Dreaming in Color: Raymond Foxworth, PhD

07/06/2022 | 34 min

Summary

Episode Notes

In this episode, Raymond Foxworth, PhD, joins the show to talk about his experience growing up in a matrilineal society, land preservation as part of his family heritage, and the struggles of dealing with white dominant institutions. We address the current state of indigenous land rights and the pressure of representation to honor the legacy and sacrifice of past generations. Raymond shares his view on innovation, and we question the general understanding of community development. Listen and connect with Ray’s philosophy of believing and sharing!

Episode Transcript

Darren Isom (00:04):

Welcome to Dreaming in Color, a space for social change leaders of color to reflect on how their life experiences, personal and professional, prepare them to lead and drive the impact we all seek. I'm your host, Darren Isom, this is Dreaming in Color.

Darren Isom (00:21):

Raymond Foxworth is the vice president of grant making development and communications at the First Nations Development Institute. He oversees the organization's national grant making and fundraising activities for Native nonprofits and tribal entities. He serves as a deputy director of development and a senior program officer managing projects and research involving Native food systems, family and economic security, and capacity building for the Native nonprofit sector. He's a citizen of the Navajo nation, served on the board of directors for Native Public Media and he currently serves on the board of directors for the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. He's a prolific researcher with a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Colorado at Boulder. With this knowledge at the ready, he joins us here today.

Darren Isom (01:01):

So Ray, so thankful to have you here with us today. The people at home don't see this, but your fade is fairly tight as well. Good job with that, looking good. As you know, I try to pass the mic off to you to start for you to offer us an invitation. So I would love to see what you teed up for us.

Raymond Foxworth (01:16):

Certainly. First, thank you for having me, look forward to talking with you over the next few minutes. So the invocation that I brought today is a poem by Haunani-Kay Trask, and she is a Native Hawaiian scholar activist, an important thought leader in the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement. And she passed away last year. So when thinking about this today, this poem immediately came to mind at its called Apologies.

Raymond Foxworth (01:49):

Slogans of cheap grace, rather than land, "We apologize." But not one acre of taroh, one river of water, one handful of labor, "We apologize." And all our dead and barely living rejoice. For now we own one dozen dirty pages of American paper to feed our people and govern our nation.

Raymond Foxworth (02:13):

So this poem is really a response to the 1993 apology given by Bill Clinton to Native Hawaiians for the US, their illegal overthrow of the sovereign nation of Hawaii. And basically she's calling in to question the significance of that apology and essentially saying it's worth nothing more than the paper it was written on, because no land has been given back, no kind of reparations or compensation or justice for Native Hawaiians. So that's what I brought today to start this conversation.

Darren Isom (02:50):

No thank you for bringing that. And that's a powerful piece to start with, speaks for itself. So we say words count for a lot, but in some ways, words only count for so much, right? So that apology is totally empty unless there's something to back it up, that's for sure. Well, I wanted to kick it off and one of the things looking for this conversation, you have such a wonderful, interesting background. And I think that one of the things that I really enjoy about you is that you come with this amazing set of assets that you've developed over time from your upbringing, from your community. And I would love to just make space at the beginning of this conversation for you to talk a little with us, share a little bit with us and describe for us kind of your upbringing as a Navajo citizen and how that in many ways inform the values that you bring into your work and into your thinking.

Raymond Foxworth (03:35):

Certainly. Well, first of all, I always have to acknowledge that I come from a long line of strong Navajo women who defended the land, spoke the language and tried to teach me as best they could what it means to be a Navajo and a good Navajo citizen. I'm the product of a single mother, she raised myself and my sister on her own and we sort of moved around a lot throughout the US, but always sort of came back to the Navajo nation and the Navajo reservation. And my family is from a place that's today called Tuba City or the Coal Mine Canyon Area. And it's a place that growing up, my mom would tell me these stories about the history of Navajo people there.

