The importance of belonging
A conversation with john powell and Angelique Power
As Skillman Foundation President & CEO Angelique Power took the stage to introduce john powell for a keynote session at the Council of Michigan Foundations’ Annual Conference, held this year in Detroit, excitement wafted through the air.
No one fumbled with their drink; no one looked down at their phone. All eyes were focused towards the front of the room.
john powell, who spells his name and titles with lowercase letters in effort to be with the universe rather than over it, serves as director of the Othering and Belonging Institute and professor of Law, African American, and Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
“The problem of the 21st century is a problem of othering. The solution for othering is belonging,” john professed to his captivated audience gathered inside the Detroit Renaissance Center’s ballroom-style banquet hall.
john’s presentation and the ensuing conversation with Angelique explored opportunities for the field of philanthropy in Michigan to embrace a shared humanity and to seek transformation by fostering belonging in the communities it serves.
To have a sense of belonging in society is more than feeling included or having access. It is the possession of a social contract ensuring that one’s voice and well-being is considered equitably. Belonging dictates that every individual has meaningful opportunities to participate in designing structures and systems that determine how we humans live in community with one another. Belonging is the right, and the understanding of one’s right, to both contribute and to make demands upon society and its institutions.
Community belonging is a necessary precursor to effective systems change, john suggested. He described that when philanthropy’s missions are pursued together with the communities served, there is opportunity for curiosity, listening, and learning.
“Funders should participate, not decide,” john said. “When we really listen to someone, they change. And so do we. There is power in saying, ‘I see you’.”
Belonging is different than equity or inclusion alone; Belonging is co-creation.
Read more about john powell and the Othering and Belonging Institute to develop your own understanding of belonging.
Why is fostering belonging important to you?