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BridgePeople Pivots at Five: Mastering Conflict to Prevent Violence

BridgePeople is five years old!  We launched in May 2019 with a simple mission: to support leaders in creating the conditions for much-needed racial dialogue.  Though race is but a social construct conveniently invented for the purposes of enslavement and exploitation, the consequences of it - namely racism, discrimination, exclusion, and white supremacy delusion - are very real.

 

Back in 2019 few leaders in white-dominant cultures and workplaces were willing to listen to Black, Indigenous, and other People of Culture about our experiences. Conversations about race were, and still are, considered taboo and conveniently silenced by those who benefit from the invisibility of systemic racism and discrimination.


And then in Summer 2020 racial disparities surrounding Covid-19 came to light, the public execution of George Floyd and the people's response around the world led to America’s “racial reckoning", and BridgePeople went from being a solo practice to one that created work opportunities for more than 12 other independent consultants.

 

Much has changed since then and sadly much has stayed the same.  While the work of racial equity and justice is far from achieved, the gains made regarding the visibility of systems and structures designed to preserve power and privilege for those benefitting from (or proximate to) whiteness are indisputable.


While a powerful minority of Americans insist on preserving white power through violence and intimidation, I believe that the majority have turned a corner in their understanding of systemic racism. However, I have learned through both my work and personal relationships that understanding systemic racism does not necessarily mean readiness or willingness to make the shifts needed to create a more equitable and just society. And this applies to folks of all backgrounds and ethnicities, not only white or wealthy communities.

 

DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion), GESI (Gender Equity and Social Inclusion), and other programs and funding meant to right some of these wrongs are under significant scrutiny and many programs have been eliminated or defunded. However, I trust that those committed to eradicating anti-Black racism, Native Erasure, Anti-Asian hate, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and all other forms of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination are well equipped to continue the journey towards equity and justice, as BridgePeople pivots in a different yet related direction with its work.

 

Resources and trained racial equity professionals are plenty. My friends at Equity in the Center are the ideal first stop for anyone looking for support on their journey towards racial equity and justice, they have a wide range of free and paid resources on their website. And for anyone on a personal journey to divorcing white supremacy culture, this handy and free e-book continues to be a very effective resource for personal transformation.

 


Mastering Conflict to Prevent Violence


At BridgePeople, we plan to continue supporting culture transformation for teams, leaders, and learners committed to advancing justice, peace, and liberation globally. Moving forward, our work will focus on building peace and cultivating nonviolence through the mastery of conflict. Conflict is a normal and healthy part of life if we have the tools to skillfully manage and transform it.  Those of us familiar with the characteristics of white supremacy culture know that fear of conflict, or conflict avoidance, is one of the subtle ways in which systems of domination are perpetuated.

 

Witnessing state-sponsored violence currently erupting around the world, much of it funded by US tax dollars, tells me that mainstream American culture avoids conflict, while enabling violent atrocities, especially against communities labeled as 'other.' We have recently witnessed in universities across America how those taking a stand through nonviolent protests for ceasefire and divestments from violence are met with continued state-sponsored and tax-funded violence.


"Mainstream American culture avoids conflict, while enabling violent atrocities, especially against communities labeled as 'other.'"

Years of research, learning, traveling, and connecting with folks across cultures have revealed to me that at the root of all poverty and injustice lies structural violence. Structural violence refers to the ways in which societies are structured and harm different groups of people by preventing them from having their basic needs met. And it is my evaluation that at the root of violence are the myths of separation, superiority, scarcity, and suspicion.

 

I believe that there is no way to abolish structural violence other than growing into the awareness of our interconnectedness as human beings and what Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh named interbeing.  We need to combat the dominant colonial narratives that feed us the myth of separation and that have convinced too many well-meaning people that anything at all that leads towards safety, peace, or justice could ever be accomplished through violence.

 

Structural violence often results in physical violence most times perpetrated by the state, but is also at times perpetuated by those who are most impacted by structural violence. Our carceral system and prison industrial complex thrive on punishing those who have been harmed by structural violence, perpetuating cycles of violence across generations.


We are witnessing that structural violence impacts not only the majority of humans in our world, it also impacts our planet and its capacity to sustain life for humans and other living beings. For this reason, eradicating violence is a key component of not only social and racial justice, but also of climate justice. BridgePeople believes that divesting from and eradicating violence from all spheres of our lives is the most important work of our times. While many other organizations have been involved in peacebuilding, nonviolence, and conflict transformation over the years, what sets us apart is that we will approach peacebuilding through an Afro-Indigenous lens.

 

"BridgePeople believes that divesting from and eradicating violence from all spheres of our lives is the most important work of our times."

With the increasingly violent rethoric of politicians and elected officials in the United States and other colonized lands, I am concerned about the normalization of violence in our societies. If we continue down the path in which we are currently traveling, it would not be surprising that in a not-so-distant future, there may be calls for violence against our own friends and neighbors. The time for us all to commit to the path of nonviolence is now.


Afro-Indigenous Peacebuilding

 

An Afro-Indigenous approach to peacebuilding and nonviolence differs from Euro-centric approaches in the following ways:

 

  • It centers the voices and experiences of those most impacted by violence.

  • It is healing-centered, trauma-informed, and multi-cultural at its core.

  • It recognizes and tends to the fear associated with living and working in the instability of a system that prioritizes profits over living beings and the planet.

