ILI Fellows Robert Martinez (l) and Christopher D. Sims (r)
ILI Fellow Christopher Sims shares his thoughts and experiences from Lakota Territory
“This is professional and spiritual development I will need to continue my work – the work we are all doing
in our own unique ways.”
My experience with ILI so far, in regards to part one of our experiences, explorations, and proximate time amongst one another has been engaging, informative, and empowering as I take a look back at what I have been exposed to thus far.I have been sharing with friends and associates that it is the most diverse group of people around, this Intercultural Leadership Institute cohort we are all a part of. I have been around diversity and multiculturalism for most of my life, but this experience is unlike anything I have taken part in – mostly because of the knowledge, the wisdom, and the ethnic heritage that we possess.
The online meetings, the subgroups/pods we are in, and the face-to-face convenings all make up a universal exposure to people, to planet, and to places I anticipated, but I did not realize how much it would move me and encourage me to be as present as possible. The stories that leave the tongues of my fellow cohorts mouths amaze and mesmerize me. I am a listener, I listen hard when I am with people. To have listened to everyone, especially in the larger settings, gives me a deeper understanding of who people are and where they come from their specific work. It is an enriching mosaic of existence and truth-telling.
I have also traveled across the country. There are not many places I have not been to here in the United States. The experiences in Lakota Territory in South Dakota allowed me to see land and people I do not often get a chance to. Even when I am at least knowledgeable of the people in places like South Dakota, there is nothing like going to places to walk the land, breathe the air, and feel the warmth of the sun in a particular place. South Dakota was unique and refreshing. I enjoyed and embraced the dryness, the majestic stars in the night sky, and the animals we shared the same grounds with. I felt at home and relaxed.
“We laughed, we guessed, we appreciated being there, and we looked forward to the next day.”
Couple that with people who came from all over and my experience was profound, often reflective, and energizing. I sought to make deeper connections with people who were from places I was already familiar with, like Baltimore, New York City, and Philadelphia. As a matter of sharing my background, I have either lived or worked in these three places in some shape, form, or fashion. My roommate in South Dakota, Robert Martinez, is from Wyoming, so that was just as intriguing as meeting people from places I am familiar with. I have never been to Wyoming so I asked Robert questions and tried to learn as much as I could and get a feel from his native state. Under the darkest skies, and in the light of the morning, Robert and I would share and discuss our experiences in South Dakota after each day. It was very much needed as we sought to understand how the rest of the cohorts thought and how we all interacted as a group together. We laughed, we guessed, we appreciated being there, and we looked forward to the next day. It was awesome making a connection with Robert in that way.I am a very personable person who rises with sparkling eyes and an inquisitive mind. It is always who I have been as a person. I was raised near project housing in the early nineteen eighties. It was my African village of sorts. The ILI cohort experience I am having is similar to my upbringing. It is not mostly people of African descent, but it has the potential to be a lasting tribe for me where I am experiencing life, art, cultural leadership, and building a family with. I will enjoy our development as a unit and embrace the challenges we will face as people who still have a lot to learn about one another and consider our differences in the
process. Still, to get deeper into our own common experiences, there were times when we divided into groups based on different experienced identities. It was tough – very tough – for me to have been in a space where there was a divide, a split, the breaking of a covenant. The circle we created for inclusion, respect, and honesty challenged my strength, my ability to stay involved as I saw people of African descent bond together in hopes to occupy a space that is helping to heal us all across the Nation – a black only space. And even if it were just for a little while, the spaces we were asked to separate into were a challenge for many. Although there was a desire by some to keep the group together as one unit, I saw the value of creating these dedicated spaces. In my experience in anti-racism work, caucusing is a necessary and spiritual experience that allows us to remain our whole selves despite our differences. I felt deeply that a group of people of African descent was needed to breathe, to think things through. It wasn’t easy, but necessary. This is my perspective. This is my “I statement.”
South Dakota is a beautiful place to explore. To learn about people, the history, the buildings and spaces we were allowed to visit. I am an explorer by nature so I welcomed every part of it. What stood out to me were the sacred sites and how people reacted to being at places where life had been taken or violated. Those were the most spiritual moments for me. I had to listen to the wind, the voices of the ancestors in order to be one with what was going on and how it connected to me. I champion the cause of the indigenous people of this country. I am always reading about indigenous people or finding Twitter accounts of native people to connect with. Sometimes I find radio stations run by indigenous people so I can hear what is going on in cities where they reside or reservations where they live.As a cultural leader or ambassador it is my duty. As a national leader I would be foolish not to learn as much about their plight and their history as I can. I owe it to all of the people I am doing social justice work with and for. Our collective experiences and stories need to be honored and told.
The proximate time I spent listening to all of my cohorts has empowered me to seek new friendships and partnerships with my ILI cohorts as much as I can. This is professional and spiritual development I will need to continue my work – the work we are all doing in our own unique ways.
Round one has ended with the new year – 2019 is here. I am looking forward to our time in Hawaii.
Christopher D. Sims
January 1st, 2019
Christopher D. Sims is an internationally known poet, spoken word performer, and community organizer. He is also a race relations expert and a lay minister who speaks on social justice issues throughout the country.
“What stood out to me were the sacred sites and how people reacted to being at places where life had been taken or violated. Those were the most spiritual moments for me.”