Mbali is in first row, third from left.
The 2019 Encampers were encouraged to choose an issue they felt strongly about and create steps to address it — an action plan. Over the three weeks of the program, Encampers looked at different issues, particularly the structural basis of and different kinds of discrimination, and observed successful social justice strategies first-hand. Mbali and a fellow Encamper chose micro-aggressions and decided to take a long view of the situation and provide guidance to institutions to make change that could be sustained, rather than a one-time discussion or conference. Working from their mission statement, “Aiding predominantly White institutions with information and guidance for cultivating sustainable change,” they came up with ideas and started assembling the pieces. “It’s like putting a puzzle together,” Mbali said.
While at the 2019 Encampment, she and her co-creator realized that they had a lot in common — including attending predominantly white boarding schools. The issue they would set out to address became clear when they started discussing micro-aggressions that had happened to them or they had witnessed. For instance, being asked by a stranger, “Can I touch your hair?” or being asked to represent an entire group of people in discussions at school.
These young women both want to facilitate conversations about privilege and racial bias on school campuses. Mbali explained, “These young people will be leading organizations in the future, and they need to develop a voice today. We have noticed in the last few years that there is more of a divide. Kids interested in talking about racism find it uncomfortable and difficult, and it’s hard for schools to go about changing flaws in the system without information.”
During COVID-19, they decided to focus on their in-progress website “Social Awareness for Change.” It contains resources for improving the social climate so these conversations can take place, eliminating structural discrimination and enhancing individual well-being. They have gathered articles and videos from a variety of sources that address the kinds of issues inherent in these institutions.
These hard-working young women have also constructed a series of interactive workshops exploring these issues and a resource list of websites, podcasts and social media. There is also a social media campaign to reach young people through the website. It will include survey questions similar to Buzzfeed quizzes: short, with lots of visuals. The answers to the questions would point the students to the topics that would be most beneficial to their schools.
We asked Mbali, “What resources would be helpful to you?” and she replied, “Adult allies — teachers and other adults to help in making contacts in schools so we can bring our resources to them.”