  • It is not afraid to name and address the root causes of violence, including the systems created by patriarchy, colonialism, racial capitalism, white supremacy delusion, and the carceral state.

  • It boldly exposes and challenges the myths of separation, superiority, scarcity, and suspicion that justify domination and violence as a means to an end.

  • It is unapologetic about relying on the healthiest parts of our faith and wisdom traditions, which teach us through the power of love that we are all interconnected.

  • It practices the West-African concept of Sankofa: Go Back and Get It - meaning we learn from our past and we reclaim the richness of our cultures of origin, to build futures more aligned with our humanity and the sanctity of life.

  • It affirms that necessary and often difficult conversations rooted in truth and love are the most direct path to peace, justice, and collective liberation.

  • It refuses to name any human being as the enemy, but instead targets fear, hatred, ignorance, and greed as the root causes of violence.

  • Instead of claiming neutrality, it advocates for everyone's needs to be met and dares build sanctuary for all who need it, refusing to exclude anyone from the human family.

  • Instead of rushing to achieve superficial results, it builds abundant time and space for healing and connection with self and others.

  • It honors indigenous wisdom by recognizing that the land, waters, plants, and animals are not only negatively impacted by conflict, they can also guide us toward healing, harmony, and shared abundance.

 

Afro-Indigenous peacebuilding works at the intersection of cultures and contexts across the Americas and beyond. In the Americas, the two groups of people who cannot be considered as 'immigrants', that is Black & Indigenous people, have the most to teach us about not only surviving, but also thriving, in the midst of structural violence.


As an Afro-Indigenous-led coaching and consulting firm, the richness of our cultural heritage and traditions, as well as our professional experience working globally for over two decade provides us with a deep understanding of international and cross-national policies and practices. This positions us well to support teams, leaders, and organizations working across different geographies and within multiple cultural contexts.


In addition to our new conflict transformation offerings, BridgePeople will continue to offer equity-based, love-centering culture transformation services to multicultural organizations committed to personal, interpersonal, organizational, and institutional transformation. And we will make referrals to racial equity consultants when the work required centers around race in the workplace.


Collective Business Design

 

We have launched a new offering for socially and environmentally-minded enterprises, social entrepreneurs, and other private-sector organizations looking to align their business practices with their pro-human and pro-planet values. This product is called Collective Business Design and includes many of the same components as our Culture Transformation Services for nonprofits and NGO’s.  This line of work draws on decades of experience in the international private sector and supports the design of transformational organizational cultures and structures that equip leaders and teams with:

  • Healing-centered and trauma-informed relational skills

  • Fostering cross-cultural collaboration and multi-cultural environments

  • Compassionate and nonviolent communication

  • Consensual and non-coercive leadership and learning styles

  • Decolonial, liberatory, and anti-oppressive power analyses and practices

  • Embracing and mastering generative conflict and principled struggle

  • Circular, horizontal, and other non-hierarchical team and organizational structures

  • Valuing living beings and relationships over profits or results

  • Effective and equitable decision-making relying on collective wisdom instead of top-down control

  • Regenerative business models that protect our planet and all living beings

  • Equipping conscious and embodied leaders and learners to create impactful cultures of care

 

If your organization could benefit from these types of transformation, please do reach out. We would also be most thankful for your referrals to values-aligned organizations, leaders, and learners committed to building the futures we deserve.


“Hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion that makes total sense. Hope isn’t an emotion, you know? Hope is not optimism. Hope is a discipline… we have to practice it every single day.” Mariame Kaba

Community of Practice


BridgePeople is proud to sponsor a Community of Practice (CoP) to foster community dialogue on how we practice centering love in our work for justice and peace.  To learn more and sign up to be notified about BridgePeople’s CoP, you may visit my October blog entitled Urgently Centering Love in Our Work for Justice. There’s a link to express interest in the CoP at the end of that blog entry. We will begin gathering on June 7th at 12pm ET and if you're ready to sign up, you can register here.


Abolitionist Mariame Kaba brilliantly said: "Hope is a discipline." It is a radical act of hope to imagine ourselves into free and peaceful futures, particularly if we have been disproportionally impacted by the inhumane repression of structural violence. By empowering our leaders, teams, communities, and organizations to transform conflict and eradicate violence by centering truth, love, and connection, we become agents for our collective healing and liberation and the kind of transformational justice that leads to peace. Will you join us in building free and peaceful futures for all?


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Itzbeth Menjívar is the Founder & CEO of BridgePeople LLC. As someone who has survived inter-generational structural violence with her love for humanity intact, Itzbeth has a lifetime of experience embracing conflict for the purposes of transformation and is passionate about facilitating necessary, yet difficult conversations.


Itzbeth has completed numerous trainings by the Nonviolent Global Liberation Community with the goal of aligning humanity with life. She is trained as an Interfaith Movement Chaplain, is certified as a Mindful Leader, and has been deepening her studies as a healing-centering leader & coach since 2019. She completed the Inner MBA program in May 2023, a program designed for conscious leaders to integrate spirituality and business, and will complete the Trauma-Informed Consulting & Coaching Certificate Program in October 2024. Itzbeth is a proud member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network and enjoys providing spiritual or emotional companionship to people of diverse faiths or no faith who are engaged in the rigorous long-term work of advancing social, racial, or climate justice. She also holds a Bachelor's Degree in Finance and a Masters of Science in International Development.


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