Here’s a cross-post from the Change It blog from 2007 participant Alicia Kowsky, a junior at the State University of New York at Geneseo
Yesterday we had a speaker from the National Coalition Building Institute. Larry Bell has worked with the coalition in the DC area for many years. He opened up his presentation with a story about himself. He explained how he grew up in DC thinking that people didn't respect him because of his race. His mom use to tell him not to go into the nice neighborhoods because the police would ask him to leave. Larry explained that he never bought into the prejudice story and as long as he didn't give into assumptions about racism he was able to live free of oppression.
Larry related this story by telling us that a large part of oppression is caused by internalizing it. Someone will say something to make us feel guilty about some part of our personality and if we choose to brew over it instead of move on from the unkind words, then we let them have the power to control our emotions. He conducted an activity to make us appreciate others' differences. He moved past the boundaries of professionalism to help us bond as a network. The activity consisted of him naming a category, maybe different nationalities, religions, or hometowns. If we identified with one of the categories, he had us stand up. Everyone in the room would cheer and clap for us to set the tone of appreciation and approval. When you were standing you could nothing but smile because everyone was cheering you on. There was such a great amount of energy in the room that many people were moved enough to share really intimate details about themselves and feel accepted for them.
Larry's final message was that guilt is the glue to oppression. If others feel that something about them is not accepted, they will feel unworthy. He said, "Every group counts, every issue is important," and we all understood because as environmentalists we know how it feels for others to tell us that our passion in life isn't worth caring for.