Interview with Nijeul X. Porter, ILI Alum, Past Contributor
Nijeul X. Porter was a participant in the first-ever ILI cohort in 2017-18. Now, as a Core Facilitator and Design Team Member, he is part of the team that organizes and runs the experience of the intensives and all throughout this second year of ILI. In between the intensives, he facilitates virtual cohort convenings and provides direct support for the participant “Learning Pods.” Learning Pods are smaller break-out teams of 4-5 program participants working together throughout their ILI Year to dive deeply into issues they identify around leadership, arts & culture and their shared mission to break oppression through a dedication to interculturality.How does your experience as an ILI Facilitator differ from being a Fellow? What is different this year for you?
I think of this is a continuation of my fellowship year, and not a separate experience. The biggest reflection I have right now, is considering how to build a process and practice for interculturality. We are creating a shared understanding of interculturality through conversation and as we plan and design each experience we have to check ourselves every step of the way to ensure our values align to that ideal. I’ve had a number of new discoveries over time for this part of my fellowship experience.
How are you thinking about that specific process?
Process has to model product. I learned a lot between ILI Lakota and ILI Hawaii as a facilitator and designer. I had a more clear idea about what some barriers might be, in regards to our overall group dynamic. I’ve tried to always acknowledge the fact that some cultural experiences can affect the experience of follks not a part of that culture, and to bring the conversation back to the shared values we have. I continue to think about the “who” that is engaging the community, what they are planning to talk about – what’s most important to them – and then think about what is the most intercultural thing we could do in those moments together. That is a reflection of leadership, I think. When you can always bring a lens of the larger goals to the actual work.
What are other ways that interculturality affect your work with ILI?
I recognize that I am the youngest person on the design team. I think it is very important to pay attention to the overlaps between elder and youth leadership. Being a part of this new team, I’ve had to step into my own voice, especially because we are designing something new in the programmatic sense, and in the ways that we work to build that experience. I’m clear that we have to rethink process in relationship to our desired outcome. That’s not always the easiest thing to do. You know that saying that “we as a people don’t know, what we don’t know.” It’s true and we have to push and be critical of how we work in order to move more towards discovery.
“I had to search out the grace as a young leader to be part of the process for change.”
I remember there was a moment where I felt disappointed that the process wasn’t modeling the concepts and values we had set out to explore. I had to move back and think about my own individual time and capacity to support this layer of work. I realized, that we, especially the folks of color in the experience, were products of various systems of oppression, that impact how we talk, create, and move throughout the world.. I had to search out the grace as a young leader to be part of the process for change. The impact on how we have to work in the world as leaders of color is deep. So, I understood that we were building the ship of interculturality as we were sailing it.What personal practices to you pull from to be in it and also be outside it to bring both perspectives?
As a facilitator, I understand that it’s never about me or our facilitation team. That’s a value and an agreement I take very seriously. I do bring my full self, and at the same time, I know that my responsibility is to the safety and bravery of the group. I’m try to remove myself from ego and not take things personally. That skill has been groomed over time – in the ILI space, in particular. I haven’t been in multi-racial spaces where we are all investigating and building together around culture, per se. It’s always been through the lens of a project or campaign. It’s one of the only experiences I’ve had that really looks inward. I want to lead in a different way myself and am excited because it’s unchartered territory. Even in the process, I want to be better. To be honest, I don’t talk or work across culture as much as I want to and this pushes me in the development of that practice. Holding this space for ILI 2.0 gives me that opportunity to still grow in my own leadership.
“I really believe that this community participates in cultural immersion, custom, tradition and practice. It’s something we can then share back to our own communities.”
ILI Hawai’i left me very clear about our process and some of our needs as leaders. Each intensive allows this community to participate in cultural immersion, customs, traditions and longtime practices. It’s something we can then share back and operationalize in our own communities. Sometimes the experience is a point of harmony and sometimes it can be a point of contention. Since we are experiencing things in real-time, we have the opportunity to learn right in the moment.