How adrienne maree brown has changed me forever

March 31, 2022

Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.

Prentis Hemphill

This article was written by Jocelyn Wong, our program coordinator, sharing her five most meaningful takeaways from the week spent with adrienne. 

This beautiful quote by Somatic Practitioner, Prentis Hemphill, speaks to the importance of incorporating not only love, but also care and transparency into the movement building we do. I heard it first from a person whose words have taught many of us young change-makers today to have reverence for ourselves and the causes we’re fighting for. Her name is: adrienne maree brown. 

From March 2nd to 4th of 2022, my colleagues and I from the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue presented writer, activist, abolitionist and doula, adrienne maree brown, with the Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue. For her outstanding and transformational work in advancing racial justice through dialogue, we felt the immense pressure (and excitement) of honouring someone who has touched the lives of many. What we hadn’t realized then, was that we’d leave each event thrown for her with our very own invaluable gifts. 

I’d like to share five of the most meaningful takeaways I’ve gained through being in community with this special individual. adrienne’s teachings—from bestselling books like Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, Emergent Strategies: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds or Holding Change:The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation, and even her podcast on Octavia Butler’s Parables—have shown me:  

1. Transformational dialogue is an embodied practice that requires curiosity, compassion, the capacity to be changed and, most importantly, community. 

This goes for both practitioners of dialogue and for participants of such generative conversations. When we enter connections with a spirit of curiosity over judgment, we’re more likely to reap more authentic responses. What would happen if you engaged in dialogue without ever thinking about what you’d say next? Perhaps the outcome would be less polished, but there’s something so affirming about being in a room with folks that are present and ready to explore wherever a conversation may go. 

2. Representation is key, not quota. 

As modeled in adrienne’s official award ceremony and in her Public Reading and Dialogue on Octavia Butler and the Future, we as organizers learned the most when we ceded as much power as possible to those whose work revolved around each event’s topic. Following Black History Month, we knew we wanted to highlight and amplify Black excellence in the Pacific Northwest by asking Black people directly what topics of conversations most compelled them. We looked to local BIPOC leaders to guide us. 

If it weren’t for host and Centre Associate, Vanessa Richards, we wouldn’t have seen a beautiful performance from the kids of A.R.C. Community (a program that prioritizes and celebrates Afrocentric and Indigenous children and families in so-called Vancouver) and we wouldn’t have heard the beautiful singing of local artist Khari Wendell-Mclelland (he sang Bill Wither’s, Lean on Me). Our Visual Scribe, Ashanti Gardner, captured representations of shared ideas through her talented artwork, while a group of eight Black and Indigenous youth facilitators led important conversations on identity and belonging  in various breakout rooms. When organizing an event that centres the lives of historically marginalized peoples, having these groups at the forefront of decision-making is not a kind gesture; it’s a necessity.

3. Stay true to your boundaries so that your YES holds conviction. 

This circles us back to the beginning. While programs like the Centre’s Semester in Dialogue have taught me to understand the systemic issues around me, adrienne’s ideas were what made it possible for me to hold onto and process them in sustainable ways. In alignment with strong Black feminists like Audre Lorde and bell hooks, adrienne taught me that pleasure is a human right and something that ensures the well-being of the entire community. If you take care when you most need it, you’ll then have the energy to hold your community when they most need support—and vice versa! 

4. If we don’t sow seeds now, nothing will ever blossom. 

At the private dialogue titled, Reimagining Radical Futures for Black and Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific Northwest, over 50 Black and Indigenous leaders in the Greater Vancouver Area and beyond were invited to a collective ideating session. To our surprise and deepest admiration, we were graced with the presence of Minnie Jean Brown-Trickey, her daughter, and her daughter’s child. Minnie Jean was a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African American teenagers who integrated Little Rock Central High School following desegregation in the late 50s. It was awe-inspiring and heartening to see generations of motivated people in one room, banding together for change. 

5. Hold fast to dreams. 

Dreaming isn’t relegated to children. There’s value to fantasizing and hoping for something better. All in all, adrienne maree brown—with her witchy rituals, her fervent curiosity and her vibrant passion for life and all things Octavia Butler—has forever changed me. She’s taught me that if we plant the seeds for collective liberation now and tap into our inherent magic, the universe will nurture them and gift us with blossoms in the future. 

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes, Dreams