I Didn't Get My Just Due: Toxic Adults/Elders in Youth Organizing Spaces

This is not a rant, a vent, a call out or “tea” (aka gossip). This is not for pity, sympathy or likes. This is to raise awareness of the very real issues that youth and especially young, talented women of color face all while attempting to give back and be of service to their communities.This is to empower those that have been silenced.

Sidenote: Ida B. Wells is one of my spirit guides and I would be backwards if I didn’t activate and honor her legacy with this writing.

And so it is…

I dove head first into advocacy and organizing when I was 18. As a formerly homeless youth, the only thing that kept my head on straight and out of trouble was getting involved and supporting the community. I’ve been blessed to be able to work across the world ever since with amazing people doing radical work.

Fast forward some years and while I still have passion and drive for organizing work, I am much more aware and selective in who I deal with.

I would be a liar if I said everything has been a walk in the park. I was not naïve upon entering the space, I just believed that since we are trying to help the world, we would have a stronger moral compass and more accountability for our actions. I was sadly mistaken. I will share a few of the trials and tribulations I have gone through in order for youth to know they are not alone and for elders and adults to reflect on what we experience and how they want to show up with young folks. Because in the words of mama Zora Neal Hurston, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

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I have worked under very tyrannical individuals who claim to be allies, claim they want to see youth thrive but turn around and deliberately engage in the most violent and racist behaviors when others voice opinions about how the work could be facilitated or the impact that their racism has had on the youth within the organizations. Because of power dynamics, many youth keep quiet and suffer in silence out of fear of retaliation.

As youth, we want to be supported and mentored. Not controlled, micromanaged and dismissed because our idea of systems change does not fit within outdated models and theories ultimately rooted in preserving white supremacy anyways.

I am young but I don’t act young. There is a difference. Because I am wise for my age as well as pretty with a mature body, men in spaces have constantly engaged in extremely inappropriate behavior with my body, without my consent and women as well engage in power games due to their own issues with self-esteem and resistance to healing. I used to blame myself and hate my body and the way I looked because of it. I had to come to terms with the fact that many of the elders in the space only accept you as much as they can subjugate you and once you stand in your power, you are no longer of use to them and easy to discard. Yes, many of our elders have worked hard and we are standing on their shoulders in gratitude. But your greatest contribution to youth is your healing work. Without this crucial component, we continue cycles of horizontal violence, trauma, ageism and oppression.

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I have had men of all races proposition me for questionable relationships and activities and when declined, immediately destroy the work we were supposed to do because I declined their advances. This is so very common. Just recently, I held an older male who claimed to be an ally, accountable for stalking and sexual harassment and instead of engaging in a restorative justice process which was generously offered but ignored, he utilized his family’s power as well as his own as an elected official and facilitated a ruthless smear campaign against me out of emotional immaturity, obsession with reputation and power and ego addiction. Fortunately, his true nature has come to light without me having to lift a finger. I think of all the other young women he has tortured and how they have had to fight for their reputation and lives because a man decided to throw a tantrum? Imagine others like him in positions of power….

Where is the Accountability?

Unfortunately, I expect this type of behavior from men. What I was not expecting are the tragic behaviors I have received from older women. I have had situations in which older women that I actually looked up to and supported flat out refused to support the work I was attempting to do, told lies about me and my work ethic and stopped at nothing to spread lies and rumors amongst their peer groups in order to elevate themselves and subdue me thinking it would do the same for their insecurities. The saddest part is they actually are entertained by their actions and think this middle school type behavior is cute…

In the story I mentioned above regarding the white male ally, it was actually women of color, who are known for racial and gender justice work, who helped him attack me and slander me. It’s really a slight and a sight to see many of them speaking on panels regarding “Me Too” and sharing essays on social media yet their actions fail to add up. Many of these women today cannot even look at me because they know they supported an active sexual predator and white supremacist.

Now that I have been running my own organization for 5 years, a new level of oppression and toxicity has arisen. I am now sitting at tables in a peer/supervisor capacity with some of the same individuals who I viewed as mentors or who I worked/interned under when I was younger. They now see me as their enemy because I had the audacity to step outside of the norms and develop my own organization. My work ethic and abilities are CONSTANTLY put into question and I have had to work 100 times harder just to prove my abilities. Yet these same individuals claim they want youth to be empowered. It is a complete lie. They want youth to be subordinate to them, they want us to work for free while they utilize our creativity and energy while they receive the funds because our lives matter less.

