Commit to a deep unlearning process. For many of us, it’s easy to adopt certain values because they are trending and never commit to the daily unlearning of white supremacy. That’s what leads to “implicit” bias that affects Black people’s ability to thrive in employment, housing, healthcare, and beyond. Investigate your thoughts and actions for traces of white supremacy. And instead of feeling shame, find a resolve to eradicate it. It’s not enough to dismantle systemic racism if it still resides within each of us. Part of this comes from remembering to never underestimate how pervasive racism is.
Aspart of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brea Baker.
Brea Baker is a queer Black millennial woman working at the intersections of race, gender identity, public safety, and community. Currently working as Director of Programs at Inspire Justice, Brea understands that we need a multi-pronged approach to the complex problems facing society. Working across fields and industries from activism to the entertainment industry to electoral work and politics, she believes in the need for the progressive policy along with a culture that reflects and affirms everyone’s right to thrive.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Igrew up in Long Island NY in a community that was predominantly Black and Latinx. Living in Long Island, the racial and economic disparities are stark and yet injustice is swept under the rug because we fall in the shadows of the NYC boroughs. In spite of all this, it was a very complacent environment where we accepted what was given and the status quo wasn’t disrupted much. As a result, when I left my community for university and witnessed the execution of Trayvon Martin, my blinders were removed.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book that first opened my eyes to the realities of this world was Assata Shakur’s autobiography. To read her experiences as a Black woman organizer and also her diagnosis of the problems facing this country was both refreshing and empowering. But the book that pushed me into more intentional organizing and made me commit myself fully to this work was “When They Call You A Terrorist” by #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors. So often we section ourselves into separate sections and boxes of oppression but Patrisse masterfully depicts how these issues intersect in the lives of real people. Her book helped me to stop underestimating racism.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I live by these words from Angela Davis — ‘You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.’ Being an activist is to be an eternal optimist! It is to believe that this world is capable of change and that we can all be vehicles for said change.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is participatory and affirming. I’ve learned so much from JLove and Matt’s leadership — how to hold someone accountable with love, how to support your team members, and how to lead with love rather than fear.
In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?
JLove Calderón is this person for me! When I came to Inspire Justice I had already known her for a year but working alongside her in building this beautiful company taught me to how to live my values every day. How to not just advocate for policy, but recognize when we have the opportunity to resist the culture of dominance and silos to build more connected communities where we are committed to one another’s success wholly. I also learned so much from the perspective of someone I consider an accomplice to anti-racism work, what white people can and should be doing to advance social equity.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
White supremacy and its colonial mindset has been the biggest pandemic facing this country since the 16th century. COVID and the June police brutality uprisings are symptoms of compounded oppression. As I mentioned before, the reason I became an activist was the #BlackLivesMatter movement and as a result, I’ve committed my life to end the racism that mass criminalizes and incarcerates people of color and especially Black people.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
The boiling point is something we experience cyclically which is part of what makes addressing it so frustrating. Each generation of Black people in this country has its own viral account of racist policing gone viral. For me it was Trayvon and for my younger sibling it’s George Floyd but before them, we had Rodney King and Fred Hampton and Emmett Till and so many countless more Black women and Black Trans people who don’t garner the same attention. Black people have been in a constant state of simmer for 400 years and every so often, an eruption happens that captures the attention of all Americans and many around the world.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
There have been so many incredible campaigns and initiatives I’ve worked on in my time with Inspire Justice. One that sticks out is our recent mutual aid work. Under COVID there have been a lot of valid critiques as far as “celebrity activism” goes and we’ve been incredibly intentional about organizing influencers. In the context of our mutual aid work, we were focused on injecting joy into the timeline and challenging those with resources and economic security to donate to rotating mutual aid funds supporting incarcerated people, immigrant families, gig workers, Indigenous communities, and more. It was a really fun challenge to do and also a powerful political education moment on how the community can intervene where the state fails.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Commit to a deep unlearning process. For many of us, it’s easy to adopt certain values because they are trending and never commit to the daily unlearning of white supremacy. That’s what leads to “implicit” bias that affects Black people’s ability to thrive in employment, housing, healthcare, and beyond. Investigate your thoughts and actions for traces of white supremacy. And instead of feeling shame, find a resolve to eradicate it. It’s not enough to dismantle systemic racism if it still resides within each of us. Part of this comes from remembering to never underestimate how pervasive racism is.
- Talk to your family members. Social media has become an echo chamber for reaching those who avoid conflicting opinions. But your loved ones will listen to you. That doesn’t necessarily need to look like starting arguments over the dining table (though by all means, if that’s what is necessary). Often times cultural tools like books, documentaries, music, and films can be powerful tactics for slowly introducing more empathetic approaches to social justice conversations.
- Avoid one-time donations and set recurring ones to organizations doing underfunded grassroots work. Specifically, prioritize organizations led by those directly impacted as opposed to the charity that’s often found in white-led organizations.
- Identify a political home — somewhere you can receive education, training, and cultivation. You don’t need to quit your job and become an activist but knowing who is doing on-the-ground work and where you can turn for solid analysis is paramount in times of great mis- and disinformation.
- Dream bigger! It sounds silly but this might be one of the most important tasks I outline. So much of the pushback activists receive comes from those who can’t envision the society we are trying to co-create. When we take the time to imagine what is possible, we can fight for it from a place of urgency and inspiration as opposed to feeling jaded.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
Absolutely! It’s easy for us to feel like the implementation falls on some leaders like our mayors, governors, President, or global power. But we are the leaders we’ve been waiting on and only when we come together as a society and commit to local, decentralized action will we see the shifts we want to see. The opposition knows this and has invested it’s resources in these spaces. We can and should do the same! Be engaged in local elections and treat those in your community as if it was a microcosm of the world we’re trying to create. Above all, stay focused and remember it will take a series of small actions to build the momentum we need.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am absolutely optimistic! You have to be optimistic to do this work or else what’s it all for? If I didn’t believe it was possible to create a society where everyone’s basic needs were met and we could all live with dignity and free from persecution whether discriminatory or otherwise, I’d definitely invest my time differently. It’s precise because I know we will be successful that I advocate so fiercely.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We have to leave the world better than we received it because we won’t be young forever. What will future generations say we gifted them?
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Haha YES! I would LOVE to meet Dr. Angela Davis and just sit at her feet learning and gleaning. She is everything I aspire to be: consistent, intentional, and grounded. I honor her today and every day!
How can our readers follow you online?
My Instagram is @freckledwhileblack and you can learn more about my work with Inspire Justice @weinspirejustice.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!