The Year Of The Stretch

by Tracey Greene-Washington from WNC Women’s Magazine in 2018

The act of stretching is an intentional decision to extend oneself beyond perceived limits.  This year, 2018, continues a year of stretching for many individuals, communities, and organizations that have taken a forward-facing posture to address the complexities of social change with an eye towards having systems-level impact.

Prompting a challenge for all of us to remain balanced in our efforts, while holding just enough healthy tension against a shifting social, economic, and political backdrop, this type of stretching is not only in response to the actual strategies that are being deployed to address complex social issues. It is the required heavy lifting we all must do every day to “hold the necessary space” to support the most critical piece of this puzzle — the cultivating, building, modeling, and sustaining of healthy, positive, and equitable relationships.

Healthy, positive, equitable relationships are those relationships with citizens, leaders, organizations, and communities that require hard conversations about difficult issues, creation of intentional space, and interruption of false narratives. These relationships are grounded in truth and resist complicity in supporting issues or practices that perpetuate inequities, operate from a place of good intention and honesty without a hidden agenda, and resist vilifying or rendering individuals invisible when issues get uncomfortable and hard. All while extending grace, support, and space to grapple with the intense change necessary to amplify our collective efforts.

These relationships form the rich tapestry that is woven together to form a complex web of alliances, collaborations, and networks to support aligned, effective, and sustainable change. Consequently, the effort to maintain their integrity is constant and necessitates individual self-reflection, learning, and on-going growth. It requires us all to go deeper into ourselves to…

  • Become conscious of our own triggers that are grounded in our own secret insecurities and traumatizing situations that have occurred in the past and seem to show up unconsciously in present situations or engagement with new individuals.
  • Retreat when needed and embrace the type of vulnerability that enables us to say “I don’t know…can you be a thought-partner with me?”
  • Regroup when we feel paralyzed and integrate lessons learned towards seeking a different result or alternative path forward.
  • Have the courage to stand alone and model a way of being that creates a bigger table for unpopular voices towards creating more grounded, innovative, and successful strategies.
  • Be present, silent, and listen to/with others to see past their struggle, acknowledging the things they have done well, and challenge them to let go of what has been to dream of what could be.
  • Know when to stop pushing…to pause, encourage respite, celebrate, break bread together, and get to know each other on a deeper level beyond the present work without trepidation or fear.
  • Sit in the reality of the moment, while balancing the vision of what it can become.
  • Deal with our fear of being rendered invisible, discarded, and unappreciated as we tackle this really hard work.

The cultivating, building, modeling, and sustaining of healthy, positive, equitable relationships must be a constant thread in all of our work every day. It will help steady us in our most challenging moments and provide collective strength as we embrace a futurist posture that enables sharp pivot towards greater impact. Only in this posture can we anticipate and acknowledge shifting trends and galvanize the collective towards a shared future that is shaped by diverse voices, new narratives, innovation, and aligned collaborations that disrupt policies and practices that further perpetuate barriers and inequities.

I challenge us all to continue the stretch as we move through 2018. We need to grapple with these critical questions:

  1. What is your struggle to nurture healthy, positive, equitable relationships?
    2. What do you need to heal and have the courage to lean into this work?
    3. What trauma do you need to face that stops you from embracing this work?
    4. What ways will you choose to resist practices, behaviors, and strategies that hinder the impact of the stretch — even when you feel hurt, discounted, or uncertain about change?
    5. What three things are you prepared to let go in 2018?
    6. What three things will you interrupt, innovate, and amplify in 2018?

Our ability to have ongoing discourse about this important issue will help drive us towards the best solutions, which are necessary to create a better tomorrow for future generations to come. 

Tracey Greene-Washington is the founder of CoThinkk, board member of Education NC, NC Early Childhood Foundation, NC Center for Public Policy Research and former board chair of The Center for Leadership Innovation. She has over 18 years of experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector and is a native of Asheville. @MsCoThinkk.