desire something different. And that they are at the place where they are going to publicize how they feel. When the awareness is made, when the struggle is publicized, there needs to be conversation among ourselves—as well as the culture at large—about how to empower our community and what that looks like. It’s one thing to demand justice, but true justice is being in a position of power to define what that is. That’s liberation.
Liberation is the ability to have decision-making power and have those decisions drive the community that we live in. It means being able to feel that our culture is not always on trial or simply accepted as a commodity or convicted when it’s convenient. It’s having the resources we need under communal control. Education. Health. Energy. Housing. Economics. Art. Food. In order to do that, we have to have different (and varied) institutions, but it’s one of the things not talked about when it comes to combating racism/white supremacy.Institution-Building Critical To True Change. Real justice begins with real liberation by Diop Adisa, Indianapolis Monthly, June 4, 2020
Institution-building is a form of resistance, a form of resilience. There are systems and processes designed to disenfranchise us, so we need our own institutions and organizations to represent our interests with those entities trying to keep us enslaved. Organizing is a form of institution-building since an institution is more than a person, but rather multiple people coming together to manifest an idea. A strategy. A form of organizing that tries to create change, building is a long-term solution, but one that can potentially survive long after us, with the contribution of its members being felt for decades.
The Kheprw Institute has developed and modeled these ideas for over a decade and provide concrete examples that are so relevant today.
From the beginning, my time with the Kheprw Institute has been about institution-building. Its focus has always been about developing young black leaders with the skill set to interact with individuals, identify issues, and create businesses or organizations that try to address their concerns. All while trying to impact and shift culture. Our voice, controlling our narratives, and telling our stories.Institution-Building Critical To True Change. Real justice begins with real liberation by Diop Adisa, Indianapolis Monthly, June 4, 2020
I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned from the Kheprw Institute (KI) community, from the perspective of a 68 year old White, Quaker male with a passion for working on environmental issues. I first went to KI, which I had not heard of, when I saw, on the Internet, they were holding an event related to their environmental work. At the time they used the name KI Eco Center. I arrived at their location, which looked like it had been convenience store, to find about a dozen kids in their early teens, who enthusiastically showed me their aquaponics system, and how they created rain barrels from 50 gallon plastic drums. If you bought a rain barrel, they would artistically decorate it for you.
When I talked about KI at the Quaker meeting I attended, North Meadow Circle of Friends, I found there were others who knew Imhotep. JT had been in college with him. The meetinghouse was only 2 miles from KI. Some of us rode bicycles from the meetinghouse to KI to attend the monthly book discussions there.
Those book discussions provided the opportunity for our Quaker meeting to begin to be connected to KI. The books selected were related to justice issues, books like “The New Jim Crow” and “An Indigenous People’s History”. The youth at KI led these discussions, giving them experience in public speaking.
A fundamental concept of engaging with people or a culture different from your own is to never expect them to teach you about the oppression they experience. And to never make your connection a burden to them. These book discussions weren’t a burden because they were going to happen anyway. But they did provide an excellent way to learn about each other as we discussed the books. This was a great idea because it put the focus on the book, not ourselves. As we shared our ideas about the book, we began to get to know each other.
I was surprised when Imhotep said “having these discussions is revolutionary.” But recognized the truth in what he was saying. He wrote about that in the article quoted here:
Continue to push for something different
How can we create some processes and procedures to mitigate inequity in our social, legal and economic structures? How can we begin some conversations about creating a system that is equitable? What can each of us do in the present to advance equity in our society? And how do we continue to fight for equity during these difficult times?Is equity possible in a world after COVID-19? By IMHOTEP ADISA, Indianapolis Recorder, May 15, 2020
First and foremost, all of us, every last one of us, must engage others in our work, home and play spaces to have honest, open and authentic conversations around the issue of inequity. Some of us, particularly those in positions of power, must have the courage and strength to look more deeply at the inequitable structures that exist within their own organizations and institutions.
Diop’s article continues:
Prior to Kheprw, my people ran a T-shirt business, but its focus was still human-centered leadership development, using a business model to do that. That business model was created to serve primarily the black community. The more we create entities that have our interests at heart, the more they can champion us by interfacing with systems that individuals can’t in order to take care of our own needs. We can create our own resources and develop our own solutions, that culturally reflect our interests by:
- Research. See what’s being done (even the stuff that you don’t agree with) and, more importantly, what’s not being done in order to get a clear lay of the land. Focus on an area of interest, education, economics, etc., and hone in on what you are passionate about addressing. Figure out what is already going on, what they are doing, and look how they can be supported. If there are gaps, those are the opportunities for creation.
- Relationships. It’s important to start any plan of action by building relationships. Institution-building is simply the collective gathering of people and the power that comes out of it. Learn each other and from each other. Have critical conversations that examine what’s going on, difficult conversations about what we are experiencing. Find out the different perspectives. From there, see what emerges and figure out how to form action. Strategize the best ways to do something and create actions that arise from their own momentum. Decide what their purpose is and how they are going to move on that purpose. Maybe it’s starting a business. Maybe it’s organizing a movement.
- Repeat. New relationships, new models, new solutions can be arrived at. Continual creation of things that don’t exist yet to keep moving toward our desired future state.
We need to change the status quo on how we see one another, how we treat one another, how we uplift one another. The next steps involve what we do about getting there. There have to be conversations galvanizing what’s happening now and transferring that energy into the true change that is needed which is why institution-building is so critical. It’s long-term work that can lead to self-determination and impact the struggle well beyond the current generation. That’s the only way we will achieve true liberation.Institution-Building Critical To True Change. Real justice begins with real liberation by Diop Adisa, Indianapolis Monthly, June 4, 2020
[NOTE: Our Quaker meeting benefited a great deal by using the Quaker Social Change Ministry Model (QSCM), a program provided by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). https://www.afsc.org/quakersocialchange. If you are considering doing this work, I recommend at least looking at QSCM whether you are a Quaker or not.]