On Wednesday, April 21 2021 we welcomed over 3,000 visitors to the very first Othering & Belonging Virtual Summit. The Summit was a learning space and a caring space, where we gathered to grapple with big questions related to what we face in terms of building a bigger “we,” where we held space to honor who and that which we have lost, and where we together envisioned and strategized for a present and future world where we care for each other and for our living planet.

The O&B 2021 Summit programming was designed to:

  • Address the erosion of trust—in institutions, in groups, with each other, and even in public life—and the deep consequences of a politics of breaking, fragmentation, and polarization

  • Create a space for grieving and memory, including those who have come before us, those who we have lost, and those who have not been properly mourned or honored in our histories, practices, and stories

  • Align our diverse efforts across sectors, geographies, and disciplines in order to build a truly inclusive and global movement of belonging

“All of the sessions I was able to attend offered different kinds of intellectual and spiritual wisdom, sparkling moments of joy and pleasure, and a profound belief in our humanity. While I was frequently faced with - and did my best to hold - the poisonous reality of white supremacy, the Summit was at the same time deeply affirming of my belief in us. Thank you for that.”



Agenda: O&B 2021 One-Day Virtual Summit

7:30 am - Meditation and movement workshop with Michelle Ayazi

Begin the Summit with a relaxing and energizing guided Sufi meditation (Tamarkoz®) practice. Tamarkoz is a heart-centered meditation practice. In Sufism, the heart is considered to be the center of our being, where we can access our innate and endowed knowledge, wisdom and guidance. This session will offer warmly-guided mind relaxation, deep breathing, slow movement meditation, deep body relaxation, visualization/imagery, and heart-focused meditation. No prior experience with meditation is needed. Movement is optional. ASL interpretation will be provided. All are warmly welcome.

9:00 am - Sarah Crowell: Opening Us Toward Belonging and our Shared Destiny

9:30 am - The Nile Project: A special commissioned piece for Othering & Belonging by the award-winning musical group, followed by an artists roundtable with Jackline Kasiva Mutua and Mina Girgis of the Nile Project.

In this new, specially produced music video for the O&B conference, Nile Project artists collaborated to reinterpret an Egyptian classical anthem that speaks of the unity of Nile riparian countries. Originally composed and performed by Sayed Darwish in 1918 as a response to the British colonial decision to separate Egypt and Sudan, Dingy Dingy became an anthem to the deep connection between the two nations via the Nile River. In 2016, the Nile Project re-interpreted Dingy Dingy by adding verses in Tigrinya, Swahili and Amharic to expand that belonging to the Nile River once quoted by Sayed Darwish 100 years ago.

10:00 am - Rethinking Identity: From our Imagined Past to our Imagined Future
Keynote by john a. powell, Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute and Professor of Law, African American, and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley

Identity is the fulcrum of many of our present and growing divides. Changing demographics and a diversifying America, and world, has been used by politicians like Trump and other ethno-nationalists to stoke reactionary politics. But identity is not what we think it is. We often experience identity as a fixed and unitary thing, when it is actually more fluid and non-categorical than we appreciate. Thirty years ago, the identities we live with today would have been difficult to imagine. Yet, our identities too often feel stable to us.

What if we instead collectively imagine our future? One possible future is a deeply divided and even more polarized society. Another is a more equitable future but in a segregated society. We should try to imagine something different, a future grounded in a recognition that our identities and our sense of selves are more open, fragmentary and less fixed than we currently understand. There are many fears: climate change, the pandemic, economic downturns, and more. Race is a "formative" fears that narrows and freezes our ability to imagine a future of real belonging. To do that, we need not just to imagine or project into the future who we are, but to be open to possibilities that are not yet visible.

11:30 am - Democracy, Institutions, and Systems of Othering & Belonging: with Astra Taylor, Taeku Lee, DeJuana Thompson, and Myrna Pérez and special spoken word introduction on “The Struggle to Belong” by North Carolina poet and scholar Dasan Ahanu.

The world is bearing witness to the frailty of foundational tenets of democracy, attacks on which threaten not only advances in representative government, but also our ability to sustain a shared “we” moving forward. At their most dramatic, these attacks have involved armed insurrectionists and unrelenting lies deployed from the most powerful platform in the world. But just as troubling are the efforts outside of public view to bend and manipulate institutions from within, to disenfranchise, disillusion, and exclude. Simultaneous to the attacks on democratic structures are others that use new technologies to promote radically different understandings of basic facts and events, and ultimately, of truth itself. 

All of these dynamics worsen longstanding breakdowns in trust—in government, in the common good, in community, and in each other—with far-reaching consequences. This situation is evident not only in the US, but around the world. Just as the dynamics span social, economic, and technological spheres that know no borders, so too must our response. This panel will examine major dilemmas facing the institutions and infrastructures of democracy today, and the unique challenges they pose for bridging and all of our collective work to build more fair and inclusive societies. Panelists will discuss not only what is at stake, but where there are opportunities for transformative change toward belonging.

12:30 pm - Family Hour Workshop with Alphabet Rockers, moderated by OBI cultural strategist Evan Bissell

1:30 pm - Talk Story and Meditation with Norma Wong

Connect to body, mind, and spirit with Zen practice and teachings to help us reflect on our present historic moment as well as to uplift possibility, collective engagement, and opportunity on our path forward.

2:30 pm  - Toshi Reagon: Special hour of music and talk with acclaimed artist and musician, moderated by Chip McNeal

3:30 pm - We Belong to the Earth and We Belong to Each Other: Connection, Climate, and Global Belonging, with Naomi Klein, Tokata Iron Eyes, Xiye Bastida, Samia Dumbuya, and Kate Yeo

4:30 pm
Belonging and Bridging in Practice: Closing with john a. powell

Plus: Throughout the day we will have community networking spaces, a virtual book table with Marcus Books of Oakland, a merchandise booth with Belonging tshirts and other apparel, an OBI music space curated by Christian Michael Ivey, and more opportunities for connection and learning.

The Summit is free and open to the public.

The Summit Featured

Toshi Reagon   (photo by Desdemona Burgin)

Toshi Reagon (photo by Desdemona Burgin)

Sarah Crowell     (photo by Kerry Kehoe)

Sarah Crowell (photo by Kerry Kehoe)

Naomi Klein   (photo by Kourosh Keshiri)

Naomi Klein (photo by Kourosh Keshiri)

Alphabet Rockers     (photo by Kristin Chalmers)

Alphabet Rockers (photo by Kristin Chalmers)

Tokata Iron Eyes

Tokata Iron Eyes

Astra Taylor

Astra Taylor