September 3, 2020
George Floyd’s murder in my hometown of Minneapolis once again shined the spotlight on the problems of race in our community. In the weeks that followed, calls for social justice have reverberated around the world. In my time at the Y, I have come to understand and recognize — on a far deeper level — my many privileges as a white man. But my self-reflection and education is constant, and I feel compelled to utilize this medium to interview equity leaders. These leaders have served as mentors, teammates and dear friends. Each has allowed me to see a different perspective on systemic racism through their lived experience. As I seek to understand, my hope is that these talks will help humanize the issues and, in some small way, help lead us toward efforts to make a better way for all.
My third guest is Hayley Tompkins, who grew up in Richfield, Minn., just south of Minneapolis, and is entering her 13th year working at the YMCA of the North. She’s one of the Y’s leaders with the Beacons Network, a collaborative effort with other youth service organizations to support more than 4,000 youth and 2,000 families in the Twin Cities. She is a promising young leader who is widely respected within our Y because of her commitment, intelligence and passion.
Glen: Given all that’s happened this year, what’s going through your head when you think about where we are as a community and as a society?
Hayley: Adrienne Maree Brown wrote a book called Emergent Strategy, about the concept of fractals and how what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.
Now is the time where everything is breaking. While it’s scary for all of us, it’s also an opportunity to rebuild. For myself as an individual and all the way to our plan at the Y. It’s an invitation for all of us to challenge what we feel to be true. To do deep shadow work. To look at the things we choose not to look at, whether they be personal like, ‘What is the actual reason I have a hard time cleaning this part of my house?’ or organizational, calling us to look at some of the embedded issues within systems that we know to be true. 2020 is a time where everything is broken, and it’s a time to heal and repair and rebuild.
Our end result should be different from where we began.
Glen: I love the notion of deep, shadow work. That’s so illustrative to me. I think people can get that, the things we tend to brush past. How can the Y show up, relative to these racial and social injustices?
Hayley: It all keeps circling back to shadow work. All of us need to look at ourselves before we start to try and change others.
For example, we can ask ourselves, “What are the things that you don’t like in other people that you can’t see reflected in yourself” because you have a blind spot there. It’s time. It’s time to confront our shadows.
This is a great opportunity to develop some thoughtful and really smart strategies, outside of what we’ve done before and outside of models we’ve used before. I think programmatically, we need to authentically listen and then respond. That’s even been a challenge for us at Beacons. We have our existing program model, but maybe that’s not right. What’s actually needed? The context is different, some circumstances don’t exist anymore. That’s an opportunity for us as well. We work hard to co-create and share power with our community to design what our programs look like.
Glen: How did you get to the Y?
Hayley: I started in the Y when I was 14, as a canoe trip camper at Camp Icaghowan. When I told my family I wanted to go on a canoe trip, they laughed because they couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t done a lot of camping, but I went because my friend was going.
I went and I loved it. It was a transformational trip for me. I learned a lot about myself at a really pivotal time, heading into high school.
I continued going to camp, and took more canoe trips.
I went to college to teach high school English because I wanted to work with young people. But while I was in college, I got a part-time job at Beacons through a Camp Icaghowan connection.
So, I grew up in Richfield when it was predominantly white. As a young person of color, I grew up almost exclusively in white spaces, even into college. Then I got to Beacons. The people were actually diverse, from so many different backgrounds and walks of life. I came into this environment, and I was like, ‘Whoa. These are my people.’ I had never really truly experienced community belonging until I was 19 years old.
There is a professor of Youth Studies at the U of M who says that we do this work out of your own wounded-ness. That reminds me of the quote, “The wound is where the light enters you.” Our challenges and wounds can be a conduit for finding light in the world. For me, it’s about spaces of belonging. I didn’t have that as a kid, and I will run through a wall to make spaces of belonging for people, where they can truly feel they belong. It’s also my goal to dismantle and undermine the systems of oppression that prevent us from experiencing that belonging.
Glen: What were your emotions after the murder of George Floyd?
Hayley: I was not surprised that our city was the site of this uprising. Didn’t we all know that something like this would happen? I’ve never felt safe around the police. As a light-skinned person, they’ve rarely given me a hard time, but they still terrify me.
So when this happened, I was obviously devastated. But this isn’t the first time I’ve been devastated. There are so many horrific stories of things that have happened in our communities, specifically to black and brown people.
I feel I’m constantly flooded with that type of news. I feel, to a certain extent, desensitized. I was sick to my stomach. We’re just so used to it, that you just kind of stay sick. We had actually been having conversations for weeks before the murder happened, about over-policing of teens during the summer and how to keep our young people safe. The police are a constant source of fear in our community.
Glen: I want to talk about language. I always feel a bit behind with the evolution and change. What do you think of the words anti-racism?
Hayley: Anti-racism is good because it’s explicit. If we start using other language, we can end up not being explicit, and that’s the problem. In my experience, people have to be brave enough to say anti-racism, and then be held accountable. There are words that are more mushy or more gray, and that allows for more shenanigans. Anti-racism is clear, and it’s easier to be held accountable to.
Glen: What advice do you have for me as a leader at the Y? I wish Glen would do A, B, C and D?
Hayley: I remember when you started as our CEO. I have seen you, over the years, change your approach, change your language. You make mistakes, and I see you own your mistakes, and I see you really try. I see you as a learner.
I can think of two things that people are looking for in our leaders right now: hope and vulnerability. I think of Joan Gabel’s communication from the University of Minnesota (Hayley’s alma mater). Their communication has been incredible. I get these faculty emails, and just her tone (as president): ‘We got this!’ It just feels good. It makes me feel confident and hopeful about what’s next in such an uncertain time.
You have a lot of skill in that area. You can inspire confidence and hope, especially in your one-to-ones. We all need that. You have also shown us some vulnerability over the course of these weeks and months, especially around the murder of George Floyd, and really showing your exasperation around it. I think it’s really good for all of us to hear that. Speaking for myself, I will often create more space and more grace for white folks who will struggle in front of me instead of trying to assert that they've done this and this and this and therefore they've got it.
Not that I want to watch people squirm necessarily, but I want to see you grapple with it. It means a lot to see people grappling — then you know they’re doing the work, they’re trying.
More organizationally, I know that you’re trying to create meaningful opportunities to give people a chance to lead. I think people want to see their own voices and own ideas reflected at every level in the organization. I think it really matters how things get rolled out and what values are being reflected. Keep continuing to push on that. I also think that the Y should build infrastructure to really support all of that work. It won’t be easy, but with commitment to learning and displaying your vulnerability as a leader, there is definitely room for hope!
To learn more about Hayley, visit her bio on LinkedIn by clicking here.