Policy, practice, and poetry

This post is written by Jennifer Lentfer. Jennifer is the creator of the blog how-matters.org and Director of Communications at Thousand Currents. This week, she joins 21 other diverse speakers at Healing Solidarity, a free online conference posing critical questions about healing, inequity, exhaustion, and challenging power structures in international aid and development. Join the conversation at healingsolidarity.org and follow #HealingSolidarity.


People are waking up to big issues in international aid. Now what?  Image from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) #PracticeSolidarity campaign 

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A journalist recently asked me, “Do you know anyone who would be willing to go on the record as resistant to change?”

“Good luck,” I thought. Institutional bodies are adept at portraying its leaders as on trend and non-controversial, and no self-respecting do-gooder is going to oppose more racial and gender diversity outright at this time in our history. However I constantly encounter “good people” who may or may not be aware of the white privilege and supremacy that runs through aid institutions, or who haven’t developed the personal resiliency to talk openly about the historical origins of our sector and the political and identity-driven realities that affect every aspect of our day-to-day work.

Policies that support diversity and inclusion are in place. What we now have to shift is the practice. For people with positional power and for those with privilege, this may need to look and feel like us losing things, namely control and personal opportunities.

I offer up two poems to help begin to explore what “the practice” is for yourself:

Paper Over People

By Jennifer Lentfer

The system commands,
this, then, this,
don’t forget that on your checklist
of what must be done, what must be spent.
Wave your dollar before the noses,
sniffing for change, or opportunity—
which do you smell?
As you dance only in your head,
full of defensed matrixes and office-full distractions
floating around you,
Hide behind your degree of “knowing”
Because you “have” more,
and can write into guidelines,
made of lines you guided?
Because your reality is
an intellectual debate
over real lives lived?
Will you ever dare let yourself
step into “other,” into not “knowing”?
Just for a moment.
It’s just a step.

 *  *  *

The Practice

By Jennifer Lentfer

We look within first.
We pause, we listen, we ask for clarity.
We hear and are greeted by doves,
wherever we arrive.
We see the iridescence
on the thorax of a bug.
We wait for moons to turn
and dawns to appear
across the faces of those
across from where we sit.
We prepare, ready the minds,
and then let the unfolding begin.
Clasp hands, lock arms,
and build the world – again.
Then we regroup. We grieve. We are numb,
but never alone.
We remind each other
of the groundswells
witnessed, and yet to come.
We remind each other
to breathe,
and lay our hands on for healing.
Girls’ faces bitten by dogs.
Boys, branded criminals, before they are grown.
Knees upon the thorax, a windpipe
Live feeds to the murders.
The laid hands cannot perform miracles
beyond the telling,
“You are surrounded by life,
beating when you can no longer
feel the sun.”

 *  *  *

How we show up can and must shift, no matter what kind of institution we work in, no matter what policies are in place. What can you do, every day, to ensure that your practice reflects just how interdependent we are?

One thought on “Policy, practice, and poetry

  1. Pingback: From the Network: Couch Conversations with Kris Hayashi, Alum News, Job Postings, and More – Rockwood Leadership Institute

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