Dismantling the Working-While-Wounded Culture through Accountability and Naming Harmful Practices

As an organization centering racial equity and justice to improve the social emotional health of children, the John Rex Endowment recognizes that we cannot disrupt inequitable systems without centering the voices of those most impacted by structural racism.

In that spirit, it is an honor and privilege to uplift a story from one of our very own.

Sabrina Slade, John Rex Endowment's Director, Racial Equity and Advocacy, published her article, "Dismantling the Working-While-Wounded Culture through Accountability and Naming Harmful Practices" earlier this month. Sabrina's testimonial addresses the value and unintentional harm of resiliency. It also provides an accountability challenge to organizations.

It is the stories and experiences from within the Endowment that strengthen our commitment and help guide our work.

Dismantling the Working-While-Wounded Culture through Accountability and Naming Harmful Practices

By Sabrina Slade

It wasn’t until last year, during a staff meeting outside in our parking lot as we tried to find some sense of togetherness during the COVID pandemic, did I realize the toll that years of racial equity work was taking on my mental and physical health. I was exhausted. But it wasn’t the exhaustion induced by the pandemic alone. For the first time, I was physically feeling the toll of racial equity on my health, and it frightened me. I heard a speaker at a philanthropy conference describe that for BILPOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx and People of Color) staff working in the space of racial equity, the work can be experienced as the equivalent of walking around with a low-grade fever. It can take months or years before the feelings of burnout are manifested in ways that can show up as illnesses such as high blood pressure or depression. I was not able to outrun racial equity fatigue although I made intentional efforts to prioritize my self-care. I rested more and praised myself for it, being reminded that rest is self-preservation which is an act of political warfare as described by Audre Lorde. I ate better which was hard to do during a pandemic. I got in more steps and drank more water. I became a master at my own self-care regime. Yet, it wasn’t enough. I wondered, was it too late for me? Why weren’t my self-care efforts sustaining me?

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