Raymond Foxworth (04:22):

And one of the things that she always told me was the people in that area, the Navajo people in that area, were people who were fierce resistors to colonizers, both the Spanish and American colonizers. They were people that refused to make the long walk when the federal government did their round-up of Navajo people. They were people that always believed that was where we are from and where we came from. And later in history in the 1950s and onward, there was active movements on the Navajo nation to remove Native citizens from a place called Blue Canyon where my great grandma has lived for ages and ages. And then she refused to leave. This was in the area that's called the Navajo-Hopi land dispute historically. And she refused to leave and at times had to take up arms to defend herself from the Bureau of Land Management who would come and harass Navajo citizens there or harass their sheep and things like that.

Raymond Foxworth (05:27):

And so really what that has always taught me is always have a critical analysis and always bring a critical lens when thinking about current problems and challenges and never forget that whatever you do, whatever I do, that it's about the land, it's about fighting for the right to be Navajo. It's about the right for Navajo people and other Native nations in the US to govern themselves. Those things are important, those things should be central to anything that I do as I grew up. And so I sort of held those values closely and they continue to define who I am today.

Darren Isom (06:08):

No, those are all great points and love to hear that. And there are a few things there I'd love to push on a little bit, this great story. And one, I love that you started by honoring women in your community and the strong female leadership. And I tell the story all the time being from New Orleans, I grew up in a matriarchal culture where women basically ran the show and you learn that very quickly that they were not only the show runners, but they were also the culture carriers. They were responsible for keeping the culture going. And so I would love just to hear you talk a little bit more about what that meant for you to have women in the important leadership roles and how that plays out in the work and the thinking now as well.

Raymond Foxworth (06:44):

Yeah, I mean, when I was growing up, it was just a fact of life, it wasn't something that stood out to me as unusual or odd. It was just a reality of who we are and who we were. And my great-grandmother who just passed away probably about five years ago was over 105, she was sort of the glue that kept us together. And she also raised my mother, and so my mom looked at her as her mother. And so I guess what I would say is I feel lucky to have had that perspective and lens growing up.

Raymond Foxworth (07:21):

I think that for Navajo people, we are a matrilineal society, our lineage is passed down through the women of Navajo. So I am who I am based on my mother's clan and she is who she is based on her mother's clan. And of course we acknowledge the father and the grandparents in how we talk about ourselves, but those are our first clans. And so I am Kiyaa'áanii. So that worldview, that perspective I think has always shaped who I am. I think today, in Indian country, I think there are a lot of amazing women that are doing great leadership work, of Native nonprofit organizations, of tribal governments, and really trying to raise the flag about we need to remember the significance of women in not only Indigenous struggle, but in Indigenous societies across the US, because before Europeans came here, women were central to how we organized ourselves, how we perpetuated culture and things like that.

Raymond Foxworth (08:26):

So for me, it just was a thing of life. It was never anything unusual. And I think today, reflecting back, it may seem unusual to some people because we didn't really have strong male figures in my life. But honestly, I think I probably was so lucky and fortunate to grow up with that perspective and that understanding.

Darren Isom (08:44):

So, no, I mean, I think that there's something very powerful in talking about how it was just normal to you because I think so much of this work for many of us, it's like we have these personal stories that you normalize something that at some point you look up and realize, "Wait, everybody's not like that," right? Very normal narratives for you that are quite disruptive, right? And so many of us have been blessed in many ways with this normalization of things that you look up and you realize how unique it is, but it's just normal for you, right? I have a few other things there I would love to ask you about.

Darren Isom (09:15):

But I want to jump in a little bit more and have you talk about this connection to the land and there's something actually quite narrative disrupting there as well, right? This strong sense of belonging that comes with like, "I belong here. I don't know what you're doing here, but this is my space. This is my land, I'm questioning you," right? So honestly, I mean, it's silly, but it's a narrative disruption, right? But I would love to just hear a little bit more about how that connection to the land also equates to connection to the people in the community for you.

