In the weeks after George Floyd’s murder, you might have noticed the number of racial justice posts in your social media feed swell and then subside. Some continue to do the work in less visible ways, but others have burned out. We are trying to undo the knot of systemic racism woven into the fabric of our country, a goal with likely no end point in our lifetime. This means generations of work, not weeks. So how do we keep moving toward this distant finish line without losing energy or motivation?
To answer this question, we need to turn to people who have been doing this work for longer than the past month or year. Jeanelle Austin has 15 years of racial justice work experience that includes coaching institutional leaders, mentoring individuals, and facilitating difficult group conversations. How does she keep going? Joy.
“Think of joy as a sustainable energy,” she writes on her website. “The goal is to be fueled by joy in our work for racial justice. As people, we tend to be more joyful when we do the things we are good at — when we engage our strengths.”
There is a lot to learn when entering the racial justice space: history, language, our own shortcomings. Austin reassures us though that we don’t need to learn brand new skills to join the fight. We should leverage what we already love to do, and work within our scopes of influence, however large or small they might be. This is how to make the work sustainable over a lifetime. Austin taps into her joy by teaching this message and increasing the number of racial justice leaders across the country. In 2019, she founded the Racial Agency Initative (RAI) to coach individuals and community leaders to identify their strengths and apply them to the pursuit of racial justice.
I first encountered Austin’s work when I attended a “Tea with the People” event she co-hosted with my colleague Justine Lee. The workshop was called The Public Grief of Anti-Blackness, and it created a space to process and grieve the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the many other Black Americans we lost this year. Many of the attendees were Black and Asian, and among them, there was a pain expressed: the question of where Asian Americans stood when it came to systems of anti-Blackness and white supremacy. There was also a desire expressed by Asian Americans to do more, but not knowing where to start. Observing this desire to be in solidarity and gap in knowledge is what planted the seed for Black Allyship @ Mochi.
A week later, I scheduled a coaching session with RAI. Austin appeared on my screen smiling, her voice a comfort amidst the hopelessness I’d been feeling. She asked me questions I hadn’t yet pondered and listened deeply, concluding the session with a list of tangible and actionable steps customized to what I had shared with her.
If you are like me, wondering how to take your place in this work without burning out, you can learn more about Austin’s services and request information here. As a coach, she shares generously from her years of experience, and guides with patience and light.
In a profile of Austin on Nations Media, writer Joseph Carlson says, “She does not just opine. She creates culture. She practices servant leadership. She responds to the call.”
After George Floyd’s murder, Austin responded to the call of her hometown, Minneapolis. She bought a one-way ticket, and has been there ever since, supporting the protestors, tending to the community, taking care of Floyd’s memorial site, and raising funds for local needs. It is from Minneapolis that she answered the following questions for Mochi readers:
Who you’re reading:
The next book in my personal reading cue is “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein and “Afro Asia” by Fred Ho and Bill V. Mullen.
What you’re listening to:
My Apple Music lives on Gospel Radio. I need uplifting music to keep me inspired, spiritually grounded, and hopeful in times like these.
What you’re watching:
The news. I watch different stations and channels to keep a pulse on what is happening locally and nationally. This helps me keep a pulse on the influence of institutionalized racism and current climate of race relations. It also helps me strategize on how to support community efforts and clients.
Where you’re donating money or time:
[Giving time to] George Floyd Square/Memorial.
Who you’re following:
Honestly, I have not been paying attention to social media as much these days. Most of my attention has been given to the streets of Minneapolis, my clients, my family, and my own wellbeing. I can say, however, I don’t ever regret following: Dr. Joyce del Rosario @prayingpilipino, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes @drchanequa, Ava DuVernay @ava, Irene Cho @irenemcho, and Ally Henny @thearmchaircom.
Have you seen many Asian Americans engaging in racial justice work?
Yes and no. There is a long history of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans advocating for racial justice in the United States. I am privileged in my line of work that I get to come across many Asian Americans who care about racial justice and actively pursue it. Of these folks, those who I call friend will also be the first to say that there are many in their respective communities who are silent on the issues. The silence is not monolithic. There are varying factors, which include differing family immigration/heritage narratives, economic ambitions, personal experiences, cultural expectations, colorism within the Asian American community, historical racial tension, the power of shame, the power of assimilation, and a lack of knowledge of United States History, [especially history] told by BIPOC, to begin the list. There is a lot of heavy lifting to do to guide more Asian Americans into an understanding of racial injustice that would compel them to act. There are many encouraging efforts: Asians in LA, ReconciliAsian, and API Equality–Northern California to name a few. There are definitely more. And there are definitely Asian Americans who are involved in justice work with organizations that are not uniquely designed to organize Asian Americans alone. One example is my good friend Leon Wang and [his] Firebird Design Lab.
For those who are new to racial justice work, what is a good starting point?
Read history written by BIPOC and other Asian Americans. Part of the challenge a lot of people, who have the youthful fire to do racial justice work, face is lacking language to articulate what is needed for justice. Like any culture, language must be learned and built starting with simple and working toward complex concepts. Education is key to providing clearer communication and consistency in our collaborative fight for justice. A great starting book is “Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You.”
What’s giving you joy:
What is bringing me joy in this moment is witnessing my community come together to take care of each other, keep each other safe, and take responsibility for our collective wellness and wellbeing without losing sight of our goal for racial justice. I think it is easy to become comfortable when we feel cared for and to forget about justice. It is also easy to pursue justice so hard that we forget to take care of ourselves. We are finding the balance together. This brings me joy.
Photo credit: Nate Harrison // FULLER studio
Mochi magazine’s Black Allyship @ Mochi column is an ongoing project that urges an awareness of racial injustice in the United States, particularly the oppression of Black people in America. The articles, resources and opinions we share are a call to action, an open discussion, and a place to take a stance against anti-Black racism. Read more about the column here.
We want Black Allyship @ Mochi to spark productive conversation. We want to know how we can do better: Feel free to email the co-editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.