By Chelsea Callicot, Curator of Community
My role at The Haven is to help create a welcoming, inclusive community.
I often reflect on whether we’re meeting that goal in our early months as an organization. Who feels included here and who doesn’t? Why? What keeps us from building community across differences? As we celebrate Black History Month in our 5th month as a community, it’s a perfect opportunity to dig a little deeper into those questions.
One of my earliest experiences of community was as a toddler in a bible study led by my parents in which I was the only white student. I remember an unusually warm feeling of belonging, perhaps because church was something my family did but there was a special quality to this experience that I didn’t have words for. One of my earliest memories was in November of 1963 when the word of President Kennedy’s assassination hit the news. All of the women on my street rushed out of their homes sobbing. Although I was barely four, I witnessed the power of community as each person sought the comfort that only other mourners could provide.
Community has always been almost as important to me as my family. I was the sprint-freestyler on my summer swim team and although I wasn’t as fast as my brother, I was included. As a pre-teen, my sense of community expanded to include countries around the world as every summer we hosted an international student or chaperone or visited their homes. At 11, I lived with a family in Mexico for a month while my mom studied at a local university. I had my first experience of not being included because I didn’t speak Spanish; however, I never felt unsafe or unwelcome, and, as kids, a language barrier is easy to work through.
My high school years were defined by memories of raising heck with my Presbyterian Church youth group. Belonging to that group helped me weather the social challenges of high school and being a teenager. In my 20s, progressive activism introduced me to people with shared values with whom I created a sense of belonging.
There are moments in community that stand out because of the quality of the connection.
And there are other moments when we are included but not made to feel truly welcome. Early on, one of my hot buttons was when people intentionally excluded others, causing them pain. I was hanging with the cool kids in 6th grade until I witnessed the belittling of our classmates. The kindness I intentionally extended to everyone killed my popularity with these “friends.” Mostly, however, I belonged to groups and never considered my place. Looking back, there were very few moments of blatant exclusion as I am a white woman from an educated, middle-class family and have benefited from generations of privilege.
I am, by nature, a gatherer of people, and my role at The Haven is fitting. But gathering doesn’t ensure a sense of belonging and connection. True community is created as people invest in understanding and caring for one another.
Community is a verb that requires give and take, a flexing of the muscles of humility, vulnerability and respect, and a willingness to extend beyond one’s personal concerns to witness and appreciate the experience of another.
So, how do we ensure that we are inclusive in the deepest sense of the word? I have learned that being uncomfortable is the first step in realizing my limited awareness. As we celebrate Black History Month, what am I doing to uncover my implicit bias? Our recent community book study of So You Want To Talk About Race? and the upcoming Love Your Neighbor forum at Liberty Arts offers opportunities to deepen our understanding. How can I appreciate your viewpoint without understanding the larger context of your life’s experiences? How can a well-intended policy fall short by an off-putting sentence?
Allyship in Action is our partner at The Haven to help us better understand our shortcomings and communicate across gaps in culture, language, values, expression, and background. We have big aspirations, but we have a long way to go.
As we, often uncomfortably, extend ourselves beyond our geographic bubbles, beyond the confines of our social media channels, historic biases, professional circles, friend groups, economic stratification and into the experience of others, we will begin to create the authentic and inclusive connection that we wish for ourselves and our children.
I believe we share a desire to live and work in a place where we thrive in our individuality and our community, and in which we encourage one another to be our best. It’s an ongoing process to live up to the values we espouse, so let’s dig in and get to work.
We welcome your thoughts on how we can make The Haven a more authentically welcoming place for you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.