Typically, each gathering was bracketed by a half-day long welcome and a half-day closing, between which were two to three full days of activities. Both the arc of the program and each gathering had a similar rhythm that became very familiar to the women. Like the various parts of a song, each element brought forth a particular energy and signaled what was to come (See the Excerpted Wireframe Agenda and Snapshot of a Week-Long Gathering which reference program elements).
Before each gathering our first task was to decolonize the space by creating the physical, emotional and spiritual conditions for deep engagement. Every “day one” (of the year or gathering) accordingly focused on building or deepening relationships to create the conditions for the women to practice interdependence in real time, to take risks and to challenge their thinking. The women came to know they would land in a space of nurture and principled struggle.
Using the metaphor of song, the flow across the year and within gatherings is outlined below. Activities in bold can be found in Session & Tools and other sections in this guide are referenced or linked to provide more detail.
INTRO = Welcome & Land and Housekeeping
To help the women transition into our communal space, our first coming together was always about welcoming the women to land in our decolonized space. This intentional act disrupted white dominant cultural ways of engaging and indicated that our space would be one of healing and belonging where the women could bring their whole selves, know they would be taken care of, and be helped to detach from all that is pulling on them outside of our space. Our goal was make them feel as though they arrived at a good friend’s home after a day of travel and could rest, eat and release in a beautiful space chosen for their comfort, enjoyment and growth.
Allocating time for housekeeping kept the women informed while modeling transparency. Each gathering and every day opens with announcements, Q & A, addressing participants’ needs, reviewing the agenda, and transitioning into the day’s activities.
HOOK = Creating the Conditions
To create the conditions that enabled us to receive the offerings of the program and each other, we always began our first full morning together co-creating a liberated zone (then recommitted to it every morning and at each subsequent gathering). The objectives were to: 1) define how we will be in community, 2) identify barriers that prevent us from leaning into each other, and 3) ground us in purpose and interdependence. Reviewing our commitments amplified them and allowed us to continually assess our progress toward achieving our shared objectives. It was tempting to skip this process because we too are subject to being time-focused, but making the investment strengthened our community and pushed each of us to show up as our best selves.
VERSE = Political Education
Sessions on transformative organizing or that fostered a shared political analysis were facilitated in 2 to 3 hour-long blocks. Topics were initially selected based on the program objectives and from assessing the unique interests and needs of a cohort. As we came to know the women well, we recognized growth edges or opportunities and incorporated their preferences.
Like the wireframes, every session employs the POP process (see Wireframe Components) to assure program alignment and focus on immediate outcomes.
Using Vertical Development as our core pedagogy, we introduced heat through discussions and experiences that would awaken long held, under-examined perceptions. We were always mindful to 1) remind the women that the vertical development process (awake, unlearn/discern, advance) is not one they need to do on their own—they have their sisters to lean on—and 2) always facilitate a cooling experience in the session that followed.
To support the women’s meaning making about the sessions, we used pair-ups, journaling, group reflection, and TeachBacks (wherein participants use their own voice and experiences to revisit a core concept with their peers).
BRIDGE = Grounding & Centering and Healthy Breaks
Grounding and centering invited the women to practice authenticity and living in purpose toward incorporating transformative ways of being into their leadership and daily lives. It set them up for a day of deep learning or slowed them down to breathe together and strengthen our container. After the first day of each gathering, this space is provided for the women to share their emergent thinking. Pairing women up to do embodiment practices also elevates grounding and centering.
Healthy breaks emphasized that rest is reparation from and resistance to white dominant norms of perpetual production or busyness. We did not want to overwork the group or ourselves, leaving us with limited energy to take in information or be fully present. Throughout the day we built in several mini breaks for pause and processing and scheduled a 2-hour lunch break, breaks that offered hard laughs and supported the women mentally, physically and spiritually. They included healthy meals and snacks, outdoor time, movement or walking, space for napping, and dance parties.
OUTRO = Closings
Closings are very important because they “seal” the container after each day or gathering, helping participants shift to meaning making about what they learned, are feeling, and have been challenged. It transitions them out of a full day of engagement into the evening’s activities, or out of the gathering into their return home. We used closings to remind the women of the agenda or any tasks before facilitating a cultural or reflective moment (see WoC Centering & Healing Practices) that were offerings of inspiration, forgiveness or affirmation through poetry reading, chanting, singing. We often incorporated journaling or debriefing. On the last day of a gathering we facilitated the Packing Our Medicine Bag activity to remind women of the grounding practices they carry with them outside of our liberated zone.