The 32nd Annual Empowering Womxn of Color Conference (EWOCC) took place on March 18th at UC Berkeley. The theme, “Unbound and Unboxed,” focused on empowerment and self-care. The conference is held each year by the University of California’s Women of Color Initiative through the Graduate Assembly. It was a sold out affair with womxn from all over the country attending. Imagine a room filled with hundreds of powerful womxn of color in a conference meant to unbound and unbox a collective power guided by self-care as a form of resistance.
Some of the most salient moments for me came from the the panel on Methods of Resistance. In it, five young womxn activists and organizers spoke about the ways their existence becomes radical resistance and how much self-care this work requires.
One of the panelists described self-care as a tool kit and shared ideas of how self-care can become a regular part of life when we are in a relationship with ourselves and understand our needs. Self-care looks differently for everyone and like any tool box, each tool serves a purpose.
Another panelist described that self-care is important for people of color because resistance is embedded in daily life. There is resistance in how and what we eat and drink, even how we wash dishes. There is activism in loving our partners, raising children, and how we engage in movements.
“We need to expand our definitions of what resistance looks like: preserving curiosity, and continue dreaming of a world that doesn't yet exist, affirming our stories, leaning toward vulnerability, building our community towards empowerment.”
The conversation also included how we create and find community with one another.
“Finding community may not be very hard for some. However, it may be hard to maintain those connections. At the same time, we have to actively heal our own stuff.”
“We do have to hold each other accountable but also love each other hella hard. Hella loving. We may not replicate love in those spaces and then those communities become painful without love.”
“Community is about showing up with humility and intention. Building trust in and with others.“
“Maintaining community is hard. We must forgive ourselves and others. We do not know others’ intentions; at times we may not know our own intentions. We must ask ‘Am I here because I have an obligation or because I'm going to contribute?’”
The panel ended with a poignant question from the audience: “Do you feel like you're not healing fast enough? What can you do?” The answers were complex, but the essence was that the panelists accepted that the healing process is never going to end. For them, healing can be a beautiful thing, however painful. Rather than being in denial, they make space for healing and allowing others into that space to heal together. In addition, healing is not a linear process. The world may want people to have limited space and sets a timeline, but the healing process is not that. It’s a continuous process. Another panelist made a connection between the racial component of how we move with time. “Not healing fast enough” can be connected to white privilege, for instance. They encouraged participants to join as many healing spaces because trauma doesn't stop.
Finally, Erica Huggins gave us words of strength, “Today begins with self love. Self love is looking into the mirror and loving what we see. Seeing ourselves in others and loving that. We are a lot alike. Love protects us from harm. Inner and outer.”
How EWOCC Supported Womxn of Color
Though the conference was about empowering womxn, EWOCC modeled that support in their implementation of this event.
By being explicit that this was for womxn of color, participants whose values aligned with that goal bought in to create a welcoming experience for womxn of color. There was a camaraderie in knowing that we were all there for that purpose.
Womxn of all genders and orientations were welcomed.
This was exemplified in their occupying the building bathrooms and making them non-gendered spaces.
Leadership roles were all occupied by a diverse range of womxn of color.
The design team, workshop participants, panelists, volunteers, and vendors; at every turn womxn of color were visibly exercising their leadership.
The participants included a wide range of ages. Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters came together to EWOCC. Groups of friends arrived together; some were coming as teenagers, while others arrived as retirees. The wide range of topics ensured that each participant would find something that was meaningful to them.
In addition, every event/workshop welcomed children of all ages. This was present in their kid care packages of crayons and coloring books, the nursing room, play room, and changing tables. Volunteers were quickly at hand to help any mother with young children and healthy snacks were within reach at all times.
Womxn were able to present their research and created spaces to unite with others with similar interests. Though it was very difficult to choose, this also created an economy of values that enriched each session. Those in the room chose to be in that room above all the other dozens of workshops, and in that way engaged wholeheartedly into those conversations.
Beyond the logistics, supporting womxn of color means:
Creating and maintaining healing spaces for community, which will vary by need
Space for womxn of color where they can exercise their own forms leadership, which may not fit “traditional” expectations
Recognizing that resistance looks differently for womxn of color
Accepting discomfort because “discomfort teaches,” stick with it
Other reactions to EWOCC found here.