Third Act recently concluded its first racial justice training program, and is preparing to launch a similar program for our working group leaders in 2024. We asked one of the participants, John Kydd, to share his reflections on the program and we thank him for his participation.

I began this training with a sense of anguish and hope.  Anguish in the sense of feeling both complicit and clueless as to what to do.  Much of this boiled down to a sense of guilt for all  the unearned privileges I was given due to my race and gender and all that was (and still is) taken from others without such privileges.   I want to feel like I’ve honestly earned what I have.  But I can’t ignore that much of my comfort is comfort taken from others.  Worse, I can’t figure out how I contribute to it all or how to undo it.  I long to stop being part of the problem and yearn to be part of the solution, yet it’s not that simple.

Privilege allows me to sleepwalk through my life: not feeling what others have to feel, not remembering traumas that others cannot forget, and most disappointingly, being profoundly unaware of who I really am.

My smaller self hates this.  It wants to fix it all right now and put it behind me.  It fiercely believes that if I say the right words, don’t use the wrong words and read all the prescribed books then I can get past this problem.  This small self cherishes concrete solutions and can’t stand anguish.  It needs to fix it “now”.  If it can’t fix it now,  it goes into the corner in a major pout and refuses to engage.  It doesn’t understand that the problem is both greater than it and greater than its understanding.  It sees awareness training as the wonder drug that will heal all instead of a program helping us begin a lifelong journey to understand and heal a lives long disease. 

I began the program with huge hope. Hope not for a wonder drug but rather for a process that would help us learn to walk together to better carry problems unique to each yet common to all.  Off the bat I was impressed with the care with which it was crafted and the courage and enthusiasm with which others participated.   It was like some of the canoe teachings from my home area where we must learn first learn how to paddle and then how to paddle together.  Much of Third Act for me  is learning how to paddle together.  Paddling requires profound respect and attention and quick forgiveness when paddles cross.   This paddling is the challenging journey from  “me” to “we”.

One purpose of this paddling was succinctly stated by Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Anishinaabe elder,  when I chatted with her privately after she spoke at a Line 4 pipeline demonstration.  I asked her frankly “What can White people do that will really help?”  She looked down for a moment and then looked back at me with caring yet piercing gaze and said  “You’ve forgotten who you are and where you came from.  This keeps you from seeing and understanding.  We cannot teach this to you.  You must find it”.  

In my bones I knew she was right.  I’d forgotten the part of me that was rooted in ancestral lands,  enduring community and gratitude for the gift of being part of a people.  As an immigrant, most of these roots were boiled away in the great American melting pot and the replaced with painful propagandas of manifest destiny, white supremacy and “Progress”.

I came into this program knowing I was living lies and hoping to get closer to truth.  The program delivered.  Not simply with the skillful staff but most movingly with the courageous story telling by participants.  Initially these were shared awkwardly but, with time and trust, they became moving and profound,  helping me to see many things in myself.  We began to paddle together.  

This is vital work here but also vital globally.  Structural racism was an important issue at COP 28 in Dubai as was moving away from colonized thought forms.  Many people at COP spoke to me of the global importance of the US standing up and facing its issues.  Funny thing about paddling: I began thinking we’re just paddling us but soon the waves whispered “thanks” for helping paddle the world.  

While I honestly feel off balance, awkward and ungainly, I no longer feel alone. This is like learning to walk again.  I’m a toddler trying to stand. This training gave me new hope that I can learn to walk with a new generation  My work is stumbling towards new ways of sharing and listening in vulnerability and humility.  The passion I felt when I first learned to walk has returned.  Nothing can stop it.  

May we stumble together to walk anew?

John Kydd

John Kydd is a member of the Washington Working Group.