As Managing Director at Real Change, I share leadership with Founding Director Tim Harris. We’re both committed to building a movement for economic justice, despite coming from entirely different class backgrounds. Tim was born into a working-class family in rural Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was born into a life of relative ease in a high-rise apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village. I followed a path common among my peers. I got a job on Wall Street as a mergers and acquisitions analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert and then an mba from Northwestern University.
For about thirty years, I was on autopilot. It’s not that I wasn’t living my values, it’s that I didn’t quite know what they were.
I began to reflect on the privileges I’d received as a result of my race, class and gender. In the 90s, I took the first of several jobs in the nonprofit sector.
In 2009, I joined Real Change, attracted to the organization’s vision for building a cross-class movement. I had worked on classism, becoming a certified trainer with a nonprofit called Class Action, but rarely had I encountered an organization so explicit about bringing people of different economic classes together.
These days, creating opportunities to connect across economic classes is an even bigger part of Real Change. We’ve made it a top priority in our new strategic plan.
Two weeks ago, to break down barriers of class and race between our vendors, readers, staff members and donors, we held “listening circles” here at our office. We spent an hour and a half reflecting on questions like: “What are some of your earliest memories of meeting someone from a different class background?” and “Have you or someone you love ever not had enough to get by?”
Facilitating two of these circles reminded me that when people are willing to be vulnerable and listen to each other, they are transformed.
Several people said they appreciated the opportunity to focus inward, since community organizing typically involves looking at the world around us.
The following Tuesday, many of the folks in those listening circles showed up at Real Change’s protest against the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. This gave me renewed confidence that when you create
opportunities for people of divergent backgrounds to come together, it inspires them to take action.
In five years participating in and facilitating cross-class dialogues, I have learned a lot about the advantages conferred on me by my race and my relative affluence.
Tim and I bring to Real Change divergent backgrounds, but we are both stronger by acknowledging — not minimizing — our experiences.
If we want to change the world, we first must be willing to see our place in it.