Raymond Foxworth (09:48):

Yeah, I mean, I think when we talk about Indigenous struggle today, it's all about the land and it's all about the land because the theft of land, the theft of Indigenous land is and was at the heart of colonization, it's at the heart of the ongoing settler colonialism structures that we have present in the United States. And so land, I think number one, shaped struggle.

Raymond Foxworth (10:13):

Secondly, I think land, at least from my perspective also defines who we are and where we come from. I would talk to my mom when I was young and she would tell me things like, "Oh, these white people," she means white anthropologists, "Tell us that we didn't come from here and that we came from Alaska or something," she tells us, but Navajo people, we believe we always were here, we came from here. Our emergence is from this place and from this geography. And so very early on, I learned about the importance of land and landscape and what that means to identifying myself as an Navajo person.

Raymond Foxworth (10:51):

And then as I grew older I learned about the importance of land in terms of Indigenous struggle and in terms of land has historically shaped this song and dance between Indian nations and the federal government. And if we're not talking about Indigenous land rights, if we're not talk talking about the theft of Indigenous land, in addition to the inherent rights to sovereignty of Native people, then we're just paying lip service to Indigenous rights today. So for me, land has always been important, not only in terms of defining myself, but also defining Indigenous struggle. I guess the corollary to that, to Indigenous struggle is also Indigenous liberation, that Indigenous liberation is rooted to and defined by the land.

Darren Isom (11:39):

I was literally going to come in and say there's a marker there about this idea of land as a marker of liberation as well, so thank you for summing that up, making the point for me. It's a really powerful one. I know that you spent quite a bit of time both in reservation territory, but also within urban settings and I would love to hear you talk about how, in some ways, that identity that's so land shaped, how does that change or how does that become even more pronounced as you kind of divorce yourself from the land and in other places where you don't have the same connection and what does that look like?

Raymond Foxworth (12:07):

Yeah, I mean, for me, it wasn't a difficult thing because I grew up just knowing I was Navajo. I grew up just knowing who I was and where I came from and even though I might live in Colorado, or at some point we lived in California, at some point we lived in Hawaii, I'm in New Mexico today, I know I'm Navajo. And I may not be in the Navajo nation, but I know who I am and I know where I come from. And so for me, I've never really had any issues or challenges in terms of reconciling that and what that means. It's just who I am and how I see the world. So yeah.

Darren Isom (12:45):

No, it's not up for question, it's pretty straightforward. I appreciate that. I want to jump a little bit and talk about, I mean, you spent quite a bit of time navigating both the academic and social sector circles. In previous conversations we've talked a bit about this idea of navigating white dominant institutions and bureaucracy as a force of white supremacy and the exact opposite of liberation—oppression to some degree. I would love to hear talk a little bit more about kind of navigating roads and worlds that are riddled with bureaucracy and how you've come out on top of those and managed to find some success in those worlds. I hope I don't trigger anything for you there.

Raymond Foxworth (13:24):

No, no, no. Navigating, I was laughing at navigating because that's a funny term. I would more describe it as stumbling or fumbling my way through. That's probably a more accurate description. But I mean, as you say, both philanthropy, the social sector and academia are white dominant institutions. And what that means is at least for me, as a Native person, they dismiss our existence, they dismiss our world views, they dismiss our belief systems. We are essentially made invisible and that's an intentional act by those institutions. And the way I sort of just see myself operating in those institutions is really just keeping in mind the responsibility that I know that I have to Native communities. And that's just to show up, bring my best self and honor the people that have come before me in terms of trying to do what's right and what's best in the moment. And at times don't get me wrong, I stumble, I fall and I still am learning today.

Raymond Foxworth (14:37):

But I think those values of respect, values of reciprocity, values of being Navajo and knowing what it means to be a Navajo person are really what guide me. I think that even in the face of different kinds of adversities that you see in both social sector and academia, as long as you're being yourself, your authentic self and remembering you're standing on the shoulders of others and you have a responsibility to remember that in terms of how you navigate and maneuver these spaces, then I don't think you can go wrong. So that's sort of how I imagine my role in stumbling through these places.

