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Recap: Upswell 2021 // Day 3

October 22, 2021

Why do we use the word changemakers?

Some people challenge it as being too nebulous. But we use it to convey the incredible diversity of our community – celebrating that advancing a mission and serving a community happens in so many ways. At nonprofits and foundations. In movements and community halls. Through business and social enterprise and government.

Then again, maybe that shared identity isn’t quite right. Marcus Walton of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations created a record-scratch moment first thing this morning when he said, “We don’t make change happen. We influence how change happens.”

That’s how Day 3 of Upswell started – and here’s how it continued:

Main Stage

  • With a lens on the science – and, more specifically, neurobiology -- of antiracism, Dr. Han Ren demonstrated how shame and guilt develop. They manifest themselves in the racial dynamics of our interpersonal and group relationships. So, our challenge is to consciously work through these emotions – because, if we do that hard work, we’re able to liberate one another through collective care.

    That work calls for an expansive appreciation of how we view changework.

    “How we move toward transformative justice can look like voting and canvassing,” she notes, calling out the more obvious forms of advocacy, “But it also looks like art and music…connection to land and place and ancestral care, environmental justice, and climate justice.”
  • Multi-hyphenate musician Grace Kelly didn't just talk about the power of music - she transformed Upswell into a high-energy performance, bringing people to their feet to sway, to smile, and to recognize that there are universal truths in the world and that human progress is possible.

    And with an intellect to match her musical talent, Kelly shared that, by fine tuning our listening skills, asking questions, and being open to what people are saying, we can take a much-needed, giant collective step toward our goal.

    “We can always learn more from each other and dive in deeper together.”


  • Framing matters. “So many of the stories we tell right now, especially about racial justice, are rooted in harm and violence,” observes Michael Crawford (MoveOn). “If we tell a new story - one that's rooted in joy and resilience and abundance and possibility - we can actually accelerate the fight for racial justice.”
  • When something is said in more than one workshop, it's worth repeating. As we think about how we tell our stories, Benjamin Evans (Evans & Associates) challenges us to "operate from an asset framing narrative that defines people by their assets and aspirations, before noting their challenges, and investing in them.”
  • “Black women wear a superhero cape 24/7,” says Chris Omni (Kujima Health), “But sometimes even a cape can start to choke you. Put that cape down and remember, queens, that even the sun has to rest.”
  • Don't think of the past as prologue. "Our past, our current, and our future are all intertwined," says Edward Tepporn (Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation). When we ignore stories and data - like about the inhumane experience of Chinese immigrants at Angel Island - we risk xenophobia seeping its way into policies that can harm so many more.
  • On the road to a healthy future, Vivian Williams Kurutz (Harlem Wellness Center) points out that, "There are two health tracks in our country. And they are not based on health differences. The fork in the road is racism." It’s up to us to redraw the map.
  • Imagine your view of the future if you constantly hear about Black or Latinx people getting rejected for the same funding that white people are receiving. That's the current reality and self-proclaimed banker-turned-advocate Everett Sands (Lendistry) says, “I just don’t want my kids telling these stories. Period.”

    He and six other leaders of nonprofits, lenders, and financial institutions call on government, business, and philanthropy to think and act completely differently to get more money into communities of color.
  • On the intersection of racial justice, personal health, and the restorative power of nature, Pearlette Ramos (Three Extraordinary Women, LLC) notes that we need to "make the great outdoors more accessible to people of's really central for mental and physical wellbeing."
  • If you think of our shared pursuit of social justice as a form of art, we're then granted permission to be imperfect. As Jeffery Beckham (Chicago Scholars) puts it, “It’s important to give yourself grace, to be patient with yourself. When I paint, I make mistakes.... Sometimes a mistake is what leads us to the best outcomes.... Mistakes create depth and an opportunity to grow yourself as a leader.”
  • And to close out today’s recap where we began, two more deep insights from Marcus Walton (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations):

    Power is "being able to both envision and materialize the conditions for thriving."

    And trust is “establishing the conditions for mutual permission.”

It feels anti-climactic to say that the Upswell Summit has come to a close, because Upswell isn’t an event. Not really.

It’s a tremendously powerful community – each and every member a visionary leader who is transforming the world in a unique way.

And if these three days can point to any single truth, it might be this: a racially just and healthy United States is unquestionably possible. But it’s up to us to turn that possibility into reality.

So, let’s keep moving.

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