Because I run my own organization, I have been labelled as an opportunist and or capitalist when all I am trying to do is raise resources for my organization so we can do the work. Yet my white and assimilated POC colleagues are given accolades and told they are “creating social impact” all the while, wasting resources. Again…

I am confused… isn’t this what we are supposed to do? The disrespectful part about it all is that I am always called to the table when they want me to work for free. I have had several organizations and individuals use my race, age and gender to label me as “unqualified” yet turn around and plagiarize my work and even have it funded by their colleagues at foundations. We have got to do better…

I am 100% proud of all that I have had to go through and in fact, it only adds to my work ethic and the commitment I have to my community. I have even been looked down upon because I was homeless as a young person and my history of trauma. As if it was some type of deficiency or character defect. As if that makes me less trustworthy and or deserving of support. If we want youth who have been impacted by the system to change it then why do we dehumanize them based on the trials and tribulations they have had to go through?

Stepping Up Our Healing Work

I say all of this to say, I have been able to release the toxicity and trauma associated with all of these acts of dehumanization . I now understand that these toxic tactics facilitated by “elders” are apart of a subconscious reaction to their own internal disappointment that manifests as competition and sabotage with younger folks. Add in power dynamics or anything having to do with money and you have a recipe for a power trip to the moon and back. What is truly alarming is that many of the elders in this space see absolutely nothing wrong in their behavior… What’s even more concerning is how they expect us youth to just accept it…

My wish is for this madness to end so that we can heal and do the work… I have witnessed amazing young people disintegrate and actually leave the work due to the constant struggle of dealing with toxic elders. I have witnessed so many completely give up on advocacy because the stress and toxicity are too much to bear. Many of my peers have PTSD and substance abuse issues because of the actions of “elders” who are still running around the community giving speeches and testimony that does not at all reflect their actions. This is the new normal.

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This is absolutely unacceptable and there is no excuse for it at all. Not with the political and social climate that we are in. We have to choose which legacy we want to leave. One of unnecessary pain for others and eventually self or assisting the collective in transforming trauma. But decide, because chasing two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.

I had to share my story and raise my voice because we don’t deserve this. It’s not just or humane. We deserve so much better and it is up to us as an intergenerational community to eliminate these dynamics.

A great framework I use to keep myself in check and accountable is Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements, simple, short and sweet yet powerful and transformative. Let’s start there. With our actions towards one another, with what we say to and about each other and mainly, with our intentions towards one another. I hope that whoever reads this and identifies with the experiences mentioned here get the healing and support that you need and understand that we need you. Don’t let them take you.

If you are an elder and identify with the behaviors listed here, my wish is that you will take the time to do the reflection work necessary and make amends for your behavior willingly for karma would be the next stage. And that is the wonderful and devastating aspect of Karma. It doesn’t need our consent or collaboration to strike balance and reparations. To put it simply, in the words of Paulo Freire, “When you dehumanize others, You dehumanize yourself”

My journey as a youth doing organizing work has been everything from tragic and devastating to empowering, euphoric and transformational. I want all young people doing this work to experience more of the latter.

This is my prayer….

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Daisy is the President of Resilient Wellness. Her personal site is daisyozim.co She enjoys indigenous healing tools, technology, occultism, astrology and giving back.

 

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Daisy:

It's so great to see your powerful words here again. We've missed you.

For a long time I thought that once people understood this ACEs science and started implementing trauma-informed practices, that things would change rapidly. But, as you point out so clearly, that's not the case. I've learned that people have to go through their own healing journey, and it's often the people who are in positions of directing the healing of others that have the most work to do, on so many levels. I find it irresponsible if they don't, but also have experienced too often they don't do so because they're afraid. And yet, they often have power.

And these power dynamics raise a question: What does ACEs-informed/ trauma-informed power look like? Can there be such a thing as TI power? I'm reading "How To Be Antiracist" for some guidance, because, like a fish, I'm still swimming in that white-privilege ocean and desperately want to dig my fins into the mud and evolve to breathe free.

If I am interpreting your words accurately, you also raise the issue of generational power. One of the things that's been very clear to me over these last seven years, is that I hope more young people take ownership of this new knowledge and run with it. But I do know that the kind of change that you're working on is really hard, and will continue to be. Human brains aren't built to embrace change, but there are ways to make it more inviting.  

Thank you for posting this, and please continue to raise your voice. Your words are invaluable. 

Great Post. 

Something about it makes me want to cry but I am not sure what. Maybe a sad realization that for many, ending trauma isn’t really the goal? 

If I ever did anything to hurt you, I’m sorry. I love this post.  You are an amazing and courageous human being. 

Go, Daisy! I deeply respect you for speaking out and yet also trying to find compassion for the people who have treated you badly. I'm sorry you had to experience all that and it's a great reminder for us older 'leaders' to fulfill our role as mentors, responsible for creating environments that promote wellbeing and empowerment. 

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