Darren Isom (15:15):

No, they have a wonderful expression for that in French “à tâtons” – you're literally feeling yourself around the room, right? Feeling yourself through the room, trying to figure out the space and where to go next. And I mean, you've talked in the past and even hear about those values that drive you in the work itself and one of the things that you've just articulated beautifully and transparently is just your belief in Native people, and that belief in that sense of security and that sense of respect, being able to assert that even in the face of erasure, right?

Darren Isom (15:47):

And I would love, so many of us in this space, particularly BIPOC folks, as we're thinking through our work and you said this a few times and I feel like it's very compelling, so many of us feel this sense of leadership as a calling. Like literally we're here because so many people have sacrificed for us to be here, right? This is part of a longer story in which you're playing a role and you kind of have an obligation to play the role because so many people, I think of this all the time, the number of people who have sacrificed for generations for me to be here. And I joke all the time when you have these work problems and you're dealing with problematic white people of which there are many and you're like, "And this is why I went to school, to deal with these problematic white people." And this is literally my role, right? This is literally why I went to school, right?

Darren Isom (16:29):

But I would love to hear you talk a little bit more about as you reach back from a security perspective, as you reach back to the stories that you want to elevate and tell, as you think back to the people who inspire you, when you come out of those difficult meetings where you've been feeling yourself around, what are the voices, who are the people that keep you inspired? What's the hat that you bring into the room? Whose voice are you channeling as you navigate those rooms from a responsibility perspective?

Raymond Foxworth (16:57):

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is my mom, mainly because when I was growing up, she would always tell me, "That mouth is going to get you in trouble," and so I always have to remember that.

Darren Isom (17:09):

I'm laughing because my mother told us exact same thing. And last time I was home, I was like, "You know what? My mouth has never gotten me in trouble. It's been my biggest asset," right? She's like, "That's because I taught you how to calibrate it, that's why."

Raymond Foxworth (17:19):

That's exactly right. That's what I have to remember is like, "Don't say that, just filter yourself, act like you have some home training." So that's the first thing is I always remember my mom because usually when I want to say something because someone has said something offensive or ignorant, the first reaction that I have is probably not the best reaction and so I have to let it sit so my mouth doesn't get me in trouble.

Darren Isom (17:45):

Don't let it sit too long though, don't let it sit.

Raymond Foxworth (17:47):

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I've had to learn not to let it sit too long because I think I've had to learn to be more outspoken than I am, probably that's innate in my DNA. But nonetheless, I think when I'm in those spaces, I kind of feel like I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to work with Native people across the US and see the great innovation that they bring to work in their communities. I get to see brilliance, the love for community and all of these things that I think we have been told, at least in terms of dominant culture, these things don't exist, right? In Indian country, there's no innovation there. In Indian country, there's no love for community there, there's no this there. The way outsiders view Native communities is really deficit based, it's racist, it's inherently flawed.

Raymond Foxworth (18:40):

And so that's what I have to remember when I'm in those spaces is I'm in these rooms not for myself, I'm in this meeting talking with some funder not for me. And so that also means that I have to at times put my pride aside or put my ego aside and realize that there is a greater purpose in these spaces and that I'm representing others. And sometimes I don't get it right, sometimes I stick my foot in my mouth, sometimes I fall flat on my face and I just have to take that as part of my own learning and growing because that's the other thing I guess I've learned in this work is that you have to constantly learn and evolve because not only do the faces of racist, white supremacy change, but your tactics and your strategies to counter that also have to change and evolve to match the elusive nature of racism and in the Indigenous context, colonialism show up in our work.

Raymond Foxworth (19:43):

And so for me, it's always keeping in mind the great, brilliant people that I've had the privilege of working with and continue to work with today. And that includes the brilliant and great people I work with at First Nations. But then secondly remembering there's a greater purpose and I always have to be learning and evolving. If I'm stagnant or not thinking about the future or not trying to critically understand or examine this sort of institution or these structures of philanthropy, then I'm going to be caught flat footed and not know how to beat back these repressive and oppressive kinds of institutions.

