My husband and I both decided early that we’d work with kids. Long before we met one another, we were well embedded in our own little streams of service. Working with kids means working with families. Families are working with lineage wounds generations deep, and some more than others.
Now, two decades later, it looks about the same as it did during our acute romantic phase, when we joined forces in an exuberant burst of martyrdom. In early #adulting, when one is looking around for purpose, it’s easy to see that some of our fellow humans tend to fall repeatedly on their faces. Some of us quickly turn away.
Other suckers stop and watch, and then when it’s clear it’s just going to keep happening, they get involved. If you catch an air of self-inflation in that statement, please know it’s hard-earned. When you delve into working with those who live without, you also fall on your face a lot. Neck deep in underfunded, under-appreciated work, you learn some things the hard way.
You’d think paradigm shifts grow easier with time, or that they’re less necessary. Instead, all that truly matters for the people who need it most keeps being buried, re-invented with a pop of glitter and confetti, renamed, and remonetized.
Family-centered, equity-attuned, trauma-informed…these terms are the reorganization of how we use our privilege, agency, resources, and assets, whatever those may be, to listen to and make space for those who aren’t afforded the same. Then, ideally, we hold and nurture that space while they take the mic. We listen, stop interfering, more people thrive.
Some of us continue to try to convince the rest of us, that those perceived as the least of us matter just as much. It never gets old. (OK, it does.)
The messy thing is that the space must be tenaciously guarded for those who have been mired in struggle more than success, generations deep, until they feel enough trust to even get into that space. Reclaiming taken space is very hard, especially if it’s been cleared for you by the very people who took it from you in the first place. Ownership is a tricky thing, you see.
The work to clear space counts, but it’s reparative. It’s restorative. It does not deserve its own piñata. It’s like saying please and thank you. It’s just normal.
But it’s not. Asking people to step aside and re-make space is brutal, hard work. There’s little clarity. Much of the dominant culture isn’t bought in…because stepping aside does not seem to benefit them directly in any way at all. In fact, it messes things up for a while.
When you dedicate your life to reparative and restorative justice, dismantling systems that serve only some, and rebuilding alongside all people, you will be hit in the face when you least expect it. You’ll be hurt by the people you’re serving. Your friends will ditch you.
Life will become more beautiful in the long run, believe me.
But first, and predictably, fellow allies will turn on the people they are serving. No one will trust you, entirely. No one will want to hear what you have to say.
The work will be oft-abandoned too early. Clearings will be half-cleared, at best. And the very first thing that happens when a marginalized individual steps into that mediocre clearing, where space is being held by too few, is contention, followed by the threat of removal.
The strongest, with the thickest armor and the longest stories, are no fools. They’ll stay out of that clearing and wait for you to say you didn’t mean it anyway. They’ll watch you work and they’ll know if you really mean it. Those will be your teachers. It will feel a bit like chaos, and you’ll blame them.
You will. It’s part of how we fall on our faces a time or two, and it stings. The people you are serving, who are used to systems working against their every best effort, will not be surprised by the rug being pulled out.
Maybe it’s time more of us got savvy about not pulling out the rug.