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New Publication! Facilitation And Evaluation

I co-edited this issue of New Directions in Evaluation to bridge the views of these two fields. More



How will we write the next chapter of the story of race in America?

Using Art of Hosting and Conflict Transformation: An event in Houston, Texas.    More


New Results on Girls' Lives in Afar

Why is it hard to change attitudes about girls' education? Because in poor countries, it's more complex than you may think. Check out the results of this study funded by Girlhub Ethiopia More


Photo courtesy of Girlhub Ethiopia ©2013


Arts in Evaluation

My webinar on the use of Arts in Evaluation is now available online.  More


'Beyond the March: Healing an Adolescent Nation' from Fierro Consulting: Inspiring People. Growing Organizations. Strengthening Communities.'s Blog

Beyond the March: Healing an Adolescent Nation

Jan 19, 2017
Category: Antiviolence  Racism  Power Dynamics  Leadership  Antiracism  Inclusive Conversations 
Author: Rita Fierro, Ph.D.

By Rita S. Fierro, Ph.D. and Quanita Roberson, M.A.

 We have work to do. The election of Trump has ripped the bandaid off our modern myths of justice, revealing the collective wounds we swept there after the Civil Rights Movement.  While our society shifted to a more inclusive society in the 1960s, fifty years of good intentions does not erase 350 years of horrific deeds. 

Our wounds have been festering for centuries, cyclically reopened by violence. We are now being called to face our demons and to heal more fully, together. 

Persecuted white Europeans migrated here only to enslave others and transfer their victimhoods onto indigenous peoples and Black people. As Black people have rebelled at injustice, at each advancement white people have been reminded of their own ancestral wounds the pain of which increases with privilege lost.  Every person and every culture can transform this pain, can create a new pattern, but we haven't yet.

In the Civil Rights Movement, we tried to create new patterns using nonviolent tactics aimed to replace fear with love. Northern white liberals used these methods only to transform the hateful hearts of Southern racists without redirecting our energies back onto ourselves, our communities, and local economies.

In the north, we barred Blacks from unions, allowed housing segregation and job discrimination to continue, and decided having Black people sit at lunch counters was change enough, turning a blind eye to the truth that many didn’t have money to enter the restaurant at all. We betrayed justice and fed ourselves tales of victory, focusing on the new handful of Black faces populating our neighborhoods, restaurants, and workplaces. We did nothing to support the majority of Black folks whose poverty, injustice, and incarceration rates were rising.  The non-violent movement in the south became the violent rioting movements of the north because when racial justice was needed economically, whites chose to turn back to our privilege and live complacently.

As whites, we must feel our wounds again now.  We must look into the mirror.  White folk of all shades, now is our opportunity to atone, heal ourselves and our ancestral pain.

Civil Rights Protest, 1965

For us people of color, the original wound stems from slavery. The original wound was a loss of self, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. An overlooked piece of our journey to freedom is that slavery was only 1/3 physical. Most of us have not made it to freedom. Our bodies may have made it to the north, but our minds and spirits have yet to reach their destination.

The trauma of slavery has affected our ability to respond. We often take the blame for things that aren’t ours and blame others for things that aren’t theirs. Taking responsibility means, quite literally, the ability to respond.  We need to intentionally remember: our history, our strength, our journey, ourselves and our spirit because there has been an intentional dismemberment of those things in our communities. The plan was to keep the body strong and the mind and spirit weak.

The Civil Rights Movement brought lots of gifts including a wound of unkept promises. As African Americans in this country we don’t get to live our lives as individuals. We are seen as the collective “we” everywhere we go. This “we” is simultaneously bonding and supportive and binding and restraining. The illusion of the Civil Rights Movement was that we would finally live as individuals.

When Martin Luther King died, many of us abandoned love, choosing fear and anger instead. The pain of losing Martin was too much for us to bear. When they killed him, some of us started to believe that love didn’t always win and we wanted to win. So we put back on the cloak of fear and anger and started to fight again.

Each side has its share of the collective wound, two sides of the same coin. But now, as a nation, we face a choice.

Black Lives Matter protest, San Francisco

If we repeat the cycle of violence, our weapons are stronger than they were 60 years ago. It’d be easy to self-destruct this time. If we choose to heal, we can become united like never before.  Here are the ways we can heal, build a foundation for a new movement, and reach unity:


(1) Clean the Wound, Face the Truth

Let us remove the niceties, the fake stories of glory, the arrogance of superiority. Let us face the truth of our country’s history: We are not an exemplary democracy. We have nothing to preach about. We are hurting and we are still trying to understand how to create justice. It is time to feel the rage and anger that is trapped inside.

(2) Disinfect the Wound, Mourn

We need to grieve together. Grieve with people you trust so we can let go of the past and create room for a new future. Our new movement begins with the courage to mourn communally.

(3) Suture the Wound, Drop the Fear and Reach for Deeper Healing

We must move away from reacting. Step into responsibility instead of reaction, choose purposeful action and if we don’t know that is yet, wait until we do. In giving up fear, we can deepen our understandings and make choices from a place of truth, inspiration, and love.  We must give up rushing to action for action’s sake. Go inward first.   Healing at the individual level is needed to heal at the system level. Let us aim for deeper healing.

(4) Tend to the Scar, Don’t forget, Instead Act from Deeper Wisdom

We must learn and remember our history. Every right earned had a backlash: slave-breeding followed the end of the slave trade, the Dred Scott case followed the underground railroad, lynching followed Black economic advancement, the assassination of leaders followed the Civil Right’s movement. This is the beginning of the backlash of Obama’s election. We too must do what generations preceding ours have done. We must organize, push, hold accountable, and stay united in the face of fear and national terrorism.

(5) After the Healing of Individual Wounds, Tend to Collective Scars

After bringing our attentions to our own wounds, we can tend to the scars of how we have related to each other. Let’s leave Facebook activism and choose diverse groups of people we can unite with face to face. Build your skills and engage in hard conversations.  Learn to lean on other brothers and sisters.

(6)  When All Scars are Healed, Build a New Movement

Once the wounds are healed we can build true unity. We may still hurt each other from time to time, but we will know how to transform this pain instead of transferring it. We will be stronger than ever, and we will put together the lessons of the past to build a new movement.

The dialogue of our election campaign revealed an adolescent nation at best. We are being asked to grow up. It’s a moment of initiation. And as is true with most initiations, there is a real chance we won’t make it. Complacency could cost us 150 years of social progress.  However, with a foundation of healed wounds, we can respond instead of reacting.  Once we can do that, we will be undefeatable.  There is a path forward. Blessings to us all on this journey.


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