Shoulder to Shoulder: The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

Fear is a powerful force. It can keep us from achieving our goals and living our best lives. It feeds stagnation and stops us from taking advantage of opportunities. Fear also inhibits our efforts to confront racism. When uncertainty, pain, violence and death are involved, it’s natural to be fearful. But how can we best control our fear – perhaps even quell it – so it does not prevent us from moving forward?

When my children were small, I taught them simple tools to better manage fear – taking deep, slow breaths, finding a “helper” in an emergency, and staying in one place when lost. As I confront my own role in creating and maintaining racist systems, I find myself using some of the same tools. I am breathing deeply and looking for allies and partners. But even when I feel lost, I am choosing not to stay in one place.

It recently occurred to me that I missed one critical piece of advice: when you’re unsure, afraid, or don’t understand, keep asking questions. Questioning involves reflection and exploration, micro-actions that move you forward. And when questioning and active listening go hand-in-hand, growth and real change are possible.

Over the past several months, I have been asking questions about racial justice and white privilege. I made a commitment to do something active every day. My first action was to reach out to over a dozen local leaders, more than half of whom are people of color, to ask them what is needed to dismantle racism in our region. Their responses were invaluable and eye-opening. My first takeaway? Explore every avenue to understanding. Talk to a range of people and find multiple sources for facts and data. These simple actions foster trust and community, building strong connections and reducing fear.

I knew from the start that any action taken by the Community Foundation must be a partnership between white people and people of color. That is integral to creating lasting change. But my conversations led to a more nuanced understanding of the role white people must take to end racism in a white-dominant culture. As one local leader of color said:

“This is a moment for white leaders, who dominate leadership positions in western Mass., to identify what they can do to dismantle racist systems. Their power and authority can and must pave the way.”

Here at CFWM, we’ve begun a year-long self-examination to identify how we can pave the way. We are jumping into this work with passion and enthusiasm – but we are also understandably feeling a little fearful. We are reminding ourselves to breathe deeply, to find partners to work with shoulder to shoulder, to keep asking the hard questions and, most importantly, to keep listening. If we do that, I know we can overcome our fear and move forward together.


P.S. I thought I’d share a sampling of some of the articles, podcasts, and books CFWM explored in this process. I hope you find them as interesting and helpful as we did!