A few months ago, I attended a virtual workshop on Racial Trauma. Although I lead antiracism training and serve as a consultant to organizations, I was not there as an “expert.” I was there as a humble student who loves to learn and a Black woman longing for self-care in the midst of a racial revolution that was taking a toll on my peace. I learned a long time ago that just because I do this work for a living, I am not exempt from the scars of racism, the wounds of racial trauma. I deem workshops such as these as putting on my oxygen mask first.

During the workshop, I noticed that every person of color who shared, reflected upon racial trauma experienced in organizations, namely work, school, and religious institutions. I was saddened. As each person shared, I heard the trembles in their voices, as tears rolled down their faces. My heart sank.

Why did we have to experience racial trauma in places that were supposed to nurture us and secure our livelihood?

Even more devastating, why do we have to choose between enlarging our spiritual lives and being devalued or ignored in religious institutions in the form of spiritual bypassing and gaslighting?

I will never forget this workshop and it has influenced the focus of my work for 2021. I’m committed to working with leaders because authentic antiracist leaders have the capacity to transform organizations and shift culture by their example. We see this throughout history when we look at our leaders. This month, many of us are pausing to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it’s my favorite time of year. But, let me warn you: it is not enough to honor him by posting trendy social media memes or a random Dr. King quote without doing the internal work required for authentic antiracism.

Authentic antiracist leadership is leading in a way that honors the humanity and lived experiences of all by strategically and continuously seeking and implementing attitudes, behaviors, policies, practices, and procedures that do not create or maintain racial hierarchy. Racial equity in leadership is listening to and incorporating the voices of those most impacted by racism in every decision. This may sound like a tall order—and it is—but before you run and try to recruit a board member of color, let’s take a step back and invest in the deep, inner work required to transform good intentions into real impact. If you are reading this, I know that you are a good person and I’m rooting for your inner goodness to shine through but you have to commit to the inner work.

Oftentimes, we see the outward expressions of Dr. King’s authentic leadership. We see his speeches, writing, quotes, and marches. We overlook the amount of inner work required to transform a nation. We ignore the amount of self-reflection and self-study Dr. King invested in to show up as authentic and genuine as he did. We applaud his infamous, “I have a dream” speech and ignore his assertion that every man (and woman) lives in “two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.”

Dr. King’s discussion of both realms means that we cannot ignore the internal realm and focus solely on the external. I assert that our internal realm is more important than the external if we truly want to create the beloved community in which people of color are no longer being traumatized at work, school, or religious institutions.

We have to invest in our internal realm because it is impossible to love another until you love yourself and antiracism work is rooted in unconditional love, acceptance, and a fervent commitment to changing inequitable policies and procedures. Dr. King said, “A lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself. And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself.”

Pause. Take a deep breath. And read that again. Let that sink in.

It takes deep inner work to admit your implicit racial bias, guilt, shame, racial trauma, racial identity, and the racist conditioning from school, religion, family, etc. If you want to lead authentically, you must do the deep work that we do in How to be an Authentic Antiracist Leader by using what I call the 4 R’s: reflection, relationships, restoration, and resilience. Embracing our internal realm to make a difference in our external world is how we honor Dr. King and continue his work of building a beloved community.

If you are ready to do the inner work required, I invite you to join me for 6 weeks starting January 15, 2021, on what would have been Dr. King’s 92nd birthday for my new course How to be an Authentic Antiracist Leader. I invite you to join the change makers who are committed to proposing new solutions in 2021 to the old problem of racism.

Dr. Monea Abdul-Majeed is a Racial Equity Strategist, Antiracism Trainer, and 500-hour Certified Yoga Teacher. She has worked as a consultant with multiple congregations in the York region, including ELCA Lutheran congregations, as well as with numerous area nonprofits. She leads organizations and wellness spaces to racial equity through training, strategy, and her 4-R approach: reflection, relationships, restoration, and resilience. For a full professional biography of Dr. Monea, click here.