Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, holding the poster on the far right, is a social justice scholar-practitioner coming to Pacific Lutheran University October 7. (Photo courtesy Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer)

Justice recipes with Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer

Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer is coming to campus with a cookbook. In it, chefs like bell hooks, Parker Palmer and herself have made recipes that promise new flavor for campus dialogues about justice.

Czarnik-Neimeyer is coming to Pacific Lutheran University for a two hour workshop titled “Brave + Radical: Justice recipes for honest dialogue on power structures and racism,” held 2 p.m. Saturday October 7 in CK East.

Participants in the workshop will “discuss creative ways to uncover, critique and understand power structures,” asking themselves: “How am I called to authentic action & courageous dialogue, starting right here, right now?”

The workshop, which is specially tailored for PLU students, is one of Czarnik-Neimeyer’s stops on her worldwide “Tour d’Justice” this year, ranging from Philadelphia to Ghana.

(Photo courtesy Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer)

Her work connects spirituality and feminism; focusing specifically on bridging divisions.

Czarnik-Neimeyer credentials include being a scholar-in-residence at the bell hooks institute. She also helped start the institute’s sister center, the Cassanda Voss Center, at her alma mater St. Norbert College. She runs her own business, Bridgebuilder Consulting, which incorporates all her work as an active writer, facilitator, and scholar (check out all her published work here, and her featured pieces below).

Check out The Matrix’s Q&A with Anna below and make sure to join us October 7!

THE MATRIX: What would you say your most memorable experience is giving a workshop (like you’re doing at PLU)?

ANNA CZARNIK-NEIMEYER: I continue to be moved by participants’ vulnerability and willingness to share. We carry so much unexamined history and knowledge related to identity & power, so developing critical thinking in these areas is uncharted territory for many.

It is always memorable when someone says, “I’ve never thought of that before” or “I can’t wait to bring this back to my job or my family.” Ultimately I am a visitor to most spaces where I facilitate workshops, and the participants are the ones who stay in their communities and continue the work after I depart.

Czarnik-Neimeyer leading a workshop. (Photo courtesy Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer)

Is this going to be “more of the same” social justice training(s) we have around PLU’s campus?

I believe that each of us has existing knowledge and the capacity for self examination, honed and amplified through learning new content. Through both facilitating and attending hundreds of social justice events myself, I can attest to the fact that because our hearts, minds, and context change over time, content or activities sit with us differently, even if we repeat the exact same trainings.

I have literally attended the same workshop by the same presenter at various conferences, and I gained new insight each time, because I developed and so did the presenter. Sometimes we need to hear things multiple times, or share an experience with different people.

Our collective movement towards justice is never “complete,” so my response is: Great! Participate in as much as possible, and ask yourself:

  • How can I approach this workshop through a different lens?
  • Do I need to go “meta” and learn from the presenter’s tactics for facilitating?
  • What does it mean to me now versus a year ago?
  • How might I guide a similar dialogue with my family or friends?
  • What is my challenge right now and how can I show up or participate in a way that addresses my challenge?

Without giving all your secrets away, what’s one tip/strategy that you think makes SJ conversations easier?

As an educator, hands down, empathy and a spirit of generosity help with social justice conversations.

If I were born into a different family or had different experiences, I’d very likely be in the position of someone learning about social justice for the first time, or I’d be making unexamined mistakes that are offensive or harmful.

I, of course, still do make mistakes, so humility and humor are also essential, admitting when we mess up, even laughing at ourselves, and caring enough to learn more, repair, and move forward in solidarity.

What advice do you have for students hoping to pursue social justice work, such as how to find funding and/or how to start networking?

Czarnik-Neimeyer in the classroom. (Photo courtesy Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer)

A lot of social justice work is informal, constant, unpaid, or can feel invisible. You’ll always be learning, will always make mistakes, and it will be humbling. But there’s room for incredible innovation and trailblazing there. You will often need to claim your own legitimacy or recognition, because typically others will not do that for you.

Give a name to what you are doing, or lift up the names of groups you join. Call your projects something that makes you feel powerful and competent, and makes the work feel real. Make things up, then follow through and keep educating yourself along the way.