Darren Isom (20:22):

You can't let them get you off guard, you got to be ready. If you stay ready, you're ready.

Raymond Foxworth (20:28):

Exactly.

Darren Isom (20:29):

There is something powerful there and I'm reminded of the wonderful Octavia Butler quote, I feel like I quote Octavia Butler every other day, it's just where my mind is these days, that, "Only God is change," and thinking about the role of innovation and changing in all of our work and all of our thinking. And I would love to spend some time talking about a few problematic narratives that you challenge in your work and in your thinking, but would definitely like to spend a little time talking about kind of the role of innovation in your mind in Native life and Native exuberance and Native success in Native culture. If you could just spend a little time talking about that, that'd be great.

Raymond Foxworth (21:06):

Yeah, what I often tell people when we talk about innovation is that, especially non-Natives, usually not people of color, usually people that don't understand the history of the US, what I usually try to tell them is what you need to understand about Indigenous peoples in this country is that they have survived deliberate and ongoing attempts to extinguish their cultures, their languages, and remove them from their homelands. They have survived.

Darren Isom (21:35):

Intentional as hell, intentional as hell.

Raymond Foxworth (21:37):

Right, exactly. They have survived these things, they have persevered in spite of these things. And to me, there's no greater innovation than knowing that, that what it means to be a Navajo today is a direct result of the innovation of my ancestors, of Navajo people that they had to survive and fight colonization. The land that the Navajo nation has today is also because of that spirit of resistance.

Raymond Foxworth (22:06):

And so when I think about innovation, to me, that is the impetus of innovation in terms of thinking about Indigenous resistance and Indigenous innovation today. It's in that spirit that we begin to see different kinds of Indigenous organizations and Indigenous leaders looking at solving community challenges, whether it be around economic development, about liberating, perpetuating Indigenous languages, whether it be about controlling local food systems. Those streams of thought today show up because of that innovation that existed in Indigenous communities across the globe in their efforts to beat back repressive, targeted violence that sought to eliminate and extinguish who they are. And if we don't acknowledge that, I think that we can't really have an honest conversation about what innovation is. Innovation isn't trying to build a spaceship to outer space to pollute-

Darren Isom (23:07):

For folks who can't see, I'm shaking my head over here, but please keep going.

Raymond Foxworth (23:11):

To pollute outer space. That to me is not innovation.

Darren Isom (23:12):

That ain't it.

Raymond Foxworth (23:15):

That is rather actually continuing a long history of tearing down natural resources, of disrupting national landscapes and thinking that what exists in this physical world is ours to tear down and use as we see fit as individuals. That to me is not innovation, that is actually just-

Darren Isom (23:38):

It's on brand.

Raymond Foxworth (23:40):

Yeah. I was going to say that.

Darren Isom (23:42):

It's on brand, right? That's capitalism's narrative.

Raymond Foxworth (23:46):

Exactly, exactly. And so that to me is, back to innovation, those stories, that history of survival to me, those are the roots of innovation in terms of how I see and define Indigenous innovation.

Darren Isom (23:59):

No, no, I appreciate that. And I think that one of the things that you've noted here, which we've noted in other conversations as well, is that one, as I say all the time, oppression is clever, right? So oppression changes and it shifts and you have to be ready for it. You have to be ready for it and you have to have your response ready, you have to be able to shift with it as well. And so there's a form of innovation that is definitely responsive, right? And defensive to some degree because you talk about working with funders, working with different leaders who are problematic and sometimes you're in a room you're like, "Ooh, that's new problematic language. Let me write this down. I have to figure out what to do with this. I haven't heard this one before. I'd have to think on that one."

