CKY KFTC members create Activism for Awkward People Training

I recently participated in a “response to the call to action” at the University of Kentucky. As an alum, I am concerned about the harassment, microagression, and marginalization too many African American students, faculty, and staff are living with at one of Kentucky’s flagship universities. Participants at this event shared conversation over a meal, continued more difficult discussions in African American and Non-African American breakout groups, then came together to review the proposed measureable, tangible goals moving forward. While the #UKCallToAction cannot be summarized in this brief article, you can discover more by reading the open letter to President Capiluto (https://aaas.as.uky.edu/open-letter) and by following the UK Black Graduate and Professional Students Association (@UKBGPSA). 

Around new people and in unfamiliar situations, I am awkward. Without a prompt or memorized speech, I am awkward. My words always seem to come out too fast and in the complete wrong order. I never know how to fill the silence. And when I do, my breath smells like old sneakers from me sticking my giant, proverbial foot in my mouth.  Or at least that’s my perception of how it goes… others never seem to notice my fragility.

The UK event, while organized and facilitated beautifully, had all the key ingredients to put me in my discomfort zone (never mind we were discussing the heaviest and most dismissed topic in America, racism). While I do not identify as a current student or staff, I showed up. I held impromptu conversations with strangers, was quick on my feet during a rapid story-telling exercise, and confronted my beliefs on what it means to be ally.  I showed up because it is a topic – strike that, an experience – that must be brought to the fore and, based on UK’s years of inaction, amplified through a megaphone. I listened. I shared personal stories. I contributed points of view. I listened harder. I left informed and fired up. But still, I felt awkward. Discomfort is often at the root of activism, especially when we confront the status quo, challenge long-held beliefs, and attempt to move the systemic needle in a particular direction.

On April 5, the Central Kentucky Chapter hosted a workshop called “Activism for Awkward People: How to Talk to Others, Instead of Just Yourself (and Your Pets),” where I co-facilitated alongside other magnificent KFTC members. We were mindful to allow quiet/writing time up front to prepare for sharing, and shifted from 1-on-1 conversations to larger group discussion. In light of technical difficulties and a few fumbles (it wouldn’t be awkward enough without them!), we reflected on how it felt to talk to strangers, share our passions, and personally define activism. We talked about when and where we felt most uncomfortable, applying the golden rule /being respectful, actively listening, and using skills and talents to further a cause—noting, at times, being present or showing up can be more impactful than just using one’s voice.

We also talked about the tougher stuff like activism in the workplace, scanning the environment for appropriate engagement, balancing debates with friends and family, and effective tactics used when trying to change someone’s mind (while also exploring what works to change one’s own mind). Finally, participants were reminded to plug in to an existing network, discover and defend personal limits (boundaries), and to prioritize self-care, especially physical and mental health.

We also learned a lot from participants. In fact, another workshop was born out of their feedback – effective communication for awkward people. Having my aforementioned verbal tendencies, I am eager to attend, rather than facilitate, that one.