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Slivers of Light in a Trying Year: Letter from the Executive Director

  ·  Sylvia Puente

Dear friends and neighbors,

I hope that you’re finding some slivers of light in this trying year. In the spirit of helping each other, I thought I’d share a couple that I’ve found for myself.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the changes to our societal landscape that this moment has catalyzed. There are two reflections in particular that have filled me with optimism and hope. Both of these lessons came from young voices in the street, and both have to do with bringing important, previously taboo subjects into mainstream conversation.

I’ve spent my entire career—nearly 50 years, if I go back to my youth as an activist—in pursuit of equity and justice. I’ve seen and experienced the underlying forces in our society that are among the toughest barriers to progress: structural racism, and more specifically, white privilege. I’ve known these concepts for a long time, but I’ve never heard them spoken out loud with such fervor and passion as they are today.

At some of the most progressive, downtown, civic tables that I’ve sat at, people have always been comfortable using the terms “equity” and “justice.” But even as recently as a few years ago, these same voices—my own included—have not felt comfortable discussing structural racism and white privilege, for fear of being ostracized, marginalized, or being seen as too radical. For fear of not being taken seriously.

I’m thankful for the young people that are marching in the streets and shining light on these terms. The rhetoric of their protests has lifted a veil and made it acceptable to speak frankly about structural racism and white privilege in mainstream conversations. Because of them, we are having more direct conversations about the antagonizing forces that limit equity and justice.

The other reflection that I’d like to share has more to do with looking inward than speaking out. If this current pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s the value of internal reflection in a fragile world. I don’t know one person who hasn’t recently done some personal reflection on what they value, what’s really important, what’s sacred to them. On what their purpose is, on how to maintain their health so that they might live a fulfilled life. 

Four years ago, when we did our first Multicultural Leadership Academy, a group of Black and Latina women leaders from that class proposed holding healing circles: group conversations that are safe havens for speaking about personal pain and trauma with the goal of lifting and healing their soul and spirit. As they explained, we have to deal with our own traumas and heal ourselves if we want to heal the rest of society.

I was blown away. To me, this type of personal introspection was something to be done privately. Here was a group of Black and Latina women doing their internal work in a public way. And now, here we are at this pivotal moment, and these very traditions are becoming part of public discourse. Healing circles, meditation circles, and peace circles are becoming common practice.

I have always firmly believed that working towards public policy change is a path to dismantling structural racism. I also now believe that we must all undertake our own process of reflection and healing as well. Every individual and institution must look inward if we’re going to have true, meaningful, transformative change to our perpetual systems of injustice. And that includes ourselves, as the Latino community: What does it mean to be in solidarity? What does it mean to be an ally? How do we understand the impact of colonization? How do we begin to understand our community's own anti-Blackness, which is expressed in “terms of endearment” such as “negrita” and “morenita”?  We must make space for these difficult conversations on our path to transformation and healing.

Here at the Forum, we’re continuing this work—the inward and the outward, towards internal healing and public policy—in our collective march towards equity and justice. In our newsletter, you’ll find details on all the highlights of this recent work. You’ll read about the peace and meditation circles that our Multicultural Leadership Academy is holding for its current cohort. You’ll read about our education team’s groundbreaking English Learner Handbook, which provides guidelines for the lifetime success of English Learner students and is the Forum’s most extensive publication to date.

You’re never too experienced to learn from new voices. I hope the ones that have inspired me can inspire you too. May you, your family, and your loved ones stay healthy.

Paz y bendiciones,

Sylvia Puente

View the Forum's Summer 2020 Newsletter here.