If you believe in the work you are doing and are passionate about it, then share it broadly and others will want to join you and support you.

I believe that it is possible (and even preferable) to do social justice work starting right where we are. There are SO MANY people leading justice projects in creative ways, and it’s my job to know about, learn from, and synthesize these resources.

You’re on a Tour d’Justice this year — since January, you’ve been from Ghana to Holden Village to PLU, among many other places. How did this come about?

I had set up sabbaticals for myself in New York City and Ghana, researching and writing on innovative theory in social justice education and training. Then our political climate changed drastically.

I was doing public activism several times a week, writing in between, honestly pretty distraught but invigorated. I shared my days with other activists, educators, faith leaders, and artists who were sharp and scrappy and got things done, sometimes making things up as they went along because times were (are) dire and there was little room for self-doubt.

I started being asked for interviews, consulting calls, and workshops. As I prepared for my time in Ghana, I was asked to apply for a teaching role at an international school in Accra, the capital, and my residence as International Visiting Faculty emerged.

A few days before I left the USA, I was sitting with world leaders at a talk at the United Nations, and as I looked around it clicked: these are real people doing amazing things because they have the audacity to take risks and make bold decisions and hold major titles that mean something. I wanted to aim for the same.

When I arrived in Ghana, a friend and fellow teacher suggested I pull all my content & gigs together in a website, and I realized that if the comedians and musicians I’ve collaborated with can travel, work, and call it a tour, then so could I. So I took the informal title I’d been using in my head for my travels, and formally named my year of work what it really was: a tour, the Tour d’Justice.

Why focus on bridging divisions? How do you stay energized in this political climate?

The will to bridge divisions comes from a personal call. I’m from Wisconsin, a swing state in the middle of the country. My family is HUGE and I love all of them across the political spectrum, from super conservative to super liberal. I grew up in the Church and worked in secularized academia. In a camp director’s family, I spent summers in rural farm country and school years in the city.

Especially in the past two years, I have felt the deep dissonance and grief stemming from divisions in our world, in my communities, and even in my family. I refuse to believe that this type of conflict must be the norm, and I aim to use my unique background, experience, and education as a bridge.

My work is equal parts research, networking, and community building. It is both my joy and my job. I attend performances, engage in protest, join workshops, and learn about the work of my comrades. Because people know what I do, I receive messages everyday from folks I know looking for resources on race, gender, sexuality, etc.

A central tenant of my work is finding fun or weird ways to translate this content so the audience can receive it, so it will be accessible and mean something to them. The versatility is one thing I love most about this work.

Czarnik-Neimeyer, former assistant director of the Cassanda Voss Center, on a 2014 panel with bell hooks.

We’re pretty big fans of bell hooks at PLU (she’s read across the humanities, including first-year programs and beyond), as everyone should be. Tell us about your work with bell hooks and the bell hooks institute.

I will always be a student of bell hooks; I deeply admire her work, her truth-telling, her wit, and her focus on love as a grounding principle. Her writing speaks to people because it is personal and real even while it is brilliant, using plain language to help communicate complex or painful concepts.

I met hooks through my work in higher education, while we were both developing new justice-centered organizations at our respective small liberal arts colleges. The bell hooks Institute at Berea College in Kentucky — where I was a resident last April — is an incredible project housing hooks’ prophetic & prolific work and art gallery, and I was honored to support the Institute in its founding stages. I highly recommend learning more (and reading hooks, including her kids books!) www.bellhooksinstitute.com

If we want to get to know you, as a scholar, activist and person, what should we read?

OTHERS’ WORK:I admire writers and scholars who paint vivid, honest pictures of their own relationships and describe for readers how their lives function within the systems of power they seek to reimagine. Here are some of my favorites:

MY WORK: I encounter great honesty and vulnerability in many of the workshops I facilitate, so I aim to emulate that in my own writing. This means that I often do analysis through personal storytelling or I openly examine my learning moments and mistakes, while bringing in scholarship and theory to aid the critique.

Don’t miss Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer when she comes to campus 2 p.m. Saturday October 7 in the AUC Regency. For more information, contact cmin@plu.edu.

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