Darren Isom (24:33):

And so I think there's something to be said about this idea of innovation being a response or at least a product of survival and resilience. I think you've also just shared at some point as well, innovation is being able to appreciate gifts and assets that others don't see or don't recognize within a community. And so I would love, I mean, this is something that I see all the time within my Black American story, my New Orleans story is that the innovation is also like what you have is what you have and so you have to make it work, right? And so being able to elevate that as the answer, things that others don't appreciate, that's the Black American struggle, right? It's literally we got to work with what we got and what we got is enough, right? There's a level of innovation that comes with that and appreciating those assets in a way that others don't. I would love for you to talk a little bit more about that because it's something you shared with us before that I think is really powerful.

Raymond Foxworth (25:21):

Yeah. Well, I think connected to that too is this assumption that we all want the same thing or that we all should look the same, that how we talk about "development" or "developing" our communities means the same thing to everyone, which is just extremely problematic, Eurocentric, racist and everything of the sort.

Darren Isom (25:42):

All the things, all the things.

Raymond Foxworth (25:43):

Yeah. So that's number one. In terms of assets, first, I have to say this term of assets at times can be a bit divisive in some Native communities because it sort of has an association with capitalism or monetizing something. But I don't define assets in that context, but I want to acknowledge that and let folks know that's not what I really mean by assets.

Raymond Foxworth (26:11):

And what I mean by assets when I talk about assets is what are the values, what are the tools, what are all the things that Indigenous communities bring with them to solve problems, social problems, economic problems, and so on? And when I think about assets in Indian country, I think about language as an asset. I think the way we view the world, our worldview is an asset. I believe that how we care for one another is an asset. And I think all of those traditionally in sort of a Western worldview are actually not assets. Everyone should speak one language, English, everyone should be self interested and about themselves, we should see the world again through a patriarchal sort of capitalistic lens. And to me, for Indigenous communities, if we're going to talk about futurism or advancing Indigenous communities, it's going to be those advancements are going to come because of Indigenous languages, worldviews, who we are is intact and in place.

Raymond Foxworth (27:17):

And so those are the assets I think that Indigenous communities that we get to work with at First Nations are bringing, as they think about combating, tackling social problems, economic problems, and so on and looking toward the future.

Darren Isom (27:31):

It's beautiful. And we're coming to a close now, funny enough, it was fast, but I would love one of the things I've been asking folks, I had a mentor, a therapist many years back used to always remind me that sometimes hope comes from experience. And as you think about the years ahead and all the possibilities from a building perspective and a living perspective and a thriving perspective, what are some things, experiences that bring you hope, some experiences you've experienced, some folks that are just bringing you hope as you think about building and where we can go?

Raymond Foxworth (28:04):

So what brings me hope? People that know me probably wouldn't describe me as an optimist, but I actually think I am an optimist that tends to also just be very critical of reality.

Darren Isom (28:15):

A very protective optimist I'd like to think.

Raymond Foxworth (28:17):

Yeah, exactly, exactly. That's a great way to put it. I'm going to borrow that. So thinking as an optimist, I really have a belief in people, that people actually want to do the right thing, that people aren't just bad. I've been teaching this semester at the University of New Mexico and been teaching a class this semester on Indigenous people’s politics. And it's a small class, mostly with non-Natives and their spirit to try to create a better world that values Indigenous peoples gives me hope. I classify that in the hope of people, because these young students and these young people are really revolutionary in terms of thinking about how to build a better society and thinking about how we interact with one another and respect and acknowledge difference to build a better world. So that's what number one.

Raymond Foxworth (29:11):

I think at First Nations, every day I get to work with brilliant Native people at the organization, because we have a number of Native folks that work there. And that always gives me hope, because they're a lot smarter than me, they are doing just incredible things and see the world differently and challenge me every day. So that gives me hope in terms of the bright future of Indian country.

Raymond Foxworth (29:37):

The second thing associated with that what gives me hope is the folks we get to work with at First Nations, that is people in Native communities that are doing the hard work around language revitalization, around Indigenous food system control, around Native lands, environmental justice, seeing their care, their compassion, their love for one another and for their work, that gives me hope. And so thinking about hope, those are the things that get me up in the morning, those are the things that have me excited every day.

