Liberatory Leadership Playground: Recess: Play Affinity Group

Recess: A Space to be in Conversation with our Dreamiest Selves. Reflections on LLC’s Play Affinity Space on June 13, 2023. 

Happy Freedom Day! My family celebrates Juneteenth by reflecting on the past to honor our ancestors, gathering with our community to rejoice, and purposefully making space to envision our future – a world freer than the one in which we currently live. This year, as I thought about the importance of that last component, especially in these complex times, I remembered a video I’d come across of Carl Hancock Rux speaking about the Lincoln Center’s event “I Dream a Dream that Dreams Back at Me: A Juneteenth Celebration.” In the clip, Rux emphasizes, “We have to be in conversation with our dreams, hopes, and ambitions in order to change the world.” As Juneteenth approached, I also happened to be preparing for the third session in our Liberatory Leadership Playground virtual series, Recess: A Play Affinity Group. This coincidental timing allowed me to realize that I look forward to our affinity group spaces because I think of them as just that – an opportunity to be in spacious conversation with our vision for the future. 

I was particularly excited about the Play Affinity Group session because of the thought-provoking themes that had surfaced in the earlier sessions, including the benefits, privileges, responsibilities, and rules of play; ways to recapture play in the workplace; play as a form of resistance and a means for survival; and, play as an essential tool for reimagining our work and realizing our liberation. My definition of play continued to evolve as the playground series conversations expanded the scope of considerations. And in those sessions, I witnessed several participants actively put new concepts together, surface new thinking, and pose new questions. Knowing that the current pace of life means we all have little time outside of these spaces for further exploration or to allow those new learnings to crystallize, I was eager to provide a lightly structured oasis space to help facilitate more. Our affinity group spaces are also a time to explore and learn with our community. They provide time to further refine, define, and analyze our work and continue to form the building blocks of the world we want to see. 

The day I was most actively planning for our affinity space happened to be what would have been Prince’s 65th birthday, and I was inspired to bring his authentic, avant-garde, and rebellious energy into our Recess. Our participants immediately aligned with the vibe. Through self-reflection, small group conversations, and opportunities for playful connection, Recess participants began to formulate their definition of play by identifying the conditions that most lent themselves to playfulness in their life experiences. Some of the group’s named needs included freedom, choice, space for exploration, safety, no judgment, and connection with others.

 Here are a few more overarching “aha moments” from participants*: 

  • Play helps us to learn to follow the energy. As kids, we bounced off each other’s energy. As kids, we learn how to be in society through play and interacting with each other. We learn how to be in the world through play. 
  • We learn to see each other as fully human through play. 
  • Play as a challenge to capitalism – capitalism views time/creativity as what you can monetize.
  • Collective vision is what we want the future to look like and how we understand concepts. We can socialize and imagine those concepts together through play. 

See the Play Affinity Group’s Padlet for more information on Memories of Play, Connections, Conditions, and Play Resources. You are invited to add to the padlet. 

As we planned to explore the power of play through the Liberatory Leadership Playground Series, we called this affinity group session “Recess” in the spirit of our playground series branding. Through the planning and experience of this space, I now better understand that our affinity spaces are always recess spaces. This realization forced a bit of a detour to research some of the benefits of recess beyond physical activity. I found a succinct statement that illustrates the alignment of our affinity spaces with the importance of recess – “Recess allows a student time to rest, play, imagine, think, and socialize. It can encourage creativity and problem-solving.” Leadership Learning Community affinity groups have prioritized these ideas for several years. Still, it wasn’t until we put this title to this affinity group that I realized we’d been offering our network an adult recess all along. By creating this space to be in conversation with our dreams, we’d been emphasizing the importance of play before we could clearly name it or fully understand its power.

Our affinity group participants frequently voice gratitude for the space to come together and explore. The LLC staff is often in awe of how effortlessly our community engages when offered this free-choice time. There is a quiet magic in these spaces. The rich learnings and connections that emerged from our Recess Affinity Group session are further proof. I’m now sitting with how we tend to and grow the idea of more frequent recess in the spirit of joy, freedom, resilience, and being in conversation with our liberated future. For starters, I will reserve time for further spacious exploration this week. I invite you to find dedicated time to be play-full. And if you can, ask members of your community to join you. I plan to do the same, and hopefully, we will connect at recess soon.

  1. Sibley B, Etnier J. The relationship between physical activity and cognition. Pediatrics Exercise Science. 2003.