Time is a Justice Issue: Reflections on Reflection Week
By: Nwamaka Agbo and Jocelyn Wong
As a new foundation that started in the midst of a global pandemic and racial justice uprisings, Kataly’s primary call to action has been moving resources to frontline Black and Indigenous communities, and all people of color across our three program areas: the Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective, Mindfulness and Healing Justice, and the Restorative Economies Fund. While this remains our top priority, we know that moving resources with intention to create the greatest impact requires thoughtfulness and mindfulness.
To that end, we experimented with our first attempt at Reflection Week in July. Sometimes, particularly amid the backdrop of the ongoing strife and struggle of the current events of the world, we need a moment to pause, breathe, and reflect in order to access a greater truth and deeper understanding within our work. Reflection week was an opportunity to silence the pings of our inbox and to stop the meeting notifications in order to create a space of intentionality and mindfulness to research, write, read, create, or innovate in a body of work that would help us advance our collective organizational mission.
Some of us are well practiced at performing and producing in our job under stress. But that can take a toll on us mentally and physically. It’s important for us to experience what it looks like to function in our work when we are not stressed, but rather when we are inspired, curious, and passionate about what we are doing. What knowledge and wisdom can come forth when our nervous system is not under duress? What is the information that we lose or messages that we miss when we are rushing from one thing to the next?
Reflection week is a new practice for us as a new organization. My hope is that this practice is not something that we only take on once a year — instead, I want our team to envision what it could look like to create more space to move with deliberate intention in our individual work, and also collaborate across teams. The ability to sharpen our work and deepen our impact can only come when we are open to learning and able to receive the wisdom coming our way.
— Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of the Kataly Foundation and Managing Director of the Restorative Economies Fund
Reflection week is a new practice for me. I spent most of the last fifteen years doing resource mobilization work within social justice organizations and movements, doing everything from grassroots fundraising events to multimillion dollar capital campaigns. The work was intense, and the gift of time was few and far between. More common was fighting an ever-losing battle against my to-do list and marathoning through long work days (and often nights).
In retrospect, it’s easy to see how that way of being was so obviously untenable. What do we sacrifice by not taking intentional breaks, by not carving out time for reflection? We miss the clarity that can come from zooming out and pondering big-picture questions. We tamp down the creativity that bubbles up when you read something inspirational or indulge child-like curiosity. We forgo opportunities to make social change work more sustainable, joyful, and supportive of our own liberation and well-being.
So, given the opportunity, I reflected hard, y’all. I re-read adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, much of which I read aloud to my partner and now six-month-old. Inspired by my baby’s budding love of nature and brown’s perma-crush on biomimicry, I researched plant life cycles and supernovas, finding them to be pointed, albeit very nerdy, metaphors for movement life cycles and Kataly’s role as a spend-out foundation, respectively.
All of this wonder and curiosity led me to reflect on one particular question related to my new role as Kataly’s Director of Capacity Building: What does it look like to build capacity as a practice-based funder? Having the dedicated time and headspace of reflection week allowed me to organize my thinking on the implications, possibilities, and limitations of our Kataly team, which is made up of practitioners from the communities and types of projects we fund and who are committed to centering relationships above all. I was also able to sit with and distill early input from some of our movement partners and philanthropic peers. As a result, I have brought more clarity to our organizational stance and created an initial proposal for our capacity building program to bring back to my colleagues and our movement partners for feedback and further iteration. If it had been up to me to piece together time between meetings and other tasks to reach this milestone, it would have taken months.
As a newcomer to philanthropy, it is clearer to me that time is a justice issue. Time to reflect, to play, to realign, to rest, to breathe: all of it is a privilege, one that is exceedingly rare for those at the frontlines of social change.
Still, time for deep reflection in philanthropy, especially those who espouse a commitment to racial and economic justice, comes with it a responsibility to imagine. For a sector that has aided in the consolidation of wealth and power, thereby creating tremendous harm to communities of color and working people, there is so much to unlearn, and so many assumptions and “best practices” to interrogate. As we work at Kataly to redistribute wealth to Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color that have been most harmed by economic inequality, racism, and climate crisis, we must also take time to consider the role we play in upholding the system of philanthropy — and imagine how we can upend it.
— Jocelyn Wong, Director of Capacity Building and Analyst with the Restorative Economies Fund