Darren Isom (30:16):

And those are wonderful things to be hopeful about. So thank you for sharing those. And as we close the conversation, thank you for all the work that you do. It gives me some hope as well. So when you talk with your mom, let her know that your smart mouth has been your biggest asset, paired with a brilliant mind and a wonderful laugh. So that comes for logic all the time, the quote, "If you're going to tell people the truth, make them laugh otherwise they'll kill you," right? So sense of humor helps a lot as well.

Raymond Foxworth (30:40):

That is true, and humor is healing.

Darren Isom (30:42):

It really is. And sometimes all you can do is laugh because the world can be a mess.

Raymond Foxworth (30:45):

Exactly.

Darren Isom (30:45):

That's for sure.

Raymond Foxworth (30:47):

I used to have a mentor that used to say, "I'm either going to laugh or cry and who wants to cry?"

Darren Isom (30:50):

Who wants to cry?

Raymond Foxworth (30:50):

So I agree.

Darren Isom (30:51):

Who wants to cry? Thanks, Ray, this has been wonderful and look forward to talking with you again soon.

Raymond Foxworth (30:57):

Thank you so much.

Darren Isom (30:59):

My great grandpa Lee, born in 1889, his daughter, my grandma Lois, born in 1925 and his grandson Uncle Kermit born in 1947, all voted for the first time in the 1968 elections, the first election Black New Orleans were legally allowed to vote in since Reconstruction and the introduction of the Grandfather Clauses some a hundred years before. At 79, it would be the first and only time my great-grandfather, a third-generation college educated landowner, would vote in his entire life. He died the following year just some years before New Orleans, a forever-Black city, elected Ernest Morial, the city's first Black mayor in its then 260 year history.

Darren Isom (31:34):

For so many of us, the right to vote was a hard earned one fought over multiple generations, advanced by many who knew they would never see the fruits of their labor, but they fought anyway to shape a world that future generations would enjoy, faith in action. Although long gone, my great grandpa Lee's daughter, my grandma Lois remains the fanciest person I've ever known, a fifth generation New Orleanian whose family hadn't known hard times since long before they landed in New Orleans from the then French colony of Saint-Domingue at the start of the Haitian revolution. Her sectorial and cultural refinement were unmatched and she lived for the pageantry of Sunday morning church service. A true new Orleans grand dame and the epitome of exquisite taste and pedigree. She always left the house in hat and gloves, demanded and offered respect in every interaction from the pastor to the paper boy and kept a home that was full of fine things and fresh flowers and bursting with love.

Darren Isom (32:20):

She taught me that there is no greater act of militancy than to assert your social superiority in a racist system that exists to ensure your social inferiority and oppression. I'm grateful for her lessons on fanciness, not as an act of snobbery or pretension, but as a bold declaration of self-worth, the ultimate act of empowerment. I think so often of the words she offered me before sending me off to college, "God's greatest gift to man is that of free will. If he wanted us all to be the same, he would've made us all the same. Our gift in return is living our lives as beautifully as possible. We owe him that much." And as I chatted with Ray, I was reminded of my grandma Lois and the many women who shaped and inspired me through their wisdom and wit. I was also reminded of Octavia Butler quote that serves as my mantra these days, "There's nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns, a true calling for those of us charged with casting those new suns for us to all live under. May they be beautiful, may they be generous, and may they endure."

Darren Isom (33:21):

Y'all, that's a wrap. And while the episode is finished, the work continues. Thank you for tuning in and listening generously to Dreaming in Color, a Bridgespan supported studio pod media production. A special shout out to our show producer, the wonderful Teresa Buchanan, and our show coordinator, Nicole Genova, and a huge thank you to my ever brilliant Bridgespan production team and family, Cora Daniels, Michael Borger, Christina Pistorius, and Brit Savage. Be sure to subscribe and leave a rating and review wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.

More Articles To Read

Racial Equity 

07/20/2022 | 42 min

Racial Equity 

07/14/2022 | 40 min

Racial Equity 

06/30/2022 | 37 min