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Recap: Upswell 2021 // Day 1

October 20, 2021

Today, moments before the Upswell Summit began, changemakers from across the nation – representing a rich diversity of experience, ideology, and mission – had to ask themselves the same question:

When faced with the opportunity, how does one effectively approach the collaborative work of building a racially just and healthy society?

It might seem an impossible question, but the answer came quickly and confidently from Uma Viswanathan of the New Pluralists Collaborative – a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. As she opened the Main Stage, with all eyes on her, she said, "Let yourself squirm in your chair. But stay in it."

And that’s what happened at Upswell today. Incredibly difficult conversations. Challenges that would be easier to hide from. Provocations to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and bring not just others, but everyone into our community.

The hardest work was showing up and remaining. Here’s a glimpse of what that looked like:

On the Main Stage

  • Speaking of discomfort, how do we grapple with the fear that’s being force-fed to us with the sole purpose of sowing division? Prof. john a. powell teaches us to focus on caring and creating deep connections with our fellow humans – because the ones we perceive as other (and vice versa) aren’t going anywhere. “They are there. We have to live with them. We were literally born into the world connected to another human being.”
  • Dr. Gail C. Christopher built on the point with love, saying, “I refuse to allow what is a minority of people who preach hate to be the dominant narrative in my experience and healing.” She spoke of the powerfully dangerous factory of vitriol that social media has become and called for a reform of the way we communicate. What does that mean for us as changemakers? “Our job is to model a new way forward of human interconnection.”
  • Antong Lucky, co-chair of Heal America and president of Urban Specialists, introduced the concept of redemptive activism, which is about coming to terms with a tough question: How do we love those we disagree with? We need to do the work of finding an answer because “hearts and souls govern systems" and, no matter what you do in life, everyone is owed a chance at redemption.
  • Dr. Buster Soaries championed Dr. Martin Luther King's commitment to non-violence as a way of life for courageous people - something he sees embodied in the Upswell community. Our work is not just to identify solutions to our most intractable challenges, but to "not stop until we execute [them]."

    So, let's keep going, because we're not there yet.

In Sessions

  • Roger Colinvaux (The Catholic University of America), one of the architects of American charitable tax law, says that too many philanthropic dollars are now being amassed in opaque structures - primarily funded by a very small number of ultra-wealthy, white decision-makers. The big risk? "Within charities, we could be seeing a new racial wealth gap." The ACE Act aims to stop that and make giving equitable.
  • Jayke Hamill (Center for Creative Leadership) affirmed in the session Building a Foundation for Allyship by Listening and Understanding that "Identity matters, but words and actions are just as important. That's part of what makes good leadership."
  • Somebody has probably enthusiastically told you to “bring your full self to work” at some point. Sounds great, right? But the American Express NGen Fellows shined a light on the fact that for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, that rallying cry is based on two assumptions: that your authentic self is welcomed and that your workplace is a safe space to show up in an authentic way.
  • Wellness and healing are in the DNA of Upswell. During today’s Exchange, the discussion turned to a practice of recognizing the truth of our broken world -- and then looking within ourselves for where we mirror that break. Only when we heal that break within ourselves can we access the empathy necessary to go outward and heal other people and systems.
  • And these few highlights don't even cover the 23 off-the-record Deep Dive Discussions that powerfully closed out the day.

Tomorrow, we move forward with love and courage. Today, we leave you with a final question posed during the session “Normal” Culture: Blending In vs. Standing Out:

What’s one mask you’re wearing in the workplace that you’ll consider removing?

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